Archive: February, 2013

Where does innovation come from?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 28, 2013, 11:02 PM | comments: 0

An interesting peripheral discussion has broken out in various places around the Internets following the Yahoo stop to remote work. Ignoring for a moment the pros and cons of remote work, this side bar talks about where innovation comes from, since that's one of the alleged reasons they want butts in the office.

Innovation is kind of a loaded term, because if you're being all dictionary-like, it refers to something totally new and game changing. In technology, that makes it a little strange to expect innovation. So much of what comes out of tech, if not most of it, is more iterative and evolutionary in nature. Stuff tends to get better, fast, based on its previous state as a jumping off point. I don't think people really seek true innovation, I think they seek fast iteration.

Good ideas are hard to come by, whether they're truly innovative or derivative. I'm not sure that you can simply create culture that leads to innovation. You can definitely get process around faster iteration, though. Take that process and add the right people, and that's when you can make magic.

I reject the notion that you can force innovation. However, if you get the right personalities together, in person or virtually, and give them the right tools, I do think you can get them iterating to greatness quickly.

Remote work, trust and productivity

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 28, 2013, 10:44 AM | comments: 0

People in technology circles have been buzzing about the decision at Yahoo to eliminate or severely restrict remote workers. Despite a growing body of evidence that suggests remote folk are actually more productive, and excellent contributors, much of the noise on the Web seems to think that new CEO Marissa Mayer is doing the right thing. I think it's a completely awful decision. I don't think it's a universally awful decision for every situation. I mean, the wait staff at a restaurant obviously has to be there, but there are too many characteristics of work that are incorrectly associated with a butt in a seat.

Several things come to mind immediately about the top-down nature of Yahoo. The first thing is that people working remotely are not trusted to do the work. The second thing is that managers are not trusted enough to make decisions about who on their teams are making meaningful contributions, regardless of where they physically work. (Honestly, this is a problem at a lot of large companies, as indicated by a lot of destructive behavior.) Third, it makes the irrational case for an untrue opposite, that people who are physically in a space are more productive. I can't be the only one who has worked with long-term employees who have "face time" but add almost no value. These things, collectively, are going to be a huge morale buster for Yahoo.

It's the trust problem that is easily the worst part of this decision. I tend to lump in local vs. remote along with a lot of other employee attributes now. You don't overlook people because of gender or age, and I eventually came around to not overlooking people without college degrees. The physical location of someone is the last part, and I would hate to miss someone just because they're not at arm's length.

The Yahoo argument makes two cases explicitly (if you're willing to overlook the trust undertones mentioned above). The first is that collaboration is more likely with colocation. The second is that they're trying to improve the culture of the company, presumably by forcing colocation. I can't say I buy either argument, because just as Francine in accounting appears to work long hours and look busy, it doesn't mean she's actually adding value. The problem isn't where Francine is working, the problem is Francine. Collaboration and culture are people problems, not geography problems.

I think that this was probably the biggest takeaway I had working for a full year remotely. It was a tale of two bosses.

My first boss had the classic "Midwest factory worker" mentality, as I like to call it. Given his experience, the butts-in-the-seats approach made sense to him. In retrospect, it's weird that he hired me remotely, but he also came around quickly. When we talked about the issues we had on the team, our conversations started around face time and hours, but it wasn't long before we moved the focus entirely to results. People working in different buildings or different states were delivering more results then people sitting in the office 45 hours per week. That change in focus allowed him to look at the right problems. Productivity and collaboration, as it turns out, are people problems.

More importantly, however, was that we kept in regular contact, talked a lot via phone, IM and video, and really our working relationship was just as solid as it would be if I were there. Not being able to go out for a beer after work was definitely a negative, but the point here is that it was the people involved in the working relationship that made the difference... just as it would if we were located in the same place.

Now flip to the second boss. She was remote not just to me, but the entire team. She lacked the focus on results and communication that my first boss did, and I felt she was completely ineffective. The people matter. The old school guy came around and made it work, while the career remote worker didn't get it.

I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but remote work is never going to be the problem, the people are. Collaboration and excellent culture depend on people.

For me, I admit that I see a lot of value in being physically around other people, but I find that most of those benefits are social in nature. If I'm really being objective, the pros of remote work outweigh the negatives. As I said, it really depends on the people involved, which, not coincidentally, applies to colocation as well. Yahoo is addressing the wrong problem.

Side by Side (doc about film vs. digital)

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 25, 2013, 11:22 PM | comments: 0

I saw that the documentary Side by Side was available free for Amazon Prime members online, so I watched that tonight. If you can get beyond Keanu Reeves moderating it, it's a pretty good "film" if you're into the art of filmmaking and technology. It talks about the rise of digital, going back to its origins with ILM and George Lucas, and actually gets into specifics with a number of cameras. It's not afraid to give Red a good bashing for its perpetual beta, either. Good stuff.

What really surprised me is that there are definitely still holdouts for film, most notably Christopher Nolan and his DP. They insist you just can't get the same "look" with digital, which might have been true a few years ago, but I'm convinced those days are behind us.

I made a "movie" in high school that was completely terrible, shot on VHS and edited to 3/4" U-matic tape. I'm sure I have the master somewhere. I never thought much about the process of capturing images back then, beyond making sure I wasn't blowing out highlights. I did spend about the next seven or eight years shooting video professionally though, and even then, digital couldn't come fast enough.

I'm sure I've told this story before...

First there was the editing, with computers. "My" first non-linear system was a Media 100, a less expensive alternative to Avid. Even though I was shooting on S-VHS, not having generational losses from editing tape was a big deal. Not only that, but it was so much faster and flexible. At around the same time, I also got my first digital camera, shooting on DVCPRO. Standard definition video never looked so good.

Then 1999 rolled in, and I left video for the Internet. In 2005, I started to get the itch, missing the toys and the technology. It was intriguing to see the way people were coupling these rigs to relatively inexpensive video cameras to get a "film look," which is to say that they were using SLR camera lenses to achieve short depth of field, and the cameras did hacks to shoot at 24 frames per second.

A year later, in early 2006, I pulled the trigger on the HVX200. It shot 24 fps in high definition, but it had a fixed lens, and required the same hacks to use other lenses. Despite this, the camera did get me back to doing something I loved, shooting video and telling stories with it. Most of the stories were just me shooting roller coasters and stuff happening at amusement parks, but I was always a bit of an ENG rat anyway. I even did some freelance work to help pay for the camera.

In 2009 I got a Canon 7D, an SLR camera that shot video. It was so not a proper video camera, but it sure made beautiful moving pictures. You had to encase the thing in all kinds of gear to make it more like a video camera.

Last year I got the AF100, and it can capture the kinds of images I've wanted to get since I first so those standard definition hacks back in 2005. The compression of the recorded video is a little on the high side, but I feel like I can finally capture something that looks like "film" the way we perceive it.

The technical debate about film and digital is almost over. Even down here in the quasi-affordable world of hobbyists like me, we've solved the problems of resolution and depth of field. Dynamic range is the last problem to fix. My camera can get about 10 stops of dynamic range, whereas film can do something like 14. So if I'm careful, and get a lot of practice, I can still capture some pretty amazing images.

