Archive: August, 2012

Everyone does e-mail wrong

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 31, 2012, 4:32 PM | comments: 0

I was initially thrilled to see how Microsoft finally trashed Hotmail with a viable alternative, its Outlook e-mail service. Then I realized that it suffers from the same problem that virtually every e-mail system has other than Gmail: It throws e-mail away.

It wasn't really a conscious effort, but back in the days of Eudora as a desktop e-mail program, I never emptied the trash. It saved all of my sent e-mail, so I figured it would only make sense to save the e-mail I received as well. It turns out to be a useful record of communication. For that reason, I have pretty much all of the e-mail I've ever had dating back to 1996.

I find desktop e-mail clients, including those in OS X and Windows 8, to be slow and not that useful in the way they run. I've been using browser-based e-mail now for longer than I didn't. Even before Gmail came around, I ran my own mail server, and it had a Web-based client.

But still, why does Outlook (and presumably Yahoo and others) want to always delete my e-mail? Is it because the idea of "archive" isn't a native part of the mail protocols like IMAP or POP? Just today, I wanted to find out what some of the terms were for my current merchant account, and those details are still in a PDF I could easily find in Gmail, from many years ago. Sometimes I need to look back at previous communication with a business partner from nine months ago, or review what we talked about, and it's there. Sure, I delete unimportant newsletters or marketing stuff, but mail from humans doesn't need to be thrown away when I have more storage space than I'll ever need.

Computer how I want it

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 30, 2012, 7:42 PM | comments: 0

After the exchange with Apple, and two months since I originally received the laptop, the final piece of the puzzle came together today. Parallels released an update to its software that allows you to run Windows in a virtual machine, and it supports the high resolution of the "retina" screen. A few other apps, including Google Chrome, have also been updated, so now I'm getting the full beautiful experience of that screen.

Windows 8 looks fantastic on this computer. More importantly, Visual Studio is incredible. Staring at code for long periods of time is a lot more enjoyable when the text is as sharp as a printed sheet from a laser printer.

The eye candy is certainly something that makes working on it more enjoyable, but even prior to the updates to support the screen, the innards of the computer have made everything about development faster. Being able to run more than one VM at a time for testing, building stuff and running tests super fast, and Intellisense that doesn't drag... it's all good.

I see a lot of people complain about the cost of well endowed computers, and I don't get it. Do they not remember what it was like a dozen years ago? I remember the first laptop I ever bought was $2,500 in 1999, which is about $3,300 in 2012 dollars. That wasn't even a very powerful computer relative to the desktops of the time. Now you can buy a stacked laptop for around two grand or so, and it will last for years. And if that machine is the primary tool for what you do for a living, why would you not pay for something excellent? Do you think auto mechanics buy cheap tools from Wal-Mart?

I've started to look around at the other computers in the house. My desktop, a 27" iMac, is almost three years old, and not having a solid state drive makes development feel slow. That said, I don't do all that much dev work on it anymore, as it's mostly my hub for photos, video and music. For the most part is still performs the media tasks adequately. I looked into an SSD upgrade, but the one manufacturer that sold an upgrade kid doesn't anymore, and pulling it apart to upgrade is not easy, either. The iMac line hasn't been updated in awhile, and I can't really justify replacing it, so I suppose I'll use it for at least another year. I foresee that being Simon's first computer.

Meanwhile, Diana's computer, a 13" MBP, will be three years old in January. She's perfectly content with it, and it doesn't appear to be falling behind in any particular way. I'm amazed that the battery performance is still so excellent with well over 400 charge cycles. I suspect when she's ready, we can replace that one with a MacBook Air.

.NET development on a Retina MacBook Pro with Windows 8

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 30, 2012, 5:02 PM | comments: 0

I remember sitting in Building 5 at Microsoft with some of my coworkers, when one of them came in with a shiny new 11” MacBook Air. It was nearly two years ago, and we found it pretty odd that the OEM’s building Windows machines sucked at industrial design in a way that defied logic. While Dell and HP were in a race to the bottom building commodity crap, Apple was staying out of the low-end market completely, and focusing on better design. In the process, they managed to build machines people actually wanted, and maintain an insanely high margin in the process.

I stopped buying the commodity crap and custom builds in 2006, when Apple went Intel. As a .NET guy, I was still in it for Microsoft’s stack of development tools, which I found awesome, but had back to back crappy laptops from HP and Dell. After that original 15” MacBook Pro, I also had a Mac Pro tower (that I sold after three years for $1,500!), a 27” iMac, and my favorite, a 17” MacBook Pro (the unibody style) with an SSD added from OWC.

The 17” was a little much to carry around because it was heavy, but it sure was nice getting as much as eight hours of battery life, and the screen was amazing. When the rumors started about a 15” model with a “retina” screen inspired by the Air, I made up my mind I wanted one, and ordered it the day it came out. I sold my 17”, after three years, for $750 to a friend who is really enjoying it.

I got the base model with the upgrade to 16 gigs of RAM. It feels solid for being so thin, and if you’ve used the third generation iPad or the newer iPhone, you’ll be just as thrilled with the screen resolution. I’m typically getting just over six hours of battery life while running a VM, but Parallels 8 allegedly makes some power improvements, so we’ll see what happens. (It was just released today.)

The nice thing about VM’s are that you can run more than one at a time. Primarily I run the Windows 8 VM with four cores (the laptop is quad-core, but has 8 logical cores due to hyperthreading or whatever Intel calls it) and 8 gigs of RAM. I also have a Windows Server 2008 R2 VM I spin up when I need to test stuff in a “real” server environment, and I give it two cores and 4 gigs of RAM.

The Windows 8 VM spins up in about 8 seconds. Visual Studio 2012 takes a few more seconds, but count part of that as the “ReSharper tax” as it does its startup magic. The real beauty, the thing I looked most forward to, is that beautifully crisp C# text. Consolas has never looked as good as it does at 10pt. as it does on this display. You know how it looks great at 80pt. when conference speakers demo stuff on a projector? Think that sharpness, only tiny. It’s just gorgeous.

Beyond that, everything is just so responsive and fast. Builds of large projects happen in seconds, hundreds of unit tests run in seconds… you just don’t spend a lot of time waiting for stuff. It’s kind of painful to go back to my 27” iMac (which would be better if I put an SSD in it before its third birthday).

Are there negatives? A few minor issues, yes. As is the case with OS X, not everything scales right. You’ll see some weirdness at times with splash screens and icons and such. Chrome’s text rendering (in Windows) is apparently not aware of how to deal with higher DPI’s, so text is fuzzy (the OS X version is super sharp, however). You’ll also have to do some fiddling with keyboard settings to use the Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts.

