Archive: July, 2012

Social change and simple activism

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 11:20 PM | comments: 0

I finally got around to seeing The Help tonight, as Diana Netflix'd it after reading the book. It's a really fantastic movie with amazing performances, start to finish. It also serves as a reminder of how screwed up things used to be, and still are. While certainly entertained by the movie, it made me so angry.

I find the 60's, as a period in American history, completely fascinating. While we often celebrate the finer points of our history, it's important that we not gloss over how awful much of it is, so as not to make the same mistakes over and over again. What I find unfortunate is that the civil rights movement is becoming a footnote to future generations, in the way that they don't remember a time without the Internet. The idea that women couldn't vote, or races were separated in otherwise public places seems absurd today, but that change didn't come about accidentally. Some people suffered or even died to bring that change.

You don't need a degree in history to see where our darkest moments are. Slavery, obliteration of the native people, oppression of women, Jim Crow laws, minority discrimination, racially motivated immigration policy... the melting pot has always tried to limit the lives of one group or another. Social change happens anyway, perhaps even at an accelerated rate. Things change because people have the courage to stand up against people who attempt to oppress others.

The recent statements by an executive running the chain of Chick-fil-A restaurants have set off another round of noise. The guy made an underhanded statement about his distaste for gay marriage, which is all the more troubling because his company has donated money to groups who have actively lobbied to pass laws limiting or prohibiting same-sex marriage. Naturally, there has been quite a call for boycotting the restaurants.

Let's be clear about this. This isn't about religion. No one is suggesting that you can't believe what you believe. If you use religion to justify negative vibes toward anyone, that mostly just makes you a dick, but you're legally entitled to that dicketry. The issue in this case is funding groups that want to get laws passed to oppress and limit the rights of a subset of the population. The absurdity of passing laws to limit the rights of anyone based solely on your beliefs, and over something that doesn't affect you in any way, is morally destructive.

Some of the discussions I've read online suggest that every company does evil things and probably donates to causes or morally questionable things, and that we can't possibly know or boycott them all. I think that's a cowardly straw man argument. This is a case where we have outright facts, well publicized. You wouldn't hang out with a known racist, so why would you give money to a business when you know it will give money to these lobbying groups?

The debate over gay marriage is easily the most bizarre I've seen in my lifetime. I could argue that I know gay couples, and that I think they should be entitled to the same rights as me and my wife, but it's not even that. It's that it doesn't even matter, and I don't want government in the business of categorizing people and denying some people liberties while others are guaranteed them. Not only that, but no gay marriage is going to change my marriage. I won't love my wife any differently.

So in terms of activism, this one is easy. Chick-fil-A has shitty food anyway. Who puts pickles on chicken? Gross.

Disaster Transport: TAER IT DOWN!!!11!!

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 30, 2012, 5:10 PM | comments: 0

If you've been a roller coaster nerd on the Internet for a long time, you may remember the genesis of a running joke that persists today. Somewhere in 1998 (and good luck finding it), a kid made a post on the Usenet rec.roller-coaster group that Lakemont should tear down its Leap-the-Dips roller coaster, a comment made more absurd by the spelling of "TAER" in all caps. Usenet might as well no longer exist (it was never a particularly good way to conduct discussions, even in modem days), but that meme has carried over into the world of Web forums.

A few weeks ago, Cedar Point announced it would remove Disaster Transport to make room for the new [censored]. "TAER IT DOWN" of course came back, and this time with celebration, as far as I'm concerned. That ride was an awful eyesore. Yes, I'm concerned about the alarming rate at which rides that young families can ride together are disappearing, but that awful steel box has blocked views of the lake for far too long.

Fortunately, this raised an opportunity to do some more fundraising for Give Kids The World, my favorite charity. One of my BFF's, Kara, works there in an event fundraising role, and I've gotten to know the president a bit after helping promote the Coasting For Kids event we've done for the last four years. So of course, I had to jump in and help, to celebrate the end of that boring ride, and raise some cash! Participants got to take the final laps on the ride, and combined with midway donations during the day, we raised about $16k. How awesome is that?

My original plan was to go up and shoot video, around the park and at the event. At the last minute, I bailed on that idea, because it occurred to me that I'm always documenting this stuff and never really just participating. That troubles me. It was a flawed plan anyway, because I mistakingly read the calendar to believe they were open until midnight instead of 10. Also, it was dark, and we were talking about an indoor ride. What was I going to see? Turns out, I ended up lending a hand and being occupied with that anyway.

I had dinner with Pam and Kara, and it was interesting to hear people talk about their jobs in a way most of us never do. They're in the non-profit business of making happy memories for the families of sick kids. After dinner, I helped count money, talk to guests about GKTW, get people organized for the final rides, and even hold a flashlight. Whatever they needed. It's not really "work" to give money or put up some graphics on one of my sites, so it's nice to actually do something to get my hands dirty. It's a good feeling. Pam is trying to convince me to help out at IAAPA this year, which I'm just not sure about.

In any case, I had a good time, surrounded by a lot of my favorite people. I wish Diana and Simon could have been there, but that's a pretty late night for the little guy (and Diana :)). I know I give the, uh, "commitment" of some CP fans a hard time, but when it translates to cash for a cause I believe in, I can't not be proud of that community.

Disaster Transport/Avalanche Run will be gone in a few weeks. Can't wait to ride [censored] in the spring!

Creation vs. consumption

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 29, 2012, 9:30 AM | comments: 0

When someone asks me in a job interview about what motivates me, what I really like to do, the most fundamental underpinning of what gets me up in the morning is the act of creation. I like to make stuff, whether it's tangible or not. It can be anything from media, to software, to a team of teenage girls who can play volleyball together. There's something about the act of having nothing and ending up with something.

