Archive: October, 2011

Parades! Now I get it

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 31, 2011, 1:47 PM | comments: 0

We went to Cedar Point yesterday for closing day, a tradition I have very much missed... well, technically only last year, since we went in 2009. In any case, the park is a very different place with Simon.

On our last visit, for BooBuzz, we actually did quite a bit of riding, doing the parent swap thing. It's less fun than having a babysitter, but it's still fun. Simon loves Cedar Point, in that he likes to run around and take in all of the excitement. He's not crazy about rides, because he has to sit down for those when he could be running somewhere. He also get distracted by the exit gates, which are an extension of his strange obsession with closing doors. We tried to get him on some stuff, and he wouldn't do it. He wandered into the queue for the Camp Bus, so I picked him up and we got on it. He didn't flip out, but he was telling us he was "all done," by putting his arms in the air, in the middle of it.

Ride issues aside, he's happy to run around, and we try to let him explore in places where he won't get trampled by the crowds. What I did not anticipate is how much he loved the parade. The do a Halloween parade every afternoon, and he absolutely loved it. From the marching band at the front, and all the way through, he kicked his feet and smiled. I don't think I've ever seen him smile so continuously. It was awesome.

So now, I get it. I've always thought that parades at the Disney World parks were annoying, because it always seems like you're fighting to get away from one. Through Simon's eyes, I now understand why they do it. Kids love them. If kids love them, then by extension, I have to enjoy them as well.

Reminder: Things to write about

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 31, 2011, 12:12 AM | comments: 0

I've been kinda busy and engaged in other things, and neglecting writing. So here's stuff I need to remind myself to write about:

  • Parades, a return to closing day, fall.
  • Bought a Kindle, can't believe I took so long to do so.
  • More adventures in power washing.
  • The effectiveness of late-night coding.
  • Reflections on what constitutes valuable contribution to the world.

I'm sure there are other things, but I'm just not taking the time to commit to writing about them.

I think Simon is getting bored

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 26, 2011, 4:25 PM | comments: 0

Maybe it's just because I'm getting to spend some time with him at home, but it seems like Simon is kind of bored since we moved to Cleveland. The weather has been kind of rainy on and off, and when it rains here, it means business, unlike the misty Seattle stuff. So the long and short of it is that he's been kind of constrained to the house.

I know I'm over-thinking it, but I feel like moving was the wrong thing for him. He was an outdoor kid in Snoqualmie, walking pretty much every day to one of a half-dozen playgrounds within a few blocks from our place. The kid loved getting out, and we loved getting out with him. We don't have the same places to go, with the wide sidewalks and all here. Granted, November in Seattle would have been super crappy anyway, so he'd probably have a similar issue.

Diana has also witnessed that when he sees backyard playsets, he thinks they're playgrounds and has a fit when he can't go to them. This is something I really hate about the McMansion Midwest subdivision culture, where everyone has their little kingdoms. Granted, I do live in a nice neighborhood with some nice common areas, but still.

Indoors, he's getting bored with his toys. He loves his Ikea abacus, but favorites like the ring toys, his little people airplane and his kitchen aren't getting much love. It isn't all bad though, because he routinely will go to the downstairs room, where all of his stuff is, and play after dinner, mostly independently. That's good, because independent playing is something he isn't always into. He really wants us involved.

The other weird thing is he's actively asking to watch TV. Diana puts in one of his Baby Einstein videos while she showers, and we'll watch 20 minutes or so of Sesame Street at night for wind-down, but we typically avoid TV when he's awake. We just don't want him sitting around passively watching stuff. I'm sure this concern is rooted in his reluctance to use words right now.

I'm sure we're just being parents. He's such a sweet little kid. I really treasure every minute I get to spend with him. I feel like the luckiest parent in the world.

Handy man and handy mess

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 25, 2011, 8:33 PM | comments: 0

I made one of what seems like a billion Home Depot runs last night. There is something calm and wonderful about going there late at night. It's not busy, and there's this big giant building full of stuff that can inspire you to create things. I've come to realize that doing stuff around the house isn't simply another silly material excess, but rather something of a therapeutic and often creative exercise.

People in my line of work typically are known for make a ton of money when they're experienced, but I've always had a lot more respect for people who are exceptional at traditional trades like carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, etc., regardless of what they get paid. These are occupations that create the very places we live and work. The more I try to do some of these things, even in the most minor of capacities, the more I appreciate what they're capable of, because it doesn't come easy to me at all.

Today, I finally moved the toolbox and drill into the garage, for the first time in the three and a half weeks since we got into the house. Our borrowed ladder will be returned tomorrow. The house is 90% functional as a living space. I've had some triumphs, but also some near-tragedies.

On the positive side, our living room is super cozy and lovely. We haven't repainted the trim, but otherwise it's done. Diana's paint color choices really worked out. The Ikea cabinet and shelf for the TV is compact and simple. There are no brass light fixtures anywhere. I even put one of those cool built-in night lights in one of the outlets. It's all very satisfying.

I'm proud of getting the microwave mounted, as my crowning achievement. No one else would consider this a big deal, even though I had no original hardware. I guess it's just because it's a fairly permanent thing, and I'm not used to doing stuff like that.

Replacing light fixtures was a mixed bag. The four hallway lights around the house went pretty smoothly. The third and final lights probably took less than ten minutes to swap out. The kitchen lights, on the other hand, were a pain in the ass. The electrical boxes were set too far into the ceiling, so it took a combination of longer screws and some washers to get the things mounted. Total pain in the ass. Granted, the results were so worth it.

