Archive: June, 2011

Why are we incapable of taking advice?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 30, 2011, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

I've handed out a lot of advice to people, particularly people younger than me. I don't know that it's because I'm particularly wise or anything, I think it's just because I've experienced a great many things. In fact, I've had more failure than I like to admit.

Take for example, relationship advice. I've pointed out to friends how they were settling, compromising, being toxic, etc. The friends never take my advice and change things or get out of the relationship. Not even once. Why? The typical line of thinking is because they have to "figure it out for themselves."

I was watching a speaker at work today talking about better processes, and how certain things we tend to do are slow and prone to failure. He was preaching to the choir, as my experience aligns with his advice. So if this guy offers up this advice to people at the company who have been doing it the old way for ten years, what incentive do they have to change anything? They just have to experience it for themselves?

History does repeat itself. And yet, it seems were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Failure is totally overrated. It hurts and makes you feel shitty about yourself. Who wants that? I would much rather have taken the advice given to me and acted on it. I never wanted to be wise by way of all of my mistakes. But the problem is, if I could tell my 21-year-old self what I know now, I'd tell myself to f-off.

I suppose that's the hard part about maturing. By the time we know better to listen to advice, we've already made a mess of things. On one hand, that sounds kind of grim, but on the other, I'm glad I'm through that.

Another social network

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 29, 2011, 10:12 PM | comments: 0

It's funny how working for a west coast tech company (especially such a small one ;)) makes you exceptionally more connected. I had no shortage of Google+ invites today and didn't even realize it until a current Googler friend asked if I wanted one.

So I poked around it and messed with it tonight. It's Facebookish without a lot of the bullshit you have to hide (I'm looking at you, everyappeverwrittenforFacebook). It makes out circles to be some kind of revolutionary thing, but aside from a better UI, it's mostly just friend lists.

Playing with this reminds me that Facebook's strength has nothing to do with its features. It's the critical mass of users. If the hundred or so people I care about were also using Google+, I probably wouldn't care which one I used, as long as everyone else was.

A part of me has always wanted to write a social network app. I kind of did, once, and it had a nice little community of a dozen or so people for a couple of years. They even paid for it. But everyone outgrew it, including me. It would be an interesting science project, but I don't want to build something no one uses.

The thing I've noticed since moving to Seattle is that something like Facebook is hugely important for keeping in touch with people, but it is not a replacement for real, human contact. A lot of people put a lot of time and energy into FB, but for me, it often just makes me realize how infrequently I get to spend face to face time with people. That's a symptom of having such a distributed network of friends. If Facebook didn't exist, that situation would not be different. I'm surprised by the number of people who view Facebook as a substitute for the real thing.

Car skid plate blowout

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 29, 2011, 6:38 PM | comments: 0

Last oil change I had, they noticed that the skid plate under my car was split and hanging off a bit. These things are annoying, because they pin them on with those plastic push-on things. I used a couple of nylon tie-wraps to secure it, and forgot about it. I'm not surprised that it was damaged, because I now I've bottomed out on stuff. Seems to happen a lot, because the Prius is set really close to the ground. There are skid plates all over the bottom of that thing, which I suppose also reduces drag and boosts fuel efficiency.

In any case, my ghetto fix failed on the freeway today, in the 70 mph part. There was a pop, then massive turbulence noise from under the car. I knew what it was, but it scared the hell out of me.

When I got home, I looked under the car, and I could see the issue. The plate, in this case a two-by-one foot section, was still pinned at the back, so the air was being pushed up into the engine compartment. There's nothing in particular above the area here the broken plate is. What was really cool was how melted the plastic was. I mean, 70 mph on rough asphalt will do that. There was also shredded soft stuff on top of it, that I don't think is supposed to burn, so it was mostly just blackened. Sweet.

Anyway, I just pulled it off. It doesn't appear to protect anything vital. As I said though, the car is very low to the ground. I also noticed, while looking around, how relatively covered everything is underneath. The wheels are also just about as far out to the corners as possible. I'm surprised how much stuff under the hood isn't the cheapest possible. I figured it would be to save on cost, compensating for the electrical components. But, for example, some of the hose clamps are the good screw types, instead of the plier-pinch type.

The center console control ergonomics still suck, but overall I'm still pretty satisfied with the car. I suppose I should wash it. I've only done it once in 15 months. Oh, and for the "I need a giant SUV" crowd, I should note that I was able to bring home a 55" TV inside of it, with Simon strapped in his seat in the back, and Diana in the front. It was a tight squeeze, but it made it.

The Voice doesn't suck

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 10:45 PM | comments: 0

Once upon a time, I really liked American Idol. Aside from the fact that few of the winners were standouts compared to popular music in the general sense, there was no question that many of them were genuinely talented, huge stars.

Somewhere along the line, the talent dried up. If that weren't bad enough, "America voted" and showed it has no taste. The judges became a sideshow and a distraction. And Ryan Seacrest still begs to be punched in the fucking nuts.

When they began to advertise The Voice on NBC, I thought, really? Christina, you're so much better than this. But I watched the start of it anyway, and was surprised at how relatively cultivated the contestants were. These weren't schmucks who hung out in a football stadium all day for the chance to dance in front of some washup who called them "dawg," these were people who had a little more dignity (and talent).

The format complimented the talent. Instead of judges being adversarial douche bags, they had coaches there to help them. Even more importantly, they didn't have tasteless America deciding who was best until it was down to eight, and even then, they only half had a say. We'll see how they do in the end.

Overall, it has been an entertaining show, and I've been incredibly impressed with most everyone on there. That said, it's the Dia Frampton show. Not just because she's so adorable and genuine, but she stands out in a world of sameness. Pop music keeps churning out the same old shit, and she's not more of the same. Her song was already #14 on iTunes without the benefit of the west coast hearing it, so I have high hopes that she'll win. Even if she doesn't, her career is a sure thing.

The show also reminds me how much I enjoy live music. I need to see more of it.

Work milestones

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 8:55 PM | comments: 0

We reached the first milestone at work today for our project. Or end of the first iteration. I dunno, it has been called a lot of things. The point is, we've got some work done, and that's badass.

In the practical sense, I've been in the new position for about two months. I think I like it better than straight dev work, for the most part, and we're building some really interesting stuff. I'm endlessly impressed that our dev team can build the crazy shit we think up. It'll be fun to finally talk about it this fall.

It continues to be an adjustment for me, however. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to apply the things I know, learn what I don't, and above all, generate the right level of detail. "Program manager" means a lot of different things around Microsoft, but in this case we dream up and design stuff, and figure out how to get it built.

The hard part in that, as I said, is finding the appropriate detail level. The old school way of developing software involved reams of documents outlining every ridiculous thing, primarily for the purpose of locking in some kind of consensus to build the right thing. That's just about the worst way you could possibly build stuff, because it makes too many assumptions about things you can't know until you build something and put it front of actual people.

So I try to think of smaller things, in a low fidelity way, that can be built quickly. With that minimum time investment (dispensing with huge documents and Powerpoint decks no one will ever look at), you can look at what you have, and iterate over it in the way that makes the most sense. That's a far more sane way to go.

The problem with what I consider sane is that it doesn't always align with the expectations of my peers, my boss or developers, so I have to adjust. That's hard. It's not impossible, but I don't have a lot of practice doing it. In my most successful scenarios, I've had many hats, so I could shape the overall process more. Fortunately, I've got people around me that want to help.

I also have a hard time measuring my own contribution. It's more of a nebulous thing in this role. When you primarily write code, it becomes a lot more obvious if you're making meaningful contribution. That leaves me a bit uneasy, but I've made it a point to seek feedback as much as possible.