I find it difficult to relate to people who don't share this view. A lot of people do a job (that may or may not involve creating anything), and just want to consume beyond that. I can't relate to being passive all of the time, watching hours of TV, eating and not doing much else.

That said, I've noticed that my biggest issue is that I don't take the time to do much in the way of consumption either. I get a lot of joy from losing myself in a movie, for example, but I don't do it very often. My brain has trained me to think that passively consuming things is wasteful, and that I should be doing something at all times. When I'm not, I end up feeling bad, which is kind of messed up. I think it's rooted in the idea that I don't really follow through on a lot of the things that I say I want to do, or things that I start. That's partly because I want to do a lot of very big things, I suppose, as smaller things I generally crank through and get done.

So while I pride myself on being a creator of things, I need to strike a better balance with being a consumer of things (other than fried food).

The honorable institution of medicine

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 28, 2012, 11:08 PM | comments: 0

When you talk about health care in the US, you inevitably talk about insurance. You talk about the morality of it, the costs... pretty much everything but the practice of medicine. It sucks.

I was struck by the willingness of the Brits to include a tribute in the Olympic opening ceremony to the National Health Service, or NHS, which is their public health care system. Apparently there's a lot of respect for doctors and nurses in the field. One commentary I read said they're often respected the way Americans respect their military.

Of course, the American political discourse starts with shouts of, "Socialism!" Then it devolves into quality of care, wait times and other things not derived from experience. Mind you, if you have crappy or no health insurance in the US, you can pretty much make all of the same arguments. We're dealing with all kinds of crap right now ourselves, ranging from billing, to scheduling to prescription approval. Something ain't right when your doctor no longer dictates what you can take. I also scheduled a straight wellness check-up, and have to wait more than two months.

At issue isn't whether or not the British system is better. Availability isn't really the issue, either. What I'm thinking about is more the strange way we Americans view this, wrapped up in the passionate distaste for something different, and disregard for the professionals that train to care for our health. It's unfortunate.

I'm not saying that I believe a social system for health care is the right answer, because I honestly don't know. What I don't like is the outright dismissal of the discussion beyond the "S" word. I mean, the largest portion of the non-statuatory US budget is a socialist system we pay into: defense. Locally we pay into a socialist system for roads, schools, police and fire. And we honor these people who protect us, too. It just seems completely bizarre that we don't share this attitude with doctors.

Again, I'm not endorsing the NHS, but I'm questioning why we can't have a discussion about how to fix health care that gets beyond what everyone thinks is a bad idea (based entirely on rhetoric). It'd be nice if our culture celebrated science and medicine the way we celebrate safety.

Parenting joy

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 26, 2012, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

Much is made of the "terrible twos" when it comes to raising a child, and I'll freely admit that Simon has been, uh, challenging, to be polite. But to be honest, there's a part of me that wishes he could stay as he is for much longer, even though I can see him changing every day.

The best thing about Simon right now is that he's very affectionate. The kid will hug and kiss anyone, but the love he shows for his parents right now is absolutely priceless. It's actually hard to get him out of my office in the morning, because he wants so badly to be physically close to me. It's hard for me to set limits and boundaries, too. I've put him down for his nap quite a few times as of late, even when I should be diving back into work.

His speech has been delayed, but school is helping a great deal, and he's really catching up quickly now. With this comes all kinds of super cute things he says. When he does his flop maneuver on the bed, it comes with a count. When he leaves and says bye, it's now often coupled with "have fun," because I tell him that when he goes to school. And of course, there's his now classic, "Ooooooh nooooo!" that he's so fond of shouting. It was really amusing that Sunday morning in downtown Chicago, where it echoed.

Simon takes a lot of pride in his physical accomplishments as well. We've finally got him climbing stairs with his less dominant leg first, and he cheers when he does it. He gets his toys and puzzles. When he puts his train together, he knows to turn the cars around when the magnets repel, and then gently pushes it around the entire figure-eight track. He helps with the shower doors. He helps water plants outside with the hose.

I get a lot of joy just watching him play on his own. I love watching him figure stuff out. This emerging personality is so amazing. For all of the other things in life that cause me some amount of grief, it just goes away when I spend time with Simon. I really dig being his daddy.

Home improvement: I'm over it

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 9:25 PM | comments: 0

I was actually excited to engage in some amount of home improvement when we moved back to Cleveland. I was excited to take a home with cheap shit and very little paint something cooler.

Almost ten months have passed, and I'm over it. The truth is, I don't enjoy home improvement at all. While things are going well, and I'm making progress, it's all good. So you know, if I swap out a door knob (I brought death to the faux-brass door knows and bought $300 worth of door knobs), and it takes five minutes, I'm all about it. I'm winning.

But then if I go to replace a light fixture, and the drywall around it is all mucked up around it, the wires are too short, the screws are too long, and I have to start wrestling with it, my patience deteriorates instantly and I get all pissed off.

The thing is, people who are in the skilled trades are skilled. They get a lot of practice and experience, and likely learned a great deal from someone more qualified. I don't have that benefit.


posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 11:14 PM | comments: 0

This is a repost from my technical blog. It seems to have been viewed quite a bit, so I figured I'd repost it here on my personal blog.

Once you get your name out there in the world of software, you’re pretty much out there for eternity. This means that your name and contact details will find their way into the databases of recruiters and staffing firms everywhere.

The truth is that it’s good to be “loved,” but as is the case with dating, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get what you need. After being at this for more than a dozen years, working at everything from a tiny private company up to the Microsoft mothership, it’s interesting to note that all of my best jobs came from either me applying for them, or being contacted directly from the hiring company. In other words, staffing firms have yet to offer any real value for me. There is one that got me close to a good find, until the company decided to promote someone internally.

