Archive: August, 2011

Excited to move, so sad to leave

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 31, 2011, 8:21 PM | comments: 0

Now that our big move back to Cleveland is official, with two weeks given, movers booked, job acquired, it seems like it's getting harder every day to really accept this reality. It's strange to be simultaneously excited about the move, but sad that our time in Seattle is almost over.

As I've said before, the decision to move was not easy. There were many pros and cons that went into making the decision, and ultimately it was those issues of around our social circles and the financial and real estate situation that pushed us in this direction. But again, it's not like we hate it here. It will be a sad day for me when I get in the car and start the long drive on I-90.

Work was hard today. Diana and Simon came in today for lunch. We ate in Commons, the shiny newer area on the west side of campus where I took many family members early on. After that, we stopped into the Microsoft Company Store for some logo stuff and another "future employee" ID for Simon. I took another walk through the employee area for software and hardware (didn't buy anything). I felt that excitement that I'll always associate with starting at the company. Pretty soon, I won't be a part of it.

We also stopped to see my friends in 5. Diana dropped off a hat she knitted for one of my BFF's, Simon did some high-fives with my former officemate, and we swapped parenting stories with the newest father among my work friends.

That's definitely our biggest tie to Seattle: Our adventure with Simon began shortly after we arrived. We've shared that almost exclusively with people here, in locations around town. Our son was born in downtown Seattle, and that will never change. Now, the ironic part of all of this is that we're moving so our long-term friends can also be a part of his and our lives.

I felt this way when we moved here two years ago. It was a little different though, because at that time I only had one "realm" that I was intimately familiar with. Now, there are two. It reminds me of the time after college. Needless to say, I'm going to do my best to make the next three weeks or so count.

US Open taking over my life

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 30, 2011, 8:19 PM | comments: 0

We're only in the first rounds, and already the US Open is starting to consume my evenings. Marrying a tennis fan pretty much makes you a tennis fan.

The big tournaments have gotten a lot more interesting in the last two years, because it's not the same people winning all of the time. The women and the men both seem a lot more competitive, where before it seemed like two or three were likely to win and that was that.

Watching Serena play right now. Already tired of hearing the announcers kiss the asses of the Williams sisters. I haven't forgot Serena's bullshit with the line judge a couple of years ago. They both take being pro for granted in a way typical of pros in other sports, and it's lame. I'm all about the scrappy kids from who can barely afford a plane ticket and then manage to win a few matches.

All of this tennis on TV can't be good for doing anything else constructive in the next two weeks!

Finding my creative inspiration

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 29, 2011, 10:17 PM | comments: 0

I went to see Our Idiot Brother today, and to my shock and horror, I loved it. Not just because Zooey and Rashida Jones were making out (though that was a highlight), but because I saw some things in the screenplay overall that really appealed to me. There were components there that I've really thought hard about using in my own writing.

I realized during the movie that my creative side has been somewhat stuck in suspended animation. I haven't had the energy or drive to write as much, shoot video, shoot stills, design Web junk, etc. I also realized that a part of that is rooted in the fact that I don't heavily expose myself to things that inspire me. I'm not listening to enough music, I'm not reading much and I'm obviously not seeing very many movies. These things are all contributors to my creative drive.

When I'm creatively engaged, it helps me balance out the parts of me that are all bundled up in logical, inorganic stuff. It sounds stupid, but when I'm in that state, I function at a higher level, and I'm generally happier.

The plan, then, is to make sure that I'm being creatively engaged. I'm about to embark on all kinds of life changes (again), so now is a good time to recalibrate and recharge around the components of my personality that are underutilized.

Tactical refactoring

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 29, 2011, 10:09 PM | comments: 0

I heard someone use the term "tactical refactoring" today at work. It might be the most ridiculous term I've ever heard in software engineering circles, like it was made to annoy program managers. Imagine my delight and annoyance around that, given my work history.

In any case, I've come to realize that the work I'm not finishing fast enough on POP Forums is exactly that. For v9.1, I'm having to refactor enough of the code to enable the extensibility used heavily on CoasterBuzz. I need to finish that before I can actually start hacking at the next version of the site. The reason is pretty simple: The forums interact with the news, trip reports and the "day in pictures" forum.

Of course, that means I need to re-do that photo app so that it works for the new architecture, and that's the part that's taking too long. As it turns out, I was not quite as abstract about it as I should have been, so I've only been able to recycle bits and pieces.

In an ideal world, I'll have that stuff done by the time we move. In the real world, who knows. At the end of September, I officially put CoasterBuzz on the "stale" list, as it will have been three years since the last re-do. Three years! That's how long the previous version hung out too. I have some fresh ideas in my head, probably because I've spent enough time doing PM work now that I'm thinking in additional ways that I wouldn't have strictly doing dev work. It excites me, but I have to buckle down and commit.

The aftermath of the decision

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 29, 2011, 11:28 AM | comments: 1

Since announcing my decision to take my talents to the North Coast, I've been really surprised by the overall reaction. I'm surprised that there was any reaction at all, to be honest.

The reaction from friends back east was pretty awesome. Diana and I both had a huge outpouring of excitement from our friends around Northeast Ohio on Facebook. There was some level of validation that I got from this, I suppose because uprooting yourself to be around people you like works better if they like you back. Not that we're despicable people, but you know, it's good to hear the love.

The reaction from coworkers included a lot of non-surprise, but given my long struggle with the real estate situation, few people have had to listen to me bitch about it as much. The stranger angle was from several people who said they really had a lot of respect for my decision, for two reasons. The first was that I was doing what felt right for my family. The second was that I was leaving Microsoft to do it.

I definitely want to write more about working at Microsoft, but it is interesting how a great many people find it shocking that anyone would leave the company. (I don't know if you read the tech press, but a great many people from much higher pay grades have been leaving a lot lately.) Yes, the pay is great, the benefits are the best in the industry, and it's a pretty sweet company. But at the end of the day, for all but the people who have the highest stakes in it, it's still just a place to work. Ultimately what I look for in a job is a place where I can solve problems and see the effects of my work. You don't have to work at Microsoft for that.

There is a certain amount of sadness from folks here as well. In the absence of our closest friends, we've made some tight friendships here, sharing the experience of having a child with a bunch of other first-time parents. Leaving that is hard. Even harder is leaving the close proximity of Joe, Kristen, Nina and Mason, our closest West Coast family. It has been fun to see the kids growing up. I won't get to help with the shipwreck in the back yard, either.

This will be quite an adventure, that's for sure. The decision didn't come easy, even if it was obvious. I'm certainly not looking forward to moving a third time in the span of two years. In any case, the wheels are in motion, and our stuff will be on a truck, four weeks from today.

Seattle Segway tour

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 28, 2011, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

We did our second Segway tour today, starting down by the aquarium and heading up to Seattle Center and through Belltown. Our first tour was at Epcot, closing in on three years ago. Diana saw an offer on Groupon or Living Social or something, and we jumped at it because we had so much fun doing it before. We're not very good at being tourists in our own home town either (for the next month, anyway), so it was good to get up and see the sights.