Overall, it’s as close to a no-compromise development experience as I’ve ever had. I’m not even going to bother with Boot Camp because the VM route already exceeds my expectations. You definitely get what you pay for. If this one also lasts three years and I can turn around and sell it, it’s worth it for something I use every day.


posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 30, 2012, 12:07 AM | comments: 0

I'm lucky to have moments like this.

Toddler ultraviolence

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 8:29 PM | comments: 0

In the last week Simon has suddenly added a new weapon to his box of defiance devices: Violence. When he doesn't get his way or we ask him not to do something, he starts to hit, kick or push. It's really scary to see it happen, because without a lot of experience, he doesn't have any sense of regret or understanding about why it's bad. He has also been using his head a battering ram, and we've both taken some pretty serious hits.

Despite his recent adjustments around bed time, he's having a lot of intense meltdowns as soon s we ask him to brush his teeth. At times, little things will set him off, especially when we ask him not to do something. While the ininitial shrieks are ear splitting, he also is getting skilled at turning it back off as fast as he turns it on.

I'm sure it's just another phase, but this one really sucks. Fortunately, we're still having some very nice, calm moments with him, and it's a good thing that he's so darn cute.

Codename "ServerMetric"

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 12:04 AM | comments: 0

More than a year ago, I prototyped a little application that would ping a data endpoint somewhere on the Internet, cache the data, and then allow for various clients to display it, primarily in their browser to start off. My motivation for this was that I thought it would be neat to have a dashboard of stuff going on for my Web sites. Sure, I could display boring stuff like CPU usage and free memory, though there are plenty of products out there that already do that. I wanted it to be more agnostic than that, so I could literally display anything... like aggregate reports of ad revenue, current number of visitors on the site, number of club members, etc.

I've either used or built stuff that performed some flavor of this functionality countless times. I recall at ICOM we had monitors up displaying the current count of policies sold for the day, and one dude built a small desktop client that showed how various services were performing. Just recently, I read a magazine article about the explosive growth predicted in software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings in relation to a very specific dashboarding app, and I thought, wow, why even lock it down with that kind of specificity?

So for quite some time, I felt like there might be a business opportunity for this product if I build it out and make it easily shared. Yes, it very much has a developer angle to it, because someone has to expose that data you want to visualize. But at the very least, it's something I very much would use and pay for. Maybe others will too.

I started to think more about it after CoasterBuzz was relaunched, and about a month ago, I really sat down and figured out how it should work. Since that time, I've spent a few hours here and there working on it, but not a lot. Tonight and last night, I hit a nice stride and worked on it quite a bit, to the point that I feel like I've finally got some momentum on it.

I work on it because there are some really interesting technical aspects to it, so that it can scale and perform well. I also happen to think that the feature aspect of it also has some interesting angles. I truly don't know if it's something that could sell, but I see so many of these kinds of services that I think it's worth a shot to see what happens.

I'm so excited I could pee my pants!

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 28, 2012, 12:57 AM | comments: 0

Do you remember that feeling when you were a kid where you were so excited about doing something that you felt like you could pee your pants? Maybe it was going to an amusement park, or something as simple as mini golf and ice cream.

What happens to us that we so rarely feel that when we get older? I mean, I'm always looking forward to doing one thing or another, but I feel like I don't get really excited that often. I experience a lot of what I'll call "elongated joy" on a daily basis, like spending time with Simon or sharing an old TV series with Diana, but the things that make me accidentally pee a little? Those are hard to come by.

There are big and obvious things to line up to create this feeling, and we've got two trips on the calendar that will likely spur these feelings. But I need to come up with something easier, cheaper and local for this as well.

Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 27, 2012, 11:52 PM | comments: 0

Yeah, I went there. I'm not afraid to admit that George Michael's "Freedom '90" is pretty much one of the best songs ever.

My friend Beth recently posted about buying new clothes, to express your style. She said she was in a rut, and tends to hold on to things for a long time. I can totally relate to that. I'm not even sure just how long I've had some of my clothes. The T-shirts, in particular, seem to go a long way, and Facebook now preserves photos from five years ago where I have the same shirts.

Only two things ever really motivate me to buy new clothes. Well, three things if you count just wearing holes in jeans after four or five years. The other two things are weight loss and boredom.

I lost a bunch of weight in 2005, from a combination of a failing marriage, coaching volleyball nearly full-time and a photo of myself from a year or two before that made me unhappy about my profile. Oddly enough, it was a few photos that friends snapped that fall, on a trip to Holiday World, where I noticed that my clothes were all way too big for the guy weighing about 26 pounds less. In the following months, I'd replace a lot of clothes. I even bought the first coat ever that wasn't a letterman-style jacket with the leather sleeves, even though they were classically warm and comfortable. I got a $20 wool coat that Old Navy was trying to get rid of (and I still have it).

The boredom thing comes less frequently. In fact, being bored with my appearance has mostly led to body piercing on several occasions. The truth is that my style is pretty simple. I tend to be a T-shirt and jeans kind of guy. In the winter, I'm a T-shirt with a sweater and jeans kind of guy. I don't deviate much from that. I am kind of known for being novelty T-shirt guy, however, and as such I have to refresh that collection now and then. In fact, I declared this week new novelty T-shirt week.

I have a feeling I'll have to buy at least some clothes this winter, even though I'm a remote worker who could theoretically work naked. (Sidebar: My car that I don't commute with has 9,000 miles in eight months.) I'm actually back to that 2005 weight again, and I'm sure I've got plenty more to go.

A tablet isn't enough for me

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 27, 2012, 4:03 PM | comments: 0

I ended up being without a laptop for about a week, while I sent the one I had back to Apple for replacement. I've always been skeptical about the use of tablets (namely the iPad) despite their popularity, but with the complete understanding that I'm not an average consumer. Having a week with no laptop confirms a lot of my suspicions, that for me, the iPad just isn't enough.

I originally bought an iPad early last year, largely because it was a form factor I needed some experience with since what I do for a living is often viewed on such devices. That, and I'm a sucker for shiny aluminum objects. It's surprising that I lasted that long, as I skipped the first model entirely. Then, this year, Amazon offered almost $400 to trade-in the second generation one I had for the newer one. I ended up taking that deal, but only because the new model could do contract-free data tethering with Verizon, which struck me as absolutely worth it.

The use cases for computer-like devices can basically be split into a few simple categories: Reading, social browsing and creation. I suppose if I take out the creation part, I'd be most consumers, and the love for iPads makes sense. But the creation part is so huge for me. It's mostly writing code, but it also includes working with photos and video, and some graphics on occasion. As a percentage of what I spend time doing, it's at least half the time.

