Archive: January, 2012

Body calibration

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 8:46 PM | comments: 0

One of the motivating factors to seriously consider the role of a work-from-home consultant was the idea that I could develop more of a routine around taking better care of myself. Since the move, I've kind of fallen off the horse in terms of eating and activity.

After one week, I've managed to restore some normalcy to my eating habits. I'm not eating out every day, and I'm regularly having breakfast. I'm not eating differently, really, just less. My body is getting used to the old habits and metabolism. Already dropped two pounds, which is never hard at first.

The physical activity starts with tennis, but playing once a week isn't going to be enough. I'm looking into playing volleyball, but I'm picky about that. I'm also thinking about getting a mag trainer to put the bike on, if I can stand being stationary like that.

The takeaway from all of this is that I feel physically better than I have in awhile. The IBS has gone away, I'm less tired, it's easier to focus on stuff mentally... I just feel more "calibrated."

Observations on killing yourself over work

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 5:35 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that I noticed while working at Microsoft was that a great many people there tend to kill themselves for their job. It's even worse in the program manager discipline, as I found out first hand. Some of the effort I would attribute to doing the opposite of what books like Rework suggest, some of it is the bizarre cultural notion that killing yourself somehow makes you better (for your career, God, karma, or whatever).

I would generalize that most of the people I've known, some of them very close friends, who engage in this behavior, are completely miserable. Many don't even realize it. I'm not suggesting that there aren't times when you need to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Shit happens. However, there is a harsh reality that I think often goes unnoticed. Here's the reality that I see:

  • It's rare that the e-mail you send at 6 p.m. on a Friday will have any greater impact than the same e-mail sent at 9 a.m. on Monday morning.
  • Most of the shit in your inbox doesn't matter. If it did, you would have already responded to it.
  • If you're really buried, you're under-staffed. If you're always buried, you're under-staffed and headed for burnout. It's not sustainable. Ask for help.
  • No one is really paying attention to how much time you put in, so if you think it will advance your career, you're mistaken. Focus on results. In fact, time spent has nothing to do with results.
  • Artifacts, and by that I mean e-mail and other documents, are not a measure of your ability to do your job. More is just more, not more better.
  • Lunch is for eating. Dinner is for eating, too, and by then you should be done with work.

Like anyone else, my feelings and opinions are driven largely by my experience. So let me give you some context about why I feel that work is important, but not at the expense of your life.

My first real job was running a government cable TV outfit. It was kind of a lifestyle job, with some weird hours, but I enjoyed it. It helped that they did comp time, so anything over 40 hours meant time-and-a-half off, even though I was salaried. I got a lot of satisfaction from what I achieved, but after three years, wanted more pay to match my peers at other cities. This was met with a lecture about the career choices I made (and a demeaning comment from the high school principal that indicated she thought of me as one of the kids, at age 26). So the next choice I made was to go elsewhere.

Over a period of several years, I worked for a number of start-up companies, with some consulting sprinkled in between. In other words, I worked in places that were risky in terms of longevity. I watched people spend years putting time in for a reward that would never come. Through these jobs, I learned that working for someone is actually a very straight-forward contract. While you provide value, at an agreed upon rate, you get paid. It's not more complicated than that. It's not a reason to hate The Man, it's just an understanding.

My point is that killing yourself for a job tends to throw the value proposition upside down, and not in your favor. That's hard for a lot of people to stomach when unemployment is high, but I still don't think you should sell yourself short just because you get paid. The cost to the rest of your life, to family, leisure and everything else, is too high. This is especially true in technology jobs where demand for your skills are high.

Forums now over 2,500 downloads

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 30, 2012, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

I noticed today that POP Forums hit its 2,500th download today, since making it an open source app on CodePlex. It took me about 10 months from the first preview version to the final, and then I went another 8 months before updating it again. Now I'm more into a rhythm of trying to update it. The ironic part is that I'm not really using it myself right now, though getting it to a particularly useful state is part of the plan for my own use, on CoasterBuzz and what not.

The exciting part for me is how interested people have become lately. When I opened it up for translation, I immediately found people to do a few more languages. It now works in English, Spanish, German and Dutch. I've also had people file a few bug reports, and I've got those fixed. I haven't truly opened up, hosting the source control up there, but that hasn't stopped people from jumping in and getting the source code at release points.

I'm really excited about the next thing, which I can't talk about yet because it aligns with Microsoft stuff that they were good enough to share with me. I will say that I hope to have the app in a feature area that most forums don't currently do.

Since I'm not writing code in a day job capacity at the moment, I've been really energized to work on this project. It won't make me any money (well, technically ad revenue on my sites once I'm using it), but it's very satisfying to work on something that a lot of people get value out of. I'm starting to come to peace with the idea that this thing has in many ways defined my developer career for more than a decade, and that's OK. And hey, I even got a free ReSharper license for maintaining an open source project!

Sleeping beauty

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 29, 2012, 10:42 PM | comments: 0

My distress over Simon's sleeping issues has been greatly relieved, as he has managed to be a lot better the last two nights. In fact, he has even managed to wake up happy after naps and in the morning, for the most part.

The world of sleep has been a mess for us, pretty much ever since Diana was pregnant. Growing a human in your abdomen has to be the worst thing in the world for sleep, and it's certainly not good for the mate, either. Then after the baby is born, you have all of that sleep depravation in the first few months, then a couple of years of getting up early. If that weren't bad enough, you can't sleep because you're making lists in your head about whatever you have to do, because your time priorities are different. Naps hopelessly throw you off even more. It's worse for Diana, because she was already a light sleeper, and she has to be pretty exhausted to turn her brain off. My sleep issues go in spurts, but have been more frequent since the move, due to the move, job changes, car crash and what not.

I think my sweet spot is around 7.5 hours each night, and sometimes I do hit that. Unfortunately, I've also been waking up at various points, and sometimes I can't go back under. My test for adequate sleep is that I've had a dream or two. I don't have them unless I get solid sleep. Although the quality of the dreams might also mean something. I had some in the last week that freaked me out a little.

The whole issue of quality sleep makes me feel a little neurotic. I could do without that feeling.

We could all use a little Garbage in our lives

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 29, 2012, 8:28 PM | comments: 0

As important as music is to me, I don't exhibit the same level of fandamonium that I did back in the day. I'm not sure why, exactly. It could be growing up, I suppose. I'm still trying a little to discover new and interesting stuff, but mostly that's via XM (which I won't hear as much now that I don't drive anywhere for work). It's not that I'm stuck on "old" music, it's just that I don't go to a dozen shows a year anymore.

But then there's Garbage. I'm not sure when I first heard them, but I think it was actually on MTV, with the video for "Queer." Intrigued by any band with a redhead female singer, I bought their first album and was instantly hooked. I've seen them five times, and of course have all of the albums and notable B-sides. It was fascinating to see them go from studio project with a very self-conscious front-woman to an amazing, ass-kicking live band. There aren't many bands that I've seen that deliver the way Garbage does.

