Archive: August, 2013

Finding time to daydream

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 29, 2013, 11:30 PM | comments: 0

When I was a kid, and later in college, I found that I spent a lot of time daydreaming. I was perfectly content lying on my bed or spread out in the grass just fantasizing about anything. Sometimes I'd think about how I would interact with people in a specific situation, other times I would imagine doing some kind of work in some kind of professional capacity. Of course, I'd spend a lot of time thinking about what it might be like to be with various women I was interested in too, and given my inexperience at the time, imagination was all I had!

But even in those days, one of the primary uses for daydreaming was thinking through things that I really wanted to do. In college, I remember thinking this way about video projects all of the time. That practice even carried over into my years of working with video professionally. At various points since then, I've used daydreaming to think through everything from travel plans to website designs. And yes, there were certainly plenty of women-related fantasies, too, especially in my single days.

The problem is that I don't really make the time to relax and let the mind wander like that. Home and work life are so action packed that it's hard to allocate time. Actually, let me restate that. It's not that it's hard to allocate time, it's that I've somehow reached a point where I feel daydreaming is not a priority, because I rationalize that it's "wasting" time.

I'm not sure how I got to that line of thinking. If I really look at the things that I'm most proud of in my life, most of them are the result of daydreaming. Often an idea or fantasy can be refined into something real if you allow it to happen. Writing a book and speaking at conferences started as daydreams. Working at Microsoft started that way too. It has served me for the sites I run. It was core to any of the longer video projects I've ever done.

Some people certainly just get lost in daydreaming with nothing to show for it. I get that. But I'm not sure why I don't find more time to do it. Good things happen when I do.

The dream, 50 years later

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

I've always been fascinated by the 60's as an historical subject, which is troublesome since they never seemed to get to it when I was in school. Maybe it wasn't historical enough. I think the saddest thing about the time was that our heroes kept being killed.

Still, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech remains something incredible every time I hear it. If you look at the unfortunate cultural realities of the time, something I only truly understood by way of people in my grandparents' generation (not in a good way), King's words border on ridiculous. But the sincerity and intense tone of his words made it feel like anything was possible, and there were a quarter-million people there who believed his dream was possible.

I'm not shy about declaring that I've worked my ass off to be where I am today, but I'm also realistic enough to understand that I've had far fewer barriers than others, as a white, middle-class, heterosexual and vaguely Christian man. It's not lost on me that our nation's history is filled with a lot of hate and inequality.

We've come a long way, but I suspect it will take several generations for things to really balance out. Race, gender, religion and sexual orientation are still the basis for more social injustice than there should be. It seems like the biggest front at the moment is around same-sex couple rights, but women and minorities still don't get a fair shake. I don't know what the solutions are to these problems.

Dr. King is an inspiration today, and I can only imagine what it was like to stand with him. The world desperately needs people like him today, and it's disappointing that we don't have that kind of transformational leadership. I want so much to see someone stand up the way he did. In the mean time, I suppose the best we can do as individuals is create positive change at any scale possible. A lot of smaller dreams could go a long way.

Puzzoni World Headquarters update

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 10:49 PM | comments: 0

After weeks of drama, it looks like we're settled into a process that will in fact land us in a new house in five to six months. Our mortgage crisis appears to be over.

The builder put me in touch with a local lender, and a Facebook friend put me in touch with a broker. Both spoke firmly without their heads in their asses, and arrived at the same conclusion. Since the house wouldn't be finished until a month or two into the new year, no lender would close the deal until then anyway. By that time, I can file my 2013 taxes, which would demonstrate the same level of income I had the last three years, only most of it would be from 1099 contract work. The stars would align, and it would validate my excellent credit scores and good financial character. This lender and the broker confirmed what I had been saying all along: The underwriters had no idea what to do when they went off script.

That was only half of my concern. The other half was with the builder itself. They had a deadline to secure financing one month after contract. That was already weird, since the lender isn't going to give you an interest rate until you're close to closing anyway. If I wanted to bail entirely and get the deposit back, I had to do so before the "financing deadline." So there was no way I was going to let that deadline pass and cross my fingers that a lender would cough up the money six months from now. I can't predict that future.

Today the builder let me know that they've basically moved that deadline out to February, when the house is done. So if the entire mortgage industry takes a dump in that time, I can still get the deposit back, and they have a finished house to sell to someone else. We can all have a group hug now. They have permits, and plan to break ground any day now.

In the mean time, we went through the three-hour exercise of choosing options a week and a half ago, and managed to only go $1,500 over budget. That's partly my fault, because I wanted a frameless glass shower and a massive stainless kitchen sink. But we changed a few options, and now we're about $300 under budget. That's good, because every dollar is one we don't finance. We go back this weekend to finalize it all.

