Archive: November, 2010

Simon's hard day

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 28, 2010, 11:36 PM | comments: 0

Simon had arguably one of his worst teething days today. The poor kid was just miserable. When the doctor told us he was working on a molar more than a month ago, we figured another week and he'd be good. The fine print is that it's not like the other teeth, and they take much longer. Plus there are swollen and purple gums.

He has been showing signs of irritation on and off for the last week or two, but today there wasn't much you could do to help him out other than hold him. His naps were super short, he wanted to be held constantly (not that we mind he wants to cuddle!) and he was tugging on his ears. The pain meds and gel only did so much to keep him comfortable. Then while I was wasting my time at that tryout tonight, he yacked in his crib, and then on Diana. We don't think he was sick, it was likely just from the intense crying and mucus associated with it. Poor little guy (and poor Diana!).

Just before I got home, Diana had him in the bath and in fresh clothes, and while still quite tired out of his mind, he seemed to at least be comfortable. He woke up just a little bit ago, hungry, so I just gave him a bottle. He gave me some nice little giggles and smiles while I changed him, and loved his starry night lights (closeout projection globe thingy I impulse bought at Ikea). I put him back down and he seemed so much happier.

This will be the hardest thing for me as a parent, I think, watching Simon endure pain. Right now it's physical, and inevitable, but it's the other kid stuff that will be hard. I think about some of the serious falls I had, having my bike stolen, crushes on girls... stuff like that. I know it's inevitable, but I so don't look forward to it.

No volleyball team for me

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 28, 2010, 9:10 PM | comments: 0

Well, it's official. I won't have a volleyball team to coach this year. I'm angry, pissed off and trying to understand how it even came to this. The short version of the story is that there simply aren't enough kids to make a team. The bigger picture is more detailed.

Basically, there were just barely enough kids at the tryout to make a pretty solid national team. They weren't the tallest or most skilled team you've ever seen, but I think with a little work there was enough talent there to have significant impact in the region, and maybe even contend for a bid. If I were a kid trying out for that team, I would have been thrilled to be on it.

But apparently, the kids here have a different idea about things (or their parents do). The six core kids in that lineup chose to accept offers from other teams (four played together for this club last year), and I can tell you from experience that it was unlikely that they would end up in a more talented lineup. But whatever, that was that.

The club director convinced me that they could still come up with a solid regional team (i.e., not national team) with the kids that were left, some kids that were holding out for the regional team, and some kids that would come to the make-up tryout. That didn't materialize either. So somehow, beyond belief, this club has no 17 or 18 teams, regional or national. I've never had a tryout where I didn't at least have people to cut, let alone not have enough for a team.

So what happened? I have no idea. Talking to parents, it sounds like a combination of things. The first was cost. I don't know what gym time goes for out here, but they're asking for three times what we ever did in Cleveland, and we did just as many tournaments. One parent suggested that the club was "middle tier" and more concerned with the number of teams than the quality. Another suggested they were concerned about the high turnover in coaches. One of the other coaches suggested the tryout time was the worst possible, on the last day before kids could sign, and at the same time as some other clubs. Collectively, these all sound like plausible reasons for the failure.

Whatever the reasons, it still leaves me feeling angry, because I already had a lot of emotional investment in doing this. I know none of it's personal, but I almost feel like I was duped into thinking this was where the magic would happen, instead of with other clubs. I'm also disappointed in the kids and parents who play these games over commitment. We had a little bit of this back in Cleveland, where someone was always holding out for one of the annual top-ranked clubs, but usually it was one, maybe two at most. Even then, you had enough kids dedicated to the club, and plenty of alternates.

I don't know what to think. Does volleyball just suck here? It definitely isn't at the level that it was in the OVR, judging by the skill level I've seen in the younger kids (lots of poor technical issues), but I just can't believe that every kid not playing soccer is destined for mediocre volleyball.

Sigh. I'm frustrated out of my mind.

Suburban feel with urban convenience

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 27, 2010, 11:05 PM | comments: 0

We walked a couple of blocks for dinner out today. That's awesome. It's true that I don't care for high density, "downtown" living situations. I've never lived in that situation, but that's kind of the point. I grew up in the inner city, and once I got to the 'burbs, I very much preferred it.

But as much as I love the quiet of the suburbs, I would also very much like walking access to restaurants, libraries and groceries. The place we're renting actually has all of that, as the planners of this ridiculous super-development thought it was a good idea to put establishments like that in the center of it all. Granted, a lot of it is empty, and there's apparently a lot of turnover, but I like that it's there. We're fond of an affordable little Irish pub there, and that's where we had dinner.

As much as I don't care for homeowners associations and crazy detailed zoning, I have to say that they did OK with this area. Compared to the average Ohio suburb, the look and design of houses here is so much nicer and less generic. The place that I used to live did have requirements for variations on houses, and it's not terrible, but it's not as nice as this. They have a lot of streets where the garages are in a back alley, and the street fronts have porches, like an older city area. Some of the houses down the street from us remind me a lot of the older Cleveland neighborhoods, in a good way.

Suck it, Lego Harry Potter!

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 27, 2010, 10:48 PM | comments: 0

(Screenshot from

Yes, I hit one of my stated goals today, and got 100% on Harry Potter, and got every achievement. It's the only game that I've ever scored all of the achievements on, in part because it's one of the only games where they're all actually achievable. Some of the shooters are the worst, with goals like, "Kill 1,000 opponents naked in uber-hard multiplayer using only your bare hands." OK, not really, but some of them might as well read like that.

Props to Diana, who helped me through it by looking stuff up. Those last "students in peril" were a bitch to find, since there are no extra indicators to help you find them.

I also finished Halo Reach tonight. Wow, kind of a dark ending. I mean, everyone knew how it ended before it even started, but it was creepy, and a little disturbing, especially if you waited through the credits. It was nice to see the Pillar of Autumn at the end, picking up where the first Halo started.

So that gives me a little closure. I'd still like to finish Halo: ODST, even though it isn't great. Then perhaps I can get into Gears of War and Fallout 3. I may pick up Dance Central since it's cheap in the company store, and get off my ass a bit, even if I do look stupid playing it. Not that I ever looked cool playing DDR. :) "Show us your moves!"

My incomplete video game habit

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 26, 2010, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

One of the neat things about Windows Phone 7 is that the games, some of them anyway, can do stuff via Xbox Live, and that means achievements. It seems like such a stupid thing, but I love that you can get some kind of score for doing stuff. I love that my profile has stuff from the Xbox as well as the phone.

So far, I've got some points from both the free puzzle game, ilomilo, as well as some points from Game Chest Solitaire. I'm not sure which other games I'll get, although the one strategy game that uses real maps looks pretty interesting (if I could remember what the name of it was, or if it's even out).

At home, on the TV, I just got Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii. Truth be told, the last time we turned on the Wii was when I got Toy Story Mania last Christmas for Diana, and we never played it again. I had high hopes for it after the fun at Disney World. DK is fun though, even if you die constantly. What can I say, I was a huge fan of the original SNES versions. Stephanie and I played those cartridges to death during Christmas break of my senior year.

Hopefully though, that will be a game that I actually finish. There are way too many games in my collection that are still not complete. Against all odds, I still haven't finished Halo Reach, and I'm into that game. I didn't finish ODST either, but that one was kind of boring. We finally fired up Kinect Adventures yesterday, which is about time seeing as how I didn't even have to pay for it. Even then, Joe scored my first few achievements! I'm a few percentage points away from finishing Lego Harry Potter at 100%, but I don't remember what I'm missing. Then there are the games I've barely gotten anywhere in, like PGR4 (I bought the damn steering wheel!), Splosion Man, the first Gears of War... yikes. I didn't finish Ghost Busters either. I picked up Fallout 3 in the spring, and it hasn't even been in the console yet!

I think that, perhaps tomorrow, I'm going to try and lose myself in video games for the day. I haven't done that in a very long time, and I think I need it. I spend too much time kicking myself for not working on projects in my free time. I need to let go a little and just do stuff that is the reward.

Black Friday nonsense

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 26, 2010, 2:35 PM | comments: 0

Gonch sayeth:

"Black Friday, you used to be cool, man. You’ve changed."

I don't think it was every cool, but his post definitely illustrates a point. People go apeshit over "deal" that aren't really deals. Even when there were deals to be had, there are two reasons I still wouldn't participate in this idiocy. 1) My time is worth something, especially on a day off, and I hate waiting. 2) Fifty bucks off some shit I don't really need, and don't really need to get for someone else, hardly seems like incentive.

Here's the thing... I like buying stuff for people. I've spent a lot of money on stuff for people at times, maybe even disproportionally to the level of the relationship. People did the same for me when I was a kid or a poor adult. It's just what I feel is right. But I don't understand this crazy deal hunting thing, or at least the level that it has gone to in recent years. It's like that Shopaholic movie, where people just get a high from scoring some deal.