Then a couple of years ago, Shirley Manson shows up on Terminator: Sarah Connor on TV. WTF, Shirley is a terminator? But she looked good, and turned around from her blonde and too-skinny self-loathing phase from 2003 or whatever. Got me thinking, gosh, now that we're in the age of social media, "shirley" they're all on Facebook and what not.

So Shirley started dropping hints last year about working with the band, and they started recording. Now we're just weeks away from a new album, after seven very long years of being Garbage-free. As I posed on Facebook, I'm so excited that I peed a little. I can't even tell you how excited I am.

Bedtime freak-outs

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 27, 2012, 9:51 PM | comments: 0

Simon has not been good for bedtime lately. Some of it is what I'd expect, that he doesn't want to go to bed because there's so much excitement he feels he might miss out on. However, it's the tantrums that happen when you actually try to put him down that are getting out of control. Most times, you can leave him in the crib, let him cry it out, and come back to find Mr. Affectionate, ready to go down.

Tonight has been awful though. For two hours he's been getting up, usually doing what I call "fake crying," not in any real negative state other than putting it on because he wants attention. But then twice he's done a scream at the top of his lungs as if he were genuinely and physically hurt. Maybe he was flailing in the crib and hurt something, but I can't tell.

Not sure what the cause is. He's been generally getting up in the morning fairly happy, and his naps have been longer than usual, so his other sleep endpoints have been pretty solid.

I hope this passes soon. As much as we try to be adults and handle it rationally, it does tend to wear on us.

Starting tennis

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 26, 2012, 11:21 AM | comments: 0

Now that I truly work from home, and I've eliminated even walking to and from my car, it's obvious that I need to find some physical activity. Bobbing my head to the Black Keys at my desk is not exercise. I'm going to work my network of friends to eventually look into playing in some hardcore volleyball leagues. I've also decided to learn how to play tennis.

Why tennis? Well, Diana plays it, so there's that. But it's also a physical game that one can play without a team, and I feel like I need something that is strictly about me when I'm engaged in it (unless of course I'm playing doubles). The game involves some reusable skills in terms of game theory and only a few parts of the technical physiological components as volleyball, so it seems like a natural fit. Sort of.

We joined up with the tennis club where Diana was a member before our stint in Seattle. It's a nice facility, and it's not particularly snobby or anything. If anything, plus one for hiring a girl to work the desk with visible body piercings. There's a lot of what I'd consider douchebaggery associated with the sport, like Wimbledon with their silly dress code and Serena with her, well, with herself, but it's a very physical and fun-to-watch sport.

So I signed up for some lessons, and had the first one last night. What a train wreck that was. I took a tennis gym class in college, but wow, I don't even want to say how long ago that was now because it makes me feel ancient. I did have some interesting take-aways from the first lesson.

The biggest one is that I have to let go of some of the volleyball wiring. For example, when you hit a ball in volleyball, you snap your wrist as you hit and follow through. In tennis, the racquet is more of an extension of your arm and you don't snap. Plus, in volleyball, you back off on the follow through if you want to back off on distance. If you do that in tennis, there's no top spin and you hit the ball into the balcony. My forehand challenge is to consistently swing through. When I do, it's pretty awesome, but I only do it 5% of the time.

The backhand was slightly better, once I stopped trying to do it with two hands. Inconsistency is still the biggest problem, but it feels remarkably more natural.

What I found exceptionally easy was the short game, volleying up at the net. I think anyone with volleyball experience will find this pretty easy to ramp up on quickly, because it involves the same super-quick reaction that net play on the wood floor involves. The biggest adjustment piece is having that medium between your hand and the ball.

When I got to short volleying, I realized that the hardest thing for me is the difference between rebounding and redirecting a ball, to actually striking and pushing the ball. That will take some getting used to.

Still, it felt pretty good overall. I think after the group class is done, I may look into one-on-one coaching, because I need specific technical feedback and attention to improve at the rate that I'd like. That might get expensive, but if I can raise the game to something resembling competitiveness, that would be satisfying.

I suppose I'll need to buy a racquet.

Republicans and conservatives are insane

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 23, 2012, 11:11 PM | comments: 0

When you hire someone in business, you generally have no problem sniffing out bullshit. First you reject the resumes that use a lot of words without saying anything, like, "Created value by exploiting synergistic opportunities." When you meet job candidates in person, you immediately pass on anyone who answers a question about one thing with tales of something else.

This is not, however, the basis for which Americans vote for elected officials. They vote for the person who can spew the most bullshit, not the least. That's what this Republican race has been. I finally watched one of the debates today, now that the numbers have been thinned a little, and I'm stunned at the amount of irrelevant nonsense.

Even more stunning, however, is the fact that Ron Paul, while not someone I could entirely back, is the closest thing to a common sense and viable candidate the Republican party has. Yet, as a percentage, only a small portion of self-labeled Republicans support him. It's completely insane. He's the only guy who sticks to policy and not opposition bashing. He actually has things to say.

The most annoying thing is that these guys are constantly getting into a pissing match about who is more conservative. Really? What does that have to do with anything? How about having the most common sense? There's an idea.

This is another example of Americans getting the government they deserve. Pay attention! Vote for the dog catcher because they can catch dogs, not because they're more conservativey or whatever.

Being who you didn't know you were

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 22, 2012, 10:06 PM | comments: 0

Amidst all of the general negativity in the world, I pride myself on trying to hold on to the idea that people are inherently good, and capable of great things. Holding this belief is a little self-serving, like a lot of religious beliefs, I suppose, because I also want to believe that I'm capable of great things I'm not yet aware of.

When I look at the lives of great people, whether it be for great achievement in some kind of global sense, or an anonymous person who is an exceptionally effective PTA member, I wonder how they got to be that way. Certainly you can choose to do great things, but does something inspire people to make things happen?

What I'm thinking about, in no specific terms, is what the impetus might be to do something great. If I look at my own life, I'm somewhat surprised to see just how many external things are the basis for achievement. Professionally, I can look back as far as radio and think about my teenage love for the work DJ's did, and how it got me into the business.

In my personal life, I'm amazed at the intensity of love I have for my wife and child. How did I become this father and husband? I might have always had the capacity for it, but it was a series of events that got me there, arguably including a divorce. Funny how that works.

I'm not sure what else I can be, but now I'm starting to look for things that might help bring out the best in me. Then I can be someone I didn't know I was.

We don't have a baby anymore

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 22, 2012, 12:26 PM | comments: 0

I don't know why it hit me just this morning, but I was looking at Simon, and was very much struck by his... age. We don't have a little baby anymore, we have a little boy.

