Archive: January, 2013

Simon's new blanket

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 31, 2013, 10:08 PM | comments: 0

If you grew up anywhere that isn't Florida or the desert, then you probably appreciate the comfort and security of a warm blanket. It's of particular value in the winter, when no amount of heat seems to really make it warm enough to be cozy.

Even better, there's nothing quite like a blanket that someone made for you. Simon is the luckiest little boy in the world, because Diana's first quilt, that she did herself, start to finish, was made for him. A hand-made (well, made with a sewing machine) quilt is entirely unique, and organic in nature because it's not exactly perfect. A lot of love and enjoyment of the process goes into making it.

The awesome thing is that Simon seems to love it. As soon as she brought it down, completed, he took to it immediately. I don't know if it's just a novelty or if he understands his mom made it, but he loves it. Tonight, it's keeping him warm in bed. I'm really proud of Diana's crafty work!

Is the middle class screwed, or did it screw itself?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 10:07 PM | comments: 0

I had an interesting conversation today with the lovely woman who has been cutting my hair for most of the last 20 years. Like me, I would describe her as generally liberal on social issues, but fiscally conservative, which is more of a recent trait for me. What I love though is that her view of the world is likely more complete than most people, because she encounters so many different categories of people.

First off, she's seen the hurt across all demographics in the last recession, and she's quick to point out that it's not any one group that constantly complains about things. Ultimately, she says, most people (but not all) are in the circumstances they are because of choices that they made. Yes, she was suggesting that people simply aren't very accountable for their own actions.

I would add that, in talking about donating time and money to charitable causes, she also doesn't understand the strong dislike for government programs that are intended to prop people up, or more specifically, the generalization that everyone who receives some kind of assistance is a low-life deadbeat. That's not saying that the deadbeats don't exist, but a lot of those folks are children who don't choose their parents, and of course the elderly. Making generalizations is kind of stupid.

Getting back to the people who make their own decisions, I'm starting to wonder if the "middle class" is in fact shrinking, or the definition of middle class is just completely wrong in the first place. If you go back to the middle of the last century, most people defined it as having a decent job, a modest house, and perhaps a car. Today it seems to mean having a job that pays more than the required skills justify, a McMansion, a $30k car and at least one college degree.

I read a rant today filled with more generalizations that suggested the problem was the unrealistic culture that has grown around extreme consumerism. The rant made the observation that many people can never make "enough" money because they just use it to buy a bigger TV, car or house. The optimist in me would like to believe that's a silly generalization, but maybe it's not.

While a sociologist would probably define "middle class" as household income in the $70k to $90k range, I think that's different from what one needs to live comfortably and securely. My little family of three could easily "get by" on $50k a year if we had to, though without changes in lifestyle, we wouldn't be saving much. If we ditched the house for an apartment and traded down for a cheaper car, I bet we could even go down to $40k. When I think about it in those terms, I'm not convinced that the middle class is shrinking as much as the middle class needs to alter its expectations about how to live comfortably.

The recession ended more than three years ago. While the recovery hasn't been at a rate that anyone is happy with, I don't think the world we lived in will come back any time soon. I think that wealth shouldn't be viewed as how much money you make (or crap you can buy on credit), but how small your expenses are. The true measure of financial freedom has always been how free you are from your commitments. One shouldn't make commitments they can't keep.

The Internet: Now with the information you're not looking for!

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 27, 2013, 11:05 PM | comments: 0

The presidential election is becoming a distant memory, but the stupidity people apply toward politics and other matters of cultural and societal importance is greater than ever. It's particularly bad on the series of tubes.

Look, I'm not a huge Obama fan myself given his total lack of followthrough on leading Washington out of the bullshit and into some kind of constructive, functioning entity, but the way people hate the guy is totally irrational. Before invoking Godwin's Law, I would almost have more respect for people if they just said they didn't like him because he was a black guy. At least that has some historical precedence rooted in racism. Some people are so out of their fucking minds that they think he's going to somehow acquire a third term, take away your guns, declare martial law and implant an RFID chip in the back of your head. I can't make this stuff up.

While I don't think there's any hope for people that batshit crazy, I still find it disappointing that people are so unwilling to understand anything on a non-trivial level. More scary is that I think people don't want that understanding because it challenges their beliefs and ideals. It's more cozy in your own echo chamber I suppose.

In the days before the Internets, when I was in college (get off my lawn!), I remember being politically minded to the extent that I had certain ideals I wanted to adhere to. Age and experience morphed my m.o. gradually. Then, in the last five or six years, I've found that the only practical thing to do is allow my ideals to be somewhat maleable. As it turns out, I can find real information about the world almost instantly, and little of it completely validates my position on anything. So provided I can allow myself to be "wrong," or at the very least, not have a complete picture of something, I can collect data and modify what I think. You don't have to be a genius to expect that most things are not all that simple, and rarely adhere to an extreme viewpoint in either direction. Sometimes there are even more than two directions.

So in our time, where we carry super computers in our pockets connected through air to a network of all of the information mankind has, we tend to squander the opportunity by simply allowing ourselves to be ignorant morons. Sometimes that really brings me down. How many times does someone have to share some nonsense on Facebook, without taking a moment to verify its authenticity, before you start calling people out for being lemming morons? If people are really happier being ignorant, what does that say about our culture?

I try to stay optimistic about this. Younger people who don't know the world without the Internet seem a little more open to seeing a broader and more complex view of the world. I wonder what it will be like when Generation-Z starts to lead in business, government and social issues. My generation is a bit of a mixed bag, and Millennials seem split into groups of entitled brats and fantastic over-achievers (hoping the latter continue to grow in influence).

Hopefully our culture-at-large will evolve past this stupidity. The opportunity is too great not to.

