We had a series of surprisingly un-nerdy discussions today at lunch, about relationships of all things. Aside from one of my coworkers believing, with much conviction, that the engagement ring custom is a scam, we bounced around issues of negotiation, living together and generally getting along.
When I was seeing a therapist around the time of my divorce, he said that your parents are essentially your first teachers when it comes to relationships. You can probably connect the dots that if they themselves are divorced, don't get along, don't respect each other, impose toxic tactics toward like guilt and shame, then they are probably not ideal teachers in this respect. So basically, as he put it, you're kind of screwed.
But you make up for this with practice in additional relationships. Unless of course, you don't date much before you commit to a long-term relationship. Yikes, me again. The therapist was very adamant about this: You have no frame of reference without the practice, and are likely to easily accept things that are not healthy. Add in low self-esteem, fear of loneliness and any number of other issues, and you're lining yourself up for a real mess.
In the age of the social network, here I am a decade and a half after college finding that this path was pretty much the rule for at least half of the people I went to school with. The stories vary from, "He never changed to put me higher than pot smoking," to, "She thought sex was repulsive and I thought it was my fault." I'm not making this stuff up. If these far out, and seemingly obvious, relationship problems aren't enough to get people to make a change, what chance do the more mundane and basic issues have? Changes are that these sort of things manifest themselves early, and yet we overlook them.
We all want equitable partnerships in our most intimate relationships, but we're ill-equipped to know what they look like without making a lot of mistakes first. That's not to say no one can make it work, because I definitely know my share of people who do, but they had good role models growing up and mutual understanding of what kind of compromises are not acceptable. For the rest of us, we've had to wing it.
The bottom line is that our culture does a poor job talking about what functional relationships look like. If it were up to me to mandate advice, it would start with: "Date as much as you can, while you're young, and feel free to make mistakes. (But not health mistakes, like unprotected sex and what not.)" Having to engage in this process in my thirties was a pain in the ass, and would've been worse were it not for the Internet. You learn surprisingly quickly once you can be completely honest with yourself, about who you have a good time with, who injects toxicity into relationships, who can make you smile in the morning. You realize that getting laid or sleeping next to a warm body are not success criteria, they're just the things that come naturally with getting it right. Warm bodies are the easy part to obtain.
I wish someone would have taken me aside after my high school graduation and told me this stuff.
Things are still... stinky, around the house, but getting better. Simon still has diarrhea, but it's more "parenthesesed" by liquid. (Aren't you glad you read my blog, where I talk about poop all of the time?) I think we've managed to keep him hydrated overall, but he's been pretty picky about solid food. He was the happiest I've seen him in a week this morning, and there are smiles and laughs where before there were only cries and screams.
On top of the onslaught of poo, he's still dealing with crazy teething pain, but there's only one tooth left to break through, and he'll have his set. We also think that he's had the crazy body aches that we've had, and that's why he's been so needy at times. It's the only way we can explain the screaming. Unfortunately, for some reason he hates the Tylenol, and it's not easy to get it in him. I've now experienced the sad and horrible act of having to restrain your own kid as he screams, and it feels shitty.
As for mom and dad, I finally slept normally last night, and the body pain is mostly gone. Diana is right there with me. We both seem to be experiencing a reboot of our digestive systems though, because despite a lack of outward symptoms, we're having all kinds of cramps and strange noises coming from inside. Diana compares it to the time just after Simon was born, when her organs were all settling into new homes.
I was really worried about a relapse for me, because Friday the pain in my back was nuts. I've read that it's typical of this kind of virus, but I don't remember enduring it before. My continued lack of appetite didn't help either. Saturday was much better outside of the fact that I couldn't sleep, but I think I've mostly beaten it.
Articles on these kinds of viral infections suggest that as long as you have diarrhea, you can still be contagious, so it seems irresponsible to take Simon out. Diana wanted to get out of the house today (I haven't been out since Wednesday!), so I stayed home with the little guy, who is taking a nice long nap. His sleep is still screwed up, but he never really adjusted back to Pacific time in the first place when we returned from Florida.
So here's to hoping Simon's poo thickens up, and we can all get back to living life outside of these walls!
After a couple of years of going to Walt Disney World instead, we finally made a return to my beloved Universal Orlando. After a couple of years of having an annual pass, and a suboptimal experience at the Royal Pacific, we put off returning until after the Harry Potter stuff was open, and not totally new. I watched the operating schedules and hotel rates, and found that third week of January looked promising.
Our agenda was pretty simple: Plan as little as possible and relax. We were staying five nights, but going to the parks three days, with one day to visit my family. With a 10-month-old little boy, you obviously have to adjust your expectations because you can't be sure he'll be up for anything.
We got in late on Sunday afternoon to the Royal Pacific Resort, a hotel where I've had many good times. The hotel was sold-out, and this was one of the excuses they used for a series of issues over the first 24 hours we were there. The biggest problem was that we did not have a crib, which is not cool when you travelled all day from Seattle. They also didn't have the fridge we asked for (baby formula and all). Getting feather pillows replaced took hours, and they still got it wrong. They didn't even get the comped breakfast right. It was a train wreck of poor service uncharacteristic of a four-diamond hotel. I wasn't looking for freebies or comps, I just didn't want to waste time and energy thinking about this basic stuff. Such a disappointment.
In any case, Tuesday morning, we met up with my BFF Kara, who now lives down there working for GKTW. Her annual pass scored us a discount on our three-day, two-park tickets. That saved us nearly fifty bucks with tax. No significant lines at the ticket windows for IOA, which were mostly open. They even had credit card-only carts selling outside. And for the first time ever, getting though the turnstiles was actually really quick. I don't know if the finger print scanners are just less picky or what, but it's super quick. It would still be faster it didn't require a person to take the ticket, scan it and give it back to you, but it's better. +1 for the gate operations.
Hotel guests get in an hour early for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but they do not have Express pass access for Forbidden Journey. We took our time getting in there after breakfast at the hotel, and didn't get in until 9. Still, we got back there and the posted wait time was 15 minutes, so we parked Simon's buggy (as the Brit ride host put it) and entered the queue. Parent swap at this ride is straight forward, as the queue has no stairs, so your entire party enters together. Not having the stroller sucks when your baby weighs nearly 30 pounds.
The queue is nothing short of stunning, walking you through a number of familiar movie areas, including the herbology lab outside, the Defense Against the Dark Arts class room, Dumbledore's office, a hall with the talking paintings, and a room where the Sorting Hat gives you safety warnings. Because we didn't stop in any of these rooms at all, I thought I was missing the plot, but looking it up later, apparently the only plot is that Harry and friends are trying to sneak us muggles down to a Quiditch match. Things of course get out of control, and you get to ride one of the greatest dark rides ever conceived. It's amazing, and fairly good execution of projection and live action elements. I would've liked to have seen higher frame rates (a la the Simpsons Ride), but the resolution is awesome. Can't tell it's digital at all. The motion is exhilarating without being too intense for families. It's really an amazing achievement. The hype is completely worthy. With a bench leaving every seven seconds, capacity clocks in around 2,000 people per hour.
Of course, the entire new themed area is well executed. The sight lines are really amazing, because as you move into the area, you're completely immersed in this world. While I don't feel the new Dragons entrance matches the old one in terms of sheer awesomeness, it really does feel like you're in Hogsmeade. Diana mentioned that technically the stores make it a mix of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, but I'm not enough of a nerd to be bothered by that. It's still impressive. The live performances are impressive as well, and the retheme on the Vekoma roller skater is well done. It's really fantastic all around.
About the butterbeer... It is in fact quite delicious, and worth the $4.25 or whatever. We went with the frozen variety, on the recommendation of the bartender in the Three Broomsticks. It's the foamy stuff on top that I really like. Also a hot tip, that's a better place to get butterbeer than on the "street," because the lines are significantly shorter.
Kara was good enough to hang out with Simon during a number of rides that Diana and I took during that day. The one I was looking forward to the most (in terms of credit whoring) was Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit over in Universal Studios. From a capacity standpoint, it's a pretty fascinating ride to watch. The moving platform is pretty brilliant in terms of getting as many people on and off as quickly as possible. I estimate it's like having a three-train station, and with the half-dozen blocks, you can send a ton of 12-passenger trains.
