Archive: November, 2014

Awakening Star Wars

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 28, 2014, 10:22 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe that Star Wars Episode VII is going to be a real thing about a year from now. It's probably the most enduring science fiction of all time.

I know for sure that I saw Return of The Jedi in the theater, and maybe even Empire. The only other movies that really stuck with me that long was the Indiana Jones series. The original three movies are an epic part of our culture, even when George Lucas messed with them to "improve" them. The three prequels get a bad rap, and while it's hard for me to disagree with the criticism, they were definitely a story that I think we all wanted to hear. It's just that they would have been better as one single movie. The story of the rise of the empire (and by extension the rise of the emperor and Vader, along with the disappearance of the Jedi) was certainly important.

And if we're being honest, at the time that Episode I came out, we were all clamoring for it, and could only be so critical. It was a universe that was new and at the same time familiar. We're all grateful that it didn't ruin Natalie Portman's career.

When Disney bought LucasFilm, it was pretty obvious that there would be new Star Wars movies. Then they made everyone even more happy when they declared there would be three sequels that continued the story arc, interspersed by origin stories. Still, that's a lot of pressure. I think fans tolerated the prequels because they were kind of already in Lucas' head as established, if not published, canon that set up the original films.

Having JJ Abrams take over, I think, is the right move. While I'm not sure that his Star Trek reboot made "instant classics," (seriously though, other than Wrath of Kahn, were any of the originals classic?), the thing that I most respect about him is that he's an excellent storyteller. If you've never seen Super 8, it is in my opinion one of his best works. Mind you, he cast the perfect kids to carry that movie, but it's so well written. His touch on many of the TV series he produced is also comforting.

Today we got the first trailer for the next film. It doesn't really tell us much, but it's instantly recognizable as Star Wars. We know it takes place 30 years after Jedi, and that Han, Luke and Leia will be in it, appropriately aged. The rumors suggest they're there largely to transition to new, younger stars.

What's great about it, as a fan, is that we have so many questions about what happened in those 30 years. It certainly appeared that the empire was done at the end of Jedi. And yet, we see storm troopers, dudes flying X-wings with rebel logos on their helmet, and one scary looking dude with a light saber (that has already been torn apart by the Internet as being unsafe for the user and ineffective against adversaries). In a post-empire galaxy, it seems like not everything turned out as expected.

I think the first film worked because it was unlike anything we had ever seen before in terms of scale and imagination. You don't get the opportunity to create something like that very often. The closest we've come since is Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter, both of which were books first. Everyone knows that this new Star Wars will print money, but what everyone really wants is for it to be the kind of art that the original was. We all want it to inspire and make us stand up and clap when it's over. I give Abrams a 4 in 5 chance. I think he can do it.

The Web is broken, and apps and "mobile" experiences are the problem

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 11:11 PM | comments: 0

I've said many times that I'm totally annoyed with the app-tastic nature of mobile devices. Most apps that aren't games are little more than thin wrappers around API's that could be just was well served by a Web app. It used to annoy me because, as a software developer, I have no interest in coming up with three or four variations of the same thing, not able to share any of the UI code. Now my annoyance is more because of the "islands" that apps create, and the totally bastardized versions of Web sites made for mobile.

On the mobile side, I didn't always feel this way. I used to have a mobile version of my forum app, but it was only the UI that was different. The underlying business rules and logic was shared under the hood. Mostly my approach was just to hide some stuff and make it a lighter payload. When I went down that road, going on three years ago, responsive design was in its infancy and hard to do. Now I'm against it for a number of reasons. While I took care to make sure the underlying code was the same, many sites have totally different code bases and you simply can't do all of the same things. When grandma only uses an iPad and you force her to use that different site, I can't help her, and we don't have the same experience.

And apps... ugh... how many possible ways could they break the Web? At the very least, not being able to pass of a URL to someone means they can't see what you see. They need to download an app and find it themselves. If you have the wrong version of the mobile OS, you're out of luck, or worse, if you have the wrong OS you're even more out of luck. You have to update the damn things constantly, whereas something appearing in a browser is always the latest code. And by the way, the research indicates that very few of the apps you download ever get used more than once.