Getting the deck in better shape ended up not going very well. I borrowed my dad's power washer, which is excellent, and the actual washing was mostly good. I missed some spots, which wasn't obvious when it was all soaking wet. Meh, it was good enough. I still need to sand down some of the railings because the washer tends to tear up that kind of wood. The difficulty came when I tried to seal it. I had a few gallons of sealer left from the last time I tried sealing stuff, probably ten years ago. I figured, "Whatever, it's still good." Not so much. It had somehow crystalized, clogging up the pressure canister. If that weren't bad enough, I got quite a bit of it on the vinyl siding (I hate vinyl siding, by the way), and I'm not sure it will come off. Fail.

Doing home maintenance reminds me a lot of when I started to write software. I sucked at it so badly that I became easily frustrated. Amazing what 12 years can do. I have to keep in mind that I don't have 12 years doing home maintenance, so I'm not going to be good at it. That's a bummer, because I'd like to do something more ambitious, like run speaker wire up the walls for surround speakers. That's just not going to happen though.

It will start to get cold soon, so home maintenance is just about done for the year. I'll be thinking over the winter about what things I'd like to try next.

Home improvement weekend #4

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 23, 2011, 10:22 PM | comments: 0

Another weekend, another effort to making our house more homely. We started with a slight distraction, namely ants. This isn't a new problem, really, as it happened a few times back in the day as well. What's weird is that they seem to come in from the center of the house, where the garage meets the foundation. We put down a few baits, and already the overall volume has been reduced. It's a problem made more difficult by the fact that Simon tends to fling food down on the kitchen floor from time to time.

We mostly took it easy on Saturday, but started the Sunday effort by getting storage boxes and plastic bins down to the crawl space. For as much as I've reduced the crap I have, there is a fair amount of sentimental stuff I haven't yet parted with. Boxes of stuff from old girlfriends, volleyball medals, video and audio tapes with God knows what on them, just general crap. I did find some photographic treasures of me as a kid. Everything that I've ever shot I have the negatives in one place, and I intend to have those shipped off to India to have them scanned. Gotta get on that.

After the storage, we finished the painting on the back wall of the living room, which crosses over into the kitchen space and covers the front of the stairs. It's just a little darker than white, but it makes a difference compared to the primer that had been there for ten years. We need to get another can, but the goal is to also cover the rest of the inside of the stairs, and the upstairs hall. We want to re-do all of the trim in pure white, but I'm honestly not sure when that's going to happen.

As we were finishing up the painting, my dad dropped by with his power washer. Diana started to trim the bushes and get the low-hanging fruit in terms of ugly in front of the house. It looks slightly less like a vacant lot now. Also trimmed the area around the back by the deck, for future hot tub connection. We have some tall "privacy bushes" along the deck, and nature found a way to start an additional one growing, right in that row, the perfect distance apart. Spring will require a lot of weed disposal and installation of some landscaping fabric before we get new mulch, otherwise it'll just turn to beds of weeds.

After we cleaned up from that endeavor, Diana took Simon for a walk, and I ran to Home Depot for some deck cleaner. I hosed down the deck with the washer, waited a few minutes, and then started to get serious with the washer. You can pretty much cut wood with that thing at 2,500 psi. The deck is actually composed of three types of wood. The railings are a really soft wood that attracts moss and such, and gets a bit splintered when power washing. The vertical posts are something else, the hardest stuff. Then there's the decking itself. I think I got it pretty clean, but I'll have to wait until it's dry to know for sure. It's really hard work! I managed to work all kinds of muscles I don't normally use, fighting the pressure.

We're pretty sure that we'd like to expand the deck at some point, because once there's a hot tub on it again, it reduces the overall functional space. Not to worry right now, as we head into winter, but once the job situation stabilizes, we're definitely going to get a new hot tub. We looked at them Saturday, and we're even considering a slightly smaller one. Kind of bummed that the patio furniture around here is already gone. We were hoping for some end-of-season deals.

The kitchen light comes tomorrow from Amazon, leaving just the need to replace the light at the front door. Then the brass fixtures will be gone. Unfortunately, the fire place is still brass colored. I'm going to hold off on replacing the brassy door knobs for now, because I want the lever kind, and Simon can open those. We don't want him in stuff just yet. I figure when he can open them, I'll replace them.

It's starting to feel like we live here again, though the changes reflect the new life we started in Seattle. The living room in particular feels completely new and different. I'm so pleased with the couch, which is starting to break in, and the Ikea TV/stereo cabinet is attractive, functional and minimal, so as not to dominate the room. The old curtains actually seem new because of the new wall color.

We've really done a ton of work in very little time. Hopefully at some point this week, we can at least get one car in the garage, and maybe even two. There are more empty boxes than anything else.

Microsoft Alumni

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 22, 2011, 11:57 PM | comments: 1

It seems appropriate that a company based on a campus that feels like college would have an alumni network. One of the things they tell you about on your way out of Microsoft is MSA, the Microsoft Alumni Network. For a hundred bucks a year, or less if you do multiple years, you get access to the company store pricing (hooray!), half-off MSDN subscriptions and access to all kinds of bigger picture discounts on wireless service, health care and what not. It has some nice benefits that easily pay for the membership, and a lot geared toward entrepreneurs too.

It's almost a little surprising that the company cooperates, because it feels weird to do favors for people who left the company. I'm not suggesting that they're all big deal contributors, but presumably a lot of people leave because they can find a better deal or be challenged elsewhere. My motivation was largely geographical.

In any case, next time I have to renew my MSDN subscription, it's nice that it won't cost a ton. Continuing to get discounts on hardware and software is also a pretty nice perk, for keyboards and Xbox Live subscriptions alone. My keyboard is getting a little mushy on some keys.

Sometimes adversity forces you to get creative

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 21, 2011, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

Imagine it's 2001. In April of that year, I bought a house, using some of the money I had from the sale of (for a cool sum of $100,000) as a down payment. Worried about the deterioration of Penton Media, seeing all of my friends get canned, I secured a new job at a start-up media company in July. In August, CoasterBuzz started to get way too popular to host it on someone else's dedicated server, and the cheapest option at the time became a T-1 to my house, at a cost of about a grand a month. Advertising would cover the cost.