First, let me talk about the gear. I was not aware that there was more than one generation of Segway, and these were the older ones. They steer by a twisty nob on the handle instead of leaning with the entire handlebar, as the newer units do. It's completely unnatural and not very smooth at all. The forward and backward motion is still very much an extension of you, but the steering is not. That took a bit of getting used to. Fortunately we started out on Pier 62/63, which has a ton of room to whirl around on. Once we got our feel, it was as if we just did the Epcot tour a week ago. It's very much like "riding a bike."

Our tour guides did not spend a lot of time training, which is completely different from the over-thinking that Disney did with us. They got each person up on the Segway, got them comfortable enough with the machine that they wouldn't hurt themselves, and let them go apeshit on the pier. That was it. Ten minutes later, we went out into traffic with pedestrians, joggers and cyclists, and even crossed streets. This is quite different from Disney, which only does the tour before the park opens (International Showcase, at least), and makes you slow down and use extreme caution to go over a garden hose. The patch panels on the pier alone offered bigger bumps. They also weren't using the 6mph governors... these bad boys were open at 9mph. Would've liked to have tried 12!

The tour guides were a couple of women in their 40's, and they knew their stuff and were patient with the n00bs. One of them had a radio transmitter, and we all had receivers so we could listen. They first led us down Alaska Way up to Broad, and then to the Seattle Center area. We were able to really tool around there at full speed. It made me want to own one.

From there we went down 4th Ave, all the way to Pine Street, passing a great many restaurants in Belltown, as well as the Duck tour bus/boats. We stopped short of going into the market and went down 1st, to Madison and back up Alaskan Way.

Overall, it was a lot of fun, though the fog was just clinging to the sound, even when we finished up a little before 11.

You almost failed, Ikea

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 27, 2011, 11:03 PM | comments: 0

We went out to Ikea today to find a new TV stand. Here at our rental, there's a big alcove above the fireplace, but in Cleveland it will have to sit on top of something. I still have the one I bought at Target about five years ago, along with a matching rack, but we decided to retire them. The rack is largely useless at this point, because no one really has a rack of equipment anymore, just a stereo receiver and a cable box. The goal was to obtain a single unit.

For some reason, "real" furniture stores never carry this stuff, or what they have is inadequate. For example, they make stuff that isn't deep enough. That's why I ended up buying stuff from Target. This time we figured we'd give Ikea a try, while we have access to one.

I found something that had potential before hand online, but once we got there, we immediately found something new that looked better and was more functional. It had plenty of room for stuff with glass doors to keep little fingers off. It needs holes for ventilation and cables, but it'll definitely work.

It was a custom "build" of sorts. There's a basic shelving unit with doors, drawers and hardware. The problem is, the parts list didn't make it clear what was in the boxes. A dude in the store suggested the hardware was included, then he didn't after we popped a box. I ended up sprinting back through the store to ID the unit we saw, then find the parts.

The process added a half-hour due to their vague and incomplete parts list. It very nearly started to irritate me enough to bail and say screw it. I was hungry, Simon was crabby, it was not a good scene. The general uncertainty also mandated that I had to build the thing now, instead of just taking the packed components to Cleveland, because I wasn't going to wait a month and 2,500 miles to find something was missing.

Ikea is so hit or miss like this. If you're just buying simple stuff like some plates or a lamp, you're good. Assembled furniture gets more and more risky when there are more parts. Happy with what we got though. It should really simplify the electronic crap without it being the dominant feature of the room. The redecorating begins.

The Puzzonis are moving back to 216 (well, technically 330)

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 26, 2011, 9:07 AM | comments: 2

The rumors are true. We're moving back to Cleveland after about two years in Seattle. I've got a job there, a house I couldn't sell, and a long-ass drive ahead of me.

How did this happen? Almost by accident, really. When we were back in Cleveland last month for the GKTW fundraiser, we had another whirlwind tour of seeing people. When we got back home to Seattle, we both kind of ignored the elephant in the room. We missed our friends, and we hated catching up with people for an hour, once a year. We pretended this wasn't the case for the first day or so back, but when Diana brought it up, we agreed that it was wearing on us. There were definitely two issues we struggled with.

Missing the friends was the first issue. While we certainly do have friends out here, and they're awesome, it's not quite the same. Many of my friends, for example, have been in my life through marriage, divorce, lay-offs, marriage again, and many good and bad times in between. Diana's closest friends are also there. In both cases, we're having this amazing adventure with a child, and it's odd that our closest friends aren't sharing in that. Honestly, it would even be easier if we were at least in the same time zone.

The second issue is the housing situation. I've banked a ton of cash to pay for the negative equity in my house, if I could sell it. Every six months I still own it, I sink $10k in the mortgage, utilities and insane insurance. We miss having a house, particularly with Simon now being so active. To get into a similar house here, at best, it would cost $450k. Getting the down payment would take at least three years even if I sold my house today, and then I'd be looking at a mortgage over $2k, because that's just how it goes out here. We can't pause Simon in that time. Here's a more staggering way to look at it: If I sold it today just $5k under what it was listed for, I would have spent more than $60k on it in the last two years. Now add the $10k for every six months it isn't sold. Conversely, I move back, and I have cash in the bank while paying for just one place.

Let me make it clear that it isn't that we dislike Seattle, or Microsoft, or anything like that. Yeah, I bitch and moan about the weather, and work gets on my nerves at times, but really that's going to be the case anywhere. The truth is, everything that I hate about Ohio I will still hate about Ohio. However, it happens to be where the people are, and a home I already have. There's a lot of give and take, but the net result is positive.

Given those two big "situations," we started to think it through a bit. The first thing to consider was the job market. That's the reason we left in the first place. It was bad two years ago. I fired up my network and started to talk to people. The general consensus was that it had improved, but qualified people bailed from Cleveland en masse, creating a high demand situation. Judging by the volume of attention and phone interviews, my impression was that it's a real condition. A fellow alumnus mentioned a gig on our Facebook group, and two weeks after we decided to explore this endeavor, I had an offer. I even had offers to decline. I haven't had that luxury since 2006.

There's a lot of give and take for this move, but overall it's a long-term win that addresses our two pain points. I honestly believe that we'll end up in Central Florida eventually, because there are so many reasons it makes sense. Obviously I have to take a pay cut (a bigger one, once I found out my review numbers with the very public R&D raises you've read about), but adjusted for cost of living, it's mostly a lateral move. It's like, yes, I'll have state and local taxes, but sales tax will be lower (and zero again for!). The difference right off the bat is less than the cost of renting the house in Snoqualmie while still having the house in Brunswick. From a cash flow perspective, it will be about the same, meaning we'll have the same amount left over at the end of each month. Our quality of life stays the same, only it's in our own house, where Simon can run around in the yard.

There are some bigger wins that weren't immediately obvious. While some of that stash I was saving to sell the house has to pay for the move, there will be a ton left over. I don't want to spend it all, but it's a unique opportunity to improve the house, and make it ours. That means cleaning up the train wreck landscaping, lots of paint, new light fixtures, etc. We may price a deck expansion as well, and maybe even put something on that deck that holds about 425 gallons of water.