I'm surprised at how conflicted I feel about this. I don't want to ever go back to the days of intermittent sleeping, and I don't think I have the mental or emotional capacity for a second child, but the days where I could one-arm football hold him went by so quickly. When he could only lie on his back, kick and wave his arms, every day seemed to last a week.

That said, I can see the start of an entirely new phase starting, where he can finally talk to us. We're at a point now where he has specific things in mind that he wants to do, and knows when he requires our help. This arrangement very much forces him to learn to communicate in a way that we understand, beyond his collection of signs. The down side of this is that he can't always articulate what he means, which frustrates the shit out of him, as well as us. Before you know it, he has a mini-meltdown, and we have to fight the urge to yell at him or shake him.

This discomfort will pass as well, and it's tolerable for me because I can see where it's going. Simon's personality gets more rich and detailed every single day. He's a little person, and he's fascinating to watch (when he's not having a tantrum).

I have to remember to get more video of him, because still photos don't capture his personality the same way. He's making interesting memories every day.

Hibernation revisited

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 21, 2012, 4:11 PM | comments: 0

By the end of December, I was pleased to realize that I had not yet felt anything like the seasonal affective disorder that I used to prior to moving to Seattle. Today, it's absolutely messing with me. I have a strong urge to curl up somewhere and hibernate, and it sucks.

I don't think it's the shorter days of clouds that cause me to feel like this. Obviously it's not that different from what we had out west. I think when you add in the snow and cold, which forces you inside to the extent that you don't want to even step food outside, that's when it gets me.

I'm not without a plan, though. Tennis starts up next week, and exercise always helps. My home office desk is parked in front of a window (and heat vent), so I'll at least be getting my UV and staying warm. I'm so annoyed that the environment can chemically alter your brain and make you less of a person.

March and April will be welcome when they arrive.

Real snow ain't all bad

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 21, 2012, 12:38 AM | comments: 0

We're having our first real snow event here in Cleveland this week, which is to say we've had a few inches and nothing really happened. We've had it on and off for the last week, making some travel inconvenient, but no one here is having to put their lives on hold.

The problem in Seattle is something else entirely. I like to rag on people for abandoning their cars and freaking out over an inch of snow, but they got hammered. That by itself wouldn't be a big deal, particularly with the rain coming, but tons of people are without power now with no guesses about when it will be back. PSE said today that 239,000 people are without power, and for many that has lasted more than a day. Think about that. It's like being sent back to the dark ages.

Thankfully, despite some single-digit temperatures, it just isn't anything to worry about here. In fact, it's actually kind of pretty, and I love that peaceful quiet that it creates.

By next week, I'll be over it, and wishing for sun and palm trees. Sunday we get back to 40's for the kind of weather Seattle should be having. I'd be OK if the rest of winter was like this.

Forums aren't sexy, but they're still everywhere

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 19, 2012, 11:21 PM | comments: 1

I've been working consistently on my forum project almost every night for the last two weeks, which is something of a record for me. This next version (v9.2) will be localized, meaning you can pretty easily translate it to other languages by editing one file (I have Dutch and German ready to go). It will also have a fairly extensive feature I call the "scoring game," inspired in part by the old habit of the same name. Yeah, it's voting and awards, like every site has now. Still, it was a user-requested feature.

I've been surprised at the interest in the project since making it open source, and it has seen well over 2,000 downloads. Keep in mind that's a developer audience, so that's a huge number considering how small the potential audience is. I never expected it to continue to grow like that.

Then when I stop to think about it, it makes sense. Honestly, the noble Web forum is not even remotely sexy or interesting these days, especially in the context of social media. Yet, there it is, on almost every site with a niche interest that I visit. It remains one of the most used features of many sites, I suppose because it's one of the best means of extended and deeper communication. You can't get that kind of context on social networks.

I doubt end users care one way or another about the forum app, or any forum app, and that's cool. That developers and site owners dig it really makes it worth doing though. Considering the core motivation is to serve my own sites, the rest is gravy. It feels good to give a little back too, considering how much I use open source stuff every day.

Nothing is permanent

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 19, 2012, 10:22 AM | comments: 0

After I made my post about "The tortured entrepreneur" yesterday, I stumbled upon a motivational speaker deck or something (which I can't find now). In talking about how to be awesome, one, obvious phrase stuck out with regard to taking action and risk:

"Nothing is permanent."

Imagine what we could all accomplish if we really took that to heart.

The tortured entrepreneur

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 12:44 PM | comments: 2

In all of the excitement lately, and particularly the forthcoming transition to a new job, I had the strange realization that I've become a little unbalanced in my professional endeavors. By that, I mean I've concentrated heavily on the primary paycheck without thinking about everything else that I care about, specifically my own business and ideas.

There is actually a strong and repetitious pattern around my behavior, and I can see it in my blog posts over the years. I get swept up in a new job, become disappointed with it over the course of a few years (assuming the company doesn't choke and start ditching people first), then I get energized over things I want to do on my own time, then forget about them when the cycle repeats. This has been going on for about a dozen years.

So what exactly does this mean? At times, I've mistakenly thought that it means I hate working for The Man. That's completely untrue. Working for others is exactly the thing that has enabled me to raise my skills to where they are today. Do I struggle with figuring out how to fit my skills and interests to a specific company? At times, sure, and I'm sure everyone does. But really, I'm thankful for every opportunity I've had, and what I've come away with in every case.

What I have developed, to some degree, is some level of contempt for the conditions surrounding working for someone else. In other words, I've always had an entrepreneurial itch to scratch, and sometimes the day job has anti-itch lotioned over the desire to the point it was completely obscured. Then, later, I realize that I had these ideas that I never did act on, because I was too busy with other things.

This brings me to the self-assessment stage of my realization, to take inventory. Things I'm good at include product design, software architecture, writing code, managing the process of development, marketing to customers, setting goals and deliverables, relationship building, etc. Conversely, I'm not good at accepting risk, starting up something or believing that what I want to do has enough value to overcome the risk. The things I'm not good at tend to be largely emotional issues rooted in fear and doubt.

When I put on my process management hat, I immediately think that next step is to reduce fear and doubt. Duh. Since the fear is largely rooted in risk, I've already started steps to reduce risk. Unfortunately, those steps will take probably two years to be fruitful, so there's a lot of expectation management on my own part that I'll have to do in that time. I think that the most important thing to do in that time is remember 1999 and 2000, when I very successfully managed to start a business and work a day job, with the two endeavors coexisting easily, and not interfering with my social life.

The most obvious change in my life is that my actions now dramatically affect my family, which I didn't have before. There's no changing that. What I've learned in the last three months is that I can manage those effects as well.

In other words, I'm figuring it out. As I'm blessed (or cursed) with a professional soul as part of my overall self, being happy in that part of my life means navigating a combination of corporate work and entrepreneurial efforts. Maybe the question that I've never asked, or developed a plan for, is, "Do I want to get to a point where I'm self-sufficient, or is the mix the best way?" If I try to intellectualize it, then the combination world is obviously the best (not to mention easiest and safest) way to go. If I root the question in my own ego and pride, then a strictly entrepreneurial outcome is best. Maybe that's what holds me back the most. I'm just not ready to risk the ultimate failure, or maybe I'm not willing to make a decision rooted in my pride.

