Archive: February, 2011

The (possibly) transformative properties of parenthood

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 28, 2011, 10:32 PM | comments: 0

I spend a lot of time writing about the awesome development and change that a baby goes through, but I don't talk about the transformation that you as a parent go through as much. Sure, some people talk about how you should be careful about what you say around kids (advice I pretty much ignore, for my own kid at least), but there are more fundamental behaviors that I think you have to be aware of.

Let me give you an example. Simon is, at the moment, going through a phase with the way he eats. He tends to toss stuff off of his tray, to the extent that it's annoying. I caught myself responding emotionally, which isn't helpful because I don't think he knows how to interpret anger anyway. But then I also became aware of the non-verbal actions I took to express my displeasure in a very passive-aggressive way. I was pouting, changing my tone and acting like he was an inconvenience me. It's the same kind of behavior that I would try to avoid with an adult.

This was a moment of great clarity for me, because it really brought everything I learned from my therapist post-divorce about how relationships work (or don't). He always made it a point to say that your first lessons in interpersonal relationships come from your parents, and sometimes, that's why people suck at them if they had bad teachers. So at this very important point in the life of my child, I have a very important decision to make about what I pass along to him.

I don't think most people realize when they're playing toxic games with people. The passive-aggressive thing is bad enough, but you've seen people do other things just as bad. The worst is when people attempt to manipulate each other with guilt, something I've seen more couples do than I can count. And that same tactic is often used between parents and their children, so you can see where it comes from. Others will try to position kids or even the other parent against each other to get their way. There's no shortage of ways that the most ugly of human actions can be taught to kids.

I think that's one of the saddest commentaries on parenting. This awareness and willingness to dispense of the toxicity doesn't come for everyone. Just today I saw a friend on Facebook make some abstract status update, and one of her friends made a response along the lines of telling her to just let it go, followed by a response about it not being about her. It was stupid drama that you would expect two experienced parents would not have any part of, and yet, there it was. I'm in awe when I see something like that, because after just one year as a parent, I just can't imagine ever worrying about some kind of drama around underhanded comments on the Internet.

I suspect for a lot of people though, being a parent really does help you to become more aware of how you interact with people, and that awareness can serve you well in your most intimate relationships, as well as those you have professionally. It's one of the neatest aspects of the transformation that parenthood can cause.

Location vs. square footage

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 26, 2011, 12:24 PM | comments: 0

Beth made an interesting post today, posing the question about location vs. square footage. They've been living in the city in Nashville, which I always thought was pretty cool because they came from a fairly rural area growing up (rural relative to what I'm used to, anyway). They're having a baby soon, and she wonders if more space would be worth the trade off of being close to where they work.

Honestly, this is a dance that I've never bothered to do. Granted, once you actually buy property, as I did ten years ago, moving is a lot harder. If I were still working in Cleveland, I certainly wouldn't be able to move (not on Cleveland wages, at least). I had some pretty miserable commutes, the worst being to Progressive on the way other ass end of town. It was just over an hour each way, and I eventually quit because I hated it so much. That, and I decided to write a book. But there were previous jobs where it wasn't a bad drive, even working downtown. Paying for the parking sucked, but it wasn't horrible.

But moving to Seattle, I changed my tone significantly. Being reasonably close to work was a priority, especially with the baby. Our first apartment was about 23 minutes away from the office, and less in the summer when the kids weren't in school. It was the shortest commute I've ever had. Having work not be in the middle of a major city certainly helped with that.

Now we're a bit further out, and my commute is typically 33 minutes. That's still not bad, but it isn't great. I take the company provided bus now and then, which takes longer, but at least I can do anything else, even sleep.

If we do get around to buying a house, and there are too many unknowns to really have a feeling on how that might go down, I think we'd try to find a place closer to Redmond and/or Bellevue. Location does matter, but there are often square footage trade-offs. Even in the somewhat pretentious area we live in now, the per-square-foot price is still lower than in places closer to the city. I personally am pretty content with space around 1,800 sq. ft., which is a little under what my house was, and a little higher than the place we're renting. 2,000 might be nice too, but I don't see a reason to be house poor for rooms that I will use less and have to furnish anyway.

In a solid state

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 25, 2011, 10:27 PM | comments: 0

Apple updated their laptop line this week, and as much as I was hoping for something like a 15" model in a MacBook Air form factor, that didn't happen. The refreshed line is mostly faster processors and Intel's newer architecture. The bottom line is that I wouldn't likely see any kind of boost in any of the kinds of things I typically do if I replaced my 2-year-old 17" MacBook Pro.

I still very much enjoy working and playing on my laptop, and though I entertained replacing it this year, it really is kind of silly to even think about it. That said, it doesn't mean that I'm unwilling to tweak it up a little, and for that, I thought it would be a good idea to put a solid state hard drive in it. SSD's are still not particularly cheap, but the performance gains you can achieve with them are in many cases pretty extreme.

My friend Aaron put one of these OWC drives in his 15", and felt pretty good about the results. They rank somewhere toward the middle of the field in terms of performance, but they have these great kits to add a drive in place of your DVD drive (who uses those anymore?), and they come with the right tools and super detailed instructions. They cost a little more too, but with such care given to making it idiot proof to install, that's a worthy tradeoff.

So my plan was to get a 240 gig drive and make that my primary, and put the regular 300 gig, 5400 rpm drive in the DVD slot. If I really need a DVD drive, I have a USB drive I can use. The SSD will then be my boot drive, and the place where I keep my VM's for dev work, while the mechanical drive will be where I dump media, and leave the Boot Camp partition, which I rarely use except for phone development. The idea is to get as much speed out of every day stuff and running the VM's.

