Archive: March, 2013

Ashland University: National chapmions

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:40 PM | comments: 0

The women's basketball team from my alma mater, Ashland University, won the Division II national championship yesterday. How awesome is that? Looks like they got home today to adoring fans.

As is typical of March, people are following college basketball and picking brackets and winners. While I don't do it, it's neat that the school that I went to had a team go all the way to the end. And given my history of coaching girls, and being an advocate of girl power, even better that it was the female team.

I have to admit that my AU pride really doesn't go much beyond the sticker in the back window of my car. My four years there were among the most intense of my life (in a tie with the 2009 to 2013 period I'm in now), and there were such awesome times and difficult times. I don't like who I was back then, but I'm thankful for the experience because it influenced me positively in the long run.

My school has a new NCAA championship trophy.

Citi is full of incompetent morons

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 30, 2013, 2:19 PM | comments: 0

I have a Citi business credit card that I don't use. I keep it open because apparently giant open credit resources are good for your credit score. Since mine is over 800, I assume that to be true. In November, a screw up by Microsoft charges my account a hundred bucks for something I didn't subscribe to. I've since found someone at Microsoft who owned up to the mistake, but for whatever reason they haven't responded further.

In any case, I paid the balance because I didn't want to screw up my credit, and after that, I disputed the charge. In January I get a letter indicating that Microsoft issued a credit, only they did not actually issue a credit. In fact, Citi reversed the dispute, so I owed again.

Last month, I call again, and ask them what the hell they're doing. They acknowledge that the credit was never made, and the reversal, and commit to fixing it. Last week, I get another letter saying I acknowledged the charge was legit, and that it would stand, and find a second reversal on my statement. WTF?

So let's review: One charge that was wrong, plus two reversals, is $300 in charges. One conditional credit, is $100. Certainly you can do the math here: They owe me $200.

Is it any wonder why I don't use them anymore for regular monthly business expenses?

Why must you taunt me, vacation advertising?

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 29, 2013, 9:39 PM | comments: 0

I'm probably not like most of the paranoid privacy alarmist types who think all of the advertising tracking and such on the Internet are the end of society. On the contrary, I think anything that shows me ads I'm interested in instead of ads for douches or hockey equipment is OK by me.

But this comes at a cost. I periodically check travel rates and packages available in various places, and the ads that keep appearing are taunting me. There are some one-off ads I see now and then for a cabin in the mountains, or tourism for some region. The big taunting force is, as you'd expect, the rat. I see ads for the Disney Cruise Line and Walt Disney World every single day. They're all over Facebook, too.

It's like they know that I want to make this the most epic summer ever. Cruises are out of the question because they're way too expensive in the summer. Like three times what we paid for ours in February for the same itinerary. But I really want to do something cool. I've got a serious travel bug.

Family hot tub time

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 29, 2013, 9:13 PM | comments: 0

It was just last weekend that I was starting to question how much I would want a hot tub in the long run, in part because of recent weather, but then it hit me yesterday that I needed to get Simon into it.

Last summer was a bust for water parks, because Simon really had no desire to do anything in the water. In January, Diana tried to get him interested during our quick stay in the Cincy Great Wolf, but he wasn't having it. A few weeks ago, we did a few days at our "home" Great Wolf in Sandusky, and we had what I would describe as a breakthrough. He was reluctant at first, but by the third day, seemed to be genuinely interested.

Diana has lined up some swim activities for him, including lessons and open swimming, so she scored a life jacket-ish thing for him. I was sitting there at dinner yesterday thinking, "Well, he did seem to at least be comfortable in the Great Wolf hot tub, so why not throw him into ours?

It was like I had a different kid. I was able to get him floating on his back (death grip on my fingers above the water), with his legs up kicking. In the open swim at a city rec center today, Diana found his enthusiasm growing. Then, tonight after dinner, all three of us got into the hot tub, and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. He didn't want to get out!

So there it is, the hot tub is valuable to us again. And our little man is starting to be an aquatic fan.

The mom I never knew

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 29, 2013, 9:02 AM | comments: 0

Whenever you marry someone, you also get a family out of it. Sometimes that's good, sometimes not so much. I've been very fortunate that Diana's family has, for the most part, been very welcoming and fun to be around.

Unfortunately, that family picture will also never be complete for me. About two months before Diana and I met, her mom passed away. In fact, when we first made contact via an online dating site, she was in Florida caring for her, and she apologized we couldn't meet because of that. It seemed strange that someone would apologize for that, and at the time I had no expectation that we would ever meet, circumstances being what they were.

In the six years since that time, I've seen countless photos, heard many stories, about my mother-in-law. Diana thinks she would have really liked me, and from everything I've heard, I suspect I would have really liked her.

Hate and discrimination can't be dignified by law

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:20 PM | comments: 0

One of the most interesting parts of American history to me is the civil rights era. Of course, it's also the part least taught in school, or at least it was for people my age. It's like they never had time to get to those years. But my parents' generation lived through it, which makes it all the more amazing to me that it happened at all. The absurdity of legal racism is hard to wrap my head around. I'm the product of a desegregated school system, from grade 2 to grade 9.

In the 90's, I still witnessed racism (mostly on the part of uppity white college kids), but the new "isms" were directed at women and gay people. It came to a head my junior year of college, when I was a resident assistant. One of the guys on my floor was gay, and he wasn't interested in hiding it from anyone. In retrospect, it was dangerous for him to be himself in 1993. Some of the morons on my floor were harassing the guy, and we ultimately had to move a few people out of the dorm.

This week, the US Supreme Court took up two issues related to same-sex marriage. The cultural change seems to have come faster than I expected. A thin majority of Americans now have no issue with same-sex marriage. The thing that's even more surprising about this is the number of people who are vocal about it. Rationally, I shouldn't be all that surprised, because if you really think it through, there isn't a single reason that a married same-sex couple will have any bearing on your life.