Fighting to lead the pride

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 27, 2013, 9:57 AM | comments: 1

Losing Cosmo last weekend was tough, but not to the extent that I thought it would be, or maybe that it should be. It's weird to see her basket empty, or that she's not sleeping on a kitchen chair. Sixteen years is a long time. What remains of the pride is also interesting. It's like we've got a little bit of Wild Kingdom in our house with the remaining three cats.

Years ago, when I had to let go of Luna, Cosmo seemed to search the house for her continuously for a few days, even though I don't think she really liked her. Since Cosmo has been gone, I haven't noticed the rest of the pride looking for her, but they are trying to decide who is in charge.

Cosmo was the queen of the house. Even though she was the only one without claws, they moved into her house, and she was so aloof that she didn't give a shit what they thought. The funny thing is that Oliver tried to test her now and then, and I'm pretty sure she bit him hard enough that he moved on.

The next in line, in terms of age, is Emma, almost 11-years-old. She weighs pretty much nothing and she's a tiny cat, but as the remaining female, and one with previous outdoor experience, I think she leads now. This occurs partly by default, because Gideon is too much of a pussy (see what I did there?) to challenge her, even though he's twice the size, and Oliver is having a similar testing phase that he did with Cosmo. He knows better.

While cats are fantastic and all, I never want to have four again. Three are too many. I don't intend to hasten their lives, but two will be ideal.

The urge for blink tags in forums

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 26, 2013, 9:55 PM | comments: 0

I've been thinking a bit about what I want the next version of the forums to be. It's surprising how interested I've been to revisit the app since I've been doing a lot of coding at work lately. We're starting to brew an update to PointBuzz, so I want to knock out a new version before we do that.

For years, I've insisted on not adding things to it that don't add value to the discussion. I've even been called names for my reluctance to add stuff in our suggestions forum. I think it's because other forums that I've actively used have annoyed me with extraneous buttons and elements that interrupt the flow of discussion. At one point I even considered ditching signatures and avatars, but relented and made it an option to turn them off. I also resisted keeping a bunch of crap about every user visible with every post. That would be redundant and distracting.

It's funny that I often look to vBulletin, a commercially available and popular forum, for ideas about what not to do. So much stuff on the screen. They've gotten better over the years, hiding a lot of stuff, but they still have minimum height posts and keep all of that user crap on there. Like anyone cares to see how many posts someone has, ten times on the same page?

Still, I also feel like it hasn't evolved enough. People are used to the relative fluidity of things like Facebook and Gmail. The problem is that there is a divergence in purpose there. Those services are not intended to be crawled or display ads the way that sites with forums typically are. I feel like I'm constantly at war with that. When I added "click for more posts" to add them into the existing page, I knew it was right for users, but I know from the data that it hurt ad views.

The coolest thing about building stuff for the Web these days is that there are so many great open source tools to create whatever you can think of. There are fewer constraints than ever. (Sidebar: these are also reasons that I despise the fascination with phone and tablet apps.) I rather enjoy being a part of the open source scene, however small.

I did add some easy, low hanging fruit things already. I built an activity feed using SignalR. You can just stare at it and watch that people are voting up and making posts. I think I'll see what else I can make real-timey. It's a good example of something that used to be harder because you'd have to roll your own code to do it.

Last year wasn't great for music

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 25, 2013, 10:11 PM | comments: 0

As I'm sure my closest stalkers know, I do music playlists for every year. I started doing it when iTunes first came to Windows in 2003, and back-filled lists to 1991 (some of which are pretty weak). The lists got to be really big starting in 2005, with lists over 30, but last year I only hit 20.

There were a couple of things at play here. First, I wasn't driving to work because I worked at home. No commute meant no frequent XM or AltNation, so already my discovery mechanism was limited. The other thing is that it was very much a year of albums for me. A lot of years get filled out by singles, but there was a remarkable number of albums that I enjoyed last year. Garbage, Metric, Sleeper Agent, Grouplove, Fun, Muse, Sleigh Bells, Florence + The Hendersons, and of course The Naked and Famous, a hold-over from the year before. There were only three singles in the list of 20 songs.

After three weeks of driving to a job, I've already picked up quite a bit, with singles from Crystal Fighters, Blondfire and Capital Cities. The album that makes me moist is Django Django. Seriously, it's the tits. "Default" is the big single right now, and an instrumental called "Skies Over Cairo" makes me wanna dance around naked. I love it. It's the first thing I bought in years that I knew almost nothing about and ended up being a great find almost instantly. And it was only five bucks on Amazon MP3!

I have high hopes this year for music. Variations on what we called "alternative" in the late 90's seem to be making a comeback. I suppose all it really took was for everyone to stop trying to sound like Blink 182, who tries to sound like old Green Day.

Suicide is not a heroic act

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 24, 2013, 11:37 PM | comments: 0

If you read news in technology circles, then you know that Aaron Swartz recently died as the result of suicide. An apparent child prodigy, Swartz was a big advocate of open source software and free information as a movement, and was active in establishing the specs and RFC's for various standards. Most recently, he was an outspoken critic of SOPA.

What he was best known for, unfortunately, was that the feds were prosecuting him for going to MIT and downloading a bunch of journal articles from JSTOR, a closed system licensed to universities and researchers, while connected to a closed network at the university. For one reason or another, the prosecutors were hell bent on making an example of him, charging him with felonies and forcing him to face potentially 35 years in jail and a million-dollar fine. Absurd doesn't even describe the insane charges.

In the days following his death, there was a fair amount of hero worship for Swartz. I have to admit that a great deal of it is justified, and we could certainly stand to have more people like him pushing for more information to be free. I'd much rather see people advocating that over the drive to arm everyone or regulate vaginas. It's hard for the optimist in me to believe that people would really embrace more information over pictures of cats and moronic captioned photos that compare Obama to Hitler, but I can't let go of that hope.

