Archive: November, 2011

Reluctantly bought a Blu-ray player

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 30, 2011, 3:54 PM | comments: 1

After fighting it for a couple of years, I finally bought a Blu-ray player. It wasn't that I was bitter that I bought an HD-DVD player and the format died, it was more that it seemed silly to buy anything that deals with physical media anymore. I haven't bought a CD in years, and I haven't bought many movies either.

But there are a couple of important problems around my movie viewing habits. The first is that I love me some special features. They're worth the price of the media. Unfortunately, they're pretty much banished from the discs that Netflix sends out. They also pretty much aren't available in streaming form at all. Even HD download-to-own stuff like those from iTunes lack these features.

The other issue is that DRM is still there on that download stuff, which burned me more times than I'd like with music. I don't want to play that game again.

Granted, the number of titles I'll actually buy on Blu-ray might end up being small, the collectors stuff and a few new titles every year, but the players are so stupid cheap at this point that I'm willing to just bite the bullet and do it. Even if it makes me feel a little dirty.

Tech news replaced by punditry

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 30, 2011, 11:09 AM | comments: 0

There was a time when I really enjoyed reading tech news, because it was actually news about what was going on in the industry. The typical outlets still do this, but it's mixed with a lot of bullshit these days that isn't even analysis. It's just conjecture and opinions. Example headlines:

  • Will the iPad kill the big screen TV?
  • 4 Azure milestones Microsoft must hit - and soon
  • Windows 8 tablets: Too late or is there still time?

You get the idea.

I'm OK with pundits doing their thing. We talk about shit we're not qualified to talk about on the CoasterBuzz Podcast all of the time. But we also offer the disclaimer that we're full of crap. We don't run amusement parks or build roller coasters. These people think they're real industry folks with all of the answers, and it's annoying.

Changing writing habits

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 29, 2011, 11:24 AM | comments: 0

I've noticed that my writing habits have changed pretty dramatically in the last year. Most obvious to me is the frequency, which has decreased quite a bit. The frequency is driven by two other factors, which are new to me.

The first is the issue of privacy. I'm choosing to share less via my blog. I'm not sure exactly why. I'm generally a pretty open person. I don't really enjoy secrets, perhaps because there's a part of me that feels like omission is a more polite form of lying. I'm not saying I don't have secrets, but for the most part life seems to go pretty well without them. I'm just feeling that some details of my life don't need to be a part of the public domain.

The other issue is that I find myself writing with a different purpose. Now I think about the audience. I don't think the public at large cares that much about the mundane details of my life, something I've spent a great deal of time writing about. As such, I'm more likely these days to share those mundane details on Facebook and not blog about them. This is clearly a double-edged sword. On one hand, it keeps my writing more focused, but on the other hand, some would argue that the things I consider mundane are actually really interesting to read about, for purposes of empathy, at the very least.

I still have the urge to compile this stuff into something useful. Maybe it would work. Maybe not. Another thing to do in my limited spare time.

Advertising you suck at life: Now easier than ever with the Internets!

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 28, 2011, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

You know the people I'm talking about. You always have a few "friends" on Facebook who do nothing but bitch about their lives. Random sampling:

  • I have a headache.
  • Traffic sucks.
  • I don't feel good.
  • This sucks.
  • My hemorrhoids are acting up.
  • I have a zit on the inside of my nostril.
  • Work sucks.
  • I have a headache.
  • Gas costs too much.
  • I have sand in my vagina.

You get the idea. It's completely annoying.

The good thing is that it's a pretty good indication of who to drop from your sacred friends list. I already find that the fewer people there, the better, but this makes it easier to figure out who to drop. I'm sorry if you suck at life, but no one wants to be around you even virtually if you have to remind everyone else you suck at life.

It gives me a headache. ;)

Two-month transition progress

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 27, 2011, 9:11 PM | comments: 0

We've been in Cleveland now for about two months, and for the most part, all of the trade-offs and conditions that I anticipated have been true. What I did not anticipate is how intense a lot of the feelings have been around the transition.

The hardest thing has been the separation from our Seattle friends. I think I underestimated how hard that would be. My work friends were very much my guide to the Northwest, while the PEPS families were folks we shared the ultimate life change with, namely having a child. If that weren't enough, we also don't get to see Simon's cousins, as they continue to grow and develop. I'm finding this change very difficult.

Of course, I also miss the physical area, too. The mountains, the daily drive around Lake Sammamish, the evergreens, the playgrounds, Finaghty's, the Microsoft campus... these were all places that made me smile every day. It's funny to think about how frustrated all of those places made me when we first moved out there, and now I hate being away from it all. It doesn't help that this November, normally the wettest month of the year, they've had half the normal rainfall.

On the flip side, the positives I anticipated have more or less fallen into place. Financially, this makes so much more sense. The raise-by-pay-cut weirdness that comes with only one place to pay for is working like a charm, and we're debt free (except the house) and saving. I hate that we're way behind for people our age, but there is positive traction.

Having a house, as relatively modest as it is, has made a huge difference in our ability to make ourselves comfortable. There's a little more room, and we've been able to decorate to our tastes. It truly feels like a new place, because of all the new paint, lighting, furniture and such.

The job I got before moving turned out to be a joke, not what they sold me and a very poor fit (the sum of work after three weeks was FTP'ing some files around), but I knew there was some risk going in, and never truly stopped looking. The volume of work available is huge, and I think things are coming together in that respect. As you might imagine, I certainly had some second thoughts about leaving the relative comfort of Microsoft.