The most expensive things we upgraded from the base options were carpet and hardwood for the master bedroom. We are doing granite in the kitchen, but it was an inexpensive upgrade because they were starting with a nicer substance to begin with to keep the neighborhood up in value. The rest of the spending was on stuff that's too much of a pain to do later, primarily electrical stuff. For example, wiring a ceiling fan in the extra bedroom or having a switch for a pendant light in the kitchen is easier when there is no drywall up.

I think I'm pretty happy overall with the decision to build, but I'll still have some level of purchase regret. It's a lot of cash to put into something of uncertain future value. But again, if i approach it from a cash flow perspective, it's a little less than renting less space, and I can still devote money to savings and investments. It's such a different environment from 2001 when I bought my first house, and the house was the investment where your money was working for you. Now I view it more as a lifestyle choice.

Should be fun to see it go up. I hope not to move ever again after that. Not really, but 15 years would be OK.

Today's ideal developer

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 25, 2013, 11:35 PM | comments: 0

Scott Hanselman wrote a short blog post about developers vs. Googlers, but I really love where that inspired Rick Strahl to go. Having been in a lot of positions to hire people over the years, I think Rick really goes in depth with regard to skills, career development and the market reality of what we need out of people.

I have a lot of respect for people who really endeavor to go deep into computer science. If I were to pick heroes, few people could blow my mind like people I met in Microsoft Research. Scary smart people thinking about things I would never think about. That said, you don't need people of that caliber to do the bulk of production coding. The requirements are completely different.

The biggest things that have changed since I shifted to this line of work are the availability of open source projects and information online. Back in the day, I got better by way of books and experimentation, and hopefully worked with people better than me. Today, you still need the better people, but the Internet quickly shows you that most problems have already been solved.

So in this environment, the thing I value the most is the ability to skillfully assemble solutions. Being an algorithmic genius is not essential, but the ability to loosely couple different components, whether from open source or their own code, is where it's at. It's kind of like being a plumber. You don't need to know all of the specifics about how the hot water heater works, but you do have to understand it well enough to make it work in the system.

Let's be honest here. If you've ever switched jobs, probably the first thing you noticed about the code base was that things were tightly coupled, and therefore hard to change and maintain, and hard to test. I've seen it a hundred times. It's really a drag. There are a lot of things that go into measuring code quality, but this keeps coming back to me as one of the most important.

What do I look for when hiring a developer? I want them to demonstrate reasonable understanding of the frameworks and environment they're working in. Beyond that, I want to see how they structure an application. Do they mix different concerns in the same code? Can I easily unit test what they write?

The soft skills are important too. I want to see that they fundamentally understand that they might be coding for fun, but that there is a business there with a lot of stakeholders. I want them to experiment and try new things, but not go off and do something that hasn't been socialized, prioritized and added to the current iteration of work.

Things have really changed, but I think they've changed for the better. I think about how my forum app, which has been around in some form since 1999, was a lot harder to build back then. I had to write my own rich text editor (which only worked in IE), and scripts were hard to encapsulate and improve. Now the same app has open source components for rich text, dependency injection and testing. It's even available in five languages. There's no question that we live in a better world.

The profession is evolving, and I think it's for the better. We'll always need people who can write device drivers and 3D game engines, but for most of us, there's a great opportunity to learn to quickly build quality applications that are easy to maintain.

Microsoft without Ballmer

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 24, 2013, 10:59 PM | comments: 0

One of the biggest tech news stories last week was that Steve Ballmer has announced he would retire from Microsoft within the next year. That's huge. A lot of investors have been calling for this for years.

I love Microsoft. I immediately got wrapped up in being a part of it, even though I was just one person in a company of (at the time) 90,000 full-time employees (plus contractors and vendors). There's an energy and vitality about working on the main campus that I can't quite describe. I was also endlessly frustrated by some things at Microsoft. Sometimes it was classically a big dumb company, and it's hard to change. When people ask me about the decision to leave, I say that I didn't leave because of the company, but I didn't stay because of it either.

Ballmer was routinely criticized in the press, sometimes for decision making, but more often for his personality. Yes, his "developers" chant is comedy gold. But if you ever went to a company meeting or saw him at any large gathering, there's little question that his love for the company was legit. Microsoft is important to him. You can't fault him for being a strong cheerleader.

He said a lot of things that sounded like denial of the real world to the press, but again, internally it was a different story. I saw him a number of times (actually worked in the same building for my last six months), and his candor was remarkable. He knew what the company sucked at, or where it was failing. He didn't seem to understand that the entire HR system (stack ranking and stock as compensation) was obsolete and not great for morale, but he definitely got it when it came to product failures.

It was quite obvious though that the time had come, maybe a number of years ago. He had a tough go of surrounding himself with the right people. The bigger failures were expensive. The strategic shift to a "devices and services" company came too late. More than anything though, the company is in dire need of fundamental culture change, and I just don't know how that happens unless it starts from the top.

