Archive: July, 2011

The Internet complaint tool

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 31, 2011, 10:30 PM | comments: 1

I've hit a new blogging low this month. I just haven't been writing much. There's a good reason though. I just haven't had many things to say that are worth spewing on to the Internets.

If there's one thing about the Internet that I don't like, is that it has become somewhat of a dumping ground for negative bullshit. I find that I've dropped more "friends" on Facebook to get some of the constant bitching out of my feed than for any other reason.

Someone posted a link on CoasterBuzz to some epic bitching story about how awful it was to work at Cedar Point. Mind you, it was preceded by the note that he worked there for five years. I bring it up because it's a good example of the kind of thing I can't stand. While there is no question that bad things happen, and we all need a little backup from time to time, I can't deal with people who continue to revolve in a bad situation and are unwilling to do anything about it.

So are there things that I want to complain about? Yeah, to some degree, but I don't feel like they're things I need to unload online. Generally, life is pretty good, and I'm trying to adjust things that I'm not happy about. That's how it's done. You don't achieve anything by relentlessly complaining, online or otherwise.

Travel hell and sweet success: Our Cleveland trip

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 28, 2011, 11:53 PM | comments: 2

We made our way to Cleveland last week for the Cedar Point portion of the big Coasting For Kids fundraiser for Give Kids The World (donate here). This was easily one of the most ridiculous trips ever, but at the same time, very successful.

The fun began on Friday morning when we arrived at SEATAC, and United informed us that our plane was not there. So they did the most logical thing possible and put us on a different plane... to Charlotte. Keep in mind that we were supposed to go through Denver, which broke up the flight into two convenient 2.5 hour flights, with a two hour layover. In other words, it was ideal for traveling with a toddler. Five hours to Charlotte is not convenient. Giving us 35 minutes for a connecting flight while leaving 45 minutes late wasn't cool either. Fortunately, Charlotte did have a later flight to Cleveland, which also left 45 minutes late.

We rolled into CLE at about 1 a.m., about 14 hours after we left our place in Seattle. It was good that I decided to just crash at the airport Sheraton. Except it wasn't, because they put us in some ghetto "suite" that was missing one of its TV's, as evidenced by the holes in the wall where it would be, and was not in the greatest shape. The bed itself was clean, but the room was not in a good state.

During the course of our travel, Simon had maybe an hour total sleep time at best. He had a really good time in the Charlotte airport though. Unfortunately, he wouldn't sleep, making the situation stressful for all of us, until well after 2. You could calm him down, but as soon as you put him on his back in the pack-and-play, he'd stand up and scream as if he were in genuine pain. It was pretty awful. Eventually, I plopped a chair next to it, and kept a hand on him until he fell asleep. Surprisingly, the aggressive (and beautiful) thunderstorms did not wake him.

About seven hours later, we had to get up to fetch the car (rentals are off-site at CLE), and head out to Brunswick to meet some folks at the Winking Lizard. Simon wasn't in a great mood, but certainly better than the night before. He was super gross, so Diana got in the huge spa bath with him. He was so relaxed that he made a deuce in the tub. Yuck.

Arriving in Brunswick was surprisingly emotional. The general familiarity of it was part of it, I suppose, though it's odd that I don't associate it much with my parents house, or high school. Most of my association lies with my first house, where eight very intense years of my life took place.

But first, lunch at the Winking Lizard. That location had only been open for a year or so when we moved, but it quickly became a weekly stop for us. It's staggering that you just can't find good, inexpensive bar food like this in Seattle. We were joined by Diana's BFF Sherry and her family, as well as my brother-in-law and niece. Simon enjoyed some Skee-ball, mostly by walking up the lane. I wish more people would have made it there, but it was still a good time.

After lunch, we headed over to my house. The landscaping is really getting out of control. The dude who allegedly cleaned it up did not trim the bushes. Some asshole looking at the house managed to wedge one of the baskets in the freezer into the door so that it won't close or open.

Despite all of the angst over still owning it, and the somewhat shaggy appearance, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it. The familiarity and all of the memories, good and bad, make it feel like such a huge part of my life. Relationships started and ended there. I watched historic events on TV there. I had epic parties. I more or less ran an ISP out of one of the bedrooms for two years. I had a hot tub there.

After sorting through some clothes from Sherry's kids, we packed up and headed to Sandusky. By this time, it was pretty damn hot, and the morning super thunderstorm did little to cool things off. But honestly, I loved it. I never thought I'd miss 90 and humid, but I do.

Driving up to Cedar Point used to be so routine, but it really is a special event for us now. Going just beyond that traffic light and seeing that skyline for the first time in a year is a big deal. This year the big deal includes Windseeker. We pretty quickly checked into our room, lubed up Simon with sunscreen, and headed into the park.