We'll also be closer to Cedar Point, obviously, which has been a social hub for us from the start (I think our second or third date was there). In fact, we'll be driving distance to about a dozen amusement parks. I've spent a lot of time pretending since we moved that I don't care about going to the parks, but I'm done with that denial. I miss it in the worst way, and I want it to be a part of Simon's life, too. Frankly, it's better for the business of CoasterBuzz if I live in the EST.

Diana can get back into tennis, and I want to learn as well. It's too expensive out here to join a club. I have the hope that I can get back into volleyball as well, which turned out to be a frustrating joke here. Not sure if I can dive into coaching this winter, but I'll look into it, maybe do some officiating or something.

We'll definitely be losing in some ways. I love that Simon is a mile from his youngest cousins, and Diana from her brother. That's a hard issue that bordered on a deal breaker for me. The families from the PEPS group have in fact been good friends, and wonderful people to get to know. I've made some great friends at work. And of course, I'll be leaving the world's largest software company. No more mountain views, ferry rides and snow-free winters. Like I said, there's a lot of give and take in this transaction.

In terms of career, people keep asking me if Microsoft pissed in my Cheerios or something. It's not about the company at all. Well, maybe my indifference toward leaving it kind of makes it about that, but it's not really a core issue. I truly do have a love-hate relationship with the company, but it's more love than hate. I honestly can't name any other place that I've worked that I respect as much. The benefits are insane, the pay is stupid-high, and come on, it makes the Xbox. I definitely have a lot of opinions and thoughts about the company while departing it, and there's a big blog post around it forthcoming, but those thoughts don't really drive this move. I will say that I'm bummed about missing the big company meeting at Safeco by about two weeks. Would've liked to have seen Steve Ballmer chest bump an intern again.

Sure, going to a new job has its stress points and excitement. I'll be working for a Web marketing company. I'll be trading in the Redmond campus for the trendy Warehouse District of Cleveland. While there is great sadness in the departure, at least we don't have to worry about where we'll live at our destination, or how to get around.

Living in Seattle has been an adventure, and I'm still quite fond of the place. I've learned so much from the experience of moving here, and working at Microsoft, that those are definitely subjects I'll write more about. For now though, I've got two weeks left before I turn in my Storm Trooper uniform, then two weeks of "vacation," followed by the week of moving and driving. Maybe I'll finally start doing that touristy stuff here.

Cowboys and Aliens, for the win

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 25, 2011, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

I finally saw Cowboys and Aliens today, which was essential, because I didn't think it could possibly suck. And it didn't. I don't care what the critics said. I loved it.

Let's do the math: Indiana Jones + James Bond = Awesome. It's that simple. I don't actually care for westerns. It's my least favorite genre of movies. I still haven't even been able to watch Brokeback Mountain, and that at least seems interesting, what with the cowboy love. But throw in all of the typical characters from typical westerns, and some stupid aliens that typically underestimate humans, and you have some special sauce that's super fun.

And of course, there's Olivia Wilde. I can't objectively tell you whether or not she's a good actress, because she's too beautiful to even care that much. She's scary lovely. I'd watch a movie about shoveling shit in an elephant cage if she starred in it. I'm not generally one to be that enamored by celebrities, but she definitely makes the short list.

For the record, I don't think much of John Favreau as a director. I think he surrounds himself with large budgets and good collaborators, but he's not what I'd call visionary.

Apple and The Steve

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 25, 2011, 10:22 AM | comments: 0

The news last night that Steve Jobs was resigning as Apple's CEO certainly got a lot of attention in geek circles, and rightfully so. Here's a guy who brought back a company from the brink of destruction, and new markets were literally created under his watch. For fans of the company and its products, it's certainly a scary thing.

I will say that I'm a little bothered by the fact that people are more worried about Apple than they are Jobs. I mean, if you've seen him in his last few appearances, he's clearly not well. He's super thin, and his clothes just hang on him. It's very sad to see one of the most brilliant businessmen of our time be so vulnerable and frail. No matter what the truth is about his leadership style, it's not fun to see another human being in that state.

His leadership style is really the thing that investors, as well as fans, are likely most curious about, because you can't help but wonder if the company is successful because of top-down dictation, or the inspiration of a culture that encourages innovation. If it's the former, potentially negative change comes quickly. If it's the latter, it's possible to maintain that culture. If you believe this quote from a CNN article, it's the latter:

"If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions, and you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy," Jobs said. "The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don't stay."

I can tell you right now that if he really runs things that way, they have a solid future ahead of them, and I wouldn't worry much.

What I like most about the Steve Jobs story is that we have an icon in a time where there are so few leadership figures that truly inspire. You just don't see people who get it right that much of the time.

As I said, I just hope the guy is OK. Apple will get along just fine.

The business of assumptions and up front design is an inefficient way to build software

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 23, 2011, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

I have to admit that I've become somewhat of a process geek. Maybe even an anti-process geek, but that sounds negative, and wouldn't entirely be accurate. The process of software development has changed a great deal, and part of the reason for that is we rely far less on shrink-wrapped product, and more on the Web. Even your mom is comfortable calling the thing going on in her Web browser an application these days.

Back in the day, you wrote software, and you put it on some kind of media (floppy disks!), then you put it in a box that was shipped to a store. The Internet was not something most people had never heard of, though really fancy people had modems that connected to their phone so they could call another computer. The point is that the stakes were very high for developing software. If you got it wrong, fixing a problem would not only be costly, but it could tank your business.

To combat this risk, development was an enormous process that involved a ton of meetings, documents, a rigorous QA process, and worst of all, enough up front design to make any kind of change incredibly costly. It was really hard to be innovative this way, even in the days when computers were far less powerful and there was only so much memory you could fit your code into anyway.

The unfortunate thing is that a lot of organizations still build software this way. It's unfortunate because the rules have changed so dramatically. Most software truly does run on a server somewhere, and your interaction with it happens in a browser. What this means is that you, as a developer, are no longer bound to the high risk world of disks in boxes that go to thousands of people.

The real problems with the old way of developing software really boil down to two things. The first is that everything you do is based on assumptions. You assume that it will take a certain number of days to develop some component. You assume that your user wants to do this certain thing. You assume your business model will be readily adopted. You assume that your design is the right thing. You know what they say about assuming stuff.

The second problem is that all of this planning is really just guessing. Because you've made so many assumptions, the planning you do hasn't really been vetted against the real world. There will be problems you couldn't predict. You haven't received any feedback from users based on a real product. You don't know how the market will respond. You certainly can't know if your design, whether it be architectural design or a user interface, is ideal given the lack of feedback. The only thing you can really guess will happen is that stuff will change.

And yet, I've watched this unfold time and time again. Development organizations will put days, even years into designing the crap out of everything before they write a single line of code. I worked in a place where analysts would produce huge documents outlining a use case, a single action for a single feature, and it would be further analyzed by a committee. A developer wouldn't even see it until it was "approved," by which time the agreement that the document was supposed to solidify was already tainted by the fact that no one from the developers to the users gave any feedback on it. The assumptions already made it obsolete.

Massive attention to up front design is bad, and here's why. A proponent of up front design will argue that you need to spec-out things in detail, in part to build consensus about what you're doing, and also because you don't want to leave developers and others to interpret things for themselves. Fair enough, but you're still doing all of that design work based on assumptions. It doesn't matter how visionary you are, because your assumptions could still be wrong. If that's the case, all of the time spent on this design, and the subsequent work to build out that design, is wasted, and you're still far away from delivering value to your customer.