Steve Ballmer might have been the monkey boy to a lot of people, but if I had his level of financial success with one of the most profitable companies in the world, I'd be happy to be called any name.

The end of the Beaumont affair

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 24, 2013, 10:32 PM | comments: 0

Late yesterday afternoon, the title transfer was complete, and I officially no longer own the home on Beaumont Drive in Brunswick, Ohio. Thus ends years of turmoil related to that house.

I bought the house with my first wife Stephanie back in 2001. We didn't really look around that extensively at the time, but the location was perfect because of its proximity to the freeway. It was also new. Some other buyer lost their financing, so the house was almost done when we first looked at it. We didn't get to pick anything for it, but fortunately it was all pretty neutral (and cheap) stuff.

The timing was pretty bad, because a few months after we moved in, 9/11 happened, and a month after that, I experienced the first (and longest) layoff of my career. If that weren't enough, my web sites were also taking off and I had just entered a 1-year contract for a T-1 to the house to host the sites. Even at a grand a month, it was the cheapest option I had. Between inventing the club, unemployment, and the money that Stephanie was making, even as a student, we made it work.

We never did much to really make the house our own on the inside outside of painting some rooms. Steph was pretty ambitious with landscaping, and it did look pretty nice on the outside. For a number of years, we really had some epic summer parties. I really enjoyed coming home to that house.

In 2005, Stephanie and I split, and she moved out. 1,850 square feet started to feel a little big. By the time Diana moved in on the first day of 2008, the house was starting to feel a little like it had some baggage. It was a rough couple of years, with some incredible highs and lows. When I refinanced in 2006, right after the divorce was final, I traded a slightly higher interest rate for a no-closing cost loan, because I thought I wouldn't live there that long. I also split the equity in the house with Steph, which was at its highest point that year, putting my loan almost to the point of the original purchase price. Not great timing, but in those days, it didn't seem like there was any ceiling to housing values.

It turned out that 2008 and 2009 were hard years to be employed in Cleveland. started its crash-and-burn, and I ended up working at a few companies that were financially a mess. Frustrated, I wondered if I could get a job at Microsoft on the east side of Seattle. I admired the company, and enjoyed visiting my brother-in-law's family there. I think it was the first time I ever really thought, "You know, you don't have to stay in Northeast Ohio," and was willing to act on it.

I found the right gig and I got hired, with the full move paid for. I was so done with Cleveland. Diana and I both had our houses for sale when we moved. Her house finally sold by way of short sale about six months in, but mine went nowhere. In fact, it kept going nowhere for almost two years. We were never financially at risk, but paying for two places to live sucked, and it wasn't getting us any closer to buying a house in Seattle.

In 2011, we made a trip back to Cleveland for the annual Coasting For Kids event my site helped start up, and the fits of nostalgia, especially at Cedar Point, really got to us. Despite that fact that every day in Snoqualmie was said, "Holy crap, we live here," for some reason we talked ourselves in to moving back to Cleveland if I could find a job. That took almost no time, so we decided to roll with it. The thinking was that we'd be much better off financially, and socially would have a much larger network. And we'd be back in that damn house.

The truth is that the financial park worked out, though I ended up working for a company in the next state, remotely. The work still kind of sucked there, even if there was plenty of it available and it paid well. Socially, we really cemented some of our closest friendships, but it wasn't what we had in Seattle. Winters were awful. We were getting more and more anxious to get out of there. The only thing we were truly enjoying about living there was Cedar Point, and the friendships we had because of it. I resented that fucking house. It was ultimately the only real reason we were there.

It seemed cool at first. We did a lot of little things around the house, the first priority being the removal of all of those fake brass fixtures and door knobs. We did some painting on the inside and the outside, and Diana aggressively removed landscaping to make it easier to maintain. But despite the quasi-nesting, it didn't feel like "our" house. Again, a lot of baggage, and it was still Cleveland. When we got around a foot of snow one morning in March, I think that might have been the turning point to decide to get out, once and for all.

I won't retell the story of how Orlando became the target of our move, but once we listed the house, it sold in 48 hours for the asking price. We priced it to move. The new owners seemed pretty excited, and I was excited for them. I might loathe the house because of the situation, but the structure itself was always a pretty cool place to live. It had an interesting layout, a nice lot size, and I'd like to think our finishing touches made it feel even more appealing. If you're not me, it's a pretty cool place to live.

Selling the house closes a chapter that I really hoped to close four years ago. The inability to sell it in 2009 instigated a pretty strange path for us, and I wonder how different things would be if it sold back then. I like where we're headed, and I'm happy to put that place behind me. I hope the new family enjoys the place.

When I didn't write

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 22, 2013, 10:41 PM | comments: 0

A friend of mine was recently divorced. It all seemed to happen very fast, and for a lot of different reasons, she's blogging about the experience and the insane emotions that have gone along with it. I can definitely relate to her pain, and my heart goes out to her. I also credit her with being a fantastic writer, though I wish I could have learned about that in some other way.