There's a question also about the "art." The film snobs in Side by Side love to touch themselves inappropriately, because they know how to get the most out of film, but is any of that technical ability relevant to the masses? I mean, people watch their TV's with colors saturated, blacks crushed and that annoying interpolation that makes everything look like video. The reason people were getting away with shooting standard def hacks in 2005 is because they were telling stories, and that's what mattered. I think to a degree that's still what matters the most.

Granted, people have other reasons to panic. People watch stuff on cell phones, and worse, shoot video vertically with them. It's still good enough for people to waste time on YouTube. Before everyone starts worrying that viral video will displace Hollywood movies, do keep in mind they just had a record box office year. It seems to me the craft isn't going anywhere.

That the barrier to entry to making art is so low is what's exciting. We haven't entirely figured out the discovery mechanism, these are exciting times. The quality of what you can turn out with less than $10k in equipment is pretty stunning.

Too many days in a row

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 24, 2013, 9:34 PM | comments: 0

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

Of all the things said about Steve Jobs after his death, this particular quote stands out. It's not the usual touchy-feely cliché that people quote but are incapable of taking to heart. Jobs makes a really important distinction here about following your bliss and flippantly running from problems. He essentially says that life can throw crap at you, and you can expect that. It's when you face crap day after day that you need to figure out where change is possible.

Jobs also brings up a truth that we seem to dismiss in our culture. For reasons I can't understand, we celebrate misery like it's some kind of badge of honor. What do you win for allowing yourself to stay in a crappy situation?

Acknowledging the need for change is something that requires courage. Fear gets in the way. I can't tell you how many times in my life I've allowed fear to keep me in a suboptimal relationship or a job where I was just treading water.

In the absence of courage, I find that there are other things that help you along. Some of it is just sheer experience, and the knowledge that you've been there and survived hard decisions. Even more important is perspective. When you're knee-deep in bullshit, it can be the simplest things you encounter. I have these moments every day. Watching Simon walking up stairs, alternating feet, is an ordinary occurrence, but it's the kind of thing that really matters in life.

I'm not getting any younger. I need to be asking myself that question every morning.

Quietly jumping into real-time adventure

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 23, 2013, 11:33 PM | comments: 0

The other night I pushed a half-baked update to POP Forums into CoasterBuzz. The bulk of the changes (and there are some bugs) have to do with updating stuff in real time. So for example, you get infinite scroll topics, where posts just keep loading as you go, new posts appear at the end like magic, the recent topics list actually updates without a refresh, the topic lists and forum lists update, times update. It's all real-timey!

To anyone who uses Facebook, which is pretty much everyone, this is wholly unremarkable. There just hasn't been a really good off-the-shelf way to do all of this real-time stuff efficiently until recently. I did it, sort of, in the last version, where it would let you know as you were writing a reply if there was something new posted, but it did so by asking the server over and over again, "Is there something new? Is there something new? Is there something new?" Lame.

Then SignalR came along, and it was finally released for v1 this week. It keeps a connection open between the server and the browser, and figures out how to do it even if your browser doesn't support it. It's pretty sweet. You could build a chat server in a few dozen lines of code. That is awesome.

Forums are way behind the neat-o ways things like Facebook work, but at least my forum won't be that way much longer. Hooray for new tools!

Building something new, together

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 23, 2013, 11:28 PM | comments: 0

I see Diana looking at stuff on the Internet for a wide range of things. It's everything from food, to toddler activities, to knitting, and now, quilting. I still don't get Pinterest, and as best I can tell that's because it's a girl thing. Of all the things that she has used at various points, I've always been impressed with the site Ravelry, for knitters.

There isn't a site that's nearly as good for quilters, which boggles my mind. I've seen estimates that as many as 20 million Americans do it in some fashion, and yet there's no good site for those people? There are sites, but they all look like they're from 1998. It seems like a missed opportunity.

So I want to build something with Diana that is also for her. It's hard to say how that's going to go, because we've never really collaborated on something like this. I fancy myself too much of an Internet taste barometer, marketer and technologist, and yet she's really the target audience. She may not know what a modal popup box is, but she'll know if she doesn't like it. Regardless, at the end of the day it has to be useful to her, or it's not right. That's a solid gut check away from my usual bias.

I'm filled with a great many ideas right now. I mean, my head is really full of stuff that I want to do, all at once. I'm finally starting to embrace the unknown, and it's empowering. I do wonder if this new thing is something I can actually deliver. Getting from idea to delivery on things not work related is hard.

Glorious disconnection

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 23, 2013, 4:27 PM | comments: 0

An interesting thing happened on our cruise. As I'm sure you can figure out, the only way you have a cellular or Internet connection in the middle of the ocean is if it's coming from a satellite. Yes, cruise ships offer both, but at insane rates. We would be away from US radio signals for about 64 hours total, so I decided that perhaps I would just stay disconnected the whole time. And that's what I did.

For about the first hour or so it was a little strange, because I kept wanting to post photos to Facebook, but when I realized that most of the people I would want to see them were in fact on the ship with me, that feeling passed. I never was bored enough to want to check e-mail or news or anything else, so honestly I never really had the desire to connect.

It was pretty much the most free I've felt in years.

I gave Walt credentials to be able to reboot the Web server if necessary, and beyond that, I let go and went without wires and radios. Most people, save for some people I saw with a laptop and no drink in their hand, were also disconnected and focused on what was right in front of them. I don't know how other people were affected by this, but for me, it woke me up to the fact that I spend way too much time on shit that just doesn't matter.

Since that cruise, I check my phone a great deal less. I don't go back to Facebook or news feeds or anything with the same regularity. I read more. I create more than I consume. I'm not saying that the online world is a waste of time, I'm only saying that there's a balance to engaging with it that I had completely lost. When I look around, I see people who have their head down in a screen at all times, even when they're among people. It's particularly surprising at restaurants, when I see a family who doesn't even talk to each other. That makes me a little sad.

I'm trying not to sound judgmental, it just disappoints me a little that our culture seems to be devaluing the life in front of us for the life online. That's a weird thing for someone to say when his closest and most enduring friendships are conducted largely via the Internet, but I suppose the point is more that there is a time and place. If you're hanging out with me, please put your phone away. :)

Date fail (and that's OK)

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 22, 2013, 6:55 PM | comments: 0

As we decided to mostly forego Christmas gifts (sewing machine not withstanding), we were a little more creative about what we would try to do this year for or with each other. A cruise was part of that, but also a commitment to making sure we got out at least once a month on a real date, without Simon. The truth is that we generally do an OK job at finding "us time," and frankly much of our us time is great when Simon is with us. We take a lot of pride in the fact that we're generally pretty content to do stuff that includes him.

Still, it's also nice to have time where dinner isn't cut short by an impatient toddler, or some other activity isn't rushed because of some concession. In January we went the obvious route and had dinner in a place we knew it would ordinarily require a wait. This month, we were on the cruise the first weekend, so we pushed it to last weekend, with plans to go to the art museum. Simon got sick, so we pushed it to this week. On the eve of that date, we're both still suboptimal, so we've just given up for this month.

And honestly, that's OK. I mean, a side effect of us all being sick is that we've spent quite a bit of time together, and we also had a couple of hours on the ship away from the boy. We have a pretty solid list of things to do.