Whatever discomfort I have, I did expect it. Any new job has ramp up time. I'm certainly more comfortable than I was two months ago, but I'm not where I'd like to be. I look forward to see how things will be two months from now!

The great Final Cut Pro controversy

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 6:03 PM | comments: 1

What a nasty and ugly scene on the Internets, after Apple announced the new Final Cut Pro X. You would think that someone killed an industry or something. I have to admit that I'm surprised the user base around Final Cut was as big as it was! It seems like just a few years ago that the only thing "serious editors" used was Avid (and I have a thing or two to say about "serious editors").

I got my first non-linear editing system in 1998, I think it was. It was a Media 100 system, which came in way cheaper than a comparable Avid system, and frankly I thought the interface was better. It was awesome to be free of tape, even if I could only keep one or two projects on it at a time. That 20 gig hard drive array was expensive! Glad it wasn't my money.

After I left the broadcast world, Avid eventually came in with an "affordable" software-only system, a little over a grand, and I bought into it. The hardware requirements were stupid-strict, and it would only run on Windows 2000. But honestly, there was nothing else that quite worked the way I expected at the time. Later on, when Macs went Intel, I bought a Mac, and Final Cut Pro came soon after. Adobe finally got serious about Premier Pro around that time as well, so I got that "for free" with Photoshop and such. Never used Premier much, but frankly it was about the same in terms of capability as the competitors.

There's an important thing to note about this 13-years of experience with this variety of software. While the hardware requirements went down, and the resolution of the video went up, the user interface for these apps was not that different, and really just evolved in little ways. No one really said, "There's a better way."

Apple, however, did. The company has a long history of chucking one paradigm and replacing it entirely, often inflicting some pain in the process. For example, they tossed floppy drives before anyone else would, and that freaked people out. They've cycled through a number of different ports and connections for peripherals. They famously ditched the computer tower. In the end, many of these changes were the right thing to do, and generally people fell in line. They even managed to create wholesale change between versions of their operating system, something Microsoft would never dare to do.

But sometimes, they also get it wrong. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, and said that "apps" were just things that lived in a browser, it pissed people off. I still believe that, games aside, he was absolutely correct. The market wasn't having it, and eventually every phone platform included an app store of sort, with tens of thousands of things you'll never use.

The question with Final Cut Pro X, then, is whether or not they got it wrong this time. What they've done is dramatically change the way you work with video. They chucked the old paradigm, and people are pissed. I think some of the complaints are valid, but my gut says it's not as bad as "professional editors" are making it out to be. Admittedly, I don't have the software. As I'm not currently editing anything, I'm not sure I need it. Much has been made about what it doesn't do instead of what it does.

Here is a summary of the "missing" stuff, and my reaction:

  • It doesn't open projects made in the previous version. My first reaction is, well, then use the old version. Thinking more about it, I have a feeling the reason behind this is that the organization of media and the timeline so different that this just doesn't entirely make sense to implement as a feature. The only credence I can really give this complaint is that they've apparently stopped selling the old version.
  • Media organization by "event" sucks. Again, I've only watched their demos, but it doesn't seem that impossible to work with. It just seems different, not better or worse. I don't think I've ever organized stuff the same way twice using the classic bin paradigm, so perhaps I'm not qualified to have an opinion.
  • No multicam. I suppose this is a feature that wedding or event video people totally need. Legitimate gripe, but again, you can probably continue to use the old tool, or a competitor.
  • No EDL support, or output to various XML formats. I'm on the fence about this one. The EDL (edit decision list) always seemed odd to me, even in the days of tiny hard drives. The idea is that you work "offline" with crappy low quality stuff, then later you load up the good stuff for an "online" edit. Aside from the days you'd work on HD films when the hardware couldn't render a dissolve without a coffee break (meaning you worked on Star Wars Episode I), I've never understood this. Even five years ago, the hardware seemed adequate for working with HD natively.
  • Trackless editing. This is another weird one. The argument is that in post-production, some dude at an audio desk will expect stuff to be on certain tracks. If you're doing really high end work, yeah, that's a problem. I also wonder if it's a matter of the other tools needing to evolve. I think the trackless model is fantastic, and lets you blast stuff together quickly. I'd have to try it.
  • Poor hardware support (or none). I wonder if that's a driver issue. The fundamental change under the covers is that they now use QuickTime X, a long overdue change to the fundamental architecture of their media platform. Video in and out boxes don't work with it, which is a little strange because it has been out for at least a year and a half.

Those seem to be the biggest issues. I've seen a few complaints about lack of plugin support and no solid color grading tools, but I'm not sure I buy those, as the demos I've watched show very robust grading tools, including keys. Getting stuff in and out for use in After Effects also is apparently tedious.

My bigger impression is that the new software isn't full of missing stuff as much as it's full of different stuff. Again, I could be talking out of my ass, because I haven't used it. Some of the toxicity toward the product seems more rooted in its similarity to iMovie, which mostly paints "professionals" as snobs more than anything else. Anyone can learn software. It's a tool. Knowing how to use it doesn't make you an artist.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I think fundamentally, Final Cut Pro X has some powerful tools set around a different way of thinking. I can't quite write that off as bad. The problem is that people don't always like new ways of thinking. That said, I think the easy solution is to keep selling the old version for now.

By the way, there's a huge lesson here that the best people in software development already know: Deliver your stuff early and often. Apple's secret bullshit can sometimes bite them in the ass. You can plan and plan, but until you get something in front of people, you never truly know if it's the right thing for the people who will use it. Get it out early, even in an incomplete form, and it's a lot easier to change and adapt.

Me and a magazine

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 27, 2011, 12:22 PM | comments: 0

You know what I never do anymore? Take a magazine and go to a quiet place by myself to read it. I miss that.

When I worked at, I would, a couple of times a week, take my lunch to the nearby park, park my car, and read. It sounds a little antisocial, but it was a nice break from the world. Typically, I'd read Wired and Fast Company. Both magazines can be a little full of themselves at times, but they tell a lot of great stories in the worlds of business, culture and technology. I find that kind of inspiring at times. I like to read about people doing interesting things, and finding success in ways you might not typically define it. Working for a business that floundered in some ways at the time (well, really blew it by the time the layoffs started), there was a nice angle of hope there.

Some people view magazines as something quaint and old school, especially for someone like me who is relatively connected, with all of the baggage implied with that term. But you know what? There's something satisfying about holding the paper in your hands. It's also nice to read something that has a longer narrative and some context. If there's one thing I hate the Web for, it's that there isn't much thought put into much of what goes on it. Thanks for that, Facebook and Twitter.

I need to make little bits of time like that for myself.

Replacement TV

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 26, 2011, 9:08 AM | comments: 0

I mentioned previously that my TV kept cutting out on me. It made a pop sound and the audio and video went away. A restart brought it back, and it was OK after it was warmed up (it crapped two or three times), but it's probably not a good future. So I decided while I had some cash on hand to replace it.

The criteria was pretty simple. Buy the biggest thing that would fit in the "hole" above the fireplace, but didn't cost more than the old TV. The old 37" was almost two grand, and I was surprised to see that all but the biggest TV's are less than that. I wanted an LED-lit LCD for power and heat reasons, and I generally like the way they look (once you turn off all of the crap they have that messes with the picture). Brand wasn't that critical, because I believe the same two or three companies are actually stamping out the panels these days. The "smart TV" junk they all do wasn't that important to me.