These laws that amount to state-sanctioned discrimination are bad news, and fortunately said state and its people are coming around to realize that. It's not just the discrimination that's destructive, it's also the validation that some haters get from it being in place. (I think the same haters would argue that the same state is evil and wants to take their guns and their money, but hey, politics are all about what's convenient.)

I think one of the hardest things for me to reconcile is that fundamentally good people, full of love and kindness, can also find some portion of the population to hate. It's often by race, religion, gender, nationality and of course, sexuality. Some of it I suppose is generational, but I don't understand how someone with a life of experiences can conclude that it's OK.

We have a plan

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 25, 2013, 10:59 PM | comments: 0

Today we made plans. Since last fall, we've been noodling back and forth about what our future looks like, what our goals are, and what will make us happy. Swimming around in vague ideas about all of that was stressing me out and making me unhappy. Now we have clarity. We have a plan. In a few months, I'll likely write more about that plan.

It seems like the odd-numbered years, starting in 2007 when I decided I was going to not be that single guy anymore and met Diana, I've been able to really own my life and act on the decisions I've made. 2009 was the wedding and move to Seattle, 2011 was the move back. Now there's a plan for 2013, and I'm pretty excited about it.

Seriously, that's enough

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 25, 2013, 4:50 PM | comments: 0

I am so done with snow. I'm so done with the weather here. It's making my physically want to hibernate, or sell all my crap and take my family to a warmer place, living out of our car.

Well, I did work from home instead of driving around in the crap, and just before lunch, I snagged this photo of Diana and Simon sledding in the back yard. So maybe it was worth it just for this photo.

I don't take my own advice

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 24, 2013, 11:03 PM | comments: 0

We met up with a friend and his wife today for dinner. Haven't seen them since the fall, so it was nice to catch up. This particular friend has been the target of a lot of my advice over the years, in terms of education, career and relationships. I won't take credit for his success, because he ultimately had to make his own decisions, but it's still interesting that following my advice generally had good outcomes.

I've been the armchair therapist and advice giver for a great many friends since college. As I've said before, it always seems obvious to me how everyone else can improve their lives and do it right. In fact, time has shown that I'm typically right with the advice I give. I know how masturbatory that sounds, and it would be if it weren't for the realization that I don't follow my own advice at all.

If I learned anything from counselor training, friends in psychology and my former therapist, it's that listening can generate all kinds of decision trees that lead you to the underlying reasons that a person feels a certain way or does certain things. I've always had a good ear for this. But it's a completely horrifying reality that I can't listen to myself.

If I'm really coming clean, I would tell you that I'm too scared to even write my advice to myself here, because I'm too scared to be that honest with myself, not to mention make it so real that I would be a coward not to follow that advice. I've managed to get most areas of my life in order, but the parts that I still need to improve on have obvious required actions that I'm too fearful to take. What I really need is a me who isn't me. Maybe a dual personality would come in handy here. The hobbitses are our friends!

I think I've just described myself as a political talk radio host, but that's OK. It's all about the self-awareness.

Hollywood ideals got weird

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

I was recently watching War Games for the first time in a few years, and it all came rushing back that Ally Sheedy was probably the first really intense movie crush I had. I was probably 11 when I first saw it, so that would make sense.

Thirty years later (holy shit!), I still get those goofy infatuation feelings when I watch the movie, but it occurred to me that I don't think she would ever make it Hollywood these days. Granted, she was next known for the frumpy mess in Breakfast Club, but still. Her hair was kind of frizzy, she had somewhat crooked teeth, she might even have been slightly cross-eyed.

Now the average young actress is almost too perfect. I mean, particularly weird is the unnatural white teeth that has become "normal." It's like an actress can't have a big nose or crooked teeth or be slightly chubby. I'm not sure how to feel about that. While I personally have always been attracted to women that were in some fashion not conventional (this could account for the thing for redheads), what does it tell people, especially young girls, that don't fit the convention?

I know that culture critics have been up in arms for this for years, but I guess I'm not really seeing it until now. I needed to see the contrast of several decades to get it. There's a part of me that still just assumes that, because Hollywood isn't real, and real people mostly have beautiful "flaws," that no one takes it seriously, but I'm not sure now.

Me and Tubby

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 23, 2013, 4:11 PM | comments: 0

To this day, it surprises me that the thing I blew my bonus on in 2007 turned out to be a really good idea. I'm talking of course about that first hot tub I bought, as a single guy with no financial accountability to anyone else. It felt like a cliché, a way to impress women, but it turned out to be a fantastic way to relax and clear my head. (And oddly enough, very few people, women or otherwise, had been in it.)

It pained me to sell that hot tub when we moved to Seattle, and not owning a house where I could put one was hard. It shouldn't be surprising that it was a big priority to get another one when we moved back, though smaller and less expensive was better.

This winter has been awful for using it, not because of the temperatures, but because of the wind. Twenty degrees is no problem, but if it gets windy, it's not fun. When a lot of time passes, I almost forget that it's there. Then I get back in it and feel better when I get out. I've been dealing with a lot of stress the last few weeks. The tub helps control it.

Still, I wonder if there's a novelty that has partially worn off. Diana almost never uses it anymore, so that's a bummer. I also won't use it if I'm home alone with Simon, because of my irrational parent fear that I could drown while he's sleeping and he'd choke on some random object (in his sleep). If that weren't enough, my "less stuff" mentality makes me wonder if I'll want one after a future move. My priorities seem to be changing.