Simon didn't seem as anxious to run around, which I suppose is because he hasn't experienced that kind of heat before. We did a quick walk around to the beach midway to see Windseeker, and up to Ocean Motion in its new home. We snagged a ride on Sir Rub-a-Dub's Tubs, since we could all ride it together. Simon was a real hit with the people in line for maXair, and there were many waves exchanged.

After that, we headed back to the room to clean up before meeting Bryan for dinner at Bay Harbor Inn. Tim stopped by briefly at the end of his work day to say hi. Not seeing the Walsh family on a regular basis has been one of the weirdest things about the move, because these are people I used to hang with regularly for a decade. Tim is my Sherry, so to speak. We miss our Cleveland people.

I hadn't been to Bay Harbor since I stopped eating red meat, because the last thing I had there was steak. That means 2003 or 2004 at the lastest. It was good to sit and talk with Bryan about changes at the park, and having kids (he has three now). Unfortunately, the last and final hell point in our trip cut that conversation short.

Simon was super cranky and not eating. I wrote it off to his travel fatigue, but decided to get him outside for a little while because he was being a little obnoxious. I picked him up, and as soon as I put him on my shoulder, he yacked. I'm talking epic spew, in three bursts. It was unreal. He wore almost none of it, but I wore much of it. Fortunately, Bryan brought my GKTW shirt for the next day, and I changed in to that. I was a little surprised at how little the vomit bothered me, but we've certainly had our share of spews at this point.

We got back to the room shortly thereafter, and when we sniffed the milk they gave us, now in his sippy cup, we realized it was spoiled. Yeah, they served that. I was super pissed. Simon seemed to be recovering quickly though, so given the way things had been going, I tried to let it go. I started into my dinner, and was completely unimpressed. It wasn't that it was bad, it just wasn't good. Totally bland.

The long travel day depleted snacks and diapers, and Simon's general lack of preference for restaurant food meant we needed supplies. We ran out to Target, and since it was across the street, ordered Chet & Matt's pizza. For a brief moment, things seemed more right with the world.

Not knowing what to expect the next day, we ran back into the park to see the Starlight Experience. We got on to the Frontier Trail and there were no lights. This was not surprising. The park was pretty desolate after the evening round of storms, but the lone person we ran into on the trail was none other than John, the GM of the park. The lightning storms of the day made life exceptionally difficult, knocking out Dragster and Millennium Force, as well as the Starlight Experience. We called it a day.

I preemptively placed the pack-and-play next to the bed, so I could help Simon get to sleep. For the most part, he got a good night of sleep, as we all did. I got up around 8, at which point our Magnum ride time had already started, but I just couldn't get up earlier. I headed into the park solo and took a few laps on Magnum, including a front seat ride. It was running exceptionally well for half-full trains and trims on. I forget the times the ride ops were calling out, but I do recall they were hauling-ass numbers.

I went back to the room to fetch my family, because I would be watching the GKTW table starting at 11. I made myself a pain in the ass, by calling Bryan to get us in the marina gate, so we wouldn't have to haul around the car between parking lots, and we arrived a little before 11 at Gemini.

I had a good time throughout the day chatting with the marketing interns, and we collected $125 in cash donations. We also had one of the families there that had stayed at GKTW, and they were awesome to be around. Their daughter has an extremely rare genetic disorder that affects all of her organs, and they consider themselves lucky to have whatever time with her they can have. It sounds terrible and sad, but that little girl is so full of life and she clearly brings a lot of love to her family.

The fundraising folks had a good time, and stayed well-hydrated with the constant flow of water supplied by the park. I got text messages from Kara and Carrie at Dorney, and it sounds like they had a good time there as well. Nationally, we raised about $62k as of that day, well above last year's total. For three years, that puts us over $120k. That is awesome.

Somewhat randomly, I ran into one of Stephanie's college roommates at the park, and it was pretty great to see her. My dad also stopped at the park, so Simon got to see all of his grandparents in the span of a week or so.

After the event, we ran out to meet the Walsh family, and ended up at BWW, until Simon started to meltdown. I hated that situation, but honestly, we asked a lot of Simon, and he mostly had been rolling with the punches. It was asinine on my part to again pack way too much running around into too small of a time frame.

That said, Simon seemed OK to move around a little while longer, so we went back to the park for about an hour, and got to ride Windseeker. What a great ride. It's not the world's most thrilling thing, but it offers some wonderful sensations, 300 feet above. We also scored a ride on Millennium Force. Sadly, this means we did not get on Maverick. We haven't been on there in two years. We did, however, walk through the Starlight Experience (which seemed to have less animated lights).

Tired but satisfied with the event, we tried to get into bed somewhat early, almost at 11. Simon seemed to be on Pacific time, so this wasn't too far from his normal time. Had to do the hand-in-the-crib trick, but he crashed pretty quickly.