Went to Best Buy first, after researching pricing online. They have deals now and then, but kinda as I expected, they have three model years for each manufacturer and size, and most aren't in stock anyway. But I did get a remote control to "un-loud" the picture to at least try and see what the quality looked like. They pipe that noisy awful MPEG video split a hundred ways into the TV's which is not exactly good source material.

Skated over to Costco where I knew they had a decent selection of just current stuff, all in stock. They don't accept credit cards, so that also forces the issue of paying with cash (well, a debit card, but money "on hand" regardless). They had a 55" Samsung on sale for $1,500, which seemed like a slam dunk. It's the biggest that will fit in the space we have, and I expected we'd end up with something like a 46". Would have liked to stay closer to a grand, but hopefully this will be with us for a long time.

I had to rearrange some stuff, but with some HDMI cables I bought for a few bucks each on Amazon, I managed to reduce the overall cabling significantly. It's remarkable how many "features" are in these TV's that make it look awful. The high contrast and dynamic range squishing, the funny blurring used to make it seem like 120 hz refresh matters, the high color saturation... it's ridiculous. I turned all of that shit off immediately. And the biggest thrill came in that the TV has both color bars and a gray scale chart built-in. Score! Feels like broadcast gear.

For all of my computer gadget lust, TV's are oddly something I've never been that interested in buying. This one is only the third "primary" TV I've ever bought (plus a small one for the bedroom). I never really cared that much about size, even with HD. There comes a point where size is too much for the room size, given the number of pixels you have. We're probably just at that point with this new TV, but I suppose I'm thinking of it in terms of a bigger room, eventually.

So far, I'm pretty happy with it, but I would have been just as happy to have the old TV for a few more years. There's a lot less purchase regret on big stuff once you've dug yourself out of credit card debt, that's for sure. This is part of our living room makeover. Part two is the furniture, and we should be in good shape to do that next month.

Simon's second ER visit: A dislocated elbow

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 24, 2011, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

I don't know if we've been lucky or if it's normal, but Simon hasn't had an ER visit since he was two weeks old. Today was unfortunately that day for his second, but all things considered, it was a pretty easy visit.

Shortly after I got home from work, Simon was in good spirits and he climbed up on the couch to flop around and be tickled. He went from a sitting position to a standing up against the back, and when he got up, he turned around, with his face in the crying position, so much in pain that he couldn't get the first scream out. Finally it came, and we wondered what happened.

He continued to cry for the next fifteen minutes. During that time, we noticed he was holding his right hand, so I figured that maybe he hurt his arm. Diana gave him some yogurt melts, and he wouldn't raise his hand to his mouth. Trying to crawl seemed like instant pain. I gently moved his arm around at his shoulder, and it didn't seem to hurt him. I wiggled his fingers and that didn't seem to trigger any pain either.

Given his general cranky issues, his binky-less sleeping and inconsistent napping, plus his varied appetite, we figured he was probably hungry. That's when it became more clear that we had to get him checked out. While he did eat, it was entirely with his left hand, which isn't typical for him. He wouldn't pick up his sippy cup with both hands. When he'd drop something on his bib, he'd reach for it with his right arm, which would trigger the screaming. Otherwise, he just kept his right arm down along his side, straight next him.

By the time I got him to the car, he calmed down, and I gently got him strapped in. He propped up his arm, outstretched, on the right side of his car seat, and didn't move it at all for the 15 minute drive to the ER in Issaquah. Being on file in that hospital's system, and the fast service we had last time, I definitely wanted to return there.

We explained to the nurse what we were observing, and she described a fairly common thing called Nursemaid's elbow, which is a dislocation of the radius at the elbow. Simon was calm, but definitely had a bit of fear in his eyes. He wasn't crying, but he had a little pout on his face that was "heartbreaking" to the nurse.

The doctor came in and explained the dislocation, but just kind of observed Simon on my lap. I was kind of annoyed, because I wanted him to ask fewer questions and poke or prod my kid to figure out what was wrong. But as Diana pointed out, he was probably observing and establishing some amount of trust with Simon. Finally, he came over to feel his arm, and then did a quick maneuver to pop his elbow back into place.

The resulting scream was jarring and awful for both of us, but especially for Diana. Simon became momentarily hysterical, but our comforting seemed to chill him out pretty quickly. The doctor went back to lean on the counter and talked a little more about the injury and said he wanted to watch him a bit. Once the child forgets about the pain, they tend to just resume normal use.

Simon got back to a pout, but seemed more and more interested in looking around the room at everyone. He looked up at me, and I asked if he wanted to go home and take a bath, knowing that he would sign "bath" if he wanted one. He kind of half-assed it with his right arm, but it was the least still he had been since the injury 90 minutes before. I asked again, and he waved goodbye at the doctor... with his right arm!

The nurses cheered with us, and he gave a smile and a giggle. Our happy little boy was fixed! It seemed almost like a miracle. He just sprung back to normal after that, and decided he wanted to check out stuff around the little ER room. The stool step in particular, with the four-foot high handle, seemed particularly interesting, and he pulled himself up, again with his right arm, and sat down on it.

The nurse came back with the discharge paperwork and said to look out for recurring injury for a few weeks, and the housekeeper brought Simon a little Beanie Baby. We went home, took a bath, had a bottle, and he peacefully went to bed. Diana just checked on him, and he's looking like a peaceful little boy. With his Beanie (a rainbow colored bear that we call "Trippy").

Thinking back, I have to say that he was actually very brave throughout the ordeal. He seemed to really want to roll with the pain, but it clearly frustrated him because he couldn't really play, or even eat right. You could sense his fear at the ER, but he seemed to control it. Maybe I'm just projecting, but I'm really proud of how well he handled it all.

We'll have to be careful when helping him up by his arms, as kids who had the dislocation are more likely to have it again. Yet another adventure on the road of parenting!

Signin' Simon

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 23, 2011, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

There's no question that Simon is signing to us, generally in the correct context. We see it everyday. Just prior to dinner, he'll sign "eat" indicating that he's ready. If he wants more, or he doesn't see anything he likes, he'll sign "more." When it's time to get his pajamas on, he'll sign "bath," and keep doing it until he either gets in the bath or we take him back downstairs (which results in tantrums and no signs). I thought he did "ball" when I asked him about the little rubber ball he has in the bathtub, but I'm not sure.

It's pretty exciting, because he's communicating in a way that isn't just crying because he needs or wants something. Even the crying is starting to differentiate between needs and wants. It's a good first step. If there's anything frustrating about this stage in his life, it's that he can engage in testing boundaries and expressing feelings, but he's not at a point where you can reason with him. He's getting close though, and Diana attended a "love and logic" seminar that goes over some of the techniques around that.

I wish I could commit more time to really learning sign language. I really only know one deaf person in real life (i.e., not on the Internet), but I don't see him very often since changing jobs at work. It just seems like a useful skill, unlike learning French.

Really missing that Midwest summer

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 23, 2011, 11:03 PM | comments: 0

I could pretty easily do another bitch post about the weather, as we continue to trend ten-below-normal, and I did mention it before concluding this sentence, but I really want to talk about the other things that are missing from the Northwest. Like 90-degree days in June. Shit. Did it again.

Seriously though, there are also no Hot BBQ boneless wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, consumed with a tall beer on the patio in the heat and humidity. Haven't noticed an outdoor go-kart track either. There are very, very few outdoor mini-golf courses, and by few I mean one not part of a golf club.  The only amusement park choice is Wild Waves, which I think I might drag the family to at some point this summer (primarily for coaster credit whoring). No thunderstorms either.