However, with some publications and opinion pieces, the story narrative starts to go to a place where it's suggested that it was the government that killed him. While the case against him was most certainly absurd, he decided to kill himself. Checking out doesn't make him a martyr or a bigger hero, it only makes him dead.

The discussion that I would rather see brought to the forefront is one about the reality of depression and other illnesses that can dramatically influence the choices an individual makes. I'm not talking about the winter blues bullshit that I complain about, but real, clinical depression, or other potentially lethal problems like anorexia. I think our culture sucks at talking about, recognizing it, and dealing with it.

Last year, a friend of mine took her own life. I'm not sure if there's anything anyone could have done about it. Years ago, another friend felt she was "fat" and died weighing less than 70 pounds. I'm not sure if anyone could have done anything about that either. It frustrates me to no end. As an average person who believes compassion is part of what makes our humanity, I refuse to believe that we can't do better with mental health issues. I also can't accept that checking out is ever the right thing.

On being a cheerleader at work

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 24, 2013, 10:44 PM | comments: 0

It has been a few years since I've led a team in my job, but it didn't take long to remember how much I feel more comfortable in that role. I once did that personality test that companies like to use with management types (which I find to be of marginal, if any value), the one with the color wheel and tendencies, and I was classified as a "directing motivator." It's like being a cheerleader who gets to call the plays on the field. Wait, no, I think that might actually be the coach.

In any case, I bring up the cheerleading, because even in just three weeks, I find myself doing it quite a bit. I didn't do it as much before. Heck, I'm not sure I did it enough with the last volleyball team I coached. It really didn't take a lot of soul searching to figure out what changed. I'm a father.

There has always been some amount of nurturing in my personality. In my college days it was to a fault when it came to relationships, wanting to help my female friends fix all of their problems (so they'd dump their asshole boyfriends for me, of course). At the start of my professional career, it was developing and growing a TV facility. Then there was the coaching, which mixes individual and group development. At some point in my 30's, I even started to learn how to nurture and care for myself, a skill I overlooked for too long.

Then came being Simon's father. I can see how easy it is to want to boost up your child and not let them fail, and maybe that's one of the reasons Simon is a little behind on some of his development milestones. But even with the adjustments we've made, allowing him to struggle and fail if it means learning, I constantly try to make sure I praise positive behavior and new achievement.

It only makes sense that it would carry over into work, and even relationships. People like to have a little validation now and then. I can admit that being satisfied with just being happy for yourself for what you can deliver is rarely the whole of what you need. Part of the satisfaction of work, relationships and even hobbies are that you're a part of something, making a meaningful contribution. Some portion of that satisfaction will always come from external sources, and being an agent of that recognition is itself a critical role.

The qualities of a nearly perfect day

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

Today was exactly the kind of day that I needed. After losing Cosmo last weekend, the work week started with a big box of urgency and more things to do than I could reasonably expect to accomplish.

I started the day feeling particularly rested, with a good night of sleep. I was having a nice dream about something when I woke up. The drive in was uneventful. I had a morning meeting that I was really pleased with, and I worked in a little coding before and after it. Diana and Simon came to visit me at lunch time, and we had delicious Asian food. I got a little validation from peers and my boss, which I usually pretend I don't need, but definitely value. I came home to a son that was excited to see me, and a lovely wife. Dinner was mostly leftovers, but still good. Simon had a really nice bedtime, and we watched a little TV.

I still strongly dislike living here, and it was too cold to hot tub, but this was otherwise a nearly perfect day. I was wondering if I could bottle this kind of day, and have one like it more often. When I take stock of what makes a great day, it's true that a great many things are out of your control, and come from external forces. However, I think that much of what makes life great is the effort you put forward to position yourself for that greatness. Marrying a fantastic woman and getting to a job that is satisfying go a lot further toward a good life over languishing in a suboptimal relationship or job.

Cosmo (1997-2013)

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 19, 2013, 6:02 PM | comments: 0

(Photo from August 12, 2008)

I had to let Cosmo go today, after 16 wonderful years. Whatever was eating away at her (the vet theorized it was some kind of bone cancer, based on her blood work), it eliminated her appetite. I don't think she had anything to eat or drink in the last few days. I hate having to make these kinds of decisions, but it was a lot easier than it was for Luna. Cosmo didn't fight it at all, which given her nature toward most people who were not me, is a pretty good indication that she was ready.

It's weird to think about all of the changes in my life in the last 16 years. Cosmo has been with me through two marriages, five places to live, almost a dozen jobs, and more ups and downs than I could ever count. She was a constant through all of that. Part of her unique "charm" was that she really didn't like most people, let alone other animals. She liked me and Stephanie, and I think she eventually warmed up to Diana. Anyone who was a hardcore cat person, she kind of knew it.

Her personality changed a lot when Luna showed up, but she also seemed to have a certain motherly quality to her when Luna was sick. She always stopped short of grooming her, but seemed to look after her. She might have been bitchy, but she seemed to respond to people who were sad. I remember having a bit of a break down after the separation, while struggling with a new relationship, and Cosmo paid extra special attention to me. As recently as a few months ago, she gave the same attention to Simon during one of his meltdowns. Any other time, I don't think she was particularly fond of Simon.

She was a ton of fun in her early years. She played too rough for the most part, as evidenced by the scratches that Stephanie and I usually had, but she was an amazing leaper. If you were standing up and put your arm out, with your hand set to grab, she would jump up, plant her face in your hand to bite, front legs around your wrist, and lift her rear legs up to dig on you. It was really something to see! She also would jump at various whip and string toys three to four feet in the air.