In any case, if you’re a recruiter, and especially a recruiter for a staffing firm, here are some helpful tips.

  • “I came across your resume.” Of course you did. And because every recruiter starts every phone call or e-mail this way, I associate the phrase with the usual outcome: “I haven’t bothered to look if the required skills for this gig I can’t fill match your own, but let’s talk.”
  • You wouldn’t pitch a solution architect job to a junior developer, so why do you pitch junior developer jobs to solution architects? If you have the resume in front of you, I think you can gauge where the person is in their career.
  • Keyword matches suck. It appears now that some firms gather huge amounts of candidate profiles, match them with keywords for job openings, and then farm out cold calls to a call center in India. No one ever looks deeper to see if there’s a good match, so a huge amount of noise is created. You know what? It all sounds the same, and I ignore the noise.
  • Geography. I understand that there is a segment of the population happy to just move anywhere at any time to pick up some crappy contract job. All the more reason you’ll get black listed if you pitch a non-remote job in Madison or Phoenix to me in Cleveland. Not only will I not do it, but this “class” of developer is responsible for a huge amount of the crap out in production systems, devoid of any craftsmanship or maintainability. It’s the difference between eHarmony and AdultFriendFinder.
  • The money doesn’t matter, except when it does. People in our line of work want to be paid what they’re worth, and frankly it shouldn’t be a big part of the conversation. Markets with shallow talent pools in particular work to the workers’ advantage. Make sure your clients understand this.
  • If you can’t be up front about who the company is, or where they’re located, don’t bother. I understand why you may want to keep that information, but none of those concerns are shared by the person you want to get hired. Remember, you’re likely competing with a dozen other calls Joe Software had this week.
  • E-mail. Software people (the good ones, at least) are all about making things efficient. Calling them with vague statements about an “exciting opportunity” is a total waste of time. Phone tag is a waste of time. We want to filter out the crap quickly, and we can’t do that if we have to call. It’s inefficient. If you want to have a nice relationship and take us out to lunch, great, but don’t be inefficient. It’s absurd to leave a voicemail message and not e-mail in 2012.
  • If you want me to take a test on whether or not I know some obscure method in the .NET Framework, you probably don’t get it, and I won’t talk to you. I have an open source project with over 20,000 lines of code that you or your client can look at. I have stuff in production on the Web. Let’s talk about what’s real.

Putting all of that aside for a moment, let me frame the most important thing you have to do. You absolutely must make us understand why the job is interesting. I want to work with great people, I want to be fairly compensated, I want a solid culture that is results-oriented and not about face time, but more than anything, I want work that is interesting. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

I married my wife because she’s interesting. I had a child because parenthood is interesting. I like video and photography because it’s interesting. I ride roller coasters because the machines are interesting. There isn’t much I do in life that wouldn’t qualify as interesting. Why would I want to do work that isn’t interesting? That’s the key not just for recruitment, but for retention.

The war for interestingness

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 21, 2012, 10:51 PM | comments: 0

Last week, I read a short book called The New American Dream: A Blueprint For A New Path To Success (free download). It's an awful title, but I first found mention of it in a news item about the failure of mainstream publishers to get, well, publishing in the modern age. It's not a long book, just over 50 pages. It rambles, but it's a good read.

One of the core tenants of the book is that trying to be "happy" in your career is the wrong thing to do. First off, "happy" is horribly relative and subjective, so it's hard to measure what that even looks like. Second, the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning is not the prospect of being happy, it's the prospect of doing interesting work. I suppose I've always known this, but wow does this make it concrete and obvious now.

Put in more blunt terms, as it relates to out ultimate end state, I'm reminded of the quote from Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement address:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Ultimately, the things that drive us are not about the money or objects that we think make us happy. It's all about how interesting our work is.

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the author cites studies that show how its the intrinsic motivators, our inner curiosity and satisfaction from solving problems, that plays the biggest role in our success, not the extrinsic motivators of money and material nonsense.

When you've identified this thing about interesting work, you start to realize that the world around you has very much done its best to prevent you from doing interesting stuff. In the white collar world, and in software development specifically, the reasons are many. They include issues of control, lack of trust in you to produce results, excess layers of management and process, business that doesn't care about your craft, inadequate mentors... you could go on.

The reality is that there are always interesting problems to solve. The trick is finding ways to get at that those problems, so you can devote the necessary attention to them. From a career standpoint, that path ranges from asking to devote that focus to changing jobs, and maybe even changing careers. You just have to ask yourself how far you're willing to go because, as Mr. Keating once said, we're all "food for worms."


posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 19, 2012, 11:16 PM | comments: 0

There was a piece in The Guardian today about one person's dislike of Instagram, the photo sharing service paired with software that stylizes photos into various things that tend to look like defects. It's a little inflammatory, because the title talks about "real" photography, which is obviously something completely subjective. But it does start to talk about how it affects creativity and alters images as historical records. I agree with those points, but my distaste is also colored by an aversion to anything so trendy that everyone does it.

This isn't about equipment. iPhones these days in particular have pretty great cameras in them. Heck I just watched a "shoot out" of video cameras that shows what you can do with an iPhone, compared to cameras that cost five figures. 

It's not really about art or skill, either. That's not to say that cell phone photos can't be art. I would say that fringing the edges and crushing the dynamic range doesn't make them art either.

It's also not about the function that Instagram plays in terms of sharing photos and creating community. They do a nice job in that regard, which is probably why Facebook was so anxious to buy them. (For another discussion, this is a problem of the "app economy" that the Internet has evolved, or devolved into.)