It did get me to thinking though, that I didn't write about my split much at all in 2005. There are a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is we were separated for more than a year before a judge told us we were no longer married. In the early part of the split, I was in denial. In the middle of it, I was quasi-dating. I guess the biggest issue is that I just didn't want anyone to know. Years later, I'm just glad that Stephanie and I can still be friends. I know that most serious relationships don't end that way.

By not writing about it, I feel like I didn't capture everything I was thinking and feeling then. The reason I care is that I've found writing to be a historical record, and also a collection of life lessons I can refer back to. This might sound ridiculous, but I'm just ridiculous enough to repeat mistakes. At the very least, maybe someone else can benefit from my experience.

I've become a lot more private. I don't write as much about work and life as I used to. I hate that.

After hours time management failure

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 21, 2013, 9:08 PM | comments: 0

One of the cool things about work is that I get my hands into a lot of different things. It's probably what I like most about the gig, that breadth of impact in what I do is great, even if the depth isn't. I'm switching context several times a day, often hourly. It plays to my strengths, because managing time at work is something I've been relentless about.

But for whatever reason, I seem to really suck at managing my time outside of work. Lately I get to 10 o'clock (denoted by the nightly fireworks at Magic Kingdom), and I can't figure out where the time went. Granted, your expectations around free time are certainly different compared to work, but as I've said before, I'm more creator than consumer. I like to make stuff. I don't like sitting idle in front of the TV with nothing to show for it.

Diana reminds me to give myself a bit of a pass given the entire process of moving, starting a new job and such. So maybe the real issue is that I just haven't found a new groove. When I get home from work, I want to spend time with Simon. Then I want to spend time with Diana. I'm not finding a way to work in the things I used to do, specifically work on our QuiltLoop project.

I think part of the thing that helps me is deadlines. I can prioritize and execute at work because stuff has to get done. Similarly, I volunteered for a video project that has to shoot by a specific time and be edited right after. It will get done, because it has to be done.

Obviously I have to apply my work skills to home life, but it sure is a lot trickier when it's your wife and child rightfully take priority.

Will the theme park thing ever get old

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 18, 2013, 9:27 PM | comments: 0

We spent a couple of hours at Animal Kingdom today. After four weeks of having annual passes to WDW, we finally got Simon to see Finding Nemo: The Musical. It's still remarkable just how good of a show that is, considering it runs every day, with seven performances. Simon loved it, and of course my redheaded stage manager loves it too.

I asked Diana today if she thought visiting the theme parks would ever get old. I would assume not, given the fact that we grew up going to Cedar Point, and as season passholders there, we've never stopped enjoying it. The big difference here is that they're open literally every day, and instead of an hour drive, it's 25 minutes. If we do get the new house, it will be 15 minutes. If that weren't enough, there are four parks there. Universal has two. And if I ever go full-time at SeaWorld, there's the main park, water park and Busch Gardens in Tampa. There are seven or eight times the theme parkness to visit.

I do expect that things will change over time. Simon will certainly reach an age where he thinks Magic Kingdom is beneath him, and by extension I'm sure we'll feel similar. When we have more opportunities to go without him, I'm sure we'll do a lot more Epcot stuff (read: Food & Wine Festival). But I still think we'll find it valuable to visit on a somewhat frequent basis.

One thing we have learned is that, much to my surprise, the Disney parks aren't terrible, even on summer weekends, if you're only visiting for a few hours. Granted, we've never been the type of people who want to plan everything and make sure we do every last thing, but when you can just bail at any time and come back another day, it's pretty easy going. Even parking isn't that big of a deal with the trams. Yes, the midways can get dense with people, but between high capacity attractions and Fastpass, it's not hard to enjoy yourself. I look forward to the "off-season" when the kids are back in school.

I don't know what we'll think in a year, but Simon really enjoys himself, and we have a good time as well. The week before last, we went to Epcot after work, just to enjoy some live music, eat popcorn (and gelato), and watch Illuminations. It was in the low 80's, breezy and not humid. It was the perfect night out for Team Puzzoni.

One month on the new job

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 17, 2013, 9:58 AM | comments: 0

I haven't really talked much about it, but I realized that I crossed the one-month point in my software architect job at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment this week. That it doesn't feel like a month is a good thing.

As my close friends probably know, I feel like a lot of the jobs I've had in the last five or six years didn't feel what I would describe as "career stage appropriate." As much as I liked Microsoft, this was especially true there. My last contract gig was definitely not career stage appropriate, but the money was ridiculous enough that I didn't mind being a whore for a couple of months. This job is actually perfect in terms of where I want to be. It is contract, so at the end of six months, I don't know at this point if they'll renew, convert to full-time or send me on my way, but it's good times at the moment.