Then 9/11 happened. The company I worked for had to cancel a trade show, and its financial situation got dire very quickly. Despite the assurance from the CEO about the stability of the company, they had to let me go. In October, I got this letter from DoubleClick, the ad company that wrote the big checks allowing for a T-1, and giving continued life to CoasterBuzz:



Getting 100k ad impressions was a piece of cake, but the click-through ratio sucked. The ads were totally irrelevant to my audience, and there was no significant tuning the way there is today. (Ironically, it was Google that eventually bought DoubleClick.) But none of that really mattered. What was important is that I just got a mortgage a few months before that, and a T-1 that I had to continue to buy from Sprint for one year. Basically, it was the scariest possible situation for someone at the ripe dumb age of 28 with no job.

The unemployment was psychologically taxing enough, but this other thing that I had started, that had become such a big deal in less than two years, couldn't sustain the expense. I could lose my shirt and the site.

It was at that point that I wondered if anyone would pay for the site. I also wondered if they would do so and not really get much in return, or something different than people who visited the site for free. All I could think of is that they'd get a membership card, no ads, and access to some events. As it turned out, all I had to do was ask.

I ended up going back to work after six months or so, and I kept the T-1 for two years total. After that, hosting became more of a commodity, and I was able to get away with "only" $350 for my own box. Memberships covered nearly half of my expenses, and I was able to carry on. CoasterBuzz is closing in on its 12th anniversary.

Things got so shitty in a very short amount of time. In some ways, I'm almost surprised that I didn't just curl up in the fetal position and cry. Actually, I did cry a few times that year, but I managed to pick myself up and get creative. I solved problems.

It has been my experience that when things are difficult, you have no choice but to innovate your way out of the difficulty. Professionally, it wouldn't be the last time I had to overcome an ugly situation, and it won't be the last. Ditto for my personal life. In fact, adverse situations tend to shake you free of complacency. You might fail some more, you might succeed, but I honestly believe that the potential for just being better is high.

Driving cross-country

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 20, 2011, 2:14 PM | comments: 0

I was thinking today about my cross-country drive a few weeks ago, and realized that I never really captured my feelings on the event. Driving down 2,400 miles of I-90 (well, mostly I-90), alone, with four cats, sounds like it might be a real drag. The truth is, it wasn't bad, and my take-away is that everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime.

The alone dynamic is something I have mixed feelings about. That's a long time to have your thoughts to yourself. On the other hand, it's also a pretty unique opportunity to reflect, take stock and think about your future. If it's just you, you can devote the time to you! On the flip side, it would be nice to take a slower pace and enjoy the trip with another person. If you're on a schedule with someone, it's less fun. Diana and I did it in the other direction, and it was stressful, in part because she was so uncomfortable much of the time, being pregnant and all, and partly because the weather was scary through the Rockies and Cascades. Only our stop at Mt. Rushmore demonstrated how fun the trip could have been.

The route matters as well. Almost any way you go, "the middle" is going to suck. That's just geography. Get ready for around five hundred miles of flat, straight, blah. The fields of wind turbines are interesting for the first few hundred you see, but after that, you get tired of fighting the wind and seeing corn stalks blow across the road.

Those western parts of the drive are pretty amazing though. South Dakota, from Rapid City to points west, is kind of neat, particularly with Mt. Rushmore. Wyoming has an almost alien looking landscape, reminding me of photos from Mars. Montana is easily the best kept secret in driving trips in the US. It's absolutely gorgeous. Clearly a side trip to Yellowstone would be in order if there was time. The best part of I-90 is between Spokane and Bozeman, MT. Second best is between Seattle and the Columbia River in Washington.

I was surprised how little I was fatigued in any particular day. The first day in particular, with stops, clocked in around 13 hours, and you "lose" an hour because of the time change. I didn't realize I was tired until I sat down in the hotel room. The GPS keeps your expectations in check, because it shows you the expected time. Obviously I didn't need it, since almost the entire drive was I-90, but it really helped me. I really dreaded it, but during the drive, I actually kind of enjoyed it.

The biggest struggle, which was the same the other way, was the lack of good restaurants. There is seemingly a Dairy Queen franchise every exit, but that's it. Not even local places, just fast food. Missoula and Rapid City seem to at least have the big national franchises, but otherwise, it's so much crap. I tried to at least stick to Wendy's, which is the most tolerable among fast food options. I also did a Buffalo Wild Wings in Rapid City, just out of sheer desire, since there are no locations in Seattle.

Before doing it, I would have never considered a driving trip out west. Now, when Simon's old enough, I'm leaning toward it. Maybe not starting from the east, but at least flying to some point out west and renting a car. You just can't see that part of the country any other way. Highly recommended.

Dude, are you ever actually happy?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 20, 2011, 10:58 AM | comments: 0

One of my friends asked me via IM the other day if I was ever happy. I'm not entirely sure what I've been doing to give her the impression that I'm not, but I sure hope I don't generally come off as a Debbie Downer!

In the most general sense, I've been relatively happy for a number of years. I wasn't happy dating in early 2007, and the non-work in 2009 started to bring me down a little, but I have a lot to be happy about.

Do keep in mind that this move is going to be a challenging adjustment for quite some time. I find myself emotionally exhausted from the chaos of the move, and the separation from our friends in Seattle. You don't spend two years in a place and not grow attached to it. I still compare it to graduating from college. You have a couple of years filled with intense experiences and new relationships, and then it just ends. Just thinking about it causes anxiety.

Fortunately, there is progress in the adjustment. The house is feeling less ghetto, now that we've made substantial improvements in a relatively small amount of time. Simon seems to enjoy his big play space, and I love coming home to him, despite his crankiness associated with his molar teething. We're slowly connecting with our old friends and getting back into that loop. Financially, I'm pleased to see that our numbers are way, way better than I expected, and we'll reach our goals quickly if I can maintain the same pay rate.