I'm not a hater, I just don't entirely get it.

Getting the holidays right

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 25, 2010, 8:09 PM | comments: 0

I feel like the holidays are far more "right" this year, or at least, have the potential for being so. Last year was just so screwed up feeling. We had been in Seattle for barely a week before Thanksgiving last year, and I just felt so out of place.

This year, we actually hosted Thanksgiving, and had Joe, Kristen, Nina and Mason over, and that was awesome. Things feel more normal in part just because we can actually have people over. Diana cooked an amazing turkey. I took pictures of the kids. Joe got some Kinect action. We actually did a video chat with my Orlando family through the Xbox, which was kind of cool.

Despite things feeling more normal, they also feel completely new, because it's Simon's first holiday season. He was a trooper today, staying up pretty late and without his last nap. He had some quality play time with Mason too, which was great to watch. Tomorrow, Diana is going to put up the Christmas tree, and I can't wait to see his reaction. We know he likes ripping paper already, so that'll be fun when the big day comes around.

This is the most I've looked forward to the holidays in a very, very long time.

Harry Potterness

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 5:23 PM | comments: 0

I almost forgot, we saw Harry Potter on Saturday. DevDiv bought everyone and their families tickets, and bought out a couple of theaters at Lincoln Square in Bellevue. Finally, we've been to a nice theater around here! Leather seats and what not. Pricing isn't totally out of line, but matinees are not really much cheaper.

In any case, I'm glad to see the movie just went for it from the start. We've been with these characters now for years, so there was no need for back story or extra flashbacks or anything. It very much picks up where the last one ended, and we can get on with the business of heading toward the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort.

I really enjoyed it. There's a lot more time devoted to the interpersonal relationships of the principals, which are a lot more adult than they used to be. And best of all, they finally got out of that fucking school for awhile! It seems like a fitting start to the end of a very long and epic story. I look forward to the second part in July.

This week is failing me so far

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 23, 2010, 5:55 PM | comments: 0

Yes, I've gotta dump some doom here, so I can be left with perspective and joy.

We cruised down to Ikea today so I could finally resolve this mess known as my office, and wouldn't you know it, they were closed. In fact, retail all over the place was generally open, but people were scarce. It was sunny and beautiful today, in a way that I doubt we'll see Seattle very often. Freeways were generally clear, and most side streets were easy to drive on. A few hills were closed off, which I can understand, but the world seemed generally functional to me. Unreal. I can't even believe they'd close.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised after the hours of snowmageddon coverage on TV last night. We were cruising down 90, of which two lanes were generally clear, and even dry. We had to go around some asshole going 40 (in a 70 mph) with his blinkers on down the middle lane. Did I mention the road was dry? We saw a car abandoned in a busy intersection in Renton, next to a gas station. On flat land. This kind of shit just makes me shake my head. What is this city going to do when there's a serious earthquake?

So that turned out to be mostly a waste of an afternoon. Fortunately, we were able to obtain some comfort food at a Famous Dave's, which was a ghost town at 1. On this sunny day.

But the hits keep coming. The volleyball team I picked has almost entirely declined. The first picks, anyway. I'm in awe. Not only have I never seen a tryout where there weren't people to cut, but I've never seen so many kids bail. It's a total head scratcher. The worst I ever had with 17's was two bail, and one of those was a second choice anyway. So this causes me to wonder, is it the club's reputation? A lack of commitment to volleyball out here? Entitlement issues? Too many clubs? I theorize it's partly the cost, which is about three times what we used to charge in Cleveland. Is gym time really that much more expensive here?

So truth be told, I don't even know if I'm going to do it. I made it very clear that I have no desire to coach club-level or have a fixer-upper. I've been there, and I don't enjoy that.

Oh, and I haven't even cracked open Visual Studio this week. Sigh.

OK, now that I've got that out of the way, here's that perspective I needed to acquire.

Last winter, I missed snow. I didn't miss months of it on end, but I did miss it. So this minor (in my eyes) "snow event" here is actually completely awesome. Since the trees are so heavily evergreens here, it's stunningly beautiful, from the stuff on the side of my house, right on up to the mountains. It's just amazing. By Friday, everything here in the more inhabited elevations will likely be gone, so I'm cherishing this taste of real winter, and OK with it being short-lived.

The effect for Diana is even greater I think. She's a Christmas junkie, so the snow sets the mood in a way that's totally different when it's absent. She gets all aglow just thinking about putting up the tree.

I've also been able to spend a great deal of quality time with Simon, and I'm absolutely loving that. We've played together and laughed, and had some quiet moments too. He's such a great little kid. He's suffering on and off as his gums are all purple around the molars, but he's otherwise such a fun spirit to be around. We are so lucky to have a kid with so much personality. It's still hard at times when he's crabby, but I still enjoy my time with him.

I will make something out of this week. We're having Thanksgiving this year with Joe, Kristen, Nina and Mason. It's so nice to have room to have people over, finally.

Seattle snow adventure

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 22, 2010, 11:45 PM | comments: 0

OK, I asked for it. Even last winter, I said I wanted to see it snow so everyone here would freak out and predict the end of the world. Well, I got what I wished for today.

Here's the thing, I know people here aren't used to it. I can respect that. But is it really such a big deal that one of the local TV stations dedicate two and a half hours to covering it, preempting even the national news? That seems a little dramatic.

Around 1 this afternoon, we decided to try and make our run to Ikea that we've been putting off, because I need some storage solutions for my office. I checked the DOT traffic cams for I-405 and I-90, and it all looked good to me. If people were scared and staying home, what the heck, I'll go for it.

We headed down the parkway and saw several abandoned cars. No joke. The road was wet, but not even remotely problematic. Once on I-90, the higher elevation portion between us and Issaquah was getting a lot of blowing, but you could still see grass in the median, and the wagon ruts were totally adequate. However, watching people drive, I immediately observed a risk factor that I hadn't thought about: People suck at driving. While I trust myself to drive in this weather, I don't trust everyone else. We decided to go as far as Issaquah and stop at Costco, as we were getting dangerously low on formula.

As we headed back, the stupidity began immediately. First exhibit: Leaving the Costco parking lot. I had to turn left out of it, and the two lanes of traffic did not have a break to enter into as they were waiting. The middle part of the road was snowy, and you don't have to be a genius to know that launching into that reduces the chance you can stop. But some asshole in a giant SUV was behind me honking at me, so I politely flipped him off. His solution to this was, once I was out in the road, to go around me and cut me off. Moron. Joke was on him though... my turning lane was unencumbered by overly cautious people, and I never saw him again.

Once on the freeway, it was definitely getting icy, which was not surprising given the lack of plows and salt/sand/whatever trucks. The usual rules would keep people moving though: Don't needlessly brake, don't oversteer, give yourself distance. Given the lack of merging skills by most drivers here, this one shouldn't surprise you. Some jackass in an Escalade with giant rims comes to a stop a few car lengths behind me on the ramp, with plenty of room to keep moving and merge. He turns the vehicle hard left to merge and slides a little. His response is to lock his breaks, and being on a hill, he starts sliding and twisting backward into traffic. I could see his giant wheels not moving. Idiot. Giant four-wheel drive cars don't make you indestructible. The funny thing is that pointing the wheels where you want to go and pushing the accelerator has saved my ass countless times. It's the exact opposite of braking. Is that really a trade secret, even here?

Over the next few miles, there were good wagon ruts in some places, and a nice, granular layer of snow on the shoulders that gripped well, as did the rumble strips. I did my best to carefully avoid the people going too slow up hill. Once off the freeway, where the abandoned cars were, I was worried we wouldn't make it because again people were braking where they shouldn't be.

Interesting side note, going down a steep hill in this weather in the Prius is a breeze. It has a "B" mode which I assume stands for something like engine braking, and it feels a little like down shifting in a normal car. It did a nice job slowing the car down hill (while charging the battery, of course). The exotic transmission in that car is something of a wonder, and apparently simple and elegant, from what I've read.

Unfortunately, the weather related driving drama didn't end when we got home, as one of the PEPS moms ended up crashing here for a bit with her daughter while the dad was out stuck on the Connector somewhere on the freeway. So I had a temporary little girl for a little while, which was fun.

Serious precipitation should be over by morning, but we won't get above freezing until Turkey Day. While it is a little frustrating that I lost much of the day, I have to admit that I felt really at home today. Given the prominence of evergreens here, covering the mountains around us, I can't even describe how beautiful it is.

Snow drama

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 21, 2010, 11:37 PM | comments: 0

This was just outside of our patio...


posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 21, 2010, 10:53 PM | comments: 0

On the CoasterBuzz Podcast, we've had great fun making fun of pundits and journalists for using the fake word "staycation." It's used to describe the trend of people going to tourist attractions closer to home instead of bigger travel, like to Florida or whatever.