We did the single rider line, which may or may not have saved time given the short line. I used the "secret" button and chose 131... a Blue Man Group track. I have to say, that was the only thing that kept the ride fun. I didn't find it rough or anything (sat in the second row), just incredibly boring. The frequent blocks mean it never really gets going. The turn around at the end of the street set is way cool, as is the turn around near City Walk. The loop is a surprisingly neat sensation too. If it weren't for the long flatness of the blocks, it could have been potentially interesting, but it's just so boring. What a shame.
Fortunately, Mummy was running at its best, with all of the special effects running, and decent speeds from the launches. I love that the Express pass line basically gets its own station, because waiting is so rare. Diana got two laps while Kara and I watched Simon a lap a piece. I think this is still my favorite coaster in Orlando, and while I haven't been on Manta, I don't care for flying coasters, so I doubt that will change.
We had lunch at Mythos, which was OK. While I do enjoy it, I still don't understand the fascination with it. It's just average, and certainly not a best of anything in terms of food in theme parks. It's still the one thing that I wish Universal did just slightly better... a few more restaurants that were above average. I'm thinking Epcot style.
After an attempted nap for Simon back at the hotel, we returned for a couple of hours, including Simon's second carousel ride, this time on the Caro-Seuss-el. I watched this time, and I was surprised at how fast it was. He's not entirely sure what to do with these yet. It has been about four months since his first ride at Holiday World. I do know that he enjoys watching roller coasters. He was fascinated with the Hulk.
We also stopped at the Watering Hole back in Jurassic Park for drinks, and despite a line, they actually closed it after a two-hour window. Nevermind that there were people walking up who wanted drinks. It was completely bizarre. I've never seen Universal turn away money for alcohol.
We closed that first night at Margaritaville, which was predictably OK. It's not like we go there for the food. Simon did a nice job getting through the day. Kara was a huge help in letting us be carefree and jumping on rides whenever we wanted. And not surprisingly, Simon seemed quite fond of her.
In the second day, we went to the studio park again, and really took it pretty easy. Simon got to meet Barney. The kids area back there seemed nice enough, but incredibly dated. I really would have liked to have jumped on E.T., as I'm very nostalgic about that ride, but it wouldn't have been that fun by myself. That whole end of the studio park, from there all the way around to Jaws, really needs something. It's a bunch of large, kind of ugly buildings with nothing in between. With Fear Factor gone, there's even less going on than before.
The fatigue was setting in on Simon, with all of the irregular sleep, so Diana went back to the hotel with him while I snapped a bunch of photos of Rockit. He took a nice long nap, and we got to do some pool time with him. RPR has one of my favorite pool areas of any hotel, and it's especially relaxing in the off-season. Having a zero-depth entry really makes a difference when you have a baby. That evening, we met our GKTW friends for dinner at a place on I-Drive.
On our last day, we decided to brave the parent swap process by ourselves. We started with the Hulk. The good news is that their swap is awesome. One person goes up the exit, with the stroller, the other through the normal or express line. So we essentially got up to the station at the same time, and Diana went first. Simon loved to see the trains rolling in and out. The bad news: This is still, without question, the roughest B&M I've ever been on. I still maintain that the problem is spongy springs or pads in the guide wheels, because there is so much lateral play in every car. You can see it when you ride in a row toward the back, as each car shakes around independently of each other. I've seen the same thing on Intamin rides like Millennium Force, and when they fix the parts, they get smoother. It could be such a great ride.
Had lunch at Hard Rock, and met a friend working in the company's creative division. Yet another person I haven't seen in real life in years, and it was good to hear he was enjoying his gig. This was also the day that they handed out bonuses for the first time in, I dunno, ever? I've always thought the Universal parks were special, and it's good to see them enjoy significant success.
Simon managed to get a couple of naps in during the day while we were at the park, which was very nice to see. We took him down in front of the Jurassic Park visitor center building, which is a little quieter. He rocked it Florida style, with his bare feet hanging out. Later in the evening, we also did the Dragons, where thankfully they still have the Express pass shortcut, so we didn't have to go through the normal queue carrying the baby. The outdoor portion has some nice touches themed around the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and even the back of the Hogsmeade shops are properly themed. They have the flying car back there too. The swap rooms are kind of dark and scary, but they have barred windows where I could plop Simon, who enjoys seeing those trains. Annoying: Adults pushing their way through the parent swap rooms to re-ride. Assholes. Nothing much to be said about these coasters that I haven't said before. Love Fire, er, Chinese Fireball, and really enjoy Hungarian Horntail as well. These continue to be a couple of the best inverted coasters I've been on. Side note: I did notice they're more specific about the low zones around the ride, with fences. Gosh, I wonder why.
And guess what we got a walk-on for? Forbidden Journey my ass, we rocked that ride, no waiting. Not only did we walk-on and parent swap, but Diana went twice because they were sending empty benches. So all told for the week, we both had three laps with minimal waiting. We actually encountered people in some of the queue rooms hanging out to listen and watch for the film and effects stuff. Awesome. Love this ride.
Unfortunately, it just didn't get dark enough for me to snap some night photos. It has been years since I've been to these parks at night, and I desperately would like to photograph them at night.
We wrapped up our time there with dinner at NBA City, which is without question the most underrated and rarely mentioned restaurant at Universal Orlando. Diana had some kind of seafood with pasta (I forget what), while I had a chicken and pasta dish that was just fantastic. I've been there at least once on most of my visits, and I've enjoyed it every time. Simon made some friends who were traveling from Istanbul. He made a lot of friends on this trip, especially servers.
Overall, we achieved all of our objectives, and if I can block out the problems with the hotel during the first day, things went pretty smoothly. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an excellent addition to Islands of Adventure, and finally makes it a first class part of vacations for a lot of people. I've liked it for ten years, but I think now it's bound to get the respect it deserves on a wider basis. I don't know when we'll go back, but I do look forward to it.
George posted some photos of the space that used to be Insurance.com. Pretty sad thing to see. When we moved into that new building, it was kind of exciting because it felt like the startup was growing up. If I'm orienting myself correctly, the panoramic photo is the space that we, the programming folk, along with QA, project management, carrier account people and some managers occupied. Of course, it was less dense then, because I believe they later put the call center there, and patched up a wall to what used to be the call center so that space could be rented to someone else. I got laid-off in one of the offices in the middle.
I dedicated two and a half years of my professional life to that place. In some ways, it was very rewarding. The relative stability of it, in a time when my personal life was in a bit of a chaotic transition (divorce, dating, meeting my then-future wife), sure helped me out. I certainly increased my skill level while I was there. I also had a hard time finding my niche. It wasn't from a lack of trying though... it was more because the niches were already filled by people who had been with the company since its earliest days. Maybe that was even a weakness of the company, in retrospect. There were plenty of smart people, but I often felt they were focused on the wrong things. You can only speak up about that so many times before you feel like you're talking to yourself.
When the place was officially sold last year, essentially for its data, as best I can tell, it was the end of a decade of work for a lot of people. I honestly don't know many people my age who have worked anywhere that long, especially in technology. It just doesn't happen much. Most people didn't seem to be bitter about the end, but obviously disappointed.
The job market sucked when I got canned, and it really didn't get any better, despite relatively brief employment. The demise of ICOM has a lot to do with the reason I'm in Seattle now. The funny thing is that I think I've learned more from failed companies (Penton Media, Pfingsten Publishing, Insurance.com) than I have from... holy crap... I don't think I've really worked for any truly winning companies. Wow, that's kind of dark. I'm pretty sure that I work for a successful company now though.
Good times though, while they lasted. Lots of good memories.
I'm surprised the CDC hasn't covered our house in plastic, like in E.T., with airlocks and stuff. Monday afternoon, Simon barfed. Tuesday, he barfed some more and got the squirts. All Wednesday morning, I could feel the nausea getting worse and worse. I left work at lunch time, and by the time I got home, I was in full-blown fever mode, violent shivering and all. I didn't eat anything all day, and still the diarrhea came. Then this morning it came for Diana. All three of us generally hurt all over, in case we weren't pathetic enough. It's not a good scene.
We presumably all have the same thing, but it's weird how it affects us all differently. We don't think Simon has had any significant fever, but Diana may have had some. Neither one of us parents have barfed either, but God knows yesterday I did everything I could to avoid it. Simon has now gone 24 hours without vomiting, but he's been through three pajamas today. I put him down for a nap around 4 something and he's probably down for the count. We also napped, and just woke up in all kinds of pain. We desperately wish we had a hot tub (though it would likely be a bad idea given the digestive havoc we're enduring).
