Archive: June, 2013

Super stormy day

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 30, 2013, 11:35 PM | comments: 0

We spent the day at Cedar Point Friday, because the clock is now ticking on our CP time, and Simon was getting desperate to ride a roller coaster. Yeah, he's totally my kid.

I've learned over the years that you shouldn't skip on visiting the park because there's a chance of rain. When you have a season pass, it's not like you need to power ride everything in the park, so it's better to just chance it and enjoy whatever time you can. We're also into that Florida-like weather, where it's hot and humid, and thunderstorms are just part of doing business everyday. For that reason, we figured we'd give it a shot and see what happens.

We rolled in around 1:30 or so, and got rides in on Skyride and the midway carousel pretty quickly. From there, we headed to Raptor to do a parent swap. Diana got on, and it might have been her first lap since before she was pregnant (2009). The line wasn't long, so Diana got on after maybe five or six trains. In that time, it went from sunny, to a few drops with threatening clouds. I went up to the platform for my ride, and we had a double problem. They were taking a train off, and they had to sanitize one because some kid did something to bleed all over it. The lightning was visibly getting close, and they were shutting down. No ride for me!

We holed up in Donut Time, where I heard their new treatment for severe weather. A very dramatic electronic sound is made over the PA, and even over speakers in the donut shop. Then they announce the weather condition and encourage people to get inside. It was getting windy, but I figured I'd jet across the midway to get the platinum pass deal for fries, which is basically to get an extra fry and two drinks along with a chili-cheese fry. I wanted both of the fries plain, and given the usual incompetence in food service at the park (seriously, it just keeps sucking while other areas improve), the dude brought me fries with the mystery meat. It took five minutes to get them replaced.

The weather announcement repeated, and with the fantastic new speakers on the main midway, it just boomed in perfect clarity. It was really something to behold. There are a few areas in the park that still need new speakers, but this was impressive. The rain started to come down, and I managed to get a little wet by the time me and my family snacks got back to Donut Time.

After the storm, we managed to get all the way back to Lusty Lil's to see the show there, where Simon is now known as one of their biggest fans. Diana went to school with a professor of three of the performers, so she got a photo of them. Good times. Later, we went on Jr. Gemini, and Simon did his first lap on Woodstock Express with Diana. He didn't hate it.

The sun kept peeking in and out, and we had dinner at Famous Dave's. Once back in the park, we made our way to Giant Wheel. We got in the queue when we noticed the sky was looking threatening again. I was surprised they were still loading. We bailed on the queue with the intention of going to one of the other shows after a quick carousel ride. The booming announcements happened again, and we started to head toward the Centennial Theater. Half-way, it didn't look like they were letting people in, and I wasn't sure if they did their last show or it was full. We turned around and started to hustle toward the main arcade in the Coliseum building. People were hauling ass toward the parking lot, and it was like swimming upstream. The approaching storm was like a ribbon of black behind Top Thrill Dragster.

I tossed Simon up on my shoulders so we could move faster. I started to job, and Simon thought it was totally hilarious. And it was, until he put his hands over my eyes! Good times. We made it inside just before the downpour began, and headed to the back of the building, where we chatted with a couple of seasonals. Really friendly guys, good people. Many of the nearby crews took shelter there.

The radar indicated this was not going to pass quickly, so we decided we would just have to get a little wet. We took the back midway to the beach gate, and went in the eastern most doors of Breakers, and crossed all the way to the western most. From there, Simon splashed in every puddle he could find to our car, which was in the Soak City lot. It was quite an adventure!

First, I'm glad that Simon is not bothered by big storms. That's a plus. But he also, for the most part, takes all of the chaos and water in stride when we're stuck out in it. I was not that OK with it at his age. I love that we can have a day like this and it's still fun.

Move anxiety

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 29, 2013, 7:33 PM | comments: 0

Now that the ball is rolling, I can honestly say that I'm only anxious about moving in two ways. I suppose for as much as I've done it in the last four years, it almost feels somewhat routine.

The first issue is that I'm not looking forward to being split from Diana and Simon for an extended part of time. And part of that comes from the fact that I don't know when my shit is going to be on a truck. That's basically what it comes down to. It will be a couple of days from the time our house is packed up to the time the truck arrives in Orlando. This is made annoying by the fact that even getting quotes for the move is a huge pain in the ass. North American Van Lines got me a quote, on site, within two days. Everyone else has sucked (I contacted five companies). Some didn't respond, some are dragging their feet. The bottom line is that we'll be split for at least a week, maybe two or more, and that sucks.

Less anxious is the issue of where we're living. There are a ton of rental places available, even in the area we think we want to be long term. I just want to get that nailed down, but I can't really do that until I get there. Obviously I want to see the place first!

Fortunately, there are so many things that I look forward to, and that helps overshadow the anxiety. Being in the neighborhood of the theme parks, knowing it won't really get "cold," and knowing I don't have to pay state income tax, all help mitigate the anxiety.

I still can't believe we committed to this so fast, but it still seems like a pretty natural decision.

The Puzzonis are moving to 407

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 27, 2013, 11:59 PM | comments: 0

If you told me six weeks ago, while I was getting my drink on with friends in Seattle, that I would be moving to Orlando, I would have told you that was crazy. And yet, that's exactly what we're doing. I took a contract gig with a Major Attraction Operator™ in the area.