I can't be particularly specific about what kind of projects I'm working on, but as you can imagine, there are the same kinds of problems you work on in any business, plus those you would find at any amusement park, retail outlet, restaurant, zoo and aquarium. I'm also doing more security and compliance stuff than I have before, which is nice to add to the stack. There isn't a ton of time for strategic activity, but we do work it in where we can. As a group of two people, the software architects have to prioritize pretty efficiently.

I don't actually write any code, aside from prototyping that I might do from time to time, but I do a whole lot of code reviews. In that sense, I need to make sure that I'm finding time outside of work to keep those skills up and be up to date on what's current. I suppose that has always been true, but it's even more critical now.

What surprises me is that a lot of people don't really appreciate how cool the work is, working for a theme park company. Maybe that's my inner theme park geek talking, but a lot of folks just see it as any other software gig. I've talked to friends in other places who observe the same thing, and it's funny because you see in various forums how badly people want to work in the industry. For me, I just never considered working in it because I never lived in a place that was practical.

The one negative about being contract is that I don't feel entirely invested or part of things. Like I can't just show up at SeaWorld or Busch Gardens and flash my badge. That bothers me a little. And since I can't really know what to expect in January, there's that lingering feeling of, "Is this going to last?" That's always the risk with contract work, but finding more work isn't an issue as much as a desire to stay in the business, if at all possible. The rat and Harry Potter are also hiring a lot down here, but I like SeaWorld because it has no parent, and it only does theme parks. Being a pure player gives it a certain amount of focus.

I'm enjoying the work and the people. This was a good gig to land.

My very own mortgage crisis

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 16, 2013, 8:39 PM | comments: 0

If you know me enough to be Facebook friends with me, then you know that I've been having an awful time trying to get a loan for the house we decided to build. In the general sense, you might think that's not totally unexpected in the post meltdown environment, but if I tell you about my situation, it's likely to raise a few WTF's.

Picture the basic documentation I give to get "pre-approved." Credit score of 780, very significant earnings the last three years, no significant debt, a mortgage about to be paid off for a previous house, never a late payment on anything, ever... picture of a fiscally responsible person, right?

But the problem is that they can't understand or accept that I've been doing contract work, and will continue to do so through the rest of the year. Nevermind that it's fairly typical in IT circles to work on contract, that it tends to pay between 30 and 100% more than similar salary positions, and if you're even remotely average at the work, you will never have an issue finding work. The recruiting calls never stop. This is why I encourage people, especially younger people, to seriously consider looking into software. It's a worker's market, so to speak.

So it's true, I might not have this job in six months. They could extend it, they could make it full-time, and that's pretty common, but it can't be guaranteed. The industry that used to give out money to anyone with a pulse, and especially to people buying more house than they could afford, has such a tight script to follow, that they can't figure out what to do with me, so the underwriters scratch their heads (or maybe their nuts) and just say, "Sorry, can't help you man."

The last rejection I got, from a local credit union, simply responded that I took a loss in the last two years, with so much expense that I only made $600. I can't even figure out how they arrived at that conclusion, unless they only read the Schedule C from my tax returns. My little hobby business doesn't make a lot of money, and I spend most of it on the toys to build web sites, and travel for events. It's like they skipped over gross income line from my regular day jobs. Idiots.

I'm more jaded about real estate now than I've ever been. In 2009, and the two years after, I couldn't sell my house because the entire market took a shit. That's because morons lived outside of the means and bought McMansions, banks were dumb enough to lend them the money, and government encouraged the behavior. Now, I can sell the house, but lenders were such a victim of their own stupidity, that now they follow a narrowly focused script. That's because morons lived outside of the means and bought McMansions, banks were dumb enough to lend them the money, and government encouraged the behavior. All of this stupidity is still affecting me, even though I've been a fiscally responsible adult.

Not sure what's next. The builder is putting me in touch with another lender, locally based, and we'll see what they have to say. Tomorrow we start picking out cabinets, flooring and such. If we still can't borrow, we bail and get our initial downpayment back. We could put more cash into a house if we were being creative, but with the markets up something like 15% this year so far, that would be cosmically stupid.

Kindle Fire HD: Unlikely hero device

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 15, 2013, 9:47 PM | comments: 0

I remember when Apple announced the iPad, I thought, sweet, a big iPhone. Pretty cheap, so I'll buy one. Only I didn't. I did a year later, but I barely used it. A year after that, I sold it back to Amazon and bought a model with LTE connectivity. That has been awesome in travel situations, not because it's a tablet, but because I could connect my laptop and use the cellular network without a contract. That was kind of an expensive luxury.

Last year I bought a Microsoft Surface RT. Again, seemed relatively cheap, and seeing Windows 8 (or its RT variation, at least) in a touch environment seemed essential to getting it. It's nice hardware, and the OS is actually very nice. The touch keyboard and kickstand are fabulous for lunch-at-the-bar. The only thing I'm not crazy about is that IE bogs down on heavy script pages, and because it's RT, you can't install a different browser.