We're all so pathetic right now that it's sort of funny. I still haven't had any significant food, other than a cookie, some Gatorade® and a few pieces of bread. I've lost three pounds already, so there's no doubt that I'm dehydrated. Keeping Simon in the liquid has been challenging.
Yesterday was emotionally jarring for me because I couldn't do anything for my miserable little boy, nor could I help Diana. To hear your baby crying and whimpering and being stuck on your back is just awful. My fever didn't break until about 4 a.m., and this morning I was so tired out of my mind that I couldn't be upright for very long. I did get to feed him though, so that's a plus.
One of our PEPS friends was a total dear and brought us Tylenol, the Gatorade and some soup and bread, which was a lifesaver. PBS and Sprout have also been good for helping us entertain/distract Simon. We don't yet put a lot of TV in front of him, but it has helped when we've been less than engaging.
I'm not sure where we are in terms of beating this thing, but I hope we get through it soon. I assume because we're adults with mature immune systems we can kick it sooner than Simon, but who knows. The aches and pains right now are fairly extraordinary. I can't remember anything like this since The Great Flu of 2001, where my body imploded and I got so feverish and dehydrated that I saw aliens. Thank God it hasn't been quite that bad.
Yesterday afternoon, Simon yacked just before I got home. It resulted in an unscheduled bath and a change of clothes (for Diana as well). I didn't think all that much about it, because he generally seemed OK. The this morning and again this afternoon, he did it some more. At that point it's pretty obvious that our little guy has some kind of stomach flu.
It scared the shit out me this morning, when Diana was calling for me from his room at 6, as he spewed shortly after getting up. I really didn't fall back asleep until minutes before my alarm, just before 7. Remember that I'm the guy who spent the first month of parenthood checking every few minutes to see if my baby was breathing, so when something isn't right, I still get a little paranoid.
He went down this afternoon and didn't get up until almost 8, but I got to spend a little over an hour with him, encouraging as much Pedialyte as he could reasonable consume. Judging by his diarrhea and not very wet diapers, he's probably pretty dehydrated. He didn't express any real interest in eating either. Fortunately, he did quietly play and sip his drink, so I'm crossing my fingers that he's on the mend.
I was also worried that I was getting sick. I wasn't feeling great all afternoon, but I think I was just psyching myself into worry more than anything. Still, I've had all kinds of unusual lower-GI symptoms, as has Diana. We wonder if maybe we've got the same thing he does, only our adult bodies are better at fending it off.
We've been pretty lucky overall with Simon. He had the hard core cold in his second or third week, but other than some general snotty issues that made him cranky, he hasn't been sick. I don't know if that's normal for a baby, but ten months without any serious sickness seems pretty solid.
We don't really watch a ton of TV, but what we do like, we tend to be fairly religious about watching. As I've mentioned a bunch of times over the last six or seven years, I've been a huge fan of BeyondTV. Two things make that app badass: You can throw as many tuners as you want at it, and it finds the commercials so they're super easy to skip with a single button press. Over the years, I've been able to use it with DirecTV, analog cable, over-the-air ATSC and Clear-QAM digital cable. The company that makes the software seems to be focusing on some kind of "enterprise" recording appliance, but the app still gets free program data, has a Web-based app for remote scheduling, etc. In other words, it has done everything that "new" products do for many years.
But here's the problem today: Comcast keeps fucking with the channel assignments. The physical channel numbers on digital cable have nothing to do with those the cable box presents to you. So channel 105 could actually be 34-5 or something equally as meaningless. The box maps the numbers for you. However, BeyondTV has to know what that mapping is, so it can match the knowledge that 30 Rock airs on 105 at a certain time, so make the tuner look for it on 34-5 or whatever. That works great until the cable company shifts stuff around, seemingly for no reason. Comcast has done it twice since we moved three months ago. The shitty cable company we left never did, and neither did Time Warner when we were in Brunswick.
Of course, the other huge plus when we were in Cleveland was that I could very easily receive over-the-air signals, which are less compressed, and never move. With three tuners that can receive those signals, I never missed anything. Now I live behind hills and mountains, and while I haven't tried, I'm guessing (maybe incorrectly) that those signals are not easily attainable. I suppose I should try, just for fun.
In any case, I decided not to be angry about this latest channel shift, and instead added almost everything we missed last week to my Hulu queue, and we'll try watching stuff this way for awhile. Heck, if they deliver a player for Xbox, as they indicate on their site, I'd be quite happy to pay up the $8/month for their "plus" service. I'd be even happier to ditch cable TV entirely, as several of my friends have already. BeyondTV is running on a computer hooked up to a TV, so it's kind of already "there." Hulu doesn't cover CBS, but I don't watch anything there anyway (though Diana does... NCIS).
The honest truth is that the only reason I hold on to cable TV is to use it as a discovery mechanism. Its commercials tend to be what leads me to find new shows. That's why this Hulu experiment will be interesting, because it may reveal new means of discovery.
Last week was another one of those weeks where I was more or less disconnected from the Internet, and I loved it. Granted, I did get on in the evenings after Simon went to bed so I could post some news on CoasterBuzz, but I didn't read my feeds, look at other news or work on projects, or read work e-mail. I'm always so surprised at how liberating this is, and I wonder why I only end up doing it once a year at most.
Of course, as I tried to catch up this weekend, I also found that it was a hell of a week for technology. Jobs is taking another leave from Apple, the FCC (idiots) approved Comcast + NBC-Universal, Google put Page back in the CEO slot... big stuff. Meanwhile, the beta I posted of POP Forums v9 is getting some nice attention. I tried tonight to dive back in to some project work. Tomorrow I have to catch up on work e-mail and see how things went last week with our new project. I feel so behind!
Staying on top of things has always been one of the bigger challenges in technology, but over the years I've made it a point to try and minimize that challenge by simply paying attention to less. The RSS feeds that I subscribe to don't change a lot. Something has to be really interesting to make the list, and I'm comfortable dropping things that don't interest me. I'm even more narrow about what I follow on Twitter. There really is such a thing as too much information.
I'm generally content with the balance I have, living the connected life and the life that's in front of me. I don't push e-mail to my phone, for example, because when I want to read it, I'll do so. It can wait. I seem to be an exception more than a rule these days. People have abandoned information consumption on their terms in favor of real-time consumption, and it's borderline obsession for some people. I try not to be judgmental about that, but when I encounter people who prefer the bits flowing into their phone over the interaction of me and other humans standing in front of them, I find that annoying.
I need to make it a point to disconnect again, and not wait too long to do so. I try to do it on the weekends, for the most part, but an entire week does feel good.
I've had some struggles with Simon lately. The biggest one is that he just doesn't want to eat for me. What makes this particularly difficult is that it's the one thing I'm not very patient with. I have infinite patience dealing with sleep issues, play time, crying in the car seat, etc., but I react emotionally when he won't eat. I suppose that's because it involves two of the things I worry about the most with regard to his upbringing: having a present daddy and not having food issues.
I probably over-think it, and I know it. I also know that I'm projecting my own issues. I don't mind that I have limited time with him after work, but I do wish I could see him in the middle of the day, even for 15 minutes, just so he could see I'm around.
On the positive side though, the vacation was a lot of fun with him. He recognizes me as his official photographer, and always smiles and poses for me. We have good times horsing around in the stroller too. He even slept in my arms, twice, on a couple of our flights. Today we watched him deliberately play peek-a-boo behind his burp rag. It's pretty thrilling to see that.
He's growing up so fast. At dinner yesterday, I was observing a family with two girls, and thought about how they're dealing with a teenager who was visibly not comfortable in her own skin, and a grade schooler who was outwardly testing social boundaries. And I thought, shit, is Simon really that far away from those stages? He's really not. He's quickly closing in on his first birthday already.
I'm in awe on a daily basis over the intensity of being a parent. It might scare the hell out of me a lot of the time, but there's no denying that it's a pretty awesome thing to be. I'm grateful every single day for it, and for having an excellent partner.
It has been awhile since a vacation has really lived up to my expectations. Previously mentioned hotel idiocy aside, this has been a great trip. My only real regret is that I didn't schedule it a day longer. Of course, then the weather wouldn't have been perfect the whole time.