As is often the case, you only go after what you want the most. Hopefully I'll stop dicking around and figure out what that is.

It's not all about apps

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 1:36 PM | comments: 5

When I stop to look at the applications on my phone, almost every single one that is not a game is something that can easily be done on a Web page. Heck, a lot of them are just shells around the exact same functionality. As someone who has no desire to learn how to build something on three different platforms, when one will do, you can see why this would annoy me.

When the iPhone was first released, the phone did not support native applications. In fact, Steve Jobs made it a point to say that "apps" were just Web sites. One might argue that he was saying that because they had no native app story ready at the time, but honestly I agreed with him even then. Most of these apps are doing the work of a Web browser, calling back to services the same way your Gmail or Facebook does.

Trip report: Castaway Bay, January, 2012

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 15, 2012, 11:15 PM | comments: 2

After our successful trip to the Great Wolf Lodge last year in Washington, and Simon's recent love for playing in the bath tub (and getting me soaked), I've been anxious to get back to an indoor water park. Plus it's cold. We figured we'd give Castaway Bay a shot this time. As you might guess, I can't not compare to Great Wolf (in Washington).

First off, I was really impressed with the theme throughout the hotel. It's fairly well executed, and not cheap looking. They even have a little animated show in the lobby. My last visit to that hotel was probably ten years ago, when it was still a Radisson. The exterior looks a little weathered in places, but the interior feels fresh and warm throughout.

Our room was clean and in good shape, and I'm usually pretty picky about that. The furnishings were in pretty good shape, and generally better than what we had at Great Wolf. The thing you typically ask yourself about the indoor water park hotel is whether or not the room rates are worth the room and admission, and I would say they're absolutely pricing it right. The only thing I could really pick on is that I wish they would use real glasses instead of those individually wrapped plastic cups.

The water park is very well suited to a family with a toddler. It's not overwhelmingly huge, and that's a good thing. We started at the wave pool, because that's what Simon seemed to enjoy the most last spring at Great Wolf, but he wasn't really having it. I think some of his apprehension comes from having to wear a life jacket, which they require at his height. That just seemed to generally make him uncomfortable. It's a small-ish wave pool that probably gets crowded at busier times, but has solid wave action.

The toddler pool has a number of splash elements and spouts with a zero-depth entry, perfect for the little ones. Simon took to the big squid thing with a slide on it, and it was definitely the thing that made him comfortable there. Unfortunately, its lowest step is way too high for a toddler, so he needed some help to start climbing it, but particularly when it wasn't busy, he owned it. Later he graduated to the two bigger slides at the other end of the pool, and kept going around over and over. He really enjoyed it!

The big play structure with the bucket was impressive, and after seeing the bucket dump a few times, he was totally into watching it. He traversed much of the structure with our help, but his favorite spot was a group of spouts in the floor and a valve that controlled their spray height. He went completely apeshit over them! I did one of the body slides off of the structure, and was impressed with how fast it went, given its younger targeting.

There are a few activity pools along the one side of the building that are really geared more toward tweens and teens, but they did seem to be a hit. Back in the corner, almost hidden, is the entrance stairs to the three big body slides that can be seen on the outside of the building (they could really use better signage for them). Diana and I both took spins on these, and they're seriously intense. There aren't enough body slides out in the world anymore, that you can do without tubes. By the time you get to the bottom, they pull some serious G's. Excellent!

Neither one of us got up to do the water coaster, which is unfortunate, but I'm so tainted by Wildebeest at Holiday World that I'd probably find it lame anyway. It'll be fun for Simon once he grows a few inches, I'm sure.

Overall, the water park is really nice, and very right-sized for a family with a little one. I suspect older teens wouldn't be as into it, which is OK by me. Other than the toddler pool, it seemed like the water could have been a few degrees warmer, especially in the play structure. Maybe I'm just too used to the hot tub. They have a snack bar in there too, where you can apparently charge back to your room with your wristband, but we didn't get around to that. They also have a small food shop and a restaurant open for breakfast, but we didn't go to either one of those. We did go to the attached Friday's, and it wasn't bad at all. I haven't been to one in probably two years because they sucked, but what I had wasn't bad. Plus one to the manager, who refilled Diana's draft cider after a chain reaction spill that started with Simon's milk.

I don't know that Simon will remember his visit there, but I know his parents had a good time! We had a nice little getaway there, in a comfortable room and perfectly sized water park. I can definitely see another visit in our future, and likely for years to come while our little guy remains little.

Being a motivated writer

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 14, 2012, 11:00 PM | comments: 1

I'm feeling very motivated to write this evening. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm in a dark hotel room, with Simon sleeping in the corner in a crib. I recently made a status update to Facebook where I indicated that I didn't feel like I had anything to say lately, and just haven't been able to get my words out. A surprising number of people responded, saying they thought that was unfortunate. I've been trying to figure out what to do with that.

When I look at the post count on a monthly basis, I can clearly see that the number of posts I was writing started to drop off after my paternity leave in 2010. (Shit, it's weird to think about 2010 in the past sense. Where's my flying car?) The latter part of 2011 was even worse, even while I was in the midst of more intense life changes.

Yes, some of the issue has been time. Having a little guy definitely takes a lot of your time, and leaves you feeling a bit tired at times. We were talking today about how it's starting to get easier though, and I imagine that situation will continue to evolve. 

I think the bigger problem that I've been having is that I have been second-guessing virtually every little thing that I do, ranging from the move back to the choice of background colors on my phone. I guess I don't see the value in sharing some of what I used to write about, though the response on FB implies that those concerns are unfounded.

A little of it is probably issues of privacy, too. I've often written about how I filter a great deal, and most people don't have all of the context or information to really know anything about me. I've turned up that filter quite a bit, probably in part because I have a child now, and partly because I just like to hold some things a little closer.

Still, one of the things my friends have made me realize (and I refuse to think of them as an audience), is that there might in fact be value in compiling some of my writing into a book one might loosely categorize as a "self-help" book. It would be something of a very long letter written to my 21-year-old self. "Shit You Should Know." OK, that's not a good title, but you get the idea. It would have to be framed as something that helps you in all of life's ridiculous situations. I fully expect you have to fail and flail, but maybe the book would help you at least realize when you're doing it.

I think there's some merit to the idea. Rework is just an edited collection of blog posts (with illustrations!), so I think there's potential. The question I ask myself is: Do I want it enough to make time for it?