We're having a good time finding some of our old hang-outs. We got a zoo membership, are hitting our favorite restaurants, and of course, hit Cedar Point a couple of times before it closed. We're not making all of the re-connects with friends the way we hoped, but we're working on it little by little.

So in a lot of ways, things feel like a bit of a lateral move, at least in the short term. I can't honestly say that I'm more happy, just "as happy" for now. I'm OK with that. I feel like we're laying down a solid foundation, the way that most responsible people (that is, not me) would have ten years earlier, only without any significant sacrifice beyond having a suboptimal zip code. In five years or less, provided I can actually ditch this house, I think we'll have the kind of freedom to go anywhere.

I just wish the missing Seattle part was easier. I think that's going to take some time.

Commerce is the reason

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 23, 2011, 8:18 PM | comments: 0

On the way home from work today, leaving early in fact, I was shocked to see mall traffic backed up on the freeway for several miles. It's the day before Thanksgiving. Some stores will be open either early in the morning tomorrow, or in the evening. And of course, you know how Friday will be. Oh, and you know how long Christmas decorations have been up in stores.

I'm trying very hard to understand what's going on here. There's allegedly an awful mood in the country as unemployment has stalled out, and yet economists are predicting a 15% boost in holiday spending over last year. I don't remember any time in my life where the "mood" and the numbers didn't match up with the actions of folks.

But even if everything was superawesome, both in perception and reality, the thing I understand the least is why hoards of people are interested in going to stores at insane times, to stand in line, to push people out of the way (Merry fucking Christmas!) to buy... anything. What's worth that, for yourself or as a gift? Is your life measurably better for it, at the expense of your dignity and the things that the season are supposed to stand for?

If it weren't asinine enough, a lot of the big ticket items you can buy end up being things they have quantity three of, so you invest this stupid time for nothing. It's consumerism at its worst.

I like shiny objects. There are a select few categories of toys that I enjoy having. However, it's not worth compromising my humanity and dignity to buy anything under those circumstances. If the deal is so good that I couldn't afford it otherwise, I don't need it. I certainly don't have to sell my soul to get it.

I don't care about the weird consumerism bastardizing the "reason for the season." I'm tired of hearing from people who rant about others "trying to take the Christ out of Christmas" when it isn't Christmas that everyone celebrates this time of year. It's not going to mean anything less to you just because someone else is celebrating Hanukkah or the Muslim New Year. Settle down. What I do care about is that all of the religious occasions involve celebrations of family, peace and generally fuzzy feelings. Pushing people out of the way at Best Buy for a TV is not that.

When the only story is civil disobedience, you have an annoyance, not a movement

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 20, 2011, 8:56 PM | comments: 0

I've watched the whole "occupy movement" with great interest, because I've generally been a guy who didn't care for "the man," and I've challenged "the establishment" my whole life when it comes to culture, social issues, politics and whatever. I'm the guy who will proudly tell you that I have never owned a suit, want my gay friends everywhere to get married, drive a Prius and don't mind paying taxes if I feel I'm getting value for the money. While I consider myself somewhat centrist, I think many would classify me as a bed-wetting liberal. That's how I roll.

But this thing... I can't find a way to be sympathetic. It's this bizarrely coordinated thing made possible by the Internet, where all of the energy is spent making the protest happen, and none of the energy is spent determining a specific agenda, or a plan for action targeted at any specific individuals or entities. The end result is that the protest is doing little to make anything happen beyond confrontation. That has become the only story.

What's even more disturbing is that these folks are trying to identify with the revolutions in the Arab world. That's completely absurd. No one here is staring down a military dictatorship or being cut off from the Internet. What happened to any sense of perspective?

The divisive "99%" thing is one of the most destructive things I've seen in American culture in my lifetime. Those self-labeling with the group, by some surveys, clocks in around 10% of actual people. (Not surprisingly, 10% of people identify with the Tea Party "movement" at the other political end.) Even if you're sticking that percentage to household income, you're including people who make $300k and below, and I don't think those are people particularly in the mood to protest anything. More to the point, the actual 1% types that I know, and you meet your share in a place like Seattle, are pretty focused on their jobs, not keeping everyone else repressed in some fashion. In the software industry, I would add that they tend to be in it because they enjoy solving problems.

So what I am hearing, looking around at the Internet, boils down to a few points. There is no "official" platform, because as I mentioned, the organizational efforts are all geared toward the act of protest, not developing the issues. Some of the points have some real value around things like campaign finance reform and reversing some of the haphazard deregulation of the financial industry. 

The points I can't agree with are those that bubble up from the protestor-on-the-street. I can't pay my student loans. My mortgage payment is too high. I deserve to have a good job. Basically, anything that falls under the category of entitlement or a lack of personal accountability bothers me. I realize that "the system" has a lot of problems with it that desperately need to be addressed, but I live in that system as well. I've spent more than two years of my post-college life unemployed (though I describe it as "self-employed," choosing not to collect benefits). I can sympathize with hard times.

Ultimately, the American way has been one where we innovate our way out of a shitty situation. Today our shitty situation is a poor economy, seemingly unending wars, high unemployment, environmental disregard... there's a long list. There are a lot of hard problems. Solutions for those problems will not arrive by declaring, "My life sucks, and it's all the fault of the people with non-sucky lives." I can't identify with that.

Without viable talking points that a majority can get behind (and calling yourself "99%" does not make you a majority), the occupy movement will fade and go away. Let my parents' generation tell you all about how ridiculous the 60's and 70's were, and compare that to what we have today. Our social ills, by comparison, should be easy to fix.