Our cuddle buddy

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 22, 2013, 11:10 PM | comments: 0

I'm not sure if it's because we're "late start" parents, or something else, but I'm extremely aware of the fact that Simon's cute and cuddly phase will not last that long. And for that reason, I'm grateful that he seems to be turning it up a notch right now.

Other than when he's sick, Simon hasn't been known to just chill out in your lap while watching TV or playing with something in his lap, but lately he seems to be willing to make more physical contact with us. Don't get me wrong, he still flails too much, causing us injury. Just yesterday he nailed me in balls, and today he snagged Diana's nosering. But he also is coming up to us, hugging us and telling us, "I love you too." It doesn't matter if he's a holy terror for the other six days of the week when he's that sweet on the seventh day.

I often wonder if growing up a hugger is a nature or nurture thing. I think it may very well start out as nature. I think we all crave physical contact, and our expectation for it changes with experience. I was never really a hugger outside of close friends, and of course romantic relationships. I'm a PDA kind of guy.

The thing that always sticks with me from my post-divorce therapy is that notion that you first learn about relationships from your parents, and to that end, I hope that we're teaching Simon that it's OK to show your affection for people to the extent that it's appropriate. That's where the nurture angle comes in. So far he's a serious hugger, and you don't have to know him long before he finds it OK to hug you. I think that's why his teachers liked him so much!

Getting useful feedback

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 21, 2013, 9:06 PM | comments: 0

One of the most useful lessons of my career in software development has been that the users of your stuff know better than you. Well, they might not know that they want your software in the first place, but once they do, they find ways to use it that you had not intended.

This week, a thread popped up in the suggestions forum of CoasterBuzz that organically evolved into a really good discussion. I've been using that audience as guinea pigs for new ideas for years, and with the current state of the forum, it's pretty easy to try things and get them out quickly. When you change stuff on people, they're not shy about telling you whether or not they like it.

The timing for it is good. The ramp up the contract gig I have has been painfully slow because there is all kinds of domain knowledge that is slow to acquire (and lots of meetings), so my impatience in that gets turned into motivation to work on my own projects, where I feel like I'm accomplishing something. As a result, I've been making steady revisions on the forums, in two hour blocks, every night this week. It's really the first time in years that I've started to think more deeply about the design, and what people click on and how they use it.

That one thread is awesome because it demonstrates that people care enough to chime in. I think I need that reassurance now and then, especially with regard to my open source project. I tend to think of it as something I've built for other developers, but clearly the end users are the people who benefit from it the most.

It's not frustration, it's impatience

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 8:55 PM | comments: 1

I had a realization today about the thing that makes me the most scattered: Impatience. It took Simon to help me see it.

Simon is probably typical of most 3-year-olds, in that he tends to flip out about trivial things pretty easily. They aren't trivial to him, but to someone little, they're his whole world. What I noticed today is that it isn't frustration that's causing him to flip out, because he knows he can get to the end result he's looking for. The problem is that he's impatient. He wants to get there faster.

That's when it clicked that I have the same problem. If I look at the things that I get bent out of shape by, they aren't things that frustrate me. I just don't want to wait for them. It's the reason I think Diana is crazy for knitting because it takes so long.

Imagine my surprise over this, because I'm not one who is generally looking forward to the next big thing. I tend to just go with the flow, more than I ever did before. But like Simon, it's smaller, daily things that I don't have the patience for. Just today, I observed this when dealing with someone who wouldn't just tell me what they wanted. I don't have the patience to play Clue with people like that.

I'm not sure what to do with this information, but I suppose identifying the personality issue is the first step in changing it. As a parent of said 3-year-old, I'm going to need a lot more patience going forward.

Missing telecommuting

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 11:19 PM | comments: 0

I spent all of last year telecommuting, and as I've said before, it was an enormously positive experience. I'll be doing it a few days a week in the current contract gig, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't prefer it was all remote.

I have to qualify, however, that some of the issue is simply that commuting in winter in Northeast Ohio sucks. It's cold, people don't know how to drive, and you end up seeing all of that flat, gray deadness that is the sky. Working from home, you can at least partially offset that by the comfort of home and non-exposure to the cold.

More than anything though, it's the efficiency of remote work that appeals to me. I'm not sure when I became so cost conscious about work on behalf of employers (probably when I was directed to hold a $10k meeting at Microsoft, I'm sure), but I like the idea of being efficient and productive. The asynchronicity of communication in a remote scenario tends to group distractions into times of your choosing, leaving you time to think and act deeply on things that matter.

I'm realistic in that I don't think this would work well for all disciplines, but it sure works well for software development. I also acknowledge that I'd rather work with The Best People Ever in person before I'd work with mediocre people remotely. There are always qualifiers to these things. In fact, I suspect my opinion would change greatly once Simon is of school age, and isn't around for lunch time tickle fights.

Crap addiction

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 10:58 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that comes up periodically on CoasterBuzz and PointBuzz is the issue of stowing your crap in a box on a ride platform. Operationally, this tends to slow things down, if only by a few seconds, but potentially more. My issue is more around why people need to carry loads of crap around with them all day in the first place.

Sure, if you're a parent, I get it, but in those cases you also likely have a stroller, and someone is going to be sitting out on riding. But eventually you learn how to travel lighter, with the bare minimum. I'm pretty proud about how we roll these days. Diana carries a diaper or two and a few wipes in her purse. We no longer try to anticipate what he needs at any given instant, and expect him to adapt. Heck, on our cruise, we had one large suitcase, and a small carry-on a piece.

But in these discussions, I'm not even talking about parents, it's often single adults. The discussions usually split into two camps. The first insists on places to stow whatever it is they're convinced they need, and the second is the keys, credit card, cash and phone crowd. Both groups are human beings, so why does the former "need" all this stuff? Presumably there's some kind of psychology behind it, but I can't relate to it.