Annoying as this all seems (to me), I think we're getting closer to turning a corner. Because the upgrade cycle of phones and tablets is apparently very short, the old fashioned Web browser keeps getting more and more powerful. The various frameworks and tools to run software in a browser keep getting more and more compatible and awesome. The long and short of it is that it's getting to a point where we can deliver great experiences in a browser, without an app. That makes me happy.

Simon progress: 2014 holiday edition

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 1:53 PM | comments: 0

What a whirlwind of a year 2014 has turned out to be. The timing of the holidays has caused us to reflect a bit on how Simon has been doing in overcoming some of his challenges, and overall, things are going pretty well. Lots of wins, still some concerns, but we're very proud of our little guy.

It's funny (though not in a "ha ha" way) how we tend to identify our lives by where we've lived. By the time Simon was 4, he had lived in five places. So in this case, we think in terms of our move to our current house in the February/March time frame. Thinking about how Simon was doing then, he has made some massive progress. We finished potty training completely, with only a single overnight accident since then. Where we could barely get him to talk about or describe his day at school, now he talks about activities and friends. Stairs were still a non-alternating foot affair, now he alternates and doesn't need a railing. Counting was mostly by chance, now he's deliberate. He's very interested in spelling. He's the kid that the other kids want to play with in class. Zippers are easy, and even socks are less of a challenge. His progress has been amazing.

Simon is still behind in a lot of things, but the pace of his learning and development seems to be good. We've seen some growth in fine motor skills, using a computer mouse, but his muscle tone is still poor and it's a struggle to get him to write or color. My hope is that his interest in spelling will drive his desire to write. We find odd things that he struggles with, like understanding gender and how it's used in language. Working imagination into his play is something that comes and goes.

As for his ASD issues, it's also a mixed bag, but mostly positive. Simon's understanding (or acceptance) of many social contracts is pretty solid. Granted, his obsession with doors means he's not so much being polite when opening doors, it's just what he needs to do. But he is extremely polite most of the time, almost to a fault. He orders his own food and drink at restaurants. What's a little concerning is that he's having a lot of trouble with certain variances from routine. He's having classic autism meltdowns around things like the order of bedtime activities, or things that just can't be helped (like a theme park ride closure). While making for some difficult moments, we're learning how to adapt and adjust, just as he is.

This fall has been a little tough for him, because he has been switched on most of the time. During the week, he has school, twice a day, with the regular pre-K class in the morning, and the "special needs" version in the afternoon. On top of that, we were also having a therapist over twice a week, meaning he was getting like an hour of unstructured time per day, and that sucked. We ended up discontinuing the work with the therapist, because after 10 sessions, he was just not clicking with her at all. I think it was a combination of experience and personality, but we were seeing a toxic side to him unlike anything we would see at other times. He just wasn't building the rapport he had with the previous therapist (who couldn't meet with him so late after school). At school, he just tends to zone out when he's not interested, a trait that I'm intimately familiar with.

The bigger consensus right now among his teachers is that he's on the right track to start kindergarten on time, but it's still a little early to know for sure. I think everyone believes there is great intelligence in that boy, but connecting to it is definitely going to require some non-standard effort. Selfishly, my greatest joy is that he seems very open to emotionally connecting, and he seems to like to pal around with his mom and dad. Diana has been nothing short of super-mom in making sure that he's getting the help he needs, but without being one of "those" parents who hovers and shields their kid from all forms of adversity.

So the news is good, with some amount of cautious optimism. We're getting a better feel for what is 4-year-old behavior, ASD behavior and other developmental delays. I wouldn't trade Simon for anything in the world.

That cliche about needing pain for pleasure might be true

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 21, 2014, 11:20 PM | comments: 0

With Thanksgiving this coming week, I think it's safe to say we're in "the holidays" for this year. With that season comes the inevitable flood of nostalgia, and probably some things you'd rather forget.

I've always had a complicated relationship with the season, to say the least. While there are many great feelings recalling childhood, there's a whole lot in the middle that wasn't so great. I try not to dwell on the worst parts, but they're there. I've had a great many triumphs as well, and when I take stock, believe me when I say that I've had an amazing life thus far.

But it does beg the question, is the old cliche about needing exceptional pain as a frame of reference to appreciate the good times true? In other words, do I think my life is amazing because at times it was total shit?

I think pain and suffering is overrated, but I can see how this arrangement might be a real thing. I often tell people that I've managed to have four truly great love stories in my life (well, maybe five, but I'm still not sure if the first one counts), but I can see how that might be in part because of the heartbreak and pain I've felt in other situations.