Life, in the moment

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 18, 2011, 10:54 PM | comments: 0

I think a lot of people, myself included, spend too much time looking out for some bigger picture goal that involves money, career, number of kids, etc. Granted, it's better than just winging it with no plan, but certainly you can overdo it. In my (second, unplanned) work transition, I had a couple of weeks where I could have been way too worried about the future, but instead was careful to enjoy every basic and fundamental moment I could with my little family.

There have been countless times in the last few weeks where I've had Simon on my lap, as he played with a toy or relaxed before I put him down for the night, and all I could think of was, "Yeah, this is what it's about."

In this case, I think it's the scarcity of those moments that gave me so much focus. I'll never forget rocking with Simon in the apartment during that month I had off right after he was born. With his tiny little body (well, tiny for him) draped over my shoulder, I thought about how relatively few times I'd get to have that experience. We're getting to have them again, because he's now old enough to initiate them and find comfort and safety in our arms. It's awesome, and I know a time will come when he's too old or too cool to be that kid.

Every time the screensaver on my computer kicks in, I see literally hundreds of moments that are like this, and I often ask myself if I knew how great those moments were at the time. I'm pleased to say that more often than not, the answer is yes. It has taken a lot of conscious effort to get there, though. I look at those moments from my 20's and I realize how infrequently I lived in those moments. I guess it's just what happens when you grow up.

I can't tell you how things will be in ten years for any of the goal-setting type of stuff we typically engage in, but I worry less about it because life's great moments are happening every single day. I don't want to miss those moments.

Winter vacation thoughts

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 18, 2011, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

I'm not sure why, but we're already thinking about winter vacation plans. Typically, we end up going somewhere between November and March. Last year it was a really awesome week at Universal Orlando. It was really an extraordinary trip considering we had a 10-month-old and had to fly something like 3,000 miles each way.

Maybe it's the hilarious thread on CoasterBuzz started by a guy who made up his mind that Disney World would suck, went anyway, and tells us all how much it sucked. Our last trip there was just shy of two years ago, and even though Diana was six-months pregnant, and we had been Seattle residents for all of two weeks, we had a pretty good time overall. I can't wait to go back, and seeing a promo for "free" dining plan options during certain weeks got me to thinking more about it.

However, one of the things that makes Disney, for us, so much fun, is the dining plan and the evenings at the parks. With Simon, I'm not sure how well that would work. We could probably wing it with the dining if we made all of our table service meals either lunch or an early dinner. Just not sure how much night stuff we'd do since he's really only good until 8 normally. Granted, he surprised us at Universal in January. He was also a different kid then. I dunno, it's not off the table. We'd have to stay at one of the nicer hotels because we'd spend more time there. A friend was telling me today how awesome the splash park is at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

We've talked about doing the off-property stuff around Orlando as well. Diana has never been to any SeaWorld, so that would be a first for her. There's also Legoland and Busch Gardens in Tampa, the former being mostly new, and the latter having several rides new since I've been there. The downside of that arrangement is that you really have to make a day of those parks. There's no retreating back to your room easily. We learned that was essential with Simon. He could probably nap in his stroller, but you never can tell.

Of course, we're talking about major theme park trips, but that's kind of my thing, and we enjoy that stuff. We're fairly certain we'll do a "quiet weekend" at one of the indoor water park resorts at some point, because Simon thought that was pretty much the coolest thing ever when we did it in May. Mostly the wave pool, but with his higher confidence in his mobility now, I think it would be super fun.

The thing I'd really love to do is meet up with one of our couples-with-young-kids friends to hang out for a day or two on one of these trips. Not a big collaborative effort where we have to spend all of our time together, but more of a meet up kind of thing. Friends, you know who you are!

Two years ago I started my Microsoft adventure

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 16, 2011, 1:51 PM | comments: 0

It feels like it was just yesterday. Exhausted after a week of driving, intense apartment shopping and relentless rain, Diana drove me in the rental car from our temporary housing to Building 92 for new employee orientation (NEO) at Microsoft.

It's funny that I walked through 92 on my last day as well, and still felt the same sense of excitement that I did when I started. I've said it many times before, that deciding to leave the company was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do professionally, and for the most part, it wasn't because of anything negative about the company. Of course, there wasn't anything quite positive enough to keep me there, either.

Microsoft is a huge company that does a great many interesting things. While Windows and Office never interested me much, I was into almost everything else. That's why it was such a thrill to work in DevDiv, on some of the apps that make up MSDN and TechNet. I mean, how many people get to work on an app that serves 45+ million pages a month, and on a small team at that? Those are the kinds of opportunities that just don't come easily in other places.

For my own professional development, it was kind of a two-sided issue. On one hand, you had the potential to work on anything that was interesting to you. Again, there aren't many places you can work in that scenario. However, advancement is tied into a rigid career model that I just don't agree with. They tend to under-hire people, meaning they hire them because they have certain experience, but put them to work just below that level. Then they expect you to go through the various levels at a reasonable pace. I disagree with this because a good developer isn't necessarily a good people manager, and vice versa, and furthermore, some people are awesome and reliable individual contributors that have no desire to go beyond that.

I was never adversely affected by the career model myself, but I knew enough people who were that it was probably the one thing that made me nervous for a longer-term run. Of course, just before I resigned, I had my annual review, and the raise and bonus really made the decision that much harder. Your sensitivity to company issues you can't control is lessened when you're paid well and have insanely good benefits.