I hate being encumbered with stuff. I can barely deal with the bulk of a winter coat most days. When I'm doing some kind of leisure activity, strip me down to as little as possible. That's one of the things I love about a Disney trip, that I can literally carry nothing but room key and an ID (for alcohol purchase), and my phone (so I can Facebook photos of alcohol purchases).

I'm often reminded of the secretary at my first job. She was a bit older, and I think she might have been a hoarder, before we had reality TV shows to explain what a hoarder was. While I showed up to work with nothing but my keys and my wallet (this was before normal people had cell phones), she showed up to work with one of those wheeled wire carts that people used to bring home groceries in when they walked from the store. I couldn't even tell you what she had in there, but it ended up in massive piles under her desk. She said she "might need" whatever she brought.

For a more modern day example, there's Steve Wozniak's backpack. What the hell? I can't understand why anyone needs that many electronic devices.

Again, maybe there's something chemical going on, and people simply can't choose to go into the world without mounds of crap. Maybe it was because I moved three times in two years, but I have purged a whole lot of crap, and I'm sure there's more to lose. I'm not saying that one has to abandon all things, but there comes a point where you have to ask yourself if something really enhances your life, or weighs you down.

So many projects!

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 17, 2013, 8:54 PM | comments: 0

I have managed to spin up all kinds of projects in the last few weeks. I do this all of the time. I get excited about building stuff and then I'm overwhelmed, and it's not fun for a little while. Actually, it's partly not fun because of that whole "I do this in my day job too" thing, but that feeling eventually passes, too.

So here's what I hope to roll with soon:

  • POP Forums v11: I've gotta let this one go as-is. I get too hung up on adding more and more and then put off everything that depends on it. The big new features are all real-time updates, where stuff appears and updates without page refreshes. It's all good, but I think the UI has to be refined so the changes make more sense. I need to think about it, which is too nebulous a task, and poorly defined things don't move forward. Bottom line, I think I need to ship it and come back later.
  • PointBuzz v3: I honestly don't remember when we launched the current site. The photo management and organization is awful. People seem to enjoy it just the same, but I know Walt and I aren't fond of it. Tonight I setup the new project, got the forums working, and the forum data migration code is done. A few cleanup items, and then Walt can work on design while I revamp the photo stuff. If I buckle down, I know this can get done quickly.
  • Our quilt project: I've done a little setup work for that, and a little basic organization. It's not that well defined, but Diana and I have bullet points to work through and prioritize. I'm excited to work on something totally new, but I gotta crank on PB first. It's a big year for that site.

I'm happy to be working on these projects, but I need to remember that when they aren't fun, I need to do other things with my spare time. It's always a challenge to not burn out on my hobby since it's so similar to regular work. I need to diversify my hobbies!

When everything that matters comes together

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 16, 2013, 4:41 PM | comments: 0

This weekend has been seriously awesome so far. The only negative (for me at least) is that Diana is in Pittsburgh at a knitting conference. I'm getting lots of one-on-one time with Simon. Earlier today, Aunt Jennie watched Simon while I was at Cedar Point for a fundraiser masked as an off-season tour.

This particular fundraiser pulled in $7,000 for Give Kids The World. Anyone who knows me knows that GKTW is very much my pet charity now, at first because a friend used to work there, now my best friend works there, and after my visit in October, I'm pretty committed. As a parent who so values the memories I make on vacation with my healthy child, there aren't many causes that I could connect with in this way. Having an audience on the Internet of tens of thousands of people, I can't think of any better way to use that resource in a way that benefits others. I'm so proud of the way that the enthusiast community gets behind the village.

The event also had a more selfish benefit for me, in that I got to see so many of my friends at the park, in the same room, at the same time. One of those friends I haven't even seen in a few years, so that was a big deal. For all of the things about living here that I don't like, this particular subset of friends sure make it a lot easier. It's just unfortunate that so much of our contact is limited to seven months out of the year.

I did get to be a little bit of a photography nerd, though since it wasn't a hardhat tour, I didn't get all that close to the new ride. I did get some up-close photos of the new GateKeeper trains though. I got to do Web site stuff, too, which I don't spend as much time on as I would like. Hopefully we can squeeze out a new PointBuzz this spring. The clock is ticking!

Today was just a great mix of all the things I care most about. If I could have had Diana and Simon with me, it would have been perfect, despite the crappy weather. I will get to spend time with the little man tonight and tomorrow though, and it makes me happy to know that Diana is getting some away time and doing crafty stuff. It's a good weekend, for sure.

Long live Google Reader

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 15, 2013, 10:27 PM | comments: 0

The word came down this week that Google is retiring Google Reader. For the uninitiated, it's an app that aggregates content from the RSS feeds of whatever sites you point it at. So for example, I can point it to CoasterBuzz, the New York Times and my friend's Flickr photos, and see that content (or links to it) in one convenient place.

The outrage and backlash has been insane. People are pissed. Reader is the gateway to content for a whole lot of people. Diana and I are certainly in that camp. Before that I used Bloglines, which was similar. What makes it so useful is that it's a great way to curate what you're interested by source. Sure, you get some cruft in the mix, but I still find it enormously useful.

I'm realistic enough to understand some things change. I publish news from CoasterBuzz to both Twitter and Facebook, because I know that's where the people are. I know that the people using both of those is greater than those who use the RSS feed. Still, the suggestion by some blowhards that RSS is irrelevant or not useful are smoking crack.

RSS is one of the Internet's great triumphs. It was a technical thing that most every publisher agreed to support, and then the browser makers started to support it back in the day. It's one of the rare instances where everyone didn't fight over standards and different variations. It became ubiquitous almost automatically.