Like I said, there were points that I agreed with. The first is that it creates a sameness among photos, and that sameness hides the story behind the photo. Yeah, this sounds like it's getting into discussions of what art is, but I think this is bigger than art. For example, take this photo that Diana snapped with her (relatively) crappy 2010 Samsung Focus:

What would altering this photo accomplish? I suppose it might hide the crappy overexposure of the phone, but then it would have the sameness problem. You'd lose the warmness of the sun on Simon's face, the tiny bits of snow in a few places, the thick detail of the dormant bushes, the wet asphalt texture from the thaw, the subtle shape of my leg muscle (kidding, sort of)... The entire feel of the moment, as it happened, would be gone.

Maybe this is my issue: Technology has made it so easy to manipulate media, and everyone is so busy doing the manipulation, that they never ask if they should. (I stole that from Jurassic Park.)

There's an interesting technology curve that we've traveled through in the last 15 years. When we were shooting on film, we could get our images into the computer, and if you were hardcore, you had a negative scanner. Software made it easy to get stuff out of those negatives you never thought was possible. It also got easier to clean up the noise and remove scratches and such. We tried so hard to get good results from film on to our screens.

Shortly thereafter, we realized we could start to be creative. We could play with color to convey a certain mood, or soften parts of a photo to deemphasize it. We could use every ounce of dynamic range to show people what we saw when we were standing there, or crush it to remove the shadows and highlights and leave our subject. Wedding photographers also started doing cute spot color, but we'll pretend they don't exist.

Digital came around, and then we were free of the expense of taking photos. Then they put cameras in phones, everyone started carrying phones, and now we're never without a camera at all. The fabulousness of this is not lost on me, which is probably why I don't care for the aesthetic of undoing all of this progress for the sake of fashion.

I started to go down this path a bit with video. There are tools now where I can apply an effect to something I shot, and make it look like a particular genre of film. The results are amazing, but I've stopped myself to ask why I would do that. Does video of Simon need to look like he's in the Transformers movie? I'm learning to do color correction, for both technical and artistic purposes, as it's a fascinating discipline. Most of what I do to video ends up being for clean up, "for the record," as it were, something I still tend to do for photos.

And yes, there is experience bias as well. I have old photos of me on prints from 110 film that are in dreadful condition. It hurts a little when I see a photo taken with an 8 megapixel camera reduced to the quality of something from the late 70's.

I suppose the good thing about fashion is that it changes. One day you're in, the next, you're out (Auf Wiedersehen!). Particularly as cameras in phones get better, I look forward to seeing what the future looks like.

Blog-book effort revisited

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

More than a year ago, maybe two years ago, one of our new friends in Seattle suggested that perhaps I should explore the idea of writing a book you might roughly categorize as self-help, advice, or something of that nature. The suggestion was made as a fan of my blog writing.

It occurred to me at that time that perhaps I could simply use what I had as the basis for a book. It's a far cry from the programming book I wrote and released in 2005 via a mainstream publisher, but it was still an idea that had merit. When the guys from 37signals release Rework, essentially a best-of from their blog, the idea had even more weight.

The problem is that I've had so many false starts on it that I started to think the idea was stupid. Then, one day, I was looking for an old post I made, when I realized that there were really two things at play. The first is that the subject matter I've written about is pretty broad. Some things, as I started to compile them, were too dated, and not even good writing. The second thing is that the quality of my conclusions and advice made a significant change around the 2006 time frame, after engaging in a new relationship and seeing the divorce finalized. Even the quality of my career choices was better after that.

With these realizations, I've thought a little about the project, and now I see it as "doable." Now, it has more focus. There are fewer categories of things worth writing about, specifically relationships, career and parenting, with an overall theme of growing up.

It's something I want to self-publish. I have no expectations for it, I just want to do it. It's on a short list of things that I have a hard time starting and following through on.

Exploratory phase

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 16, 2012, 11:01 PM | comments: 0

I was thinking today (entirely too much), when it occurred to me that I never had a chance to go through a true exploratory phase in terms of my professional life. I'm a little troubled by this.

About the time I hit puberty, I was fascinated by radio. I sort of made up in my mind that I wanted to be a DJ when I grew up. I briefly thought I wanted to be an architect, and then I got a taste of TV production on a grade 9 field trip for inner city kids to Kent State. I ended up going to Ashland for the same thing, got sucked into radio, and got to be a DJ when I grew up. From there I did TV for three years, and then I started to learn how to write software for the Intertubes. The point is that I never really did much exploring about what I'd like to do, I just did stuff.

What do I have to compare to? Well, for starters, every person I've dated and/or married. Of the women I've had serious relationships with, the four combine for about 30 years of higher education. They all continued to learn and grow, some have restarted in different fields, all after their undergrad years.

Other friends and colleagues have bounced around between completely different things, or taken similar jobs in different industries. They aren't defined by degrees or bullet points on their resumes. One friend has even made a career at being a stay-at-home dad, which is really paying off as his kids become teenagers.

Then there are the rare few who outright built a business and made that their job. They took risks, and they get out of bed every day on their own terms. These are people who earn my highest level of respect (and a certain amount of envy).

The truth is, that if you ask me where I see myself in five years, I'll have a pretty good answer for you. I'm not wandering in the dark here. I just haven't figured out if what I see is what I really want. I feel like I've been on autopilot for a long time, and now I'm having my Ferris Bueller moment.

If I'm being honest, I don't think I want to go back to school (though I have much to learn about a great many things). I also can't name any specifics about where I'd like to try working. I would like to run my own business, in a way that's more than the hobby I have now, but fear, risk and a lack of knowledge get in the way of that. I don't mind working for someone else at all, I'm just not sure about what my dream job looks like. Actually, that's not entirely true... I have a pretty good idea.