Tonight, as Diana does packing and I offload some photos to my laptop, I was going to make some comment about winding down for the transition back to "real life," when I realized that this is every bit as real, and in some ways even more real. This week I saw family, saw important friends that I haven't seen in "like forever," and most importantly, got to bring my little boy to one of my favorite places to visit.
Universal Orlando is an interesting place for me. My first visit was technically while I was in high school, during the studio park's soft opening. There was no City Walk, Islands of Adventure, hotels, waterways or parking decks. Just the half-finished studio, a small Hard Rock Cafe, and a massive parking lot. I came back for the first time 11 years later, in 2001. IAAPA had their big social event one evening at Islands of Adventure, which at that time was only two-years-old. I was hooked.
Since that time, every person who is important to me has been here with me, and despite its familiarity, I've never been bored with it. Our last visit was in the summer of 2008, I think, pre-Harry Potter, so we were definitely due for a visit. It did not disappoint.
We spent Tuesday at the parks with Kara, who lives down here now working for Give Kids The World. She's one of my BFF's, but we haven't seen her since our wedding, and that sucks. The three time zones makes it so hard to stay connected with people out here, even with the Internets. It was so much fun to introduce her to Simon, who just loved her. He's such a flirt. Wednesday we had dinner with one of my favorite PR people ever, who also works at GKTW, but has been all over the industry. She was one of the first to support CB Club. Today we had lunch with a friend who actually works in the creative part of Universal, and worked on the big Potter ride. I first met him when he was in college, and it's inspiring to see how he found a niche, and by extension his current job.
I guess what all of these meetings with people did, in a familiar and favorite place, was help ground me a little. It's no secret that Seattle, as much as I love it, doesn't feel like home. I want it too. But being so far away from everything and everyone that I've known continues to be a difficult adjustment. This week I got to spend time with some of those people in that special place, which reinforces the thing I always say about relationships... that life is additive in nature. The people and places are still me, but now Seattle is too.
I really had a great time shooting photos, too. I went well over 500 frames after I deleted the obvious crap. I only brought my 24-105mm lens, so it's mostly landscape scenery stuff, but that's OK. I got a ton of great photos of Simon, who is pretty much the most adorable kid on the planet. Not that I'm biased or anything. I was thrilled with some images I got on Monday night, after a day of rain. The fog and humidity made the search lights around City Walk just cut through the air, and every walkway was wet and reflective. It made for some beautiful photos. I'm bummed that the parks weren't open late enough to get night photos of the Wizarding World.
Tomorrow is an early travel day, especially by Pacific Time. I hope Simon does OK... we've really pushed him to his limits lately. I'm glad that I left the weekend to adjust back to our own time.
Trip reports and photos are coming this weekend, particularly for my FB friends!
Well, things still got more asinine with Royal Pacific. The breakfast comp for the week, as it turns out, was only for one day, which is not what the manager said to me. She said it was "for the rest of your stay." They apologized, several times, for poorly communicating this. Like that makes it better.
When I was disputing this to yet another manager, I told her that I didn't care about the comp (which you may recall I had to actually make more calls to receive), it was more the principle of the hotel's inability to deliver on the most basic promises it makes. That, and the amount of time I wasted thinking about it. It's absolutely astounding that an organization can fail to communicate to its customers and internally the way this one does.
I hate being that guy, but the truth is that my expectations in situations like this aren't any higher than "as advertised." I'm a firm believer in telling people no if they ask for something that you can't deliver. A little disappointment up front always beats missed expectations later on. Under promise and over deliver, as the cliche goes. And when it comes to hotels, honestly I'm often surprised, even at top-of-the-line, five-diamond places like the Hyatt on Kauai or Venetian in Las Vegas. And even some of the smaller places like a Holiday Inn Express we stayed in this year surprised me. Hospitality isn't that complicated... be super polite, pay attention to details, make sure the guest is comfortable.
I had a fantastic day with Diana, Kara and Simon today, so I don't want to give the impression that this nonsense with the hotel has ruined the trip or anything. Proper trip reports are coming. But after the ridiculous mess back in 2007, now this, you can see my frustration how my favorite theme parks have hotels with crappy service on the property. Staying on site is half of what makes this place so much fun for me. But how many times do you reward failure? Am I being forced into being a Disney rat by this?
The start of our vacation did not go particularly well. The travel itself wasn't bad, aside from having to get up in the middle of the night (thanks, Joe!) and Simon's total lack of plane napping. I was giddy to arrive at the hotel.
But things took a horrible turn. It took a grand total of eight phone calls to obtain the things we booked in advance, namely a crib and a mini-fridge. The crib arrived about three hours after we checked-in, the fridge an hour after that. They also wanted to charge for the fridge, though they indicated on the phone previously that there was no charge because it was for baby supplies. I think it's pretty normal for most hotels to offer those for medications and/or baby stuff. That the hotel doesn't have them in the first place is kind of lame. Then a call to replace the feather pillows (we're both allergic) took two calls and 90 minutes, only to have a guy show up with one pillow. Twenty minutes after that, he showed up with three more, one of which was feather. Wow.
I really don't think we were asking for anything out of line or atypical. In a hotel that gets a four-diamond award in particular, these are slam-dunk easy things to provide. Two years ago, I probably could have even just rolled with it, but when you cross three time zones and have an infant with you, your tolerance for this kind of service failure basically ceases to exist. Simon was a mess last night from the lack of sleep, so you can imagine what my patience was like.
In the morning, I talked to one of the managers, the same one I talked to the night before, prior to the pillow swap fail. I wasn't a dick about it, but explained my displeasure over the whole thing. I also told her about a number of things that I found about the room to be substandard for the hotel's rating. Things like a broken phone, lights unplugged, broken shower curtain rings, dust accumulation in the corners, etc. I mean, it wasn't stuff that bothered me exactly, but you just don't expect that from a hotel allegedly of this caliber. Even a Holiday Inn Express gets this stuff right.
The manager offered us a comp breakfast for the rest of the week, which was good enough for me. I was done thinking about the prior night's issues, and moved on. Of course, and I wish I could be surprised, there was no breakfast coupon left under the door as she said there would be, so I ended up talking to yet another manager tonight to get that squared away.
This is the first real vacation we've had in more than a year, where we more or less have no obligations (not counting visting my mom, which we did today). I'm not trying to scam anyone, I just want to get what I'm paying for. That's why I don't mind paying for four and five-diamond hotels. I told the manager that in four or five visits to Disney, staying in the "shitty" Pop Century hotel, I never had issues like this, and that place was like $60 a night! One time I had a king size bed request failure, but that was the worse of it, and it was fixed the next night.
I think we're squared away now, but I just couldn't believe how many screw ups we encountered, over simple things. Travel weary me plus substandard service is not a good combination.
I watched the 2004 liberal media advocacy-funded documentary Outfoxed tonight, which tears into the evils of the Fox News network. Nothing surprising or unknown, really, though I guess I didn't realize how ridiculous it was back then. I didn't really think that much of it until a black guy with a funny name ran for president.
For me, the issue with Fox News isn't that it's blatant right-wing propaganda. The First Amendment is still one of this country's greatest qualities, after all. My issue is that they call it news. I mean, it borders on consumer fraud to call it that. What's even more sad is the effect it has since had on television news in general. For awhile, MSNBC tried to be like Fox, and eventually swung back the other way, instead of just, you know, reporting news. CNN, which made its name in journalism during the Gulf War, tried to be a little more pundit happy for awhile, and now just kind of sits around looking for an identity that still strays too far from bona fide journalism.
The transformation of TV news to this state actually took quite awhile. The FCC ditched the Fairness Doctrine in the late 80's, which required broadcast license holders (you know, the three or four local TV stations you had) to offer equal time to opposing viewpoints. Today that would be labeled as "government interference" of private enterprise, but remember that broadcast licenses are essentially a public resource. Everyone owns that radio spectrum, so regulating it to serve diverse interests was something even the Supreme Court upheld. Still, the doctrine was ditched eventually as we "gained" more cable channels.
When the Internet came along, the idea of ever reinstating the doctrine became outright silly. The democratization of media by the Internet meant anyone could have a voice. Aside from nipple slips and naughty words, the FCC could care less what you did on broadcast TV. The problem with all this media is that it hasn't been embraced as an opportunity to practice journalism; It has mostly been embraced as an opportunity to advance an agenda.