In some ways, this happened very fast, but it has also been in the works for six months at least. I wish there was some way that I could refine the description of the whole effort into some clever little blog post that would inspire people to follow their dreams or some such nonsense, but I can't. It's more complex than that.

In some ways, we made a mistake

Our first winter back in Cleveland was brutal. I think the only thing that really made it tolerable was that I was telecommuting, so I didn't have to leave the house. But then, I was also stuck in the house. We also struggled to re-establish a social groove here. Remember, we moved back partly because of the social scene, and partly because of the house I couldn't sell, and all of the financial drama that came with it.

And the truth is, everything about the financial situation turned out to be true, and it didn't take that long to get to a really fantastic place. We moved to Seattle with two unsold houses and tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. We went back to Cleveland with just the one house, but still nothing saved. The thing we kept questioning though, was whether or not the financial wins were worth the compromises in local career potential and social changes.

I can't put my finger on what it was, but it felt like we took a step backward.

The timeline and plan

By the time 2012 was winding down, I was ready to start looking around for new opportunities, as I didn't see a lot of long-term potential at Humana. The experience was great, but I didn't see a clear future. With enough local work, I worked briefly for a local company that wasn't what I hoped for, and did plenty of contract work. Essentially, I figured it was a good time to act on our desire to figure out next steps to leaving Cleveland, and doing that meant stepping out of career-building mode and into sustaining income mode (read: contracting).

In January, a friend of mine was reversing a career change. Well, he was double reversing it, actually. Like me, he worked in broadcast, then he didn't, then he did, and now he was moving back to do what he liked. It's not that he made any mistakes, it's just that he was clearly free to change his mind. I respected his courage to do so. It was a pattern that I had seen before among other friends. Sometimes you need to see someone else making big changes to believe that you can do the same thing.

Then in March, we got a little more serious and decided to commit to a real timeline to move. I would continue to do contract work, even if it wasn't particularly interesting, until the end of April, at least. Then I would commit to working full-time on the quilting community project that Diana and I have been working on. The first iteration should hit in July, on a limited, invitation-only basis. This may or may not become a viable business, but we don't know unless we try and get it out there. By July, get the house on the market, and by August, move to our new locale, with or without a job there. Given the banked contract work cash, we could live comfortably through at least September without huge savings damage, but go nine months if something went horribly wrong.

The secondary motivation for this plan was to spend as much time with Diana and Simon as possible. The boy will never be 3 again, and I think he needs the interaction. Between his developmental delays and the normal crap that comes from a 3-year-old, I wanted to be more of a hands-on dad.

The timeline all worked out, though the house selling and moving has moved way, way up. Getting the first version of our site up before I go is going to be a challenge, if not impossible, especially after losing a bunch of time to travel to Orlando and Seattle, some spontaneous family travel, and focus on getting the house ready to sell.


We finally got back to visiting Seattle in September, 2012, almost a year to the day from when we left. My brother-in-law graciously let us crash at his place for the week. So many fabulous times were had. In addition to hanging out with our Snoqualmie family, we met up with many Microsoft people, and had a big party with our early parenthood group. We even went to see Garbage at one of the local concert venues. It felt so good to be there. We felt some amount of regret that we ever left.

The thing about Seattle is that stuff is just "better" there. It's hard to put that into definitive terms, but it's a combination of the culture, the smart people, the snow-capped mountains around you... it's just a win all around.

And then there's Microsoft. For better or worse, I'll always love that company. I kind of associate Seattle with it. I loved being on campus, knowing that people around me were working on the next Xbox or that the products around me were multi-billion-dollar businesses. Say what you will about the company, but it remains one of the most awesome American success stories. I loved being part of it.

There are a few negatives about Seattle. The first is a lack of theme parks. I convinced myself for two years living there that it didn't matter, but it does. It matters even more now that we see how much Simon loves them. It also takes forever to travel anywhere. Las Vegas and the California coast aren't terrible, but otherwise, your choices for driving trips are Portland and Vancouver. Awesome places, but still limited. And finally, there's the housing cost. For some reason, we still want to own a house, and it's just too many years off, no matter how I do the math.

Even still, we love Seattle, and I can't possibly say that we'll never live there again. It gets in your blood. I can't explain it.

In May, I followed a lead from a friend at MSFT about a gig that sounded like a good fit. After two phone interviews, they flew me out there to interview in person. It was a strange experience, to say the least. The people who interviewed me all seemed to think the position was something different. I passed the first part of the loop and got to the "as appropriate" interviewer, but I couldn't get a read on him. They did not make an offer. While it was a blow to my self-esteem in some ways, I also felt that the job was probably not the fit that I hoped for. I often tell people that the company is really many small companies, and some are awesome, some are not. This might have been one of the nots. Still, I sure was close to suddenly moving back to Seattle.

On again, off again Orlando

When we moved back to Cleveland, we really did think it was a stop on the way to Florida. It came up a lot even before we moved to Seattle. By last summer, we had heard enough bad things about schools in the Orlando area that we just kind of wrote it off without any additional investigation. After visiting Seattle in September, it became even more "obvious" that Orlando just wasn't good enough.

But Orlando kept bouncing into our life. In October, I went down for my step-dad's memorial, and couldn't help but feel good about being there. A month later, Diana and I went down for our first long vacation without Simon. Sure felt good again. In February, visiting for a cruise, and yes, it felt good to be there again.