The install went pretty well, and copying the 200 gigs or so of data took about two hours. The first time I booted from the SSD, I almost had to gasp for air. I couldn't believe how fast it was. It used to take over a minute to boot a Windows VM, now it takes about 25 seconds. Starting Visual Studio cold, with Resharper enabled and loading the POP Forums v9 project takes 25 seconds from click to having the solution explorer. Building the solution, north of 17k lines of code with over 200 files takes three seconds. Running the 600 tests takes 11 seconds. I'm in awe. The Windows performance index gives the drive a 7.3, and that's through a VM!

Everything just runs faster. Photoshop loads in a few seconds. Web browsing, of all things, is snappier (presumably because of how the browser uses the disk cache). It will be interesting to see if there's a major effect on battery life, since the mechanical drive should be spun down if I'm not using it.

Overall, I'm super satisfied, and it feels like I have a new computer. It reminds me of the old days, when you replaced all of your desktop computer parts, one by one, until you virtually had a new computer, almost on an annual basis. That was geeky fun, but it never felt like you had something visibly better. This is pretty dramatic.

We're the allergy family

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 24, 2011, 6:48 PM | comments: 0

Diana has legendary allergies. I'm allergic only to a handful of things (mostly chemical substances), but when I react, it's bad. I also found out last year that I'm apparently allergic to tree nuts. You can only imagine the worry that if it's hereditary, Simon is screwed.

Last night he seemed to be breaking out from something on his belly. I wondered if maybe it was the cleaner used on his bath seat (Diana sanitized it after he poo'd in the bath), but I don't remember if he had it on him when he got in. Then today it seemed to get worse and spread up his chest a little. The only thing new he's had in terms of food was some kind of cream of chicken or something, which included mushrooms, though he didn't eat the fungus himself. Naturally, this all caused minor concern.

The doctor doesn't think it's a food allergy because of the way it presented itself. We lubed him up with some hydrocortisone, and that seems to help. I hope it's not a food issue, but regardless, he's not even a year old. I'd hate to see him suffering from this kind of thing already.

Super snow

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 23, 2011, 9:51 PM | comments: 0

While it's nothing like what other parts of the country are getting, I have to say that the snow out here on the east side of Seattle has been completely awesome. It has more or less been snowing all day where I live, and it started to creep into sea level parts of town around lunch, though I'm not sure where exactly. One of the guys I work with e-mailed some interesting white-out photos where he lives closer to Tacoma. Needless to say, I didn't go in to work because people here don't have the experience to drive in this stuff.

It's still snowing here, and it looks like we're already pretty close to a foot. That's a big deal locally. The mountains are just beautiful in these conditions, because they're covered primarily with evergreens. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to actually see the mountains much in the last two days because of the snow coming down.

Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if I show up at work tomorrow and see a light dusting in Redmond. Predicting weather out here has to be a bitch, because the mountains, different elevations and bodies of water do crazy things.

As much as I hated months and months of winter, I actually really appreciate these big snows we've had this winter. They're rare, and only last a day or two for the most part. When I went out last night to snap a few photos, the thing that really stuck with me, and reminded me a lot of Cleveland, was the quiet. When everything is covered with snow, there's a quiet stillness to it all that's incredibly unique. The last time I heard that I think was last winter, sitting in the hot tub with the jets off.

It's only a little sad that it will all be gone in a few days.

Collective bargaining and government employees

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 23, 2011, 7:13 PM | comments: 0

The controversy in Wisconsin is really getting out of control. Unfortunately, the circus causes all kinds of distractions around the real issues. Before I get to those, some disclaimers.

First of all, I do think that teachers are undervalued, and in many cases underpaid. There are so many broken things about education, particularly the ways that student and teacher success are measured. Second, I realize that the governor appears to be going about the budget cuts that he's entitled to make in a douchey way, and the news implies his agenda is less than pure. I get that too.

You might remember from grade school your first lesson about business, about the concept of supply and demand. The market generally dictates what a job is worth. Through American history, there were times where unfair labor practices and a lack of basic protection made working in factories dangerous. Unions were part of the solution to those issues.

In the private sector, unions can exert their collective bargaining to try and score higher wages. Maybe the company grants those wages, and figures out a way to raise its revenue and be competitive. If it turns out that the market can't support those higher wages, then the company goes out of business, or has to let people go. That's the way things work.

Government isn't that simple. The rules are different. Government entities like school districts are funded by taxes. When unemployment is high, less people pay taxes, and government entities collect less revenue. There is no adjustment that the government can make other than cut people or pay less.

This leads me to the absurd assertion that people are making that there is some right to collective bargaining. You don't even have a right to stay arbitrarily employed, so how do you have a right to negotiate for wages and benefits? The bottom line is that you can protest all you want, but if voters don't agree to subsidizing higher wages and benefits, there's nothing to negotiate.

This is a pretty good example of the opposing desires of our culture right now. It wants smaller government and lower taxes, but it also wants to keep people employed and empower them.

Meaningful MouseZoom progress

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 20, 2011, 10:45 PM | comments: 0

Diana went to Tacoma for a knitting thing today, so I had Simon for most of the day. Oddly enough, I got a ton of work done during his two two-hour naps.