Now let me tell you how I would do it. I would describe the smallest thing in the simplest terms while keeping the big picture in mind, and work with developers to do that. None of that throw-it-over-the-wall nonsense. We'd break it down into tasks that only take a few hours each, and prioritize them. We act on the items with the highest priority, re-prioritize weekly, and after four weeks, "ship" what we have. Maybe that means getting it in front of customers, maybe it means using it ourselves, whatever, but the point is we have something real that we can act on. If we're getting it wrong, we can correct our course and move toward the right thing in as little as a few weeks, incorporating feedback, challenging assumptions and delivering value quickly.

The proponent of up front design will say that you've just moved the design work to a different stage of the pipeline (and maybe suggest that it's bad to "allow" other stakeholders to affect the design, but that's a different cultural problem). Yes, I did move the design, but what's so great about this is that I didn't invest a lot of time into it. I didn't waste time building consensus or creating documents that no one will read, I just went and built something. The price of getting it wrong is much lower, and the integration of feedback happens much faster. In other words, I'm building stuff that delivers value faster, and when I get it wrong, I can correct quickly. The risk, and therefore the cost, is lower. I've managed out assumptions as a source of risk and cost.

This is still a hard culture nut to crack. If you're a big agile fan, with a great deal of success under your belt, how do you convince successful waterfall process folks that they're doing it wrong? It's not that they're doing it wrong, it's just that they're doing it slower. When you move too slowly, your competition kicks your ass. Unfortunately, it's the part that goes with "u" and "me."

Not a software development phony

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 22, 2011, 10:44 PM | comments: 1

I had a bug submitted for POP Forums yesterday, with some nice feedback. Silly bug, but it's kind of what I get for not having any testing around the caching in my data access code. Still, it's nice to hear some positive feedback about the project. It's something more tangible than the download stats.

It also comes at an interesting time, where I've been highly reflective about my abilities as a software developer. I've come to realize that I've been at this for more than a decade now, and I honestly didn't get into it intentionally. I've had a wide variety of experiences from tiny start-ups to the world's largest software company, and many sizes in between. I've worked on apps used by two or three people, up to an app that gets more than 45 million page views per month. That's half a billion pages a year. How many people get that kind of opportunity?

But if I really strip away the resume and try to be objective, I ask myself if I'm any good at it. What does that even mean? Hanselman did a great post stating, "I am a phony." It's a sentiment that I think all good developers have from time to time. Heck, I have 30 domain names I'm not using too, all with good ideas dangling off of them.

The conclusions of the self-aware generally result in a rational acceptance that they are not, in fact, useless assholes. Awareness enables self-improvement, humility and motivation to be better at what you do. No matter what your skill level is, that's the opposite of being phony.

If you're in my line of work, you know that there are a lot of egos out there, and many of them want you to feel stupid. Interviewers continue to tease you with pointless algorithms you'd never encounter in real life, contrived debugging scenarios that don't exist and whiteboard exercises that pretend you have dictionary knowledge of framework libraries. Some corporate structures want to outline exactly the kind of role you should fill, and meticulously compose your future.

Don't ever let this nonsense make you feel that you aren't good enough. We're all individuals that roll in our own way, under our own motivation, with different priorities. One person might be a heads-down coding caffeine junky, another a big-picture thinker who likes to mentor and coach. Good companies, and especially entrepreneurs, know how to value us.

If I could summarize my advice to anyone developing software, I would say this: Understand what gets you up in the morning, and find a way to do it. If you can show people what you're capable of, with a sweet app in production, or an open source project, even better. Real things speak louder than resumes. Let those things be your voice. You can't be phony if you have a voice.

Awesome stuff that works

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 21, 2011, 12:34 PM | comments: 0

I find joy in things that work well, as designed. I've reached a point in life where I want to have less stuff (moving twice in two years will do that), so stuff that does hang around has to serve its purpose. It's often the most simple and obvious things, too.

Take Simon's stroller. It's actually the second one we've had for him, the first being the big-ass Graco that worked with the car seat and what not. We actually sold that one after awhile, even though he could still fit in the stroller. The Combi that he uses now collapses to this totally manageable size that works great through airport security, it has a travel bag, it isn't so big that everyone around you trips over it, it has enough storage for essentials (or a place to hang the essentials), and best of all, it's super light. Simon seems to like it, too.

We have a bottle opener, something made in Japan, that is shaped like a cylinder. You put it on the bottle, press it down, the cap comes off. It takes so little effort or skill or whatever. Sure, I'm the guy who opens beer bottles on door hinges at work, but this is so much more elegant. Elegant stuff that works is cool.

I don't know why these examples were compelling enough to blog about.

Trip report: Silverwood 8/19/11

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 19, 2011, 9:28 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I realized this summer about living in Seattle is that I'm about as close as I'm ever going to get to Silverwood, the little theme park north of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. It's just short of five hours from where I live, and who knows how long I'll live here. Combine this with the frustrating lack of roller coasters in my life, and you know I gots to get there.

We very spontaneously decided to go. Planning involved was less than a day. Hotels were hard to come by, which makes sense because it's summer. (Eastern Washington actually has seasons, including summer, where it gets into the 80's.) We found a solid deal at this place called Pheasant Hill, with a spa suite. The first of our issues came with the reservation. They were over-booked, so they had to move us into a normal king room for the second night. Not a huge deal, because we ended up getting $85 refunded, and is sending us a $100 voucher. But wow, that room was sweet.

Here's what I've learned about amusement parks, or any kind of travel with Simon. You basically have a four or five hour window, and after that, there's no telling how he's going to be. The one exception was Holiday World last year (at six months), where he managed to do pretty well all day. Granted, we had help, with our friend Beth spending a lot of time with him. There's always risk involved when you travel like this, and we've had mostly wins.

All bets were off about how the day would go, when Simon woke up at 2 a.m., and never went back to sleep for more than 30 minutes or so. It was a long night, and when he's a hot mess, he brings out the worst in us. We actually ended up going to breakfast at 6, since we were up. Fortunately, we did sneak in a nap from 9 to 11, with all of us piled into the bed. I don't sleep well with him, because I'm worried I'll squish him.

So we rolled with the issues and got to the park around 1. First impression: Charming, kinda like Holiday World. There's a sit-down restaurant right inside the gate, so we started our day there. Fairly reasonable, great service, and real mac-and-cheese that we probably ate more of than Simon did. That was about as good as our day was going to be.

Next stop: Information. We grabbed a park map, and Diana asked if they did parent swap or something. She was greeted with expressions implying she was nuts. Trying to be optimistic, I just went with it, and figured the lines wouldn't be that long as people would be piled in the water park.

We did a loop around the park to survey the landscape. Deja Vu, that's weird. I can't believe that ride was almost 2,000 miles east at Six Flags Great America. I snapped a few photos that I really liked of it, and will add those to the CB database. Tremors and Timber Terror were sporting hour-plus lines, though we had to guess by our later experiences, since there are no wait times posted. All of the coasters are one-train deals, so this was not encouraging. Watching ride ops check restraints on Aftershock Vu move at a glacial pace was also not encouraging.