This is one of the disadvantages we're still struggling with in Cleveland. When we were in Seattle, of course we had babysitting exchanges with Diana's brother, but we also had our whole network of PEPS-folk, all with kids we saw on a regular basis around the same age. Babysitting is expensive when it's not on trade.

Sick, bitch, and move on

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 21, 2013, 9:38 PM | comments: 0

I hate when people use the Internet to bitch about their lives, but I'm going to do it anyway as a means to put it behind me.

The three of us have been more or less miserable for a week. Simon is more or less on the mend, but he's still not sleeping overnight. Diana got worse today, and I feel as though I'm relapsing again. Every night this week I'm exhausted by 6:30. Work has been mentally draining on top of that, through no fault of my own.

I'm done with being sick. Too much of me wants out, to do stuff, to be held back.

The burden of hiring software developers

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 10:46 PM | comments: 1

I've had the unusual opportunity to hire and manage people on and off starting with my first real job after college. I think it's one of the hardest things to do because it's time consuming and expensive to make mistakes. When I first had to assemble a team in a consulting gig (I think it was 2005, for context), I found out it's even harder to hire software developers.

First off, check out my former boss, Jonathan, and the talk he did with another guy about how not to do technical interviewing. The irony to people who have had bad experiences interviewing at Microsoft is not lost on me, but Jonathan gets it. Obviously, since he hired me. :) Go rate up his video!

The problem in hiring starts with the fact that resumes don't mean much. You look for the key word matches for what you're looking for, and from there look at the depth and breadth of the experience. If it doesn't smell like bullshit, you move on to a phone screen. From there you further dismiss the fakers. By the time you bring someone in, I would guess that 90% of the time you can already be pretty sure they would be a good fit, and you can have your choice of candidates provided they like you and your offer.

But it's the screening part that is such a huge burden. The resume part isn't that big of a deal. I can get through a stack of resumes pretty fast and figure out who I want to follow up with. It's the next stage of the screening that takes too damn long and sucks the life out of you.

My typical phone screen is more about the gauging the person's knowledge. I don't ask them to identify acronyms like SOLID or DRY (I can never remember what the former stands for), but I can walk them through questions about language and object-oriented patterns and get a pretty good feel for where they are. But even if you're trying to get a faker off of the phone, these still take a half-hour at least, and that's not counting the overhead in agreeing to a time to talk.

If I bring someone in for real interviews, that's going to take at least three hours, including some time working on a real software problem with, you know a computer. I don't complain about that part, it's the screening process that is a huge burden.

Hiring people, even for something as technical as a software development position, is still largely a problem with human beings. Expectations are set, social contracts have to be followed and of course people have to get along. It just doesn't feel like it should be so inefficient.

First off, job boards are nearly useless. They're just keyword matching devices. The quality of candidates varies by board, but it's still not a great value prop. Staffing agencies add even less value, especially now that it's common for a person sitting in India or China to just roll through a database, making keyword matches, spamming people.

I've been talking with people a lot lately about how to make the discovery and vetting process more efficient. The use cases for smaller to medium sized businesses in particular interest me, since they might not even have someone who is technically proficient enough to make that first critical hire.

I'm open to suggestions. How do you make the discovery and vetting easier? Is there a technical process that could help?

When quiet reflection becomes maddening obsession

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 18, 2013, 11:20 PM | comments: 0

We were all sick this weekend. First it was Simon, then me, then Diana. I'm not feeling great tonight, but I think I'm going to do my best and get out of bed tomorrow and go to work.

One of the things about being sick that sucks the most is that you often don't feel up to doing much of anything. In those cases, you're left to think about pretty much everything. While my body may be unwilling, my mind doesn't turn off. To make it worse, fevers tend to make your brain do weird things. I've actually had hallucinations before, though thankfully it never got that bad this time around.

As you might imagine, my reflection focused a great deal on the awesome trip we just had, and how awesome my little family is. You know you've done well when you have a family that makes you happy in ways that you never even considered. Whether or not this has anything to do with the decisions I've made is hard to say, as there is certainly a large element of chance that I would meet Diana, but I suppose moving on from previous relationships of various depths were things that enabled the chance to meet Diana. I guess the point is that I deserve some amount of credit for making the life I have. It certainly wasn't all chance.

The passive entertainment we've been watching, in part to keep Simon entertained while we've been less than interactive, also forced the issue with other aspects of my life. One of the Blue Man Group DVD's special features has the founders talking about following your bliss, a recurring theme in their art. Watching Downton Abbey (without Simon), you see that Tom has gone from revolutionary to part of the establishment, and he struggles to find his identity. And of course my friends on Facebook never stop reminding me of how awesome the PNW is. The feelings invoked by these things are also due to my own decisions.

When you've got nothing else to do, you can imagine that these trains of thought are enough to drive you mad. Without the normal things in daily life occupying your time, reflection turns to obsession.

Feeling slightly more human tonight, at least I can declare that the most important parts are already spoken for, and are excellent. For everything in life that isn't ideal, I can't deny that the enthusiastic greetings of a little boy and kiss of a loving wife when I get home from work are the good stuff. I need to use that strong foundation to figure out the rest.

Cruise drunk

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 16, 2013, 11:24 PM | comments: 0

I know that a lot of people right now are thinking twice about ever taking a cruise, given the colossal fuckup by Carnival with their powerless, stinky boat. But here at Team Puzzoni headquarters, we haven't been able to stop talking about our three-night cruise on the Disney Dream last week. The truth is, we can't wait to do it again.

As I said before, I had no expectations for the cruise, because it was initiated with the plan to surprise my father-in-law. I didn't know I would have such a good time. What I expected even less was for Simon to be talking about it a week later. He barely hangs on to what he did the same day, and he keeps asking when we're going "back on the ship."

So what kind of trip would we do? If we were going to do the Bahamas again, I think I'd like a four-night variation on what we did. They have itineraries that are essentially the same, only they add a day at sea at the beginning or end, floating very slowly, I assume.

We did actually talk about doing an Alaska cruise when we were in Seattle, and Disney was actually using it as a port (they appear to use Vancouver now). That's a one-week deal on one of the smaller two boats. I think those would be fantastic summer trips. You could do an interesting add-on, too, like a train from Seattle to Vancouver.

If I'm being particularly ambitious, I think I would really enjoy doing a Mediterranean cruise. Those vary in length, with one that's almost two weeks. They stop all over the place, starting in Barcelona, with stops in France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. That would be fantastic. Obviously, that's not one we would want to do with Simon. I'm not even sure we could repeat something like that, because it would not be cheap.

Regardless, we have a cruise bug with the rat. I absolutely can't wait to do it again.

On fitness and diet fads

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 16, 2013, 11:08 PM | comments: 0

A friend on Facebook asked today, maybe seriously, maybe jokingly, if CrossFit was the new Scientology of fitness. If you know people who belong to a CrossFit gym, you could probably see where that question comes from. Needless to say a mutual friend went to rant on her gym's page. Online drama!

CrossFit obviously works for some people, but I do see issues with it among the half-dozen or so people I know who do it. Most notably, they all tend to get hurt. That's a symptom, I believe of a bigger problem that many fitness and diet fads have in common.