That's probably one of the reasons that my current laptop was so appealing, because it's enormously powerful, but relatively light and thin. I can use it in close proximity to where ever Diana and Simon are, and I can take it to a restaurant at lunch, still free to create stuff. I take the iPad with me to lunch if I plan to sit at the bar and catch up on RSS feeds, but its usefulness kind of ends there.

This makes me wonder where the evolution will go. If it's something like Microsoft's Surface, it's a step in the right direction (the hybrid PC-tablet model, not the straight tablet, which I'll buy just out of curiosity I'm sure). I don't think there's a "right" form factor that meets every need, but a phone and a thin laptop with a decent screen size would appear to be the right pair for me. The tablet still doesn't really cut it for me.

Baby Stopwatch, still out there

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 26, 2012, 11:09 PM | comments: 0

I was checking my bank account to see if the Google paid me for last month, and I was surprised to see a deposit there from Microsoft's advertising division. I nearly forgot that I had Baby Stopwatch, my first Windows Phone app, still out there, and still generating a little advertising revenue. In fact, it actually started to show an increase the last few months.

It's weird to think about that, because I actually wrote the app before I had a phone. A lot of people working at Microsoft at the time did, since it was hard to weasel a test phone unless you knew someone on one of those teams pretty well. Already knowing enough about Silverlight at the time, it wasn't hard to build, and it seemed like a relevant project given that Simon was just growing out of the stage where we needed an app like that.

In retrospect, it seems like a completely ridiculous app to build. I mean, you don't need to be reminded that your baby needs to eat or needs a diaper change, but it's actually handy if two people take turns caring for the little person. Given how tired you get, you can look at those timers and quickly understand why the little one might be crying.

And clearly, I could have taken it further (and still could). The reviews for the app ask for logging all of the times and such, and graphing them on a Web site. Really? Yeah, some parents want to go there. The thing you don't realize at the time is that it's a phase that goes by really, really fast. Pretty soon, they're walking, getting into stuff, and thankfully, sleeping through the night.

A debugging experience with "highly compatible" ASP.NET 4.5

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 26, 2012, 1:56 PM | comments: 0

I have to admit that I will pretty much upgrade software for no reason other than being on the latest version. I won't do it if it's super expensive (Adobe gets money from me about once every three or four years at best), but particularly with frameworks and stuff generally available as part of my MSDN subscription, I'll be bleeding edge. CoasterBuzz was running on the MVC 4 framework pretty much as soon as they did a "go live" license for it.

I didn't really jump in head-first with Windows 8 and Visual Studio 2012, in part because I just wasn't interested in doing the reinstalls for each new version. Turns out there weren't that many revisions anyway. But when the final versions were released a week and a half ago, I jumped in.

I saw on one of the Microsoft sites that .Net 4.5 was a "highly compatible in-place update" to the framework. Good enough for me. I was obviously running it by default in Windows 8, and installed it on my production server. I suppose it's "highly compatible," except when it isn't.

Three of my sites are running with various flavors of the MVC version of POP Forums. All of them stopped working under ASP.NET 4.5. It was not immediately obvious what the problem might be beyond an exception indicating that there were no repository classes registered with Ninject, which I use for dependency injection in the forums. This was made all the more weird by the fact that it ran fine locally in the dev Web host.

My first instinct was to spin up a Windows Server VM on my local box and put the remote debugger on it. (Side note: running multiple VM's on a Retina MacBook Pro with 16 gigs of RAM is pretty much the most awesome thing ever. I can't believe this computer is for real, and not a 50-pound tower under my desk.) What might have been going on in IIS that doesn't happen in Visual Studio?

In the debugging process, I realized that I might be looking in the wrong place. POP Forums creates a Ninject container using a method called from a PreApplicationStartMethod attribute, and at that time registers a module (what Ninject uses to map interfaces to implementations) that maps all of the core dependencies. It also creates an instance of an HttpModule that originally hosted the "services" (search indexing, mailer, etc.), but now just records errors.

That's all well and good, but the actual repository mapping, where data is actually read or persisted, happens in Application_Start() in global.asax. The idea there is that you can swap out the SqlSingleWebServer repos for something tuned for multiple servers, Oracle or something else. Of course, if I used something like StructureMap, which does convention-based mapping for dependency injection (a class implementing ISettingsRepository called SettingsRepository is automagically mapped), I wouldn't have to worry about it.

In any case, the HttpModule, being instantiated before Application_Start() gets to run, would throw because there was no repo mapped where it could get settings from the database. This makes total sense. The fix is sort of a hack, where I don't setup the innards of the HttpModule until a call to its BeginRequest is made. I say it's a hack, because its primary function, logging exceptions, won't work until the app has warmed up.

Still, this brings up an interesting question about the race condition, and what changed in 4.5 when it's running in IIS. In ASP.NET 4, it would appear that the code called via the PreApplicationStartMethod was either failing silently, and running again later, or it was getting to that code after Application_Start was called.

In any case, weird thing. The real pain point I'm experiencing now is a bug in MVC 4 that is extremely serious because it renders the mobile/alternate view functionality very much broken.

Dishwasher keyboard

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 25, 2012, 12:22 AM | comments: 0

File this one under the "stupid shit I do when I'm home alone at night" category. I noticed today that the keyboard attached to my desktop was getting particularly skanky. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it was starting to get more gross than any toilet. It looked like there was crap caked around every single key.

This is a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, and it's a model that's closing in on a decade old. I bought two for my upstairs office this year, one for my work laptop, and one for my personal laptop, but the one for my desktop is at least five years old, probably older. I think I bought it when I got my Mac Pro in 2006. It's super crusty, but aside from being a little soft in the keys, totally functional.

So what to do with something so gross, but useful? I fret over electronic waste, and the last thing I wanted to do was throw it away. It's not the money, as they aren't expensive, it's just I don't want it in a landfill. I also don't want to take a brush or a swab to it, and waste a lot of time on it.

As it turns out, the Google said all kinds of people have successfully washed their keyboards in the dishwasher, sans the drying part, and letting it drip dry. That sounded logical enough, so I took it a step further and pulled the millions of screws out of it, and found that they keys were held captive in the upper half of the keyboard, without any of the electronics.

I put the crusty upper half in the dishwasher, keys face down, and let it do its thing. The bottom half has what appears to be a silicone membrane to make the squishy part over the sheet of tiny contacts. When the wash cycle was done, I pulled it out and shook as much water out as possible, then took the hair dryer to it to blow out the rest.

I reassembled, plugged it in, and there it was... obviously worn but not gross. Perhaps I'll get another few years out of it.