Its only real weakness was trying to explain to people what it is, but most of the readers, including Google Reader, made it pretty easy. You just pasted in the URL of the site or content you wanted to syndicate, and it probably figured it out for you. Diana is not a computer geek (though admittedly above average in skill), and she had no problem getting it right away.

The pundits insist that there are other better ways to find content. They bring up Twitter, which sucks because of its shitstorm style of data. (And don't insist that I'm using it wrong... I hate that argument.) Not everyone publishes links to Twitter, and I'm certainly not interested in consuming everything others link to. Facebook linking is mostly to stuff that reinforces each user's echo chamber. The point is that it's not curation by my hand.

Ironically, the original Digg did an OK job at curating stuff I was interested in, by category. The "wisdom of crowds" did actually work for a short period of time. Even better, the new owners have announced they want to build an RSS reader, hopefully before Google's goes away.

Google has been doing a lot of stupid things lately. It disappoints me.

I like it wide

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

After thinking about it for years, and more seriously in the last year or so, I finally pulled the trigger on a wide angle camera zoom lens. Buying camera lenses is always hard, because there's so much overlap and variations on different models that it's hard to decide what is going to be your ideal. You don't want to get it wrong, because good lenses aren't cheap, and you hopefully get decades of use from them.

I narrowed it down to the 16-35mm f/2.8 and the 17-40mm f/4. The former is more than twice the cost of the latter, which immediately makes you wonder if it is twice as good. As with everything technological that is used to make something of subjective quality, there are all kinds of opinions out there. The zoom range is pretty similar, so the practical difference is that the 16-35mm is one stop faster. Considering the primary function, in my mind, is to shoot wide and typically outdoors, I can't say that the extra stop is entirely necessary.

So with that in mind, spending less than half made more sense to me. I was a little concerned that it didn't go significantly wider than the 24-105mm that I have, but one look through the viewfinder and the difference was immediately obvious. I'll give it a whirl this weekend on our construction tour at Cedar Point, where I expect I'll be in a good spot to be very close to very large things. It will also help me get over the slight purchase regret once I've used it.

I started the buzz sites before they were born

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 7:41 PM | comments: 1

A new kid on CoasterBuzz made the classic mistake of resurrecting a thread from around the time the site was launched, in 2000. My buddy Gonch pointed out that kids can now join the site who were born after the site launched, making us all slightly old. You see, because of the COPPA law, you can't collect information about a kid who is under 13. I realize it's technically not the most enforceable thing, but we do boot people who we learn are not old enough.

That also makes me realize that some of the kids on PointBuzz were born several years after launch. That site launched (as Guide to The Point) in 1998. That's nuts. I mean, when I was born, the commercial Internet was still around 20 years away. There are now kids visiting Web sites that existed before they were born.

Simon will never know a landline phone, let alone a rotary phone. He watches Sesame Street in high definition on a screen that's 55 inches diagonally and about one inch thick, not in black and white on a 10" CRT. His dad's car runs partially on electricity, and his first car may run entirely on electricity, not gas. He'll never think of the phone in his pocket as a "super computer" connected to all of the information in the world.

As a technologist, in the career and hobby sense, it's easy to forget just how fast all of this technology came to be.

The motivation part of the puzzle

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 10:06 PM | comments: 0

I have to admit that I'm a junkie when it comes to talking with people about the basic psychology of life. With the little bits of training I had in college for counseling on general issues, combined with a fair number of therapist visits before and after my divorce, I really feel like I've learned enough to have these great conversations with people.

Lately, I've had a lot of conversations with friends about a range of topics involving professional development. A friend of mine recently went to a job that he will love. I've talked about the danger of compromise and settling. There's the origin of innovation, as a recurring theme. Don't forget the fluid definition of success. But I think the next big thing to tackle, in part for my own satisfaction, is the topic of motivation.

I've been around a lot of people who struggled to keep their head above water in grad school, and one of my friends is in that position now. She's at the end, and the stress and volume of work makes her want to bail. I for one would have a hard time in that situation. So where does the desire to work through it and achieve something come from?

There's no question that money, which we often associate with everything from survival to success, can be a motivator. But we also know from mounds of research that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful. I can tell you that in my life, I'm so full of intrinsic motivation to do so many things that I could burst. The problem is that even the things we ordinarily enjoy can have phases where there is no joy to be had. In the grad school example, one might love learning and soaking up knowledge, but having to get another paper done or study for a make-or-break exam can suck the motivation right out of you.

I think it's safe to say that this is, in part, just what life is. I struggle with this all of the time. There are components to what I do, whether it's in my professional life or in hobbies, that I would rather just not do. These less fun things can often block the entire process and overpower the intrinsic motivation.

The challenge, then, is to find the motivation to power through a pile of suck so you can get back to doing what you really enjoy. It's hard. You need to lean on people, engage in useful distractions and most importantly, develop a plan to do the sucky stuff. In fact, the primary motivator might just be to get it behind you so you can again rely on the intrinsic motivators.

Success is nebulous

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 10, 2013, 12:57 PM | comments: 0

I'm surprised at the number of discussions I have with people that ultimately are tied in some way to issues of success. The problem, I find, is that success is far too nebulous of a thing. There's no easy way to put it in a box and say what it is.

One might argue that it's rising through the ranks of business and industry to run a company and make millions of dollars. Others feel it's raising a child without screwing them up too much. Still others may define it as simply getting out of bed in the morning. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

I think too many people find their definition of success via the involuntary adoption of their belief system. It's like religion even. Few people consciously choose to define it, but instead take what they're given.

You can see why this is problematic. When you've accepted something that is given to you as a frame of reference for your reality, you're likely set up to fail in meeting the expectations that come with it. You had no part in negotiating and feeling out the issue, so you're stuck with it even if it doesn't apply to you.