My alarm went off at 3:10 a.m., Monday morning. As I loaded the car, there were still employees hanging out. We had less than four hours of sleep, and I feared the worst for the day.

But it never got worse. We left Cedar Point at 3:40, and by 5:15, I had dropped off the rental, checked bags and entered the TSA line. We had scarcely 30 minutes from the time we arrived at the gate to the time we boarded. Simon slept much of the way to Denver. In Denver, we had a three-hour layover, but it went pretty smoothly once we had some (ick) McDonald's breakfast. The food choices in that airport are awful. On the connecting flight, Simon slept most of the time. We got back to our car without incident. We were home by 2, exhausted.

So while Friday and Saturday felt like disasters, Sunday and Monday went pretty well. Things just seemed to turn around. And it should have... we were trying to rock a good cause!

Over $62k so far for GKTW!

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 25, 2011, 9:07 PM | comments: 0

This weekend was exhausting, and we totally need to stop doing these whirlwind trips (more on that in a future post), but the fundraiser across all of the parks for Give Kids The World has exceeded $62,000! I've gotta still deposit some cash donations, and it appears we've got some more trickling in still.

Stuff like this really puts things in perspective. I got to spend some time at the event with one of the wish families that have stayed at the GKTW Village, and there's no doubt in my mind that a bunch of roller coaster nerds couldn't pick a more appropriate charity. For all of the discussions about virtual queueing and air time, I love that the people in this community can do something great like this.

And by the way, you can still donate here. Every dollar helps!

One of the best parental moments yet

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 21, 2011, 9:53 PM | comments: 0

I've said before, while over my brother-in-law's house, how I really look forward to the time when Simon is pushed to the limit and falls asleep somewhere, then we have to carry his sleepy butt to the car, then up to bed. I've seen countless parents do it, but never thought of it in the context of how great that has to feel.

I was taking care of Simon today, and he has been a little needy. He's been constipated and I think not feeling well in general from time to time. A little before 11, he started to get super clingy, but I figured he'd be OK, have a snack or some lunch, then take his nap at 11:30. The landscapers were outside with their mowers and blowers, and you could see in his eyes that he was about ready to sleep.

I picked him up, and he just dropped his head on my shoulder. He made one of his dramatic yawns, and started go limp in my arms. After a minute, I wondered if he was going to lift his head up. After two minutes, I thought, I gotta sit, he's too heavy to hold like this. Besides, he'll get right up as soon as I sit. That's his thing... he has never wanted to just be picked up, he wants to be picked up with you standing.

But as I sat down on the couch, he barely even flinched. I couldn't see his face, but I could hear the steady, relaxed breathing. He actually fell asleep in my arms.

We sat there for about fifteen minutes, and even though I was not comfortable, it was as if the outside world, and all of its issues, did not exist. The fatigue was setting in though, so I got him upstairs to bed. He gave a little whimper, but slept for an hour and a half after that.

These kind of moments are incredibly infrequent, and simply won't exist when he gets older. He would fall asleep in my arms after late feedings when he was tiny, and also when he was sick, but it's rare. I remember one time, in his first week or two, he barfed all over me, so we stripped him to his diaper, tossed my shirt, and took a wonderful nap in the recliner. You can't bond with your child in a more basic way.

I'm grateful to get this time with him. I don't want to be the guy who he sees for two hours in the evening. It's hard to understand how this little person can bring so much love into your life. I look forward to having many adventures with him and Diana.

People are the most important asset (and most easily disposed of)

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 19, 2011, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

I was catching up with a friend today, and the subject of her job satisfaction came up. She was telling me about the turnover in the company, rooted largely in the fact that the people there were treated like crap. Reminds me a lot of the last company I worked in, where no one had been there more than six months, other than the owners, and no one I worked with is still there.

I've seen a lot of businesses fail miserably, or fall short of their potential, and not looking after their people seems to be a recurring theme. The size and scope of the business doesn't seem to matter. It happens at all levels. I'm not talking about paying people a ton of money, I'm just talking about the fundamental act of treating them like human beings.

Very few businesses consist of one person. But I don't think many businesses see their people as an important asset to their success, or that they, to some degree, are accountable for their well-being. I'm not suggesting that people are entitled to a free ride, or that they are free of any accountability. But the decisions you make running a business have massive effects on a great many people.

When I've played out entrepreneurial endeavors in my head, the place I always get stuck is hiring people. I know you need people to grow and accomplish more of, whatever you do, but if you make poor decisions, and have to let the people go, you put them and their families at risk. I think that's more frightening than getting laid-off yourself.

The funny thing is, when you really go to bat for your people, they'll do the same for you, in my experience. Sure, some will take advantage of it, but hopefully you don't hire those people in the first place.