I'm off all week. Well, Monday, technically is a work day, but I'm not going in. Tuesday and Wednesday, we got days off from our GM and our GM's GM for outstanding participation in the giving campaign (an annual thing at Microsoft). So with the holiday, that's a whole lot of time off. So I'm on vacation, but not going anywhere. A staycation.

I have two big agenda items: Work on my forum project, and spend time with Simon and Red Delicious. I don't feel like I've devoted enough time to either one lately. Well, Diana and I spend time every night, but Simon is usually in bed between 6 or 7. Who knew that having a baby would be so cool?

It's snowing pretty hard right now, which means all of Seattle is probably freaking out. The radar seems to show "mix" west of I-405, so I wonder what tomorrow will be like. Folks out here don't react well to snow, because they don't see it very often unless they're skiers and go up to the mountains.

Waiting is the hardest part

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 21, 2010, 10:37 PM | comments: 0

Another tryout is in the books. Ask any coach who does this junior national stuff, and they'll tell you it's the worst part of the process. Kids aren't bound to any particular club, and they can tryout for as many as they want, then make a decision. In the mean time, you as a coach don't know if you have the team of your dreams or not.

I'm not really sure what to expect here, because I don't know enough about the level of competition, club reputations or any of that nonsense. When I first got into it, kids and parents had a certain loyalty to clubs, and you'd get these kids playing together for four or five years. I can tell you from experience that those are the teams that consistently achieve and go to nationals. For some reason, that loyalty started to die off at some point, as kids and parents settled into a greener grass expectation. Having been on both sides of that situation, with kids playing for me that left another club, or kids that blew me off to play with someone else, I can tell you that it rarely works out. A lot of kids end up miserable because of it, and that's unfortunate. It's not like you get to play at that level indefinitely, so those mistakes are costly.

Tomorrow we have a makeup tryout for kids who had conflicts or didn't land somewhere they would have liked, and if we have gaps to fill, hopefully we'll be able to do that there. By the time we're eating turkey, hopefully I can stick to the business of building a great team.

It's true that you don't always get what you want, but most seasons I've been able to make it work anyway. 2006 was a really rough season, but the three prior to that were awesome. I've got a pretty good feeling about this one, but it just depends on which kids commit. The group as it stands is absolutely bid-worthy.

Baby Stopwatch ready to go

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 20, 2010, 12:05 AM | comments: 1

My Baby Stopwatch app for Windows Phone went live today. Hooray!

This is wholly not that big of a deal in my mind, because it's not complex, pretty or otherwise remarkable in any way. The only reason it exists is that I wanted to build something for the phone, and as employees we can get reimbursed for our app store subscription (if I could find the right form, anyway). It's a science project.

Still, if it turns out that people find it useful, and it generates any kind of meaningful revenue, I might revisit it to post its data to the Web site, and maybe add the forums. Silly-simple ideas sometimes grow into bigger things.

Unfortunately, I had to resubmit the app, since there's an absurd static property on the ad control that is false by default, called TestMode. Why you'd have that as false by default is beyond me, but the documentation wasn't great, so whatever. Then I had to resubmit it again because they wouldn't certify it, suggesting that one of the screenshots (the splash screen) wasn't in the app. Stupid.

And by the way, I got a 32 gig microSD card (can't believe how little it is!), so the phone now has 40 gigs total. I have all of my music on it, synced with the Mac Connector tool. I'm super happy about it, and loving the phone. Going back to mess with the iPhone feels like going backward. Never thought in a million years I'd say that.

Windows Phone 7 acquired

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 18, 2010, 12:11 PM | comments: 0

My officemate, Aaron, showed up late at work this morning with the new Samsung Focus. Today is the first day that we could buy Windows Phones to be eligible for reimbursement. I was going to wait, but particularly after playing with one last night in the on-campus store, I couldn't. Considering it's free, why not?

I headed to Redmond Town Center and got it in no time flat. He changed the registration in their system, swapped SIM cards, and off I went. The AT&T guy said that the Focus is far and away the biggest seller so far.

First impression: I love it. I've obviously seen the UI for a very long time now, but it's a totally different experience when you input a couple of accounts to the phone. Add Facebook and Gmail, and you've got a flood of awesomeness. Apps might be all the rage, but it blurs the line here given the integration. I mean, I had photos as soon as I put my Facebook account in.

Will write more after I've had it a few days, but I'm really digging it.

You just know

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 9:57 PM | comments: 0

Carrie sez:

"Over the years there have been several people who have advised me that when I find the one who is right for me, I’ll just know.  They’ve said things are just easy and you don’t have to work hard on the relationship, because things just sort of flow and make sense.  Quite frankly, I thought they were full of shit.  Hahahaha…  That’s because if you haven’t found the one who is right for you (and even more so, when you think you have, but have not), you have no idea what they are talking about.  You have no frame of reference for it."

See, I'm not completely full of shit when I'm handing out relationship advice. :)

So much excitement ahead

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 8:39 PM | comments: 0

I'm kind of overwhelmed at the amount of exciting things going on right now. They are, in no particular order:

Next week off. Technically, we don't get Monday off, but I'm not going to be stingy with the vacation time. I could probably "work from home," but I'll keep it honest. The week starts with Harry Potter on Saturday, another gift from Microsoft. They even paid for the popcorn.

Tomorrow is the first day that we can also buy a Windows Phone 7, to be eligible for reimbursement. Today I stopped by the on-campus store and played with the Samsung Focus, and it is, in fact, a pretty sweet phone. The more I play with the OS, the more I'm eager to use it. I don't really have anything against iOS, but after three and a half years with iPhone, I guess I'm bored with it. This is new and shiny, and I believe that the UI and integration is better. And hey, since the phone is free, I can always go back to my iPhone if I hate it.

Sunday is the big tryout day. By the end of the day, I'll have (hopefully) a volleyball team. I have absolutely no idea what to expect at all. This USAV region is not the strongest in the country, but I have to assume that some number of kids don't play soccer! Given the size and the scope of the club, I imagine it would attract some solid talent. The biggest variable in my eyes is that I don't know anything about the club's reputation. I guess I'll know soon enough!

The week off also gives me a chance to buckle down and write some code, as well as spend some quality time with Simon, heading into his first Thanksgiving. I've had so many issues with the holidays at various points, and I'm admittedly energized to celebrate them with my little man. It's very exciting.

Speaking of writing code, I submitted my Windows Phone app today. No idea what to expect, since the install base is not big yet, but it was really more about the journey than the destination. I really like developing for it. I didn't have to pay for the app store registration (well, I did, but I'll get reimbursed), so again there was no risk.

Warning: failure rant ahead

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 16, 2010, 10:20 PM | comments: 0

It seem as though certain segments of the world are going out of their way to annoy me lately. It's as if some natural order to things is breaking down. I'm not sure what bothers me more, the chaos or the fact that stuff I can't control is getting to me.

Let's start with driving. People here in Seattle suck at it. They don't go the speed limit. They don't take their turn at 4-ways. They pull out in front of you. Most annoying though is that they do stupid things without thinking about how it affects the traffic around them. For example, they'll come to an uber-gradual stop at an intersection, not taking into account that there is a stack of cars trying to quickly and efficiently get off an off-ramp. Or the other day, some jackass at the mall double parks near a pick-up area, blocking traffic entirely. Then when I honk at the guy he gets out of the car and throws his hands up in the air as if he doesn't know what to do. Seriously?

The thing that really gets me riled up lately is how impossible it seems to get what you actually pay for. It's not even about the money. If I was that worried about the money, I wouldn't spend it. It's the fact that there's a contract involved when you spend money: You get something for it. The movers did a total shit job. We had to pack stuff in our car because their truck was too small. It took three guys a half-hour to assemble our bed, using my tools. They packed like morons. They broke stuff, mostly not important, but including a custom framed photo my dad gave me. If that weren't bad enough, I've been going around with them now for three weeks, and they're finally giving me some money back. I can generally accept that shit happens, but if it happens when I'm paying you for something, own up to it and make it right.

Then there are completely simple things that shouldn't be failures. For example, the Home Depot near us has an automated LP gas cylinder exchange. Swipe your card, door opens, swap your tank for another. Only the tank I got was empty. Oh, and the machine didn't give me a receipt either. So now I have to go back there, with a printed copy of my bank activity, and get a new tank. It's not the money, it's the inconvenience, and the fact that I couldn't use my grill.

I'm going to take the bus tomorrow.

One year at Microsoft

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 16, 2010, 6:44 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe, but I've been at Microsoft for a year now. As much as I can't believe how much has happened in my personal life in the last year, and how much time that seems to have involved, the time at work went really fast. People ask me all of the time what it's like, and really, it took me a long time to really form an opinion.