These programs are far too generalist for a diverse population. I understand that surrounding yourself with people who support and push you makes it easier. But the fitness needs of one person don't always apply to others. Variations on body type, age and previous injuries all impact the appropriateness of what you engage in. In my years of coaching young athletes, you would never apply the same off-court workout routine to every kid, and they're a lot more flexible than adults. You always worked with trainers to understand how to tailor exercise to the individual, or risk injury.

The same thing applies to diet. It's easy to pick on the CrossFit folks on this one because they seem to go hand-in-hand with the "paleo" crowd. It's frankly not any different than any other diet fad I've seen in my lifetime, in that groups of people can be so convinced it's the right path for everyone, because their echo chamber makes it so.

Replace CrossFit and paleo with any diet and exercise that involves group think. As human beings are social creatures by nature, and want to belong, we find it much easier to succeed by engagement in these things. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, and I would go as far as to say that it may even help you to eat and exercise "right" and live a more fit life. What I take issue with is the collective insisting that they have the only answer, and it's right for everyone. That annoys me primarily because it's not the science, it's the social nature that drives the success in fitness and diet, and it comes with that potential for harm.

One extra wrinkle is that sometimes these diet and exercise constructs (mostly the diet) also have a brand associated with them. At that point, the group think is also "sponsored by." Again, this isn't inherently bad, but pushing product further interferes with the motivation behind spreading the love. It heightens the sense that what you're involved with is "the right thing."

At the end of the day, the only true solution to diet and exercise lifestyle is for a person to really understand what their own needs are, and to talk to professionals who aren't selling something, to put it together. The advice I was given by dietitians was to eat less, but in a balanced way. Trainers told me to mostly do the things I enjoy and listen to my body and not do things that hurt. That advice served me particularly well when I knocked off about 30 pounds back in the day. I played a whole lot of volleyball, except when it hurt, and I still ate the same carbilicious food, only in moderation.

My intention here isn't to say that whatever you do is wrong, it's to say that it may not be right for me. Furthermore, if you turn a blind eye to what your body is telling you (that hurts), or what science says, you might be putting yourself at risk.

I will say that CrossFit people take themselves too seriously. :)

Trip report: Disney Dream 3-night cruise (Part 3)

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 14, 2013, 11:59 PM | comments: 0

While I had no interest in getting off the boat in Nassau, doing so on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, was another matter entirely. That Disney owns an island makes it just as much of an attraction as the ship itself.

Even though I had been on the ship for nearly 48 hours at that point, I couldn't help but spend a little time observing it from the pier once we got off. It's really impressive. The Dream's black hull, yellow accents, big round portholes and of course, Sorcerer Mickey hanging off the back, really make it an attractive ship. It's a far cry from the boxy and hideous Norwegian Epic that pulled up along side of us the day before in Nassau.

The water and the beaches around Castaway Cay are basically everything you've seen in postcard pictures. (For the kids, postcards are little photos you used to mail to people. Speaking of which, there's a post office on the pier so you can send stuff with a Castaway Cay stamp on it.) The white sand and light blue water are incredible. That water seemed oddly cold, as did the sand, but I never went in much beyond my ankles. Tropical fish scurry about in the shallow water, which is very smooth due in part to the barrier a few hundred yards off shore. The beaches have thousands of beach chairs, along with hammocks and umbrellas. It's really something to behold.

They have super expensive cabanas for rental, souvenir shops, some water slides, snorkeling, boat rentals and bars. The food service is buffet style, similar to what you find on the ship. There are two locations, and each one has massive picnic pavilions.

Truth be told, I'm not much of a beach person, and Simon is still reluctant to enter the water. That's frustrating. Perhaps it's for the best, as the Family Puzzoni is a bit on the fair-skinned side. While the rest of the family spent more time out there, we were back on the ship before 2. All three of us took a little nap.

Our final dinner was in the Animator's Palate restaurant. The restaurant rotation is somewhat random, but this was easily the best saved for last. It's located aft on deck 3, clearly not far from the rear engine rooms, which you can feel. There are no windows. However, when you enter the restaurant, it's brightly lit, with images of animation and sketches all around the room. The chairs are colored in a Mickey pattern, and the columns are huge paintbrushes. It felt like a big tribute to animation, though video screens seemed unnecessary.

After sitting, Helen Ann mentioned to me that she thought the restaurant was tacky. Not two minutes later, the lighting changes to blue, bubbles roll up over all of the video screens, and we see Finding Nemo characters swimming about on all of them. Before you know it, Crush appears on the screen behind our table, and he starts talking with us. He says hi to Simon, and comments how Nina is "the cutest thing ever, shya!" He also asks where Helen Ann is sitting, and shares calls her out for saying the restaurant was tacky. Loved it. From there, Crush swam off to talk to other tables. It was absolutely brilliant.

After teaching all of the kids in the restaurant to swim in the EAC, dinner arrived. I had an organic lemon-herb chicken breast that was one of the most perfect pieces of chicken I've ever had. The mashed potatoes under it were silky smooth and unbelievably delicious. For dessert, a classic ice cream sundae with brownie under it. It was fantastic. Our amazing waiters again scored some "uncrustables" for Simon, and he ate well.

As I said before, the last show, Believe, was really well done. Before leaving the area, I picked up a new polo shirt with the DCL logo, as well as a souvenir book about the making of the ship. Yeah, it's a glorified brochure, but whatever. I wanted it.

With Simon well rested, we decided to take one more spin around the ship before going to bed. We started with a lap around the exterior of deck 4. It's the only continuous loop around the entire ship, and if you do a little more than 2 laps, you'll go a mile. While we had been in the interior spaces, it was the first time outside on that deck since the safety drill the afternoon we boarded. While the big heavy life boats overhead scare me, it's a very neat place to be closer to the water while the ship is underway. Oddly, the doors on the starboard side were all closed due to wind.

From there, we went all the way back up to deck 11, as Diana had not seen it at night. There were only a few people up there, watching the nightly movie on funnelvision. Of course, we needed one last hit from Luigi's Pizza. It was delicious.

Simon had such a good time on the ship. Yes, a lot of his enjoyment came from watching the elevators and pressing buttons. He also loved running down the long hallways and decks. You know, that's OK, because he was engaged in his surroundings in his way. I loved every moment I had with him and Diana on that giant boat.

The next morning, we had to get up very early, as our breakfast time was 6:45 a.m. On the plus side, it meant seeing our servers one more time, and not having to serve ourselves! They started to disembark at 7:15. Again, keep in mind that the ship would start boarding again at 11 that morning, and do it all again.

Our flight out was at noon, so we didn't screw around. We said our goodbyes to family, and headed out around 7:30. You could leave your bag in the hall the night before, and pick it up in the terminal, but since we only had one large suitcase, we handled it ourselves. We were through customs by 7:40. I think this is reason enough to let Disney take over the federal government. The efficiency was remarkable.

Kara picked us up minutes later, and dropped us off at MCO around 8:45, with plenty of time to spare. We were through security by 9:30.

So the trip I never would have thought to take was awesome. While I've always thought of cruise ships as big germ factories, the Disney Dream was super clean, and they did their best to make sure you were clean, especially heading into eating areas. I would have liked one more night, but we had a great time. The Bahamas honestly don't interest me, but the ship itself is in this case quite an attraction. I think the Mediterranean itineraries might be a little much for us at this point, but I could definitely do one of these, or one to Alaska. I'm sold on Disney. They nailed it in almost every way.