After our loop, we ducked into a little kids area, and found Tiny Toot. Simon makes tiny toots all of the time, and laughs. This little powered coaster looked just tame enough that I could take him on it, and there were no height restrictions beyond "no infants." He seemed pretty interested in the ride, so I figured we'd give it a shot.

Of course, Simon's first concern was the gates. He loves to close doors, so making sure the gates were secured was a huge priority for him. We sat in the second row, because it looked the least aggressive from watching. It was really hard to decide if he was ready, and I tried very hard to take my own desires out of the equation and think about how he'd react. I was somewhat reluctant, but decided to go for it.

Once seated, it was clear that he was pretty well boxed in, and even if he slid to the floor (he tried), he'd be pretty safe. The first few times around, he was fine with it, but the last few, he was definitely ready to get off the ride. He kept trying to slide down. I don't think he was scared, he just wanted to do something else. It wasn't the magical first roller coaster ride I would have liked, but I'll definitely take it. He now has one coaster on his track record!

We spent some time in a play structure next to Tiny Toot for a bit after that, and from there looked for refreshment. First ICEE attempt was a failure, because of a broken machine. We probably should have just had water.

I decided we should take turns, suck it up, and each go on one of the coasters. I chose Tremors first, which ended up being about a 40 minute wait. The operations were dreadful, with dispatches going eight minutes or more. I would have killed to have some kind of upcharge virtual queue service. I would've settled for faster loading.

Side note: I think I realize now how spoiled we are as Midwesterners. These relatively little rides were talked about by people in the queues as if they were the ultimate rides. The dude in front of me took a photo of himself on the ride just to prove it to his girlfriend. Weird.

In any case, Tremors is a solid ride. I love the first drop under the gift shop. The ride is generally in pretty good shape, and only had one real pothole I can remember, on the first drop. The big turn after that is kind of uninteresting, but the rest of the ride is good. They've got a very nice ride there.

I hoped that Simon would pass out for a little while, but he had other ideas. Diana then queued for Timber Terror. She enjoyed it, and thought it was pretty good overall. She said it didn't really let up at any point. She was also sitting next to some jackass who recorded the whole thing on his camera.

By this time, it was already getting later, and I decided that I just wasn't going to put my family through me waiting for another ride for more than a half-hour. While Diana was in line, I hung out with Simon, and he was clearly more interested in being up and about, and was a little moody.

We didn't get much chance to ride anything else. Diana wanted to do the carousel with Simon, but he was tired out of his mind. Alas, after four hours or so in the park, we decided to bail.

I really wanted to hit all four adult coasters, but it just wasn't meant to be. For each of us to do one adult ride, it was taking an hour and a half, with no V-queue and no parent swap. It sucked. And since they were so damn slow, it was worse than it had to be. I was not impressed. It probably would have been better if we had a third party so we could ride stuff together. Both of our last visits to CP got us on stuff together, and ditto for HW and Universal. That's just how we have to roll.

I'm not saying the park was total crap, but they're not thinking much about families. The lack of parent swap really kicked our asses. I doubt we'll ever be back again, and that's a bummer, because I really would have liked to do Terror, and even the Corkscrew, just for historic purposes.

Applebees: Still the worst restaurant on the planet

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 18, 2011, 9:52 PM | comments: 19

I often talk about Seattle's apparent distaste for franchise restaurants, and I do admit that many franchise chains are pretty crappy. But I'm not fundamentally opposed to them, as I'd kill for a Buffalo Wild Wings or Macaroni Grill close to where I live.

Applebees, however, has been at the top of my shit list for years. There was one near my house in Cleveland, and I think I went once because someone asked me to meet them there. It blows. It's the worst fucking microwaved shit in the world. I don't understand how (Seattle not withstanding) there appears to be one on every other corner.

So we decided to spontaneously go east to visit Silverwood, in Idaho, near Spokane, WA. As anyone who has ever done the I-90 trek knows, the number of actual restaurants you can sit down in and have food brought to you, between Seattle and Chicago, numbers in the teens at best. On our move west, the only place we had in five days of driving was an Outback (also not great) in Rapid City, SD.

But we got into the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene area a little on the late side, and we had to get food in Simon before he crashed for bed. The only thing reasonably close was an Applebees. I figured, what the hell, I haven't been to one in three years, we'll give it a shot. How bad could it be?

Pretty fucking bad, it turns out.

It started with the service. The shittiest waiter in history neglected us for more than five minutes after sitting down, and with no silverware, it made getting Simon's food rolling harder. We immediately ordered, including drinks, and asked for silverware so we could cut up Simon's food. The dude brought back one roll of implements, apparently expecting us to eat with our hands. Drinks came a full ten minutes after that. The pattern of neglect continued, but I'll spare you those details.

On to the food. They have a $20 deal for two entrees and an appetizer. That seemed likely to control the damage, so we agreed to do that. The appetizer was cheese sticks. Surprisingly, there were nine of them, which was three too many for us, but they were typical food service cheese sticks and not bad. However, they were served with whatever burned crap was also in the frier at the time, which was gross. Who plates this shit?

We both got "fiesta lime chicken," which is a chicken breast covered in some limey sauce and smothered with cheese, on a bed of tortilla chips, rice on the side. The plate was super hot, but the food was not. The chicken was overcooked and dried out, so I'm going to go with microwaved. I mostly could taste salt. The rice was dry, as if it had been cooked too long, then sat under heat lamps, and dried out to its original state.

It was just generally nasty shit, with shit service. The restaurant itself was surprisingly clean, but it looked like it had a recent renovation. I don't remember it always being like this. I think the first time I went to one was with my mom, coming home from school, maybe in late 1992? It's not the only place to go to shit, either. Friday's was good once upon a time, in part because of the fantastic burgers (though I don't eat red meat anymore).

I just don't understand how the chain can survive, serving shit that I wouldn't give to my cats. And the place had people lined up out the door, too. Has watching Food Network raised my standards, or is it really that bad?

Applebees, you suck. Your microwaved shit food sucks. You should be embarrassed that people even plated that crap.

A new toddler low

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 15, 2011, 10:46 PM | comments: 0

Simon is at the age where he's definitely in the push-pull zone. He wants his independence, and he's testing boundaries, but there are also times when he absolutely requires us to be at his side. He's also having very intense feelings about stuff, and he's not sure what to do with it.

Frustration is something he's no stranger to, as he was so slow to willingly roll over and crawl (walking came quickly, at least). Frustration, and now instances where he isn't getting his way, are met first with the angry dance. I shouldn't laugh, but it's pretty funny when he does it. He scrunches up his face, whines and stomps his feet.

Today, we had the most epic of meltdowns, and it pretty much went on all evening. When he and Diana came home from a play date, he wanted to go walking around the neighborhood. He protested, and the crying is definitely beyond baby crying. It's a new volume and pitch. At various points, he just tossed himself on the floor, and flailed and kicked. It was kind of awful to watch, because what can you really do except let him work it out?