I hope my friend manages to cut through the crap, and if not, I hope she can find a place with less crap. I know they exist. I've worked for them, even if it was only two or three levels up. Life is too short to be treated like crap for a dollar.

Cedar Point excitement

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 19, 2011, 7:59 PM | comments: 2

I think it was just last week that I was talking about how it's harder to find that giddy feeling you get all of the time when you're a kid. Well, I've got it right now, because we're going to Cedar Point this weekend. The thing I took for granted for most of my adult life is now something I only really get to do once a year, and it's probably one of the hardest things about living out west.

Sunday is the nationwide Coasting For Kids fundraiser, to raise money for Give Kids The World (please throw a few bucks at them here). We'll get two hours of marathon Magnum riding, then one side of Gemini for most of the day. I'm not the nerd I was ten years ago, but I fully intend to get at least a dozen laps on Magnum, if Simon will allow me.

It's also a chance to catch up and talk with a lot of people. There are so many people there that have been a part of my summer for a long time. I really miss that.

Weather is a little questionable, but as long as it's hot, I don't even care. I'm so stoked.

Night time reassurance

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 17, 2011, 7:20 PM | comments: 0

Simon is going through a difficult phase at night lately. He wakes up several times during the night, especially in the first few hours after he goes to bed, and screams at the top of his lungs until someone comes to see him. I mean, he really belts it out with as much drama as he can muster.

As the doctors and baby books will tell you, the right thing to do is ignore him, and let him work it out. If you set the precedent that you'll show up, he'll just keep doing it. That's hard to work with, because it doesn't feel natural to ignore him, especially for the mom. I try to take the approach where if he goes at it for 15 minutes, I'll go up, lay him back down, tell him goodnight, and leave quickly. What's frustrating is that he's getting up with less drama a few times after midnight, though he mostly seems to fall back asleep on his own.

I feel like he's taken a step back. We got through his debinkification relatively easily, though I wonder if that wasn't still a device he needed for sleep. As I've said before, he stopped using it during the day months before, but he seemed to need it for sleep, and I had no objection to that. We also wonder if his recent bout of constipation has caused some of his issues.

We're definitely entering a tantrum phase for Simon. He gets angry and upset when he can't do something the first time, and he also gets ugly when we stop him from doing something he shouldn't be doing. He's just not very patient sometimes. He's far from unmanageable, but you hate to see him acting that way when he's mostly happy and smiling.

Extreme weather frustration

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 17, 2011, 10:27 AM | comments: 0

We're getting completely annoyed with the weather. It has basically sucked the entire year so far. Seattle gets a bad rap for its weather ordinarily. Winters lack snow, but get a lot of rain, while summer (normally) gets almost no rain and it rarely gets super hot. So compared to the Midwest, normally, it would be a trade up.

Everyone who has been here for a number of years insists that this isn't normal, but that doesn't make it better. We had no spring. It was consistently 10 to 15 degrees below normal the entire season. Now that it's summer, we continue to fall short of normals, and seem to be getting a ton of rain (at least, closer to the Cascades). While most of the country is experiencing 100 degrees and a drought, it's 61 today. The high this Wednesday and Thursday is supposed to be 59 with rain.

We're so tired of it. I feel like we've been duped, even though I know from last summer that this isn't normal. It's supposed to be 90 and sunny in Cleveland when we're there next week, and honestly, I can' wait.

This area is absolutely beautiful, no doubt about it. But I'm not sure if I can stay here in the long term. Like, I don't think I could retire out here. I love the mountains, but lately, I can't see them anyway. Crossing my fingers that August improves.

The Harry Potter phenomenon

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 16, 2011, 11:24 PM | comments: 0

We went to see Harry Potter "7.2," as the kids like to call it. Fantastic ending to the series of films. But I'll get to that in a moment.

There are a great many things to like about the Harry Potter phenomenon, not the least of which is that it got a great many kids reading. I also love the story of JK Rowling, the single mom on welfare who becomes a billionaire author. Let's be honest, few people can turn their art into something that lucrative, whether intentional or not. I think more impressively, her work with the Potter books, and by extension the films, represents a fantastic work of fantasy that people have been able to lose themselves in, for more than a decade.

I often wonder what the long-term literary value of the series will be. Most of the criticism I've read about the books has been fairly positive, but the hardcore scholarly types certainly differ on opinion. I've only read the first two books (and the last few chapters of the last, you know, in case I got hit by a bus before the film came out), but I found them to be well drawn in the way they describe Harry's world, and also stylistically accessible. She doesn't try to be clever in her prose. I think that's why the books are so successful, with kids and adults, because while she employs many themes, she doesn't wrap them in metaphor and misdirection the way many "classic" authors did. Ultimately, what I think will work for the series in the long term, is that she has crafted an enormous mythology that's just different enough from all previous fantasy, coupled with a fantastic coming of age story.