What is important to consider is that being happy can be a lot of work. Money, nice stuff, an awesome partner, a good job and a rich social experience don't make everything rainbows by default. There are a lot of areas of my life that I need to improve on. These areas don't necessarily tank my happy score, but they could drag me down if I don't tend to them. Being satisfied with life doesn't happen by just sitting around hoping it will happen.

Projects of the programming kind

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 17, 2011, 10:10 PM | comments: 0

With all of the Seattle tourism, moving and home improvement in the last six weeks, I've done almost no work on my software projects. I'm not even sure when I can work on them. I have a lot of desire, but it just doesn't seem to happen.

Prioritizing helps, and blogging about it forces me to be honest about what I intend to do. I just have to figure out when I can work on them. If I can get three uninterrupted hours, it's amazing what I can accomplish. Here's what I've got:

  • POP Forums v9.1: Call it the future CoasterBuzz version. The intention is to first enable the extensibility story the old version had, then port over the photo forum stuff. There are also various fixes and changes. I think I was pretty close to getting there, but I haven't touched it in two months.
  • CoasterBuzz v5: This is getting way overdue, again. Three years since the last version, and there are so many things I'd like to do. But hey, the last version took five years, so I'm technically still ahead.
  • Graphical UI proxy monitoring thingy: I prototyped a very awesome app that sucks data out of JSON endpoints and aggregates them into a dashboard thingy. I have a pretty well defined use case about why you'd want that, but I won't go into it here. It feels like something I could charge for.
  • Private social network: I'm not sure why I even think about this, but it feels like something I want to do.
  • So many domain names... not sure why I still pay the $10/year to keep them.

Slightly related to blogging, I've still thought very hard about compiling a book from the posts. I started to look into it, and there are definitely enough pages to do it. Would it be good enough to be the Rework of relationships, new parenting and work? I dunno.

What's daunting is that I feel like my best time for this sort of thing is after Simon goes to bed, by which time I'm kinda tired or just want to spend time with Diana. I have to figure something out to carve out time.

Windows Phone Mango is delicious

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 16, 2011, 5:02 PM | comments: 0

I got tired of waiting for my "turn" to get my phone upgraded to Mango, so I did a goofy hack that involves disconnecting you from the network when your comprooder is checking to see if it should update your phone. I knew I should have followed up with the guy in Redmond who said he could take care of my phone before leaving.

I was generally satisfied even with the original WP7, despite some annoyances. I still don't miss my iPhone, and when I mess with it now (or the iPad), I can't help but feel that iOS feels dated, and doesn't integrate the things I use the devices for very well. Now that I've got Mango, I feel even more strongly about it. Here's what I like, in no particular order, as I've found it.

  • Task switching: This is one of the "missing" features. Hold down the back button, and you can switch among apps pretty fast. Granted, the app has to take advantage of it, but it's still pretty cool.
  • Conversational e-mail: Now it's organized like Gmail or Outlook. For Gmail users in particular, this is a big deal, because if you don't "archive" the thread, all of the messages linger on the phone.
  • Person history: This is fantastic. If I look at Diana's profile, it shows a history of my interaction with her that includes text messages, e-mail and phone calls. Awesome.
  • Cross-post status: Tapping my tile and then update, I can cross-post my status to Facebook, Twitter and even Windows Live (snicker snicker). My Twitter account will no longer appear dead.
  • Camera and video settings saved: This was a stupid failure in the first place, but now the camera will retain settings. That means sharpening is off and video is always HD.
  • IE9: Never thought I'd be endorsing some flavor of IE, but it has all of the new hotness that supports HTML5 and what not. The address bar at the bottom makes more sense, too.
  • Voice directions: I didn't even know this was in here. Go to the map app, get some directions, it'll read them to you as you travel. That's very useful!
  • Voice text: Need to send a text while you're driving? Well, you probably shouldn't be pushing the buttons, but once you push the voice button, you can tell it what to say and it will text that.
  • Unified messaging: One view across chat and text.
  • Battery saver: Stops pinging e-mail when your battery gets low.
  • Notifications appear in your "me" app as well.
  • Improved phone UI: No weird dual buttons for keypad and other options.
  • Video upload: There are other options other than "delete" for video you shoot, namely uploading to Facebook. But the fail: Makes the title the file name. Stupid.
  • Bigger music controls: No more missing the little buttons for forward and back when you're in other apps.
  • Photo hub: Totally revamped, stuff is grouped more logically and requires less tapping around. As before, your photos and albums come from everywhere, and you can see those of your friends.
  • Weather Channel app: Not part of Mango, exactly, but the new version includes radar on its live tile.

That's the stuff I've found so far. I wish they'd deploy the updates faster, but in any case, this is a winner. A part of me would like one of the shiny newer phones, but I'm super happy with the OS.

Enough home improvement for now

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 15, 2011, 10:05 PM | comments: 0

I've officially decided that I'm done home improving for now. I'm burned out. When things are easy and go well, it's awesome. When they don't, I just want to finish and move on.

Today was a little bit like that. Diana and Jennie went nuts painting the last living room wall, while I got up and tore down the giant and hideous fluorescent light from the kitchen. I f'ing hated that light, pretty much from the moment I got the keys, a decade ago. It's weird that for the eight years I lived here before, I never thought about simply replacing the things I didn't like. God knows I had enough down time.

In any case, we thought some kind of spot lighting would be best for the kitchen. We found a simple five-light fixture with the brushed nickel finish we've been using on everything else. Not particularly inexpensive compared to the $11 domes we put up in the hallways, but not ridiculous, either. My architect brother-in-law has been known to spend $300-500 on a light fixture, so I'm keeping it real.