These devices were interesting to the extent that I wanted to see how my sites worked on them. Tablets are still primarily consumption devices, so they've never been something I've really got a ton of use out of. I can see why they're popular, but they're not entirely my thing.

So last week, some former coworkers of mine, now working at Amazon, launched a service that allows web app developers to package them as apps in their store. That's awesome. That made me curious about the current cost of the Kindle tablets, and what do you know, the 7" Kindle Fire HD was only $159. Low risk way to experiment, for sure.

But after a week, I'm shocked to find how much I love it. Consider my use case: I don't care about apps, the web is my app, and I listen to music and browse news feeds and my forums. As it turns out, a 7" tablet is far more ideal for media consumption, not to mention pecking out stuff with your thumbs.

Since I have Amazon Prime and use Cloud Player, it literally arrived with all of my music and playlists (as long as it's connected to WiFi). It does Prime movies too, but that's true of virtually everything with a screen now. There is one app I use, for Facebook, and it's consistent with the similar app on other platforms.

Oh, and the screen is high enough resolution that reading, you know, Kindle stuff, is actually pretty solid. The battery won't last for weeks, but I'm pretty easily getting 12 hours of music and browsing between charges.

It's not the most elegant UI, which is Amazon's own front over Android, but the hardware is pretty nice. I'm shocked. For $159, the bang for the buck is just completely huge. I'm really impressed.

One month for us in the OC

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 11, 2013, 11:14 PM | comments: 0

I can't believe it, but it has already been about a month since I rolled into town with a suitcase, cats and a dream. Wait, that was probably Walt Disney. I definitely had a suitcase and cats though.

It's remarkable how easy this move has felt. In comparing to our 2009 move to Seattle, this has been a piece of cake. I remember being totally stressed out constantly back then, feeling totally out of place with nothing familiar. It stayed that way until Simon was born a few months later, and at that point, I was just too tired to realize I was stressed. I suppose not being a new parent and having at least some familiarity with the area has a lot to do with the ease here.

But all of the circumstances make it easier. I'm not poor this time, finding a place to live was easy (even building a new house), and my Cleveland house sold in 48 hours. There just isn't a lot to really worry about here.

Settling into the new job has been relatively easy, too. That probably deserves its own post. It's the first job I've had since before Microsoft that feels "career stage appropriate." I feel like I'm being challenged, I'm learning stuff and it also appeals to my strengths. The products I'm working with have pretty fascinating problems, too. It's the combination of any business with an amusement park, zoo and aquarium. Being contract instead of full-time comes with some frustrations (lack of benefits or any-time access to the parks), but hopefully I'll convert at the end of the contract period.

We definitely haven't branched out a ton socially yet, but as you would expect, we haven't exactly had a ton of time to come up for air and actively seek out new opportunities. We basically see my BFF once a week. Although I did have lunch last week with coworkers, and the week before that had lunch with a friend who works for the "competition." The social thing will come around.

There's definitely no shortage of things to do. It's staggering. When the place you live attracts millions of people every year, there has to be a lot of stuff to do. We got Disney passes right away, and while expensive, we've really enjoyed using those. That's not really a new precedent, given the frequency that we used to visit Cedar Point, but it's really odd still visiting Walt Disney World parks for a few hours at a time, when the mood strikes. Last week we went to Epcot just to catch some live music, ice cream and fireworks. That's not a bad way to spend a weekday evening. You can do something vacation-like every day, but still sleep in your own bed.

So overall, things are going pretty well. There will be a little anxiety over the next six months around the house, banking more money for the down payment and what not, but I don't really anticipate any huge issues. We are digging it here.

Revisiting Orlando vs. Seattle after making the decision

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 10, 2013, 11:54 PM | comments: 0

I was out this evening, picking up some groceries after Simon went to bed, and did some driving around deep in the development we live in. For some reason, it got me to thinking about Seattle, and comparing the two. If that weren't enough, a repeat of House Hunters from last month actually has a couple looking around the east side, including Issaquah!

Certainly a wave of nostalgia came over me. I'll always feel a connection to Seattle, and of course I miss it to an extent. I've said it before, that Seattle is "better." I still think that, but with a lot more qualifiers, and an evolving belief that Orlando is just different. Much of my love for Seattle has to do with the people, certainly, and it's just going to take time to meet people here. The natural splendor of living in the shadow of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades is hard to beat as well.

That said, there sure are a lot of things about Orlando that I like. The west side of Orange County reminds me a great deal of Snoqualmie (only very flat, with palm trees). Most of the home construction is new, and it's not going to end any time soon. And did I mention that construction is inexpensive by comparison? The couple on TV spent $460k for 1,800 square feet and zero upgrades. The house we're building will cost more than a third less for more than a third more space. And if you're the kind of douche who keeps score about who your neighbors are by their ride, they're mostly driving German cars.