As for the film, it would actually be kind of neat to watch both parts of the final installment together, though four and a half hours is a long time to commit. Still, the second part wastes no time. There's just enough flashback to remind you that Voldemort scored the Elder Wand, and that Dobby just bought it. What I really enjoyed about the last book, or the films based on it, is that Rowling really didn't invent a lot of new things for it. So much of what goes on is based on existing mythology established in the previous books, so it feels familiar, like you've been around this world before. The loose ends and the twists are all handled well, in a way consistent with the universe you know. It doesn't feel disjointed in any way.

I have to give a ton of credit to the studio for keeping this enormous cast together across seven (or eight) movies. I think other than the original Dumbledore dying, they hung on to everyone. Kind of surprised they held on to Maggie Smith (who IMDB says is only 70-something, but I thought she was older). Perhaps the greatest risk was that of the kids. There was no telling if they would be able to grow up and act. It's hard to say if most of them will even pursue careers going forward. I think the principals will probably continue to work. I hope the girl who played Luna keeps at it, because I loved her character.

It's kind of sad that it's over. I'm sure there will be a Blu-Ray boxed set before too long, and along with the Star Wars boxed set, will sell a bazillion Blu-Ray players for holdouts like me (I chose poorly and bought an HD-DVD player). There have only been a few truly epic series of films in my lifetime... Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. There have been other series, like Indiana Jones, but those were one-off stories with shared characters. With all of the disposable crap media generated in the last ten years, Harry Potter was definitely something that stood out.

Speaking of HD-DVD, I might have to unbury those first few movies I bought on that format.

Dogs for cat people

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 15, 2011, 11:07 PM | comments: 1

Simon loves dogs. He is totally enamored with them, and the bigger the better. I, however, don't care that much for dogs, especially the big ones. But of course, after dating Cath for the better part of a year, I also became quite attached to a certain Boston Terrier, and now I'm giddy anytime I see one.

So we're not really dog people. We have four cats, and mine has been with me for 14 years. Diana even has a cat tattoo. What can I say, we're very much cat people. It's how we roll. This doesn't mean we'll never have any dogs, but I can assure you that it won't happen any time soon. I firmly believe that at least two of them need to croak first. Even then, I would prefer to wait until we have a bigger house. We're many years from that situation.

Diana worries about the farting and snorting and what not with Bostons, which is a valid concern. I always thought it was kind of charming. Any dog requires a certain amount of lifestyle adaptation, because they need to walk every day and such. Someday...

The flavors of work

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 14, 2011, 10:26 PM | comments: 0

I've seen two people leave for new jobs lately at work, headed to startups. Their reasons vary, but they deliberately were looking for new businesses in their early stages. Startups are a very different animal than a giant corporation.

It got me to thinking about the variety of company flavors that you can work in. They all have their pros and cons, and I've never really thought about them. I've more or less gone from one job to the next (often not by choice) without much regard to the kind of the company I was going to. Microsoft is the one exception... I went to that one because, well, because it's Microsoft.

So let's start at that end. There is the giant, public company. The first one I worked at, Penton Media, wasn't that big, but it did trade on the NYSE. And of course, Microsoft is quite public, and quite large. They have/had a lot in common though. The pressure of shareholders can sometimes be detrimental to making the right decisions, and the older the company, the harder it is for it to change. On the other hand, it's often amazing how well endowed they are. If they do want to try something new, there's a lot of infrastructure to support it, and all of the normal overhead (HR, accounting, etc.) is already in place.

Next step down, the medium to large company that isn't public. Sometimes they have investors, sometimes not. It doesn't seem like there are many of these in technology circles. I've worked for a few in contractor scenarios. They remind me a lot of big companies, only without the infrastructure. They tend to serve a niche, and are often risk averse. In my experience, they're the least interesting places to work, because of the dull, non risky nature. I put small, established businesses in this category as well.

Startups are a very interesting beast. I personally define a startup as a company that has not yet reached a profitable state. These companies are agile, experimental and often filled with more enthusiasm as than you can handle. The downside is that they're also often immature and there's an expectation to abandon work-life balance. Of the two startups I've worked for, one fit that bill, but the other was actually pretty reasonable, and generally a solid company to work for. It was also surprisingly risk averse.

Then there is the non-profit. I've never worked for one, but have known quite a few who have. That has to be a strange position, because you certainly will be invested in the organization's cause to some degree, but you also don't want to starve just because you're working for an entity not existing to make money. I imagine that's quite fulfilling, but not always financially rewarding.

Government is another scenario, and it comes in many flavors. Local municipalities and school districts are the smallest units (counties too), and the politics can be a bitch, because, well, they're actual politics. Local government is most closely watched because of the small number of constituents, and elected officials are notoriously victims of small pond/big fish syndrome. Despite this, it can be pretty solid work, if you can deal with the politics. I haven't worked for state or the feds, and I imagine they have different kinds of problems.