It wasn't until just a few weeks ago that I started to look deeper into it. I had a couple of my friends down there brief me on the good neighborhoods, and as you would expect, they coincided with decent high schools. The elementary schools in those areas were even better. In other words, it was like any other urban area: Follow the money to the better schools.

At that point, the allure of a snow-free winter at the expense of season changes was looking a lot better. I reached out to recruiters in the area, and quickly found that the career potential there was much higher than I expected. Local technology folks really see the area as the next Austin, Texas, which is another place that has morphed into a hub of techie companies. More importantly, it wasn't a town with the same old bank and insurance jobs that make Cleveland such a crappy place to work. Orlando was back on the table.

It's not perfect, and that's OK

There are negatives that come with our decision, but no decision is perfect. We're not going to be in the same neighborhood as Simon's cousins, and that bums me out. We won't be among our awesome early parenthood group friends, or all of the awesome friends I made at Microsoft. These two things are going to suck, but we've been living with them for the last year and a half, too, so they aren't new problems. It just means we need to visit more regularly. And of course, given where we will be, there's a good chance many of our friends will be visiting our new home town.

Our plans don't have to be perfect, in part because we'll adapt and change, and our experience has demonstrated that we can always move again if we got it totally wrong. I don't think we will, but when you think of it that way, the risk doesn't seem like a big deal.

Taking a chance

Last week, I booked a last minute trip to Orlando, on my own dime, to talk to a particular theme park company about a software architect contract gig. It seemed like a long shot, but worth the gamble, because it demonstrated that I was serious about relocation. It also gave me a chance to scout the area for neighborhoods. Within minutes of walking outside at the airport, I felt good about being there.

I was really impressed with the people I talked to at the company, and they're into a lot of interesting things. It was also exciting because it's so career stage appropriate. When they made an offer two days later, that was that. I don't think I ever thought, "Gosh, I enjoy software, and I enjoy theme parks, perhaps I should be involved in both, as a job." That only took me 15 years to figure out. This gig combines so many of the things that I like to do the most, at the level I like to be engaged. While we were already leaning heavily toward the move, having income lined up before getting there certainly made it more of a good feeling thing to do.

While the conditions are right for work, I'm not sure I would entirely base the decision to move there on career. I'm very optimistic, but I still think our primary motivator is to avoid real winters and get a real fresh start as our own little family unit. It's really hard to see how your career will play out in the long run (we never guessed Diana would be a stay-at-home mom and I would shift away from heads-down coding), but no matter what happens, having the right scenery behind the action is important. We think this is the right set for this play (or musical, as the case may be).

Pool and palm tree people

So we're off! We're pretty excited for all kinds of reasons. We look forward to January when we're not scraping ice off of the car. Ice cream at Magic Kingdom? Can do. More time for GKTW coming soon. And perhaps a year from now, if things go well, we'll finally figure out our very own home.

The adventure continues!

The fascinating developing mind

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 11:07 PM | comments: 0

Simon's various developmental delays have certainly been frustrating at times. It really came to a head when our school district decided he was not behind enough to bring him into school, and on appeal, third party experts they had to hire told the district they got it way wrong. Fortunately, I think the range of things that Diana has him involved in are helping in the short term, until we can get him into something regular and structured.

(By the way, I'm not looking for advice here on what my kid needs. Truth be told, I'm kind of burned out on advice.)

We've been excited to hear more and more complete sentences come from Simon in the last month or two. I always give the analogy that he has been developing more and more as a strong play-by-play commentator. He loves to explain what's going on, even if it's obvious. Like today at the sink, he declared, "Daddy, I'm all done washing the blueberries!" It's beyond cute. What I'm hoping for is that transition to color commentary.

What's really fascinating is that, despite his obvious delays, he has a completely incredible ability to retain what he hears in some cases. This is particularly true with Sesame Street, which we keep on our DVR. He can always tell you the number and letter of the day before he sees it. If that weren't enough, he recently began reciting all of the dialog from certain segments along with the audio. Sure, he's seen some of these episodes a great many times, but so have we, and we don't know the dialog. Today, we also found that he remembers the dance moves from the Bollywood dancing segment from this season.

Also fascinating is Simon's understanding of navigation. If getting between points is a series of decisions, he knows when a particular decision or turn isn't going to where he would like to go. For example, a mile out, with several potential interim turns, he knows when he's no longer on the right path to the library in the next town, where they do story time and have an epic playground in the back. Similarly, if we make a side trip for lunch on the way to Cedar Point, he knows instantly that we've deviated course. I honestly think that if his language skills were just a little better, he could steer you the entire 60 miles to the park.

Beyond the retention and logic, you can also see the very human side of an emotional 3-year-old. There's no doubt in my mind that empathy is the hardest skill to master as a parent, but the memories of early childhood come streaming back with great intensity when Simon is having a meltdown, or just being dramatic. I've been there, and I get it. It's a connection you couldn't make with him a year ago.

There's no question that 3-year-olds can really suck when they're testing you constantly (or at least, testing his parents). Fortunately, you can overlook it to some degree when you watch this little person forming. It's really amazing.

So many adventures

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 22, 2013, 10:51 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I were driving home this afternoon, when something brought us back to our first overnight trip together, down to the tennis venue in Mason to watch some AVP outdoor volleyball action. Diana said it seemed like a lifetime ago, but it was actually less than six years ago. It was only a few weeks later that we went to Holiday World for the first time. Two months later, our first Orlando trip. How could a time period of less than six years seem so long ago?