When Diana and I began to cohabitate, and we became a four-cat household, Cosmo was indifferent. She was the queen of the pride, and she knew it. Oliver would try to fuck with her from time to time, but she wasn't having it. I know she bit him on a few occasions, and he eventually respected her.

My favorite interactions between Cosmo and other animals were easily those with Cosmo, the Boston Terrier that my former girlfriend and then-vet student Catherine brought into my life. That dog was hell bent on being the cat's friend, and she was so persistent. The dog would bark at her and try to bait her, and Cosmo just didn't give a shit. The dog would try to nap near her over and over, but knew better than to get too close. Again, I think Cosmo was just too proud to admit she liked the dog. Cath jokingly said, from her experience working in animal hospitals, that it was cats with Cosmo's temperament that tended to live the longest. She was right.

About a year ago, she had a UTI, and I took her to the vet. Her urine was already starting to appear diluted, so her kidneys were already starting to go. That wasn't enough to get her down though, and most of the last year she was relatively active. Her fur became a problem, because her tongue had almost no texture and she struggled to groom. The last few months, she also seemed to be suffering from arthritis and she was moving slowed. The anemia that was theoretically caused by cancer was making her sluggish. Two weeks ago, a steroid shot bought her some time, but today it was hard for her to even stand up. She was so dehydrated.

In some ways, I'm glad her illness progressed as fast as it did, because I don't want to remember her that way. It still hurts that I couldn't help Luna, who battled with issues for years. Cosmo and her evil streak kept her strong almost to the end, and she was ready. She was a great cat, and I'll miss her a great deal.

Here's Cosmo today, getting a last bit of sun. Unfortunately, she didn't stay there long, I think because the light bothered her.

Computer evolution

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 19, 2013, 9:44 AM | comments: 1

It has been an interesting couple of years for computers. PC sales have taken a dump because of tablet sales, and presumably because you don't have to replace your computer every year to keep up with the software. It's wild to think that my phone's CPU is 40 times as fast and has 256 times the memory of the first PC I bought myself in 1995.

I chased the continuous computer upgrade cycle for the next 11 years, when I bought the first Intel-based Mac, the MacBook Pro. I also bought a Mac Pro that year for my desktop. Both lasted me three years or more. Same can be said for the replacements.

The tablet trend seemed weird to me, but only because I'm probably not typical in the way I use computers. The iPad had been out for a year before I bought one, and then I didn't use it all that much. I replaced it with the updated version eventually, but only because I got a great trade-in deal, and I wanted the contract-free cellular hot spot capability. I also bought a Surface RT last year almost entirely out of curiosity.

I see why people like tablets. They can surf for porn on a small and convenient device, check e-mail and play Angry Birds. It's a use case that I engage in mostly when I go out to lunch by myself, but I didn't even start that until last year when I started working at home. Most of what I need a computing device for involves software development, so a full computer is what I need.

Things are finally getting interesting though, in terms of computers. Apple started to push the boundaries of super portability with the MacBook Air back in 2008, but it wasn't until the last year or two that they finally were stocked with high performance parts. The more important benchmarks, like RAM and disk speed, are essentially just as good as those in the higher end machines, like a Retina MacBook Pro. Only it's much lighter and portable, and that's why I bought an Air last year.

While I'm sure I can get a lot of mileage out of the machine, I'm also intrigued by the computers coming out now. I'm starting to see that the Windows RT tablets, specifically the Surface RT, might just be an interim step. Those machines don't run standard Windows, or any standard Windows software, because they run on low-power portable CPU's. The forthcoming Surface Pro runs the full Windows on an Intel CPU, in a package that's only slightly thicker. That's intriguing because it's very much a full computer, nearly tablet sized. With the highly regarded Type Cover, it's very nearly a laptop.

Still, the Air is ridiculously thin and light, and while it doesn't have a touch screen or more pixels, it's still the most highly functional computer I've ever had, especially in relation to its size. I can't wait to see what comes next.

If you're friends with P, well then you're down with me

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 18, 2013, 7:32 PM | comments: 1

I brought my mom up to visit for most of the last week, since she hasn't had any quality Simon time since the summer before last, and I want to make sure Simon knows his grandmother. I think she certainly could use the change of scenery, too, after my stepdad died in October.

I'm convinced that there's something about grandparents that kids just know about. It doesn't even matter that it has been awhile since he spent time with her. It was super cute to see him lead her around to show her stuff and cuddle up next to her on the couch.

The most entertaining thing was that Simon came up with several names for mom. There was "Grammie" and something else vaguely like "Grandma," but since she called him "Sweetie Pie," he started calling her the same. Even better, this somehow got distilled to "P." When mom had her rental car, he said, "P's car outside." He said, "Oh P come sit on the couch." And best of all, in our nightly review the day mom went back to Florida, "P went on the airplane."

Mom also had a chance to catch up with some friends still here, and coworkers at her former job. Poor mom has Ohio removed from her blood. It's too damn cold, and she reminded us how much the winter here sucks (like I need a reminder). To make up for it, she did bring my favorite cookies. :)

The many faces of success, looking for generalities

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 17, 2013, 10:33 PM | comments: 0

It has been an interesting couple of weeks for me, as I've been taking in so much data about what success looks like and how it applies to everything I do professionally. The crazy thing is that I see scenarios that seem diametrically opposed, yet both are relatively valid.

For example, just today, a status update I made on Facebook has led to a lengthy discussion about the merits (or demerits) of a certain philosophy in developing software. I worked with both of the guys engaging in the debate, I respect them both a great deal, and yet they don't agree on the points they were debating. How can this be? Both are relatively successful by any reasonable measure. Yet 2,500 miles and different experiences divide their views. That is fascinating to me.