The things that the area is missing don't make it suck completely. I don't want to give the impression that I don't like it here. It's just that there are a great many trade-offs, and that can be hard at times after 36 summers in Northeast Ohio. You don't see mountains from your house in Cleveland, and you also won't have a robust job market. I've also come to realize that the average subdivision in that area is ugly and devoid of character.

Being a cup-half-full kind of guy, most of the time anyway, I suppose I need to look for the positives and engage in those. It would just be so much easier if it would warm up a bit!

The exhausted Puzzoni's

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 22, 2011, 10:04 PM | comments: 0

Diana had a tough day with Simon today. I've had similar parts of days with him, so I can only imagine what it's like to have an entire day go that way. I find myself getting to the end of the day feeling fried as well, after a day of high engagement at work, then trying to pick up the pieces that Simon is in. Some days, it's just not that much fun being a parent.

With a little rest, and the perspective that comes with it, there's little doubt that we'll both see that days like this are a reasonable trade for all of the joy and love that typically comes with our little guy. Still, when we were sitting down and talking about our day, it's clear that we both feel incredibly beat down lately. Work, Simon's periodic high maintenance, worries about my fucking house and this awful weather has taken its toll.

Aside from feeling exhausted, there are other symptoms as well. Diana hasn't really done any knitting lately. I haven't written the short screenplay in my head, and my programming projects, which I really enjoy now that I'm not actively coding at work, haven't been touched in weeks.

This phenomenon will certainly pass. It just sucks because it's not "us." We tend to be fairly happy and well-adjusted people. I think we'd be a lot closer to normal if it weren't going to be in the 50's again the next two days. It doesn't matter how many times people tell me this isn't typical, it still blows.

TWiT, six years later

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 9:30 PM | comments: 0

There was a cool story on GigaOM about the development and expansion of TWiT, the tech TV and podcast network built on the This Week in Tech podcast. Hard to believe that they're doing $3 million in revenue now. I've sometimes felt that Leo and some of his guests are too much in the bubble of the industry, but they still make content that interests me. I just haven't been consuming it much now that my commute is relatively short.

I have to say, I'm a little jealous. He's essentially reinvented the old TechTV network, on a fraction of the budget. As far as businesses that I would want to own, that would definitely be high on my list. It doesn't have the high margins of a straight Internet company, because that much video stuff is very capital intensive, but how could you not enjoy it?

It's a little strange that Leo is pushing the live angle. I always thought the value of what he did was in the download, to listen whenever. I mean, I don't even watch the nightly news live anymore. Should be interesting to see how that goes.

Final Cut Pro X

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 8:50 PM | comments: 0

Apple released Final Cut Pro X today, and I have to say that watching the videos they posted, I'm impressed. They've parted ways with about 15 years worth of non-linear editing user interface paradigms. I think it's for the better, but I'm also sure that long-time Avid and older FCP editors are going to freak out. Could be a win for Adobe, as people have become pretty excited about Premier in recent years.

As for me, I'm sure I'll buy it eventually. We'll see how long I can hold out. $300 is ridiculously cheap for what it does. That price wouldn't even cover some of the plugins I desire. (Glad I haven't bought said plugins!) I am going to wait and see what some of the pros think, even though it won't likely deter me.

Wasted time

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 8:09 PM | comments: 0

I feel like I've become overly sensitive to wasted time. I mean, "wasted time" in the context of doing nothing other than hanging out with your friends or your family, or doing anything leisure related, is fine. That's not really wasting time. I'm talking about wasting time at work, or with more mundane stuff that you just have to get out of the way.

I guess you could spin this in a more positive way, and say that I'm actually sensitive to efficiency. There are instances of inefficiency that I encounter all of the time, and it's kind of annoying. Sometimes it's silly small stuff, like the way they staff checkouts at the grocery store. Other times, it's just the way you have to go about paying a bill online. Anything that creates a barrier to spending more time doing the leisure stuff, "good time wasting," kinda gets on my nerves.

Naturally, I encounter this kind of thing at work, too. I've recently come to know people who double and triple book meetings, and go to one if they feel like it. Really? If a meeting isn't important enough to go to, why would you accept the invitation? That's asinine. It's also disrespectful to the people asking you for your time. A lot of people involved with building software simply don't question whether or not the thing they're doing, right now, is time wasted. It's remarkable how many things one might do in a day that will never manifest value.

Your time on the planet is finite. So is everyone else's. Don't get in the way by being a part of inefficient processes. It'll take that much longer to get to stuff that really matters. Like basket weaving, dancing, volleyball, and playing with your kids.

Internet cults of personality

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 20, 2011, 9:27 PM | comments: 13

Walt and I had some dude go off on us about how we suck and our Web site sucks and what not. This included the usual bits about how our sites will die off and no one cares. This has in fact been something to expect after 12 years (that's like 80 in Internet time), and I'm sure it's not the last time.

But there are things that I still don't understand. I don't get why people stick around with something they clearly hate. When I don't like something, I avoid it. This is the reason, for example, that I don't stand out in the rain when it's cold. But for whatever reason, if it's an Internet community, that logic goes away.

I also don't understand why people obsess over personalities they encounter on the Web. I have to admit, ten years ago, if someone called me out, I would respond emotionally. That's normal when someone tries to bad mouth something that you spend a lot of time on, I suppose, but it doesn't take long before you realize that any individual giving you grief in the context of thousands of daily visitors isn't really someone worth spending a lot of time on.

You try to set the expectation over time that the community polices itself, and you're just another person who participates. This works pretty well, and I think the number of people we've had to can over the years is pretty small. If you let grown ups be grown ups, the community takes care of itself. Some people still decide to challenge your rules, and you have to bounce them, but it's pretty rare. The bizarre thing is that some will take it personally, exhibiting an emotional investment far greater than your own. I remember running into a guy at an event that we bounced years before, and he was still pissed about it. I couldn't even tell you what he did, but he thought it was personal.

But it's that very phenomenon that runs rampant in countless online communities of countless interests. Some people are drawn to the "man behind the curtain" as if they're some kind of micro-celebrity. The online community is just the gateway to follow these people, and it's weird. As you might expect, it draws all kinds of drama and stupidity, and of course no shortage of pageviews either. There's some desire to challenge authority, or worship it, in an effort to assert that you're part of the crowd, or proudly not a part of it. I'm no stranger to these desires... in high school. I think a lot of people never outgrow that.

I certainly try to cultivate an image and a "brand," if you will, but mostly in the context of my personal life experiences for my friends, and my professional experiences for, uh, my profession. I have no interest in doing so in the communities I participate in. I did that a bit a decade ago, and it was a waste of time. Whether it's roller coasters or photography or video gear communities, there's just no value in it.

Hopefully we've had our one "you're all bastards!" guy for the year. We've got stuff to do!

Fathers Day II

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 19, 2011, 11:15 PM | comments: 0

Just a quick recap of the day... I have a hard time with greeting card holidays, and this one in particular feels like it's given too much weight, at least for me. Every day is a joy to be a father, in my view. It's also a serious responsibility and obligation. You know how much I write about Simon, about how much I love him and seeing him grow.

In any case, Simon and mommy bought me a spring-mounted mic stand for my desk. I've wanted the Heil PL-2T for more than a year, because it came with a C-clamp mount, and I love the way the cable routes though the frame. It does not disappoint. Super quiet, very sturdy, and I like the springs being internal. I still need to buy a decent mic one of these days, and a matching shock mount. But finally, after almost six years of podcasting, I finally can type freely without having to hold the mic!