Adventures. Lots and lots of adventures. I've come to the sensible realization that the thing that makes life better is not stuff. I mean, I've known this for a long time, but passing on stuff to do stuff is what makes life awesome. Last year we even made a formal commitment that we would spend less on gifts at holidays and birthdays and instead devote discretionary spending to travel. Six years feels longer than it is because of all the stuff that we did between then and now.

If I'm really looking back at life, the clue that this arrangement worked came pretty early. My family was never well-to-do when I was growing up, but I still managed to get a lot of the toys that I wanted as gifts. The toys might have made me happy, but it was the relatively inexpensive adventures we had on camping trips that made life happy and memorable.

Mix people into the adventures, and things become even more awesome. When my first marriage was clearly not going to make the comeback that I hoped for, I thought I would run from my troubles by traveling. I met my best friend and her roommate down in Florida that spring, and it was an amazing time. A few months later I had a few dates with Catherine, and figured, what the hell, I'm going to take her with me to Las Vegas. It was one of the best vacations I ever had at the time. Then came the trips with Diana that I mentioned. There have also been a series of meet-up trips with some of my remote friends who live several states away, and those were all excellent. Adventures with people you love to be around are even more awesome.

This is not an issue around having a lot of money, it's an issue around prioritization. You don't need to be swimming in cash to have adventures, you just need to prioritize for them. Anyone who has ever gone to college knows this. One of my friends did the backpack-across-Europe thing as a poor college student, for example. You can set priorities. You don't need to spend all of your money on twice the house you need, or expensive cars, or other shit that just doesn't count for anything in the grand scheme of life.

One thing is for certain... I don't want the adventures to end. Simon has had countless adventures at the ripe old age of 3. He's having an epic summer, in fact. I am, too. This is how we choose to roll.

Review: Nissan Leaf (rental)

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 21, 2013, 9:44 PM | comments: 1

I had to make a last-minute trip to Orlando this week. When I checked rental car prices, Enterprise was $2 over the cheapest, and I had a good previous experience with them. So I went to their site because you can typically be more precise about the car you get. To my surprise, at the same rate, I could get a Nissan Leaf. So I figured, why not? I've always wanted to drive a purely electric car.

The Leaf is a commuter car. It has a battery that can get you around 70 miles of range, and as much as 100. Temperature, driving habits, air conditioning, weight, etc., can all affect the actual range. Since I was planning to go to and from my hotel, and scope out some residential areas, I figured that 70 miles was enough.

First, I have to talk about the driving. Holy crap. The acceleration curve is very steep. On any of the many stops I had at the front of the line, on those six-lane "parkway" roads that criss-cross Orlando, flooring it caused the car to just completely take off. You could feel the G's. Every time I did it, I was surprised, just getting to the speed limit, how the cars behind me were very behind me. If you've ever driven one of those competitive electric go karts, it's a little like that, only bigger. I've driven fancy cars with big engines, but nothing feels quite like this. It's really fun to drive.

Many of the hypermiling techniques you would use in a Prius (coasting, gradual acceleration and braking, avoiding hard stops, etc.) apply here in pretty much the same way. You can coax more range out of it. If you've driven a Prius, the weird part comes where the "engine" never kicks in. It's the same feeling of a smooth, continuously variable transmission, but without the transition.

Keep in mind, this is a car designed for commuting, where you plug it in at night at your house. Staying in a hotel, I obviously didn't have that option. Well, I suppose I could have found a plug in the landscaping around the hotel, but that probably wouldn't be appropriate. I didn't entirely think that through, and since I was driving it for performance, I was hardly trying to conserve battery life. There came a point where I had to stop my exploration around town and return to the hotel, knowing I needed about 20 miles of range to get me back to the airport, with a little buffer.

However, with nothing to do Wednesday night, I had the realization that, crap, I was stuck because I needed that charge to get to the airport. I did a quick search to see if there happened to be any charging stations at a destination I would want to go to. By some strange coincidence, there were two of them at Give Kids The World Village! Perfect! I could go hang out with my best friend (she works there) and volunteer, while my car charged. Score! I arrived at the village with 8 miles (8%) to spare. I had driven 88 miles at that point, so I was on pace for a 96 mile range.

Charging most of the way took under two hours, with the last 10% or so taking the longest. What I thought was really cool was that there are three huge LED's over the dash, visible from the front, that indicate the charge level as if it were a giant cell phone. The third one was already blinky after 60 minutes.

As far as the range issue goes, I think 70 miles is actually pretty adequate when you can plug it in at home. Another 20 or 30 would be nice, but the car already has a base price of $21k (and consider another $2k or so to have a charger installed... plugging in to the wall takes too long), so I'm not sure what impact that would have. If you're a two-car family, and you use the Leaf for commuting, groceries and tooling around town, there isn't a single reason why this would not be a solid car for that purpose.

The car itself is very comfortable. Mine had heated seats (in Florida!), navigation, XM, etc. The materials seem pretty durable and solid. Cargo room was oddly large with a very deep trunk, presumably because there is no gas tank. The batteries are in a T-shape under the back seat and center console. The big flat unit under the Tesla Model S seems like a better design. I thought the front seats were roomy, and my 6-foot-tall friend didn't seem squished, but I doubt the back seat would be very comfortable for adults.