I've always been the worker, while others around me went to school. Now I'm also a dad, which brings great responsibility. I don't resent anyone for this arrangement, it's more of an observation. I love having a little guy and a wife who very much looks out for both of us. I just feel like I'm running out of time for something I can't even put my finger on, in terms of my work life.

It could be worse. I have a much younger friend who is doing extremely well for her age that thinks it's all wrong and wants a dramatic change. I might envy her a little, because it's a lot easier to have that kind of inner dialog when you're in your 20's. Would've been nice to have that at her age!

Not sure how this line of thinking serves me. It's just an observation I had to record and share.

Simon's new bedtime

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 15, 2012, 11:40 PM | comments: 0

About a month ago, I was complaining about how much bedtime was sucking with our little man. With all of the sweetness that used to come with Simon's bedtime ritual, it was the highlight of my day... until it wasn't.

About a week and a half ago, we stumbled on to something better. At some point, I put Simon down for a nap and, for whatever reason, hung out with him on the floor before putting him into the crib. I wish he could handle the responsibility of an open bed, and we tried it, but he doesn't seem ready. In any case, he really responded to cuddling up to me on the floor, so I figured I'd try it in the evening.

The first change we made, even prior to this, was having only one parent in the room to put him down. We'd all hang out to read books first, but when the lights went off, it was one parent or the other. So I hung out on the floor, and he gave Diana a kiss, turned off the light, and laid down on the floor with me. Putting him in bed went without accident.

The next night, Diana did the same thing, and since then, we've been alternating and doing this new routine. He will now consistently, for the most part, go down to sleep in the evenings. He still has little bouts of crying in the next hour or two, needing a checkin, but the drama that used to be bedtime is gone.

This is a huge relief. The last thing I want after work is to have a wound-up, crabby toddler on my hands. This new routine is generally working pretty well, and I hope he sticks with it for awhile. Combined with his growing speech capability, behind as it may be, it's so fun to see this little personality blossoming. Aside from his periodic terrible two tantrums, he's a lot of fun to be around.

Seattle and Sandusky

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 15, 2012, 11:15 PM | comments: 0

One of my BFF's, and former work wife, Teresa, will be driving through Ohio this weekend. (To be fair, my first work wife is probably my former office-mate, Aaron, since Washington does not discriminate about such things.) In a fit of awesomeness, her and her friend want to stop at Cedar Point.

This is great for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it brings together two of my favorite things. It bridges a significant person from my Pacific Northwest life, with a place that is central to my Cleveland life. It's hard for me to put into words why I'm so thrilled about this.

The reconciliation of these two geographical lives continues to be an enormous challenge for us. It will be nice, if only for a day, to have both at the same time.


posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 15, 2012, 10:44 PM | comments: 0

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about how I'd like to endeavor in a one-man hackathon, where you hole up somewhere and crank out a complete project, start to finish. I was looking at my calendar, and thought, crap, this weekend is the only one I've got available for some time, so I figured I'd book a hotel near Pittsburgh, and make a weekend of it (with a stop at Ikea before coming home).

Well, like a dumbass, I didn't book right away, so the good hotels were all sold-out by the time I got around to booking. Duh. Annoyed with myself, I figured I'd try to do what I could at home, knowing full well that it wouldn't be a very well focused effort.

Last week, during two lunches out, I did what I'd describe as pre-production. I sketched out on paper (stuff made from dead trees) the basic user interface and flow of stuff. This helped me reach a lot of clarity about how I was going to build it, without getting too far in the weeds over what the implementation would look like.

Saturday, I decided to spend much of the day in the library. I got up early with Simon, so Diana could have a day to sleep in. I finally got rolling around 11:30, stopped to buy a burrito, and found a quiet table. It was not a super-productive effort. The prototype of the core functionality I built had a lot of cruft, which is to say that most of it needed to be rewritten. As such, I think I managed to code 15 unit tests, and didn't get very far. On top of that, I forgot my power supply, and only got 4.5 hours of work time. That weird bug in Visual Studio, where it churns the CPU, is less obvious on the new laptop because the fans ever crank up, so it really zapped me.

Sunday, I got to work after Simon went down for his nap, and all told, I worked on it for about four hours. In the evening, we cracked open a couple bottles of wine, so there would be no evening coding for me. But getting beyond the mess also meant that I got a lot more done. Total unit test count was 36, which is not bad considering the four hours I had today.

Overall, it wasn't the effort I hoped for, locked in a room somewhere, but the more important thing is that I got started on it. That brings me a lot of satisfaction. Now I feel like it's a project I can deliver and finish.

So what is it? I codenamed it "ServerMetric." It's a relatively simple system that aggregates little bits of data that you can view in a dashboard view. I think I've built something like it at least four times in various jobs. There are some interesting sharing aspects to it as well. I have use for it myself, and I think others may be able to use it as well. The tech analyst all seem to think that a la carte service apps are the future of IT spending, so I suppose we'll see if they're right.

The goal now is to finish it with the initial feature set, make it live, see if I can sell it, and then we'll see what happens. Maybe it's a business, maybe it isn't. It's something I've wanted to build for awhile. It even has a clever name that I'll save, for now.

Body recalibration

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 13, 2012, 11:29 PM | comments: 0

I've had a love-hate thing going with my body for a lot of years. It's no secret that I hate exercise for the sake of exercise. I don't have any lofty goals as much as I desire to get back to the lifestyle I maintained circa late 2005, when I felt good, lighter and appeared somewhat thinner.

That was the year that I at least learned to eat better. Those habits have come and gone in the years since. During the last holiday season, things really came to a head when I realized that I was stress eating at every turn, and I put on at least five pounds. I had to make a change at that point, pissed I had gotten so ridiculous. It didn't take long to drop those extra pounds, and a few more, mostly by exercising the kind of portion control that I was already pretty good at.