I made some great connections while there, getting to know some of the people who built some of my favorite products. As much as I detest the "Windows influence" around the company, I really do dig it. It's the only place I've ever worked that I think I will have some kind of lasting identification with.

Still, at the end of the day, the reasons for moving back to Cleveland were sound. Financially, we're in a world of better shape that I've never known, and we enjoy having a house again. We haven't made as good on the family and friends aspect yet, and missing our friends back west is the hardest thing we deal with. From a career perspective, I'm finding limitless potential with an improved job market and a very key bullet point on my resume.

It's still funny though, how I often look at Microsoft now and feel a slight sense of regret that I'm no longer an insider. I would get that blue badge again in a heartbeat if it involved working remotely, or as a regional evangelist.

Ten years of Xbox

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 15, 2011, 7:46 PM | comments: 0

I noticed today is the tenth anniversary of the original Xbox. It's hard to believe, but I also remember it well. The horror of 9/11 was fresh on our minds, I had just been laid-off for the first time, and frankly there haven't been many times in my life where I was more seriously in need of a distraction.

Stephanie and I ran out to the CompUSA where she worked and decided that the best way to pass the time was to buy video games. We bought, all at once, a Nintendo Gamecube and an Xbox, extra controllers and I think three games for each. We did this all on credit, of course, but it did seem like a good idea at the time.

I remember skipping buying a PS2, because there weren't any games that I wanted for it. But the Xbox in particular was intriguing, because it was essentially a PC in a big, ugly console box. The launch titles that we bought, including the original Halo, Munch's Oddysee and Project Gotham Racing, were the most fun we had since the release of the Nintendo 64.

Halo in particular was awesome, because the story was so engaging. It was the first game that really sucked me as something epic and more than just a game. In fact, it sucked me in for all of the sequels too.

The Xbox 360 launched four years later, and it was a bitch to find one leading up to Christmas. By sheer coincidence, I happened to be in a Target in January just as they happened to put three or four of them out, right off the truck, and I bought one. I was immediately impressed with its technical ability, but even more in its implementation of Xbox Live.

When I started working at Microsoft in 2009, it was like the Xbox became something else to me, being arms length from the people who built it. I got to beta test changes, Halo and the Kinect. It came to be one of the parts of the company that I admired most because of the speed at which it operated.

I'm really interested to see how things go when the IP TV offerings hit the US soon. They've been doing it for awhile in the UK. I like the idea of getting certain cable TV offerings via the Xbox.

Justifying the federal regulation of broadcast media

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 14, 2011, 11:49 AM | comments: 0

There is an effort underway to get the Supreme Court to extend full First Amendment protection to broadcast media. The argument goes that changes in technology and media make the regulation obsolete.

For a bit of background not included in the article, keep in mind that broadcast regulation has always been justified in part because of the scarcity of spectrum. You can only have so many broadcast licenses in a particular area because of interference and what not, and "air" is considered a public resource. The theory goes, then, that the regulation of this medium is justified because it's so rare. Back in the day, there were no alternatives to this mass-media beyond print, which by comparison is slow and not immediate.

Because of the public and scarce nature, it was reasoned that broadcasters should serve the public trust, and therefore adhere to community standards. This completely makes logical sense to me, even though I'm frankly in the camp that regulation starts at home with you deciding what your kids watch.

Here's the thing though. Congress already went down the road of deregulation, even before the Internet really took hold. They lifted ownership limits, and before too long, Clear Channel owned a ridiculous percentage of all radio stations. They stopped serving the public trust when they started programming these stations out of some office in New York, completely out of touch with local tastes.

So why should there be any continued regulation at all beyond adherence to technical transmission standards? You can listen to your iPod or XM or whatever for radio, and some huge percentage of Americans watch TV via cable, satellite or the Internet. As broadcast stations are no longer the dominant source of media, all of the justification for regulating them as such pretty much goes away. Again, I feel very strongly that the ship sailed when the ownership limits went away.

Would rather be in Florida this week

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 13, 2011, 11:31 AM | comments: 0

A friend of mine got married in Florida yesterday, the right way (on a boat). Wish more than anything that I could have been there, as it was a reunion of sorts of people I started to meet about ten years ago. I was 20-something, some were still in high school, and we all hung out at amusement parks and drove all over the damn place to visit them. I suspect a lot of us met via CoasterBuzz or Guide to The Point. Regardless, it was a pretty neat time in my life, when you could run into those folks all over the place.

Naturally, I'm completely bummed out that I couldn't be there. My excuse is a combination of fiscal responsibility (something I certainly didn't have ten years ago) and parenthood, as it would not have been practical or fair to go by myself. It still blows, because one of the reasons I wanted to move back east was to not be so disconnected.

The follow up is that IAAPA, the big amusement industry trade show, is also this week in Orlando. That's another circle of friends that I built up over the years. It started as useful networking for club events and news for the Web site, but before too long ended up as another social circle. Friends grew up to build roller coasters and be marketing directors for parks. It's kind of wild to think about. Fortunately, I got to see a great many of them, by coincidence of timing, at our Holiday World event, as many were there for an awards program. Again, would have been fun to see them this week.

Of course, being in Central Florida would have a certain negative impact as well. Being that close to Disney World and not going there would be a bummer. It has been two years for us, and even if Simon wouldn't remember a thing, I'd love to bring him.

I'm sure we'll get down there sooner than later, but this week was really a missed opportunity.