Picking up where you left off with your closest friends

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 14, 2012, 10:42 PM | comments: 0

I've done a lot of bitching lately about my distaste for Cleveland, and to some degree Ohio as a whole. Indeed, Seattle is "better" in most ways. But as was the plan all along, we're realizing the financial advantages, and as we get closer to spring, we'll also realize the travel and social advantages. Tonight was a good preview.

We met up with the Walsh family for dinner, which surprisingly included the kids. It was pretty cool to see them all together, especially having known them since the kids were in car seats. Tim has been a good friend for a lot of years. He even got upgraded from usher in my first wedding to best man in the sequel. When life took one of its shittiest turns, he's the guy I went to.

Something I've noticed about the enduring friendships in my life is that long periods of time can pass between meetings, and you pick up as if you had just seen them the day before. I often wonder if it's the time and distance that makes them so easy to maintain. I mean, would we be good friends if we saw each other every day? I'd like to think so, but I'm not entirely sure.

One of the particularly surprising things is how a couple of families we're friends with are people we have, on several occasions, shared hotel rooms, cottages and RV's with. We see each other once or twice a year, and end up bunking on those occasions. It's kind of neat, and I suspect wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the Internet. I wish we got to see them more often.

I think I secretly hope that we'll all end up living in some retirement town like The Villages in Florida, driving around golf carts and working a few days a week at Disney World just to stay active. We'll all party and barbecue and go bowling, or whatever kind of shit old people will do by then. Or we'll just keep meeting up to ride roller coasters. That would be OK, too.

The physical manifestation of stress

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 14, 2012, 9:55 PM | comments: 0

I feel like I'm finally coming down off of an oddly stressful couple of months. I saw some of it coming, and dealt with it easily enough, but the parts that I didn't see coming really tossed me for a loop. That the job I moved back for turned out to be a joke was a possibility I expected (and frankly, I knew better, but whatever), but then there were issues of too many choices and very difficult decisions. I hate to complain about that when there are folks who can't find anything, but it was hard in a different way. Then you toss in the holidays, which weren't too bad this year in terms of stress, until the car accident. That in turn led to the financial discomfort associated with buying a new car.

At this point, most of that is behind me, but I've never felt more physically beat up by it all. The worst part of it was the IBS. I've talked openly about it before, about how my triggers are sometimes diet, but mostly stress and anxiety. It's the classic constipation-diarrhea cycle, and I've been in it for several weeks. It seems like it's finally settling down, but I'm so done with that.

Then there's the sleeping issues. I'm normally an exceptional sleeper, probably to a fault when I don't hear my own kid crying in the same room. Lately I've had all of the problems you can think of, ranging from staring at the ceiling to crazy legs and an inability to find any comfortable position. It leaves me exhausted by the evening. I seem to be really getting over that in the last week, thank God, because I'm super grumpy when I don't sleep. I also worry that Diana will be offended when I go down to the couch, just for a change of scenery.

To a lesser degree, I was also binge eating, but usually I realize that and get it under control pretty easily. That's more psychological, I think.

It's a weird phenomenon when your body starts letting you know that it's not happy with your mind. Usually, it's the other way around. Once I get back from starting my new gig, and settle in, I look forward to the positive routines I can engage in, particularly better eating and tennis. It will also be nice if we can get some weather that is dry and not windy so I can enjoy more hot tub meditation. Cold isn't a problem, but wind and rain is.

Going for the bottom is a crappy business

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 12, 2012, 10:33 PM | comments: 0

We received a gift card for Macaroni Grill, a place we enjoyed going to from time to time prior to our move out west. In fact, we had our second (maybe it was the third) date there. As far as Italian restaurant chains go, it wasn't bad, and was relatively affordable. However, after two recent visits, we've noticed that it just isn't as good anymore. The menu is smaller, and everything actually appears less expensive. I fear this is the place is going the way of Friday's, a restaurant that used to be known for its great burgers and appetizers, and now serves a bunch of microwaved crap.

The lower prices and lower quality imply that they've made a decision to pursue a different market. By different market, I mean cheap people without taste. At risk of sounding like an elitist dick, I mean the people who can't live without Walmart and think McDonald's is good. While this might be a large market, where volume counts, it's a race to the bottom with like-minded businesses over low margin crap. Why would anyone want to be in a race to the bottom? That seems like a crappy business to be in.

The world of computers has seen the same kind of battle. Dell and HP compete by building the cheapest computers they can, making a few bucks on each one, hoping to make it up on volume. Then the report comes down that 2011 was a crappy year for PC sales... unless you happened to be Apple. Sure, they shipped half as many machines as HP or Dell, but because they concentrate on the premium markets, they likely make ten times the profit on every unit. Dell and HP make premium stuff too, and it's priced similarly to the Apple products (spec for spec, depending on where in the Apple product cycle you are, the Macs don't generally cost more), but they don't see it as their core business. Apple doesn't even mess with the low-end in their product lineup.

Going back to the world of food, you can't get out of a Chipotle restaurant without dropping at least six bucks, not counting a beverage. They have a super simple menu composed of limited ingredients, most of it premium stuff, organic and increasingly local. And every day at lunch, there will be a line out the door for what they make. Is McDonald's cheaper? Yes, if you can even call it food. But again, look at the P/E ratios of the two companies, and it's clear that the place going after the premium is the better business to be in.

Having worked in the dot-com world for many years, and non-Internet businesses that wanted to be more relevant in virtual terms, I've seen so many examples where decisions were based on entirely wrong things. Ten years ago, it was eyeballs. Be popular, be rich. Convert more people to customers, but don't worry about repeat business. Get the top spot on a Google search, be famous. It's staggering how misguided these beliefs are.

We talk about theme parks all of the time. People flip out every time Disney raises their prices, and yet, the crowds they can attract are staggering. Why? Because they deliver on the promise of treating you well and showing you a good time, in a way that almost no other entertainment venue can. Even if you're not in the same industry, you'll still compete with them for discretionary spending, and you'll never take it away from them with crap. I theorize that this is one of the many reasons that movie theaters install leather seats and invest in better concessions.

I really believe that consumers can appreciate high quality, craftsmanship and value, even in the crappy economy. I certainly don't mind spending a little more for something better. It's something that guides my business sense as well, and I've found that it has kept my little hobby going for more than a decade now. I hope, for the sake of our economy, others follow suit.

The next career adventure

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 12, 2012, 10:06 AM | comments: 0

Tyler made a good post about his transition to a manager role, and how it suits him. I like that he's able to see the connection between what he likes and what satisfies him in his professional role. Naturally, I think about this sort of thing a great deal, and have been thinking about it a lot in the last year. Hopefully, I'm taking action now that fits with the thought process.

The manager thing seems like an obvious outcome of any advancing career. For me, things really happened in reverse. My first professional job (post-radio) had me managing a city department, with a budget and employees. What was so great about it is that I also got to do on-the-ground work. It was a video nerd's dream job, buying and spec'ing equipment, doing production work, on-camera stuff and leading people and processes. For being as immature as any early 20-something, it was a fantastic opportunity.