Finally, there is your own company. I have one of those by accident. It's not the same as a company that has employees and risk. It's something I'd love to try some day, but I'm fairly terrified of being responsible for the livelihood of others.

What's great about this variety of company scenarios is that there's something different to learn at each of them. It's an interesting exercise to take inventory of what you've learned from each.

What happens to that feeling

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 13, 2011, 10:16 PM | comments: 2

Walt Disney World recently posted a photo on Facebook that really resonated with me. It's horribly overexposed, but the excitement and feeling of the two kids looking over the railing of the ferry at Magic Kingdom is obvious and smile-inducing. When I shared the reposted the photo to my wall, one of my friends simply said, "I love that feeling."

Just thinking about times I've had that feeling, I get excited. I didn't really get it at theme parks until adulthood, since I didn't really visit many parks until then. But I remember having it even going to museums I had been to several times before. Or even going to miniature golf.

Why is it so hard to hang on to that feeling in adulthood? I wouldn't say that it's gone, but it sure is less frequent. In Cleveland, I used to get that feeling when I'd throw big parties, usually once or twice a year. Ditto for some of our big meetups, like the our send-off at Dave & Busters in '09. I think since I've moved to Washington, I've only had it on return to the Orlando theme parks. Most of the time I've been so overwhelmed with work and the act of having a child that I'm almost too exhausted to have those giddy, child-like moments of excitement.

I don't want to confuse this lack of excitement with the implication that life is boring. Far from it. Honestly, every day I come home and Simon runs up to me, that's one of the greatest feelings ever. I even get that when I get him up on a weekend morning (once I'm over being annoyed about having to get up early). There are countless wonderful moments when Diana does the smallest things, like make some favorite dish or even look at me a certain way (I know, that sounds like a Cialis commercial).

What I'm talking about is that tingly feeling and anticipation that you get when you're about to do something cool. I need to find more of that.

Correct software development summed up in a few words

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 12, 2011, 9:40 PM | comments: 0

For better or worse, I think a lot about what makes software development successful, and closely aligned with what the end user wants. A technical lead on Google+ was asked about how the engineering process was different. He really summed it up nicely.

"We put extra emphasis on engineering speed/agility--we try to release code updates on a daily basis while still keeping quality/stability/latency as high as you'd expect from google. This helps us move fast and respond quickly to user feedback."

Notice he doesn't even have to preach it... it's just a matter of fact. The feedback part is the special sauce. The hardest lesson for me to learn in this occupation, and one not widely accepted until really the last few years, is that it's arrogant to believe you have all of the answers up front. All the more reason to keep those stakeholders in the loop early, and iterate quickly based on their feedback.


Family time management

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 11, 2011, 10:51 PM | comments: 0

I feel like I don't get enough time with Simon. His bed time is still a little on the early side, so I typically only get about two hours with him during the week. Not that I want to hold his hand and do everything with him, but I like just having the chance to be around him. I feel like I'm missing big chunks of his life.

Back in the day, when people were annoyingly telling me, in an unsolicited way, how everything changes when you have a kid, they weren't getting it right. The difference is subtle, but important. It's not strictly an issue of change for me. As has always been the case with relationships, having a child is additive in nature. I'm still everything I was before, but now I'm this too.

I guess you could argue that priorities do change, and Simon and Diana trump pretty much everything else, including work and me time. That's OK, most of the time. However, it also feels a little like coaching, where you're expected to achieve results for everyone from yourself, to the kids and to the parents. The life version of that is family, work, and hopefully, yourself. It just feels from time to time that no one is looking out for you. That's not really the case, mind you, it just feels that way.

My struggle lately is to make sure that I'm getting time with Simon, getting time with Diana, all while not forgetting to devote time to myself. It's a time management issue, and anyone who suggests otherwise is full of shit. It would be nice if Diana and I could swap jobs for a week at a time, but things obviously don't work that way.

I think things will get a little easier as Simon gets older. I mean, he'll have entirely new sets of problems with each stage of his childhood, but my evenings with him won't be dominated with feeding and bathing him, and he won't be in bed by 7.

Today we took a nice little walk around the house after dinner, which was a lot of fun. I love seeing how he takes in the world.

The cost of upgrading software

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 8, 2011, 10:13 PM | comments: 0

It might not be surprising to know that I'm generally OK with the fact that sometimes you have to pay for software, seeing as how I work for the biggest software company in the world. Since Web hosting has come down in price, in the middle of the last decade, software has been one of my biggest expenses. There are a few categories of big ticket items I don't have to buy frequently, or maybe not at all. One of them is the Adobe stuff.