The weather was crappy, so we didn't get really quality outside time, though we did get a bit on Friday after work. Had a nice little dinner out on the patio at Finaghty's. The food is kinda average, but the atmosphere is very nice. I suspect we'll spend a lot of summer evenings there since it's only a block away. And they have Strongbow, which for some reason I've been really into lately. Yeah, it's "girl beer," but that one is a nice dry cider.

I also busted out the old K'nex Rippin Rocket. I think it's only the second time I've built it, but the damn thing has been around me for years and traveled to three homes now. I thought Simon might like it, and he does seem to enjoy watching it. I wanted to just dream up something with the CoasterDynamix sets I have, but this was simple and easy. It is a little weird to go back to it after building CD models, because it's so not precise and so much energy is lost in all of the wiggling and sloppy track.

Overall, it was a nice relaxing weekend, though way too short. I didn't work on any projects, and I let myself be OK with that. Best of all, I had lots of quality time with my little man and my little wife. I just wish there was more time for that!

We want a new living room

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 19, 2011, 10:34 PM | comments: 0

It seems strange to say, but we want a new living room. We don't like what we have.

First there's the couch. When we moved, we sold the leather furniture I had in my living room. I loved that furniture. Even with the various cat scratches, I loved it for its blackness, simple design and super cozy feel. However, after ten years or so, it didn't make sense to take it with us, especially since it was unlikely that we'd have room for it. Reluctantly, I sold it. Although I am amazed we got $350 for it.

That meant we brought the L-shaped microfiber-with-leather-armrest-and-body couch that I had in my office/sun/reading room. I loved how it looked, and it was a fairly outstanding piece to crash and lounge on. I have many great memories of that couch, in that room. Unfortunately, as a primary living room couch, it has really kinda sucked. Given its shape, there's only one position it can exist, if you're lucky. Also, because of its shape, you can't put an end table in the corner. We've ditched our coffee table because the living room is pretty much Simon's playroom. It's just not a piece that's friendly to rented (that is, smaller) spaces.

So we're going to investigate a new couch, and perhaps a chair-and-a-half. A love seat would be too big, a one-person chair too small. We have a little person, after all. Oddly enough, this would be the only furniture we have that is truly "us" furniture. Everything else we have, except the matching second nightstand I bought when it got serious, is stuff one of us had prior to meeting.

There's another issue in the living room: the TV. I bought it in the start of 2006 when I finally scored an Xbox because I needed something to play Zuma in HD on. It's a 37" Westinghouse LCD with no tuner, and no HDMI (it was less common then), but a bunch of other connections. It was expensive at the time, I wanna say just a bit under two grand. Anyway, the power supply to the display and speakers is cutting out, requiring you to cycle the power. Once it's warmed up, it seems fine, but it sometimes does it two or three times.

I think this means it will need to be replaced as well, soon. I looked around a little at TV's today at Costco, and can't believe how huge and cheap they are. LCD panel making is really efficient these days. That doesn't actually surprise me, because I haven't had a dead pixel in a display in any of the last eight computer screens I've had at work or home (not to mention the iPad, two iPhones and a Windows Phone). This is not something we need at all, more of a want.

A part of me thinks, wait until bonuses come out (end of August), but that's a long time. Diana in particular lives and works in the living room, every day. I want her to be comfortable. I suspect some furniture shopping is in order.

Debinkification update

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 18, 2011, 10:27 PM | comments: 0

Last month, I mentioned how we had to get Simon off of pacifiers at night. The reason wasn't that he was too old or any typical reason like that, it was that he was chewing through them. I figured he'd just stop after awhile, as he did for daytime on his own. But choking hazards are not an option, so unfortunately we had to bail on them. The reserves we bought last month ended up lasting a long time, because he stopped chewing through them. Then, all of a sudden last week, he gnashed through several.

Once they were done, they were done. His first chances to sleep without them were his naps, and it did not go well. By "night night" time, he was exhausted out of his mind. He protested for a bit, and needed some reassuring tummy rubs, but he eventually slept, and did so well into the morning. We were both kind of surprised.

That day, he was digging through one of his bathroom drawers, and pulled out his old plastic keys and a teether he was fond of when he was much smaller. Diana decided to put the teether, which is virtually indestructible, in the crib with him for his nap. Amazingly enough, he gives it a little chew, and gets into his relaxation zone. He still protests a bit when we put him down, but it's very short lived.

I think it might be possible that we've dodged a bullet here. It sucks that he's not happy when he goes down, but I think he will come around. We've also stopped feeding him at any point overnight. I think we got into some bad habits with him when he was sick, in terms of feeding and/or attention, and I think his reliance on pacifiers for comfort may have even made it worse. There is still a lot of change in his near future, as I'm sure he'll go down to one nap.

It's a funny push and pull scene for this age. His walking has become so solid already, without the "Thriller dance" arms, and he's always testing boundaries. At the same time, he loves to be with us, and has started to enjoy wrestling with us a bit. I love when he wants to be tickled, because his laugh is the best.

The challenges never seem to really end, but at the same time, I think we're both a lot more confident than we used to be. The hardest thing to me isn't even Simon, but making sure that Diana and I maintain regular check-ins and rich contact, and put away everything else that "must" be done. It gets a little easier though, with every obstacle we overcome.

When there are no more life goals

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 16, 2011, 10:12 PM | comments: 2

I was talking with a 20-something friend today about life, and the general direction it just kind of leads us for those first two decades or so. You know the drill... do well in high school so you can go to college, do well in college so you can get a good job, get a good job so you can... what?

For some, the next goal is get married, maybe buy a house, and make babies, but that's certainly not for everyone. But if you are one of those goal-driven people, what happens when you do get to your mid-20's and there really isn't a next goal? Not having a good reason to get up in the morning is not a good way to start your day.

I can kind of relate to my friend's issue. Imagine much of your energy for many years being spent on executing that plan. For better or worse, it gives you focus and purpose. It's a plan that is pervasive in American culture, particularly among white, suburban middle-class folks. We don't question it, we just do it.

My ability to relate comes largely from doing something similar, if somewhat half-assed. I did just enough in high school to get into college, and did about the same in college around things I was less interested in. Then I busted ass to "make it" in radio, before going to government work in TV. About the time I was 25, I realized that there was no obvious next step. The subsequent exploration led to a new career in software development, while dabbling in writing a book, coaching, consulting and sort of starting a company that makes a little money. I also dabbled in marriage, which didn't work out the first time. I bought a house, too, which is really not working out for me. I waited a long time to make a baby, but fortunately that part is working out well. It surely would not have in my mid-20's.

So yeah, I've been there, in that "quarter-life crisis" of sorts, and in some ways, I never really came out of it. While I finally feel like I have a decent handle on my personal life, I'm still not sure what I wanna be when I grow up. I'm honestly not sure what I'm working toward. Aside from raising a kid who has the skills to not be a douche bag, there isn't really a life goal that I have in mind.

What my friend has, and what I wish I had back then, was self-awareness. I think that not having any particular goal for life moving forward is fine, and self-awareness allows you to explore, experiment and hopefully refrain from doing really stupid things. By that I mean it's OK to stumble and fail a bit on your own terms, but there is a line somewhere that differentiates between a learning failure and a total fuck-up. Few skills serve you as well as self-awareness. Unfortunately, I don't think most people can be honest with themselves either.

That said, the problem that my friend and I have, despite being separated by more than ten years of life experience, is more existential. The problem is rooted in the idea that having some goal gives your life meaning and reason. Some people, maybe too many people, believe this so strongly that they chase goals that ultimately don't mean shit. You probably work with people like that, especially in environments where some arbitrary achievement is met with significant financial reward. They're likely the most miserable bastards you know. They're also people you probably don't want to hang out with.