Another health screen, no surprises

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 4:02 PM | comments: 0

It has been nearly two years since the last time I did a "know your numbers" kind of screening, and once again, there's nothing particularly surprising about the results. The changes are mixed. I weigh a few pounds less, but my cholesterol, while still in the high end of normal, is up a few points. My triglycerides are still too high, though the number is obscured because I didn't fast for the test. As was the case two years ago, my blood pressure and glucose are perfect, and my resting heart rate is exceptionally low. In other words, if I got off my ass and ate a little more broccoli, I'd be an excellent specimen.

The biggest thing to come out of this is that I haven't done much of anything to really change my behavior in two years, and I'm a little pissed at myself for it. I always have an excuse and a reason. There's a pattern in my life like that, where I often know that there are things I should do, but don't out of fear or some other irrational barrier.

The solution is so simple. The triglycerides drop to normal by exercising and backing off on the fries. I mean, I've done it before, and slipped back into old habits. This isn't rocket science.

Thinking hurts in a world of opportunity

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 20, 2012, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

It seems somewhat wrong to be saying this when Diana is in the next room fending off an actual headache, but my brain hurts.

I've had a lot on my mind. Professionally, there's a great deal of opportunity at work, potential other work, and of course, potential in my side-project work. There is so much in front of me that I'm staring in the face of life-changing potential.

If that weren't enough, playing all of these options out gets even harder when I roll up behind Diana in the middle of the night, or see Simon's big smile shooting my way under a blanket when we play "tent." While I know that they're happy just to be part of our little family, it's not lost on me to know that I potentially have the power to change their lives in so many ways.

While I've known for some time that the most important thing to me is that work be interesting, I also find myself concerned that I could be a phony. That's strange for a person who says he doesn't care what anyone else thinks, but the fear is rooted more in failing myself than the opinions of others. I find myself becoming more risk averse, and my priorities keep changing.

There's no question that having opportunity is a good problem to have. I'm sure some people would love to be in my shoes. But it's like being Spiderman, with the bit about, "With great power comes great responsibility." It's not my job to bitch-slap Doc Ock, but the pressure to do the right thing even if it's just for yourself can weigh pretty heavily on you. It can be so heavy that it's possible you'll do nothing at all, and then feel like a washed up dick the rest of your life.

When it comes down to it, the only thing I've ever truly failed at (aside from my first try at marriage) is the act of trying itself. That's probably me being a little hard on myself, or a lot hard on myself, but whatever it is in my head that defines success hasn't been met because I haven't tried. For this, I have to hold on to the notable exceptions. For example, I actually quit a cushy contract job to write my book, which was certainly risky, but I wrote a book that was printed on paper and translated into Chinese. There are a lot of other bullet points since that time that certainly qualify as exceptional efforts.

For now, my brain needs a rest from all of the deep thought. Trying something should help with that.

Back it up, back it up, let me begin

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 19, 2012, 11:26 PM | comments: 0

It's fair to say that we now generate more digital crap than we ever did physical crap. OK, so it's not crap, but it is "stuff." Instead of stacks of CD's and boxes of photos, we collect files on hard drives. It took years to make the adjustment, but for a long time I actually turned the bits into CD's and photo prints, and I've got many boxes that have moved with me several times to show for it.

This change is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing for the obvious reason that the hard drive sitting behind the screen that I'm typing this on has thousands of songs on it, instead of racks of CD's, and about 21,000 photos instead of bookshelves full of albums. It's fantastic that all of that stuff is sitting there in a tiny package about three and a half inches long.

On the flip side, that's a whole mess of data that can suddenly disappear in the event that hard drive fails. And trust me, it will fail eventually. That's the down side. A CD or a printed photo won't break (though arguably, both will disintegrate over time).

In the old days, you made copies of stuff every once in awhile, probably to other disks, or if you were really fancy, a tape drive. The problem with these strategies were that you had to actually do something now and then for the backups, and in the event your house were to burn down, you were still screwed unless you were keeping a copy somewhere else. The biggest failure was still the human component, that you had to do something.

We live in a much better world today. If you have a Mac in particular, backing up your stuff is so dead simple that there's no excuse for you not to do it. You might have read recently about a tech journalist who had his stuff hacked, and he lost family photos never backed up, and all I could do was scratch my head, given his profession. Given the frustration I have with relatively few preserved memories of my childhood on film, you can bet that I've been careful to preserve my digital life as best I can.

My approach is both local and connected. First off, all of our computers (my desktop, and a laptop for each of us) backup using Apple's Time Machine, a part of the operating system. My router has a shared USB drive connected to it, and every so often, our computers copy stuff to it. We never think about it, it just does it. It's neat that you can go "back in time" and revert a file to a previous version, but I think I've used that twice since it was introduced.

The second part of the strategy is to backup to the Internet. I've actually done this for a very long time, but back in the day it was only with documents. Now I have several repositories. Music is stored with Amazon's Cloud Player service, and I think I pay $50 for a year or something to store more than 6,000 songs. Everything I've bought from them doesn't count toward storage, and I think the price is going down next year. Everything else I backup using a service called JungleDisk, which backs up stuff to Amazon's S3 service. That includes everything not music, including photos. I have about 260 gigs of stuff up there, mostly photos, and it costs about $32 a month. I wouldn't call that cheap, but I wouldn't call it too much, either.

Having the off-site backup is another win for digital stuff. In some tragic event where lightning fries everything in the house, or worse, all of this stuff remains redundantly stored on the Internet.

There are some issues, still. The first issue is that there isn't much video being stored online. The problem there should be obvious... the files are huge. I currently store all of my video on an external hard drive that sits behind my desktop, and far too infrequently, I back that drive up to another just like it that I keep in a box. I pulled that one out recently to backup the few files on my laptop for its replacement, and it seems to be exhibiting the "click of death." Not good. The solution here will be to buy a bigger drive to connect to the router, so the video gets backed up there, automatically, like everything else. You can buy an enormous drive for less than $200 these days, though that's still about the most un-fun thing to spend money on.

Not sure what to do about off-site video backup. I think I'm going to at least commit to backing up compressed and edited video online, though that will get expensive. I'm also (eventually) planning to get all of my film negatives scanned, and those will need to be backed up as well. These costs are coming down (I used to pay the same to store half the data), but not fast enough.

The one issue that is strange to think about if file formats. It's safe to say that the noble JPEG will be around for a very long time, but what about all of the camera raw formats? In terms of video, will H.264 be around for a long time? It's hard to say. My VHS tapes will not likely ever see a VCR again, but my DV tape has largely been saved into files.

Laptop exchange drama

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 17, 2012, 10:24 PM | comments: 0

Last week I wrote about how Apple was going to replace my laptop due to an image persistence problem on the screen. They put some notes in their computer and told me to call Apple Care to get it done.