For exercise, I took up tennis, because I'm not a gym kind of person. I was a sore mess after that first session, and I was annoyed with myself that I allowed my body to get so out of shape. I'm happy to say that now I can play and I'm not endlessly sore. I'm not at the level of fitness I had when I was coaching full-time, but I'm really pleased with my agility and "twitch" when I'm playing. I get the racket on a lot of stuff that other people wouldn't even go for (though this rarely has the rewards that volleyballs does).

I still need to drop another six or seven pounds to get back to my 2005 weight. The thing that's so strange about those few pounds is the dramatic difference in the way I look and the way I feel just walking the earth. If you think about it, that's like not carrying around a gallon jug of milk, so it makes sense. To get there, I need to clamp down on the portions even more, and get out of my office chair more often.

What I'm not interested in is making this effort the lone focus of my life. I've had some friends make incredible physical turn-arounds, but about half of them don't talk about anything else. Everything to them is about fitness. People get boring when that's all they are. I'm not interested in extremes... I'm quite happy with mediocre, normal fitness.

The really tough realization at this point is that I don't have much choice. Every year that passes, I can feel my body letting me down in small, subtle ways that are indicative of the inevitable ending we all eventually reach. This year is the first year that I've felt joint pain now and then, which scares the crap out of me when I look at how arthritis is affecting my mom, particularly in the hands.

But despite all of this, I feel much better than I did six months ago. The IBS has been generally absent the last few months, which has a lot to do with my quality of life. The lethargy and constant desire to sleep is gone. Tennis no longer requires an extended hot tub stay. It's funny how the little things you do can add up.

The economy is the new terrorism

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 12, 2012, 3:03 PM | comments: 0

I recently wrote about how I feel the voting public is being played with tales of "class warfare," a convenient theme for politicians who want to get elected because they position themselves as being on your side. I find the idea of rich people and corporations keeping the "common" people absurd, seeing as how they need those people to buy whatever it is that they provide. It doesn't mean they don't do greedy and immoral things, but conspiring to crush the majority is pretty silly.

In the last decade, our politicians used the threat of terrorism as a platform for everything from re-election to laws like the Patriot Act that trample all over your rights. While a lot of people look at it as a way to seize and retain power, and there's certainly some of that, I think it's more because politicians want to keep their jobs. Do it for the children, and keep them safe. This was the theme, even if the actual threat of terrorism was materially very low.

This election year, terrorism has been replaced with the economy. Again, I believe the politicians are dictating the conversation, and the voters are playing into it. I admit that this is hard for a lot of people to believe, because from where they're sitting, they believe the economy really is bad. After all, unemployment is declining at a slow, nearly stopped rate.

But is the economy really bad, or is it just politicians using fear to get elected (again)? I tend to argue that the economy isn't exactly bad, but rather it's different. It's the change, not "badness," that people can't adjust to.

For example, the value of your home isn't coming back. Sorry. It was extraordinarily overvalued in the first place. I know that sucks, but it is what it is. A lot of jobs are gone, and not coming back, but there are different jobs going unfilled, and we see stories on this constantly. State and local government work is also being hurt by a smaller tax base. Those jobs aren't coming back either, and they account for a huge part of the unemployment problem.

I also have a hard time believing that the economy is "bad" when the amusement industry is kicking ass and taking names. Cedar Fair is having another great year. The house across the street sold in a month for what mine was listed for two years, same model, on a smaller lot and with no improvements. Restaurants and movie theaters are packed. Gas is $3.22 here in town (remember, the politicians promised $4 this summer).

Let me be clear... I'm not saying the economy is awesome. I'm not saying that everything is groovy. But just because it's not good, doesn't mean it's bad. The noise on TV and the Internet is, "Economy! Unemployment! Republicans! Democrats! Class war! Corporations! 1%!" And you, dear American public, are getting sucked into that noise and adding to it.

When you scrape all of that crap away, and stop being scared of everything you hear, what's left is a different economy with unprecedented opportunity. The conversation shouldn't be about how fearful you should be, and all the divisive bullshit that pits you against someone else. It should be about what we do to adapt to this different economy.

Regardless of the reality, no president can change it going forward, and previous presidents didn't get us here (with the possible exception of the Bush's unnecessary war on Iraq, an expense that has caused massive debt hemorrhaging). Stop letting them and their political action committees shape the conversation. What we need from them isn't solutions, it's leadership to encourage solutions and set the conversation to a constructive dialog about adaptation to the new reality.

I don't understand why our culture always has to be scared of something. If it's not terrorism, it's the economy, or gays getting married. Stop playing into that nonsense.

Love and... marriage?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 12:39 AM | comments: 1

I often tell people, when talking about relationships, that I've been very lucky to have at least four amazing relationships. I'm not sure about the fifth, because it was my first "girlfriend" in college, and I think that relationship made me more unhappy than happy. She didn't exactly commit, and I played the role of BFF for a year, and in retrospect felt taken advantage of. This was sadly a pattern I'd repeat in college many times.

But to fall in love and find it to be an intense experience even once in your life is a gift, let alone several times. One of these fantastic women in my life is getting married later this year, and I couldn't be happier for her. She was "all in" when we dated, and knowing her, this is not just something to do next... it's for real.

It's amusing that we used to critique everyone else's relationships, because ours was so awesome. That's sounds douchey, I know, especially if you figure in that we called it quits in less than a year. However, if you think about it, the end of our romantic relationship actually validates our armchair shrink analysis of everyone else. It ended for us because we knew it wasn't going to progress, for a lot of different reasons.

It's not that there wasn't love in our relationship. Far from it. It was mostly issues of circumstance, and to some degree, differences in social lifestyle, that broke us up. It was not for a lack of love.