This problem is two-fold. From the media side of it, it's way, way cheaper to have a talking head on the television "reporting" what "some people say" than it is to have a crew where the news happens, getting the facts, trying to make sense of it into a rational narrative and publishing it. From the consumer side of it, it's easier to just take those bits of information, whether they're true or not, than to look around for something deeper. Media frugality + apathetic consumers = ignorant people. I think it's made worse by several generations of people, including my own to a certain degree, who grew up believing that what's on TV can be trusted. There has always been editorial in news, but the distinction was always clear, like labeling it as such on its own pages in the newspaper. Now the line is gone, and nobody cares. That seems to be the new American way, and it sucks.
When the health care reform bill passed last year, I did a lot of digging around to understand it. There was very little from mainstream news outlets that would allow me to really piece together the details to have an informed opinion about it (an opinion that concluded it didn't really address enough of the right things). That there are still assholes out there who call it "Obamacare" or maintain that it's going to ruin your access to health care is completely annoying, but with the aforementioned consumer apathy, not at all surprising. Because journalism is so sparse, there is very little intelligent political discourse about the right things to do.
So what does someone do if they want to be better informed? Well, you have to want to be better informed. The big three American TV networks do an OK job with their half-hour shows in the evening. Sometimes they don't have enough context, but I genuinely believe that Williams, Sawyer and Couric are journalists at heart, and aren't in any hurry to piss on the legacy of Cronkite, Jennings, Brokaw, Rather, Reynolds and others.
Even more obvious is the Internet. It does have real news, and it's not that hard to find. The "old" media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post aren't that terrible. If you really want to challenge yourself, look at the news through a foreign eye, from the BBC or al Jazeera. It's particularly interesting to read al Jazeera's coverage of American politics. Again, what it comes down to is that you have to want to be informed.
Journalism has a strong sense of morality tied to it. It's hard, and it's work. Again, no wonder so few people don't care to practice it. I'm still hopeful that people will want to accept this great responsibility that is so critical to our way of life. "Citizen journalism" turned out to be a flop, since "wisdom of crowds" is really just "mob mentality." It will still take individuals with a higher sense of purpose to report news. I'm anxious to find that trust again.
I've been thinking about whether or not there is anything to really write about regarding the shootings in Tucson last weekend. What it really boils down to is that someone who is likely suffering from mental illness did something incredibly evil and tragic. There really isn't any way you can rationalize it or make sense of it. It just sucks.
It does seem like the event has brought some discussions to the forefront, like the generally toxic and divisive political climate in the country these days. I'm not sure it's appropriate to associate it with the murders, but maybe some good will come out of it. I was really impressed by Obama's speech at the memorial service. After coming off like an ineffective pussy for the last year in terms of policy, at least he can show us why many of us voted for him. He's a hell of a motivational speaker.
What's really annoying is why anyone would bring Sarah Palin into it. The people who make things about her are just as much a part of the problem as she is. When will the world stop paying attention to her? I can't think of any more irrelevant person on the planet in the context of anything. She's a reality TV star who quit the job she was elected for. That's all.
One consistently good thing that comes out of bad things is that people come together. The stories that are coming out of Tucson are inspiring. Of all the states that need people to find some unity, Arizona is among the top.
Today was not an easy day. I ended up staying home to babysit the fire alarm people after it got hosed last night. Working from home ended up being little more than reading e-mail, for the most part, because of the suboptimal conditions.
What I really have a new appreciation for is what it's like for Diana when Simon has a particularly hard day. This was the worst I've seen him probably since his first month. He has this awful whine that just doesn't stop, and the day was filled with tears and a lack of sleep. He didn't eat either. As you can imagine, a sleep deprived and hungry kid is not fun to be around. I tried to help, but it's hard to figure out what his issues are lately.
Over the course of the last nine months since the end of my leave, Diana has called or sent a text asking for backup toward the end of the work day, and he pretty much ends up chilling out by the time I get home. This really is the first time I've seen him like that, and I can't say enough how much credit she deserves for her patience and mom skills.
He had a pretty nice wind-down this evening, with one mini-meltdown after he went to bed, but he seemed to be in a better mood. He shows some signals that his teeth are bothering him again, with the drooling, hand in the mouth and ear grabbing, but it's not consistent. That he won't really touch solid, non-mush food is probably the better indicator. I keep wondering when it will end! I though the early teething would be awesome, because it would be over faster, but it seems more like higher intensity over a shorter duration, so it might be worse for him.
On the positive side, he's doing a great job lately rolling, and pushing himself up pretty high off of his arms. He's also standing up against the couch and his electronic activity table thing with higher duration and stability than even a week ago. He's also making more sounds more often, and I think he's doing the sign for "ball" on purpose now. It's pretty exciting to watch.
Parenthood is generally a lot of fun, but days like this really push you. I swear and complain away from him, but I'm still staying positive in front of him, for the most part. It's not easy. Crossing our fingers for good oral health and smiles on vacation next week!
The storm that tore through last night ended up dumping some snow on us later in the evening, but it wasn't the snowpacalypse that was predicted. In fact, since the weather service was urging people to leave work early, which I did a little after 3, traffic sucked because everyone actually took the advice. Precipitation didn't even start for three hours after that.
But the wind was certifiably awful. Last night, it blew the door open on the fire alarm panel on the side of our house, which I believe services both units. The noise sounded like something much worse. Inside the panel is the fire alarm system, some phone jacks, a relatively exposed power supply, and lots of wet owners manuals. The panel doesn't appear to actually have any locking mechanism... this stuff was literally flapping in the breeze. I managed to tie down the door (with gaffer tape), but it wasn't sealed.
This morning, the system had a trouble light and was beeping. I called the landlord, who called the HOA, who apparently "owns" the system. Some fire alarm contractor types have been here since, walking around and talking on the phone, but not apparently doing anything. The neighbor's panel is open as well, and while it doesn't appear to be soaking wet like mine, it is beeping.
So I'm sitting here in my home office, trying to work, with two alarm systems beeping. It's driving me completely mad. What the hell are these guys doing out there?
This is the first time I've ever seen this graphic on the OS X dashboard weather thingy.
The truth is, it pretty accurately describes the mess outside. (Gratuitous Simon background included at no extra charge.)
One of the things that I've really enjoyed about having Netflix streaming to the Xbox is access to documentaries. I love docs, but I rarely see them on TV because I don't know when they're on. Last weekend, we watched The President's Photographer, a doc on the official White House photographers of the last few decades. It was absolutely fascinating.
Naturally they had the most access to Obama as the sitting president, but tried to cover everything back to LBJ. He was among the first to offer really unprecedented access to the office, and for the most part, every president except for Nixon since has allowed the same kind of access. These guys really have a great deal of responsibility in terms of documenting history.
The photos that really stuck with me were those from the day of 9/11, particularly on Air Force 1. Can you even imagine documenting everything going on there in the midst of a crisis, with fighter jets just off the wing of the aircraft? In some ways, the calm of the skies in that scenario would be more scary than active warfare around you on the ground.
Also interesting is the impact of digital photography. The Obama presidency will easily be the most photographed in history because they're shooting entirely with digital cameras now. All of those images, even the bad ones, get committed to the National Archives. There aren't many photography gigs where your work has to be preserved by law!
If you have access to Netflix, do check the show out. I really enjoyed it.
Diana turns 41 today, but we did the more formal celebrating yesterday.
I have a hard time buying gifts. Last year I ended up buying her a MacBook Pro, but this year I obviously couldn't be that ridiculous. So I got her a Kindle, which she had been talking about for awhile. What really sold her was the idea of "borrowing" books from the library, but they recently allowed "loaning" books between people, so that seemed like a step in the right direction. I figured that once they really can do it, copyright holders and all, that's a software update, so why wait?
I have to say that I'm impressed with it myself. I got her the 3G version, because if she does subscribe to content or wants something on vacation or whatever, I don't want to be Wi-Fi dependent. Finding free Wi-Fi still isn't always easy. The thing is so inexpensive now that it just made a lot of sense. As much as I prefer the idea of a device that does a lot more, like an iPad, it's pretty hard to beat the "electronic ink" of the Kindle. It's as readable as laser printing on good paper.