The Florida conundrum

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 14, 2013, 9:52 AM | comments: 3

Last week was the third time in four months that I was down in Central Florida, and again I find myself feeling... anxious about it. You may recall my previous stories of how I do love being there, but wouldn't feel comfortable moving there because of the schools. But what is it about being there that makes me feel so damn good? I think there are a lot of possibilities.

The most obvious thing is that, usually, when I'm in Florida, I'm on vacation. When I'm there, I'm in theme parks. As fantastic and awesome as that is, it wouldn't be the usual thing if I were to live there. In fact, I probably wouldn't be doing on-property stays at Disney World, either.

I think it's probably more the weather than anything. I hate winter in the worst way. More specifically, I hate the kind of weather that the Midwest brings, with the days upon days of flat, gray skies. When I step outside for the first time at MCO, I instantly feel invigorated and happier. It actually scares me a little the way weather seems to have an impact on the chemical composition of my brain. If you could see me, you'd see me shaking my fist angrily at biology.

Maybe I just want to be anywhere but where I am. I'm anxious to be out of my house, and to an extent, Ohio in general. I just don't have a plan for either condition. The feeling also comes and goes. The truth is that summers here are generally pretty awesome, and in addition to Cedar Point, there are so many great places within driving distance. I have an awesome wife and an awesome child, and we have awesome adventures together. It's just that the adventure stops by the time November rolls around (until we end up in Florida).

Maybe I need to buy a vacation home.

Trip report: Disney Dream 3-night cruise (Part 2)

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 9:44 PM | comments: 0

On the second day of our trip, Simon woke us up shortly before we pulled into port in Nassau. Our speed was reduced, and all of a sudden I could see land out the window. As we got our showers on and started to get ready for breakfast, I sat down to enjoy the warm tropical air from the verandah. It was the first of several instances where we the Disney Dream did the coolest thing ever: Rotate in place using its thrusters. It was neat to look down the length of the ship and see the world turn around it.

The breakfast buffet offered in Cabanas is, quite frankly awesome. They have all of the usual stuff, ranging from scrambled eggs to breakfast potatoes, but it's all better than you're used to. They also do custom eggs with virtually all kinds of stuff, including seafood, Mickey waffles, pastries and fresh Krispy Kreme-style doughnuts. I had no restraint at all, and it was delicious.

Our morning was spent in part going up to the pool deck for a bit, while much of the ship emptied out into Nassau. I had zero interest in going ashore, in part because of the general consensus of others that Nassau is a dirty tourist trap. While Diana tried again to see if Simon would be interested in playing in the toddler water area (he wasn't), I went up to ride the AquaDuck, the ship's water coaster.

There was almost no line, but something caused a shutdown just as I got to the top of the stairs. They presumably had boats valley in one of the two drops, and they did a walk-through of the entire tube before starting up again. They have a nice elevator enclosed in the funnel for the rafts, and really the whole ride looks visually interesting. Unfortunately, riding it isn't interesting at all. The tube immediately swings out over the side of the ship, 150 feet above the water, but you can't really tell. The two drops come right after the other, then a long turn in the aft funnel, a long straightaway, and another long turn in the forward funnel. Perhaps I'm biased because I've been on Holiday World's completely awesome, LIM-powered water coaster, but this was so completely dull. Joe made the point that perhaps it was tame on purpose, given the intended audience, but I was not a fan.

Not wanting to see Simon burn out, I got Simon down for a nap after lunch. I took one too, while Diana went ashore with Helen Ann. What a difference that made, for both of us! When dinner time came around, Simon was good to meet characters in the lobby, and wait a bit at dinner, as the rest of the family was running late.

The Royal Palace restaurant matched the decor of the lobby a lot more closely. Upon arrival, the many servers and bussers lined up at the entrance cheered for Simon as he came in, and so he went back and forth three more times. It was another very special moment. The food was primarily French, and they made a party foul when they failed mention on the menu that the chicken dish was wrapped in pork. I don't do red meat, so that was gross. The straight chicken breast they replaced it with was a little bland, and this was the only food I had an issue with. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it.

The show in the Disney Theatre on the first night was something called The Golden Mickeys, and I didn't care much for it. It felt like an ad for all things Disney and musical, and I just wouldn't call it art or even interesting. The second night was a show called Villains Tonight! It was a musical comedy with the Hades character from Hercules. It was generally entertaining at first, but it started to drag toward the end quite a bit. The show on our last night was called Believe, and it was definitely the best of the three. It used a bunch of familiar Disney songs of course, but it was well composed and put together with a nice story.

I should mention that Simon loved the theatrical shows. He is obviously the son of a professional stage manager. By the third night, he was asking to, "Go to the show now?" It was super cute.

Helen Ann listened for Simon from the adjoining room in the evening, and Diana and I joined her dad and Joe down in one of the grownup clubs. The club had many photos from the construction of the ship, as well as small pieces of scrap steel cut from the process. The clubs did not seem particularly busy.

Next time... Castaway Cay and debarkation...

Trip report: Disney Dream 3-night cruise (Part 1)

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 11, 2013, 10:31 PM | comments: 0

The secret is out: Team Puzzoni went on a cruise last week. As time permits, I want to share as much as I can about the trip, as a whole lot of people have asked me questions about it.

Why the secret? Because the motivation for the trip was to surprise my father-in-law, Sam, as a 70th birthday present of sorts. Not only would we secretly end up on the ship, but so would my brother-in-law Joe's family be there as well. That's two children, two in-laws and three grandchildren. The conspiracy was initiated by his bride-to-be, Helen Ann.

Truth be told, I'm not sure that I would have initiated a trip like this, I guess because it was just not something I ever thought about doing. I didn't really even look into it that much until days before we left. The only advanced planning I did was to make sure I had a passport. The three-night cruise was aboard the Disney Dream, with stops at Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. I'll get to the ship in a minute.

Executing the surprise could have been a challenge, but it all ended up going pretty smoothly. Joe's family had a check-in at 11 or 11:30, so they were on the ship pretty early and hanging out in the Enchanted Garden restaurant on deck 2. Our arrival was more worrisome, as we had a 12:30 check-in, same as Sam and Helen Ann. We got there just slightly early, and check-in was a no-hassle experience with virtually no queue time. I'm pretty sure we were on the ship before 12:45.

We met the Mattoni Snoqualmie chapter on deck 2, while in texting contact with Helen Ann, who was directed with the birthday boy to the Cabanas restaurant on deck 11. He was wanting to try and get his dinner time moved to the later slot (8 p.m.), which of course wouldn't work for the rest of us and the grandkids, so we had to push for the surprise moment quickly. All seven of us wandered up to the restaurant, which is a big U-shaped space aft, scanning the tables in each section. He was up looking for food, so we didn't see him coming, right in front of us. He made eye contact with Kristen, and his jaw dropped as he realized that the little people were his grandkids. He had no clue at all. It was an epic surprise.