Imagine how much happier one would be if they defined success for themselves, and allowed the definition to be somewhat fluid. I'm not saying you make needless compromises to lower the bar and feel good about settling, but if getting out of bed in the morning is really hard for you, then let that be your success. Just don't be bound by someone else's version of success. That will drive you mad.

Summer, please

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 10, 2013, 10:37 AM | comments: 0

It's no secret that I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of seasonal affective disorder. Days and weeks of the flat gray Ohio sky wear on me. The specific characteristics of this weather did not become obvious to me until I lived in Seattle for a couple of years. Sure, it rains a lot in the winter, but days below freezing are few, evergreens are, well, ever green, and most importantly, the sun tends to peek out most days at one elevation or another. It's not like the crap here.

Today will be our first day reaching 60 degrees. It goes back to shit during the week, but it's that promise of a warm and sunny future that I cling to. As I've said before, I really love the summers here, with the heat and humidity. It's Florida-like even. And of course, the amusement parks are open, which isn't just a fun thing for me, but also for Simon.

March is the last challenge. A few more weeks, and we will have turned the corner. Can't wait for thunderstorms, opening day at Cedar Point, open windows and sipping beverages in the hot tub wit a warm breeze.

I wouldn't rule out any short vacations before that.

Visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 10, 2013, 12:09 AM | comments: 0

We got back out for our regularly scheduled date day, after missing the last one because of the family plague. Once again, we decided to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. I'm not a cheap date, but it is free. Our last visit was in May 2009, about a month after we got married. Those were interesting times, as I was looking for work, and we were trying to make Simon. Good times.

That last visit was fun, but suboptimal because of the construction at the museum. They were just putting the finishing touches on the new east wing, and the lower level of the original 1916 building was being refurbished. That was unfortunate because my favorite gallery, containing the ancient Egyptian stuff, was closed. Since that time, all of the construction has been completed, including the west wing and a massive atrium between the old and new buildings. While that dust has settled, many of the galleries have yet to open, including those for Asian and Indian art.

I'm not much of an art history person, in part I think because while I was growing up, people really into art were either total elitist snobs or enthusiasts to a fault. Both extremes seemed largely full of shit. I vaguely know of the different periods, but couldn't tell you what sequence they occurred in. Heck, I didn't realize until today that Picasso died shortly before I was born. I always assumed he died earlier in the 20th Century, probably because that's when much of his famous work was finished.

That's one of the things that's so impressive about this particular museum, is that its collection is really amazing. The modern era collection is really impressive (including Picasso), and I like a lot of the impressionist stuff, too. I'm also a fan of the romantic era, because I like the realistic detail, but they don't have a lot of paintings that really stand out to me.

As I said, it's the ancient Egyptian hall that really fascinates me. There's something infinitely fascinating about stuff that was created as long as 4,000 years ago. When I see those pieces, I imagine what it was like to be the artists who worked on those objects. It's so easy to just observe objects as things that exist in front of us today, but the connection to long dead human beings is what I find amazing.

Their Roman and Greek collections are somewhat interesting, but I always thought they had more (childhood memories always appear bigger). The medieval Christian artifacts are surprisingly huge in number, as well as those from Italy. I don't find the American and English art all that interesting, maybe because it's too "new."

I was really impressed with the small Islamic collection. I think what draws me to it is what I can only describe as the math behind it. There is so much detailed order and pattern to it, which is interesting because I wouldn't generally think of faith as something so cleanly mathematical.

They had a Pompeii collection that was an upcharge, so we didn't see that. There was also an exhibit of two photographers who extensively documented the destruction around Mt. St. Helens in the years immediately following the eruption. I remember that vividly in my childhood, especially the issue of National Geographic that documented it. From a pure interest in photographic art, I found it interesting how the one photographer tended to underexpose the prints, causing the shadow detail to essentially disappear, while the other tended to make prints that really brought out the shadow detail. It's one of the things about photography and video that always brings up strong opinions, on how much dynamic range you wish to keep.

For all of the things I rag on Cleveland for, the museum is not one of them. It really is quite fascinating and very high end. We're fortunate to have it here, and free to the public, at that. We had a good time.

A spontaneous little trip for Simon

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 8, 2013, 4:56 PM | comments: 0

Realizing that we all needed a little escape, after a couple of unnecessarily stressful weeks, we decided to make good on a freebie and connections for a quick vacation. Last spring, I won a night at Great Wolf Lodge from the door prizes in the Red Cross mini-golf tourney at Cedar Point. Diana is going to be on their ask-a-mom detail, and we know some folks there, so we could get a good rate on a second night. With Simon's birthday on Tuesday, we had all the reason to go have some fun!

Going to a destination that's only an hour away is nice because there isn't any real sense of urgency or schedule you have to follow. We rolled into the lodge around 2, and landed in our "Wolf Den" suite shortly thereafter. It's a neat room with a "cave" at one end with bunks and its own TV. It had little peep holes to see out where mom and dad sleep, and a window toward the sink as well. Simon loved it, except when he hit his head on the window hole, over and over.

The Sandusky Great Wolf Lodge is known as the "cozy" one because it's a little smaller than the others. I thought it was perfect for someone like Simon. I think it could use a wave pool, but it's certainly not a deal breaker without it. They actually have a few more kid-friendly slides compared to the one in Washington. They have an especially large hot tub, and another big one that is adults-only. The bar is comfortable, just off the lobby, and their breakfast buffet is actually half family-style.

We went to the water park four times in the 48 hours we were there, and it wasn't as much of a struggle as I expected to get Simon engaged. He's still very unsure of himself in the water, maybe in part because of when I dropped him in the lazy river at Cedar Point early last year. He was totally apprehensive at first, but by the morning we left, we had him almost free floating in a life jacket. He was asking us to go in the water by that point. I think when the water parks open this spring, we'll have to make it a point to get him in as much as possible.