For dinner, we went to a little Italian place in Bellevue. It was... OK. The service was remarkably average, and the food wasn't priced according to its actual value. Except for the chocolate truffle mousse I had for dessert. That was crazy delicious. I'm really convinced that people out here think paying more for food means it's better, because we sure have gone to a lot of restaurants here that weren't as good as the pricing would imply, and yet the places all manage to stay open. So far, we've only had one restaurant (out of dozens) that was a hit, that we've gone back to.
Uncle Joe watched Simon while we went out for dinner, which I'm very grateful for. He's so good with Simon. It wasn't intentional, but I'm glad we moved closer to them, especially so Simon gets to spend time with his cousins.
Today, the actual birthday, was far more laid back. I got up with the boy, and we spent some nice quiet time together. He was a little crabby, I think because he was constipated, but he "got the poops out," as Diana's little techno song goes. (She made up a song for him, and usually involves standing up and/or getting his legs up in the air to help.) I tell one of my friends at work, who is expecting, that his life is gonna be about poop quite a bit, and he should get used to it.
I spent a lot of time with Simon today, which was good. It's another weekend where I didn't really do anything I set out to do, but it's worth it when I can spend quality time with Simon and Diana. It seems like he's doing new things every day, and I don't want to miss any of it. He's getting close to popping up into proper crawling position, he's on the edge of saying actual words, he's getting more stable standing up against stuff, and his fine motor skills are getting more and more precise. It's absolutely amazing.
Diana got to do some cooking for herself, composing a new salmon dish. I don't care for seafood (it's mostly the smell), but it did look appetizing. She's an excellent cook. We still got pizza for dinner though. It's all about relaxing.
I capped off tonight helping out with Simon, who did not want to sleep. While I'm generally inclined to believe it's the teething making him miserable, I'm starting to wonder if he's having an extreme growth spurt and is really just hungry. I hate to get it wrong, because I don't want to medicate him if he's not hurting. However, while the molars are finally near the end of their journey, he's popping eye-teeth now. He's going to have all of his baby teeth before he's 1-year-old at this rate!
Naturally, birthdays make you nostalgic, and we talked a lot about how nuts it is that this is our life. Having Simon is a lot of work at times, especially for Diana, but what a joy it is being his parents. We might have got a late start, but we're lucky to have him. We have so many adventures to look forward to with him!
I happen to see this on an old blog post, and found it still works. These are the states I've been to:
I'm not sure if I should count Colorado, Texas or Missouri, because those were only by way of airplane stops. You can build your own map here.
I was driving home today, and I'm not sure what the train of thought was, but I got to thinking about influential people from my teenage years. Who came to mind? Ms. Berry.
Ms. Berry was an assistant manager at the department store (remember Ames?) I worked at in my first job. She was probably about 23, divorced, fair-skinned, freckles, tall and skinny.
And I thought she was smoking hot.
I think Ms. Berry was my only crush on a "grown up" when I was a teenager. For reasons I'll never be able to explain, I found it easy to flirt with her despite finding it difficult to even talk to girls I liked at school. Maybe it was because I obviously had no shot with someone older than me. She had the greatest squinty smile, and there was just something about her movement that I was drawn to. In fact, even though I haven't thought about her in years, I think maybe my attraction to "athletic" women probably started with her. It certainly explains a couple of random college encounters.
But my strong like for her wasn't entirely from being a horny teenager. She was one of a handful of adults that treated me as one, who trusted me and gave me responsibilities. No, I never got to have any of the fantasies I had of her, she wasn't like that. In fact, my most memorable experience with her I'm pretty sure solidified the boundaries of our relationship.
Late that summer, after saving a bit of money (I made minimum wage, $3.85 at the time), I bought a new bike for a little under a hundred bucks. That was an awful lot of money, but I just wanted a new bike to replace the series of hand-me-downs I had. The store had a fenced-in area, so I asked the store GM if I could put it in there. He denied the request. Sure enough, when my shift was over, the bike was gone, the chain was cut.
While I waited for the police officer to show up to take the report, all I could do was think that someone just moved the bike, that it was somewhere near by. The cop of course acted like I was wasting his time. When I got out of the police car, Ms. Berry was standing in the doorway of the store, and offered to take me home.
She drove this completely huge old pickup that she inherited from her father. Given her skinny build, it was pretty hilarious to see her on the giant bench seat behind a huge steering wheel and shifter coming from the floor. The absurdity of it all was something I really needed at the time. I was angry, quiet and holding back tears.
Ms. Berry told me a story about something she had stolen from her, how angry it made her. I don't even remember what it was, and it didn't matter. She told me it was OK to be angry. When we pulled into my driveway, she asked if I would be OK, gave me a hug, and I went inside. That's when I let it all go, yelling, angry, crying, basically flipping out. I was more angry at the store manager than I was the thief, because I felt it was within his power to have prevented the theft. (As an aside, I suspect that the theft wold've been covered under my parents' homeowner policy, but that never occurred to anyone.)
The next day, she called to ask how I was, and I thanked her for asking. I saw her at work a few days later, but we never spoke about it again.
I hate that I can't remember her first name... I think it was Kathy, Kate or Colleen maybe. The thing that she did to stick in my memory wasn't to be attractive to my hormone-infested mind, it was just to treat me like a grown-up. She didn't try to fix the stolen bike problem, she only demonstrated empathy. She didn't treat me, or any of my co-workers, like dumb kids, she treated us like responsible humans.
I don't know if I can really say that anything in my life in the long-term could be credited to my cute boss, but she was the right person at the right time to have an incredibly positive impact on my life. I think it's critically important to keep in mind that we all have the potential to be that person for someone else, even if it's not intentional.
I was reading a debate this morning about whether or not putting ads in your mobile app was a sustainable thing, or whether it could "pay the bills." Most of the arguments against it made the case that the revenue was too small. I think that depends.
The thing about phone apps is that the vast majority of them have niche uses. Some may shape up to be huge, but most will not. If your niche is small, do you think people will pay a buck for it? Two? They might. The problem is that there's a pretty long curve you have to scale there. If people aren't willing to pay for your app, would they be willing to use it for the price of being subjected to ads?
My gut says yes. A friend of mine did an Android app, mostly as a science project, and he has steadily made a couple of bucks a day. Baby Stopwatch (also a science project) makes nearly a buck a day. Who would really pay for that? Ads are the only chance it has of making money.
It makes me wonder if there's a long-tail prospect for a small company to crank out a bunch of simple apps and generate nominal revenue. As I wrote previously, success is relative. I don't think I would be interested in doing that, but how long before we see a story in Wired about someone doing just that?
Seriously. Even the janitors at Walt Disney World have to perform.
I was catching up on my feeds in Google Reader, when, in a great spurt of irony, I read that RSS was dead. It included links to Twitter posts by people who don't matter. By people, I mean pundits. Techie pundits, the worst kind.
I remember back in 2005 or so, I would listen to some early podcasts like This Week in Tech, and tech and gadget blogs were becoming interesting, and finding an audience. As the Internet started to evolve in new ways, and a second wave of exciting Internet companies were cropping up, we started to see a lot of interesting and thoughtful personalities crop up that covered the industry. It felt like that Internet was finally living up to its potential while TV was going to hell.
And then, as time passed, those personalities got out of touch, stopped thinking and generally created a bubble for themselves. They became insiders to their own circle, but said circle was no longer where the action was. The world had moved on. Yet these guys have managed to somehow be people that someone is apparently still listening to. You know the guys I mean... Scoble, Arrington, Winer, and even guys who actually have companies like Calacanis. Everyone seems to be full of shit now.
Working for The Man now, with a greater insight to how one of the biggest players rolls, I'm astounded at just how out of touch the tech pundits are. It's kind of a bummer, man. The people writing for local Seattle newspapers seem to understand what's going on better these days.
I wonder if this will turn around. The industry is still interesting for nerds like me, but it feels like the "press" that covers it is starting to feel more like Fox News. Sensation and drama takes precedent over facts. My journalism degree is feeling dirty somewhere (gosh, I'm not even sure where that thing is).
We're finally getting a real family vacation soon, to Orlando. By "real," I mean it's not a trip where the primary goal is to see people back east. The goal is to take in some theme park goodness (Universal), hang out at the pool, and maybe even enjoy some girlie drinks by said pool. Also exciting, for me if not Simon, is taking the little guy to one of my favorite places ever. I have so many good memories there from the last ten years or so, and now I get to make new memories there with my newly improved family unit. I'm really stoked.