So I did that, and the support guy told me they couldn't do it, they could only fix it. Given the very precise construction of the thing, I really did not want a repair, as it wouldn't feel quite the same after. Naturally, I insisted that they honor their original offer, and they explained that it was not the retail store's place to make that offer. Still not my problem, as there's only one Apple to me, not different divisions, I told the dude to work it out.

He called the store and got back to me, and said that the store mistakenly thought they were still doing a "capture" of units exhibiting the problem. That's where they get a sample of machines and figure out what the deal is. However, they apparently ended that, and now they were just doing repairs. Still, they agreed to honor the swap.

Nice save, Apple.

I was annoyed that the dude insisted that image persistence is actually "expected behavior," according to some internal document. Please. I've had one other LCD screen in ten years that had that problem (from Dell), and they took the exchange without hesitation.

Post-Olympic fever

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 17, 2012, 9:48 PM | comments: 1

I openly admit that I'm a little bit of an Olympic junkie. Yes, I'm into the games for all of the reasons some people find cheesy, including the drama and stories behind athletes who overcame unfortunate circumstances. More than anything though, I dig the summer games because you finally get to see some excellent indoor volleyball on TV.

The beach volleyball three-peat wasn't really unexpected, so to see Misty and Kerri win was just kind of there. They were at least challenged this time.

The indoor women were brilliant for the most part. I see so much of what I teach and expect in the flesh with the USA women. That probably makes sense, because much of what I've adopted in terms of coaching philosophy is rooted in the systems that their coaches used to play under. It's still remarkably effective. It is a bit disappointing that they fell apart in the final, especially considering they beat Brazil in pool play. I also with the TV coverage would have given more credit to the setters and the defense, and especially Logan Tom, who didn't necessarily have the most kills, but she touched the ball on almost every play.

And of course, it was NBC's TV coverage that absolutely drove me nuts. It was absolutely awful. I could have rolled with shitty coverage if they would have at least offered up everything online, but unlike Beijing, they wouldn't let you view any of it without a cable subscription.

Those fun stories about the struggling athletes? They were almost entirely US-centric, and therefore boring. The only interesting things I saw was a historic feature by Brokaw on the London Blitz, and a short feature on a female British BMX rider.

But the absolutely worst offenses were the editing decisions. Volleyball was fine when they aired matches live in the afternoon, but then they get to the gold medal match, show it in prime time, and start half-way in the first set with the US blowing away Brazil, and come back from commercial with Brail winning the next two and about to close out the last one. WTF? There was zero context about how the US team fell apart, all so they can fit it into 45 minutes.

Then there was the closing ceremony, where they completely cut out the performance by Muse... the band that wrote the official song of the games. In fact, I never heard the song even once on TV. When I first heard it, I figured I'd be sick of it after dozens of montages and highlight reels set to it. Never happened.

There were some good things here and there, you just had to be there are the right time, I suppose. Seeing Andy Murray beat Federer was epic. Every time Missy Franklin was on the screen for any reason, you just wanted to squeeze her as the best example ever of a kid who has their head on straight over the whole fame and ability thing.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed, in part because NBC did such an awful job of covering it all, but there were still good times.

Monkeys and change

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 14, 2012, 11:20 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that challenges me professionally is finding ways to enact change. As human beings, I think we tend to resist change instinctually, even though it's one of the few things in life that we can absolutely guarantee will occur. When you try to change something, we're often met with the standard, "Well we've always done it this way."

When I posted a comment about this on Facebook, a friend of mine linked to a clever story about monkeys conditioned to not pursue a banana, because a researcher would hose them all down just for the one monkey who went after it. The monkeys eventually learned not to let others go after it, even as they systematically replaced the monkeys. Once all of the monkeys were replaced, they continued to prevent each other from going after the banana, well after the researcher with the hose was gone. They kept the new guys away from the banana only because, well, they always did it that way.

While collective experience may prevent change even with a generational shift, or employee churn or whatever, the absence of experience makes it just as hard to change. There might be a best practice or process that is a proven winner, but if you haven't engaged in it yourself, your first instinct is to flatly reject it as an option. The rejection is even stronger if you have solutions in your repertoire that already work, because, after all, you always did it that way.

I find myself up against these forces on a regular basis, and while they can be frustrating, I'm also trying hard to understand the psychology behind them. I've got a mixed record of success. I've had jobs where I've been able to take a complete mess and get things to the kind of state that a lot of folks would in better situations take for granted. Conversely, I've been in situations where I can't even get a discussion started, let alone work in a sales pitch to get people to try to change.

For a little context, I'm not talking about making changes for the sake of change. I'm also not talking about validating my own ego for reinforcement of what I think is the right thing to do. I'm talking about introducing things in software development that will ultimately save money, make you more efficient and vastly improve the quality and maintainability of your product. These ideas don't come from my own brilliance, but rather a great deal of experience of what works and what fails. (I've seen way too much failure, which sometimes causes me to question my employment choices.)

I'm surprised at how much of what I do is less about technology and more about having the right culture to innovate and kick ass.

Video failure

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 14, 2012, 12:20 AM | comments: 0

I suffered an embarrassing and stupid failure today. I was out covering the Gatekeeper announcement at Cedar Point tonight, and managed to not record an interview.

After the official stuff for the crowd, I cornered John, the GM of the park, to ask him a few questions. Just as I started recording, a Toledo TV crew on deadline asked if they could talk to him first, and I agreed since it was not urgent, and I've known John long enough to know he'll help me out when he has a minute. Plus I thought I was scoring karma points.

So after the Q&A, I caught up with him again, and we started to talk, only this time, I apparently double-tapped the record button, and realized when I started to shut down everything that I did not actually record the interview. If that weren't bad enough, of all of the times I've interviewed him, this was easily the best one.

I can't even put into words how angry I am toward myself. I've been shooting professionally, with pro gear, for 22 years, and somehow I did this? I get pissed just thinking about it, especially after helping my fellow man by letting the other crew go when I was already rolling. It's a total amateur, bone-headed move, and I'm ashamed. I felt like Ellen Feiss, defeated by the machine.

I'm trying to cut myself a little bit of slack, because I've never shot anything ENG-style with this camera. That's not really an excuse, it's just a theory on why I wasn't paying attention. On my previous camera, I was like a ninja, in full manual mode, and could even walk and talk while shooting, not bothered by the lack of a grip or someone to hold a bounce card or lighting. Maybe I wish that video cameras made a fake sound of tape spinning up, the way that still cameras make fake shutter noises.

At least it was for me and not for some third-party, paying client. No explaining that away.

Making a vacation count

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 12, 2012, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I have had some fairly outstanding vacations. Some were brief, like our first overnight together to see tennis in Cincinnati. Others were of medium length, and included exceptional partying for people in their 30's, like our visit to Universal Orlando in November 2007. A year later we had a great week at Disney World. Our destination wedding was insanely awesome, and the following week in Hawaii was not bad despite suboptimal weather.