I actually felt fortunate that I could put a new fixture up there at all, because the big ugly box thing (with razor blades holding the cover on, much to the dismay of thumb) was screwed in with toggle bolts, and I couldn't see if there was a round box in the ceiling. I think that's code, but who knows with the fuck-ups that Pulte hired to build the place. I was relieved to see there was a box there, and we ran out to Home Depot to get the new fixture.

I would go back a little later, because the screws provided to attach the bracket to the box were metric. WTF? I'd expect that from Ikea, but not something from Home Depot. Once we had new screws, we both dangled 12 feet from the ladder and got it mounted, and it was all good. I positioned the lights, and the whole kitchen felt warmer. You can actually see in the pantry now. Even though I hate the counter tops and the cabinets, they look better. The shitty laminate floor still looks shitty. Living out west amongst the million-dollar houses has made me realize how shitty suburban Cleveland houses are.

In any case, the whole issue with the screws and difficulty doing what should have been a simple task made me cranky. Simon has been whiny all day, which just made it worse. He's teething his molars now, so at least he has an excuse. I like home improvement projects when they go smoothly, but freak out when they don't.

Getting the awesome mounted-elsewhere-but-never-used microwave up was next. I originally wasn't comfortable with buying it from friends just because of the lack of hardware and a place to return it, but with downloaded installation instructions, we went for it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be pretty simple, provided I could make solid guesses on where to drill holes in the above cabinet.

The back mounting brackets needed toggle bolts, which seemed like overkill, but I didn't have a drill bit big enough for them. Did I mention I love my new drill? So off to Home Depot for a third time today. Got the holes drilled, three toggle bolts, two into studs, and then the first attempt at mounting it. Hole for the plug was no problem, of course, and one of the holes for the top bolts was right on, but the other was not. There was a template that came with the microwave if you bought it in the store. Oh well, I just drilled a second hole on the other side. It came with "self-adjusting bolts," but I had to fake it with some washers since there's no telling where those went. It worked out fine.

I was pretty pleased with myself getting the microwave mounted. It's the simple things, I suppose. I was also horrified at the hack job the Pulte guys did with the old range hood, splitting the cabinet wood in suboptimal ways. They also left the saw dust behind the stove, which I had never seen before.

So I'm really done for now. Although I'll probably do something next weekend. We've got a new dining light fixture in the mail, so I suppose there will be that. My new old house is starting to feel comfortable.

Homestead adjustment update

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 14, 2011, 11:09 PM | comments: 0

We've been in the house for about a week now, which doesn't sound like very long when I say it out loud. The feeling of coming back to the house I expected to never see again when I left it two years ago continues to be exceptionally strange, but I think that's a future post.

From a physical occupation standpoint, there's a fair amount of settling still going on, but overall it has gone pretty well. Diana has ruthlessly execute countless boxes every day, and the packing debris already hit the garbage, while two families took the bulk of the boxes off of our hands. There are still a few things I can't find, like the desk clamp to my microphone boom, but overall things are very nearly feeling functional.

On the improvement front, the new living room really feels pretty comfortable. The new couch, ottoman and chair-and-a-half came on Tuesday. Decided to go with microfiber again because it's resistent to Simon's, uh, fluids, and the cats don't seem to harm it. A part of me wanted leather, but the deal on these pieces was pretty solid, and it's comfortable. The green walls really work, though I think they'll pop more once we get the baseboards and fireplace to white. What really pleases me is the Ikea TV stand and cabinet. It really consolidates all of the electronic crap and has a small foot print. The wall-mounted shelf for the center channel and Kinect really did the trick as well. It's a comfortable space overall that has almost nothing in common with the way it was two years ago.

The lighting re-do is a work in progress. The first priority was making all of this brass shit go away. There were a total of four brassy fixtures with three lamps each that I pulled down and replaced with $11 Home Depot specials that are a simple brushed nickel with a glass frosted dome. They look better and put out more light. We're still shopping for new foyer and dining room fixtures. The giant fluorescent in the kitchen is also coming down, probably to be replaced with some kind of spot/track something or other.

We pulled Simon out of the west bedroom because it was getting to cold in there with the door closed. It's on the corner of the house, where the wind generally hits, and it just gets too chilly. Bummer because that's the one Diana painted. We moved him into the east bedroom, which used to be my office once upon a time, and the extra foot of room actually makes it a lot more comfortable. For now, we're going to leave the two green walls.

The downstairs room is once again my office space, and Simon's unofficial playroom as well. I'm trying to get to the surface of my desk, and it's getting there. I haven't missed paying any bills, at least.

The kitchen is still awkward because we haven't mounted the microwave yet. I'm fairly confident that I have all of the hardware now to make it work.

The exterior is still a mess. We'll do another weed/feed, trim the bushes, and that's it until spring.

Not getting the "occupy" thing

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 4:04 PM | comments: 0

So there are people around the country hanging out in public places, er, "occupying" public places, and protesting. I'm not sure what they're protesting, exactly, but they're angry and cheesed off because of corporate greed and apparently some kind of "class war" being waged by the top 1% of wealthy folk.

Here's the thing. I am amazed at the things that this country has overcome by way of protest and activism, not the least of which includes the civil rights movement (including LGBT activism in more recent times), war protests and other big picture causes. But this "movement" has no particular focus or goal. It amounts to a lot of people pissed that the economy sucks, unemployment is high and it isn't getting any better. These are all good reasons to be pissed, but you need to have some kind of goal or agenda beyond being pissed. This amounts to the liberal counterpart of the "tea party" nonsense, and frankly I don't see how it's any more constructive.

Before anyone gets up in my grill for not being empathetic, keep in mind that shitty job and real estate markets have prompted me to move cross-country, twice in two years. I fucking get it in ways that more than qualify me to have an opinion. My particular annoyance rests in the holy trinity of economic stupidity: Home buyers for buying more than they can afford, banks for lending them money, and the government for encouraging the behavior by way of deregulation. I played by the rules and acted responsibly, and still have to put up with the shit of this situation. Nothing I can do about it though, so I've moved on.