First of all, there's one big theme you'll find whenever I talk about Microsoft: It's too big to draw any truly universal conclusions about it. Think about it... something like 88k people (plus contractors and vendors) work for the company, spread out all over the world, in diverse businesses that range from consumer to business, video games to spreadsheets, phones to search engines. It's kind of silly when someone suggests that because they think Windows sucks, the whole company sucks.

So to that end, I can tell you what my time has been like, and what my opinions are, and sometimes make observations, but for the most part my experience isn't necessarily something that is common to anyone else.

To give you some context, I work as an SDE II (software development engineer) in Server and Tools Online. We're the folks who bring you MSDN and TechNet, and all of the online applications that are associated with those properties (forums, profile), plus CodePlex, Connect, galleries and likely other things I don't recall). We also have things like and (the Web sites) in our org. It's not a huge organization relative to the amount of traffic we see, and I'm consistently impressed with how much work we get done. In fact, if you look at the org chart, I'm only six degrees from Steve Ballmer. (Suck it, Kevin Bacon!)

Our size and leadership allow us to be relatively agile, both in the literal and figurative sense. We release frequently, and each release has several iterations. I think the most public example of this is what the CodePlex guys do, which you can observe via their blog. It's not some kind of religious agile/XP/scrummy thing, exactly, as we tend to do what feels right. It's a lot like my experience in coaching volleyball, in that I have a system for play, but I have to adapt it to the people and situations I encounter for it to make sense. For example, we pair when it feels like a good idea, but not all of the time. Most of our teams work out of team rooms, which is very opposite from the office-for-everyone culture that the company was founded on. My team is spread between four adjacent offices, but generally it works out pretty well. We have relatively few meetings.

As for my own job satisfaction, it had its ups and downs in the last year, in large part from my own doing. Moving and adjusting to a new place, after living 36 years in the same region, was a constant distraction. Having a child (with the awesome paid four weeks off) was also something that hurt my ramp up time. It took way too long to feel like I was contributing, but I take responsibility for that. It's been much better in the last six months, and I'm really enjoying myself now.

The nature of the work has varied a great deal. Shortly after I started, we built the new profile system that is, so far, common to the forums and galleries. While the app isn't particularly complicated, it was neat to work on something that was so huge in scale. You'd be surprised that solid fundamental design went a long way toward being able to scale. Much of our time was spent improving the forums, which were built by a previous team. Most of that work was on the back end, and despite some pain, I think we made some solid strides. Honestly, that work was less fun for me than I expected, but given my long history with forum apps in general, I suppose I was burned out on the genre. For the last month or two, we've been working on something totally new, but I'm not sure I can talk much about it yet. Rest assured, you'll see some things about it in the near future. Working from scratch on something big, with newer tech like Azure, is pretty exciting.

In terms of people, I love coming to work every day. My co-workers tend to be mostly younger than me, but given all of the new babies and what not, we have a lot to talk about. It's a fairly tight social group, and we tend to go to lunch as a group most days. People are just generally likable. I have a no-bullshit manager who makes expectations clear. There's somewhat of a cultural divide between us and the program managers in terms of social interaction, but they're generally good people as well.

Much is made about the review process at Microsoft, and the things you hear are often negative. I've been through it once now, and I thought it was relatively fair. I suppose this depends a lot on who your manager is, and as I said, mine is pretty straight forward. Not only were expectations clear, but I think it should also be obvious about what to expect if you have any self-awareness at all. I'm not sold on stack ranking as a positive way to motivate people, but I also haven't been around long enough to form a solid opinion. Have people been "screwed" in this system? In a company this big, I'm sure it happens. Maybe I'm naive, but I think those are exceptions, not the rule.

One of the greatest things about Microsoft is the unprecedented access you get to everything it does. There are constantly breakfast and lunch seminars, talks on far out research projects, product fairs and even internal conferences. There are so many opportunities to find out what's going on around the company, and a ton of learning to be had.

And if that weren't enough, you also get to see products grow up right in front of you. I've already participated in two beta programs (Mac Office 2011 and Xbox Kinect), and that was pretty fascinating. It's especially neat when you get free stuff, like a Kinect sensor. You also may get chances to use the very latest builds of new products, depending on what your job is. If you develop Web junk, like I do, it's also pretty cool to network and chat with people on the various product teams.

We've had a ton of morale events in the last year, and I have to admit that they're just enough to really cause me to further enjoy the company. They vary from simple things like free movies, to giant launch picnics, to go-kart racing, to a beautiful day putting around a mini-golf course at a too-rich-for-me country club. And of course there's ample opportunity for adult beverages at some of these things, and I jokingly said that I only really have a drink while at work. I can't seem to live that comment down.

Overall, I really like working for the company. I think long-term career development is going to be a challenge to me, because I'm still not sure what that will look like. Prior to joining the company, I was moving away from heads-down coding, so I'd like to get back on that track. That probably means trying to ascend to managing positions in dev areas, or maybe program management (which is a ridiculously nebulous term). I'm sure I'll figure it out.

Looking beyond my own experiences, I have a lot of things to tell friends and relatives about what the company is not. While I'm not an apologist for the things that Microsoft does poorly, I admittedly get a little annoyed when people make silly generalizations. People with blogs are the worst. So let me clear some things up, at least from my perspective.

First off, yes, people have iPhones, and no, people aren't shy about having them. I would guess that at least 1 in 3 employees have an iPhone, and Android phones have a strong presence as well. In the US, we'll be able to get Windows Phones starting later this week, but given the demand, who knows how long that will take, or what the adoption rate will be.

And while we're on the subject of Apple gear, wait for it... many of us use Macs. Some of us even have them as our work laptops. I would say that Macs probably run Windows better than most computers, in fact. But my point is that avoiding "not invented here" syndrome is a company mandate. We also use a ton of open source software in our apps in my group. Heck, CodePlex is an open source project host!

There are certainly people at the company who are hardcore, anti-everyone-but-us, who won't use anything without the Microsoft logo on it. While I admire that kind of dedication, I don't think it helps the company. The best way to understand your competition is to understand its appeal, and there's no better way to do that than use the stuff. Of course, pundits seem to think we compete with everything that everyone else makes, but I suppose that's a different problem.

There's a cultural shift underway in various parts of the company that feel a lot more like followers of Rework than those stuck in the 90's days of shrink-wrap software. That's exciting. I wasn't there, but I can't imagine that the Microsoft of ten years ago could have started from scratch on something like Windows Phone and turn it around so quickly, or push out new versions of frameworks (ASP.NET MVC, Silverlight, etc.) on a frequent basis. As time goes on, I can only imagine that less and less time will be spent on things that, deep down, we know don't matter.

So that's one year in the books. I really dig this company, wins, flaws and all. I look forward to many more.

Power fail and home misery

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 16, 2010, 1:05 PM | comments: 0

Our power went out last night, and it took them until 7:30 this morning, about ten hours, to get it back on. Unreal. Puget Sound Energy said on Twitter that it could take as long as until Thursday to get everyone back up. That seems insane to me. The wind storm was certainly not as bad as your average night of thunderstorms in the Midwest, which is wind as well as lightning (and tornadoes), yet I can't remember any time that I lost power more than a few hours. I guess they're just not equipped for that out here, the way they aren't equipped for snow.

But here's the worst part of it: It's November in Seattle. If your power goes out in the Midwest in July, no worries, since it's probably 70+ degrees. The house got really, really cold by morning, and if the power did not return, we'd have to relocate until it did.

And that's crappy because Diana and Simon are sick. It's not like flat on your back high fever sick, but they're both fairly miserable with the congestion and coughing and sneezing. To Simon's credit, he has been such a trooper, because on top of the this he's also got any number of teeth swelling up his gums, and he's tugging at his ears. He's visibly uncomfortable, but he wants to be happy, and tries his best.

In any case, I stayed home today to take some of the load off. Simon got a good three hour nap in, and Diana got at least two this morning. Hopefully they can sleep it off after not having ideal sleep overnight.

Irrationally seeking tax deductions

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 14, 2010, 11:21 PM | comments: 1

You know what's really stupid? This time of year, I tend to look for things to buy that are business related so I can score a deduction on my taxes. Last year, I bought my desktop computer that way. It completely doesn't make sense, and I know this. Sure, if I buy some piece of equipment for $1,000, I then pay $200-something less toward taxes. But that still puts me at a net loss of $800, except that I have some piece of hardware that I now own. Totally irrational.

The business did much better than last year, thanks in part to the amazing rebound of the advertising market. That has me all screwed up, because I didn't do any tax estimates this year because generally I'm covered with the various standard deductions and mortgage payments and what not. So combined with the taxes on the short sale, I'm already going to be writing a five-digit check to the feds, and that blows.