We continued to take vacations after Simon was born, but our expectations were quite different. Honestly, we didn't really have any expectations. We decided before he was born that it was important to continue traveling and doing stuff, and with the miles that kid logged, we definitely stuck to that plan. I think the strongest example of this was our January 2011 trip to Orlando. We had a pretty good time, and Simon was really excellent.

But given the whirlwind of life that has been the Family Puzzoni Experience, me and Red Delicious have had few opportunities to really let go and have adult fun. It's not that we don't love spending time with Simon, it's just that there is a different brand of fun you can't really have with him in your company. We've had some date nights with babysitters, of course, and an overnight away in Puget Sound, but we've been wanting something a little bigger.

So later this year, Simon is going to get a few days of quality time with Nanna and Nonno while we jet off to one of the few places we probably wouldn't go with Simon until he's an adult: Las Vegas. We talked about the usual destinations, as well as some new things to try, but they were all things or places we'll do with Simon. Our one visit to Las Vegas together ended with me getting a massive sinus infection, so we need a do-over.

Plans aren't specific yet, but we'll figure something out. We're going to make it count, for sure. One of the five-diamond hotels, probably a show or two, good food. (Insert the recurring matching tattoo joke here.) Probably not a lot of gambling, but Diana will get some craps in, and I'm sure there will be video poker at a casino bar (fastest route to "free" beverages).

Choo! Choo!

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 12, 2012, 12:04 AM | comments: 0

Diana's PTA group had a membership drive today at one of the county parks, where they happen to host a fantastic group of model train enthusiasts that maintain and run a series of 7-1/2" gauge trains.

It's pretty much the most awesome thing ever.

I've never had any interest in large, full-size trains. I've lived near an old scenic rail line for most of my life, and never endeavored to ride one. I did, however, take an interest in model trains when I was a kid, though I never had any space to permanently build and model something. I had a big old wood panel that was so smooth that the HO-scale train I had would push the turns out until it derailed.

In adulthood, I have a friend that engineered model roller coasters, and from that friendship (and some work on their former Web site a million years ago), scored a lot of those "toys." That was way cooler. You don't have all of the switches and that kind of thing, but it's a lot more dynamic.

The trains at the park are all privately owned, as far as I can tell, and the volunteers maintain the rail lines and their engines. They even have a day camp where kids can learn how to build the seating cars. There are many switches, lights, bridges and other props. They even have a huge maintenance area where they get the cars and engines up higher to work on them.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Simon was really into it. When he saw me crawling around one of the trains to get a closer look, he ran right over and did the same thing. That was pretty adorable. Despite the odd, cold day, we really had a good time, and we found a hidden gem right here in our own county.

The best at night

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 11, 2012, 12:26 AM | comments: 0

A number of my spare-time hobbies and pursuits are solo activities. I like to write and build software, and these are things best done alone. Well, actually pair programming has a time and place, and I rather enjoy it at times, but for the stuff I do it's typically all me. I've noticed that I'm best at these things, and at my most productive, in the evening.

It's not hard to see why. Simon is in bed usually a little after 8, and Diana tries to get to bed by 11. At that point, I can devote focus in a way that I can't during the day. Factor in a lack of TV, less crap springing up on the Internet, no day job to get in the way, and you have the machine that is me.

The obvious solution to satisfy my urges in these solo activities (not that kind of solo activity, pervert) is to stay up later. That doesn't work, however, because of the need to get up for work. I also happen to really like my wife and my son, and love spending time with them in waking hours. And dammit, I need my 7.5 hours of sleep.

I need to figure out how to adjust for this. I'm greedy, and I want it all... the good family time, the good leisure time and solid sleep. If I add other things like woodworking or basket weaving, I'm screwed!

Dreamy writing ideas

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 11, 2012, 12:01 AM | comments: 0

As many dear readers know, there are a number of things that I strive to achieve, then complain about when I don't. This begs the question of why I would want so much to do things that are not easy, that I would likely do right this moment if I truly enjoyed doing them.

This is not about that.

Writing is something I want to do because it results in some kind of benefit for the consumer. This is particularly true when writing for film. Well, it's all video now, but you know what I mean. I have most of the gear I would need right this moment to make a film, but I don't have any source material to make it happen. I've come to realize that this is because of two things. First, I think I'm a shitty screenwriter. Second, I want to skip the writing and just make a movie. There are peripheral issues as well, like the fact that writing is generally a solitary activity, and I'm not one who particularly enjoys being solitary.

To my surprise, there are things coming to me anyway. I'm surprised because the ideas have been coming to me as dreams right before I wake up. Twice in the recent past, I've opened my eyes, grabbed my phone, and jotted down some notes in a OneNote I have. Both ideas are dramas, though one of them has a romance subplot. I'm sure they include elements of things I've seen, but they otherwise seem reasonably original. I wish I could dream up something funny now, because I really want to write something with dick and fart jokes.

From a more practical standpoint, I want to make a short first. These ideas are surprisingly harder, because it's hard for me to limit the scope of my ideas. I've toyed with the idea of taking a fable and making it modern. That relieves me from having to come up with a story arc and gets me to writing dialog.

Something is waking up my creative mind lately, and I suspect it's a combination of some mind-numbing work and the observation of my young son developing a sense of curiosity. I think creativity in this case is my brain's response to dull days.

New laptop replacement

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 10, 2012, 11:30 PM | comments: 0

I was very surprised to see, after a few weeks, that my new laptop's screen was having an image persistence problem. That's when you see the image of what you're looking at "ghost" in a new image. For example, if you have a dark gray desktop background, and you've had a Web page up for awhile, you'll still see a ghost of the browser page on the background. It eventually fades, but it's jarring when you go from one app to the next, and still see the first one.

So I took it to the Apple store, they saw it, and if it was the stock model, would have replaced it right then and there. Since it's a custom model with more memory, and there isn't an upgradeable part on these new MacBook Pros, I'll have to call it in and get a replacement that way. Apparently they'll overnight me a box and I'll send it back.

This is one of the reasons I've been generally satisfied with Apple products. It's rare to have issues, but when you do, it's pretty low friction to deal with it. My first laptop from them had a logic board go bad after two years. I didn't have the extended warranty, but it was a flat repair fee that was all of $20 more than the warranty would have been. That one was used for two more years after that. Lots of great stories from iPhone and iPad users out there.

The interesting thing about this generally good support experience is that their business strategy makes it easy for them to afford it. They don't really sell anything that's low-end or commodity crap (like Dell, HP and such). That's not some Kool-Aid drinking nonsense, it's generally an observation. The computers cost more, but they're all spec'd higher and wrapped in better industrial design. Competing on price would be a poor strategy. The win is that their margins are so high that it makes this no-nonsense support affordable for them.