For better or worse, Photoshop, Illustrator and the like are pretty standard tools, and I do believe they have value for what they cost. I've also used After Effects and Premier on occasion, as well as Flash. I've bought the "production premium" bundle three times in 12 years, so I don't run out and upgrade every time. I don't think that's worth it. The last one I bought was CS3, about four years ago.

CS5.5 is the current version, and it has a lot of new goodness in it, and with all of the negative press around Final Cut Pro X, they're making a sweet offer: The production premium bundle is half-price. So the upgrade from CS3 or full version comes out to $850, which is about a hundred less than the upgrade price. It's a tempting offer, because each new version means a more expensive upgrade price, until it gets to the point where you have to buy the full version.

Five or six years ago, I would've just done it, no questions asked. These days, it's harder to justify. I actually scrutinize most of the business purchases I make now, particularly after digging myself out of the hole last year. The problem I have is that I'm still kind of a sucker for good deals (like the matte box I got for my camera rig).

The half-off deal lasts I think for another two months, so I suppose I have time to think about it.

Can you help Give Kids The World?

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 8, 2011, 10:40 AM | comments: 0

I don't know if I mentioned this on my blog, but CoasterBuzz is partnering with Give Kids The World for the third year in a row to promote Coasting For Kids, a massive fundraiser taking place across the 11 Cedar Fair amusement parks.

Give Kids The World Village, in Orlando, Florida, is a 70-acre resort that offers children with life-threatening illness and their families an opportunity to enjoy a cost-free and worry-free experience, in as little as 24 hours if necessary. In a coordinated effort with world-class theme parks, thousands of volunteers and generous donations, Give Kids The World helps these families put illness in the background while kids get a chance to just be kids and enjoy the attractions of Central Florida.

I would really love to reach a grand in donations this year, but I'm only half way there. Can you help? My donation page is here:

Thank you... every dollar counts!

Hope, the moon, and the culture of fear

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 6, 2011, 11:03 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I really enjoy about American history is some of the speeches from the 60's. My favorite, after MLK's "I Have a Dream," is probably Kennedy's moon mission speeches. The call for the moon program first came in a speech to Congress, where he outlined a number of programs, goals and policies. He really laid it out, too. He said it would be crazy expensive, extremely difficult, and at great risk for failure. More than a year later, he made the speech at Rice University that is often quoted:

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

I love everything about that. Later in the speech, Kennedy goes on to say how expensive it is, and he's unapologetic about it. What he bought with the Apollo program was a great deal of hope, excitement and pride, that I don't think this country has seen since, save for a few weeks after 9/11.

Unfortunately, our manned space program is essentially over, with the end of the Space Shuttle program. The last launch, weather permitting, is Friday. I saw John Glenn on the news tonight, and as you might expect, he's very disappointed. He paints a solid picture about what the space program has done for the American psyche.

And let's frame that era, when Kennedy was president, with more context. It's easy to argue that at no time was humanity as intent on destroying itself. The Cuban Missile Crisis nearly brought us to a war that no one could win. I don't care what you think, that shit is a lot more scary than some crazy ass terrorist intent on crashing planes. Nuclear annihilation trumps terrorism.

Kennedy didn't instill fear in people and ask them to hang out in bomb shelters. He said, let's put a guy on the moon. Make it happen. It was inspiring. Sure, some people still thought he was full of shit (some apparently because he was Catholic), but instead of hollow rhetoric about who hates freedom and who we're going to chase down next, Kennedy challenged great minds to do something impossible. That's awesome.

I certainly wasn't alive then, and my older friends and family who were alive then are happy to tell you how chaotic things were, especially with regard to Vietnam. But what an amazing time in history, when we were able to begin fixing some of our biggest problems, like civil rights issues, and push for a better world through science and technology.

Today, our culture is wrapped in fear. Fear of terrorists, fear of economic meltdown, fear of climate change. In the long term, 9/11 changed us for the worse, and the terrorists got what they wanted. No one cares what we're capable of, just that we get bad guys on the other side of the world so we can continue to do... nothing. I'm fucking tired of it.

NASA hasn't had a budget much over 1% of the federal budget in decades. It seemed to me like a pretty good buy for the money. These days, no one questions massive spending on defense, both parties refuse to cut what's important to them, no one will concede that reducing national debt is only possible by raising taxes and cutting spending... I don't think NASA has a chance in the long run.

Will private industry step up? Hard to say. X Prize is certainly trying to stimulate it. I'm just disappointed. There was something psychologically valuable about the Shuttle program, and now it's gone.


Being 38

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 5, 2011, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

You know, after my 30th birthday, I kind of stopped paying attention to my age. I literally would have to count it up if someone asked. But now that I'm heading to 40, I'm paying attention more since that's the next milestone of sorts.