Walt and I came up with the idea for MouseZoom three years ago. It wasn't even called that at the time, and for that matter, the technology used in the key feature didn't exist. MVC didn't exist either. I am not proud of the fact that it has gone this long, and I take a lot of responsibility for it since I'm the developer and Walt is the content guy.

A friend of mine asked me why the hell we would want to build a Disney World fan site. There are already too many of them. We pretty much agree. That's why we had more conversations initially about what it shouldn't be than what it should. We're not interested in it becoming all things for all people. We just want to share some photos that we think are pretty good, and present them in a way that is above average. I think we can do that. Above all other reasons, we're fans, and we want to offer a tribute in our own way.

In some ways, we learned what not to do when we joined Guide to The Point and Virtual Midway to make PointBuzz. We learned that maintaining a ton of content that's easily found in other places (like the official site) was a waste of energy. No one really looked at it and it got stale.

We're going to launch a preview soon. Walt has a new awesome design we're going to do. POP Forums v9 is starting to come together. I'm not sure how the server is going to react, but that's part of the reason I started shelling out more money last year for better hardware.

I hope we can seed the community to be one similar to CoasterBuzz. It's kind of like the anti-enthusiast enthusiast crowd. Sure, they know their G-forces and manufacturers, but many folks still come off as well-rounded people with diverse interests. That's who we want. We aren't trying to attract the uber-nerds.

Three years. Wow, I actually took time off from to score the first photos for that site, in 2008!

Developmental excitement and scary new emotions

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 18, 2011, 11:08 PM | comments: 0

The last week or two has been exciting and scary for us, as we watch Simon continue to hit new milestones in his development. Every day seems to bring a new adventure.

At his last checkup, a few months ago, Dr. Cargopants said that Simon was a little behind on certain motor skills, but not in a way that we should worry. I don't know if he has caught up or not, but it seems like he has suddenly accelerated. First there's the expressiveness in his actions. His babbling is getting more diverse, his gestures are more deliberate, he's doing something like a wave, he's playing peek-a-boo, he knows to switch a toy between hands when I'm getting his pajama sleeves on... it's remarkable because it seems like it happened so fast. We even think he's signing "more" when he's eating.

It was his mobility that we have hoped for more progress on. About a month ago, he was getting up on his knees and hands, but still no crawling. He can turn around on his belly easily, and certainly roll where he wants to go. But he can't sit up either without help. We've been giving him a lot of standing practice, against the couch, his electronic table thing, and most recently, I've been propping him up against me lying on the floor on my side. To my delight, he's been trying to pull himself up by grabbing on to my clothes and pulling. In the last week, he has been consistently getting to his knees, but tonight, he pulled himself up to a standing position!

Simon's emotional range keeps getting wider too, and I think for him it's a little scary. Or maybe I'm just projecting. I mentioned before that he made this strong eye contact with a look of fear and pain when he was constipated and it hurt to poo. It was just completely heartbreaking to see that look of, "Dad, help me!" Just the other day, he developed an intense fear of Diana's severe allergic reaction. When she got into a sneezing fit, with the snorting and nose blowing, he seemed to react as if to worry that mommy was hurt or in trouble. He really started to panic. He's definitely getting more complicated. At least he's done with the teeth for awhile, as they've all fallen into place.

There are little things too. He's understanding how to let us brush his teeth, for example. There are some less great things, like him flinging food off his tray, but Diana in particular is good at conveying the consequences of his actions. It's all just happening so fast now.

Attention Wisconsin government employees: You are not Egyptians

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 18, 2011, 8:10 PM | comments: 0

I was watching the news about the "protests" in the state capitol of Wisconsin, where government workers are pissed off because the governor is going to slash a great many jobs, benefits or whatever. One person they interviewed had the balls to say that the situation was as bad as it was for Egyptians. The worst part of it was that she was a teacher. Seriously. Fire her first for thinking that teaching in Wisconsin is as oppressive as living under a dictatorship.

The brutal reality is that high unemployment means that aggregate income of people is lower, and that makes tax revenue for states lower. The states don't have the seemingly blank check that the feds have. If they don't have money, they don't have money. It sucks, but most states are dealing with this, including the otherwise well to do state of Washington here. Governors and legislators have no choice but to cut spending. It's the only responsible option they have.

That said, I can't believe that these people stand up in front of cameras and claim that "the people have spoken!" No, "the people" is who you work for, and they pay your salary. If they don't have the income to pay taxes, then there is no money for you to be paid. Again, it may suck, but even work in the public sector is not immune to the state of the economy.

This is also being used as a platform to indicate that teachers are underpaid, which shouldn't even key into it. I agree that teachers are underpaid, but it doesn't change the reality of the situation that state governments are in. I worked in government for years, and I know how these things go. A program or department can be cut at any time, because those are decisions that our elected people are there to make. It's the risk you take working for government. (And don't get me started about how screwed up teacher unions are.)

CoasterBuzz crash

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 17, 2011, 10:02 PM | comments: 0

I woke up this morning to find that CoasterBuzz had crashed in a non-trivial way. The whole site was returning 503 errors (service unavailable), which is pretty strange. I restarted the site, and found that the original problem was database timeouts caused by connection pool leaking. Then, my bit of logging code, derived from other logging code but made for CB, was crashing in a bigger way because it couldn't serialize the error to write to the event log. Stupid mistake I made nearly three years ago because I never tested it.

I think it took so long for the problem to manifest because it was a weird edge case, and also because the newer version of the Web server, which the site has only been on since the middle of last year, by default shuts down after x failures in y minutes instead of recycling. Whoops. All kinds of stupid there on my part.