In any case, let me back up a bit. As I said, this was not a trip I really would have thought to take, especially having just spent a huge wad of cash on the Beach Club WDW trip I took with Diana after Thanksgiving. But we also figured that it made more sense to spend money on this than a big Christmas, because memories made traveling are so much more worth it than "stuff" you buy. All things considered, it was a pretty good value. The airfare was a grand for us, but the cruise was less than $1,500 for the three of us. Put that into the context of a three-night stay in a five-diamond hotel, only this one floats, the service is the best you can experience, the food is all included, the entertainment is included, and your hotel also happens to stop at two different islands. If you ask me, they underprice it.

My BFF Kara picked us up at the airport and took us to a nearby hotel. We arrived the evening before to minimize risk associated with airplanes that fail to get you where you need to be on time. From the MCO area, the port is only 45-ish minutes away. As I said, check-in was super smooth. Key cards issued, passports swiped, photos for computerized identification acquired, and off we went.

Once across the gangway, a group of people announce your arrival over a PA, applaud, and you find yourself standing in the three-story lobby on deck 3. It's a pretty dramatic statement, and one that you might equate with classic ocean liners from a hundred years ago, if you had any frame of reference (I don't). It's hard to believe that the marble, plush furnishings and beautiful decor is on a boat that moves around.

After having a second lunch (we took Kara out before boarding) and springing the big surprise, we checked out our room at the ready time of 1:30. I believe the Dream is in the middle of a constant cycle of three-night cruises right now, where they boot the passengers off early in the morning, and have it all ready to do it again that afternoon. We scored a stateroom with a verandah, adjoining to Sam's. Joe's family was just down the hall, and had just a little more room with a huge porthole instead. I think the rooms are actually quite large considering they're on a boat. We really loved ours, and Simon felt very at home when we pulled the curtain closed in the middle. My understanding is that the interior rooms have a video porthole that shows the exterior view.

The verandah rooms were not exceptionally more expensive, and since we've never been on a cruise, and weren't sure if we would ever do it again, I insisted we be able to see the ocean up close. It was totally worth it, even though there isn't much to see when you're at sea. The only negative is that Disney currently allows people to smoke out there, which means if you're downwind of a smoker, you're going to get that. I think it's a huge mistake, and they should restrict smoking to the designated areas they have elsewhere.

Navigating the ship isn't hard once you get an idea of where everything is. There are three stairwells, forward, midship and aft, with elevators. Our room was on deck 7, which made it easy to get up to deck 11, where the pools and Cabanas restaurant are, and deck 3, where the main lobby, theaters and stores are. The three primary sit-down restaurants are all below, with the Animator's Palate and Royal Palace on 3, the Enchanted Garden on 2. The clubs are all on 4, and the kids stuff is all on 5 (we never did see any of that). Deck 11 is really the "top," with 12 the parts fore and aft that are mostly for sun worshiping, and 13, which allows you to go forward. Also tucked into 12 forward are the formal adult-only restaurants (too fancy for me), and some of the concierge level stuff.

After messing up our room a bit, we wandered around, mostly on the upper decks, to see what we could see. The Dream is a strikingly beautiful ship that is strikingly clean everywhere you go. And I'm not just saying that because they're constantly giving you things to clean your hands with. The ship is two-years-old, but it looks totally new. Staggered glass walls around deck 12 try to break up the wind and provide maximum deckage for hanging out in the sun.

Our first day was a little challenging, because we definitely pushed Simon to his limits. Our dinner time was 5:45, and our first rotation was in the Enchanted Garden. The same servers follow you around each night. The menus include a handful of appetizers, salads and entrees. There weren't any appetizers I was fond of, but there were variations on chicken dishes every night and I had no problem finding plenty to eat. The kids meals were the typical stuff that you know kids will eat, unless your kid is Simon. They still managed to find some "uncrustable" sandwiches and fruit, which made him happy. I was most fond of the desserts, which were awesome.

With the earlier dinner, it meant we could see the 8:30 p.m. show in the Walt Disney Theatre. This is a truly awesome space. It's a 1,000-seat theater, on a boat. The shows are well staged in terms of technology and sound, and I'll talk about those later. There's also a movie theater, but we just didn't have time to take advantage of it.

We rounded out the first night getting Simon into bed and watching his cousins while everyone else went out. I did a quick lap up top to find that deck 13 was actually closed for wind. You could feel the ship movement quite a bit when we were at cruising speed, but I wonder if that had more to do with a 200-foot tall object getting blown around and less to do with waves. Deck 11 is fortunately pretty well surrounded, so people were stretched out on deck chairs watching a Disney movie on "funnelvision," the giant screen above the deck. I also found my weakness: The late-night food offerings by the pool. They had BBQ chicken pizza that was completely amazing. Diana was fond of the margherita pizza. They also had chicken fingers and ice cream.

Next time... how to do it right with a sleepy toddler, more food and the AquaDuck...

Forum reinvention

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 11:34 PM | comments: 0

Jeff Atwood, of StackOverflow fame, made a bit of a jab at the classic Web-based forum. Maybe it's well deserved, and certainly criticism I've levied before, but he's right that forums are still as popular as ever for communities of every shape and size. That's actually kind of weird when you think about it. Facebook has not displaced the niche Web site, and especially the communities that inhabit them.

His post actually went on to announce an open source forum project called Discourse. Running my own open source project, POP Forums, naturally I thought, "Finally, I can stop building this stuff!" I mean, if it's "next-generation," it's gotta be good, right?

Well, maybe not so much. I like some of the components of the user interface, in that it tends to strip down to the bare minimum required to conduct conversation. I've always been a fan of that. I just don't see a lot that makes me think they're taking it to a new level. Part of that is because a simple hierarchy that ends in a list of posts is already pretty simple and easy to understand.

There are some things that I don't think they've thought very hard enough about. Even though Atwood considers that he finds so many useful things in forums, how do you think he got there? Discoverability by search engines, of course. The continuous stream of loading stuff is obvious, since it's what Facebook does, and my forum does it (requiring a button push, but it's inline loading), but the paging is a useful construct for Google to find stuff. That's why I do both paging and inline loading.

I'm also not a big fan of using "markdown" in post composition. Sure, people who grew up with Usenet or work on a command line dig it, but average users hate it. Everything they use has a WYSIWYG editor now. Why go backward? People in my forums can't even figure out how to use quote tags... how do you expect them to use markdown?

Interestingly, they want to make that forum app a business in the spirit of Wordpress. That's not a horrible idea, but a lot of services have come and gone doing hosted forums. For one reason or another, the bulk of the use seems to be more of the DIY crowd, with a few companies doing huge forums for big companies. It will be interesting to see how it goes for them.

As for building something "next-generation," I think mostly that means being more real-time. A few months ago I started baking in all kinds of real-time stuff with the projected release of v1 of SignalR. It was supposed to be by the end of 2012, but it's still not a final, supported release. I've got real-time updates to the forum pages and what not, and it's really pretty cool. I'm concurrently trying to improve the design and have sketched a lot of things, but I'm not sure how much of that will make it into v11. I admittedly am more interested in the engineering.

Reinventing the forum is something I used to want to do, but I think in more recent years I've come to realize that reinvention is less important than sensible evolution. UBB came out something like 15 years ago, and I think forums have gone through a pretty solid maturing process. I'm interested to see where Discourse goes, but I'm not convinced it really goes anywhere particularly new.