Similarly, I work with a bunch of younger people in a growing company that has found success, and many of them didn't finish college or go at all. I also have a friend who is rocking an MBA. They're all successful and smart people that are changing some part of the world, but are getting there in completely different ways. More importantly, both seem relatively open to the perspective of what the other may offer.

It brings me to an observation about myself that I think can be generally applied to people in varying degrees. I have spent portions of my life attempting to reinforce what I believe instead of allowing for the possibility that there are alternate beliefs that may have the same outcomes. I'm starting to realize just how powerful the awareness of that is. I'm not sure what motivates that reinforcement (my guess is that it's some combination of ego and fear), but if you can free your mind enough to consider another view, you can arrive at new conclusions and resist the temptation to settle into binary thinking.

I suppose this realization started to take hold as I prepared to move, if not before that, when I considered moving an option. Shortly after that, I met people who didn't go to college that were every bit as successful as I was (if not more so). Then I met fiscally conservative Democrats and gay loving Republicans!

There's something freeing about not spending your time defending what you think, and considering other possibilities. The more I do it, the more I find that there are better ways to approach things, and more often than not, multiple ways to approach them. And I rarely find that anything is a simple dichotomy, especially when it comes to politics.

Here in my car

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 17, 2013, 8:58 PM | comments: 0

After a year of working remotely, I have to say that it reinforced my general distaste for needing a car. I guess I've never been much of a car guy, and viewed it as a necessary expense. It pained me to half to fork over a big wad of cash to buy my current car a year ago, after my leased car was crushed. It seems like the more money I make, the less I want to spend on a car. Being car poor is moronic.

But I have to admit that I was enthusiastic when I leased the first Prius, because it was so cheap and the technology was fascinating to me. It was that fascination that led me to buying the Prius V last year instead of getting a Corolla, which I could have bought outright in cash. Hyper-mileing is like a sport to me, and filling your tank for $30 makes me giddy when I see someone else put $60 into their tank. I "only" get around 42 mpg in the V (compared to 52 in the sedan), but I'll take it.

Returning to a job not at home, it's worth noting that I feel like I'm just getting used to the car, even after a year. That's especially weird considering we put 13,500 miles on it in 12 months! The thing is, the nature of most of the driving in it has been a mile and a half for lunch, or 600 miles each way on a driving trip. Those conditions are a lot different than the daily hour or so driving to and from work.

I will say that I'm really pleased with the car. The sedan already bended the laws of physics in terms of internal space, but this one takes it to another level. I'm amazed at how much crap we can pack in there when we travel. We roll a lot lighter than we used to with Simon, but space is such a non-issue. I feel good about not bending to a bigger car or minivan.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the garage, Diana's last payment for her Hyundai hit this month. I can't believe it was five years ago that I verbally abused some poor schmuck sales manager who had not sold a car all day to get the price that we did. It has generally been a solid performer, though it did have some trouble early on with a pinched fuel line that caused it to crap out. Apparently they had to get Hyundai involved because it was a totally strange problem, though it didn't lead to a recall, as far as I know.

Diana's car barely has 45,000 miles after five years, which is about 15,000 under budget for typical mileage. Stay-at-home mom, for the win! I imagine if we didn't live in the snow and salt, we could easily keep it for another three or four years, but we'll see. As much as I hate buying cars, I don't really care for them as they age, either. That's the damage of being stranded all of the time with my first beater car.

Learning to work again

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 15, 2013, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

I've been on the new job now for about two weeks, and I'm pretty sure I've done more in two weeks than I did in two months in my previous job. At first I thought that maybe it was just the difference between a large company and a small company, but that's not it. It's just working in an environment where you're empowered to make things happen that makes all the difference.

There is a ton of work to do, managing a team, getting new processes into place, managing expectations, coming up with more long-term strategic plans... it makes me wonder why I hung out in a job last year where I got to do so little of that (though it wasn't for a lack of trying). At the moment I'm doing about 70% administrative stuff, and 30% coding, which is for the moment a good mix. I don't see myself as a hard core code monkey in the long run, because I don't enjoy the heads-down stuff the way I enjoy higher level product development.

I'm finding that I have to learn how to balance it all again. I still strongly believe in the convictions I've written about before with regard to killing yourself at work, but enthusiasm can cause you to commit in a way that baseless faith in "the system" and "visibility" and other nonsense that has nothing to do with building cool stuff can't. I find myself answering e-mail late, checking in a little code, researching stuff, all after I've left the office. That enthusiasm is good when it's rooted in the joy of creation, and I realize just how much I've seen people in soulless jobs not having that joy.

Still, I need to balance real life, because I can see getting burned out pretty fast. It's easy to get into the trap of thinking that you just want to get to that one point, but you know, there's always something. It's just nice to feel like you're contributing something to the world again.

On being an international man of mystery

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 13, 2013, 11:32 AM | comments: 0

Growing up, going to an amusement park was extraordinarily rare, probably once a year at best, and it was one of those things that would keep me up at night and bouncing off the walls all day. When I was in my mid-20's, I remember going to Cedar Point for the first time in a few years. It was that day that I suddenly realized, "Gosh, I'm an adult now. It's perfectly within my capacity to buy a season pass and go any time I want." It probably seems obvious to most people, but this really was a great revelation to me. It just never occurred to me before that.

I had a similar epiphany in 2009, when the economy sucked and I couldn't find work. I could move. If I could label anything in my life as a regret, it would probably be not realizing this at least 10 years sooner. For some reason, I just never realized that I didn't have to stay here. I kind of thought about it a few times, when I visited Portland on business in 1998, and when I was dating between wives, but even then I was never thinking about doing it on my own accord. So imagine my surprise when I moved to Seattle and thought, "This place is better." Now, I'm not married to any particular location (assuming of course I can sell this fucking house).