When I ditched broadcast for the world of the Internets, I started by managing processes (not really people directly), and from there made the transition to code monkey. At various times doing consulting work, I did hire and manage a few people, but it was never a core responsibility in this industry. Microsoft frustrated me that the path to that role was so hard to get to, even having already been there in previous work. My goal since moving back has been to find something that has a path or components of managing stuff, or more specifically, making people and processes better. It doesn't even require that people report to me in order for it to be satisfying.

Out of the blue, I got a call from a Fortune 100 health insurance and wellness provider from Louisville, and they indicated they were hiring "application consultants." They're people who often work remotely in a great many capacities on various projects. At first, I was just interested because it was a pants-optional work environment, and I know many people who find that work appealing. They were doing a speed dating interview thing, with eight candidates rotating through eight groups to see if there were any good matches. Of course, when someone offers to fly you somewhere to interview, you accept.

I wasn't sure how seriously to take it, because I already had a likely offer in play, and another company I just wasn't interested in as I got to know them. I felt like I already had options. When I got there in the typical "interview casual" garb and noticed I was the only one not wearing a suit, I figured it would be a total waste of time and a poor culture match. Fortunately, the interviewers varied a great deal, and were not without jeans, so it wasn't me who had the mismatched expectations.

As it turned out, about half of the people I met with were working on really interesting things. I didn't need this company for work, which was freeing because there was no pressure to dazzle anyone with bullshit. I politely told some of them that I had no interest in what they were doing, and others were straight about me not being a good fit. It was surprising how honest the whole thing was, and not at all what I expected, in a good way. Looking around the room, there were very obviously many degrees of corporate culture, much as there were for Microsoft, but this felt different.

A week later, I talked to one of the hiring managers that I didn't think would be a great fit, and he made a very good pitch about why I would actually be a good fit. The role he pushed had a broad spectrum of responsibility that was only partly based in code, and heavily based in improving processes. Those are the kinds of challenges I'm into. Being a ring leader to make stuff better is fun to me. While he made a great pitch, I didn't expect that the money would be right, so I kind of let it go.

Two weeks pass, and just after Christmas and the accident, I get the call with an offer. If not having to commute felt like an interesting perk before, it felt like divine intervention after a random moron tried to kill my family with their truck. With lunches at home and no driving, it would be like getting back two hours every day. Not counting vacations, it was like recovering three weeks of my life every year. I had to seriously consider it. It was also Seattle money with lots of time off.

In the end, I took the job, even though telling them yes meant I had to tell another set of people who were very good to me no. It was a very difficult decision. However, this company has an HR mentality that seems genuinely interested in getting the most of its people and giving them room to grow. They don't keep you in a position for arbitrary amounts of time, and they want you to succeed in whatever place makes the most sense. It's doesn't seem stuck in rigid career models. It felt like I could have a future, even if I don't know what that is. As a relatively new dad, you can imagine that stability is more important to me than it used to be.

Working from home means setting up the spare room as an office, which is fine. I know enough remote workers to understand how to do it, with the right boundaries and rules to keep life balanced. Diana is fully supportive as well, understanding that when I'm working, I'm not home. The trade-off is the lack of in-person social interaction, but it means I'll have to double up on lunches and dinners with friends. The social thing depends entirely on who you work with anyway. My first group at MSFT yielded many BFF's, while the second was full of people I had no social connection to.

I'm looking forward to something new. This wasn't something I expected at all. The salary and benefits were better than expected, and frankly there are a lot of lifestyle changes that are easier to maintain when you aren't rushing off to beat traffic or get a good parking space. I'm glad I didn't settle for something crappy. Fingers crossed that this is a worthwhile adventure.

Financial fallout from the great car accident

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 11, 2012, 2:49 PM | comments: 0

Thinking about the Christmas Eve accident, I'm getting to the point where I'm just glad that we all escaped relatively unharmed (physically, at least), and it could have been much worse. While insurance in this case is fabulous and serves its purpose, the crash that wasn't my fault still has fairly significant consequences.

The first problem is that my lease payment was stupid low, just over a hundred dollars. The market being what it was in March 2010, and with the bad PR around Prius brake pedals (which turned out all to be bullshit, as it turns out), the lease deals were fantastic. I also had my old car to put down and a little cash, making the payment even lower. When you're done with a lease, you have to start over. That would be fine if it went to term, because I could have prepared for it financially.

So knowing we were always going to buy the next car instead of lease, because we didn't want mileage restrictions, I knew we'd have to put a lot down to keep the payments down. With my new philosophy being that wealth is about less expenses, and not necessarily about more income, that was going to be a bitch jumping in 15 months before planned. I had to dip into the "move to a warmer client" savings.

Now I'm trying to find ways to make up the "loss" to savings. I was thrilled to find out that I'll get about a grand and a half back from the wrecked car, essentially because I did have equity in it from the money and trade down on the lease. That was unexpected. I finally sold my last bit of Microsoft stock, so there's a little more there. Now I'm crossing my fingers for a substantial tax refund. If I can get to 60% of what I took out, I'd be content with that.

The financial negatives of a lease ending prematurely is not something I ever thought about, I suppose because you don't expect that some moron is going to smash into you and destroy the car. I guess in the worst case, if I wasn't working and had no savings, I'd be getting a used car, or at best, a new Corolla, which wouldn't be awful considering how good those cars have been to me over the years. But still, it's a punch in the nuts of my bank account I wasn't ready for.

Blog shout out

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 11, 2012, 1:45 PM | comments: 0

I think it's an appropriate time to recognize that Diana has started to blog very consistently about food, yarn and what not. You should add her blog to your RSS reader. You can find it at

Driving memories, the Seattle connection

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 10, 2012, 11:33 AM | comments: 0

I can't say that I'm particularly sentimental about cars, especially how I'm known for not taking good care of them. But I have to admit that I'm a little sappy about my destroyed car.

I think the car was symbolic of the many drastic changes in my life when I got it... A baby, new place, new job. It was an intense and exciting time in my life. There were so many adventures. Some even involved the car, like our first road trip with Simon.

The car was Seattle, and now that it's gone, I feel like I have one less connection to it. I'm starting to realize just how much that place became a part of me. I don't know what to do with that.

I'm pretty good about being thankful for the experiences of life, and grateful for adventures I haven't yet had. What's strange though is the desire to hang on to them, and have all of your most ideal situations at once. Is that greedy?

I finished the year making significant changes that will help us in the long run. Some short-term uncertainty aside, I'm happier than I've been in a long time. I guess the experiences of life are ultimately what empowers you to understand and prioritize your endeavors to find your ideal. The connections don't really go away, they're just a part of the bigger story.