One thing that is nice this year... no state or municipal income tax. This year, that saves me something like $6k. Suck it, Ohio and Brunswick!

First Windows Phone app done, for now

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 14, 2010, 9:30 PM | comments: 0

I spent much of the day working on the Windows Phone app I dreamed up as a science project when they announced we could submit them for free and work on them at work (which I never really did in any significant way). Once the Web site is up, I'll link to it.

It's not a complicated app, and I'm not going to charge for it. I've got some bigger ideas for it, but before I commit to all kinds of stuff, I want to see how it's received first, and if it generates any revenue from ads. This is a v1 effort. There are a lot more things I could do with it.

As for the experience of building it, it's not hard at all. In fact, it's crazy easy to work with the platform. The only real speed bump is getting layout to look right, which is the same trick you have with regular Silverlight. If you use the mode-view-view model patten, you can reasonably handle the way it kills and restores the app, saving data.

Tomorrow I'll go look up the procedure to get an app store account and go from there. It would feel good to finish a project for a change!

Why do people get so locked into bad relationships?

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 12, 2010, 11:05 PM | comments: 0

We watched the movie Waitress tonight, which had been sitting around for weeks from Netflix. I'm not sure what's next (Diana is the Queuemaster), but if we hadn't watched some streamed flicks on the Xbox, we'd definitely not be getting our money's worth.

The movie is essentially about a woman who is in the shittiest of relationships, knows it, and is powerless to leave it. It seems too ridiculous in a movie to be real, but let's face it, we all know people in that situation. Most of us have probably even been there. What I'll never understand is why people who are otherwise perfectly logical and awesome go down that road.

OK, that's not entirely true, I kind of understand it. Even that movie addresses it. Sometimes people don't believe that they're worth more, that people might like them or that something better is even possible (not to mention very likely). My first real relationship was like that, with someone that was lovely in a lot of ways, but failed to meet so many other parameters. I kept in it because I figured it was a one-off opportunity. Stupid.

We have a friend who recently got out of a relationship that was obviously underachieving from the start. The dude was a schmuck. Before you knew it, they were cohabitating anyway, which only made it harder to walk away. Why did she stay in it? In her case it was partly because she didn't know how not to be in a relationship, but it was also because she didn't see any potential for something better. We often lower our standards for character, compatibility, ambition and how we're treated sometimes, because it often feels better to get laid on a regular basis than it does to be alone. (Sounds like some of the dating I did prior to meeting Diana.)

It's tragic to watch, and even more tragic to be a part of it, too blind to see it. I wish someone would hand out instruction manuals for this kind of thing. It's not something I have to worry about anymore, but I hate to see others endure it.

One year in Seattle

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 12, 2010, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

Saturday marks our one year anniversary of our arrival in Seattle. At first I wanted to say that it doesn't seem like a year, but after further review, it does. A lot of time has passed. Living in two places, having a child and having five offices at work seems to put higher value on time.

It's kind of fun to read the various blog posts from our move. While I can appreciate all that has happened in the last year, this particular week of driving is so fresh in my mind. I just couldn't believe how few decent places there were to eat on that drive. I loathed bringing up all of my camera gear, suitcases, four cat carriers and a tub of cat litter up to hotel rooms every night. The crying of the cats, and Oliver clawing at the carrier until his paws bled sucked. The stress of driving through winter weather in the Rockies really aged me. But despite all of that, I still have an enormous sense of pride about driving all 2,500 miles myself. We had a brief, but very nice time at Mt. Rushmore. The views through the Rockies, Idaho and the central part of Washington were completely stunning. The very honest truth is that I'm not likely to ever see the country again that way.

The weirdest thing about that week was that we were literally homeless during that time. We really had no address. As someone who very much needs the comfort of home, that was a scary thing for me. I remember standing in my drive way with my camera, getting a shot of the address numbers over the garage, when it hit me in the biggest way that this was it. After 22 years of living in Brunswick, that was it. The house that served as home base for the best and worst parts of my life would no longer be my home (even if I would own the fucking thing for the next year anyway).

That first weekend in Seattle was really hard. We hated the temporary housing, and 18 hours after we arrived, we were looking at places to live. The first place we looked at was one of the most beautiful townhomes I've ever seen, and it was crushing to find out the commute was impossibly long. We settled on an apartment that I was initially pretty excited about, given its "low" price, and honestly I didn't really dislike it until the month I had off with Simon.

We had been in town almost for two months by the time we finally got into Seattle proper for some touristy nonsense, the weekend of Diana's 40th birthday. That was a fun weekend, with perfectly sunny weather. We did some museums, took the monorail, wandered around Pike Place Market and just took it all in. I wanted to find all of the places around town that they shot scenes from the movie Singles, but never got around to it. We did, on that trip, at least by sheer coincidence find the Virginia Inn, where Steve meets Linda for water.

Throughout the year we'd make other visits to Seattle, and it's actually fairly easy to get around once you get a feel for the different areas. Having Simon at a hospital downtown certainly helped too. But the bulk of our navigational knowledge involved the east side, since that's where we lived and where I worked (the east side is generally considered anything east of Lake Washington, and maybe areas at both ends of the lake, depending on who you ask). Bellevue in particular became familiar because it had the closest Babies-R-Us, Lego Store and an Apple Store. It's also where a different hospital did some of Simon's tests.

We really liked living in Issaquah, even if we didn't care for the actual apartment. Having just moved from it a few weeks ago, I can say that we'd honestly consider a house there at some point in the future. It's close to work, has a number of grocery stores (and Costco), and is convenient to Redmond, Bellevue and the freeways.

Prior to Simon's birth, there was an intense feeling of isolation some of the time. Our entire social circle was really Joe's family. Fortunately, as time went on, I found it easy to build a number of trustworthy friendships at work, and Diana's PEPS group is completely awesome, particularly once I was able to meet up with them as well. We're no longer total strangers.

We had a ton of change in our lives in the last year, and while it was mostly good, it really put me on edge at times. Lately, I generally feel like we're more balanced out. Understanding how to be parents helps, as does feeling confident about getting around. I struggle with the idea of what "home" really is, and there's a part of me that feels that the designation belongs exclusively to Cleveland, even if I never want to live there again. Moving into our second place, I can say that I can feel the comfort of home even if it's not on Beaumont Dr. That feeling comes from the presence of my new family unit (plus kitties), as well as lots of sun coming in all these windows.

So what about a year at Microsoft? That's another post...

Canon S95 revisited

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 11, 2010, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

With the update to OS X today (or yesterday), Apple finally delivered the ability to view raw files from the Canon PowerShot S95. I bought the camera about two months ago, when it first came out, knowing that I wouldn't be able to give my snaps any Aperture love for awhile. But the wait is over, and I'm happily looking at my photos on the magic 27" iMac. It's like seeing a lot of these for the first time, since I never put Canon's shitty converter software on my desktop.

The results are fairly impressive overall, and maybe even better than I expected for such a tiny camera. Tiny lenses and sensors don't always deliver the best results, although for the price of this particular camera, you would hope that it does. Again, my criteria for choosing this camera was size, raw file format and manual control. It might be the smallest in Canon's line to meet all three criteria (and I'm kind of a Canon fanboy, so I didn't really look at the other manufacturers).

At 10 million pixels, there's a lot of data there. Exposure tends to be pretty good in daylight situations, except when it's exceptionally overcast. I didn't have to do much in the way of tweaking to correct for the camera going over/under, but when I did, it was remarkable to see how much dynamic range you could unlock from the raw data. There was one shot I had looking at my car in the apartment garage, which is dark inside and bright outside, and I could see great detail end to end, suddenly seeing both the mountain background on the reflective license plate as well as the stuff in the back of the garage.

The noise is about what you'd expect on a camera that size. ISO 400 is tolerable enough, especially when you resize to Web viewing resolutions, and honestly you can get away with 800. It's a little much for my tastes at 800 when viewed at high resolution, but it's still not horrible.

The only real negative I've found is that in P mode, it doesn't have a minimum shutter speed when the flash is off. Yeah, I suppose that's what shutter priority is for, but there are often situations where you want the faster shutter if you can get it, but are willing to live with somewhat dark exposure if it means not going lower than 1/60, for example.

After carting it around Ohio, constantly in motion, I have to say that it was durable and compact. I had to keep checking my pockets around Cedar Point to make sure I still had it (I remember doing the same thing at Holiday World). I find it easy to turn the auto flash on and off, and adjust the ISO with the lens ring.

Overall, I'm still really pleased with it. It was definitely worth the money and performs to the expectations I had.

Parenthood (the TV show)

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 11, 2010, 9:16 PM | comments: 0

Have you watched Parenthood on NBC? Holy crap is that a good show. I opted to start watching it last year when it debuted because, given the cast, I figured it was worth a shot. So far, they've shown that the writing is pretty good too.