We haven't even scratched the surface for things to do here, but what I never thought about is that you can do that stuff all year. When we were out the other night to score some gelato and see fireworks at Epcot, it occurred to us that we can do that literally any day of the year. A direct hit of a hurricane aside, there is no seasonal issue.

Overall though, I think we're starting to fill in the blanks and see how things aren't nearly as different, or less great, than they might be in Seattle. For example, we've already been to two farmers markets. The library system is equally mediocre to King County (although they do offer free delivery here!). There are great little local shops and restaurants that we're gradually finding. And we don't have to worry about bears, just alligators.

I think we made a pretty good choice. Only the social aspect is going to need a lot of work. And you can bet we'll go back to visit Seattle. Hopefully we can talk my brother-in-law's family into coming back down for another cruise!

Finding the new normal

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 10:29 PM | comments: 0

As much as I've been fond of calling this year our 2009 do-over, it really hasn't been nearly as hard or complicated. I remember that year, sitting in one-on-one meetings with my manager at Microsoft, going on and on about how distracted I was and feeling like the world was all chaos. (We talked about work now and then, too.) This move, and everything associated with it, just isn't like that.

We're obviously still working things out as far as our routines and normal things. The house we're renting was a pretty quick settle, and honestly we almost feel a little weird about not staying "to term" with it. We really like it, and find it very comfortable. Our neighborhood won't change too much, as we're building less than five miles away. We've got plenty of convenient retail, and it's never an issue to find what we need. Restaurants are primarily chains, but we're looking for local stuff. There's an awesome ice cream/breakfast shop not far from us.

Disney World is super convenient, more than Cedar Point was, because it's so close. We go with Simon for a couple of hours, and have a good time. It will be fun to discover new things with him, if we can get him to stop talking about riding the monorail. It will be fun to do grown up stuff, too, like the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot. I don't know if the novelty will wear off after a few years, but I don't know why it would. We sure missed Cedar Point while we were in Seattle. I think we're theme park people.

Diana is filling in the blanks for Simon. She has a library card! There are no shortage of playgrounds. She's looking into parents groups and play groups, too. He's being tested by the school district for his delays.

Socially, we're a little isolated to an extent. I at least encounter grownups at work, but I bet Diana is ready for a little more. Fortunately, we have my BFF living here, and I know a few people here and there. The people network will certainly come over time. I'm actually not entirely sure how many people I know to varying degrees via Facebook who are in the area.

The really crazy thing is that it's not hard to find stuff to do. I mean, it wasn't hard in Cleveland or Seattle either, but just driving around here, you'll pass a hundred things to do. That's one up side to the tourist economy. Personally, I want to see a lot more live music. It's everywhere here.

The bottom line is that we're pretty comfortable already, and that makes me happy. So far so good on the job, too. I'm almost to the point where I can start diving into my projects in my spare time. Life is pretty good.

The fashionability of stupid

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 3, 2013, 9:24 PM | comments: 1

My boss and I were talking about the things that frustrate us about our profession. We see things a little differently, but agree that there just isn't enough emphasis on education in this country as it relates to software development and the pursuit of knowledge in general. Particularly scary is the complete lack of interest in science. I would go even a step further to indicate concern over this bizarre desire to make science some kind of enemy or something that you shouldn't "believe" in, as if that will make it untrue.

Start with politicians who say the most ridiculous things, like a rape victim's body will reject pregnancy. Then you've got the people that are convinced, without evidence, that vaccines are bad, climate change is a myth, and gluten is bad for you even if you don't have a gluten allergy. No one bothers to look at the science behind anything, and they're content to just take what someone told them at face value. This doesn't surprise me. People post stupid shit online that's not true all of the time, and I almost get a kick from linking them to something with attribution showing how it's not for real.

The United States has come a long way. This is a country stolen from its native people, where slavery was legal and women couldn't vote. We've still got issues, but even today you can see things are getting better, and we're turning more corners, where people are people, to quote the song. But there's still a huge portion of people who can't turn off their TV's, and are content to be ignorant in their big box of stupid, and that concerns me. There are people who actually think you're being snobby or uppity because you engage in intelligent discourse and attempt to learn. I can't wrap my head around that. When did it become fashionable to be a moron?

I'm fond of pointing out that we all carry super computers in our pockets now, connected to a network that contains all of the world's knowledge. Despite this, people still choose to live in their ignorance and stupidity. That's one way of looking at it.

The other way of looking at it is that we have pocket super computers connected to the world's knowledge because people have completely embraced the need for knowledge and some kind of enlightenment or something. A little over six years ago, no one had an iPhone. Think about how ubiquitous this access is. It wasn't that long ago that you needed a computer to access this stuff, and even if it was a laptop, you still had to plug it into a wire to access the Internet. Go back 20 years, and there was no commercial Internet.