New washer and dryer

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 12, 2011, 9:39 AM | comments: 0

We had an expense I had not accounted for when moving back: New washer and dryer. Granted, we came in low on the move and furniture, so I suppose it's not the end of the world. We also got a good deal, spending only a grand for an LG stack, which feels like a good deal only because I've seen pairs for three times that.

I think Stephanie and I bought the old ones something like 14 years ago. I don't know if that makes them ancient, but I feel like we got a good run out of them. I don't know if they even cost $500 back in the day. They're pretty simple, and just kind of worked. However, before we moved, it seemed more and more common that the washer wouldn't always drain and spin adequately, and the dryer was notorious for depositing little furballs on stuff.

Spending a week with friends before our stuff got here, we had our first exposure to these fancy new electronic clothes washing devices, and we were impressed. Somehow they could wash clothes and still front load! They did magic like sense how much water to use and whether or not your stuff was actually dry. It was like living in the future.

So I decided we should suck it up and get new ones. I think 14 years is a pretty reasonable expectation for the old ones. One of the wins is that the stacking thing, because it frees up some space in our laundry room for our shoe bench. I still don't understand why anyone would design a house with laundry hookups anywhere not near the bedrooms, but at least we've gained some usefulness to the room.

Here's to the future of clothes washing technology!

Late night coding efforts

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 10, 2011, 11:28 PM | comments: 2

I've been trying to spend more time writing code in the evenings. It really is the best shot I have most of the time, because Simon is sleeping (or should be, at least). Results are a mixed bag. My motivation is that I want to turn my science project into a product. It would be swell if it made some money in the long run, but for now I just want to get a project through to completion.

The solution to making things happen, as it turns out, is the same as it would be if you were working with a team of people. Duh. So I started using AgileZen to start a backlog and prioritize tasks. Like magic, I have clarity about what to do. OK, it's not magic, it's just the same thing I'd do in any day job, but it's funny how you follow different rules when it's just you.

Has it worked? Yes, mostly. In the last week, I've managed to do at least one check-in every day. That's a vast improvement considering I hadn't touched it since July. I spent a lot of time working out how to use Azure ACS in a way that didn't take over my app. In typical Microsoft fashion, they try to abstract away the hard stuff but leave you with a mess of complexity in the process, so I basically made a secondary app to handle logins and hand the info over to the primary app.

I still haven't been as consistent as I'd like, but I am enjoying myself quite a bit. The project appeals to my server-side geek because there are a lot of simple things I'm doing to keep the performance high, while my Web geek self is enjoying front-end work I haven't done in awhile.

So what is it? I'll let you know when it's usable! Don't get too excited though... it's definitely targeted to IT people.

Frustration, teething and cries

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 10, 2011, 10:42 PM | comments: 0

Simon has been really intense lately. A lot of the time, it's in a good way, with him doing interesting things, running around to and from us and generally being this fun and happy kid. At the same time, he's having issues that are making him hard to deal with, and I'm surprised at how easily he pushes my buttons, for no reason other than he's a toddler.

Frustration is an emotion he doesn't deal with well at all. For example, today in the tub, his frog net that catches the little swimming bugs got stuck in his basket. All he had to do was work out that he had to move the handle, but instead he immediately started flipping out, yanking it around and screaming. It wasn't pretty. He was doing it earlier in the day over this big empty Costco-sized Cheerios box, and I'm not even sure what he was trying to achieve.

I know this stuff isn't likely hereditary, and he hasn't seen me be like that, but the intense feelings remind me a whole lot of myself. My reactions in that realm are mostly restricted to mechanical things I can't do. I remember having momentary meltdowns like that when I worked on my first car, for example.

Then there's the teething. It was mostly over ten months ago, but the molars have finally started messing with him, and even one at a time is worse than four other teeth at a time. To make it worse, we don't always see the signs (like both hands in his mouth and extra drooling). At least this is something he'll grow out of, but it just sucks to see him in pain like that, and all we can do is medicate and gel his teeth.

Which leads to the last problem, which might partly be teething, and partly caused by us. From the time he goes to bed to midnight or later, he's waking up and crying. Usually he's sitting up when he does it. It started when we moved, and in the last two weeks it has gotten pretty ridiculous. My approach is to let him cry a little, then go in and put him on his back with minimal contact. Of course, one day last week I didn't realize he was teething, and felt like an asshole and bad father, so now I'm more hands-on.

What we should be doing is stop reinforcing that when he cries, one of us shows up, but it's so flipping hard. I worry about whether or not he finds comfort in familiarity of his new house and if he's teething, while Diana always worries about whether he's hot or cold.

Like I said, it's not the end of the world, but I find myself not using my sane and objective parenting skills. The intensity of his emotions causes me to react emotionally. I know that's just human nature, but he's just a toddler. We're definitely entering new territory with an emotionally engaged little human.

Republican candidates: You're doing it wrong

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 8, 2011, 10:18 AM | comments: 0

The 2012 presidential election is now a year away. President Obama has caused me to feel incredibly indifferent about him. I don't think I'd say that I'm disappointed with his performance, but indifference certainly isn't enough either. From a policy standpoint, he's been a mixed bag in terms of what I agree with, but the strong inspirational leadership that he invoked during his candidacy has not translated to his presidency. That's unfortunate. While I'm not defending his constant call for Congress to work with him, I wonder if he could be more effective in his second term, the way Clinton was, when he doesn't have to worry about re-election.