I hate when I encounter things like that. Today it would be unlikely that I'd write code to let something like that happen. Meh. I guess stuff happens. It is an example of why I strongly dislike this sysadmin stuff, and hope that the days of affordable cloud hosting aren't too far off.

Volleyball vindication

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 10:31 PM | comments: 0

I got a recent IM from one of my former volleyball kids, the 2004 team, I think. She has been coaching high school and club the last few years, which is pretty hilarious in her photos because she's about five feet tall and her kids are all bigger than she is. Obviously she played as a libero for me!

What she told me was that she had adopted large parts of my take on the swing offense for the same reason I did: I never had the biggest, most powerful kids, and you need some way to work around that constraint. And sure enough, she's been able to achieve some success with average to moderately talented kids. Her team was one of the first I used the system with, so she was there during the most difficult learning period I had, and since then she's learned some of the same things. Even though I've had my own success stories, I still feel even more vindicated that I did the right thing by trying this system that isn't otherwise widely adopted.

She also shared some frustrations around the lack of real allegiance kids and parents have to clubs, though it sounds like it isn't nearly as bad as it is here. It's still discouraging to hear that the high quality and general good feelings around club ball have decreased to some degree. She said in the Cleveland area, the biggest problem is too many clubs, which isn't surprising since OVR is still the biggest region in USA Volleyball.

I've tried to let go how I was duped into committing to a club with a poor reputation this year, but I still miss it. I think that when the time is right, I'd like to start my own club, but only if I can truly differentiate it, and only if I can find good, experienced coaches who want to build something special. That's a lot harder than it sounds, especially out here where the sport plays second fiddle to soccer.

Going back to that IM conversation, it also reinforced one of the things I most love about coaching. If you're even a little good at it, the odds are high that you will have a long-lasting impact on the kids. That, to me, is still the thing that makes me proud to have worked with those kids.

Blowing shit up with friends

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 10:11 PM | comments: 0

I finally got a chance tonight to play some more online co-op Halo Reach campaign with Stephanie. I think I've mentioned this before, but while straight out death match against strangers is not very interesting to me, it's super fun to play campaign mode with someone you know.

I think the first time I did it was with Mike in Chicago while I was in Cleveland, with Halo 3. Having two people changes the dynamic of how you play through a level, especially the big open maps. The ones where you're kind of cornered in a bunch of hallways are about the same, but the open ones are more fun with a pal. Being able to talk to the person as you blow shit up is tons of violent fun.

I know I sound like a Kool-Aid drinker, but I was saying this long before I started working at Microsoft. They have nailed the online component so well, and they just keep making the story better with the phone integration, achievements, player matching and what not. Then to pile on stuff like Netflix, and hopefully Hulu, eventually, that just makes the thing infinitely useful. I wish we had the Sky Player service they have in the UK, where the Xbox essentially becomes a cable box for IP-based TV, and you get all of the social goodness that goes with it.

The best part is that the story will keep getting better...

I'm a Valentine's Day poopy pants

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 14, 2011, 10:45 PM | comments: 0

I checked to make sure, and as best I can tell, I have never written about Valentine's Day. OK, I may have written about it in college in the newspaper, but I'm not sure where I stashed the dead trees to confirm or deny this. Regardless, there's a reason.

I think the day is a crock. I hated it in high school (single). I hated it in college (single for three out of four). I hated it between marriages. To me it's little more than a scam to sell greeting cards. Even now, happily married and in a relationship of almost four years, I still think it's lame.

What's my damage? All of the years that I was single, of course. I didn't have very high self-esteem in my adolescent years to begin with, and there was this "holiday" where you kinda felt like a piece of crap if you weren't paired with someone. I mean, do you remember how awesome it was in grade school, when you'd cut out paper hearts, had candy, and you gave everyone in the class a little card? Then in a few years, you have a dance that you can't go to unless you have a special friend.

Now that I'm older and comfortable in my relationship, I've adopted the stance that there are enough holidays that represent brash commercialism, and I certainly don't need one to tell my wife how special she is. I truly believe that you try to celebrate what you have every single day. Some days I suck at it, I'll admit. Most days, I'm grateful for what I have and do what I can to make it better.

Fortunately, Diana gets me, and doesn't hold this position against me.

Getting the poop out

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 13, 2011, 8:03 PM | comments: 0

I've only had two truly horrifying moments as a parent thus far. The first was restraining Simon so Diana could give him medicine when he was sick. But the worst was seeing him standing in front of me, as a smile turned to a look of panic, a grunt, a cry, and a look in his eyes that communicated everything he couldn't say: "It hurts to poop."

Nothing about parenting causes me more anxiety than making sure that Simon grows up with good digestive health, because mine was so screwed up. I suffered from a condition called encopresis (I finally looked up the clinical term after almost 30 years). Basically, something causes you to not poop, so you hold it. Your colon stretches, dulling the nerves and causing liquid to seep out without you even realizing it. You shit your pants every day and only have a solid bowel movement every few weeks. The treatment, which I didn't start until I was 10, was to clean me out with mineral oil, and keep me cleaned out until my colon returned to a normal size and I could control it again. I still had accidents now and then, as late as grade seven. It's not good for your self esteem.

So what's the "something" that causes it? It's almost always psychological. I have no idea what my problem was, as one of the symptoms of the condition is for kids to block out the problem in the first place. I don't understand how my pediatrician could have possibly let it go that long before sending me to a gastroenterologist. It's more common in boys, and could be rooted in fear of public restrooms, performance anxiety and shame. And because it's about poop, people never want to talk about it, which is total bullshit.