In my first marriage, we dated many years, and we were engaged for many years, co-habitating and everything. My thinking at the time was that if we did this, we would "obviously" be right to marry. Again, there was no lack of love and caring. Obviously, it still didn't work out.

So what am I getting at? Sometimes people get married when they shouldn't. Statistically, it might be 50% of the time. Love isn't enough. Time invested isn't enough. The hard thing is that if you have the love, and especially if you've got years invested in the relationship, you might feel like you have to get married, out of pride, concern for your partner, or the unwillingness to accept that you may have better options.

It's weird to think about how many divorced people I know. Shit, it's weird to think that I'm a divorced person (although I think you give up that title when you remarry). I'm not going to sit here and tell you I have all of the answers on how to prevent it, but it's strange to think about how hard it is to open your eyes to obvious issues. I'm thankful for the self-awareness that my former girlfriend and I had. It's because of that awareness that I have total faith that her husband-to-be is an excellent choice, and she'll be very happy.

So when do you know? I suspect it's different for everyone. It's probably easier to find reasons to know it's not a good idea, if you're being honest with yourself. Diana and I got to the point of marriage relatively quickly, but it was just so obvious that we made a good team. Our interests, education, financial responsibility, goals, careers, social engagement and interpersonal skills all aligned really well, so when the love and respect came early on, it was like magic. We even like each others' friends, without exception. I always joke that the biggest flaw I could find in her once she moved in was the way she loaded the dishwasher, but that's the truth! I can't think of any relationship, romantic or otherwise, where it was that simple. I suppose I'm very lucky.

The bottom line is that love, in my estimation, is the easy part. It takes a great deal more to make marriage a viable option.

Forums in the cloud

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

I decided last night to try and push my forum app up into Azure, and with just a little tweaking, it worked like a champ. One of the next things I plan to do is work on moving the cache layer out to work across multiple instances, which would in theory allow me to scale pretty well. Not that I need that, but it's an interesting science project.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm really into cloud-based infrastructure and applications. It's such a relief to be able to put apps on the Internet without having to maintain a server. It's also fun to build the stuff because it challenges you to think about making your apps more distributed and service oriented by default.

I needed a technical win last night. I haven't been engaging in technical stuff at a meaningful level lately, and I'm feeling "flat." By that, I mean I feel like I'm going an extended period of time without learning new things or practicing what I know. That's important to me, because it really has been the basis of advancement in my career.

Travel needs

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 8, 2012, 11:05 PM | comments: 0

This year is going faster than I can believe. The scary thing about July is that it's only three months from October, and that's only at the start of the month.

We're kind of guessing on the rest of the year's travel, but we really want to go to Seattle before the end of summer, which is coming at a frightening pace. It also comes at a frightening cost, I suppose because I kind of forget how we need three seats now. And if that weren't annoying enough, we would have to fly out of CAK to get there, because the flights from Cleveland seemingly don't exist. I don't understand the flight booking system, because there are a ton of flights to Chicago, and from there a reasonable selection to Seattle. It shouldn't be that hard.

We've also vaguely talked about going to Orlando between holidays, but we just aren't sure about any of it. I would really like to go to Disney World while Simon is still free, and obviously that's more for us since he's too young to remember any of it, and he doesn't really know the characters either. It's just hard to say how he'll be on a trip like that, five months from now. He's showing more willingness to adapt in terms of sleep and eating, but it's hard to say. I think he would really like the buses and the monorail. I just don't know if he'd make it to Illuminations or the Christmas lights. I'd really like to try the suites at the new Art of Animation resort.

This year is going by way too fast.

Happy management

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 7, 2012, 11:19 PM | comments: 0

What a difference a day makes. While we still feel bad about the anger we experienced yesterday toward Simon, he was (mostly) a doll today. In fact, bed time tonight was completely incident free. There were momentary issues getting teeth brushed, but it wasn't a big deal.

All things considered, he adapted at every turn. In the morning, we watched Wimbledon, which is definitely weird for him because we almost never watch TV when he's awake, unless it's some PBS kids show. He cheered when the crowd cheered, and when the crowd "oh'd" at replay challenges, he said, "Ooooooh no!" It was pretty cute.

He was also mostly stuck inside today, because with it being 97 and humid, we certainly had no desire to be out there. He went into the back yard to play in his plastic house a bit, but I don't think he cared much for it either. So we played inside, and he even helped me clean up his blocks.

To get out of the house, we went to dinner at the Lizard, and we made him wait for food, without bringing much for him beyond some pear slices and string cheese. He protested a little, but he hung in there, and even ate the restaurant food (we tried pizza this time).

In the afternoon, leading up to nap time, he "play napped" in our bed by crawling under the covers. He insisted Diana joined us, and when he got comfortable, he put his hands behind his head. It was ridiculously adorable. It was around that time that he also very clearly said "soap" and "drawer," which is always a relief because his vocabulary is so behind.

Today made me remember that he's a remarkable little boy, and he's not trying to intentionally be a dick. He's just being 2. Even the most simple days can be pretty special.

Anger management

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 6, 2012, 11:39 PM | comments: 0

We had an exceptionally rough day with Simon. He was very 2 today. By 2, I mean he was challenging us at every chance, and knowingly or otherwise, pushing our buttons.

Diana feels bad for yelling at him, to the extent that it scared him. I feel bad because when he was swinging his arms at me, smile on his face, I got so angry that I wanted to return the favor. I don't think there's any point where I've felt more like a shitty parent than right then. All I could do is walk away, instantly pissed at myself that I would allow myself to get that angry at a 2-year-old.