Again, it's a lot of fun to drive, and I find myself really, really interested in having one. It's not to "save money on gas," because you're not thinking straight if you think that's possible. You buy this car because you want an electric car and you like to hug trees or something. The only considerable negative that I can really think of is that if you need to move it out of the metro area you live in, you'll need to have it transported. Beyond that, I think it would be a fun commuter car, especially for a single driver.

I like to move mulch

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 17, 2013, 10:56 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I engaged in that great Midwest tradition of spreading mulch all over the damn place this morning. The truck dropped off the two cubic yards of the smelly stuff in the driveway at about 9 a.m., and by 11:30, it was resting comfortably in many landscapey things around the house. Whew!

I complain all of the time about doing this kind of stuff, but it's good for me, and I know it. In fact, this is one of the many reasons why I don't want to live where there is winter, because freezing temperatures and snow get me stuck in the house. This last winter was the first in many years that I didn't put on weight, and it took a great deal of effort in rough calorie counting to make that happen. The winter before last was even worse because I was working from home, and it took a lot of tennis to get the pounds off.

This summer has been pretty great so far, in terms of being outside. It helps that we have a little boy who can't get enough of it. In particular, we have walked many, many miles around Cedar Point. Simon has no issue walking around there, eight hours at a time. This is apparently atypical for a 3-year-old, but I don't think we've used the stroller at all this year.

I've wanted to get back on the bike, but I can't seem to hit a good work-play rhythm. It's a lame excuse, and I call myself on it.

I think I'll be just a little sore tomorrow, and that's OK.

E.T. is a perfect movie

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 15, 2013, 10:24 PM | comments: 0

I bought the Bluray version of E.T. last week. It was on my Amazon wish list for a long time, and I was ready for a little nostalgia and special features I had not previously seen. I was 9 when I saw it the first time, and in retrospect it was pretty intense. As an adult, and a hack of a film enthusiast, I can honestly say that it's one of the best movies ever. I would even describe it as perfect.

This was the first time I had seen it in years, and I'm completely astounded at just how timeless it is. The story is relatively simple, but involves a lot of intense themes about abandonment, friendship, family, death, persistence and courage.

The first thing that struck me in the first 15 minutes is just how good the child actors are. Child actors can be a total train wreck (see: Star Wars: Episode I), and ruin a movie. But those kids were just amazing. Henry Thomas is so genuine and real at every stage. So is tiny Drew Barrymore. In particular, the two performed so well when E.T. died. I think as an adult, watching the reaction of Gertie when they zap E.T. is traumatic, especially as a parent. You genuinely feel like that 6-year-old is seeing something awful.

From the time that E.T. begins to die, and the adults invade the home, right through the ending credits, is probably the most consistently emotionally intense piece of cinema ever created. I mean really, you can't help but cry at the death (and said reactions of the kids), turning to joy and anxiety in the escape, and the farewell at the end. And through it all, the John Williams score reflects the action on screen perfectly.

While there are things that I can pick on in almost every movie I cherish and love (everything from Pulp Fiction to Raiders of The Lost Ark), there really isn't anything I can latch on to in E.T. It's very nearly a perfect film.

I bought a technical book

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 14, 2013, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

It probably sounds borderline ridiculous to declare this, but I actually bought a technical book yesterday. Pete Brown's new book about building Windows Store apps was half-price from Manning, and it came with the PDF for $25. That's not bad for a software book.

That said, it's the first technical book I have purchased in a very long time. I used to buy dozens every year, but these days it's rare that I do. That might sound a little strange as an author of one of those books (eight years ago now), but honestly, they don't hold the value that they once did. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first and most obvious thing is that the Internet makes so much information available that books aren't as valuable. Finding stuff just isn't hard anymore. Even as new frameworks, products and open source bits surface, there's a surprising amount of good information.

The other problem is that, particularly if you work on the Microsoft stack, much of the technology has matured to the extent that you don't need a lot of extra information. Changes come in an incremental fashion. A good example of this is new syntax for async operations in C#, or new features in frameworks like MVC or EF. You don't need a book to show you around.

But in this case, I wanted something that offered more complete context. This is where books (or their electronic counterparts) can still be valuable. I mostly get the technology in Windows Store apps, as it has its roots in Silverlight, but with touch, device orientation and other new stuff, I felt like I needed something that could really tie it all together. There is enough stuff that's sort of new to me that end-to-end reference helps.

So am I planning to build some big deal Windows app? Actually, not really, but I'm curious enough that I want to learn anyway. I like to keep up.

Intensely emotional

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 14, 2013, 10:28 AM | comments: 0

One of the more interesting changes that I've noticed about my life in the last 20 years is the lower frequency of situations where I'm experiencing something intensely emotional. The thing that reminds me of this the most is music. A song comes up and I'm transported to that time.

In fact, I'm surprised how much I can lose myself in a song, playing loud, making me feel intensely happy. When is the last time you just closed your eyes and rocked out to something? It's such a liberating feeling. Granted, I suspect I connect emotionally with music in a stronger way than others, but I can't imagine others don't have the same experience.

I have had a lot of emotionally intense experiences in recent years, because I have a child. Some of them are the negative "lose my shit" moments, but mostly it's smiles. I mean, when this little human you made does something cute, or says, "I love you Daddy," when he goes to bed, how can that ever get old? There's nothing else like it.