Simon isn't quite a year old, so naturally I'm not worried that his recent constipation is indicative of a lifetime of issues, but given my own experience, you can bet that I'm hyper-aware of the impact that childhood events can have in the long run. Being diligent without being neurotic about stuff like this will be challenging.


Making my own melt

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 12, 2011, 11:09 PM | comments: 0

After more than a year in Seattle, one of my chief complaints is that we haven't managed to find a good restaurant that sticks to simple, delicious and inexpensive comfort food. Or bar food, if you will. In Northeast Ohio, this need was best filled by the Winking Lizard, but there were other places we'd drop into now and then as well for breakfast buffets, pizza and what not. And for the world's best grilled cheese, we had Melt Bar and Grilled, as seen on TV. I honestly don't think a better sandwich exists anywhere in the universe. It's that good.

Being a restauranteur is actually one of my inner fantasies (along with hair and makeup stylist... don't judge). I can't cook for shit, but I know what I like to eat, and I love loading spices and seasonings on food. If I had money to invest in something, and the rent around here wasn't too damn high, I'd probably open a restaurant to fill the obvious gap in comfort bar food coverage.

Melt is 2,000 miles away, so getting the blackened chicken, without the peppers and onions, or the slaw (they fill that space with more delicious fries), is not an option. So tonight, we attempted to duplicate this delicacy. We just happened to have all of the goodies to make it happen, with some adjustments.

I busted out a couple of chicken breasts and lubed them up with some olive oil, then rubbed them down with some Penzey's cajun spice and some ground salt. I didn't quite get the coverage to the level I should have, because I wasn't sure how well it would stick since I can't get a consistent grill temperature. The wind has made grilling difficult up here, and some days I can barely keep the thing over 300 degrees. As it turned out, the wind died down a bit, and I got a nice blackening in some places. I realize that most people blacken chicken in a cast iron pan, but I've had good results doing it on the grill over high initial heat, then backing it off to cook through. Less work, less cleaning, similar texture.

The local Safeway makes a killer loaf of sourdough, so we used that as our bread. I cut some big thick slices and buttered them up. We use Earth Balance because it tastes very buttery, but is less likely to kill you. It costs more, but I find it to be delicious. We dropped the chicken on the bread and applied cheese. We didn't have any provolone, so I used some shredded pepper jack blend and popped it into the oven for a few minutes.

The finished product was a lot less greasy, and a more reasonable portion, and still quite delicious. Considering we didn't have time for a proper marinade, and I cheated on the blackening process, it was really good. It was matched with roasted potatoes, a specialty of Diana's where she half cooks them with foil, then without so they crisp up a little.

I was pleased with myself, and felt a little bit of Lakewood, Ohio in Snoqualmie, Washington. Sure, there wasn't cider on tap or cute waitresses with piercings and tattoos, but the food was super tasty. We'll definitely do this again!

Sleepless in Seattle

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 12, 2011, 9:55 PM | comments: 0

When I got done brushing my teeth last night, I looked in the mirror and thought, "Shit, I look tired." Not like, I got up early and it was a long day tired, but like, the world and your circumstances are wearing you down tired.

Our whole family unit has been like that lately. Poor Simon is a victim of this, and source of it as well. He did a pretty good job rolling with the jet lag and such in Orlando, not to mention our touristy desires and theme parks, but then he got sick when we got back to Seattle. Then I did, then Diana did. He's still not on a normal schedule, some days taking two naps instead of three, going to bed too early, getting up too early. He's just a mess. It is getting better, but his overnights are inconsistent. At least he's happy most of the time, which is more than I can say the week he was sick.

Diana gets the worst of Simon's sleep inconsistency, because during the week she gets up with him so I can squeeze out seven hours of sleep for work. The problem is that she doesn't nap when he does, sometimes because he ends up not napping for very long, and sometimes, because it's her only real shot at finding time for a shower. And then she has to keep up with Simon the rest of the day, which isn't really a one-person job. She's always tried.

I won't even acknowledge my own source of fatigue relative to Diana's, but it's there. Mine is mostly mental, as I feel like the world is beating me down. The most obvious part of that comes from thinking about my unfortunate house problem, but there's a ton of stuff I just get stuck thinking about endlessly. It seems to happen the most when it's time to sleep. I also think that I'm again dealing with seasonal affective disorder, as evidenced by the crazy mood swing I had going from Orlando back to home. The short days and gray skies are getting to me. I didn't seem to have it last year, perhaps because it was a more mild and less wet winter.

Alas, awareness is the first step toward fixing a problem, and we're going to figure out a way to turn those frowns upside down and get some Z's.

Simon, an only child

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 10, 2011, 9:35 PM | comments: 0

With seemingly everyone we know having children, or second children, and Simon getting close to his first birthday, people often ask if we're going to have another. After many, many discussions, we've decided that Simon will not have any siblings, or that's the plan at least.

We went back and forth on the issue quite a bit. Before we even got married, we were reasonably certain that we wanted at least one child. Given our ages at the time of our wedding, 39 for her and 35 for me, it seemed obvious that time was somewhat against us. Because we really had no idea about the state of our reproductive systems at the time, we were perfectly willing to adopt if our junk didn't work right, but after a couple of months, Simon was conceived.

Pregnancy was stressful for both of us. I think we both wanted to punch the next person who uttered the words "advanced maternal age." The many tests and ultrasounds looking for birth defects and odds of some other condition were soul crushing. If something was wrong, what would we do? After just a few months, we were reasonably certain that if we were to have a second child, we'd absolutely go the adoption route.