While Diana and I were feeling sorry for ourselves, I pointed out that awareness that we were being emotionally played by a toddler is the first step to changing our own behavior. These moments where he boldly challenges authority are interspersed with a whole lot of cute moments, it just seems like the ratio is terrible at the moment.

A lot of the challenges right now come from nap and bed time. Simon just isn't very interested in going to bed when it's time. I don't encounter it as much at nap time since I'm working, but I sure hear it. It's frustrating in the evenings because I want it to be a happy time for us. Few things are as satisfying as tucking in your little boy when he's all smiley.

"Class warfare:" You're getting played

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 6, 2012, 1:10 PM | comments: 0

I noticed today a couple of political ads, one from each extreme of the political spectrum, accusing each other of trying to "destroy" the middle class. In fact, a lot of the political rhetoric lately is about the middle class.

There's no question in that the middle class incurs a lot of pain in and following a recession (and by the way, by generally accepted economist definitions, the recession ended in 2009). It's also worth noting that house values aren't coming back. A great many government jobs aren't coming back. That's the reality.

What is not the reality is that all of the people in professions that are fashionable to call evil (bankers and lawyers), along with politicians, are conspiring to crush the vast majority of Americans into poverty. Think about that for a moment. If the middle class doesn't have any money to spend, the "rich" don't have anything to sell. It doesn't even make sense.

The fact is, people trying to get elected, along with the PAC's and corporations who want them to be elected, are creating this us versus them discussion. And you, dear voters, are letting it happen. You're letting them set the talking points. They're driving the agenda.

Think about that the next time you post some divisive bullshit on Facebook.

One-man hackathon

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 5, 2012, 11:52 PM | comments: 0

If you're a nerd and read techie stuff, you've probably read about "hackathons." The meaning varies a bit. Sometimes, they're competitions where a bunch of teams of people occupy a room for 48 hours, avoid showering, and knock out a software product. The winner gets funding or something. Or, apparently Facebook is famous for doing this internally, sometimes for a specific product, or to prototype some new feature.

I was talking with Diana about my walls closing in problem, and she suggested that it might help if I just get away by myself for a weekend. She did a day or so away in Pittsburgh for a fiber arts festival, and found it recharging. Next time she'd like to do the 48 hour version.

So I thought, what if I did this myself, but spent the time trying to turn one of my ideas into a product, hackathon style. Mind you, I would shower and sleep, and if I know someone in the city is around, I'd probably try to meet up with them for dinner, but the idea would be to leave with something in hand that actually worked.

I'm not actually sure what to expect from myself if I try this. When I've tried to really dig in and do this kind of thing, I'm typically home, with the distractions that come with that. There's also the risk that when you're not feeling it, you're not feeling it. I don't know if that's "normal" for people in my line of work, but I get the coding equivalent of writer's block, and just don't want to do it. On the other hand, when I'm really into something, and determined to see it through, stuff happens.

It's something that I think I want to try. I kind of hate being away from Diana and/or Simon, but I think it might be good for me.

Exhausting routine

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 4, 2012, 11:37 PM | comments: 0

Something has been nagging me lately, leaving me feeling not quite like myself. I'm not depressed, and not unhappy per se, but just not exactly right.

It took a little birthday reflection to figure it out, but my issue is that the routine I'm in is exhausting. It's the repetition, not the difficulty, that is exhausting. I feel like week after week goes by, and nothing really happens. Granted, there are some things that are routine that I don't mind. For example, I love it when Simon comes into my office after lunch and we wrestle on the bed. That kind of thing never gets old, and I know it won't last either.

Some of the boring routine is rooted in work, certainly. I'm not particularly crazy about the position I have now, though I'm being proactive in trying to change it. The problem right now is that I'm not in a place where I have the authority to move things forward, truly exercising my experience, and the scope of my influence is limited. People are listening, but they're not obligated to act. I'm not in a role where I'm participating in the creation of any process or product; it's more like I'm triaging the failures of others. It has no obvious result.

My free time is too often spent dicking around on the Internet. I'm not spending much time reading or writing, listening to music, writing code, learning new things, etc. I'm not sure how to account for this exactly, other than perhaps attributing the lack of drive to the mental exhaustion of work (or its apparent lack of satisfying results). This too, I'm getting more proactive about. I'm close to shipping another version of my forum app, and a major new feature to CoasterBuzz. I have a OneNote I keep going back to with script ideas, too. I even have new direction for my blog-aggregate book idea. Tennis, while not frequent, has me getting to know my body again.

I think the bigger dull feeling comes from location itself. Since I work from home, I don't really go anywhere other than lunch. I like the arrangement, but it would be nice to go to an office once or twice a week, just to get out. That my house is symbolic of so many things that have frustrated me certainly doesn't help. I desperately miss Seattle, which is the thing that Diana and I still can't get a handle on.

This last part I think is the thing really making me wacky, and while I'm actively doing stuff to correct the other problems, this part is harder. I've had great bursts of energy from our recent travel. The short weekend in Chicago and the trip to NC and TN helped energize me. I'd like to make trips like that more frequently, but I've become a bit of a miser lately. I think our next big trip will be to Seattle, which we probably should start planning very soon.

Some of this routine fatigue is undoubtedly the result of me concentrating on some long-term goals, which can at times obscure the moment. I don't think that's entirely horrible, provided you don't live your entire life that way. You don't want to be on your death bed and realize you missed your own life, but at the same time, it's helpful to understand what kind of moments you want to have on a regular basis. We don't often think about it in those more abstract terms. We think more about, "I want to make this much money, have this job, have this kind of relationship, etc." I think it's more constructive to think about what you'd like to be doing, what you want your routine and moments to be, and then build that other stuff around making those moments happen.

Sometimes, just working that out is enough to break you of that exhausting feeling.