Growing pains

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 8, 2012, 11:02 PM | comments: 0

Simon was a hot mess today, after being a hot mess on and off most of the night. We were generally a bit sleep deprived. He didn't sleep well for his nap either, after several days of sleeping in a little later and three hour naps. Everything was a crisis for him, and I can't even tell you how many times he hit his head or pinched something or whatever.

I wondered if he was having growing pains. From what I've read, he's about a year too young, but then he hasn't been shy about his development. My understanding of the phenomenon is that it's not pain from actually growing, but pain during growth spurts brought on by lots of muscle use. With some quality time at Ikea and lots of running around the house, I can believe he would be set up for that.

I remember it very vividly as a child. You're awake in bed with all of this pain in your arms and legs, tired out of your mind, which only makes you have weird day dreams. You really want someone to comfort you. It's a generally awful experience, and you can't really communicate to your parents what it is that's actually wrong. I remember my mom was always skeptical that anything was wrong, which just made it even more frustrating for me.

We tried to cut Simon some slack today, because he was really pathetic. Fortunately he had a pretty good wind down with some Sesame Street and a snack. Crossing my fingers for a better night. Just after 11, and no waking yet.

Prius V: First impressions

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 5, 2012, 3:17 PM | comments: 0

Well, I made the mistake of driving a Prius V ("V" is for "versatility"), and immediately liked it. It drives much like a standard Prius, only slightly heavier, if that makes sense. It's six inches longer and four inches taller.

Who knows what the actual price to the dealer is, but I got it for a couple hundred bucks under invoice, after telling the sales manager point blank that I was ready to walk. They caved. They always do. $26,500 with a $28,219 sticker.

While comfortable that I got a pretty good deal, I can't believe that I spent that much on a car. There will be some short-term purchase regret. I'm the guy who spent years buying and driving the shit out of $14k Corollas, and only bought the last Prius because the lease was stupid cheap. Particularly after seeing my last car destroyed, it still doesn't feel like a good thing to spend money on.

That said, I put a lot down and the payments won't be bad. Turns out my credit score was 809, so I got a good rate. This car has to go the distance, at least six years. I justified it by feeling like we needed a good road trip car, and frankly, we deserve it. I wanted enormous amounts of room without having a giant car or crappy fuel economy. Time will tell, but I think I can squeeze out mid-40's.

Purchase regret aside, the more I look at it, the more I feel like there was a lot of value for the money. The amount of technology in the car is astounding. The navigation isn't something I'll widely use, but it's definitely a nice to have. I'm just excited that I can play music from my phone without plugging in. The backup camera, while neat, still seems like one of the most ridiculous things ever invented for a car. Other than seeing a child or object there, it's not really useful.

My understanding is that the dash revisions might make it into the 2013 Prius, and if that's the case, it's a good thing. There are many tweaks to the controls that make a ton of sense. For example, the radio channel up/down buttons are now, in fact, up and down instead of left and right. The center console is no longer a sea of buttons, and all trim levels have a touch screen that mostly address audio functions. Temperature controls are finally usable without looking! There's a dial that "bumps" left or right to switch between mode, temperature and fan speed, and once you're on the one you want, you twist to change it. It's clever. There are dedicated buttons for the defoggers and A/C.

They did away with the big sweeping center "thing" that the third-generation cars had, and the center is now a tall arm rest with the power/EV/eco mode buttons on it, the shifter moved up to the steering wheel. This makes for well-positioned cup holders, a deep well for crap, and a very smart one-inch deep slot for phones and such. They stuck a third cup holder to the right of the glove box for some reason. Oh, and totally random, there's a motorized lumbar support in the driver seat.

The back seats seemed smaller, but only because they now can be moved forward and back. I'm still amazed at how much room there is back there for tall people. They also added a retractable third shoulder seat belt. The cargo area is of course significantly larger and taller, offering more space than a RAV4, or so they tell me. It's supposed to be bigger than 80% of small SUV's, and I believe it. This is the biggest small car I've ever seen.

The exterior isn't that far off from a regular Prius, though the back door is obviously not a typical hatchback. The front looks very similar, save for some slightly different points and curves in the grill style. Eye-balling it, it appears that little has changed under the hood. It just looks like a big Prius.

As for the driving, like I said, it feels a little heavier. It is in fact 250 pounds heavier, and I feel it in the braking. It handles about the same, maybe leaning a little less in turns. The same glorious power mode is great for being aggressive in traffic.

The fuel economy is 44 city, 40 highway, down from the 51/48 of the standard Prius, and this was the biggest drawback for me. After one real drive, it looks like highway on the flatness of my drive is around 43 mpg, so I could probably coax it to 45. If I could do a consistent 45 on the highway, I'd be tickled with that, since the regular car was doing around 47 on my cross-country drive.

Overall I'm really pleased with it, as one should be with a car that expensive. I know, it's not really expensive (one article I read said the national average was $28,400), but spending a lot on something that only declines in value is not entirely rational to me, even if I can afford it. I very much look forward to taking it for a drive soon.

Stupid programmer tricks (and interviews)

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 5, 2012, 2:02 PM | comments: 0

I love this post from the 37signals blog about stupid things hiring types do to software developer candidates. I've seen my fair share of crap like this.

Let's be real about the job of a software developer. If I need to figure out a Fibonacci sequence, I'm going to Google it. It's a solved problem a million times over. It's not even a software problem, it's a math problem. I haven't had any significant use of math beyond simple addition in my entire career, and I've been at this software thing for well over a decade now. You aren't testing my ability to write software, you're testing my math problem solving skills, which require different abilities.

I once did an "informational" interview at Microsoft with a guy who wanted me to write an algorithm to find repeated strings in a bigger string. Seriously? I politely asked him if that was something I would ever do in the position, and when he said no, I told him I'd be happy to solve a real problem. That was the end of that opportunity.

If you want to measure ability for a software development candidate, be real about it. Ask for some real examples of work in the first screen. Open source projects are a great example of this, and frankly that scores points with me. Then if you want them to show you what they're capable of, give them something real to do that's representative of your work. My favorite example of this was when I first got into Redmond, I interviewed with some dudes who worked on CodePlex. They gave me a real situation with a real problem they had that week. They didn't even care about syntax, asking for pseudocode (white boards don't have Intellisense, after all).

I've also done some interviews where they sat me in front of a computer, with Visual Studio and ReSharper and all, and had me do some kind of task that demonstrated the ability to do TDD and design. It wasn't hard, but it demonstrated my approach and coding style. That's how it's done. And don't forget to see how the candidate actually works with people. If they have the personality of a troll, find it out before you hire them.

I'm amazed at how badly much of the industry sucks at hiring people. The last time I was directly responsible for hiring some people, I was guilty of it too for different reasons. I found things that disqualified candidates that had little to do with their ability, education being probably the biggest one.

Show me a guy with open source projects, live Web sites/apps, etc., and I'll be more willing to talk to them over someone with nothing to show but a certification or masters degree.