There are a hundred things that I don't like about the way things are going here, especially in the realm of politics, education and health care. That said, I also have some ideas for some things I'd like to see change. Just being angry about it all and expecting others to fix the problems is the equivalent of a grown-up throwing a tantrum. It doesn't mean a damn thing.

The other non-constructive action is picking out who to blame. Again, it's easier to hate someone than find specific agenda points and solutions. That's actually an American pastime that includes various "-ism's" over the last 200 years, including racism, sexism and what not. Right now, the fashion is to hate on millionaires (whose wealth redistributed would not make a dent in anyone's paycheck) and "greedy" corporations. It's like capitalism itself is under attack. You know, I worked for the most profitable company in the world that wasn't a bank or oil company. If it disappeared tomorrow, 90,000 employees and another 70,000 contractors would be on the street. If greed means putting 160,000 people to work, I fail to see how that's bad.

Like I said, I empathize with the "occupants," but camping out on Public Square or Wall Street won't do shit to make anything better. Comparing your "movement" to the uprisings in the Middle East borders on insulting. People there were dying under dictatorships and being pushed around by tanks. That's a far cry from being unemployed.

Instead of being angry, organize. Find leadership. Form an actual agenda for what you'd like to see changed. If you really want to do something clever, work to start a business and innovate your way out of recession. Small businesses account for half of our GDP and employ half of all non-government workers.

Just don't cry that life's not fair. We're all aware of that fact already. If you're really compelled to keep score, and want to even it, take action beyond being angry. That's what we really need.

We ask a lot of each other

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 9:23 AM | comments: 0

I want to say that the chaos of our move is starting to get better, but it doesn't always feel like it. Diana had made huge strides in the last few days, executing boxes one by one. You can actually see the floor in places!

It really has taken its toll on us all in different ways. I'm burned out, especially going to a job and then wanting to do more, Diana's patience with everything is reduced, and poor Simon is struggling with the fact that he isn't getting very much attention from us.

Last night made me sad. I was putting up a curtain rod in Simon's room, and he was already whining most of the day. While I was up on the step stool, he came up to me, whimpering, carrying his pajamas and a new diaper. I felt terrible.

We ask a lot of Simon to roll with the changes. I'm a fan of saying, "He's young, he'll adjust," but I have to be mindful of his limits. Same goes for the grownups in the house. We try to push through and get things done and settled, and in the process we neglect each other's needs and desire to just be human. We're moving so fast, and the last two and a half weeks have been a blur. Big change from the two weeks prior that were awesomely filled with tourism and rest.

That's probably where my separation anxiety from Seattle is rooted. After a couple of weeks of trips to mountains and zoos, frequent Finaghty's visits and walks down Fairway, nothing is the same. It's hard.

Diana's resolve today is to make the day about Simon. I'm not sure what my plan is. I'm fairly certain that I want to crash on that new couch with my little family and watch TV.

Why I love being a dad

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 10, 2011, 7:48 PM | comments: 0

Simon reminded me today of how awesome it is to be his dad. His reaction when I got home was one of amazing joy, and he wanted nothing more than to be picked up so he could give me a tight squeeze and put his head on my shoulder. There isn't a single thing in the world that compares to that.

After dinner, we went out for a walk, and once again he reminded me of the great sense of wonder that kids have for the world. The simple act of running through dried leaves on the sidewalk caused him to light up with excitement. With a big smile, he grabbed for my hand, then Diana's.

He's such a precious gift, and that's why I don't mind prioritizing him over my own needs. That's not to say I don't try to find some balance, but particularly with the short time I have with him in the evenings, I'm all his. I love this little personality coming out.

Seattle separation anxiety

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 10, 2011, 1:18 PM | comments: 0

It's completely unexpected, but I've been feeling a lot of separation anxiety since leaving Seattle. Two years doesn't seem like a lot of time to get attached to a place, but I've really been missing it.

Part of it is the physical location, driving around the east side, enjoying the comfort and tranquility of our Snoqualmie neighborhood, walking around the Redmond campus, seeing Mt. Si, even stopping in the mall in Bellevue. Our adopted home town was a really wonderful place to live, and if I'm being objective, is just "better" than Northeast Ohio.

I'm also missing our friends out there, which of course is made infinitely worse by Facebook (except for Teresa, who never uses Facebook). This is hardly surprising either, since we went through some of the most intense events of our lives, especially having a child, with our friends around King County. When you still have that "thing" (Simon) with you, but not the infrastructure built around it, it's hard. It's especially hard knowing the Snoqualmie Mattoni's aren't a mile down the road.

There were points over the weekend where I actually started to think, "Fuck, what did we do?" A lot of that I'm sure has to do with the stress of moving and the chaos that is our house right now. Our home, and Cleveland in general, is not the same place that we left, so familiarity does not play a huge role in trying to settle back in.

The most positive thing that comes out of these feelings for me is a sense that home can be in any place that you make it. I've successfully done it, and we're doing it again. In fact, when we can reach our goals and make a run at being gators, I think the decision to do so will be fairly easy. The challenge isn't making yourself comfortable and happy where you live. I'm confident that we'll get to that point very quickly. The challenge is reconciling the multiple lives you establish in different geographies. It kinda sucks that you can't live all of them simultaneously.

Home improvement update

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 9, 2011, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

Wow, Sunday night already. We're pretty fried, but if we look beyond the disappointment of what we didn't get done, we got a lot done!

The arrival of our stuff took entirely too long, mostly because some stuff was double-tagged, so the driver kept looking all over for boxes that were already checked in. Then the idiot car shippers, running a week late, keep bugging Diana to meet them some place or another because of the cars on their truck or whatever. It's like, no, we paid for door-to-door, so figure it out and stop bothering us with your problems. At least we're getting a little money back. We also had an awful experience trying to get the Internet access installed, but that's worthy of its own blog post. Epic incompetence.