That said, polls today show him winning against any Republican candidate, which honestly sucks because he's not earning it, he's just running against a pool of nonsense. I can't ever remember a pool of presidential candidates more inept than these people (though the 2008 pool was hardly great). These folks are a total sideshow, without any real substance, policy positions or in a lot of cases, real executive experience. They're a joke.

To be fair, Ron Paul doesn't belong with them, and I don't understand why he's not gaining any traction. From a sheer ideological standpoint, he's probably too extreme to ever get anything done with any congress, but what would probably make him lose against Obama is his complete lack of personality. He's super intelligent, but a president needs to also be charming and motivating for the people, for communicating with foreign leaders and to work with lawmakers. I just don't think he'd be able to swing that, and that's unfortunate.

I'm sure some people blame "the media" for this state of affairs, but that's such a bullshit copout. The blame rests squarely with voters, who want a magic bullet for everything, don't care about the complexities of economics and culture, and worse, watch Fox News. Voters don't hold their government to a higher standard at all, they just bitch and moan and don't take the time to understand anything about their own world.

Broken Ohio

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 8, 2011, 9:58 AM | comments: 0

If there's one thing about Ohio that truly annoys the shit out of me, it would be its inability to function. The state government has been a joke for as long as I can remember, and moving to Washington only reinforced this. That's not to say that Washington was free of problems, since it had the same budget issues that anyone else did, but at least it did the work it was charged with.

Ohio has failed its constituents for as long as I can remember, though quite frankly it's the government that its voters deserve. This is the state, after all, that actually voted casinos into the state constitution, including the addresses where they had to be built. Seriously. Don't even get me started on the gay marriage ban.

The hot issue this year is Issue 2, which if it passes, would eliminate the ability of unions for public workers to participate in collective bargaining. While the unions are positioning this as a slight against public safety workers, the underlying issue is that state and local governments have shrinking budgets because of unemployment and the poor economy, and they simply can't afford to pay salaries that out-pace the public sector and the economic realities of supply and demand.

I have a great deal of respect for public employees, as I used to be one. Many are underpaid. That said, there are also a great many people lining up to try and get some of those jobs, so the pay levels should reflect that. More to the point, tax payers are ultimately the employers, and if they are paying less taxes, there's less money to pay. That's just the way it is.

At the local level, we have a property tax intended to create a road maintenance fund. It would cost me about $150 a year, given the value of my house. The roads are in awful condition. I can't see how any rational person would not vote for this, but people are pretty cheap. Our particular city operates pretty lean overall, with an income tax rate of 1.35%, temporarily raised to 1.85% until 2013, subject to renewal. The extra .5% is dedicated mostly to safety salaries.

Mutemath: Third time is a charm

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 6, 2011, 9:21 PM | comments: 0

The first album from Mutemath was the tits. It came out in 2006, everyone I knew had it, and it was fantastic. Great songs, great lyrics, and they have a fantastic drummer. I enjoyed that album on a regular basis for quite awhile, and even introduced it to Diana some time later after we started dating. It was one of those records you could listen to start to finish over and over again, a rarity these days.

It was almost three years before their second album came out, and it was so odd that almost nothing about it grabbed me. The song "Electrify" got some play here and there, but I never had any interest in listening to the album.

When their third album, Odd Soul, came out a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but also wanted to make sure I gave it a chance. The first single, "Blood Pressure," blew me away the first time I heard it on XM. Like the second album, it still sounded like the band, but it was different.

Now that I've listened to it more, it has more than grown on me. It's definitely different than their debut, but not in a negative way. It feels more raw, like recorded jam sessions. It doesn't have the well-crafted song vibe I loved from the first, but that's OK. It seems like they're exploring, for lack of a better term. As a fan of the band, that works for me, but I suspect if you have no previous experience with them, you might not like it.

In fact, what this reminds me of a little is Radiohead. Their debut was this fantastic set of songs, on an album you could listen to start to finish, over and over. However, every album after got to be more experimental, until they stopped writing songs and just made noise (some exceptions here and there, most notably "Optimistic" from Kid A). I don't think Mutemath is headed down that path, but you never know.

This was feeling a little like a year of failure for music, but it's coming around. Also enjoying The Naked and Famous, Manchester Orchestra, a little Death Cab (when I'm feeling like a big pussy) and very anxiously awaiting the new Garbage album.


posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 5, 2011, 9:08 PM | comments: 0

Simon hit the 20-month mark today. That means I've been a daddy now for about 600 days, give or take. Even more staggering is that I've been there when he went to bed for all but maybe a dozen of those days. For Diana, it has been even less.

It also marks about a month that we've been back in the Cleveland house, and for the most part, he's really adjusting well. He seems very comfortable here, which is cool, because even after living here eight years myself, it feels like a completely different place with the redecorating and the, uh, kid. I was really worried that we made a huge mistake at first, because he seemed so unhappy without his parks and walking space that Snoqualmie is so awesome for. I mean, objectively, it was a much better place for him to live.

We were also worried about him developmentally. He was already behind in terms of speech, and motor skills weren't quite where they needed to be either. We were very anxious to get him into the local equivalent of the speech and occupational therapy services subsidized by the feds. We're not worried that he'll grow up a failure, but if we can get him help, why wouldn't we?

In the last week or so, he has surprised us in ways that he really hasn't for many months. With one of the therapists here talking about his evaluation, she gave him a dragon on a string, where he had to thread the pieces onto the string. After showing him, he just did it. I was floored. This is the kid who gets easily frustrated with any toy he can't figure out. He's made minor attempts to color with a crayon. He's stacking blocks. He's consistently throwing balls forward. In short, he's doing the stuff we were concerned that he should already be doing.