The discussion stayed in that mode for the remainder of Simon's bake time, and even his first month. One of the Microsoft benefits is partial reimbursement of expenses related to adoption (in the many thousands of dollars, I believe), so it was sounding like a good idea. And frankly, we liked the idea of adoption for a lot of reasons. Imagine giving a child the gift of a permanent family.

But in the last year, we started to look at things in the bigger picture, and it caused a lot of doubts. I think the realization of our own ages around the time of Simon's theoretical college graduation scared me the most. Diana will be 61, and I'll be nearly 58. Yikes. We really look forward to the adventure of parenting ahead of us, but at that time in our lives, hopefully we'll be looking forward to retirement. A second child pushes that empty nest age out even further.

Then there's just the issue of daily life with more than one child. Kids start out exhausting in terms of time, but as they get older, the difficulty shifts to the thousands of emotional and behavioral challenges ranging from discouraging bad behavior to teaching them to drive. Obviously parents do this with two or more kids all of the time, but especially given my neuroses around not screwing him up, I'm not sure I can do it. Diana also made the very strong point that when there are two, it's a lot harder to trade duty between parents. I give parents of multiple children all the credit in the world, because it looks hard.

So basically what it came down to is a desire to keep our own lives balanced, while creating an environment where Simon can develop, learn, make mistakes and prosper. We think that our chances of providing that are better if he's our only child.

There are certainly negatives, and we know that, and none are bigger than the fact that he'll never have a sibling relationship. But honestly that was the only driver in favor of a second child, and it didn't seem like enough. When I look at people I know, and kids I've coached, the only-children were not any more or less solid/screwed up relative to people at large. I'm sure there are studies around this, but anecdotally I'm not worried about it.

Is this an absolute and final decision? Of course not, but our level of certainty is pretty high. We have so much love in our little family unit, and we're very protective of it. Simon is the center of our lives, maybe to a fault, and even when he's challenging and getting us up at inconvenient times, we love spending time with him. Being a parent is fascinating and awesome. It's not a sacrifice to be a parent, but we're not sure we have the emotional bandwidth to be a parent to more than one.

Cleveland water fail

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 10, 2011, 11:34 AM | comments: 0

Not being able to sell my house certainly sucks, but really the most annoying part is that City of Cleveland water department is full of clueless idiots. This isn't just my isolated observation, as they're spending millions on consultants to figure out the problem. (Hint: Answer the f'ing phone, read the f'ing meters.)

I last paid an estimated bill a few months after we moved. That seemed reasonable enough, and if likely a little high, that's OK. But they kept estimating, which is stupid since I don't live there, and I'm obviously not using water. My cousin sent me a photo of the actual meter, and I sent it to them, but they billed me with an incorrect reading that was astronomically high, and now they're saying I owe them $400. Morons.

Inappropriate blog material

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 10:54 PM | comments: 0

It seems like there was a circle of posts and chats in my circle of friends recently about a general lack of blogging. There seemed to be a general theme that sometimes the stuff on our minds just isn't right for sharing on blogs. I have to register my "me too."

I'm going through a bit of that right now. Things that cause me anxiety and stress right now are not things that are appropriate for the world to read. I suspect much of it will come out eventually, but at the moment it just isn't appropriate. I also find myself unwilling to blog about really meaningless shit, which is actually kind of a bummer, because at least it keeps me writing.

By the way, it's a good way to remind folks that reading someone's blog does not give you a complete picture of who they are. People have been making that mistake about me for years, assuming all kinds of incorrect things. I think most people are more complex than that.

Slow start for advertising this year

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 7, 2011, 10:36 PM | comments: 0

You think I would be used to it by now, but this year is starting out really slow for advertising, and it bums me out a little. January was still much higher than last year, but I'm not seeing the kind of CPM's I had toward the end of 2010. I'm reasonably confident it will pick up in the next month or two, as it historically has.

This is still the problem that I have, depending on Google, FM and the bottom feeding ad networks. They never really rock it this time of year. But you know, my sites are also more of a hobby that pays well, not a full-time job, so it's not like I'm going to jump out there and sell advertising myself.

Clearly I need a Web site that will run itself and be really popular in the winter. Roller coasters just aren't the hotness in the winter! Speaking of which, last month's trip to Universal Orlando has me itching for more riding.

Your car doesn't mean dick

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 7, 2011, 2:41 PM | comments: 0

I don't care for people who are pretentious for the things they buy. You know the type. There are people who try to impress you by constantly talking about what they have, whether that be the house they live in, the clothes on their back or the car they drive. But the car thing annoys me the most.

Driving an expensive car doesn't make you important or interesting. When you imply otherwise, it mostly makes you a douche. If you bought more car than you can really afford, and are pushing outside of your means, then it also makes you a schmuck. Don't tell me about what you drive as a talking point, because I don't care.

Fortunately, you don't encounter this as much in Seattle. I think part of the reason is that you see more Audi's, BMW's and Mercedes' than you do Ford Foci. Nobody here gives a fuck what you drive, because you're probably parked next to a Tesla or something more expensive. That amuses me. I drive a car that costs a hundred bucks a month, thanks, and it's probably the same as every third car on the road, so it's hard to pick out in a speed trap. I'll gladly blend in.

A friend told me a story that made me think of this. I'm not inherently opposed to people owning nice cars (I have an unhealthy obsession with Tesla myself), I just find it annoying when people think it makes them more or important or interesting.