During the week we stayed with Sherry and Steve, we made trips to the house, but other than Diana getting one of the bedrooms painted, not much happened. We had ambitious goals for the weekend, but once reality set in, I was actually pretty happy with what we got done.

The biggest project was getting the living room painted. We did three walls in a green-like color. Painting 15-foot walls is new territory for us, made somewhat easier by the giant ladder that Steve loaned us. We still need to re-do the trip, to a bright white, but we'll get to it eventually. Really happy that after ten years, we're finally getting some paint on those walls.

We're on a brass assassination campaign. It started with the exterior doors, and this weekend I replaced a bunch of light fixtures. There were four brass fixtures with three 25w goofy sized bulbs in each, and I think they were probably ugly in 2001 as well. I replaced them with a Home Depot special, around $12 each. They're that brushed nickel kinda stuff with a glass dome. They look inexpensive, but not cheap, and with a pair of "60w" CF's, they're actually far more affective. Not orangey light either.

I replaced a light switch that wasn't working, which is weird. Put the hardware on my Ikea TV stand/cabinet, and despite the big TV, the room is no longer dominated by electronic crap. Remounted the mail box, which came loose from rusted screws and rotting wood. Lots of little things.

I bought two new tools. Finally got a Dremel, and that's bad ass. First use was to grind out the door frame for the bigger deadbolt plates. Even better, I finally bought a new drill. We had two of them, a bit older, but both were weak and aging. When I stayed with Mike in Chicago, he showed me his new DeWalt set, so I got just the drill. It's awesome. I've wanted a new drill for years, but couldn't justify it. With batteries and the drills themselves getting smaller, I think I got a solid deal by waiting.

Overall, I fully expected to spend at least $2k on home improvement, not counting furniture, but right now it looks like we're around a grand. Heck, even with the furniture, we're only at two grand. There are still a few big things to buy. We didn't get a ceiling fan for the living room, because honestly, I don't feel qualified to install it. That high ceiling scares the shit out of me. We also need a new light inside the front door, as well as a re-do on the kitchen lighting. We also got a never used, but still new microwave, which I have to mount. That was super cheap, from a friend.

Pretty solid weekend of work! I'd say we're at 75% in terms of boxes unpacked. Particularly once the new furniture arrives, it's going to feel somewhat like we moved into a new place. The exterior still looks terrible, but we'll get there eventually.

Insanely great

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 9, 2011, 9:47 PM | comments: 0

Steve Jobs died last week. Few figures in our lifetime have had as much of an impact on the world as Jobs. His story is interesting because it's the classic American entrepreneur story, filled with success, massive failure, and success again. Under his leadership, his company redefined personal computing twice (Mac and iPad), changed what we do with phones (iPhone), forced a new model on an industry (music) and pushed for elegant and beautiful industrial design that stood out from the commodity crap in every category. We have a lot of shiny aluminum objects in our house, and we love to use them. It's no wonder that the reaction Jobs' passing is so dramatic.

I think it's important to remember that Steve Jobs was a person. His private life was so carefully hidden, despite being such a public figure. As technology enthusiasts, we often watched as the "Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field" would make the most inane thing seem awesome. In an age where big corporations are demonized, Apple has been followed and praised almost in a cult-like way. The credit goes to the guy at the top.

That person had a reputation, for sure. While I think we can objectively say that Jobs made the world better, and pushed technology forward in a way that few, if any, people could, he may not have been the nicest guy in the world in the process. His disregard for people who deliver substandard or inadequate work is legendary. Even in public, at times, he has shown disregard for people simply because he felt they had poor taste. In some ways, that might even be a bad thing, as business leaders look to his style as a way to operate a company, but without the gift of taste-making that Jobs had.

I guess the reason I have to tip my hat to the guy is that he's always had the intention of changing the world, and that's exactly what he did. To be bold enough to say that you intend to, and then do it, is not something very many people ever do. There's something very inspirational about that.

Med school dream

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 4, 2011, 10:15 PM | comments: 0

I had the strangest dream last night that I was starting med school. It was the very first day, and I was scratching my head over why I was there at all. I'm looking at my class schedule and thinking, "Huh? I don't even want to be a doctor." I then proceeded to figure out how to drop out.

I've had a lot of going back to school dreams, but usually they're just back to undergrad, where I'm inevitably an R.A. who is blowing off doing rounds (just like real life!). It's kind of strange that I have so little interest in ever going to grad school, because so many people close to me have gone for one thing or another. All of the "special ladies" from various parts of my life range from one masters up to a DVM, and I admire them all for it, but I couldn't do it myself.

Interestingly enough, the one case where I could make an effort is so I could coach college volleyball. Schools are weird like that, they want you to have something more. The truth is though, I wouldn't likely pursue any kind of coaching career without having a serious financial backup, because that line of work does not exactly pay very well.

So to grad students past and present everywhere... I salute you.

Serious fatherhood

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 4, 2011, 3:42 PM | comments: 0

Having the time off between gigs has been really excellent for me as a father. Simon can certainly be a handful at times, but he's a very cute handful that happens to be very affectionate toward me. It's a worthy trade.

While there are certain things about Simon that push my buttons, mostly on the subject of how he eats, I'm surprised at how seriously I take this whole fatherhood thing. I'm really into it, and the little man trumps almost everything except for marriage. I want to be a father figure, a mentor, a provider and someone he looks up to. It feels like a very heavy responsibility, and it's a weight I did not expect.

Our tourist activities in our last two or three weeks in Washington were super fun. I love how he takes in the world with such joy and curiosity. There's a big personality coming out of this little person, and I wish I could be there more to see it. As it is, I'm absolutely militant about making sure that I have a little bit of time with him every day. That's why I've kept earlier work hours since he was born, because I want to be present every day, not just on weekends.