So when I say there are fewer intensely emotional moments in my life, I should be clear that it's the negative instances that I've largely managed to avoid. I think about my teenage years and my 20's, when everything was dramatic, and that sucked. I stay away from people who bring drama and bullshit into my life, because it's just not worth it. Not everyone does this, unfortunately. I think some people thrive on intense drama.

When you cut down on the negative, there's more room for the positive. Intensely emotional and positive stuff feels fantastic. I think as we go through life we strive to focus on the logical and rational things, but the intense emotional stuff is what makes us human.

It's awesome, it's hard, it's parenthood

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 13, 2013, 12:07 AM | comments: 0

Diana was down for the count today, after battling all kinds of gross respiratory issues since Sunday. Or more to the point, I insisted that she stay down. That gave me the chance to spend most of the day with Simon one-on-one, which I honestly enjoy doing from time to time. It meant I'd have to skip on work stuff, but such are the decisions you have to make when you decide to be self-employed.

The thing that strikes me about being alone with Simon for long periods of time is that it can be really hard. It makes me feel all kinds of things, not the least of which is how fantastic of a mom Diana is. It also makes me reaffirm my decision to make sure I was able to spend more time with him for the summer.

We started our day with haircuts, which are finally a non-event, for the most part. He still doesn't want the clippers anywhere near his head, but I'll take it if he sits still otherwise. I made lunch and dinner for him, we played with cars, we did some imagining with his cash register, watched a little Sesame Street, and read some books. I complain about how he's always testing our limits lately, and I almost lost my shit today when he was non-cooperative about getting out of the car, but it's worth noting that he's also being a cuddle monkey lately. He's all about hugs. While watching TV, he pulled my arms around him. How cute is that?

Raising Simon isn't always easy, but it's so fantastic to see this little person developing into a big person. We're not far now from having conversations with him, and I just can't wait for that day to come. Parenthood is fantastic.

The happy junior traveler

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 3:44 PM | comments: 0

Even though Simon is only 3-years-old, there are already a lot of things that we as parents would have done differently if we knew better. For example, we would have let him flail more when it comes to getting undressed. Mostly we would just have let him struggle more in terms of developmental tasks. But there is one thing that we decided before he was even born that has really paid off.

We decided that we were not going to stop traveling or make concessions around travel just because we had a child. We noticed that a lot of other parents were doing exactly the opposite, to the extent that they never went anywhere. That wasn't going to be us. In fact, my favorite thing about Simon is that he loves to do stuff, and for the most part, he's an exceptionally awesome traveler. He's patient in the car, and is content to just watch the scenery go by. We usually have an iPad on standby to watch a Sesame Street video, but it's a last resort that we mostly have only used after dark, or on a long flight. That boy is surprisingly able to adjust and roll with the changes.

Simon went out to eat for the first time when he was 9-days-old (Red Robin in downtown Bellevue, Washington, in case you were wondering). Before he was 3, he had been on 31 different airplanes, though admittedly, one has to fly a lot to go anywhere when living in Seattle. He was three months when we did our first family road trip.

Today, airports are fun for him, and he's mostly OK on planes. He can do a 9-hour drive like it's his business. He's getting more flexible about restaurant eating. Simon will even sleep in a hotel room while we remain awake in the other bed. We're down to a small bag with snacks and sunscreen now at amusement parks, no stroller. He can do an 8-hour sprint at Cedar Point, no problem.

I'm really happy that we made the decision so early to not be encumbered by Simon, because whether it be a day trip somewhere or a cruise, we definitely make our best memories when we get away from home. He's a little spoiled in that sense, but I'm going to take that as him being "worldly!"

The Internet of small businesses

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

I had dinner with friends tonight that got tired of working for other people, and the lifestyle that often imposes, and started their own small consultancy doing marketing and Web-based work, focusing on a particular vertical niche. I think a lot of people in technology circles would find this wholly unremarkable, but therein lies the source of what makes it interesting: What doesn't seem sexy is where all the opportunity is.

I've expressed my displeasure over the fact that the Silicon Valley culture isn't about making an enduring business anymore. It's all about funding events and exits. I'm sure that's good for VC's who are getting rich, but it kind of sucks for company founders and their employees who just burn cash and then burn out, no richer for the effort.

There are certainly a great many mega-success stories, but they're the exceptions, not the rule. The reality is that there are a million small businesses that can do something inexpensively, using the Internet, to support a family or two. That seems like the promise of the Internet and business to me, not the potential to cash out on some irrational billion-dollar valuation. Call it a lifestyle business if you want, but the long-tail view of this is a whole lot of economic opportunity.

To an extent, that's what I'm enjoying right now. Slinging code and process advice as a hired gun isn't very glamorous, but it sure can pay the bills. Heck, even the really small business of my little hobby sites pays for my health insurance. I'm not opposed to working full-time for a company, but I also see what having a little company can do to create a tiny dent of a rounding error in the GDP. I wish more people would think about that. There is money to be had there.