While the speech thing has been frustrating, mostly because it impedes communication and it frustrates him, I'm surprised at how chatty he is. It's not real words, but there are a lot of different sounds and varied inflection that sounds like an adult. Then, out of the blue, I ask him if he's playing with his abacus, and he says "abacus." It's like he's skipping the obvious words. I'm also hearing "mommy," "daddy" and lots of "mooooo" near cow pictures, without the "m" most of the time, but I'll take that. He's getting close to "banana" as well.

This is all very much a relief. I realize it borders on psycho parent status to be worried about this stuff at this age, but you know, we're late parents and this is the one shot we get. We're getting better at not trying to protect him from every little thing, letting him fail on his own more, and most importantly, not helping him with every little thing. I don't think we did it before to a fault, but definitely more than we should. Letting him protest and be upset when things aren't going his way is just something we've needed to work on.

More than anything, he's just so wonderful to be around most of the time. He's such a sweet kid most of the time, and he's learned to be very affectionate. Our bed time routine now includes a few minutes of cuddle time after reading each night (we take turns), and he seems to really respond to that and go right to sleep. Now if we can just get him to roll with that next time we travel!

Why I dig Ikea

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 5, 2011, 9:42 PM | comments: 0

On our trip to the Pittsburgh Ikea yesterday, I think I realized why I like it so much. When you mention Ikea, it's interesting to see the reactions you get. Some people are all about it, other people could care less.

They do a lot of different things. Some of those things are crappy, others are not. When I look around at what we've bought from there, I realize that I'm attracted to its simplicity and clean lines in a lot of what they offer, particularly the stuff that's customizable.

My first visit to a store was in the Twin Cities when Kara took us there a couple of years ago. Diana had stuff from there, I think a New Jersey store, but I was an "Ikea virgin" (complete with photo next to the sign asking if I was). I thought the whole cafe, showroom, marketplace and warehouse sequence was pretty cool, and we bought some minor things, including some LED lights I didn't bust out until a couple of years later.

When we moved to Seattle, the desk I brought with us did not fit in the apartment. It was just too big. One of the bookcases we brought had no home either. I figured we should check it out. A narrow bookshelf was a standard piece they had, but the desk stuff blew me away. There was no "standard" configuration at all. You combined the bits and pieces you wanted to build the desk you wanted. I remember spending years looking for "computer desks" to fit what I was looking for, and never quite got what I wanted. In this case, I was able to put together exactly what I was looking for. I'm typing at that desk now.

When we moved to the rental house, again, we needed shelving. I loved that the cube-style shelves came in a number of dimensions, and had no "up" side, so you could use them in any way you saw fit. Simple lines, no molding, durable without being heavy. My bro-in-law had a bunch of them too, and if it was good enough for his architect taste, it was good enough for me. We bought more of those for Simon's junk, too.

Then, just before we moved, I wanted a smaller solution to put the TV on, and hide away the video games and stereo. I wanted the tower rack to go away. One of the showroom models had a neat combination of parts that was perfect. I didn't know it until our visit yesterday, but the Bestå line is actually this infinitely configurable system of shelves, drawers and doors to make whatever the hell you can dream up. It's completely awesome.

There are a lot of things that Ikea sells that I don't care for. I never liked any of their living room furniture, until I happened to sit in a leather couch that Diana was raving about, and honestly, the loveseat may find its way to our home. I really like their kitchen components though, as they have so much clever stuff you don't see at Home Depot. Again, it's the simplicity of design that I like.

There aren't many consumer brands that I identify with. In fact, I've fallen so far from general consumerism that I can name only four that I generally have any commitment to (the others are Microsoft, Apple and Toyota). I dig Ikea.

Throwing away old software

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 5, 2011, 8:35 AM | comments: 0

Last month, I bought the most recent version of one of Adobe's Creative Suite packages, the first time since 2006 or so. My version of Photoshop in particular was getting pretty old, not to mention Premier, which was the thing I most wanted to update. Adobe was doing a half-off the full, non-upgrade version for people annoyed with Apple's re-do of Final Cut Pro, so I figured this was the best deal I'd get any time soon.

But what's annoying about it is the realization that when software gets upgraded or replaced, the old version has zero value. That's annoying. I don't remember what the old version of CS cost five years ago, but I'm sure it was more than a grand, and now it's worthless. It was worse when giant manuals came with stuff. I tossed the fifty pounds of books that came with the old CS, and I remember doing the same with Final Cut Studio a couple of years ago. My now fairly ancient version of Avid is still following me around too, which makes no sense because I'll never use it again. It had a hardware USB dongle, so maybe that's why it feels more important. I need to throw it away.

To Adobe's credit, they introduced a subscription model, which is fairly cost effective if you need or want the latest version all of the time. If I'm content to go five years between upgrades, it probably matters less for me.

It has been different with Visual Studio, because I've never had to buy a retail copy, it's just the core of my MSDN subscriptions over the years. That's the way it should be, for expensive software.

The importance of self-awareness

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 3, 2011, 2:56 PM | comments: 0

My friend Carrie responded to my previous post about not being generally unhappy, despite what you might perceive as a tone to some of my blog posts. She totally gets me. I think I would further be clear that, for me at least, blogging is somewhat of a therapeutic tool that helps me organize my thoughts and commit to them in a somewhat public way. I figure if I do that, and I'm bullshitting myself, no shortage of people will call me out on it. Besides, if you read any blog by any person, and assume that you're getting a complete picture of who they are, you're sadly mistaken. There are so many things I do not share in public, and I'm sure Carrie and everyone else who does this is the same way.