Insomnia is really not fun

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 3, 2012, 11:25 PM | comments: 0

I can't remember any time in my life when I've had as many sleep issues as I have the last two weeks. Night after night, it seems, I have issues going to sleep, and staying asleep. This from the guy who could otherwise sleep through a war on my lawn.

Turning off my brain has been the biggest culprit. It started with the car accident on Christmas Eve, and then it was followed up with another big life decision to make shortly thereafter (more on that later), and a general need to reconcile all of these open issues. It's new territory for me to actually be kept up at night. Usually I use sleep as a device to escape the madness of life!

I think it's winding down though. I now know that the car was totalled, and I'll buy a new one before the end of the week. Life decisions have been processed and dealt with. Open issues are being closed. It's almost like a work situation, where you prioritize the tasks you need to accomplish and get them done. Unlike work, you can't leave life "at work" and relax, which I think has been my problem.

By this weekend, the world should roughly resemble something normal again. And I'm going to start playing tennis. Or at least flail around attempting to play tennis. May quality sleep once again return to my nights!

R.I.P. Toyota Prius III, 2010-2011

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 3, 2012, 5:21 PM | comments: 0

Goodbye, my black, shiny friend. I barely got to know you.

I remember it was March of 2010. I had a new job, in a new place, and my baby boy was just born. Life was full of changes, and my old Corolla was six years old and lived through many salty winters. I felt like doing something for myself, and, you know, Toyota was having some PR problems at the time.

So Gus, the sales rep at Toyota of Bellevue, drove me out to their satellite lot to meet you. We drove down I-90, and he showed me your power mode. I was hooked. Hybrids were neat-o. I drove you to our little apartment after signing some papers.

My commute to the Microsoft campus was pretty short at the time, only about 11 miles, with very little elevation change and few traffic lights. In those days, I'd coax you into 55, even 57 mpg. I filled your tank once a month at most.

It wasn't long before we did our first driving trip, down the Oregon coast. You validated what my friend Mike said about your cargo space, with plenty of room for all of the crap that you have to carry (or choose to carry) when you have a baby. Who knew you had so much room? Do you remember when we stuffed that big 55" TV in your trunk, with Simon in his car seat in the back? Those were good times.

When it really counted, you got me and my cats safely from Seattle to Cleveland, going 2,400 miles in four days. Once again, I was thankful for all of the room you had, and I apologize for all of the fur. You also did a nice job going 70+ mph for hours in the 90-degree heat of South Dakota. Weird weather.

I was also pleased with your snow performance. We had those weird "events" in Seattle where people were sliding around and abandoning their cars in two inches of snow, but I found that you handled really well. I guess we'll never have a true winter together here.

We chose you to get us safely to North Carolina for Christmas, since your spacious trunk offered plenty of room for the gifts we would inevitably have to bring home from very exited grandparents. Not only that, but even on highways, over long distance and in mountains, you managed to pull off 46 mpg.

For some reason, we trusted our GPS to take us off of the freeway, to cut a diagonal line off of the point where two freeways met. In Bristol, Tennessee, some jackass of a woman with the demeanor of the Crazy Cat Lady on The Simpsons, slammed into us from behind while we were stopped at a traffic light, at full speed. Your bumper and trunk absorbed much of the energy, but the push into the intersection pushed us into a turning car that sheered off the front of you.

There you sat, your front bumper gone and your radiator hanging on by a thread. Your blue and silver Toyota logo was scattered somewhere in the intersection. But inside, along with my wife and little toddler, I was physically OK. You hung in there long enough to be driven to the side of the road, where I pressed your power button, one last time.

I've always taken some amount of pride in the fact that I've never been in an accident. I've narrowly avoided cars spinning out in the snow on the freeway, and kept cars out of ditches along icy roads. The one thing I never considered was that some moron could hit me while sitting at a traffic light. Sadly, that's how you met your end.

But you were a good car, and you performed particularly well when we needed you most. I'm thankful that your Japanese makers kept us safe at your expense. You can be sure that I'll talk favorably of your memory when I bring home your younger sibling.

First snow, first sled rides

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 2, 2012, 6:32 PM | comments: 0

It has been snowing most of the day here on the North Coast, with a classic lake effect setup. I have to admit that I kind of missed this, but it's easy for me to say that while it's still infrequent. By March, I'll most certainly be tired of it if the frequency is high.

Simon and I ran some errands I think in November, and while in a Target I saw a cheap, $8 sled. It went home with us in anticipation of this day. Sure, he's seen snow (we had some freakish snow events in Seattle), but he has never had the chance to be out in it. With that sled, and a big old hill behind my house, today was the day!

Getting him bundled up was funny, because he was pretty much like Randy in A Christmas Story. He couldn't (or wouldn't) put his arms down. He clearly wasn't sure what to do with the mittens either, which were a bit too big for his little hands. We walked out of the garage, and I chucked a snowball at him. He wasn't that interested in the snow.

In any case, I put him on the sled, and I started to drag it around the house to the back yard. Diana captured the hilarities as we went. Since he kept his arms up, he wasn't holding on, and kept falling back. Finally, I carried him up the hill, and we went for it.

I have to say, it was pretty awesome for backyard sledding! Particularly once we had a path, it got faster each time. We each went down with Simon three times. He was kind of indifferent about it, but I think he was just trying to figure out why it was so cold.

Good times. We're not far from a very large toboggan chute, but I think we should wait a year or two before we decide to try that out.

The movie that still isn't made

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 1, 2012, 10:34 PM | comments: 0

Like a lot of people, maybe all people, a new year makes me reflect a bit. What I stopped doing at some point was making resolutions. I think it's stupid that some arbitrary change in the calendar, an infrequent one at that, is reason to decide to do something. I tend to think that self-awareness is reason enough to continuously consider what you want to do or change.

But one thing that sticks out in my head with the passage of another year is that I still haven't made a movie. Not a short, not a feature, not even a :30 advertisement. It pisses me off.

There are a number of mental barriers in my head, not the least of which is that I'm worried I'll make something that sucks. I should probably count on it that it will suck and just get over it. I'm not sure why that concerns me so much. That's partly why I really wanted to find a screenplay by someone else, so I could focus on the creation and not the writing. I thought about grabbing something from the Amazon Studios, but I don't want to release any rights to distribution.

When I am writing, my other mental block has to do with music. When I say that I feel like my life has a soundtrack, I'm not kidding. I think with music accompanying whatever is on my mind. Music is so key to all of the movies I like, whether it's a John Williams score or a carefully crafted collection of songs in a Cameron Crowe movie. That I can't simply use whatever I want gets in the way (as does my general high regard for copyright).

The real problem though is that I just make too many excuses. I don't have enough free time. I'm raising a child. I have a day job. My ass is chapped. Whatever. There's always a reason. At the end of the day though, it falls into the category of everything else in life. If I really want it, I'll make it happen.