All of the characters are surprisingly well drawn, despite having so many, and they're all likable. Every show is relatable, probably to problems you've had in your own life. And there's this wonderful family dynamic spanning three generations, which may not be entirely realistic, but it does give you warm fuzzies.

With so many shows we liked cancelled, we don't watch much TV, but this show gets high priority on the DVR. It's top notch. And it's not yet another medical, lawyer or cop drama.

Windows Phone buzz

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 11, 2010, 12:06 PM | comments: 0

I'm over in the Commons for a mini-seminar on usability, and I got here a little early to pop in the wireless stores to check out the new phones. Sadly, the AT&T store had a huge line, so I couldn't see the one I really wanted to see up close, the Samsung Focus. The T-Mobile store, however, did not have a line, so I got a good look at the HTC HD7.

Wow... it's really shiny, and the screen is enormous. This is the first time I've seen production hardware (there have been various prototypes floating around since spring), and it's remarkable how fluid and smooth the UI is. The animations don't drop frame rate at all. It was really fantastic. I looked through the various mainstream apps, and thought they were all as good as, or better, than the iPhone equivalents. I really like the mapping better. The word suggestion as you type (I sent a text to myself) is infinitely better than what iPhone does.

It'll be interesting to see how it goes as things ramp up. Microsoft doesn't do hype very well, so outside of the tech circles, which seem to receive it pretty well, consumer recognition isn't very high yet. Scarcity problems seem to be occurring here and there, mostly outside of the US. The cross-promotion via Xbox Live is impressive. I think the product is seriously awesome, so we'll see if the marketing conveys that. The thing about the smart phone market is that it's still a very new and small (relative to phone sales overall) market, so as Android has shown us, there's plenty of room beyond the iPhone.

We can buy starting late next week, but I'm not sure when I'll take the plunge. Depends on how long I can wait. :) AT&T says I can get away free on March 3, four months before the end of my contract, otherwise I have the prorated early termination fee, which in my case is under a hundred bucks at this point. A lot of it has to do with how the Samsung "feels," because the other two AT&T models (one with silly slide-out speakers, the other with a slide-out keyboard), don't interest me. The Samsung has that great screen and is super light, and those are important to me.

Redefining success

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 10:17 PM | comments: 0

I remember reading a great article in the last year, maybe in Wired, about the early onset of midlife crises and the tendency for people to freak out about their lives. It also detailed a process that was related to it, where people carefully considered whether or not they were achieving anything "meaningful" (I'm not even sure what that means). A key component of the crisis was defining what success looks like, defining it poorly, then redefining it as something "less," only to get depressed because the new definition felt like compromise or failure. Pretty cool, eh?

When I first read that, it really struck a chord with me, and it made perfect sense. I've had the unusual but fortunate opportunity to meet and talk with a great many people ranging from CEO's of public companies down to entrepreneurs of one-person companies. The titles of these folks never had anything to do with their actual level of success. Many have chased it, but the effort was futile because it was so poorly defined.

For example, I've known people who built up something relatively small, made a nice living from it, and maybe even sold it. That was successful. I've known CEO's who built something up, watched it fall apart, while living lavish lifestyles. I don't think that's success. I've worked for total schmucks that seem to get away with running a mediocre business in perpetuity, but I wouldn't call that success either. In fact, success rarely has anything to do with money.

I learned that lesson when I was doing contract work, swimming in cash. The cash didn't make me happy when I hated what I was doing. In fact, in some ways I'd say my greatest success and happiest times have come in periods of self-employment, or even coaching. When I stop and think about it, I've been successful for pretty much my entire professional life, and I'm successful now. It certainly has nothing to do with money, cars, houses (or hookers and blow... just kidding).

If I were having a midlife, then one would have to ask, "Are you making a compromise, because you couldn't do what you wanted to be successful?" Well, no, that would be moronic. There's always something more/bigger/better that I can reach for, and that's a healthy way to grow and be a well rounded human being. It does not, however, invalidate your achievement of the moment. If you stop and look objectively at your life, it's a safe bet that you're already successful. Why not celebrate that?

I was thinking about that today on my drive home, given all of the things I wish I was doing more of, advancing levels at work, going to nationals for volleyball, launching new Web sites, buying a house, etc. Just because I haven't achieved those things doesn't mean that I haven't already achieved success.

Changing your definition of success isn't admitting defeat, it's giving yourself a little credit. If you don't do it for yourself, how can you expect others to?


posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

A couple of nights ago, I watched a doc on Netflix called Modify. It's about body modification in its entire spectrum, from piercing and tattoos to plastic surgery. It's extraordinarily graphic, showing all kinds of procedures, from plastic surgery, to basic piercing and tattooing, tongue splitting, genital piercing, scarring, cutting, branding, subdermal implants, skin suspensions, etc. If that stuff makes you queasy, don't see it.

As a piercing enthusiast, I did think it was interesting though, as it did have a good bit of history. For example, the modern use of receiving tubes for the needle was largely born out of the need to more accurately and safely perform Prince Albert piercings (that's from under the penis out through the urethra). Funny how that seems so obvious, but wasn't thought of before that.

There were quite a few discussions about why people do it, and one guy suggested the motivation boils down to around four reasons: the aesthetic, sexual enhancement, self expression and some spiritual reason (or some combination thereof). I'll buy that. I know for me it's always been a combination of aesthetic and spiritual reasons. I mean, in the chaos of the world, how many things can you truly own and control?

One of the things that did stick with me is the suggestion that everyone already participates in body modification, but it's a huge spectrum. Arguably, cutting or coloring your hair is a body mod, as is wearing makeup or shaving. What comes into play in our society is that people have different tolerances for what's "normal," which is kind of unfortunate. I remember about ten years ago, Stephanie was working her way through grad school at a computer store, where she was a manager, and some woman actually said she wouldn't be able to answer a question because of her pierced nose. How crazy is that? Nevermind that it's something borrowed from other cultures that have done it for hundreds of years (like that "small" country called India). People can be real bastards.

Tattoos and piercings seem to have a reached a level of higher acceptance in some places, fortunately. I think that's progress. It's an interesting film, if you're curious. It might entirely disgust you otherwise. :)

Splashy bath

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 7:41 PM | comments: 0

Simon's bath tub is enormous, and works either with him sitting up at one end, or lounging at the other. I've only tried to sit him up once, and he resisted. But today I did because I needed to be more thorough about cleaning up his backside.

And sitting up, he realized that he could splash around with his arms, and it's awesome. I think he was up for three or four minutes tops, and he got my shorts wet, Diana's shirt, the floor outside the tub... it was epic. He got his head all wet too, and couldn't understand why water kept dripping in his eyes.

Every day, Simon gets more interesting, and it's funny how such little things like this make you smile.

Psychological savings

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 9, 2010, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

I saw on the news the other day that one of the things that has changed the economy, and prevented it from "recovering" to what it was a few years ago, is that people have actually been saving money and living more within their means. (To which I'd ask why people are driving around Porsches and various luxury cars around here, until I remember that probably is within their means.) The going theory is that there has been a larger psychological effect that's deeper than simply "people are po."

And dare I say that I am somewhat in that camp, at least relative to my current salary. I've tried to at least be responsible. We landed here with about $26k in credit card debt between our personal accounts and the business. Not counting the recent moving expenses and a grand for the biz, that debt is gone. We had ridiculous and somewhat random expenses like the replacement of the stolen plumbing from Diana's house, and less random expenses like travel and a little extra down payment on my car. Oh, and we made a new little human. The bottom line is that we had a shit-ton of expense in the last year, and we still managed to dig out. That's discipline I've not had before.

Granted, it does seem like it's always something. Everything we're saving now will go to the feds when the tax bill comes due for the "income" on Diana's short sale, and that's going to suck. After that, I have to save to finance a wider loss on my house than I can afford today so I can get rid of the damn thing.

But again, I think we've been fairly disciplined without putting a halt to our lives. I put more into investment accounts in the last year than I probably have the rest of my life combined. The driving force for this has been the mental kick in the nuts from navigating the shitty economy. From layoff to first day of new work, seven months exactly passed in 2009 (thus the huge card debt), so I know first hand what that's like to have suboptimal cash flow, and I don't want to be in that position again.

The financial strategy going forward is pretty simple: Don't be an asshole. Also, don't be overly focused on stressful things like selling my house, or buying a new one. There are constraints outside of my control for those things, so I need to let go. Saving is remarkably easy, especially when you never see it, so hooray for my 401k and IRA.

Productivity: I haz it

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 8, 2010, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

Wow, I've been productive tonight. I wrote quite a bit of code for the forum app today, in the area of topic e-mail subscriptions (someone replies, you get e-mail). It's still not done, as I've come to realize that's a pretty big feature with a lot of moving parts, but it's getting there.