So there really are two ways to look at our current state of being. It could be dire, but maybe it's not. What I try to rationalize, if only to keep some faith in humanity and not feel it's hopeless, is that because technology makes it so easy to see stupidity and ignorance, it seems like it's reaching epic proportions. My hope is that the volume really hasn't changed, it's just more obvious. Technology enables the good and the bad.

Hopefully the good will continue to carry us forward. Stay in school, kids, and learn as much as you can about everything, especially science.

Trying to part with my physical past

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 3, 2013, 8:52 PM | comments: 0

I have several plastic tubs that have been following me around in all of these moves the last four years. These tubs contain a variety of things from the first half of my life. I'm trying very hard to talk myself into getting rid of them.

The contents of these bins varies. Some of it is very early childhood stuff, like hair from my first haircut, or a little photo album from when I was 7. I suppose those things don't really take up much space. In some ways, the earlier things really help me retain the memories by association.

Then there are things from high school. I'm not even sure what those things are at this point, and if I'm being honest with myself, I didn't care much for high school in the first place. There aren't many artifacts from back then, but I'm sure that I don't need any of it.

College generated the most stuff. A lot of it is 1/4" audio tape that contains who knows what, video tapes from my projects, and a heap of college newspapers where I wrote my column. I have to admit that much of what I wrote back in the day was insanely naive, but I wish I could actually get some of that back! Always reminds me of Dr. Lehman, my journalism professor, who was always so supportive in getting me to write.

Post-college stuff varies, but isn't huge in quantity. Lots of volleyball stuff, for sure. Countless medals from various tournaments, as well as cards and other things from appreciative kids. There are a ton of photo albums, too, though I don't think they've left the boxes they were packed in four years ago on our first move to Seattle. My digital photo stash didn't really start until 2000, when I was able to start scanning negatives, and I don't think I had my first digital SLR until 2003 or so. I've also got a huge stash of computer games, which I have no use for, but feel like they should persist in some way.

There's a big debate in my head around the value of this crap I've been lugging around. This stuff doesn't define who I am today, but it does outline my past, for better or worse. But it has no value beyond that. When I'm dead and gone, no one is going to care. I don't mean that in some kind of morbid, self-deprecating way, that's just the reality of it. Maybe Simon would find it interesting in some way. I'm not sure. I am reasonably certain that it's unlikely that I'll ever look at much of it, ever again.

This is definitely a year of fresh starts, and there's certainly a desire to respect the past without wallowing in it. With one more known move in my near future, it's time to purge some more and really trim it down.

Parenting and the follow through

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 3, 2013, 4:12 PM | comments: 0

I don't write about parenting as much as I used to, largely because it's a lot easier when you don't have to hold your kid's hand at all times. A lot of things are certainly harder, but they don't consume as much of your time. That makes sense, and with years of working with teenagers, I can see how the complexity vs. time curve definitely inverts.

Lately I've come to realize that our biggest challenge is following through on explained consequences. I find myself doing too much bargaining... "Do this and you'll get to do this," or, "If you don't do this, then no this." Usually the outcome is something I want to do as well, so one way or another, that's what we do. The negotiation is totally a sham.

In the last few weeks, I've tried to stop doing that. Now I follow through on consequences, which results in a lot of screaming and crying (Simon doesn't like it either). The bed time routine is particularly troubling, because you want to get his ass in bed with the lights out quickly, but you also want him to undress himself and be less dependent on you.

The thing that has made it a lot harder is that we've been asking a lot of him. Moving definitely wasn't easy for him, and he is still 3, which is normally hard to begin with. I think I've used that as an excuse at times to let him get his way. I'm always trying to remember he's 3, and not have the expectation that he's older.

As far as course corrections go, this one is pretty easy. And I have to remember that it won't be long until I have to tell him that he can't take the car!

Coming up for air

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 1, 2013, 9:28 PM | comments: 2

Tonight is the first night since my family arrived in Orlando that I've been able to just sit and do nothing after Simon was in bed. It feels nice. Granted, some of the time has been occupied by choice, doing stuff, but this is good.

All things considered, this move has been ridiculously smooth so far. The house sale closes in three weeks unless some catastrophic thing happens, and I need to close out utilities and such, but otherwise, we're almost done with Cleveland. At this end, I still have to switch the auto and health insurance, and we need to get drivers licenses. I also need to secure a mortgage for the new house, and that's in the works (obviously I was preapproved or they wouldn't initiate the process). That's weird to do, because it won't close until the house is done, February at the earliest.

I've been somewhat disconnected. I haven't kept up on RSS feeds or Facebook, and that's actually OK. It means I'm actually engaged in work. Today I did catch up a bit on developer news, and I need to do that in my line of work. Otherwise, I've actually found the disconnection to be freeing.

So far so good. I'm amazed at how natural this all feels at this point. Another few weeks, and I think we'll be very much into a routine, while still having so many new adventures.