We know that part of his frustration comes from his inability to talk. He can't really verbalize what makes him angry or upset. It's so weird, but like a lot of things he's going through, I remember what that was like.

Coupled with the tantrums comes some pretty intense separation anxiety. Diana can't even leave the room without him flipping out sometimes. This is particularly frustrating for me, because even though I logically can't take it personally, I feel like Daddy isn't good enough. Bed time isn't a happy time for him lately, and that sucks. I don't want him to associate the two hours I have with him in the evening with something negative.

I guess we saw this coming. Simon's cousin Mason, three months ahead, has had some pretty epic tantrums, and apparently (I haven't witnessed it) went through a phase where he'd bang his head on the floor when he wasn't getting what he wanted. Diana says there are stories of her doing it into the front door as a child. It must be a Mattoni thing.

While today's meltdown wasn't fun to watch, it's not like he's no fun to be around. He actually had some nice laughs at dinner, and he's learning to use his fork. His playground independence is really excellent. He's generally good in restaurants (for now). Most of the time, Simon is a joy to be around, and even at his worst, still a blessing.

Home improvement

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 14, 2011, 10:18 PM | comments: 0

This has been the strangest summer. I've watched a great many of my friends on Facebook post photos of home improvement projects, ranging from a total top floor remodel to new kitchens to new paint. And here's the weird thing... I wish I could have a project like that.

I'm the guy who paid some dudes to cut my grass. I wasn't even brave enough to run cable up to one of my spare bedrooms. Despite this general aversion to home improvement, I kind of wish I could have some projects. I think it partly comes from the fact that I can't, because I rent. That comes with a certain amount of dissatisfaction that we can't really "nest" since we don't own the place.

Then the urge is made worse by HGTV. Even Restaurant Impossible, the show on Food Network where they re-do a restaurant, gives me the home improvement itch.

I never did a lot of decorating in my post-divorce years. Things just kind of stayed the same unless something prompted change. For example, I replaced furniture, I replaced carpet, and that was about it. I never did any painting, or did hardwood flooring in the kitchen. I never put better light fixtures in, or got that ceiling fan up in the living room (in part because I needed a huge ladder).

I look forward to these seemingly silly tasks, someday.

People are ignorant about consumer electronics

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 13, 2011, 10:32 PM | comments: 1

If there's one business I would never want to go into, it's that of consumer electronics. The reason is two-fold: The marketing targets stupid people, and the consumers buy into it.

I started to really appreciate this after college, when I briefly worked in retail selling computers while I looked for my radio dream job. When I landed a TV gig, even though it was government cable, I watched people believe even more ridiculousness during the crazy long transition to digital cameras and television. Even when the science behind the devices is relatively straight forward, people don't actually care to understand any of it.

I know I've mentioned before how I can't stand how "loud" televisions are by default. I've also mentioned how the consumer grade cameras (I'm looking at you, Canon Rebels) have awful color and contrast settings. People just accept it, and believe it looks great. Have you seen anything in real life that looks that red?

TV's are the worst, and I blame the manufacturers. The recent fascination with refresh rates demonstrates how stupid it has become. OK, so your TV can refresh at 240 Hz. Nevermind that every movie you watch was shot at 24, and TV is typically 30 or 60. All the TV is doing is trying (and failing) to make images that sit in between, even though your eye has been quite comfortable with 24 fps since you were born. Don't even get me started on sharpening and noise reduction.

Or take the forthcoming re-release of the Star Wars movies on Blu-Ray. Ignorant people on Amazon are reviewing it poorly, without seeing it, because they read somewhere that transferring film at 4k or 8k resolutions is better, and Lucas allegedly has not done this. Forget for a moment that home HD TV's are only 1920x1080... Episodes II and III were shot on cameras that used that resolution. How the hell are you supposed to "transfer" that to much higher resolutions, creating pixels that don't exist, just so you can down-sample it back to its original resolution?

Companies that make computers have finally backed off the marketing using specs, but it doesn't stop consumers from advocating one model or another. I've seen people on Facebook insist that a quad-core CPU is "slow" because it "only" runs at 2.0 GHz.

I suppose there's a bigger cultural problem where we judge quality or importance by numbers, even if they're meaningless. Heck, I'm part of the problem when I get smug about my 50 mpg. What's scary is that people will drive their decision to buy expensive shiny objects with zero understanding of what those number are really about. I suppose the saving ethos of our post-recession culture is helping correct that to some degree. You wouldn't know it by going to Costco. :)

Friday Fried Food at Finaghty's

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 13, 2011, 8:27 PM | comments: 0

We've managed to create a little mini-tradition in the last year. There's a little bar around the corner called Finaghty's that we've been frequenting since we moved last fall. The food is not bad, the beverage assortment excellent. It's the atmosphere and the staff that we love the most though.

Unfortunately, with the cool weather, we haven't had a lot of chances to go there and sit outside. I think we've done it maybe four or five times all summer. Last night, however, we had a great chance, and met up with Joe's family, too. We had the two tables on the one side, so it was like we were able to corral the three kids in and have our own private little party.

This has been a great time for us. We've gone a ton of times over the last year, but the outdoor visits are the best. People come by with their dogs, which Simon absolutely loves. The sun is not brutal. The wait staff loves Simon, too, and they always know we'll start with a couple of Strongbows.

In a summer that has been mostly amusement park free, I'm glad that we've been able to mark it with some great memories.

The homeowner lifestyle

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 11, 2011, 9:37 PM | comments: 0

If there's one point of growing frustration for us, it's the fact that we don't have a house. Well, we do, but it's about 2,500 miles away. Financially, owning a house is a tricky proposition these days. Sure, it's a buyer's market, but it will tie you down. Houses aren't investments anymore, they're lifestyle choices.

We still miss it. I wish we could paint stuff, and even getting near a Home Depot makes me want to do some kind of project. I'm not a house project guy, so that's weird. We also miss having parties, and it sucks not having a yard that Simon can run around in.

While we're in no position to buy a house, we still think about houses a lot. The cost of housing is pretty wild. Pretty much everything around us now in Seattle is somewhere between $160 and $210 per square foot, and on a lot not much bigger than the house. On the other hand, go to the Cleveland suburbs and find stuff for under $90 per square foot on a huge lot. Get out toward the Atlantic, and you're back up around $200 (not counting Central Florida, and the coasts vary widely).

Granted, I've learned a lot about quality, too. There are definitely two classes of exteriors. Ditto for interiors in terms of flooring and kitchens. But even crappy places out here are expensive. We were watching House Hunters on HGTV yesterday, and saw some places that were virtually mansions for pretty reasonable prices, on a per square foor basis. Even quality doesn't always have the impact you'd expect.

It's weird how the different parts of an economy play off of each other. I mean are houses more expensive because people make more money, or do people make more money because houses are expensive? Actually, I don't even care what the answer is, but it leads me to an interesting thought. In an ideal world, where I was young and stupid, I think I'd try to work somewhere that the income was high, bank as much as I could, then buy a house in a place where the housing was cheap. Pretty smart, eh? Like I said, young and stupid.