No matter what though, I think the pain can serve as a reminder for how durable you've managed to be in life. It can be hard to have that perspective, but it's a lot like my philosophy where you have to take loss as a chance to see how good something was, and smile and be happy you had those times.

It's probably OK to quietly revel in your own awesomeness for a bit. You probably earned it.

The great Azure outage of 2014

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 20, 2014, 1:46 PM | comments: 3

We had some downtime on Tuesday night for our sites, about two hours or so. On one hand, November is the slowest month for the sites anyway, but on the flip side, we pushed a new version of PointBuzz that I wanted to monitor, and I did post a few photos from IAAPA that were worthy of discussion. It doesn't matter either way, because the sites were down and there was nothing I can do about it because of a serious failure in protocol with Microsoft's Azure platform.

I'm going to try and be constructive here. I'll start by talking about the old days of dedicated hardware. Back in the day, if you wanted to have software running on the Internet, you rented servers. Maybe you had virtual networks between machines, but you still had physical and specific hardware you were running stuff on. If you wanted redundancy, you paid a lot more for it.

I switched to the cloud last summer, after about 16 years in different hosting situations. At one point I had a T-1 and servers at my house (at a grand per month, believe it or not that was the cheapest solution). Big data centers and cheap bandwidth eventually became normal, and most of that time I was spending $200 or less per month. Still, as a developer, it still required me to spend a lot of time on things that I didn't care about, like patching software, maintaining backups, configuration tasks, etc. It also meant that I would encounter some very vanilla failures, like hard disks going bad or some routing problem.

Indeed, for many years I was at SoftLayer, which is now owned by IBM and was formerly called The Planet. There was usually one instance of downtime every other year. I had a hard drive failure once, a router's configuration broke in a big way, and one time there was even a fire in the data center. Oh, and one time I was down about five hours as they physically moved my aging server between locations (I didn't feel like upgrading... I was getting a good deal). In every case, either support tickets were automatically generated by their monitoring system, or I initiated them (in the case of the drive failure). There was a human I could contact and I knew someone was looking into it.

I don't like downtime, but I accept that it will happen sometimes. I'm cool with that. In the case of SoftLayer, I was always in the loop and understood what was going on. With this week's Azure outage, that was so far from the case that it was inexcusable. They eventually wrote up an explanation about what happened. Basically they did a widespread rollout of an "improvement" that had a bug, even though they insist that their own protocol prohibits this.

But it was really the communication failure that frustrated most people. Like I said, I think most people can get over a technical failure, not liking it, but dealing with it. What we got was vague Twitter posts about what "may" affect customers, and a dashboard that was completely useless. It said "it's all good" when it clearly wasn't. Not only that, but if you then describe that there's a problem with blob storage but declare websites and VM's as all green, even though they depend on storage, you're doing it wrong. Not all customers would know that. If a dependency is down, then that service is down too.

The support situation is also frustrating. Basically, there is no support unless you have a billing issue or you pay for it. Think about that for a minute. If something bad happens beyond your control, you have no recourse unless you pay for it. Even cable companies have better support than that (though not by much).

Microsoft has to do better. I think what people really wanted to hear was, "Yeah, we messed up really bad, not just in service delivery, but in the way we communicated." The support situation has to change too. I have two friends now that had VM's more or less disappear, and they couldn't get them back. They had to buy support, which then failed to "find" them. Talk about insult to injury.

Hopefully this is just a growing pain, but a significant problem can't go down like this again, from a communication standpoint.

Old houses that aren't old

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 16, 2014, 9:04 PM | comments: 0

We've been addicted lately to watching Rehab Addict on HGTV. Sure, part of it is because Nicole Curtis is extraordinarily charming and legit, but also because the show is more like a documentary than a reality show. I think it might be perceived that I'm a hater of old stuff, but that isn't the case.

Yes, we bought a completely new house, a "McMansion" if you will. It's completely non-extraordinary, aside from the fact that it's ours and no one else ever lived there. There are some details in certain places that certainly required some craftsmanship (where we spent extra), but otherwise it's pretty much a production house. It's not like the million-dollar place down the street with stairs carved out of reclaimed wood from an old castle in Germany.