The general manager at the hotel showed us around the different room types they have there, and some of them are really spectacular. I particularly loved the two-bedroom suite, which would be great if you had grandparents or something along for a visit. She's wonderful, by the way, for taking time to show us around. We met her a few months ago when they opened up the MagiQuest attraction there.

We had dinner with "Uncle" Timmy and Lois at BWW, which is something I've been doing now for more years than I can count. I wish we did it more often. It's always fun to catch up. Although I suppose if we did it more, it wouldn't be catching up, but that's OK. We also scored pizza at Chet & Matt's. And of course, no visit to Sandusky is complete without a stop at Cedar Point. Simon has been talking about visiting pretty much since the park closed, so even getting to walk around with it closed was a treat for him. And of course, we got to see GateKeeper a little closer. Couldn't get too close, because Simon is not exactly construction site friendly.

I've often said that I'm glad we generally include Simon in most of the things we do for leisure. But I also should say that it's not out of obligation that I feel this way. He genuinely appreciates and finds joy in our little adventures. He may not realize how fortunate he is to have them, but there's no question he's into our trips.

Lunch date conversation

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 9:54 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I had a lunch date while Simon attended his last day at school. We're very grateful for the people at the Windfall School for the Birth to 3 Intervention program. They were very sad to see him go today, and in some ways I'm glad he's too young to understand that he doesn't get to go back anymore. He really loved it there.

We had a great chance to get out for a bit without the little man. We talked a bit about Simon, and our journey with him. We've been very lucky with him overall, I think, and the challenges we've had haven't been all that difficult. We're impressed with the progress he has made in his developmental delays, but frustrated that he can't continue.

We also had a nice talk about our relationship. I forget what we were talking about, but we made the realization that we don't really get tired of being around each other. That sounds like an obvious condition of being married to someone, but comparing notes, we've both had relationships where it was nice to get away from the other person, and we considered that normal. It's things like this that just continue to amaze me. I don't know how we managed to land each other. We work exceptionally well.

There was interesting discussion about how the world of work has so dramatically changed since the days of our baby boomer parents' generation. It's strange how the days of working for one company most of your life practically never happens anymore. Companies have no real loyalty incentives (like pensions). It's just accepted these days that you and your job are expendable. In some ways that's kind of sad, but it seems like there is also more opportunity, if you really look for it. I think it all has to come around. People are ultimately what make a company awesome.

As you might expect, we talked about travel some more. The cruise bug has latched on. While we totally want to talk the Jandes clan into doing a 4-day with us, in the back of my mind I'm thinking Alaska, or to really exercise the passport, Mediterranean, without Simon. I blame my friends who go all kinds of cool places. Maybe I blame Ohio.

It was nice to get out and just talk. Things have been too hectic lately. There are always things in my life that I would like to go more smoothly, but we've got a pretty good thing going here. I need to give that more focus.

So I have a three-year-old

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 4, 2013, 10:01 PM | comments: 0

Tomorrow is Simon's third birthday. I know, it's the birthday that comes after the second, but I can't put into words how awesome, scary and fascinating it is. Sometimes, Diana and I look at each other and say, "Holy crap, we're parents." Now we've been parents for three years.

Simon really has been the focus of our lives, while we balance our needs for work, hobbies and marital bliss. It's a juggling act at times, but I think we're exceptionally better at it than we were a year ago. If I'm being honest, the burden is more heavily on Diana as the stay-at-home mom. I have to remember to check in with her frequently, before I assume it's going well, because for eight hours a day, five days a week, I'm not there to see.

Given his age, it comes as no surprise that we deal with a lot of tantrums, a lot of testing of boundaries, and endless food preference issues. Again, Diana takes the brunt of this, but he has no problem pushing my buttons either. The hardest thing for me is to accept that this is normal, it's not personal, and I have to keep my emotions in check because Simon doesn't know how to yet. It's a completely unnatural thing for someone who hasn't raised a child before, because when adults do stupid shit, you get angry at them because they know better. Little folks don't know better.

While Simon is still a little behind on some of his motor skills and speech, he is coming along. The personality that's emerging is something to behold. Sure, he imitates some things that he sees and hears, but there are little things that seem entirely his that makes us laugh and smile. As his communication skills slowly improve, I find we're having discussions with this little person who couldn't even sit up on his own two years ago. That's wild to think about.

I totally see how parents get so into believing they have the most special kid ever. Every kid goes through this developmental process, but you're convinced that it's a unique miracle. And really, that's OK, because it makes me happy.

That's what's so kickass about being Simon's dad. It makes me happy. I think we all go through a period in our lives where we strive to be happy on our own accord, so it's kind of a surprise when you bring this little human into your life who also can make you happy.

Happy birthday, Simon! I can't wait to see what you do next!

Simon's third year, in pictures

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 4, 2013, 7:14 PM | comments: 0

I thought I'd post some photos of Simon in his third year. It was hard to pick just a few, but they are some of my favorites.

At the zoo...

Mini-golf at Cedar Point...

Out with Nana and Papa...

Too little for Magnum!

At Dollywood...

Walking with cousin Nina...

PEPS reunion...

At SEATAC. Simon has been on 31 different flights...


Roller coaster noise makes me cover my eyes!

With Papa in Waynesville...

My wolf pack...

Hanging with Grammy...

Mom's first quilt...

Picky non-eater

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 3, 2013, 10:43 PM | comments: 1

I'm a ridiculously picky eater. If there's anything about myself that I truly loath, rooted in some weird deep psychological damage I don't understand, it's my reluctance to eat more stuff. I've gotten better in a lot of ways, but it was even bad enough to be an issue in my first marriage. Now I'm worried that Simon might be headed down that road. The only comforting thing about that is the advice that suggests this is just what toddlers do.