In the absence of that financial goal, I think we're compelled to believe that perhaps exploration and experimentation is the goal. The accumulation of experience is in fact the reason for being. I think that's shaky ground as well. I know someone who is a total experience whore, who tries everything because it's there, but seems unwilling to believe the experiences probably don't mean much more than the financial achievement of the other guy.

Sounds kind of bleak, doesn't it? Like there really is no meaning to life? Perhaps. What I would suggest is that the value you derive from life doesn't have to be grand gestures achieved by circling the globe or banking millions. The things that make me smile the most might not even be remembered by anyone. It might be the smile I got from a volleyball kid when a skill started to click for her, or some completely anonymous action taken by some charity I made a donation to. There's something to be said for the cumulative value of the smallest things you do every day.

That, my friends, is where life's meaning starts to come not from the big goals, but the journey. If I look back at the impact I've had on people and the part of the world I've influenced, I can honestly say that I've kicked ass. Going forward, I can expect more of the same. Even my younger friend can find that impact, and hopefully look forward with the confidence and knowledge there will be countless opportunities to do more. You don't have to cure cancer to give your life meaning.

Travel frustrations

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 15, 2011, 2:21 PM | comments: 0

We've been trying to map out the where and when of our travel plans for the year, and the process is not going well. It seems like there's always one obstacle or another that will make the trip difficult or suboptimal, when the point is to get out and enjoy ourselves.

The first problem is Cedar Point. Going a year without visiting seems nearly immoral. It comes down to either visiting the weekend of Coasting For Kids (late July), or BooBuzz (October). Obviously it would be nice to attend our event, but the weather is questionable, and hanging out the next day could be miserable if the crowds are hard to manage. On the other hand, visiting July means sweet heat (seriously, I want 90 and humid), plugging my favorite charity and seeing my favorite amusement park in the glory of summer. Unfortunately, the flying situation sucks. The fares are nuts, and it involves mostly red-eyes from Seattle. Anything that makes it harder to fly with Simon is a huge strike against. Not sure what to do.

I'll likely do the Holiday World event solo, which makes it less fun, but hopefully some of my dearest friends will be there. I might have to go to a conference for work earlier in that week, which makes things interesting. I really feel like I should go to IAAPA this year, because I'm feeling more and more disconnected from the people around the industry that I consider friends.

Then there are family trips. I'm still obsessed with going to Hawaii, I think in part to prove that I can. We've talked for years about visiting the San Francisco area. A driving trip to Idaho, for Silverwood, isn't out of the question, but for some reason I feel guilty about taking my family long distances to go to amusement parks. We're also fairly certain that there will be a trip for the holidays back east.

Some of the planning and wants are influenced by our experiences last year. We hated LA, but admittedly the few hours on the beach in Malibu were awesome. Our driving trip to Portland and down the coast wasn't bad, except for the rain, so spring isn't an ideal travel time. Our Cleveland/Sandusky/Toledo trip was nice in terms of getting to see people, but all of the running around made it less than fun. The Holiday World trip was actually awesome in terms of seeing our friends. Actually, I think our best trip was to Orlando (technically this year), because Simon was surprisingly good for it. It's getting harder now that he's so big.

What I don't want to do is end up in a period of time where we travel less because of Simon. I really want him to come along with us and be used to travel. With him being mobile now, that game has certainly changed. The thought of him on our laps for four hours is horrifying. If airfare wasn't so awful, I'd be totally OK with buying him a seat and putting his car seat on it (he does seem good in the car for an hour or two at a time), but not at $500 a trip.

I'm probably making it more of a problem than it is, and I'm not sure why. God knows we had no idea what the hell we were doing when Simon raked in about 17,000 airline miles before he was one (no joke... the kid was a veteran). It's not just wanting Simon to be comfortable, but I want us to be comfortable as well. A screaming and flailing kid in a confined space isn't something I want to experience.

TV season round up

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 14, 2011, 8:55 PM | comments: 0

I have to say, we watched a fair amount of TV this year. More than I expected, really. Probably not as much most Americans, but we keyed in on several shows. What really changed is how we watched them this year. We watched a lot of shows on Hulu, especially during the beta period on Xbox (perk!). We DVR'd a select few shows as well, but most of what we watched was on Hulu. If they carried some of the basic cable shows, we'd drop cable TV entirely.

It was a good year for the dramas we like. Fringe got more interesting, and more weird. The writing for House just keeps getting better and better, and has moved beyond the simple freak-of-the-week formula it suffered from in earlier seasons. Less Olivia Wilde, however, was a negative. Parenthood delivered on all kinds of levels this year, and I can't get over how great the cast is. We also watched Castle, more Diana than me. I like it, but I'm not sure if that's because I think the lead is pretty or it's a good show.

The only new drama we watched this season was Harry's Law, and while it's not bad, it's just another David E. Kelley show. It doesn't really bring anything new to the formula. They even have an iteration of "Denny Crane" from Boston Legal.

The usual band of comedies were back for another season. Family Guy continues to be funny, and The Cleveland Show really hit a great stride this year. Modern Family is even funnier, but we let go of The Middle. We got behind on 30 Rock, but it's worth watching just for the chance that Brian Williams will be in it. Parks and Recreation got much better, but we got so behind on it that we kind of let it go.

Two new comedies this season. Happy Endings is Friends meets Scrubs, and it's f'ing hilarious. The cast is outstanding. The women include Elisha Cuthbert (Kim/The Girl Next Door), Casey Wilson (formerly of SNL) and Eliza Coupe (the hates-everybody doctor on the Scrubs reboot). I don't know the dudes other than Damon Wayons, Jr., and only because he looks like his dad. Regardless, they're funny, the writing is funny, and I was relieved to find out it will be back next season.

We also watched Outsourced, a show based roughly on the movie of the same name. The basic plot is that a call center manager for an American novelty company gets sent to India to run a call center there, and hilarity ensues. The plot lines borrow heavily from the movie. The only actor you'd probably recognize is Diedrich Bader, who has been around since the Drew Carey Show, among other things. The rest of the cast is mostly Indian and/or British, and they were fantastic. The show could have been completely offensive, or a bad caricature of Indian culture, but if it was, I didn't notice it. I thought it was beautifully shot, especially the finale, which covered a wedding of one of the main characters. Sadly, like any other good show NBC puts out, it was cancelled. Bastards.

I guess when I really look at it, we really didn't watch that much after all. There were some casualties the year before, like the end of 24 and cancellation of Trauma. And that's probably OK, because we've got endless entertainment coming from a little redheaded kid who has only been walking for a few months.


Lego Pirates... aaaaargh! (Plus other Lego games)

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 13, 2011, 9:24 PM | comments: 0

Last night, Diana and I both finished out everything there is to do in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean on the Xbox. We hit 100% and did all of the achievements, for 1,000 gamer points. This is only the second game I've done that on, the first being Lego Harry Potter.

What can I say, I'm an achievement whore. We have all of the Lego video games now. They appeal to me because they have a ton of replay value, and they're generally fairly easy to make forward progress on. Even though I've owned most of the video game consoles made in the last 15 years or so (except the PS3), I can't say that I'm a hardcore gamer. Video games are a fun distraction that I engage in short spurts. Other notable titles in the last year are Halo Reach and Portal 2. I've got a few games that I either haven't finished or haven't even booted up (Alan Wake, Fallout 3, Forza, Dance Central).