Rent vs. buy

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 6, 2011, 1:48 PM | comments: 2

There was a column in Wired a few months back that talked about the merits of buying versus renting stuff. If the economic mess of the last few years has made us think about anything, it has made us think about the stuff we own, and why. The long-standing argument that buying a house was an investment turned out to be a myth. I'm still paying for that one.

I would very much like to buy a house out here in Washington, and if I weren't still trying to unload in Cleveland, I would be well on my way. What isn't as clear to me these days is whether or not it's a good idea. The pros and cons aren't as obvious as they used to be. I've found myself challenging everything I thought I knew.

This isn't something limited to real estate either. After buying my last car and keeping it for six years, I'm leasing my current car. There were several considerations around that: Toyota was pretty much giving cars away, they're coming out with plug-ins next year and frankly there isn't much win to buying a car in this environment. So what's a hundred bucks a month to enjoy a new car, then get another one in a couple of years?

After renting for a year, I've learned that there are some distinct advantages. You don't have to maintain stuff when it breaks, it's someone else's problem. You aren't tied down to a specific place either (not that the other house ties me down, but I don't particularly enjoy paying for a place I don't live in). We picked up and moved, and moving expense aside, it wasn't that big of a deal.

Sure, the negatives are that you aren't building equity, but that's not a great argument for someone who has lost a shit-ton of equity in his first house, and still can't sell it. It's not like I had some silly ARM arrangement or no down payment either. The 20k I put into it (that's net after the divorce settlement) simply can't be recovered, and there's more loss to take before it's all done. To me the biggest negative I can find is that I can't really plop a hot tub in my back yard.

The culture around the "American way" has become one of accumulating stuff, and while a house isn't simply "stuff," it is one more thing you generally can't outright buy with cash unless you make an exceptional amount of money (and even then it seems those people simply buy more house). While I was never in any real financial danger or facing high amounts of risk in the last few years, I have to admit that I've dramatically changed the way I view borrowing money and "investing" in real estate. The next few years will be an interesting time for me in terms where I live.

Caspar Babypants

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 5, 2011, 11:07 PM | comments: 0

We took Simon to what I would call his first rock concert. Some local parenting group or something inconsequential to the story held some kind of thing with vendors and stuff, and Caspar Babypants was part of the free entertainment.

I think we first heard of him via Joe when investigating kids music before Simon was born, and eventually we bought all of his albums. Caspar Babypants is Chris Ballew, who most people know as the front man to the Presidents of the United States of America. You can Google the stories and press, but basically he decided at some point that he wanted to make kids music. And that's a good thing, because most kids music sucks. It's really terrible stuff. But his songs, many of which are about bugs and animals, are fun, clever, catchy and frankly even entertaining for grownups.

He has a band, and the three of them do an amazing job working the "baby mosh pit," as I like to call it. When we got there, about 30 minutes before the show, we crashed off to the side to feed Simon, and as it turns out he was signing autographs and talking to kids right behind us. He's so good with the kids. I don't know what his life was like with the Presidents, touring and what not, but I can only imagine that what he does now has to be satisfying in a completely different way.

I have to admit that I'm a little jealous. I don't think very many people get to do what they really like and be as thoroughly satisfied as he does. You can see it in his face when he performs. Like other artists that I have a deep respect for (Schuyler Fisk comes to mind), he hangs out at his shows, meets the fans (with his daughter) and sells his own CD's. I love that it's possible still to connect with people like that.

If you have young kids, definitely check him out. I think most of the albums are available via Amazon MP3. Support Caspar Babypants!

Fantastic year for photography

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 4, 2011, 2:20 PM | comments: 0

Having a baby predictably resulted in me busting out my camera a ton in the last year. What I didn't expect as much was how much I would enjoy photography, in a way that I haven't in many years.

I bought the Canon 7D body shortly before we moved in 2009, mostly because of the video capability (which has taken a lot of practice to truly understand and use), but I've really grown to like that body. The field crop has admittedly reduced what I "see" when using my 24-105mm lens, but the detail and breadth of what I've been able to capture has still been wonderful.

I also feel like I've really improved shooting people, even more so with my 50mm f/1.4. It takes a lot of practice, and especially when you're photographing babies, you have to expect that they'll move. I've had some really wonderful portraits that I'm completely happy with, even if there have been plenty to throw away.

In Orlando, I remembered how much I enjoy photographing theme parks. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal Studios is a boring to ride, but really interesting to shoot. I'm annoyed to no end that I didn't get a shot at any night time stuff inside the parks, but that would involve going during the busy season, when they're open later.

I've thought a little bit about whether or not there is any additional gear I'd like to buy, and I have to admit that I'd like to get a solid wide-angle or ultra-wide zoom. Paired with the 5D body, I think I could snag some remarkable landscape stuff with that. It isn't an obvious choice for portrait work, but I'm still intrigued about what portraits might look like using one of those lenses. Maybe later this year... we'll see.

On a side note, I don't understand the fascination with purposefully sucking all of the dynamic range out of photos, or making them look old-timey or whatever (I'm looking at you, Instagram). It's like, phone cameras look like shit to begin with. Is this trend to cover that up?

The many women of Whitney Young Junior High

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 2, 2011, 11:22 PM | comments: 0

Something put my mind squarely in 1986 last night. Lucky age 13! I was going to Whitney M. Young Junior High School at the time, the year after the Cleveland school system shifted grade 9 into high school. This school was the honors school, because I was "gifted" or some such nonsense. Let's be honest about that... the bar was not high in Cleveland in the 80's, and it only got worse after that. Years later I took an IQ test that allegedly put me just short of genius, but clearly I've never applied myself at that level. My grades certainly didn't reflect any gift, as I had my share of B's and a C now and then.