There's one more grand realization in progress though, and that's one of international travel. This one has been a work in progress for several years. Back in 2011, I was at a morale event for work, and we were staying at a casino in Washington. There was a lot of alcohol involved, and I ended up at the bar with a couple of friends, both at least ten years younger, until about 3 a.m. Both of them had traveled in the "backpack across Europe" style, and I envied them for that. They could go from place to place, staying in hostels, seeing the world. The dude in particular, seemed more open to experimenting with life in a broad sense. A decade before, I probably would have judged him a great deal, but that night, I envied him. His entire belief system was rooted in seeking out varied experiences, instead of inheriting it from his parents.

He has spent the last few months traveling around Southeast Asia. I believe he's been in Japan, China, Vietnam, Laos, South Korea, Taiwan, and others that I'm sure I've forgotten. Let me say that again... several months. He's packing light, staying in hostels, checking in on Facebook now and then, and seeing things most people will never see. The photos he has posted from remote ruins and temples aren't just exotic, they're like forgotten history. I'm insanely jealous.

It's not just that I envy his adventures, but also his growing perspective. If there's one thing that bothers me about American culture, it's the notion that it's the center of the universe. As far as places to be born, certainly it's better than most, but the world is a big place full of interesting people and places, richer than any book or film could depict. We barely have 200 years of history here, and other places have thousands of years of it. There is so much to learn.

I want that perspective. A lot of people get set in their ways as they get older, and that has always pissed me off. But if I'm being honest with myself, I realize that I was becoming one of those people. Nothing could be worse than becoming what you loathe. Seeing more of the world, I believe, will help me combat that outcome. Once Simon is a little older, I hope we make time to get off this continent a bit.

Where The Roller Coasters Come From

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 12, 2013, 9:56 PM | comments: 0

I finally got to cutting the video I shot Wednesday near Cincy. I wasn't sure what to do with it, having B-roll with no particular narrative, plus interviews. Given the freedom of the Internet, and no specific expectation about what the "right" way to cut video is, I decided to mix them. It's not horrible. The target audience will dig it I'm sure.

Hopefully people will see some of the video on a program being aired on a certain cable work. I probably won't, because I don't have cable. :)

Guns! Guns! Guns!

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 12, 2013, 10:29 AM | comments: 0

Gun culture in the United States has reached a new level of absurdity in recent weeks. I didn't think that was possible.

I'm pretty much in the middle. I don't need or want a gun, but if other people are convinced they need to have one, fine. At the same time, no one needs an assault weapon. We live in an allegedly advanced society, not Thunderdome.

And yet, people are losing their minds. Last night I saw a story about teachers doing arms training. Seriously? Let's break that down rationally. While just one death in a school at the hands of a gunman is an unspeakable tragedy, the odds of it happening to you are so completely beyond minuscule. The bus ride to school is more dangerous. I suspect even walking to school is more dangerous. Perspective has been completely lost.

On the other hand, you have places like Chicago where the murder rate continues to rise, mostly at the hands of people with legally obtained guns, and the solution in the eyes of some is to make sure more people have guns. People have it in their minds that gun murders are these protracted shootouts where having a gun gives you a fighting chance. And yet, if a dude walks into a room and shoots you, that's not how it goes down.

So why exactly are people so worried about stronger regulation of guns? The truly stupid argument comes from comparisons to Nazis and other hyperbole, as if the people we elect are trying to control and oppress us. (Sidebar: I'd love to see how many gun rights activists also support the Patriot Act.) I'm far more concerned with anything that limits free speech than guns. The pen, as they say, is in fact mightier than the sword. The recent "Arab spring" demonstrated that truth in the most dramatic way.

There are common sense solutions around gun regulation. Gun violence is a complex problem, but the position that everyone should be armed and we should return to the wild west is just as stupid as suggesting we take every gun away.

My 18 hours of awesome, thanks to the network

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 10, 2013, 11:29 PM | comments: 0

I'm not sure what it was exactly (probably my previous soul-sucking job), but I was starting to feel like I wasn't really having much fun or adequate human contact. That's silly, of course, when I look at all of the adventures I've had in recent months. It wouldn't be the first time I needed a little perspective and context.

But then a series of events came together to make for a pretty exciting set of adventures. First I get a call from my PR friend at Cedar Point saying they'd like me to meet up with the CEO and one of the VP's to tour the steel fabrication plant where they make B&M roller coasters. It's on Diana's birthday, but I figure I'll be home later in the afternoon, and she says I'd be crazy not to go. Those along for the ride include an AP reporter and some dudes from our NBC affiliate. Obviously it's a pretty unique opportunity to shoot video.

Then I think, gosh, I don't want to drive 3.5 hours early that morning, so maybe I should go down the night before. I look at cheap hotels, but I remember there's a Great Wolf Lodge next to Kings Island. I work my friend network some more, and I secure a cheap night there, with a fantastic room upgrade.

And if I'm staying at an indoor water park resort, why not bring my darling wife and child? Diana and Simon came with me, and enjoyed the resort while I went and did the video touring. I got to have breakfast with them, and Diana got to start her birthday on a sort of mini-vacation. Simon is a little apprehensive about a lot of water stuff, but it was still great for him to have the adventure. He kept calling Kings Island "Cee Point," but he'll figure it out eventually.

And if I'm going to be down there the night before, why not call up some friends? I'm able to secure a meetup with a friend who used to work in an amusement park gig, and I haven't seen her in years. Admittedly our friendship has largely been virtual, but rooted in some shared experiences around divorce, dating and starting a family. Kindred spirits, if you will, in that we both had some difficult experiences followed by an amazing life reboot. It was exactly the kind of connectivity among friends I've desperately needed.