We are going to spend a day visiting my mom up in The Villages, but otherwise, it's all chill and thrill. We'll get to see my BFF Kara, who we haven't seen since the wedding. We'll check out the Harry Potter stuff at IOA. Simon will dip his toes in the pool. There could even be some rickshaw rides, if they're still doing that. And who even knows how many restaurants have changed in the two-plus years since we were last there.
I feel like I really need this. I've been so wound up for much of the last year, and at some point I think I realized that I wasn't creating enough of those superawesome memories that I've been acquiring for years. And gosh, I'm a dad now, so I should probably get my shit together! We're starting to sketch out some summer trips too, particularly driving trips, and perhaps some long weekends in California. Now that we're a bit more comfortable in our skin as parents, it's time to start exploring this side of the country (after going back to the other end, of course).
Did I mention I can't wait?
Simon seems to be going through a phase. In the last week or two, he has had a hard time going to bed. The screaming implies that he just doesn't want to be left alone, and it might be because he hasn't quite hatched all of the molars entirely. In those cases, you definitely feel bad for him, and want to comfort him.
But he has also exhibited signs of wanting things, but not exactly needing them. For example, maybe he can't reach a toy, or he wants to be picked up just because, stuff like that. These instances have a different kind of scream. They seem more like a performance, as evidenced by his ability to just turn it on and off. They smell like temper tantrums.
It's an interesting turning point in looking after him, because the decision to provide for him is no longer cut and dry. He's just starting to get old enough that he can form expectations based on repeated actions. We have to walk that line where we decide if his whine is because he needs something, or wants something. Dr. Cargopants warned us not to make him too comfortable, in particular with toys, indicating we should leave them out of reach on purpose so he can develop his motor skills and learn to move about on his own.
Despite this annoying new habit of whining when he doesn't get his way, he still manages to be remarkably cute the rest of the time. He's a pretty good eater, a good traveler and does surprisingly well among large groups of people he doesn't know. I guess I bring this topic up mostly because I can't believe we're already at the stage where he does this. He'll be ten months already this week. Where did the time go?
This year has been somewhat of an epic journey because of my entry into the realm of parenthood. That story has its own post. This is about everything else. Except the business, which also has its own post.
We started the year much as we ended the previous one, trying to figure out where the hell the good pizza places are. Moving has been hard, especially for me, seeing as how I've lived in Northeast Ohio my entire life. I haven't had the benefit of living in places like NYC or a semester in England, like Diana has. Prior to Simon's birth, I felt like I was always strung out, trying to feel like I wasn't a transient. Driving anywhere did nothing but cause anger. Having a GPS in the car was only helpful to get home, most of time.
But it slowly got better. We did our fair share of touristy junk in those two months prior to Simon, which helped a great deal. We still haven't been up in the Space Needle (which is kind of a rip-off), but we've been to the various museums and what not. We managed to find a number of restaurants that we like, and even found a couple of franchise locations that are fun to go to now and then. If we could just score a Buffalo Wild Wings in town, life would be nearly perfect.
These days, we have no problems getting around. We feel like we live here, and don't need a GPS. Even when we have to go into Seattle, we know just enough to look up an I-5 exit and roll from there.
The hardest thing about living here has been the total change in our social life. It's not because of Simon, and in fact, it's probably because of him that we have any social life at all. Joining a PEPS group made a huge difference. Nearly all of our friends outside of people I met at work and my brother-in-law's family came into our life via that group. What a life saver it has been for Diana in particular, since she doesn't get the chance to see other grown-ups every day the way I do. They're a great bunch of new families and beautiful playmates for Simon.
Work has been incredibly social for me, almost to the extent it was when I worked at Penton. This is one of the side effects of having on-premise cafeterias, that you tend to have lunch with the folks that you work with. We have a "dev lunch committee" e-mail DL that people are free to use to call out where lunch will be (usually between two locations, 9 or 37, and sometimes across campus at the Commons). I can honestly say that every guy (and one woman) in our little clique is interesting and fun to hang out with. My office-mate is also an Ohio boy, who happens to have older kids despite being 7+ years younger, so it's nice to have someone you can relate to.
I still had a very difficult time being so withdrawn from the friends and routine that I had become accustomed to. It was little things like meeting a friend for dinner once a week at the Winking Lizard, or meet-ups at Cedar Point. God did I miss Cedar Point. We got to spend some time with the Walsh's on our trip out there, but it was entirely too short. I also found myself reconnecting with all kinds of people, even from high school, and that kind of ended when we loaded up that rented mini-van and headed west.
One thing that materialized, and was awesome, was our opportunities to see my extended circle of friends. It's still a strange phenomenon that I have so many people I consider close friends that I only get to see once or twice a year, but this year, these encounters were the best of the year. Our event at Holiday World in particular was too awesome for words. We got to see "Aunt Carrie" (and again, weeks later at CP), the Jandes clan and their adorable little girls, the Grahams and their baby girl, and of course the Nashville Neu unit, where we could share in the excitement of their own family-forming. I think that weekend was the highlight of my year outside of Simon-related stuff.
Then the event at Cedar Point came the next month, and we got to see the Family Gonchar, the Walsh-folk, countless CP people. That trip also included Diana's Toledo family and Cleveland friends. It was good to see people on that trip, but it was so much running around.
The funny thing is that just being on Pacific Time has made it harder to keep in touch with people. By the time I fire up my chat client at work, it's probably 9 or later, so folks back east are at lunch. It's really frustrating.
Having a comfortable place to call home certainly could have eased the transition out here, and our apartment never quite got us there. I was thrilled when we originally found the place, because on a cost-per-square-foot basis, it was a good deal, the location was good and it was generally adequate space. What we didn't really grasp at the time was how dark the place was much of the time (a symptom of apartment shopping in November, the wettest month of the year). The retaining wall should have given that away.
The month I was home on leave for Simon was the point at which I started to really hate the place. It was like living in a fishbowl. I got so tired of the neighborhood kids staring in our windows. I hated that at best you got an hour or two of sun coming in any window at all. The space wasn't bad, but these negatives made it suck. The biggest redeeming quality was that its position meant it would stay cool inside, even when the outside temperature got up to the 80's, however rare. It was also nice to be 20 minutes to work on an easy commute.
Despite the expense, we agreed we should move. A part of me still wished we got the beautiful place up in Kenmore, but that commute would've been tragic. Being that far from Joe and his family also would have sucked. Diana started shopping around in September. She found a nice house for rent, half of a duplex, actually, and it was a pretty obvious choice. It had some compromises, like adding 10 minutes to my commute, no gas stove and a strange upstairs floor plan, but the views and location more than made up for it. The large windows make for epic sun most of the day. It also, coincidentally, is just five minutes from Joe's, which made it more likely that Simon would get to spend more time with his cousins. In fact, Diana even watches one of them on a regular basis. The move has been a huge win all around. I even have a mancave/office!
The crushing part of my existence has been real estate we don't live in. We started the year with some assholes breaking into Diana's house and stealing whatever copper pipe they could get their hands on. Not a great start to the year. That was a grand we had to piss away. We had to endlessly fuck with Wells Fargo over a short sale, and it took me sending a nastygram to every Wells Fargo e-mail address I could before we could get any satisfaction that they were going to follow through on it.
We finally ditched that house at the end of June, the bank taking something like a $48k loss on it. It was a completely ridiculous experience, but it felt good to see those papers signed. The down side of this is that we have to pay income tax on the bank's loss, and best case, that's looking like $10k. That's like another year of mortgage payments, due all at once.
But the money suck isn't done. My house has been on the market for about a year, and it's not going anywhere. Looking at what stuff has been selling for around there, it's clear that I need to bank more cash so I can drop the price and make up for the negative equity. These houses have been something of an ongoing financial burden since we got here, and it sucks. I try not to let it keep me up at night, but we've spent nearly $30k in the last year on places we don't live in. That money could have been a future down payment on a place out here, the start of Simon's college fund, five or six hot tubs... you name it.
On the up side, I weigh five pounds less than I did at the start of the year. I did the number screening thing at work, and my cholesterol is just barely in the normal range. I had some reasonably successful attempts at eating better, even with the free soda thing at work.