I was a nerd. I got braces that summer, and in retrospect, my mom might have been buying clothes that were particularly uncool. It's hard to say, but when you get picked on for being a nerd, at a school full of nerds, that's definitely not a good sign. The weirdest thing about it all is that I was a really popular kid. Everyone knew me, if perhaps for the wrong reasons.

When I wasn't trying to score extra time in the computer lab with the PCjr's, I fancied myself as a ladies man. I was referring to girls on the playground as girlfriends years before that (and pulling hair, of course), and the hell of puberty made that worse. I think grade 8 was the first time someone, a teacher, told me I had a good voice for radio. I was 13! But hey, I figured Rick Dees probably gets a lot of chicks, so I welcomed the endorsement.

There were three girls that I recall being very fond of that year. The first one, Michelle, was someone I was drawn to the year before as well. She had a number of interesting hair looks, and was no stranger to product. She was no stranger to emulating Madonna's look either, and that was something not many white girls could really pull off. I thought she did it very well.

Michelle was one of the first girls I ever got nailed into the friend zone with. That's probably because I was a good listener in times when she didn't have a very good reputation. It makes me think about what bastards kids could be. I don't think she was sexually active, but she did have a lot of "boyfriends" that she never actually went out with. Who really dates at that age? Her worst moment came with a menstrual accident that was probably not a big deal, but to hear kids tell it, she left school that day looking like a horror movie victim. Like I said, bastards.

I think I can argue that Michelle was the girl who really established an early type for me, that of the free spirit, expressive type. I wouldn't quite describe her as a non-conformist (what teenage girl didn't try to emulate Madonna then?), but she rocked out with her style in a way that most kids her age didn't have the stones to do.

Also that year, I met Yani. We had two classes together. She was a great writer (we had English together), much taller than me, athletic, track star, and black. Clearly the court-ordered desegregation of the Cleveland schools had a positive effect on my generation, because there wasn't really any color in our eyes, but what I wouldn't have done to bring her home to my grandfather. He would have flipped out.

Yani was the first intense note-passing girl of my life. Every piece of paper passed to me had "JP + YP" in a heart, and that's hilarious. Relationships were so simple back then. Because of the way they moved grade 9 to high school, most of the third floor of the school, and parts of a side hall to the auditorium, were unused most of the time. We conspired to sneak into one of these unoccupied areas and make out.

Unfortunately, that never happened. As awesome as it would have been to have my first kiss at that age, how do you get a couple of nerds to break rules and do naughty things? Alas, we retained the honor in honor student. I hate myself a little bit for that.

Then there was Krystal. I was borderline obsessed with her pretty much the first day of grade 7. She had blonde curly hair, could sing, and rocked a headband look that was to die for. God, I remember the weirdest things. I also remember that she was, uh, advanced for her age. I've never been a "boob guy" in my adult life, but she was certainly endowed with blessings that other girls her age were not.

I only had one class with her, plus lunch, but that was the best half-hour of my day. I used to follow her around like a lost puppy. The thing is, I don't even remember anything particularly interesting about her personality. She was very into church, and I think at one point she even came to mine once. The details are a bit fuzzy now.

Unlike the other girls, this one had an epilogue. By the summer of 1988, we had moved to the suburbs. The 'burbs meant we had cable TV (not available in the city), and that meant MTV. Def Leppard made one of the best rock records of that year, with some neat concert videos that had lasers. I had to go see them.

I somehow kept in touch with Krystal, mostly by letter, I believe, and somehow we put it together that she got concert tickets and I convinced my aunt, Amy, to drive us there. That summer, I had my first date, seeing Def Leppard in the rain at Blossom Music Center. It was awesome. Europe opened, and "The Final Countdown" was awesome too. The bar for good music was pretty low in those days as well.

During much of that show, and especially when they performed "Hysteria," my teenage brain played out cheesy rainy movie love scenes, and I was going to grab her and kiss her, but I never worked up the nuts to follow through. It was getting cool with the rain, and I put my arm around her, but only for a few seconds. The big romantic moment came on the car ride home, where I nervously held her hand the entire way.

I rarely heard from her after that, though there was a hilarious letter exchange we had during my freshman year of college. She went flip-out born-again, complete with abstinence rants, got engaged to a guy named Manfred (really?) and described her fiance's plan to get rich from real estate deals. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever read. It was equal parts sad and hilarious.

It's weird to think of the simplicity of those early relationships. You don't think about "the one," or marriage, or getting laid. Simple holding hands can be something that smacks your universe around and shakes it with the intensity of an earthquake. I wish we could hold on to that simplicity a lot longer than we do.

Writing reduction

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 2, 2011, 10:16 PM | comments: 0

I've come to realize that I'm not writing as much as I'd like in the last few months. What I have written, I feel is better than my average schmuckery. I'm really surprised at all of the positive feedback I've had on a number of topics, and I also feel a sense of pride that I haven't really had before from my online word vomit.

I've tossed around the idea before that maybe there's a book in all of this. I've had more ups, downs and traumatic events in the last six years than most people have in decades. Certainly there are things I'd like to cover more in depth (that last one about relationship training has been on my mind literally for years), but maybe there's some cohesive voice there? It's definitely something I want to think about.