I'm disappointed with the defect, but the remedy is simple enough that I'm not all that troubled by it. Reading the support forums, it sounds like replacements have generally been fine.

Money matters

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 6, 2012, 11:19 PM | comments: 0

It's weird to think back to the mid-90's, when I was buried under student loans, credit cards and a car payment, not to mention rent. At the time, I just sort of accepted it as normal, and didn't worry about it that much. Today, the idea of being in that position is completely horrifying.

About the time Simon was born, we were in a pretty ugly position, with two mortgages for houses we weren't living in. Our cash flow was fine, and we certainly weren't going to starve, but when you're having a child in your late 30's/40, and you haven't done a great job of saving for retirement, your priorities for saving money change dramatically.

That was a turning point for me, and I committed to a completely different attitude toward financial responsibility. I might even have taken it too far when we decided to move back to Cleveland. My goals for saving for Simon and retirement are obvious, but then I also became obsessed with trying to figure out how to get to a point where our biggest expense, a house, could become our smallest. The game plan was to save literally half of every paycheck, so that we could in a few years or less sell this house and put an enormous down payment on a house somewhere that would be our own, free of the legacy and baggage of Beaumont Drive.

It's not lost on me that a lot of people would love to have my "problem," but this isn't about empathy, it's about the standards that I have set for myself in my new age of responsibility, and the self-loathing that comes when I can't maintain them. There are two major problems that caused me to miss my mid-year goal. The first happened before the year even started, when that crazy asshole crashed into our car on Christmas Eve in Tennessee. I dipped into the savings for the replacement car downpayment. Then I discovered just how much my health insurance sucked, covering little and pushing a huge deductible. I kick myself for not thinking more about this in the salary negotiation.

I started to wade so deeply in the angst over the situation that it was starting to adversely affect my mood toward everything. I'm not sure why the pressure around this was so great, considering I wouldn't think twice in my 20's to charge $40 for dinner and then drop another hundred at Best Buy for DVD's or something. How did I become such a miser?

The first obvious reason is Simon. While I want him to have the opportunity to fall down and be challenged, I also want him to have a stable environment in a good school district. Also, I want Diana to have the total freedom to be with him until he starts school, because I can see how important it is to have that deep connection with your child in his earliest years. I think the biggest thing, however, is the intense desire to get away from this house. It represents the reason we left Seattle, and it's not "our" house. It might be where my life began to improve in every way, but it's also where it fell apart. I'm just done with it.

At the end of the day, I had to let all of this anxiety and angst go, because I can't change it. So I'll be two months behind my intended goal, and it is what it is. The final straw was when I was stressing over buying plane tickets for us to visit Seattle. I couldn't let my issues get in the way of what we think will be the highlight of our year, in terms of travel.

My parting advice is to have fun, and don't be stingy when it comes to friends and charity, but don't be a moron like I was in my early post-college life. Everything is more complicated later on.

Party glow

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 6, 2012, 9:47 PM | comments: 0

We threw a somewhat large party on Saturday, with about 30 people showing up. I used to have big parties every summer, something that started as soon as I had a house. Parties can be kind of stressful to pull off, so to reduce that stress, I took as much work out of it as I could by buying food.

We ordered a bunch of food from the Winking Lizard, about 100 boneless wings, an array of cheeseburger and pork sliders, and pizza. It ended up being about $3.50 a person, and we ended the night with less than a medium-sized pizza left. I did over-buy on alcohol for the mai tai, but fortunately that has a shelf life of forever.

Particularly after being out west, and without a house, I really hoped to get a good mix of people, and as many that I haven't seen in awhile as possible. A couple of my BFF's from college, one of them my roommate from senior year, were there, and it was nice to catch up in person. I saw veterans of my 30th birthday party. And there were a whole lot of kids.

I really like entertaining. I'm not as fond of home ownership as I used to be, but having a house sure does make it easier to have friends over. I'm not sure why we don't have smaller parties more often. Maybe that's something I need to think more about.

The party was something I really needed, to blow off some steam. Seeing people I haven't seen in a long time really helps too. I've been hanging on to everything a little too tightly, taking life a little too seriously.

Every day is a new adventure in development

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 5, 2012, 10:48 PM | comments: 0

I know that I gush a lot about Simon. I suppose that's what parents are supposed to do. While we've had some concerns about his development, both in speech and physical issues, having him in the birth-to-3 intervention program has very obviously been good for him. What's most remarkable is the little things we see every single day.

On the physical front, we've been encouraging him to climb the stairs with his less dominant leg. One of his therapists at school noticed that he almost couldn't step up with the other leg, which is bad news. After just a week or two, he started taking the initiative to do it on his own (perhaps for the praise), and now he's even climbing no-hands.

I'm also noticing little things in the way he plays. With toys that have many parts that interact, he does a lot more experimentation in how he orients objects. Shape sorters, blocks and other things are starting to get easy for him.

Meanwhile, the words are starting to come, and even coming in groups now. A lot of it is mimicking and repetition, and it comes from reading books, and surprisingly, watching Word World, a PBS show. I think what's most encouraging about it is that a lot of these words come unprompted and unexpectedly.

I find myself just watching Simon, quite a bit. I mean, it's strange how often I find myself just getting intense enjoyment by seeing him do stuff. It's hard not to smile at all of this development going on right there in front of you. I realize that pretty much every kid goes through this, we all do, but it's something entirely different to watch it happen with a front row seat.

My Olympic fever after one week

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 3, 2012, 11:59 PM | comments: 0

We're almost to the half-way point in the Olympics. I have to say that NBC has generally done a somewhat shitty job in the way they're showing stuff, mostly because of their streaming restrictions. I don't subscribe to cable, so if it ain't over the air, I don't see it.

I'm really not that into swimming or track and field, but there have been some interesting stories around some of the athletes. I couldn't believe NBC actually did a feature on a Brazilian athlete today. The flag waving and focus on just Americans has been wholly boring in most cases.

I have to give a shout out to Missy Franklin, the high school kid winning swimming medals. Obviously there's only so much you can tell by way of TV, but she seems like the kind of kid that every coach wants to have as an athlete. She's so grounded about the whole thing, and her attitude is amazing. It's a nice change from the self-absorbed attention-whoring of many professional athletes (especially basketball players from Akron).

Gymnastics hasn't been nearly as interesting to watch as it has in previous years, and I'm not sure why. The US men failed spectacularly, but even the women didn't interest me much.