There is a bigger theme on this subject, and I think it involves self-awareness. We all have our issues, flaws, strengths, etc. That's a constant. What matters is what we do with all of that. It starts with acknowledgement that these traits exist at all. You can't embrace what works for you or change what you don't like if you are not self-aware.

I know that sounds obvious, but when I was younger and stupider, I figured I could will strengths into being and weakness out of existence. I honestly didn't see myself doing this until I was 32, when everything that normal and comfortable started to crumble around me. It took a shitstorm of life to get my head in the game, and I've tried to keep to that every since.

So whether you keep a blog or a journal or just talk to a close friend, figuring yourself out is a lot easier when you can honestly evaluate your reality.

One month, cable-free

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 2, 2011, 8:26 PM | comments: 1

I realized today that it has been almost a month in the new place, and we're not missing have cable TV at all. We're still paying Time-Warner for Internet access, still too much at $45 a month, but no pay TV.

Hulu helped us catch up on stuff we missed during the moving period. Since we got the TV setup, I hooked up an over-the-air antenna to the TV and some tuners on my Mac Mini running BeyondTV, and we just DVR stuff recorded for free off of the local channels. As a percentage of stuff we watched on cable prior to moving, probably 95% of it was network TV anyway. By that calculation, we were paying for cable for 5% of what we watched.

SnapStream hasn't done a consumer version of BeyondTV in something like three years, and I first bought it in 2004. It appears that they still sell it, but their focus is on their TV recording appliances, it seems. Its ability to scan for commercials still makes it better than any DVR I've used. It really made a solid transition to the HD/digital world. All I had to do was buy some USB tuners a couple of years ago.

It's still weird to think about how the HD transition took so long, and now it's more or less the default. What's even more interesting is IP TV, and how the content owners and distributors are getting in the way of it truly taking hold. When Xbox Live starts offering some of those services in the next couple of months, we'll definitely consider them. Cable shouldn't be anything more than a dumb pipe at this point.

Power washing power

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 2, 2011, 12:35 PM | comments: 0

When we came back to Cleveland in July for our fundraising efforts, I was amazed to see that the driveway at my house was turning black. It was a combination of growing stuff all over the place, much of it green closer to the house, where it doesn't get sun. It was pretty nasty. Nature wanted to take back the land.

The deck was gray again as well, despite a good wash just before we moved to Seattle. I briefly toyed with the idea of buying a power washer, but considering how often I'd actually use it, I talked myself out of it and borrowed my dad's.

If you're a man, and enjoy powerful tools, then a power washer seems like the most amazing thing ever. When I washed my deck, I actually found myself cutting the wood in places. Sweet. That's a lot of pressure. What an awesome tool!

Except that it gets kind of exhausting to use. Fighting the pressure requires using muscles you probably don't normally use. Your feet get intolerably wet, and fragments of wood get everywhere. It's a messy business.

The driveway was actually easier to clean, but it's at least ten times the surface area when you count the sidewalks. It felt like it might take forever to get the whole thing clean.

When I finally got it done, however, I felt pretty relieved and happy with the result. It looks like someone might live here again.

Another reason Windows Phone 7 is better than your phone

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 1, 2011, 1:47 PM | comments: 0

I was driving home from an errand this afternoon, when my phone tickled me to let me know I had a text. All of a sudden, it started talking to me via the Bluetooth interface in the car.

"You have a text from Diana Mattoni. Say, 'read it,' or, 'I'm done.'"

Holy crap.

So I tell it to read it, and then it asks, "Reply, call back or I'm done."

That's awesome.

Now if they could just pass the no texting or hands-on calling law here in Ohio.

Can't believe I waited so long to get a Kindle

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 1, 2011, 12:18 PM | comments: 0

Amazon recently announced a bunch of new Kindle models, including one without a keyboard, and one that is almost a full-blown tablet. While the tablet model seemed like a natural progression, the thing that always impressed me about the Kindle, even if I didn't have one, was the e-ink screen. Put simply, it's like reading paper, and blows away the readability of an LCD screen.

The new cheapest model is only $79, "with offers," meaning it shows ads on the screensaver and in the main menu. I think it was another $20 to get it without those, but honestly, who cares? It doesn't get in the way of reading. I haven't bought a lot of books in the last two years, in large part because of the moving and desire to not add big heavy stuff to my life. I bought Diana a Kindle last year, and decided to take the plunge.

I bought the Steve Jobs bio as the first title, uploaded a technical book I had in PDF form, and I'm considering buying another one. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed reading on this thing. I tend to be a non-fiction guy, thus the bio, but I do like to read. I haven't done it nearly as much in my adult life, at least not purely for pleasure. It's like reading from a super clean book that weighs almost nothing. I really dig it.

At first, I tried reading via the iPad. It has a Kindle app, but I also get Wired that way. I'm not a huge fan of using it for reading. The LCD screen is not as sharp, and I think because it's backlit, it kind of wears on your eyes after awhile. Of course, it wouldn't work at all in the sun.

Gonch makes the case that it's not a great device because it only does one thing, which is funny because that's exactly the reason I think it's so great. With it coming so far down in price, and very obviously headed toward free, it's a no-brainer. It's just better to read with than an iPad. (Sidebar: I grossly underuse the iPad, too, but that's a post for a different day.)

I'm very happy with the Kindle, and look forward to doing a lot more reading than I used to.