But anyway, Pirates was one of the most solid games in the series. It was certainly one of the most beautiful that Travelers Tales (the dev shop) has put out. The game covers all four movies, which didn't matter all that much since I couldn't get through the third, and have little desire to see the newest one. It's still funny how they modeled the Jack characters after Johnny Depp's drunken pirate thing. It was one of the cleaner, well tested games, too, though we did encounter one or two instances where a character got stuck, requiring a level restart.

As I mentioned, I did everything on Lego Harry Potter as well, and I think that really is the crown jewel of the series. Its overall art direction matches Pirates, and there's just so much to do. That it works well with the stories we know is also a plus. We did need to look up a few things, but there are a lot of levels, some of them huge, and we really enjoyed ourselves.

The original Lego Indiana Jones was also very solid. I'd say that Pirates ties it for second place. Lego Batman was pretty good in terms of game play, though the levels were kind of short, and honestly there is no familiar story to speak of.

And that takes us to Star Wars. The Complete Saga, originally distributed as "I" and "II," covers all six movies. As the first Lego games, some of the levels are a little rough around the edges, with some less than intuitive level designs here and there. They're not crappy, but some lack the conventions that worked well in the subsequent Lego games. These game conventions are what make the games accessible for relative non-gamers like Diana, in that they establish familiar patterns, and if something doesn't fit that pattern, you don't waste time trying to do it. For example, if you can jump to a place, using a female character (they jump higher), you expect a flower symbol indicating that, otherwise you're wasting time trying to jump to it.

Lego Indiana Jones 2 was somewhat of a disaster. The problem is that it had these giant hub levels, which had all kinds of stuff to do, while the individual levels for each movie (including the fourth one) were relatively short. We just didn't enjoy that one as much. It was frustrating because it wasn't even obvious where you would find the levels. We played through it, but it was not ideal.

Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the one I got just before Pirates, had promise, but they deviated too far from the original formula. Its overall art direction and design was completely brilliant. The standard platform levels are beautiful, and jumping around as Yoda is good fun. However, they didn't make many of those levels, opting instead to create a real-time strategy template that was used for countless levels. The controls for it suck, and some of them are too hard. I kind of let go and figured that 100% just wasn't going to happen. I was really disappointed.

The next Lego game that I'm aware of will be the rest of the Harry Potter series, in November (the first game was the first four years). Beyond that, I'm not sure what they've got planned. They've gotta be a license to print money, because the appeal seems fairly broad.

Good times. These games combine what I liked about early platform games with the adventure style of the old Sierra Online titles from the 80's.

Assumptions are the root of all evil

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 13, 2011, 5:27 PM | comments: 0

Everyone knows the barely clever phrase that, "If you assume you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me.'" Assumptions are particularly toxic in relationships, and costly in finances. They also suck for software development.

There's a recurring theme in all of the software projects I've seen over the last decade or so, where things took too long or outright failed. In every case, too many assumptions were made. The gut instinct of many people involved with building software is that you fix this problem by trying to spec-out and document every last little detail. Really, that makes the problem worse.

I'll give you two examples. First there's the classic super specification situation, where project managers, architects and sometimes executives develop a huge document that describes everything the application will do. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea because it doesn't leave anything to chance for the actual implementation. The problem is that, aside from the ridiculous notion that this worthless stack of paper (or bits) builds consensus, too many assumptions are made about what users actually want to do.

You can never truly know if what you're producing meets the needs of users until you get it in front of them. That's just the way it is. In fact, you can't forget that those needs may evolve too. These massive spec docs, which are intended to be a contract for what is supposed to happen (and don't ever buy that "living document" bullshit... no one wants to maintain it), are only a snapshot of what you assume meets the needs of the user today, and doesn't not account for the future or actual interaction.

Another example is with regard to scenario-driven engineering. Conceptually this means that you figure out what a user needs and expects, and build a rich "picture" or narrative of the user and how they do stuff. That profile drives your decisions. I generally like some parts of this approach, but the problem is that engineering folk too frequently take this to the same level as the super spec. When you do that, again, it makes too many assumptions, sometimes about the user you think you want to serve in the first place, instead of the user best served. (Some people also consider this methodology as having distinct planning and design "phases," which is also wrong, but that's a post for a different day.)

The bottom line is that entirely too much time is spent in software engineering acting on assumptions, and that's wasteful. I'm a big fan of building things and getting them in front of people. If you don't get it right, or I should say, since you won't get it right, you can iterate on the idea and still be closer to usable product. Think about that for a minute. Instead of spending all kinds of time making plans (best guesses) based on assumptions, you can build something on those assumptions and quickly find out what you've got wrong, learn from it, and be closer to the good stuff.

This approach works. I've seen it up close. I've participated in it. It does scale. In a world that is getting away from boxed product and into living, breathing services, the opportunity to deliver value early and often has never been greater. There's no value in massive amounts of documentation and narrative based on too many assumptions. Skip that step, build something, deliver it, iterate.

A good day of daddy-son time

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 11, 2011, 11:14 PM | comments: 0

Simon has been somewhat of a mess lately, mostly around sleep and eating issues, though we've got solid information from Dr. Cargo Pants about those issues now. He's also starting to get into the tantrum phase when he doesn't get his way. Things really came to a head yesterday when he started thrashing around in Diana's lap and clocked his head hard into Diana's cheek bone. She's got serious bruising around her right eye right now.

Diana spent much of the morning at a parenting seminar that explored how to deal with behavioral issues, focusing in part about the level of emotional and logical development a child Simon's age has. The long and short of it is that being angry and trying to reason with him doesn't work, so you have to operate more at his level. That's probably not news to us or anyone else, but parents are emotional beings as well, and it's hard.

Through some miracle, Simon managed to sleep in a bit, until 7 or so. I got up with him, made him some breakfast, and we hung out all morning. It was kind of awesome to get some one-on-one time with him, something that is sorely lacking most of the time. It also helps that he was pretty even all day. His lunch consumption wasn't strong, but we had some good bonding times. I spent a lot of time just watching him. Watching him work things out never stops being fascinating to me.

Sometimes he does stuff that brings back memories I wasn't sure I even had. The simple act of him going from walking to a fast crawl reminds me so much of doing the same thing, remembering the feeling that while crawling was faster sometimes, it hurt my knees or gave me rug burn. It's more feeling memory than visual, but neat regardless.

The doctor suggested we have him screened for any developmental deficiencies, because there are a few things that he should likely be doing that puts him slightly behind. One is the number of words, though wouldn't you know it, he seemed to use "out" in the right context today when battling me at the patio door. He should also be climbing up on furniture, though I'm not sure he's tall enough. But even with that, today we noticed him trying to pull his leg up at the couch. Just the suggestions that he should do one thing or another leads us to helping him, and he seems to get it.

Sometimes I look at him, and he seems to big. Not that he isn't still this fragile little thing, but he's just less fragile than he once seemed. Before you know it, we'll be coloring, riding a bike and talking about politics soon.

I'm so thankful for days like today.

Random Friday blogging

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 10, 2011, 11:13 AM | comments: 0

Inspired in part by Phil Haack's random Friday blogging, I feel compelled to do the same.

First off, enjoy the hilarity that Comcast is actually posting comments on my blog. If they took customer service as seriously as they do social media, maybe I wouldn't have had to make those posts in the first place.

Facebook's RSS to notes importer seems perpetually broken, so the people who enjoy reading my blog via FB aren't seeing anything I write. Yes, they could use RSS, but for some reason, RSS remains something that a lot of people don't understand or aren't aware of. That's a bummer. The stats, combined with Feedburner, indicate that a few hundred people typically read my blog every day, which is surprising. While I don't write for an audience (yet keep the audience in mind, if that makes sense), I think it's my FB "friends" who I would most want to read it.