Doing what you love

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

A friend of mine announced today on Facebook that he was returning to a job he left. Happens all of the time, sure, but it's a decision that I identify with because he's leaving the broadcast business. In fact, it's actually the second time he's doing so, the first time from radio, and this time from TV. Can you see the parallels there?

I can't speak for him, but I know that leaving the business, even for something related in some way (I've always considered the Internet, including the software that runs on it, to be a variation on classic media), is really hard to do. I mean, I still can't let it go, and have been spending most of what I make via my Web sites on pro video toys. At the end of the day, however, you have to chase what you love, and do that.

Part of that process is allowing yourself to see that what you're doing has some issues. When I left radio, I had to admit that the pay was terrible. When I left TV, it was government TV, and the pay was terrible. OK, it wasn't entirely about the pay in that case, it was just that the scope of what I could do was limited. Working for politicians didn't help. I left my last job after a year because I finally admitted to myself that while it was awesome to work at home, pants optional, the environment was making me dumb.

I don't think most people really stop and think about what it is they love to do, in part because if you're being honest, it's probably hard to make a living at doing what you love. That's an honesty  I can rarely attain. I love to write code, but not always on things I can get paid for. Similarly, I loved to work with video, but not when it involved shooting school board meetings.

The challenge then is to look at the things you love to do, and see if there's some way you can combine them into a paycheck. That's hard. I like to write code, I like to work with video, and I like to be involved with charitable work. The last part I don't need to make a living at, I just like to do it. I'm not sure what that job is.

If you can't find the perfect match, I think the next important thing to do is be open to things you haven't considered before. That's hard to do, because it's fairly high risk, especially as you get older. But still, that's how I landed at my current job, because the underlying things that make me enjoy code and video are in some ways satisfied by this role. Is it perfect? Is it the right place? I don't know, but it has only been a month.

My friend is going to kick ass and take names in his new gig, I'm sure. I can't wait to see what he does.

The computer future is coming into focus

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 1:20 PM | comments: 0

There has a been a lot of noise and punditry that has transpired in the last two years about PC's and tablets and the death and rise of one or the other. The conversation is somewhat skewed because of marketing speak (namely because of Apple), so reality is a little distorted. Referring to a world as "post-PC" is kind of stupid. It's just that the PC has evolved.

Consider this: At one end, you have Apple who believes that people want tablets for most of the things they do in a connected way. I would tend to think that they're right. The important part of that is the recent development that they are now selling a 128 gig iPad starting at $799. That's a lot of capacity, and it's not cheap. I'm sure there will be growing demand for it, however.

Now consider the other end. Microsoft was dissatisfied enough with the potential for OEM's to build a tablet running Windows that it did the deed itself. Their goal was still to build what they consider a "PC," and the result is the Surface Pro. It's a full and complete Windows computer in a package that is a little thicker than an iPad, and it starts at $899. Put adequate storage and add a mechanical keyboard, and it's about $1,120.

The point here is that what we consider the classic tablet and the classic PC are actually evolving toward each other. I think we'll eventually reach a point where you don't really have to choose, and the cost will start to decrease as it has with any other technology. That's pretty exciting.

No school

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 4, 2013, 8:41 PM | comments: 0

The results of Simon's evaluation for subsidized preschool are in, and they don't believe that he qualifies. It's shocking for us, because his case worker and his current teachers were convinced there was no question that he was still quite behind in speech and gross motor skills. To say we're disappointed is an understatement. When he turns 3 in a month, he will have "graduated" from the birth-to-3 intervention program. That's when we have to tell him that he can't go to school anymore.

There's a bitter-sweet problem we have with our boy. On one hand, it's frustrating that he's behind his peers in the way he talks, walks and uses tools at the table. On the other hand, his eligibility for birth-to-3 gave him an opportunity to go to school with other kids who were behind, as well as kids with disabilities. He asks about going to school almost every day, and when one of us drops him off, he frankly can't wait for us to leave him. So as you can see, some of this is just the idea that something is being taken away from him.

The evaluation indicates he's only slightly behind in speech, but well behind in the motor skills, which apparently isn't behind enough for eligibility. Again, it's a strange outcome given the perception of the current experts who observe him. There are some routes to appeal this, but it's going to be a pain in the ass.

I'd like to think that we're decent enough parents. We try to let him have his failures, and we don't coddle him. We don't expect him to be an over-achiever, and certainly wouldn't do any of the stupid shit that some parents do, as far as holding him back for some perceived advantage. We just don't want him to get behind before he even gets started. It's not out of worry that he's bound for a life of failure, or anything quite that neurotic, we just want to help him out, and we need a little help. We know he'll be fine in the long run.

Remembering my grandfather

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 4, 2013, 9:43 AM | comments: 0

It has been a rough couple of months for my family in Florida. My stepdad died in October, and last night, my grandfather left us. My mom said he had been in bad shape for a few weeks now. I was lucky enough to see him when I was in town for David's memorial, and he seemed to be in pretty good spirits at the time.

Thaddeus Majusick, or Ted, as most people knew him, was my connection to another era when I was a kid. By the time I was old enough to pay attention, the world had become quite different than the world he grew up in. We were entering a time without war and people who hadn't served in one, the civil rights movement happened, gender roles were changing, technology was changing everything faster than ever.

His ability to evolve was one of the things I grew to respect about him in adulthood. He was probably among the last of his kind. He lived in the same house most of his life, and worked in the same job for years. He came home for lunch, where my grandmother dutifully had food ready for him on a TV tray, right out of a 50's TV show. He retired with a pension. He was the classic American dream, personified.

Grandpa served in the Navy, and it was always a part of him. As a kid experiencing the cold war, with Vietnam not even a memory, it was hard to relate to what it meant. If he did see life-threatening action, he never shared those stories with me, so to my child mind it seemed more like a bunch of guys working together to operate a very large boat. I'm really glad that's the way he painted that picture.

Against the odds, he was father to four daughters, though I can't say much about his role as a father, since obviously your grandparents tend to have adult children by the time you're born. Four girls. In a tiny house. Yikes.

He worked for a shop that machined parts for a variety of things, and he drew up the plans for many of these objects. He actually had a drawing board at home, which was always fascinating to me, especially when he had something on it that he was working on. I remember one thing in particular that he had a prototype for at home, a device with a motor that raised an antenna from horizontal to vertical, apparently for marine use. That something he drew by hand could be translated into something real was probably the foundation for my interest in mechanical things when I was a kid.

When I was very young, particularly in the years that my mom was single and working, Grandpa on occasion used to watch me and take me to do stuff on weekends. Back then, you could go to the airport, into the concourse, and CLE had an observation deck. He took me out there to watch the planes take-off and land. He also took me to NASA's visitor center, just next door. One of the coolest things was going on the train downtown, into the Terminal Tower, which was little more than a terminal and an office building back then. I can't emphasize enough the impact that these things had on my interest in the world.

He made terrible jokes and puns that you just rolled your eyes and ignored, and growing up in a different era definitely contributed him to saying unsavory things at times, but in the end I respected him for his life-long desire to learn things. I remember him wanting to learn Polish, at which point I think he was in his 50's. When he retired, he wasn't content to sit around, and I loved that he embraced using computers for drafting. I mean, the dude had a Facebook profile.