I mostly like being the age that I am. The only big downside is that my body doesn't seem to cooperate. My hair keeps migrating away from my head to other places, I get a strange rash on my foot sometimes, and eating well is harder than ever. Mechanical reliability aside, it's a pretty neat age to be.

It seems like people take you more seriously. Well, actually, it might be because of my life experience, and not my age. But there's certainly a correlation between age and experience, so they are kind of connected. (Does this mean stupid people my age don't have experiences, or they just don't learn anything?) There's actually a certain confidence that comes with experience, and I'm still trying to figure out what to do with it. I have to remind myself what I've seen and done in the last 15 years, and use it.

It's also a pretty good time to be a parent. I just can't imagine starting a family ten years ago. I was not well equipped for life at that age, let alone for another life. Again, experience comes into play. You've seen enough examples of over/under/crappy parenting to know what you don't want for your kid, that's for sure.

I find it funny how I used to think that some of the volleyball kids had hot moms, all around the age of 40, when I started coaching. Now, I'm married to one. Funny how that turned out. Knowing what I do now about relationships and how to do your best to function in one is a valuable skill acquired with age as well. If there's anything good to come out of dating "for the first time" in your 30's, it's that you hopefully have a better picture of what makes sense. This is an ongoing win for me that began in 2007, and what a difference it makes from the miserable struggles I had in my college years.

If I were to really pick any one particular thing that I like about being 38, it's that age truly is a state of mind, and I'm very aware of that. I still feel like I'm younger than I actually am, while some of the people I know around my age seem so ancient by comparison. It all comes down to how you feel. The experience and maturity that comes with age has surprisingly not turned me into a jaded, apathetic bastard (yet). I haven't been compelled to have any midlife crises yet, although I wouldn't rule out a tattoo or more piercings. I'm not even sure about what I want to be when I grow up, but at this point, I'm surprisingly comfortable with that.

So 40 is another year closer, and for now I'm not bothered by that. Diana already passed it, and look at how awesome she is. I mean, she birthed a child. I'll never have to do anything that hard, so I think I'm good. I just need to take better care of my container.

My kid, the fart machine

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 5, 2011, 8:02 PM | comments: 0

We made one of our frequent trips to Finaghty's, the Irish pub down the street, this evening. They have actual hard shell tacos on Tuesdays (I know, Irish place, whatever), which Diana says are hard to find. We're kind of getting to know people there, which is fun.

Simon likes it too. He's so comfortable there, that he pulled one of daddy's favorite moves. He leaned to the side, lifted his leg slightly, gave a big smile, and let a really long fart go.

Needless to say, we found it hilarious, which means he did too. It was a Puzzoni Family moment worth blogging about.

Mid-year business evaluation

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 4, 2011, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I've been paying attention to more at work since switching roles is how the business looks overall, in the areas that our product is related to. It's not really a job function, as I concentrate more on product design, but I definitely pay attention more. It isn't surprising then, that I'd pay attention more to my own business.

Overall, I see things going the way they did three years ago, with metrics slipping a bit. I'm seeing just as many visitors to CoasterBuzz, but they're not spending as much time there. The way I addressed that last time was to clean it up and relaunch the site, so that will probably be a priority for me again. It has been nearly three years, so it's time. I just think it will be a lot harder this time, with a full-time job and a toddler. Family time trumps everything else.

The thing I still worry about the most is the ad market. I've seen a number of articles indicating that spending would be up this year, but it has been far from consistent. Last summer was a serious rebound from 2009, but so far we're not there. Last year, I could count on revenue per thousand pages around $2.10. June averaged $1.55, and that was only because of a strong ending.

With the business finally out of debt, one could argue that it's all gravy, but I'm trying to be proactive now. I'd like to save some money so I can invest in new things down the road. I'm not sure what those things are, but I'm pretty sure I don't want to do any additional amusement related sites. I enjoy building CoasterBuzz and the forum app, and contributing to PointBuzz (which is really hard on one visit a year), but I'm not interested in empire building beyond that. I still have hundreds of photos to get up on MouseZoom too.

That's representative of one of the biggest problems, however. I've had lots of ideas, but rarely follow through because of a lack of passion. The Buzz sites will always be a labor of love that I happen to make a little money from, but stuff that I want to do purely for the sake of trying to make money never quite pushes me in the same way. I'm very much the accidental entrepreneur.

So my plans are to re-do CB again before the end of the year, even though it's so vulnerable to ad spending. I also plan to do a point release of POP Forums, which is purely for fun, since it's an open source project. I have a science project I've been working on and off on, too, and I could probably get it in front of people if I spent a couple of days uninterrupted on it.

It's definitely harder to spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff with all of the changes in my life during the last two years, but it's also something I really identify as a part of me. I don't think I would have nearly the number of opportunities that I've had if it weren't for the long, continuous "hobby business." That's why I plan to keep at it for a long time to come.