I'm sure it's going to get harder as time goes on. When I have to tell him no or discipline him, he'll probably be pissed at me and say hurtful things. That's the part of parenthood I don't look forward to. But right now, even with the hard parts, it's amazing how much love he has for us. It's completely different from adult relationships, and totally unconditional. Sounds like I'm talking about a puppy!

iPhone groan is good for everyone

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 4, 2011, 2:44 PM | comments: 0

So yes, I know you should take Twitter and blog chatter with a grain of salt, but the announcement of the iPhone 4S is being greeted with a lot of groaning. Apple stock is even getting beat up, which is stupid because you know they'll break all previous sales records with it anyway.

It's going to keep getting harder for Apple to make these quantum leaps with phones, which is good because it gives competition a chance to catch up. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm still a Windows Phone fan, even since leaving The Empire, and Mango combined with some of the new hardware coming out makes for a sweet product. Will be interested to see what Nokia brings out in the next couple of months, too.

We were talking about this at dinner the other day, and it's amazing how we kind of take smart phones for granted now. It's good that the iPhone isn't the only viable product as well, because good choices are so critical for bigger picture of advancement.

Now if the other players could just get their tablet stuff together...

The chaos continues

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 3, 2011, 8:40 PM | comments: 0

The start to the week was completely suboptimal. The new job was a non-issue, as the first day of any new job is typically a non-event. The commute, however, was a little brutal, and I'm going to have to figure out how to coexist with downtown again. Hopefully they'll be OK with me time-shifting my hours earlier, because that would be a serious lifestyle problem otherwise.

The chaos comes in the further delay of getting our stuff. Most annoying is the delay in the arrival of Diana's car, which now won't be here until the end of the week. They picked it up on Monday, September 19. You do the math. They originally assured us it would arrive today. While Diana's BFF has offered her car if Diana would shuttle her to work, it creates more chaos because we have to think about three kids and their seats and what not.

When we originally got quotes from the movers, Mayflower pegged a delivery date of today. Then last week, when the driver left, he was estimating Tuesday or Wednesday. Now we're looking at the end of the week for that as well. We can't live in our house, we can't get Simon's toys, we're just... transient. It sucks.

With a week and a half of general chaos, we're just done. I'm thankful that we have friends who are helping minimize the stress, but it's just hard to not have any sense of home. You'd think this would be easier than moving to Seattle, but it hasn't been. It probably doesn't help that, for me, I got to spend a couple of weeks so close to my family, in the nest, and I don't have that. Even this weekend, we'll be living in box city and I won't have it. Multiply every intense feeling times ten because there's a toddler completely out his element that is having a hard time.

I know, this will pass, and the net result is positive. I just need to get the bitching and moaning out. Really missing my friends in Seattle, and of course we haven't had time to see any of our friends here yet.

Home limbo

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 2, 2011, 8:50 PM | comments: 1

The annoyance of being homeless is starting to get to us. Not because we don't have a place to stay, because we have great friends that we're crashing with, but because we can't actually begin to settle into home. Our stuff should be here by the end of the week, and living room furniture comes the week after.

We're making a little bit of progress toward making the house inhabitable. Very little. Doing anything is problematic because Simon gets bored and needs naps and what not. Not to mention I've been tired out of my mind from all of the driving, and not sleeping adequately because Simon doesn't really want to sleep with us in the room.

Still, we've done some ground work. I changed the locks at the house, for a couple of reasons. First, they were the hideous brass that the builder used everywhere. They had to go. The other problem was that key custody over the years has become quite a mystery, and that messes with my security paranoia. There were three original keys, and the only one I can account for is the one my dad has. There were four copies, and I can only find two of those. Plus, one key was sitting in a combination lock box for two years that dozens of people had access to.

Landscaping isn't going to go far this year, but we'll start. I got a hedge trimmer to take care of the non-work done by a contractor over the summer. Fucker. He insisted by e-mail they just grew back that quickly, which I know is crap because I lived with those bushes for years. I used a hack saw to cut down the 12-foot tree growing by one of the back windows. I did a weed-and-feed treatment, after buying a new spreader. The lawn looks awful, so the plan is to do two treatments this fall, and resume in the spring. Beds and what not will come next year.

Paint has been obtained for the living room and Simon's room. This is long, long overdue, as the living room still has the original primer white. It's a pain in the ass because of the 15-foot ceiling, but we'll get there. We bought living room furniture today, and it's a grayish microfiber that was not expensive at all. Very simple and straightforward design. I think it'll compliment the colors that Diana picked pretty well. The hardest part will be the trim, which we're planning to re-do in white, instead of the crap the builder used. That will be slow going with the carpet.

Lots still to consider... including light fixtures, new door knobs, a power washer for the deck and driveway (I could borrow my dad's, but I think I want one)... we'll get there. A part of me wants to paint the outside before winter. It looks pretty terrible. There isn't a lot there, but it's all up high.

I don't see many "free" weekends this fall.

Cutting the TV cord

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 1, 2011, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

We've decided we're going to experiment, and try living without cable or satellite TV for awhile. Where we live, we can get all of the broadcast stations, so we'll pull those off the air and feed them to our TV and my Mac-Mini-as-a-DVR computer. We might even consider paying for Hulu Plus, so we can view shows faster and via the Xbox.

I looked at stuff that we regularly recorded on our DVR, and about 85% of it was from broadcast stations. There are a few things we (mostly Diana) watched on cable, but she's willing to try without. We'll be missing PBS Sprout, which is Simon's fave in the mornings and evenings, but we can find some stuff to DVR from broadcast PBS.

While this is not a budgetary concern, it is something that I think we've just taken for granted as a "necessary" expense. However, these days, between Hulu and Netflix, I just don't see a reason to shell out the cash. I'm all for buying a dumb pipe.