My grandfather was not a perfect man, but I think he lived a very fulfilling life. He deserves the rest. I'm glad I got to see him one last time.

Blue Man Group pass

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 3, 2013, 9:20 PM | comments: 0

It may sound incredible, but even though Blue Man Group is going to make a stop on its theatrical tour in Cleveland this month, I'm going to pass on seeing it. I guess I'm skipping it because it's enough like the other theatrical shows of the past that I don't know I'd enjoy it as much as previous shows. If it were the arena show, I'd go in a heartbeat.

Still, the Orlando show has been heavily revised, so that's one I would definitely see. We might make next winter's Orlando trip a Universal trip, so it may make sense to see them then. Maybe this will be the year I make it back to IAAPA. Even higher on the BMG list is the new show at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas. Since moving from The Venetian, they've made dramatic changes and added robots and stuff. There's even a parade through the casino! I very much want to get out there, if only to see that show.

It was quite a few weeks ago that I put in the How To Be A Megastar DVD on a day when I was losing my patience with Simon, who was having one tantrum after another. He likes drums, he likes music, and sure enough, it was a slam dunk. He absolutely loved it. Then today, a picture came up on the iPad random viewer on the lock screen from the arena show we saw a few years ago, and Simon said, "Blue Man on the TV on." I was surprised he remembered! He doesn't usually engage for long periods of time to TV, but he watched almost all of this without doing other stuff.

So I'm excited to take him to his first show, probably in Orlando, where the tickets are only $29 for children. I think he'll really enjoy it if he's not too freaked out by the volume. We're taking him to see Sesame Street Live about a month from now, so we'll see how that goes. He has a good 9 months at least before we're in Florida again.

The changing landscape of great dramatic TV

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 2, 2013, 2:54 PM | comments: 1

There's an interesting phenomenon around great television shows these days. While they don't have the numbers you see for a broadcast network, the critical acclaim, and I suspect the better profit margins, are coming from other places. Many of them start on the premium cable channels like HBO, or middle-tier networks and sometimes even on basic cable, and then there are battles ensuing about where you can watch them via the Internet. I love to see Netflix and Amazon engaging in these fights.

Even more interesting now is that Netflix and Amazon are committing to creating the programming themselves. I think that's what you call a game changer, for sure. The latest hotness came last week, when Netflix released 13 episodes of a new series called House of Cards, all at once. Kevin Spacey is the star, and people are really going apeshit over it. I wonder if the hype will last, given that they released an entire half-season at once, but it's still neat to see.

As someone who hasn't been able to justify paying for cable TV for the last year, and frankly not missing it, I do enjoy seeing the really good stuff come to light in ways that don't involve cable. I mean, Downton Abbey on PBS is fantastic. We've really taken advantage of Amazon Instant Video via the Prime subscription as well. It's not that I object paying for good content, I just object paying a lot for it and getting little from it, which was really the case with cable.

Celebrating intelligence in a stupid world

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 2, 2013, 12:25 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that I find frustrating about our culture, specifically in the United States, is that we no longer place any real value in intelligence. In education, we reward the successful measurement of things that have nothing to do with intelligence as a means to decide which schools get the money. In politics, we place everything in a binary context, no matter how complex an issue is. I imagine that some people would even regard this post as an act of snobbery and uppity-ness because I believe people don't care to think anymore, so therefore I think I'm better than everyone.

I don't understand how we got here, or if it has something to do with reality TV, but it certainly has to change. I recently saw a clip from The Newsroom that was so wonderfully honest that I watched it three times. It's another one of Aaron Sorkin's shows, dense with dialog where every word means something, and in this case I think every word is a fact we can't afford to ignore.

I've said before that I feel like the incredible power of the Internet is largely being squandered. I think that's the first thing that has to change. Reposting some bullshit on Facebook that says "like and share!" without validating it is a very sad and lazy way to engage the world. It's so easy to find information, but you have to want to do it.

We also can't simply take a position on something without context and understanding. If you selectively absorb information simply to reinforce what you already believe to be true, you aren't thinking. The more I learn, the more that I find I can't draw conclusions or take positions on issues. Again, the world is more complex than zero or one.

Perhaps the biggest concern I have is the strange contempt that many people in our culture have for scientists, doctors, teachers and others who use their brains to better the world. If we don't celebrate the people in these positions, we're doomed to an Idiocracy.

Conversely, I wish we would stop glorifying reality show people, political entertainment masquerading as cable news networks and gifted athletes who shame their sport with shitty attitudes. Everyone seems willing to admit it's a messed up situation, but does nothing to change it. I'm not against meaningless entertainment, but would it kill people to watch the fucking Discovery Channel now and then?

Like many things about our world, I'm optimistic that we are turning a corner. I think we have to out of necessity when folks feel like things aren't going well.

When charity isn't about charity

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 1, 2013, 10:57 PM | comments: 0

I've been fortunate that my career choices have put me in a place that I can make significant contributions to charitable causes. I've always tried to give something to various causes since college, and in more recent years, try to give more time and expertise in any capacity that I can. In 2009 I started to help Give Kids The World by helping to start up a new event that has grown bigger to the extent that my role is just to promote it in every way I can. I've worked with Cedar Point to do a couple of smaller things, too. It's easily the most gratifying thing I do outside of being a dad and husband.

I think my motivation is probably rooted in one of the few things that stuck with me from childhood in my church, that you should help other people out because you would want them to do the same for you. I feel even more strongly about it in the strange political culture where people paint every social program as bad and have moved on to paint large charities in a negative light. We need to take care of each other. I think those in the best position to do so have a moral obligation even.

My favorite causes range from cancer charities to local Red Cross chapters, and of course GKTW. As I've written previously, my visit to the village had a profound effect on me, and having a child during the years I've supported the organization has certainly reinforced my commitment to fundraising for them.

The strange thing that I've observed in various fundraising efforts, however, is that sometimes it ceases to be about the fundraising. Sometimes, people make the events about themselves instead of the cause they're working for. I remember first seeing this in college, where we were doing a United Way thing, and two campus organizations were at war about who was leading the effort and should headline the publicity. I was embarrassed to even be involved at that point.

I've seen similar weirdness with the amusement park stuff I've been involved with. Years ago there was an auction for "first" rides on something, and an all out war broke out in one of my forums about who "deserved" to be on that ride. It's like the whole point of the fundraiser became secondary to the strange entitlements people had for participating. Similar conflicts have come up in the forums over the more recent events, sometimes over the perks or prizes. I can't wrap my head around that when you did something good for a great cause, and probably got some free food and coaster rides out of it, too.

I suppose if you're any of those organizations, you just scratch your head and accept the donations, but it doesn't make it any less weird. I think the thing that bothers me is that fundraising for any organization also has a secondary but equally important benefit: Awareness. When you solicit donations or participate in an event, you're also spreading the word about the cause, which in turn likely leads to more donations. Making it about you distracts people from the awareness.

In any case, we're doing what I suspect will be an awesome event next month. It won't generate a ton of cash, but it will get people psyched up for the big one in the summer, for sure, and most importantly, get GKTW on more minds.