This is the first time I've had focus on that project in some time, as it has sadly gone neglected for a month or so, as I previously complained. I got into a nice zone today. If it weren't for my desire to sleep more consistently, I'd stay up and keep at it for awhile.

Even more sweet is that this phenomenon is not restricted to my home projects. I've been a machine at work too. That's a plus given my past inadequate productivity levels. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we're on a new project that we're building very quickly, from scratch, and my soul isn't being sucked down the drain by that forum app (at work, not home). It was so poorly written that I hated mucking around in it, and now it's not our problem.

I'm also surprised at the quality of what I'm doing from time to time. I'm quick to point out that I'm not a computer science guy, and frankly getting too deep into patterns and algorithms bores the crap out of me. But every once in awhile, I notice myself being more sophisticated than I used to be. So while I don't foresee ever being a technical fellow at work (those are people who invent languages and what not), perhaps I'm not in the knowledge rut that I thought I was in.

Now if I could just finish one of my solo projects. That'd be a good change of pace.

Woot customer service = awesome

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 8, 2010, 7:02 PM | comments: 0

Like a moron who was confused about where he lives, I gave Woot the wrong address for my Rent is Too Damn High T-shirt. I gave them the house number here, but the street from the apartment. Duh. So the shirt ended up confused at a post office and sent back.

I wrote Woot, explaining my dipshittery, and they sent out another, two-day, no questions asked.

+1 for Woot.

Eight months, eight teeth

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 7, 2010, 10:22 PM | comments: 0

Simon turned 8 months on Friday, and wouldn't you know it, sprung another tooth that day to make eight. This one brings symmetry back to his lower teeth, and he now has the top and bottom front four on each. The molars are still MIA, despite threatening to show. It even looks like one of his eye teeth are trying to poke through.

He was so good all weekend, which I'm very thankful for given that we had to watch three kids, but today after we got home was super needy and wouldn't stop whining. He also sucked down enormous amounts of food and milk, to feed all of those teeth. I just hate to see him all whiney like that.

Another win, he did sleep the full 12 hours straight on Friday night, and I suppose technically he did last night, but with the time change, it felt earlier. Tonight he already got up at 9-something, but I'm crossing my fingers that he'll make it until 7 a.m., for Diana's sake.

Oh, there were many discussions about multiple conclusions this weekend, but no decisions made. I've gotta let all of that marinate before writing about it.

Body mod foul

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 7, 2010, 9:27 AM | comments: 0

We were watching Dirty Dancing last night on cable because, I dunno, it was novel seeing it in HD. To be honest, it's a fairly big deal in terms of cultural milestones, and I find it hard to outright hate on the movie. It shaped notions of what a romantic story should be for me when it came out (I was in grade 9).

The movie brought back a conversation we had earlier in the week watching a recent DVR'd episode of House, with Jennifer Grey, namely why she got a nose job. Comparing the before and after, we agreed that he natural nose was much cuter. On IMDB, she says she regrets getting the nose job.

The funny thing about women, in my eyes, is that the things that might be considered non-perfect are the things that are most attractive. I mean, when I look at the women I've had relationships with, there's a pattern of "quirks" there... including robust noses, too tall, too short, slightly chubby or skinny, nose rings, interesting hair colors and styles... just things outside of the "normal" range.

I wonder if that's "normal" for most guys' tastes.

Here comes the nostalgia!

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 6, 2010, 10:14 PM | comments: 0

As Microsoft HR has informed me, I'm coming up on my one-year anniversary with the company, which is completely wild. Diana and I were talking this evening, looking around and thinking, "Holy crap, this is our life." If you told me three and a half years ago when we met that I'd live in Washington, working for the biggest software company in the world, married, with a little boy, I'd say you were full of shit. But here I am.

The interesting thing about all of that change is that it's far enough in the past now that it's mostly happy memories. I'm fairly used to my life now, though that also makes me more aware of the things that I feel are suboptimal or not moving at the pace I'd like (a post for another day). You know that you've achieved a new normal when you start to wonder what may disrupt it.

The funny thing about those first weeks after moving is that we never had a chance to catch our breath. We had the five days of driving, a weekend of apartment hunting, a week and a half at work, then Thanksgiving, then a week at Walt Disney World. I remember for Diana's birthday in January, we were out doing touristy stuff, almost two months after moving, and it still felt like we just got here.

Time sure flies...

Developmental stages

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 6, 2010, 6:46 PM | comments: 0

Watching my niece and nephew this weekend has been fascinating (and exhausting) because in some ways I can see what to look forward to in Simon. Mason is only three months ahead, and though physically smaller, he's so much more... dexterous. He can clap, exercises far more control in handling things, sit up for hours, etc. He also has a wider range of sounds he can make.

Nina is almost three, and of course she can run around, climb on stuff, talk in that quasi-understandable toddler language and generally keep herself occupied. She creates imaginative situations to submerse herself in. It's completely inspiring to see because it awakens those memories of being that age, when everything is filled with wonder. I totally want to bottle that.

Kids are neat-o.

We have three kids

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 5, 2010, 8:03 PM | comments: 0

We're watching Simon's cousins for most of the weekend. Nina is closing in on three years, and Mason is three months older than Simon (Simon is eight months today). It's strange to think about how Nina was the baby that made me really enjoy baby photography. We were here shortly after she was born, back in 2008, and it was my first time to Seattle, and we weren't even engaged, let alone parents. I still think every time I come over about how that visit started me thinking about moving.

Diana has watched all three kids before, and did so most of today without any serious issues. They're all generally pretty good kids most of the time. For the couple of hours that I spent with them today, the thing that's hard for me is that I want to pay attention to all of them, and I can't! Nina is a little more independent, fortunately, and Mason just kind of chills out. Simon was just kind of going with it too, so I'm crossing my fingers that tomorrow goes like that as well!

Now that we live relatively close, my hope is that Simon gets to spend more time with his cousins now and then. A year or two years from now, I'm honestly not sure if we'll be in the same neighborhood or not. I think my long-term preference is to be closer to work. But honestly, I couldn't have predicted today two years ago, so who knows what will be in two more!

The new laziness

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 5, 2010, 11:07 AM | comments: 0

From Seth Godin's blog:

But the new laziness has nothing to do with physical labor and everything to do with fear. If you're not going to make those sales calls or invent that innovation or push that insight, you're not avoiding it because you need physical rest. You're hiding out because you're afraid of expending emotional labor.

That's a place I've visited a great deal in the last few years.

Kinect connected

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 4, 2010, 11:06 PM | comments: 0

I plugged in the Kinect to my Xbox this evening, and it's ready to go. Free is awesome. I almost feel guilty for it, because I never really gave any feedback during the beta when I had one. I never even submitted feedback for the dashboard updates. It all just kind of worked for me.

Anyway, I was surprised to see that Microsoft announced that they plan to sell 5 million before the end of the year, based on pre-sale, instead of 3 million as planned. That's pretty amazing. I have no idea if this is a margin device or they sell it at a loss, but that's still pretty cool. When I first saw it early this year, I was blown away by the potential, so it will be fun to see what game developers do with it.

Next week, Windows Phone 7 launches. Crossing my fingers for a great year, because as critical as I am sometimes of the company, it doesn't nearly deserve the kind of crap it gets from the press.

That little redheaded kid changes the world

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 4, 2010, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

I feel as though I've been experiencing a reawakening of my emotional self this year. I just care more about stuff, for better or worse. It means that I'm more driven with some things, and it also means that things that bother me carry a greater intensity. It's like me ten years ago, and I think I like it, but it also makes me feel like the world at large is working hard to crush me at times.

Then I wake up, or come home from work, or get up in the middle of the night with a bottle, and I pick up Simon. Sure, he's crabby at times with the teething, but seeing him smile and babble makes everything in the world right. It's too fantastic for words. Our little boy brings me more joy than I could ever seek out and find. The things that bother me just kind of melt away. Isn't that cool to think about? While adults try to talk you down from a ledge, to no avail, the simple act of a baby being a baby, your baby, can change your world for the better. It's so wild.

And to think I was once worried about how it would be having a boy instead of a girl.

Dave Wadsworth: Shitty Realtor®

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 4, 2010, 10:19 AM | comments: 4

This is worth getting on the Internet, because people should know what a jackass this former Brunswick City Councilman was. In response to the ridiculous low-ball offer for my house, I countered with something more reasonable. This was his response:

From: Dave Wadsworth <>
Sent: Thu, Nov 4, 2010 11:50 am
Subject: RE: counteroffer

My buyers have declined to counter-offer and will stay put until Spring-darn!

Please tell Seller that Buyers wish him best of luck selling that maintenance needy home with odd floor plan and no basement in the winter time.

Best regards.

Regards, indeed. What an asshole.