Simon will be three on Tuesday, and generally he has been a good eater. He loves fruit in particular. He's also one of the unusual kids who won't eat a chicken nugget or pizza. (Disclaimer: By chicken nugget, I mean some kind of chicken finger or fritter, not the pseudo-food they serve at McDonald's... we won't take him there.) He's good on hot dogs for the most part, especially the good, all-beef kosher variety. All other proteins are a non-starter. He won't even finish a PB&J sandwich lately, which is super weird considering he would have two of them in one sitting, crust and all, just a few weeks ago!

Tonight it took everything in my power to not show how frustrated I was, when he wouldn't eat a hot ham and cheese sandwich. The kid will eat American cheese slices all day if you let him, but in this context, he wouldn't do it. We theorize he has some very strong texture preferences. He won't eat a potato in any form other than fries, and even then, only steak fries.

For an evening snack, when he doesn't eat dinner, we give him dinner again. Sometimes this works, and he relents and eats. Tonight it didn't, which concerns me because he doesn't seem to sleep well when he doesn't eat.

I know, we probably over-think it. Wouldn't be the first time. The frustration has less to do with what's good for Simon, and more to do with what makes life easier for us. I mean, you can get chicken fingers and pizza at pretty much any restaurant, and if he ate that stuff, we wouldn't have to pack for him. Eating at home would be easier, too.

Thoughts on compromise

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 3, 2013, 10:05 PM | comments: 0

The last week or so has really tested me with regard to my ability to look at life in an uncompromising way. It may be a symptom of my forthcoming midlife crisis, but I'm really starting to see, with vivid clarity, all of the ways I've allowed compromise to make my life less than what it could have been. I don't hate myself for it, exactly, but I'm not pleased with myself either.

The world is far from a black and white place, so one could argue that compromise is a necessary component of life. We engage in compromises every day, especially in our closest relationships and our professional lives. One could also argue that knowing when to compromise is the admirable trait of someone who is experienced and mature. It's hard for me to argue against those points.

That experience, however, helps you prioritize what is important, and that process eventually leads you to the guidance that drives your decision making around compromise. For me, it's important that I feel engaged with what I'm doing, that the quality and integrity of what I do is high, and that what I do does not interfere with my happiness or relationship with my family. The last week revealed that I was making far too many compromises in these areas, and I took drastic action.

Maybe the biggest worry about compromise comes with age. I've observed a lot of death and illness in the last year. While none of it has affected me personally in a traumatic way, it does leave me with a lasting and scary realization: Settling sucks. There is a point at which compromise becomes settling for something less than ideal. Life simply isn't long enough to settle for less than ideal. I might be more idealistic now than I was when I was 20. I do want my cake.

Good enough isn't good enough. Don't settle, whether it's with your job or your personal life.

Sesame Street Live

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 2, 2013, 7:00 PM | comments: 0

If it wasn't obvious enough yet that I'm the parent of a toddler, we took Simon to see Sesame Street Live today. The timing was good because we found he was quite a fan of the shows on our cruise a few weeks ago. He has been asking about "see the show on the ship."

It was a lot of chaos, to be honest, but kids were having a good time. We got the cheap seats because Diana bought the tickets months ago, and we had no idea how he might behave by the time the show rolled around. He was actually pretty good for the most part, but it could have been about 15 minutes shorter with no intermission. I found the costumed characters slightly creepy, because their eyes are so expressionless. I tried to focus on "Junky Jenny" ("Junky" because her pants were super tight around her junk), because she was the one human on the stage.

During the intermission, I was walking Simon around a little, and we went up to the balcony of the State Theatre. There was no one up there other than in the front four rows. We immediately relocated up there, which gave Simon a chance to stand and dance around a little without being in the way of anyone. He got a little bored between songs, when they were trying to push the narrative of the show. Jenny was a new music teacher, and waiting for her truck of instruments. It took them the whole show to arrive.

Simon is really into musical performances. We noticed it at the Red Garter Saloon at Cedar Point last fall, and then on the cruise each night. He's also obsessed with the Blue Man Group How To Be A Megastar DVD. He watches closely, bobs his head and jumps around. I'm really thrilled about that, because music very much soundtracks my life, and I hope it does for him too. If we take him to Florida later this year, I'm seriously considering taking him to see BMG at Universal.

Replacing crap you don't need with vacations

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 1, 2013, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

Some friends of mine are on a tour of places down under right now. One of my former coworkers recently spent several months touring pretty much all of Asia. The Family Puzzoni has had a series of really outstanding vacations in the last year or two. Great vacations make great memories. I can't help but ask myself, why didn't I figure out how to do this years ago?

I think the answer is that I used to spend more money on crap that I didn't need. This was especially true when I was younger, buying electronic gadgets, DVD's and computer stuff pretty much at every opportunity. And really, I didn't make that much money to begin with, so why was I doing it? The best memories I have of my younger years are not of the crap I bought, it was the relatively few vacations I took.

Now, even though I could probably argue that I'm a "person of means," I've dialed back the crap lust (or at least action on that lust), and have become really focused on travel. I'm proud to say that we've included Simon on most of these trips, and he has been on 31 different flights before the age of 3. I'm not saying he'll be on every trip, but he has been on quite a few. Now that I have a passport in hand, I've opened my mind to a lot more.

We made a pact, somewhat out of necessity, to skip a big Christmas (I failed) because we were planning the surprise birthday cruise for my father-in-law, but I think it might end up being policy for the foreseeable future. Cars have to go six years, computers have to go three, phones go to contract length, etc. Save that money for vacations.

Great vacations are where it's at. That's where the stuff that matters happens.