Next up was the plant tour. After doing amusement park Web sites for almost 15 years, I can honestly say that construction tours and the like are always interesting, but also kind of routine. However, there's nothing routine about seeing the actual fabrication of steel roller coaster parts, each weighing thousands of pounds. Even the industry veteran CEO was giddy. That they were finishing up the last pieces for a ride that I'll get to ride myself in five months made it that much more special.

Oh, and if that weren't enough, I also sold the video on a non-exclusive basis to a production company that is doing a show for a "major cable TV network." They couldn't get a crew down there, so I shot on their behalf as well as my own.

When I was driving out to begin these adventures, I couldn't help but think, "Wow, this is my life." It's a ton of awesome packed into a short period of time. It's also possible mostly because of the network of people I maintain.

While I have worked my ass off to achieve many things, the network of people you know, personally and professionally, goes a long way toward packing more awesome sauce on your life's chicken wings. You can't fake this network, but it's not hard to build either. When you treat people well, and you're sincere in your interest in them, they will also look out for you. It really is that simple.

I'm really happy and honored to know the people I know. Surrounding yourself with great people makes such a huge difference in your life.

Diana's birthday

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 11:13 PM | comments: 0

Having a July birthday, I take it for granted that it's generally something to celebrate. Even being two days before Independence Day, it's still generally and event, since 7/4 is not generally a holiday associated with gift giving or religion (unless 'Merica is your religion). But my darling wife Diana's birthday is January 9, and it gets sucked into the holiday vortex.

This year, her special day seemed almost destined to go unnoticed beyond a relatively small gift that I wasn't supposed to buy her in the first place. She received a sophisticated sewing machine as a multi-gift-giving day present, so I wasn't supposed to get her anything else. I still got her a Pandora charm, because her bracelet needed more bling.

In any case, I found out last month that I'd be going to Cincy to shoot some video of roller coaster manufacturing stuff, and given the uniqueness of it, she insisted I go. Then, I realized that I should really get a room and go down the night before, and then a friend did me a solid with a reduced rate at Great Wolf Lodge. Before you know it, I was bringing the whole family down!

So as it turned out, Diana got to wake up on her birthday on a 24-hour vacation of sorts! She had some quality time with Simon in a water park, which he still isn't crazy about. The cool thing is that we also got to scope out a potential place for future getaways.

This weekend, we're going to do some additional cool stuff, and my mom will be staying with us, so hopefully we can sneak out for a date night.

Cosmo isn't ready to go

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 7, 2013, 11:09 PM | comments: 0

A bit over a year ago, I took Cosmo, our eldest cat, to the vet to treat a UTI. In addition to having to pill one of the world's most evil cats, I also learned that her kidneys might be starting to fail, but otherwise she wasn't bad for a cat approaching 15.

This month, she'll be 16, or so we can guess, since she was adopted. For the last week or two, she has been slowing down a bit, not eating particularly well, and lethargic. None of this is unexpected at her age, but my bigger concern was whether or not she was in any pain. She wasn't leaving the kitchen chairs much, but then in the last few days she was coming upstairs and moving around a bit.

Then the bloody diarrhea came, so Diana took her to the vet today. I honestly expected this would be it for her, but the doctor suggested we do blood work and see what we could find out. She has low red and white blood cell counts, but the rest of the things they typically measure were actually pretty good for a cat of her age. Combined with her symptoms, she's leaning toward some kind of cancer attacking her bone marrow. Of course, they could do all kinds of tests and imaging to further explore that, but it's unlikely that it would result in any treatment that would extend her life. Alternatively, she got a steroid injection that could at least limit the problem, but of course it does adversely affect her immune system.

I'm fortunate to have dated a vet, so I called Cath to see what she thinks. She agreed with our local vet's assessment, and that the steroid can sometimes be a nice "hail Mary" in the short term. Our local doc felt Cosmo was fighting too much to euthanize at this point, and she didn't seem to exhibit any serious signs of discomfort or pain beyond being lethargic (and that has more to do with the anemia).

Because she's so aggressive, they had to sedate her, and bless their hearts, they were able to get the dreadlocks out of her fur. Grooming has always been a challenge for her, but it's worse because she has never allowed us to help. So for now, she's resting comfortably at home, and we'll see how she does for the next week or two.

This is the part that sucks about having a pet, because most of the time you're forced to play God. People talk about being humane, but it's such a crock of shit, because you don't put down your grandparents when they're sick. Cath used to joke that Cosmo would live forever, because she's too evil to go quietly, and she might be right.

Sixteen years is a long time to have a pet. She was always bitchy and aloof, but I have to admit that she always showed concern when I wasn't emotionally well. I've even seen her investigate when Simon was distraught. She has been a great "furry bastard," as Stephanie used to say, and she will be missed. I hope she can give us a reasonably clear sign when it's time.

Super fast holiday season

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 6, 2013, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

I think I finally and fully turned that corner this year, away from holiday dread. I theorize this because it seemed to go so quickly. I mostly credit Diana for this change, and I'm thankful for it.

We started it out in style with Thanksgiving in North Carolina. From there we went to Disney World without Simon, and it was easily one of the most outstanding vacations we've had. We went to see A Christmas Carol, Diana's former show. Diana and Simon decorated the house and it was lovely. We toured a fire station. I got to see Wife v1.0. We watched the entire stack of holiday movies. There was toddler bowling. Christmas was wonderfully low-key at home. I more or less wasn't working most of the time, because I scored a new job. For the new year, we had a quiet date night at home followed by visits with friends the next day.