This week turned out to be a real bust for weather. I'm surprised at how much I rely on sun to really find my energy.

Simon had his 15-month check-up yesterday. The doctor agreed we need to de-bink-ify him because of the potential choking hazard. We also need to engage in some serious sleep training. He's been getting up at various points at night, and crying until we pick him up. At times that also results in feeding. At this point we have to let him cry it out, or if we do engage him, leave him in the crib with a few rubs. I guess I kind of saw this coming, as he's definitely made some backward steps. I can pinpoint the start though... it was when he was sick. If the kid is miserable and has no concept of whether or not he's going to live another day with a fever, of course you have to go to him. I think he keyed into that though, and continued to seek comfort from us when he was well.

I went out last night to a movie with a friend last night, then got some food whilst watching the NBA finals game. I really needed that. I need to do it more often. I see why Diana values her moms' nights out. Of course, I'd love to get out with Diana more as well, but going out with friends serves a different purpose. You talk about completely different things and share stories with different perspectives. Of course, I also got to see a movie, which is something I did weekly while self-employed prior to moving.

Speaking of self-employed, I had another one of those ideas recently for a Web app, to build something in a weekend. I haven't done it yet. I've prototyped it a little, but haven't yet built it out. This is still an important experiment for me, and I haven't yet followed through on it.

I'm feeling physically crappy lately. I go back and forth on eating less some days, and I at least get out walking now and then around campus, but I'm not making the concentrated effort to just be generally healthier. It's the source of some serious self-loathing lately.

We need to do some traveling. Not just the typical coaster shit either. I want to spend a few days in Hawaii or something. Or two nights in Vegas with Diana.

Work has been an interesting ride lately. I've been in the new role for less than two months now, so I'm still feeling things out. I am starting to feel a little bit of a groove now, and running some feature work. I look forward to a time when I feel comfortable with what I'm doing. It's getting there.

And that's Friday's random blog entry.

Comcast update

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 9, 2011, 9:47 AM | comments: 1

After bitching about how Comcast sucks on Twitter, they referred me to a "special" e-mail address and someone offered me a better deal. Of course, they said I'd lose "most" of my channels (nonsense) by downgrading, but the long and short of it is that my bill goes down $40 from where it was, for 12 months.

It doesn't change my key annoyance: If you can offer me a good deal, do it up front instead of making me pissy and annoyed, and requiring me to be a dick to people at the company to get that good deal. That's a shitty way to do business.

Comcast: You suck

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 7, 2011, 11:02 PM | comments: 0

I had to call Comcast today because, despite having a confirmation number for an online payment, the payment never processed, and they sent me a nastygram asking to be paid. I also wanted to downgrade our channel package, which was cheaper for six months because of some sign-up deal.

That's where shit got weird. Getting the smaller channel package would have increased my bill, because there was some other promotion going on as well. WTF? Annoyed, I told the agent that she had to give me some reason to keep buying TV at all. Honestly, aside from Sprout, Top Chef on Bravo (owned by Comcast) and a few cooking shows, we could probably go without. Finally, she set up our DVR to be free for six months. I still feel like we're paying too much.

This is the bullshit that cable companies do. They make you dick around and complain until you get a good deal, instead of just giving you their best deal up front. All of that crap they put forward about wanting you to have a good experience as a customer is nonsense. Talking with them is like trying to buy a used car while getting a fair price for your trade.

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out in the next year. Many of my friends don't get pay TV at all. What they do watch, they watch via Hulu.

Simon Spring 2011 Mix

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 5, 2011, 9:46 PM | comments: 0

Here are a number of Simon moments from mid-March to the start of June. Highlights include first crawl, first walk, fun with spoons, opening and closing doors, a little sign language, and my favorite, "the penguin." For the friends and family back east who don't get to see the little man growing up!

Please excuse the quality at times... this stuff was shot with three different cameras at different resolutions and frame rates.

Disconnection (plus unrealized travel)

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 5, 2011, 9:17 PM | comments: 0

I've been feeling incredibly disconnected lately, and it's really bringing me down. For as much as I have no desire to live in Northeast Ohio, I'm having a hard time with not seeing the people and places there. Thank you, Facebook, for reminding me that I live 2,000+ miles away from most of the people and things I care about.

The other thing that makes it hard is the job change. Sure, I work with a stellar bunch of people now, but the people I used to work with basically are my entire social circle here, and I see them at best for an hour or two a week. I love my wife and child dearly, and would do anything to spend more time with them, but you still need to have other adult relationships.

I'm not sure what I do about it. A lot of these feelings are rooted in the many summer rituals that I'm not a part of. In December, I certainly don't envy anyone living in the Midwest.

Related to the feeling of being disconnected is not traveling to various places. This weekend was hard, as many of my friends were at Cedar Point or Holiday World, but I'll likely visit those places in the fall. The bigger problem is that I always say I want to travel here or there, and I never actually do. That's completely ridiculous, because I've certainly got the means and the vacation time. I've come to realize that this is something I've been doing my entire life. After the first time I went to Hawaii, I kept saying how I couldn't wait to go back, and never did (not until I got married again). I need to stop talking about it and do it.

Complaining about weather

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 4, 2011, 10:15 PM | comments: 0

I try not to complain too much about weather. My last winter in Cleveland, I was pretty much certain that I was done with that season. At the time, I didn't know I would actually not, in fact, be living through another Cleveland winter. So with two Seattle winters down, I can honestly say they're not that bad (though people here act like it's the end of the world).

That said, this spring was tough. Temperatures remained about ten below normal for about two months, meaning we saw way too many 40's and 50's. Heck, we've got a 57 degree day forecast for this Tuesday. The rain doesn't bother me, and it's still pretty rare to have more than a day at a time without some tiny bit of sun. In fact, the weather is so different between Redmond and Snoqualmie, that it was never terrible. But the cold bothered me a great deal. It brought me down.

I learned last summer how much I really like hot days. We had a couple hit 90 last summer, and it was awesome. One of my favorite things about hot weather is when you go into a place that's air conditioned, and you're wearing shorts and it's kind of cold, but in a good way. Then you go back outside, into the sun, and it's a blast of hotness. Go to any theme park in July in Orlando and you experience that over and over. I love that.

The weather in Seattle is pretty manageable, but I have to admit that if I could have something more Florida-like, I'd be all about it. I can see myself retiring there. Now if I could just figure out how to retire at 40, that would be awesome!

Hose your customers by way of inconvenience

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 2, 2011, 8:46 PM | comments: 0

Did you ever notice that there are some things that you end up paying just because it's too inconvenient to resolve the issue? I've got two of those things right now.

Let's start with Comcast. They signed me up for some deal that included certain free channels the first six months, and now that the deal has expired, the total cost went up $20. The truth is, if you could get Bravo, Food Network and Sprout shows online somewhere (legally and conveniently, as with Hulu), I'd drop the TV service entirely. It's not worth it. But I don't do anything about it because it means getting on the phone and having to deal with some schmuck who is going to fight me on it. That sucks.

Then there's Chase. I have my consumer and business accounts with them, and for the most part, the bank is irrelevant. But my business account, which doesn't do anything different than the consumer account, has a monthly fee. Customer service hours suck, and I just can't find the time to call them. That's lame. I also tried to get them to set up a merchant account, because they have better rates, but they won't do anything unless it's over the phone.

Yeah, the problem has become that communicating by phone just isn't convenient. It's a funny cultural contradiction, because there seems to be a great desire to have everything occur in real time, yet everyone wants to time shift things to convenient times, which is not what the phone does.