But getting back to the lifestyle thing, the thing I've learned from ten years of home ownership is that even an "affordable" house payment is too much. It's so completely strange how my stance on that has changed over and over. I'm just at a point now where I realize how relatively inexpensive it is to live outside of a big mortgage. While I can't do the young and stupid plan anymore, if I were to make a big move again, I'd like to do figure out how to stockpile cash ahead of it, and keep that mortgage low. Folks spending nearly $3k here is insane.

Simon the explorer

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 10, 2011, 2:02 PM | comments: 0

I think we've been pretty lucky with Simon, for a lot of reasons, but lately because he's so active. This kid lives to get outside and explore. Given his rather robust proportions, this is a great thing. The late arrival of crawling and walking was frustrating, for him and for us, but he's making up for lost time.

Walks are a daily ritual for Simon, twice a day even. Each walk is a minimum of a quarter mile round trip (I measured it on my bike). We've done some walks with him that even get close to a mile, and he just takes it in stride. He loves the independence, and when he's not sure, he'll actively seek out our hand and take us where he wants to go.

He has his favorite things, including the playground closest to our place. He can now get to the top of the play structure on his own, sit down at the slide, and go down it on his own. He's extremely confident with this, even though he hesitates to take the little step down from the sidewalk to the wood chips without a hand. He also loves dogs, one of which knocked him over pretty hard the other day. He points at signs, and traffic lights are pretty much the most exciting things ever invented.

I'm a little bit worried about what happens when the weather gets crappy (that process has already started). The boy gets stir crazy very easily! He does have his favorite toys and what not, but he likes to run around and do stuff.

What your 20's are about

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 8, 2011, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

Devil Wears Prada was on TV again tonight, and I took something different away from it this time. I used to think, "Oh, this is a commentary about how you shouldn't sell your soul for your job," or some such nonsense. But now, given the context of the age of Anne Hathaway's character, I changed the angle on that.

If anything, the story teaches you that serious relationships in your 20's are a disaster waiting to happen. It teaches you that killing yourself for a job is something you just have to do. It tells you that tossing yourself into the real world is a rite of passage for your 20's.

Weird how a conversation you have with someone on a particular day can greatly modify your view of the world.

Equality in relationships

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 7, 2011, 10:19 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that our world of life changes has brought about is something of a 50's-style housewife arrangement. I think for people our age, that's extraordinarily weird, but we like that Diana is able to be a mom full-time. Simon won't be pre-school age ever again, after all.

But as you can imagine, it's uncharted territory for us. Diana has worked her entire life, and was hugely independent for most of her adult life. To be entirely dependent on someone else at 40 is a strange thing. Conversely, I've never had to truly support a family. Even when Stephanie and I were married during her grad school, she still had income. I've always had the freedom to just do my own thing with little risk.

It would be pretty easy in this situation for things to become toxic if one or both of you are the type who like to keep score. The problem is that there are a great many dissimilar things that you contribute to the relationship that make it complicated to determine how well balanced your relationship is. While I work as the "breadwinner," and that can be a huge and stressful responsibility, Diana is shaping a human life by herself most of the day. Both "positions" are a lot of work, but they're not the same. We tend to be fairly sensitive toward each other about what we both have to do each day.

This is not to say that different kinds of responsibilities mean you can't have problems. One of my friends back east kicked her boyfriend to the curb after something like ten years. While she busted her ass to improve herself and secure her own life, he was little more than a freeloader. She finally saw it, and of course the hindsight that brought was enormous.

If I've learned anything from experience, it is to avoid getting to a point where resentment builds toward the other person. For example, I don't want to resent Diana for having more Simon time than me. I don't want to resent Simon for keeping me from things I want to do for me. I don't want Diana to resent me for bringing home money and working with grown-ups. To avoid that, we have to check in with each other at a deep and meaningful level, and not pull any punches. Well, except that Simon isn't quite ready for these exchanges.

Of course, you should probably try to make sure you're willing to find that balance before you endeavor to procreate. I don't know that we had those conversations until after conception, but honestly it's a constant battle to remind ourselves to check in regularly. It's also hard to remember that sometimes we just have to ask for "us time," and also "me time." It might be a mom's night out or a solo movie, maybe even a simple nap, but as non-mind readers, we have to verbalize this stuff.

Why bring this up now? I think it's because we've been talking a lot about what we need from life, what makes us happy and how we're going to get there. The natural extension of those conversations is to discuss how we're doing and if we need to adjust for each other. It's not that we're over-thinking it, but we're totally willing to over-communicate.

Boxley's: Finally, a restaurant we like!

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 7, 2011, 8:30 PM | comments: 0

I know I've mentioned countless times since moving to Seattle that we haven't been able to find restaurants that we truly like. Franchised places are oddly rare, and the countless independent places we've been to, dozens of them by this point, have proven to be somewhere between mediocre and bad. For all of the snobbery people exude around here for their restaurants, you'd think the odds would be better that more places wouldn't suck.

Diana scored a Groupon or Living Social deal for a place not closer to downtown, but further away, in North Bend. So a couple of weeks ago, we tried Boxley's.

The live jazz was nice, but the food rocked out. We started with garlic fries as an appetizer, and they were covered in fresh garlic, and not greasy at all. For dinner, I had a chicken and Alfredo linguini that rocked my world. It's striking how infrequently good this common dish is... you end up with bland and tasteless chicken and a shitty cream sauce. Diana had some kind of pasta and prawns in some cheesy cream sauce, and it was also awesome.

Today we stopped in for lunch. I had a buffalo chicken sandwich that was just awesome. Again, not greasy at all. Real lettuce. Excellent buffalo sauce. Toasted bun. You know, lots of little things go a long way. Diana had tortelinni with a gorgonzola cream sauce. Again, awesome.

If that weren't enough, there's the live music for dinner and excellent service. The building has an old charm, and there's a big old fireplace in the bar room. It really is the whole package. Everything not steak is more or less under $20. Oh, and they use iPads to take your order, which is kinda neat.

We're pretty excited about this place. While not pitched as an Italian place, their pasta dishes are far and away better than the dozens of places we've gone out here. The only other place that we've been to that was above average was 520 Grill in Bellevue. Two restaurants in two years.

Dexterity and cuddles

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 6, 2011, 7:48 PM | comments: 0

Simon seemed to get into a rut for a few weeks. It felt like he wasn't really accomplishing anything new.

One of the suggestions from his therapist was that we might have gone too far in making things easier for him. For example, we would regularly help him climb on the couch, or help him play, etc. So we've tried to back off and just let him do stuff, and it's quickly paying off.

He finally started standing up in the middle of a room without help, just last week. He used to crawl to something he could hold on to, which as you might imagine, did not help him outside. At the playground, he's getting up and down the steps on his own, and getting across the bouncy bridge. He even started to sit down at the slide and go down by himself! Today he actually stepped down into the wood chips from the sidewalk, which for some reason he wouldn't previously do without help.

Verbally, he's slow going, and that's a little frustrating. He's making more noises, but it seems he's using fewer words. He's not saying "night night" at bed time, and even "ma ma" and "da da" seem to have disappeared from regular use. Diana is however being very patient with him in getting him to make decisions for himself. So when he signs "more" at meal time, she gives him choices, and he picks something. He is learning to communicate more specifically, but it's not as verbal as we'd like.