Good times. Being busy and doing fun stuff certainly keeps me distracted from the short days, and while I still have to fight the desire to hibernate, the SAD has been manageable so far. The last two weeks of snow have been a little difficult, but I keep telling myself that we've turned the corner. We have quite a few adventures coming up, and I'm looking for opportunities to do little weekend getaways.

If I were five years younger, or the Internet was five years older

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 5, 2013, 11:59 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that I always find interesting about the story of Facebook, or at least the quasi-historical interpretation of it from The Social Network, is the context of the Internet in the time the story began. In 2004, the Internet was very much an integral part of college. When I graduated in 1995, the Internet was little more than terminal-based e-mail and a very small number of commercial Web sites. Colleges were just starting to wire dorms with ethernet, and students were just starting to have their own computers. Just getting Mosaic to work on Windows 3.1 was a huge pain in the ass.

Because I started to build Web sites in 1998, largely focused on community, it's no surprise in retrospect that the audience skewed young at first, and my own social circles were also young. By 2006, there was at least one instance where I was "that guy" visiting friends still in college, and I saw Facebook for the first time. Everyone had a computer, listened to music via MP3's, and the Internet itself seemed to be something that offered so much promise. People ten years younger, "Generation Y," for the most part didn't know the world before the Internet. For everyone coming after that, they're growing up with smart phones.

I was thinking today about how the Internet has made so many things possible, especially in terms of business and career. Today, and even more so in 2004, a kid in a dorm room could invent something with a cheap computer, spend a little money to put it on the Internet, and make a little money. Think about that. Twenty years ago, turning your ideas into reality often meant you needed a ton of cash to physically make something, whether it be a back scratcher or something that required physical space, or a store front. The barrier to entry is almost zero if your idea is something involving the Internet.

I often wonder how this would translate to my own life had the Internet risen five years sooner, or I was born five years later. Honestly, I don't think it would have been all that different, though my age-income curve would be steeper. I also could have lived by myself my senior year, with little concern about rent, although I think I would have still wanted to live with my one roommate. I know for sure that I wouldn't have screwed around with the awful business of broadcasting.

The Internet has been very good to me, there's no doubt about that. I haven't always been able to make good decisions about my career or the opportunities around the Internet, but I can honestly say that I have no idea what I would be doing if it didn't exist. I don't think anything else in our world has so radically changed it. There are millions of jobs that didn't exist 20 years ago because of the Internet.

You can see why I'm generally upbeat about the future, even in light of the hoards of people who use the Internet primarily to bitch about how awful the world is. I joke about how the Internet is mostly for pictures of cats and porn, but what a fascinating time to see what's possible. I only hope that my enthusiasm isn't completely naive, and that the Internet's promise actually makes for a better world.

The SiriusXM dance

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 4, 2013, 10:26 PM | comments: 0

Over the last few years, there have been several discussions in my friend circles, in person and online, about the value of SiriusXM, the satellite radio service. They frequently offer a deal for six months at $25, and the discussions all seem to point to a consensus that it's a fair price.

That said, you have to endlessly haggle with them, or go without for a month, before you can get the deal. It's the most annoying dance one could possibly make, and it's worse than dealing with a cable company, because their phone jockeys are a bunch of assholes.

I really enjoy the service, but that deal is pretty much the limit of what I'm willing to pay for. I think it's a fair price, and beyond that, I'm content to listen to stuff from my phone or whatever in the car. Heck, I didn't even drive to work last year! And the thing is, if they would just stick to that rate, $50 a year, I'd probably prepay for two or three years. That would be worth it to me. Instead, they sour the whole arrangement by requiring you to screw around with toxic morons on the phone.

Adjustments for Simon

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 2, 2013, 11:16 PM | comments: 0

Today was my first day leaving the house for a job in about a year. As I've said before, working remotely has its perks, and one of those is lunch time meet ups with your kid. I think not having those opportunities is going to be the hardest part of this job. There's a lot of talk about remote work a day or two a week, which is awesome, but I suspect in my role that it will be awhile before I can realistically do that, even if it's official policy.

In any case, I came home today to the most affectionate boy ever. I can't tell you how many times he demanded hugs, but it was very sweet. I can't even put into words how wonderful it is that he bonds with me like this. Clearly he's going to have a slightly hard time adjusting to this new reality. To be dramatic, when you include weekends, vacations and a year of telecommuting, I've been home or with him for more than half of his life!

Simon has a lot of adjustments coming his way, and some are harder than others to teach him. Obviously the mother load (see what I did there?) is going to be potty training. Diana did a short trial with underwear, but he didn't seem ready. Also, for some reason he won't get out of bed when he wakes up, until we come get him. It would be great if he'd just quietly play in his room. He has also, generally, had all the food that he likes, but as his tastes narrow (hopefully temporarily), he'll need to adjust because once the "kitchen is closed," that's it.

I don't want to suggest that we've always tried to accommodate his every whim, because we haven't. He has been able to get his way more in certain ways than others, but I think we've kept him reasonably flexible. I would say that eighteen months ago, we tried to prepare an absolute ideal for him around bedtime, and that bit us in the ass when we traveled. Now, we've had him sleep in strange beds in hotels, and he has generally adapted.

The ease of Simon's ability to adjust and adapt seems directly related to his ability to communicate. While he's making great strides in his overall speech, he still struggles at times to tell us what he means. Fortunately, I also find he's understanding what we tell him. Just today, he understood and accepted that I couldn't take him outside to help me grill the chicken, because it was too cold. He's used to "helping" in that situation, and I think even a month ago he would flip out if I didn't let him.

It's funny that I can see now how we might have made Simon a little high maintenance at times, but what a relief that we now catch ourselves doing it. It's not that we deny him stuff just to let him deal with the adversity, but we will no longer be trained by that sweet, innocent little face!

Now if we can just get him to eat some kind of protein that isn't hot dog...