Imogen Heap and Venus Hum DVD's

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 3, 2010, 10:20 PM | comments: 0

I scored a couple of music DVD's this week. I don't buy many DVD's anymore, for reasons I can't entirely explain, but when I stop and think about it, the music stuff I have is some of my favorite stuff. If you still haven't seen It Might Get Loud, check that out.

Venus Hum put out a DVD this year, a live show set in what appears to be a church-gone-studio in Cincinnati. Here's the thing about them... I have everything they've put out, and I've really like about two-thirds of it. In fact, the Songs For Superheroes EP is f'ing brilliant, and contains one of my favorite songs of all time, "Save The World." There's so much crap electronic music, and I really feel that they rise above it. Annette, the singer, has incredible pipes. I first learned of them as they played with Blue Man Group on The Complex tour/video.

But unfortunately, the video just isn't very good. That's not to say that the audio isn't solid, but let's be honest, a couple of overweight guys playing keyboards and computers makes not for a very good concert visually. (Not sure why Annette, who has kind of a cute nosering-librarian look going for her, chose to dress as a frumpy teacher.) Add to that the use of crappy cameras that suffered from all kinds of interlacing artifacts and moire, all handheld, poor exposure, etc., and it just looked kind of cheap.

Like I said, I did enjoy live versions of some of their best songs, though playing only one from Songs seemed strange. I would still see them live if I had the chance.

I also got Imogen Heap's Everything In-Between: The Story of Ellipse. It's a documentary about the making of her most recent album. If you were a fan, you probably watched her many video blog posts on YouTube for the year and a half it took to make the record. On the surface, it kind of seemed like, "Wow, she's so clever, that's nice, looking forward to it," but then one week she gave this testimonial about how she just couldn't finish it on time, and apologized to her fans almost in tears. At that point, it seemed pretty obvious that there was a bigger story.

And the story is simply that being an outright musical genius is really fucking hard. She might have only won the Grammy for best engineered album, but as far as I'm concerned, it was the best thing that came out, period, last year. Her ability to find music in everything, and somehow create things in her head that translate to actual songs is amazing. She plays every instrument. The film on the surface might sound like something a bit self-indulgent, and maybe even a little narcissistic, but imagine being a creative person with impossible expectations and the feeling that you might not ever deliver. She lets all of that hang out at the same time she shows her brilliance. She's weird, charming and fantastic, and someone I would love to talk to for a couple of hours, and I can't imagine anyone wouldn't want to.

I found myself really identifying with her, in that something that is long and hard, and emotionally taxing, provides some of the deepest satisfaction possible in life. I've never had to do anything quite that big in scope, but I totally get it. It's like coaching a season of volleyball or launching a new Web site or spending a year building up a TV studio. I suppose that's another blog post.

Anyone who loves music should check out this doc. It's really fantastic and fascinating.

Shiny new toys at work day

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 2, 2010, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

What a fun day at work. This morning I arrived to find e-mail from the person handling the Kinect beta check-out program that I could keep the unit I had. I suspected that if I held on to it long enough, they might tell me to keep it. I didn't get to be a full-time beta tester, but I got to borrow one a few times. Then I suggested it to one of my co-workers, and he randomly got to keep it for good one week. Knowing there was almost no remaining demand, I kept "renewing" mine in the hope that I'd get the same result, and here we are in release week, and here we are. Whoohoo! Saves me $150. I just have to figure out how to get Kinect Adventures now.

And if that weren't fun enough, Aaron and I got our laptops today. As it turns out, we could get 13" MacBook Pros if we wanted, and nothing runs Windows like a Mac. No, seriously, that hardware is so solid for Windows 7, and that's why my personal laptop, desktop and even my DVR are Macs. In fact, the DVR (a Mac Mini) runs Windows full-time.

Three guys total on my team have Macs for their laptops, and there is still a contingent of people at Microsoft who view Apple as the enemy, which is unfortunate. You can learn a great deal by embracing and understanding your competition.

Speaking of Macs, our lead bought one of the new MacBook Airs for his personal use, and it's nothing short of awesome. As in super wow fantastic awesome. He can boot Visual Studio in something like three seconds. It's nuts. I really, really want one. It's the skinny portable wonder of an iPad, only it's an actual computer. I really dig it.

Voting in King County, Washington

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 1, 2010, 11:07 PM | comments: 0

Just a quick note on the eve of election day... voting here rules. Less interesting than the political races (seriously, I don't think a majority shift in Congress is news at this point, let alone just a "possibility"), is the process in how we vote here. It's all by mail.

The first vote we had here, I was crushed that I didn't get to go to a polling place. It seemed crazy! But the thing is, it's vastly superior to any voting I ever did in Ohio. About a month or so before the election, you get a package in the mail with your ballot, and a double envelope to stuff it in after you've filled it out. You also get two newsprint booklets, one for the state, and one for the county, that explains in detail what every issue is, and what it does, in plain English. It gives you so much more context than you ever get from the paragraph typically found on a ballot. The issues also have statements for and against, with rebuttals. You can make really informed choices. The candidates also have a chance to say what they're about, though few actually say anything about where they stand on issues, so you'll have to go to their Web sites if you want to go deeper.

It's a much better way to vote, because of the context and detail you have at your disposal. You can take your time to read up on each item, and then cast your vote. This was a big year for a lot of important issues in Washington, and I feel like people will make good choices.

The state isn't perfect, mind you. For certain offices, the primaries simply take the top two vote getters and they move on to the general election. So you could in theory have two candidates from the same party. I don't really have a problem with that, but how often does the "winner" in the primary not win the actual election? If it doesn't happen, then it seems like a waste of money to have a primary at all. For once, I'm actually OK with partisan primaries. I think they've only been doing it two years, so who knows.

I still miss geting an "I voted today" sticker. :)

Things I need to do more

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 1, 2010, 10:34 PM | comments: 0

I came to the realization today that there are certain things that I'm simply not doing, or not doing enough. At this point, I thought, wow, I'm being a real negative poopy pants, because there are also a lot of things that I do frequently, and well, and I deserve a little praise for that.

But not right now.

I caution myself about this, because I don't want to be one of those miserable bastards who finds it impossible to be happy because there's always something he or she has not achieved. I strongly dislike those people, and find them uninteresting. So with that healthy dose of perspective made as a disclaimer to myself, I think I'm in a good enough place to be a little critical.

First off, I need to blog more. I made 30 blog entries in October, and one of those was private, so that's remarkably low. Granted, some were exceptionally long and detailed, but I'm not making the time to write as much as I used to. There's an internal struggle going on here, because on one hand I often write to keep myself honest, but on the other hand, much of what I'd like to write about could be read the wrong way. Indeed, too many people I know read this these days, and it may not be appropriate or proper to cover certain topics in a public way. I have to be particularly careful writing about work, because it's often not appropriate. Still, I have a long history of writing about politics, music, movies (something I sorely miss) and the development of interpersonal relationships. I also have many parenting stories to tell.

The thing I'm really beating myself up over right now is that it has been four weeks now since I wrote a line of code for my forum app. Particularly as I'm publishing it open source, and there's an opportunity in that space for it to be dominant and kick ass, I feel very strongly that I need to spend more time on it. It's core to a number of projects going forward too, especially MouseZoom. With Google going apeshit on CPM's, I need that app up and running. That I'm busy with other things or feeling reluctant because I'm coding at work are not good excuses.

I need to be better about picking up household tasks. Diana will make the case that it's her "job" to run the house, but I'm not entirely comfortable with that. It wouldn't kill me to do more around the house beyond trying to take over Simon in the evenings.

It sounds weird, but I want to play video games a little more. That a major Halo release just happened and I haven't finished it is crazy. Plus I have other stuff to try out, like Fallout 3, which I got for ten bucks, and I still have Super Mario Sunshine for Gamecube, a title that's, what, seven years old, that I've never played. My Xbox steering wheel needs more love too.

I need to catch up on reading. I have a pretty huge RSS roll that I try to keep up on, and while I often find myself opening up Google Reader at work several times a day, I never get very far. There are a number of technical blog posts that are required reading, and they're aging. I mean, I work at the damn company making these products, and I should be at the forefront of understanding them. Speaking of reading, I've got three months of Wired to read. I let my Fast Company sub lapse, and I still can't catch up.

Above all, I need to take better care of myself. I need to get proper rest and not stay up late very night. I've been on the verge of something suboptimal for about a week, and I keep fighting it back by simply smiling and staying positive. Eventually, some virus is going to get past that, and my tired self won't be able to fight it off.

Again, I don't think I'm being overly critical of myself, but I do feel like I've spent too much time being a slug lately. Granted, the travel, the move, the Simon, all take a toll on me, and I've been dragging my ass around for a couple of weeks. Sprawling out on the couch watching TV and movies helps. I think that once volleyball ramps up and I'm getting physical activity, it'll help balance me out.