I miss the Apple freak out days

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 12:18 AM | comments: 0

I'll never forget the day in 2006 when I brought home the first Mac model with an Intel CPU. It was the end of me building computers and dealing with crappy commodity craptops. Then came the release of the iPhone, which was another lustful moment. Even the iPhone 3Gs had magic. By the time the iPad came out, I started to get "meh" about the latest aluminum thing (though I'm obviously in the minority on that... as the iPad clearly found a market that didn't exist). Today they made some more announcements, but nothing that grabbed me. Where are the hero gadgets?

First off the, new iOS has some pretty radical changes, and I would say they're all for the better. If there's one thing I feel about my iPad, it's that I feel like it's going back in time (all the way to 2010!) in touch interfaces. But there are web apps I use that show how sweet it could be, like the web-based Gmail. It looks great on the iPad. It looks like the entire OS is going that way.

It is slightly annoying that all of the flat, no-gradient UI has the fanboys inappropriately touching each other, because when Windows Phone did it in 2010, they all insisted it was awful. I mean, some of it is damn near cloned from WP. This from the company that invited Redmond to "start their copiers?"

At the end of the day, copy or not, the changes are really good decisions. The core apps are so long overdue for improvement beyond minor refinement. Would I switch back to iPhone? I don't know, I would miss the live tiles, and they've gotta meet the camera quality that Nokia is delivering on.

The most tempting thing out of the announcements to me is the MacBook Air updates. I know, they appear pretty minor, but the new CPU's are power sippers, and they're pushing the battery to an insane dozen hours. There are bigger and faster storage options, too. I think if I were still contracting, I would have already ordered one.

They teased the next OS X version, and it includes more iOS-ish changes. The big question on my mind is whether they'll embrace touch. There are already things in OS X that seem like they would benefit from it (like Launchpad). Or perhaps they see that Microsoft blurred or removed the line between the two, and that has led to a great deal of criticism. I'm on the fence, but it seems like every screen should be touchable at this point.

There is much rejoice over the new Mac Pro, which will come some time this year in an odd cylinder shape. The creative types into video and audio have been asking for this for a really long time, but the initial reaction hasn't been very positive. The reason people liked the big old "cheese grater" (best case ever!) was because you could load it up with hard drives and video cards. No can do on the little piston. Video people are pissed because it will force them to buy an external chassis for those cards, connected via Thunderbolt. A lot of those SDI interfaces and SSD cards are already expensive, and this won't help. The design is a bold move, but I wonder if it will go the way of the cube.

Whatever Apple does going forward, I just hope they continue to make the best laptops. I mean, someone will make the best laptops, but I want each one to be the "favorite computer ever" that each one I've had in the last 7 years has been.

When the Google beats on your SignalR

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 10, 2013, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

Around the end of April, I put v11 of POP Forums into production on CoasterBuzz. Probably the biggest feature of that release was all of the new real-time stuff in the forum, with new posts appearing before your eyes and in the topic lists and such. This was all enabled in part by SignalR, the framework that allows for bidirectional communication between the browser and the server over an open connection (or simulated open connection, depending on the browser).

It didn't take long before I noticed some odd exceptions being thrown in the error logs around the SignalR endpoints. They were all coming from Googlebot, which apparently scans Javascript and looks for ways to scan content that's ordinarily loaded dynamically into your site's pages. Yay for Google trying to find content on your site, but in this case, there are two big problems.

The first problem is that Googlebot appears to be somewhat stupid. While it identifies the endpoint, the actual URL that SignalR uses, it seems to have no regard as to what data has to be posted to it. That's where the exceptions come from, because SignalR doesn't understand the request.

The second problem is that Googlebot understandably expects to get a response and move along. But SignalR likes to keep an open connection so that the client and server bits can talk to each other. That's kind of the whole point. I didn't catch this issue until I used Google Webmaster Tools to see what my load times were looking like. You can very plainly see where I started using SignalR, and when I fixed the problem. Google was hanging on for as long as two seconds.


The reason I looked is because Google was being relentless at one point, banging on the thing hard enough to generate hundreds of exceptions every hour. The fix was easy enough, just put a few lines in your robots.txt file that tell the Google to back off:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /signalr/

The more you know, the smarter you grow.

Finding strength in the youngest of survivors

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 10, 2013, 10:33 PM | comments: 0

We had such a fantastic weekend at Cedar Point. I'm lucky to have such a great little family to have little mini-breaks with. But the single greatest moment was not the Luminosity VIP party, or the many rides on Skyride, or even Simon's double laps on Jr. Gemini (finally!). The greatest moment came from a girl I had never met, and unknowingly helped indirectly.

Sunday we were manning the table on the midway during the Coasting For Kids event benefiting Give Kids The World Village (donate here). A girl rolled up in a wheelchair with someone I assume was a friend or sister, and she said she had been to the village with her family about two years ago.

Emma was diagnosed in 2009 with a brain tumor. I didn't think it was appropriate to dig too much, but I assume that if her family visited the village later, the long-term prognosis was questionable at best. She described it as one of the best weeks of her life. All of the hounding people on the Internet, hustling friends for money, the coaster riding... those smiles put a face on the effort in a way that nothing else can.

The tumor is gone, and she recently got a tattoo that says "survivor," with the date of her original diagnosis. She's attending community college now and wants to transition to university, perhaps to be a physical therapist for kids. The life in her eyes was something to behold, and something I don't even see in a lot of perfectly healthy people. The will to live from this bright young woman was extraordinary.