I'm a big fan of team sports, and watching volleyball has been amazing. The US women are amazing this year, and I find it validating to see them using components of the same offense I like to use with my J.O. teams. They have an outstanding array of players, and most of them play defense as well as offense, something you don't see enough of in high school and college. I've seen every match so far. If they beat Turkey on Sunday (it should be broadcast live), they will have swept the pool. Quarter finals are Tuesday, semis on Thursday, medal matches on Saturday.

The men are less interesting to watch, in my opinion, because it tends to be more about power than defense and strategy. Beach is the same way, although the American Misty-Kerri phenomenon challenges that. Those girls sure can play some D.

Tennis hasn't been shown on NBC proper at all, which is a bummer, but given that Wimbledon just ended a few weeks ago, maybe not that surprising. Still, Maria vs. Serena is tomorrow morning (and sorry, I have to cheer for Maria on this one), and the men will deja vu with Federer and Murray meeting again for the gold (not sure when that match is).

I'm enjoying the competition, even if I'm completely annoyed with NBC. You don't get to see a lot of international volleyball on TV, so as a coach and player of 20 years, you gotta geek out on it whenever you can.

Opening your echo chamber

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 3, 2012, 11:50 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I've noticed, when I compare me to college me, is how much I've changed in terms of my views on the world. Politics in particular are entirely different to me. Back then I would probably describe my views as leaning liberal (though in some places, like that college, I might as well have been an extreme lefty by comparison to everyone else). These days, I tend to still lean left on a lot of social issues, but right on a lot of fiscal issues. More importantly, I feel like I've evolved beyond cheerleading for one side or the other. In fact, I'm tired of everyone picking sides when both tend to be mostly full of shit. What kind of rational person agrees with one-side group-think?

I think this process is mostly just growing up. Time and experience steers your opinions in a way that invites you to identify possibilities you haven't considered before. You take in more information.

The problem though, especially with regard to politics, is that people tend to place themselves in an echo chamber. The easiest way to validate what you believe is not only to not question it or reevaluate it, but to surround yourself with information and people who agree with you. Fox "News" has made a business counting on that.

In a culture as divisive and toxic as the one we live in, this is particularly disappointing, because we're in an age where we carry computers in our pockets connected to a network that contains nearly all of human knowledge. It's not even that hard to find. But still, people pick a team and stick with it, instead of being a free agent.

Despite my frustration with the echo chamber phenomenon, I do think it will get better. I've noticed this year that, in my circle of friends, most aren't really willing to commit to a presidential candidate in a fanatical way, even if they do know they'll vote for one or the other. If more people continue to arrive at the conclusion that a lot of problems are complex and hard to solve, and certainly not summarized in sound bites, there is hope.

Big year for Microsoft

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 3, 2012, 4:51 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe that it has been almost a year since I turned in my Storm Trooper outfit in Redmond. I'm not going to write about that experience yet again, but I will say that I still think about the decision to leave and move back to Cleveland a great deal. For me at least, I liken the experience to college. No matter what you thought about the place at the time, it permanently becomes a part of you. With mixed experiences and mostly fond memories, that's definitely true for me.

What I find exciting is that Microsoft has clearly turned a corner in a way that most people would not have expected. The product lineup was already pretty exciting, but this year it's like the great second coming. Windows 8, new dev tools, the vastly improved Azure, the next phone OS, and even the new Surface... it's great stuff. I'm not sure why that surprises me, as I've always said that the company is too big to generalize that it's dumb and slow. Critics are fond of connecting something like Microsoft Bob with people building the phone... as if that's even remotely logical.

I'm not suggesting the company doesn't have work to do to improve. Far from it. But what I notice about people there is how many have a great deal of self-awareness about the issues. I could see that transition bubbling up while I was there, and I think it's starting to show.

At the end of the day, it'll be up to consumers to decide how excited they are. There is no marketing silver bullet, but I think if they get the toys in front of people, and real human beings to talk candidly about them (DevDiv, where I worked, already does this pretty well), it's going to be a big year for them.

New bits for Windows 8 and Visual Studio hit MSDN in 11 days. Looking forward to it!

Memories of church

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 2, 2012, 11:32 PM | comments: 0

I was thinking today about going to church as a young child. I actually have a lot of good memories of hanging out in that church, even though the average age of its congregation had to be 80. There were only a few of us kids. Still, I liked the community and familiarity of it.

I had a couple of really good, young pastors as well. If I think back to the messaging of those sermons, in broad terms, the take away was mostly, "Don't be a dick to people, be thankful for what you have, help out other people." It was an exceptionally positive experience.

I've written before about what happened next, when the actions of people in the name of religion turned me off to the institution of the church, it took awhile to come back from that. In recent years, I think I've gone from some loose variation of Christianity to something more agnostic. Why? Because when you decouple faith from organized religion, you aren't bound to any specific paradigm. Instead, the intrinsic desire to be a better person through your own spirituality guides you. That's not for everyone, but it really has worked for me.

What saddens me is that the issues I had with the institutions are the issues I have with what is probably a vocal minority of people associated with them. If you think politics are divisive, the toxic things that come out of some mouths in the name of Christianity is down right frightening. You're either with us or against us, believe exactly what I believe or not. Divisive isn't even a strong enough word.

I have to remind myself that not everyone is like that. A friend of mine commented on Facebook that she wishes people would get back to talking about what they love and affirm, not what they don't like and what they're against. Others have said they wished people would put the kind of energy into solving problems of poverty and disease that they put into showing support for a fast food chain. I agree.

"Don't be a dick to people, be thankful for what you have, help out other people."

That's what I believe, even if I don't associate it with a particular building or group of people.

Online nuggets and real life

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 2, 2012, 11:25 AM | comments: 0

My friend Tyler in Nashville made a good post about the relationships we build online (+1 for using the term "online nuggets") and continue with them offline in our "real" lives. This is appropriate in the context of our friendship in particular, since we typically see each other once or twice a year, and we're still comfortable enough to share a room between our families. They're not the only ones we do this with, either.

The Internet is an enabler for a great many things, both good and bad. I'm starting to wonder if there really is a line between real life and the Internet, and I suppose it depends on the person. I try to be the same person in real life that I am online, but I acknowledge that's rare. A lot of people don't even use their real names online.

But specifically with relationships, the deeper ones, I think the line is quite blurred. Online interaction is not a substitute for in-person good times, certainly, as the communal experience of doing anything is by definition something shared, but it goes a long way toward filling the gaps until those experiences are possible.

There are nuances that may cause us to measure these long-distance arrangements differently. I have a friend, for example, that often feels like she does all of the work to maintain relationships, and from that data point often feels like the other people just don't care as much. I don't happen to agree, because that spectrum of engagement exists in close-proximity relationships as well, largely because we all engage in different ways.

I can't speak for everyone, but the online nuggets of my friends that aren't next door enrich my life in a way that didn't exist 20 years ago, and I'm very thankful for it.