He has started a new thing that we as parents are pretty crazy about. He likes to bring stuff to us, then sit down in our laps and play. That is super cute, and very gratifying. I can't get enough of that.

Feeling so broken

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 6, 2011, 1:01 PM | comments: 0

I feel rather broken today. I need repairs.

The biggest problem is this cough and sinus thing, which I've been battling on and off now for weeks. I'm not sure if the generally cold and damp weather (prior to last week) has anything to do with it or not, but it's making me miserable. The coughing started to get really ridiculous again yesterday, and I actually bailed on work at lunch time because I just wanted to medicate and lie down.

Perhaps associated with this is strange aches and pains in my neck and shoulders, and I feel like I pulled something in my leg. What's the deal? I don't know if I slept wrong or I've been lifting Simon weird or what, but I'm tired of this as well.

My spirit is feeling slightly broken as well. Our quick trip back to Cleveland left us both with the unintended consequence of us missing our friends there. That's especially weird for Diana, who has moved around like it was her job. But for all of the crap that I give Ohio, including it's useless government, moronic voters and snowy winters, it does happen to be the place where our closest of friends live. That wears on me.

And yes, the cool and gray weather here (again) is putting me in a foul mood.

Tomorrow better be sunny, and this cough better be moving along.

Is the economy really broken? Depends on who you ask

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 4, 2011, 1:15 PM | comments: 0

The more I watch the news, the more I start to ask if the economy is truly broken. The more I look at it, the more I start to think that it's frankly not as bad as the headlines would indicate, but it also isn't where it was a few years ago. It seems to me that the economy made a huge adjustment, and we're now living the new normal. This seems particularly true when you look at 2008 as a baseline.

A lot of people look at unemployment as a key metric, and that certainly makes sense. Things started to go south in the middle of 2008, and unemployment is just short of double what it was then. It improved a little over the winter, but then slid a little since then. One of the statistics I read suggested that a lot of this has to do with the fact that the number of government jobs cut has been enormous, especially at the state and local level. If the population make less money, that certainly makes sense since there's less tax revenue. Given that cyclical problem, I'm not sure that unemployment is a very good indicator.

The US dollar is on an ever so slight increase in the last two months, but it's doing slightly better than it was two years ago. The major stock indices are also up over the last two years. The GDP is flat, but that isn't surprising given the scope of the "adjustment."

There are a lot of anecdotal things that also lead me to believe things are getting better. Internet ad sales set a new record last year after a bit of turbulence. US auto sales were actually up last year. The amusement industry is having one hell of a good year. Las Vegas didn't seem empty this time when I was there in April. I'm getting a ton of cold recruiting calls these days, even from Cleveland.

For met at least, it just doesn't feel like things are all that bad.

This is not to say there aren't issues. The state and local government revenue crunches are a real problem. It's fashionable to slam government spending, but I honestly believe that some states and most municipalities do deliver value for tax dollars. There is also the problem where entire categories of blue collar jobs no longer exist, and retraining those folks is hard (especially if they're unwilling). And of course, we have the housing problem, where billions of dollars of value have been wiped out and will never come back, but there's nothing we can do about that.

I suppose my observation is that we simply have to adjust to the adjustment.

Where did free time stuff go?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 3, 2011, 7:31 PM | comments: 0

In the last three or four months, I've noticed that I'm simply not doing any of the things that I used to do with my free time. I would define that free time as the hours between when Simon goes to bed, around 7, and when I go to bed, around 11 or 12.

Prior to March or April, I would typically write some code, read, write, etc. Now, I just kind of do nothing. I feel exhausted and tired. Not physically, but mentally. As best I can tell, the only thing that has really changed is Simon's age. Maybe that really is the cause. Ever since he's become mobile, we can technically let him entertain himself to a large extent, but he can also come to you to play, and that's usually what he does.

For me at least, there's no opportunity to wind down and transition, and I think that's what's going on. When I get home from work, I immediately try to assume some Simon supervision, while Diana works on dinner. Then I follow that with his bath and such. Sometimes we eat with Simon, sometimes after he goes to bed.

The frustrating thing about this is that I truly do desire to do these "leisure time" things. I was pretty excited to get my forum app finished and open source. My screenplay ideas are there waiting in my head. I'd like to write more here, and I have a stack of things to read. But when the time presents itself, I just don't do any of this stuff.

I suppose awareness helps. I'm not going to punish or belittle myself. I accept that I've been indifferent toward doing fun things in the evening, and will do what I can to change it.

My geographic torment

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 1, 2011, 9:40 PM | comments: 0

Moving cross country was a huge, eye-opening experience for me. I spent 36 years living in Northeast Ohio, and the economy had to really take a dump before I realized that I could leave. Since moving to Seattle, with Diana's help, I've learned that moving isn't all that hard.

That said, I've spent a lot of time thinking lately about where I want to live. Going back "home" last week brought that conversation to the front of my mind, and we've been actively talking about it. There are pros and cons, but there really are three places we could live.

The first and most obviously place is to continue living in Seattle. The pro side of this is the entire reason we moved here: There's a ton of career potential. Even if I decide that Microsoft is not ideal, there is so much work here, and so many possibilities, that it's hard to get your head around it all. There's a lot to do for people in my line of work. And if that weren't enough, the scenery is lovely.

There are some negatives, one of the biggest ones being weather. Replacing snow with a long rainy season is a lateral move, and I miss hot summers. I also struggle socially. We've made a few close friends here and there, and admittedly things are different anyway with Simon, but I just don't feel like we have the deep connections we used to have. I also can't deal with the cost of houses here. Yeah, the salaries are higher, but I can't see sinking $400k into 2,000 square feet.

The second potential location is, and I have to grit my teeth when I say it, is Cleveland. Yes, Ohio sucks for its politics, its idiot voters, its taxes and its weather from December to March. Above all, it sucks for its economy. It just doesn't have the breadth of opportunities that a great many other cities have. I don't care much for being forced to jump around between jobs.

But despite all of my hating for it, there is one, indisputable thing about it. Cleveland is where we have our closest, richest relationships with people. We've been back twice, and both times we were running all over the place trying to see as many people as we could, and it wasn't enough time. It's also a driving trip to many of our favorite amusement parks. And hey, we'd have somewhere to live (which is actually a source of growing resentment).

There's a third consideration, too. Central Florida. The first plus is the weather. June to September can be a little tough, but it's summer-like the rest of the year. It might rain every day, but you get sun with that. It's not cold and wet for months on end, and that's important to me. We have a small group of friends down there, and some family. All of our friends tend to visit there at least once a year. I hear there are theme parks there. Housing is crazy cheap. Insane cheap. Career opportunities in my line of work are a little hit and miss, but still better than most places. And maybe, just maybe, Diana could work her way back into a place where she can use that Equity card.

The flip side is that it's a lot like starting over, and I'm not sure how comfortable I am moving to a place where earnings will likely be lower, and I'm still paying another mortgage. I also have virtually no professional network there. Schools are an unknown, too, and that's going to matter in a few years.

The important thing here is that we realize that we can go where we feel we'll be happiest. That sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but honestly, it's something I never spent much time thinking about. Options. Lots of options.