From a scientific standpoint, it's not clear if experiencing joy can help you overcome illness and disease, but it does seem likely. That's an angle I never really considered in supporting GKTW. Maybe these fantastic breaks that these kids have with their families can help some of them get better. It's another great reason to support this organization.

When you've met a kid who has stared death in the face, and beat it, it sure gives you a lot of perspective.

Coasting For Kids: Part 5

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 6, 2013, 9:32 PM | comments: 0

Back in 2009, a long-time friend of mine in amusement industry PR circles was working at Give Kids The World. She reached out to me about doing a fundraising event at Cedar Point, and also talked to the park. The park put some feelers out for a number of groups who were either not interested or wanted something in return, and pretty much by default, I was tasked with using CoasterBuzz to promote the event and push to get people involved. It was a pretty simple thing: Register, raise money online, and show up at the park one day to ride Gemini all day to promote awareness about GKTW. Collectively, we raised almost $10,000 that year!

The next year, the gears were turning, and it was pretty obvious that we should probably see if we could expand the event to the entire Cedar Fair chain. There was some reluctance, but it did catch on. This is the fifth year for it, and as of today, fundraisers across the country have raised more than $140,000 so far. Pretty much every Web site is involved these days, and the number of participants is off the charts. It's pretty awesome to see how big the event has become.

For the uninitiated, GKTW Village is essentially a private resort in Kissimmee, Florida, that hosts families of children with life-threatening illnesses. Often, the prognosis for these kids isn't good, but this special place allows families to make great memories, where the kids can be kids on vacation. No doctors, hospitals or bills, just good times. Free. And if that wasn't enough, they work with the theme parks there, who provide free tickets.

I made my first visit there last fall, and while I've been actively fundraising for the organization for years, it really was a life-changing thing. I've had the pleasure of doing other events with my site partner Walt via PointBuzz, including off-season tours and a last ride event for the now defunct Disaster Transport. Those events led to thousands more.

I think I may take for granted that I have a healthy little boy sometimes, which makes my commitment to this amazing place even stronger. If you've got a couple of bucks to add to the $140,000 total, please consider a donation here. If you can't afford it, please share this with others. Every dollar helps!

Losing is important

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 6, 2013, 8:57 PM | comments: 0

A friend of mine recently mentioned on Facebook that the soccer program her daughter is in does not have winners and losers. Everyone is a winner for a game.

It's not news that this kind of thing goes on, but what's annoying is that it hasn't changed. As far as I can tell, most parents understand how destructive this is. Most parents I know seem to try and set realistic expectations for their kids over simple things, like what food is available at meals, or that not cleaning up their toys has consequences. It all relates to issues of fairness and a view of the world that is realistic.

I can tell you as an experienced coach that winning and losing is so important. As a coach, I can tell you that I've made all kinds of really bad decisions for kids. I've made poor lineups, given bad advice and misplaced anger. It comes with being human. Now add in the other things that go into playing a sport, like pressure from parents and others, better opponents, injuries... all things that pretty much make it a certainty that you won't always win. So why would you want to set them up for the unrealistic expectation that this isn't real life? The kids need to lose at an early age, or they'll end up a bunch of maladjusted little shits.

All of the silly clichés about what doesn't kill you makes you stronger are true. Not getting what you want, losing and failing, give you the experience to effectively help you deal with life. Deny kids that, and you set them up for a miserable life that they can't adjust to. This "participation trophy" nonsense has to stop. You're not shielding them from self-esteem damage, you're turning them into entitled brats who won't be able to function as adults.

Doing what you want to do, not what you have to do

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 1, 2013, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I were having an intense discussion today about what we want to do, in the broad sense of work, location and life. It was an eye-opening conversation with so many choices, that we're a little overwhelmed. There was also a very different tone to it all that we're not used to, in that we're not talking about what we have to do.

It's hard for me to say if this is the result of circumstance. A lot of people are still struggling (my generation in particular, apparently), and there's no question that they do what they have to. Consider also that not everyone has the personality, skills or intelligence to cure cancer, and you get into those huge, impossible to reconcile conversations about happiness and success and what those things really are. To that end, I can't say that I'm giving advice, or that what I'm describing can work for everyone.

While I would like to think that I have largely arrived in my circumstance by my own doing, I still wonder if there were times in my life where I was just doing what I had to do, because it was the only option. Or maybe I'm really asking myself if I had a choice to do what I wanted to do.

Why worry about the past in that way? Mostly because your experiences in life are a treasure chest from which you can draw from to make better decisions going forward. I happen to feel like I'm reaching an unprecedented time in my life where I can choose to do what I want, to write the story as I see fit. It's an extraordinary and freeing feeling that I don't think I've ever had before. Twenty years ago I feared that the world would beat me into submission and I'd limp along and do what I had to do by now, but it turns out that I'm doing exactly the opposite.

I'm not sure if I've ever feared limitless possibility, in part because I've never been open to the idea that it truly exists. I've certainly given it lip service, but I don't think I've ever believed that it was something that could apply to me. It's like the goofy intro to philosophy class a lot of people suffer through in college, where the professor asks you if he is really there standing in front of you. As absurd as that sounds, the point he was making is that perspective colors your perception.

I don't know where I'm going with this, other than to say that I chose to start doing what I wanted to do around the holidays, and it is making all the difference in my life. I don't have the slightest idea how this year will end, but the possibilities are so exciting that I could pee my pants. I don't think I've been that excited since graduating from college.