However, I'm not at all satisfied with that. I didn't do shit in terms of physical activity. I did not get on my bike even once. That's ridiculous. I did do a fair bit of walking around and hoop shooting at work, but not consistently. I can do better, and especially at the new place, there are plenty of place to get out and move around. I'm still about six pounds over my 2005 weight, which I view as kind of the gold standard of my adult life. I want to get back there, and even lower.
I thought I had it made, because I thought I would be coaching volleyball again this year. But as it turned out, I had no team. It still makes me angry and bitter to think about it. The club director was a schmuck, who sold me on the club's reputation (which in fact sucks), and unlike the kids who bailed after the tryout, I can't just go to another club.
We did quite a bit of traveling this year. My first trip was to Virginia, for the opening of Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion. I'm not sure if that was the best use of business dollars, but I'm really glad that I went. I met up with a friend there, photographed the ride extensively, and had a good time. I was gone for a total of 30 hours. It was hard to be away from Simon in that time, but Diana had backup from her aunt.
There aren't a lot of driving trip options from Seattle, but we did do a long weekend to the Oregon coast and in to Portland. The weather wasn't great, but we enjoyed ourselves at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and we had some excellent food in downtown Portland (not just BWW). Vancouver, and maybe Idaho (to go to Silverwood) might be on the 2011 agenda.
Both of us made our first trip to California this year (not counting layovers, which I've had in SF). Diana's cousin got married in LA, so we saw Hollyweird for the first time. We partied on the beach in Malibu, which was quite beautiful, but LA proper really didn't do anything for either one of us. Granted, we didn't do any tourist stuff, but the traffic alone made me never want to come back. I'm sure we will, however, if for no other reason than to see Disneyland.
We also had the trips to Holiday World and the Northern Ohio tour (covered those already). Originally we intended to work Orlando into the mix before the end of the year, because the theme parks around Christmas are awesome, but by the time we got back from Ohio, we were exhausted from traveling. We pushed that into 2011.
I've admired Microsoft for a long time, even when it has been mostly not fashionable to do so. That I work in DevDiv, which makes all of the products I'm most fond of, has been pretty cool. It has been really neat to see the current crop of products launch, and see the next generation coming up. I love that I've been able to chat with the guys who actually make the stuff I'm using.
Seeing the company from the inside gives me a great appreciation for its success, its failures and its future. I think that it certainly has a lot of challenges ahead of it, but there's clearly a wave of people and change all over the company that are driving its future. I definitely want to be a part of that.
For me, the challenge is finding what my niche is. In the long term, I don't think my success will be wrapped in heads-down code writing. That really wasn't where my career was headed prior to joining the company, so it makes sense that I look for jobs that are more in the program management realm. The PM title means a million different things at the company, depending on the division, and I've been networking a bit to find what might be the best fit. My current boss is fairly supportive in figuring this out, so hopefully there's a change not too far in my future.
Oh, and the perks have been nice. I beta tested Kinect, so I got that for free, and we got free phones too. Not bad.
One of the things I've tried really hard to do is find my zen place. That's hard without a hot tub. :) Seriously though, while I felt centered and generally comfortable in my life the summer before, despite the non-employment, I feel like I've been a mess since moving here. Stuff that I used to blow off would make me angry, I found myself being easily frustrated and I just couldn't be my normal chill self.
The first part of getting there was Diana and Simon. As I mentioned in the parenthood post, there's a lot of love in the house, and that went a long way toward grounding me and keeping me in the zone. It's funny how having a baby gives you non-stop perspective about the quality of life, what's worth getting upset about, etc. The things that got on my nerves after moving aren't as big of a deal as they were.
The other part was spring. Around the time Simon was born, the worst of the winter weather was behind us. When you're surrounded with mountains and sun, and not the oppressive SAD-inducing darkness of the Midwest, it makes a huge difference in your overall mood.
So while I still would like a hot tub, I've generally been happier in the last year than I have in a long time, on a more consistent basis. I never thought I was particularly unhappy before, I just didn't realize how happy I could be if I allowed myself to be. Who knew?
It wasn't all giggles and puppies of course. I kick myself a lot for not tuning in as much as I could have in terms of career. Ditto for the stuff in the business. It ranks up there with the lack of physical activity. I make a lot of excuses, but I know they're bullshit.
But on the whole, I can't say it was a bad year at all. It was life changing. I can't tell you how many times Diana and I would be sitting around and thinking, "Is this really our life?" And that's a good thing. I can't even imagine how this year will work out.
This year was a good year for POP World Media, LLC, relative to the last few. The big story this year was pretty simple: Ad revenue was up 64% overall. That will sound more impressive overall when I get to the bit about site traffic.
Overall, I can attribute most of these gains to Google. Advertisers spent heavily in areas that appealed to our visitors, and whatever magic they do to calculate ad rates helped enormously. On CoasterBuzz, Federated Media made a solid impact during a couple of months, but it still didn't compare to what Google was able to do. I'd like to extrapolate some kind of bigger picture theory from this, in particular that the economy has indeed been recovering despite high unemployment, but I'm no economist. All I know is that 2009 was the lowest ad spending I've seen since 2002, which we all know was a pretty horrible year. If the trend continues, my hope is that we can see the kind of ad dollars we saw in 2005 and 2006, which were really fantastic.
The company hit a milestone this year, crossing the quarter-million-dollar mark for revenue. That took ten years! Thinking about it in terms of profit is more difficult, because things like computers and plane tickets are expenses, and even though they count against the business, it's not like I don't get to enjoy those things. The first few years, the company lost thousands of dollars every year, mostly on hosting costs. It used to be really expensive to host a Web site with any non-trivial amount of traffic back in the day. Most every cent I could squeeze this year went to paying off debt, which had ballooned to an ugly five-digit number after I paid myself before the business in 2009, to get me through the non-employment months.
Club memberships were down about 15%, almost entirely, I think, because Kings Island didn't do an event this year. I think this because it was up 25% the year before, seemingly in response to it, so at least it's a net gain. I did not push the club as hard this year, even though I probably should have. Getting new members is the hard part, as I'm very fortunate that there's a core group of people who really help out and sustain the community, year after year.
I had two big hikes in expenses this year. One was hosting, which was expected because I upgraded to a better server. The 45% increase in cost was hopefully worth it, as the sites feel so much faster now. I'm not sure if people notice it or not. The other big expense increase was travel. Needless to say, I can't drive to all of the stuff that I used to drive to, and the balance sheet reflects that with a 450% increase in travel expenses. I think I need to be more picky about what events I can or must go to next year.
The traffic story wasn't particularly bad or unexpected, I would've just liked to see more. Page views were scary close to exactly the same on CoasterBuzz, while visitors were just a point lower. The difference was specific news events in 2009 that attracted a lot of visitors. That's probably what you'd expect for a site that tends to focus on news. PointBuzz saw a slight decrease overall, which is also not surprising since Cedar Point "only" built a water ride, and they didn't even get it open on time. But again, given the enormous increase in ad revenue, I can't complain much about flat traffic.
I added a few new things on CoasterBuzz this year, with the top 100 rides being the biggest new feature. I also built the short-URL and Twitter publishing, which really has its strongest benefit on strong news events. I was surprised that there are over 500 followers for CB, because I don't think that many people follow accounts as much as topics or hash tags they're interested in. Overall, I didn't add much in the way of new stuff this year. I squeezed in the Windows Phone 7 app at the end there, and that's more about adding another discovery point for the site than it is giving existing members something new. It's at 40 users in the first week, which is shocking for a phone that is relatively new.
So what's up for 2011? Walt and I conceived of MouseZoom nearly three years ago, only back then it was without the "zoom" part. I want to get that out. I feel like a schmuck for it not already existing. With the ad revenue picking up, a slow start could still be a good start. To go along with that, I'm getting closer to my MVC port of the forums, and that will be key for MouseZoom, since the forum needs a production site somewhere. We've got a fair amount of Disney nerds on CB & PB, and I think they'd create a strong base for us.
If I can get that rolling, I'd like to build something out of one of the many domain names I have. I still want to do something about Las Vegas, I'm just not sure what.
The bump in ad revenue was a huge plus, but I'm not really satisfied with the time I put into the business this year. I can only use having Simon as an excuse to a certain degree. Beyond that, I was just lazy. This year I want to set goals on more of a quarterly basis. I think if I time-box these things a little better, I might be more inclined to deliver.