My objection to older houses is a combination of the energy efficiency (or the lack thereof) and the drafty nature of them. I grew up in a house that was a hundred years old, and it was always cold, even with space heaters upstairs. I recall Diana's house was just freezing for reasons I couldn't even explain. You could feel cold air blowing on you.

But the show has demonstrated that a combination of restoration and some clever design can make an old house special. It often requires stripping it down to the studs, mind you, but it can obviously be done. I'm amazed at how much stuff she can repurpose. That process can in some cases result in wins like modern insulation. Certainly the geography matters in those cases. I guess the point is that an old house isn't that old when it has been renovated.

The biggest difference in old versus new really does come down to craftsmanship. It's very obvious to me after building two houses that you get what you pay for. I think the biggest issue in the production house business is that the skill of the guys doing the rough trades is almost always suspect, and that you have to serve as the QA department for the builder is ridiculous. On the plus side, much of the framing is done by machines off-site, which you can trust to get the math right.

A hundred years ago, things like wood detail and tile were done with great care. Now, not so much, unless you pay more for something nicer. When I look at our house, the only things that feel "nicer" are the things that were extra (the frameless shower door and some molding on the cabinets is all we really did outside of flooring).

The long and short of it is that an old house doesn't have to suck if you're willing to put some time, love and money into it. Lots of money, I think.

The gradual reinvention of PointBuzz

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 15, 2014, 10:46 PM | comments: 0

PointBuzz has been with me since 1998, only then it was called Guide To The Point. Eventually I connected with Walt, who started Virtual Midway in 2000. On May 12, 2004, we launched the joint effort that is PointBuzz. It was a good match, because he's a great designer and enjoys creating content, while I love the process of writing software for online community.

You would think that splitting the duties would mean it was easier to maintain the site, but sadly that's not the case. You know, day jobs, families and stuff. We didn't launch the second version of the site until December 16, 2007. The new version we're kind of calling v2.5, because it's mostly just a port to new tools with a new skin. It's not so much new features. But yikes... November 15, 2014, almost seven years.

From a professional standpoint, the most striking thing about this reinvention is how much things have changed in that seven years. These days we're using Git, and the use of MVC is making it exceptionally easy to collaborate on our respective parts. Instead of going for a big bang moment, we just wanted to get it out there and start iterating over it.

From a geek standpoint, consider that the old site was built on WebForms, the forum version was v8 (I'm on the v13 now), and it was really hard to change. Now we're using MVC as the presentation framework, really simple Entity Framework for data, and most importantly, we're using Bootstrap as the front end framework. I wrote before about why I hated all the frameworks that came before, but having completely overhauled the forums with it, I'm sold. It's not too heavy (though not light). That you can realistically do a responsive design without a lot of extra work is the win.

Next up at my end is to finish the Q&A functionality for the forum. There is a bunch of back-end stuff I'd like to do as well, but I've gotta ship v13 eventually. It has been awhile.

Bring on the holidays!

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 14, 2014, 12:53 PM | comments: 0

I'm ready. I don't care if it's mid-November, I'm ready to start celebrating, because I've earned it. Let me get this out of the way, I'm referring to "the holidays" because that includes Thanksgiving and the New Year. So before you get your Christmas panties in a bunch, know that I'm referring to the entire season. That, and just because I celebrate Christmas doesn't mean everyone else does.

We've had quite a bit of holiday travel and festivities in the rotation for the last several years. We've spent days up with my in-laws in the mountains of North Carolina, hosted and went to various dinners, assembled Lego trains around trees, witnessed epic light displays... we get our merry on. This year we'll put up a tree in the fifth house in as many years. We'll also add a quick Christmas cruise into the mix, because that's how we roll down here.

Yes, the retail blitz is absurd, and gets longer every year. Honestly we don't buy much stuff anyway. Experiences not stuff is our thing. But still, I don't see anything wrong with six weeks of awesome. We need it this year. I wouldn't characterize it as an unhappy time, but it certainly has had its challenges.

Bring it, holiday cheer.

Snow and moving

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 14, 2014, 10:53 AM | comments: 0

Every single year, the news (and everyone on Facebook) announces the first snow fall as if it were completely unexpected.

Every. Single. Year.

I thought snow was pretty cool when I was a kid. My fascination with it was lessened when I had to start walking to class through it, and when I started driving to work in it. By the time I had my own driveway and sidewalk, I was done with it completely, even with a snowblower.

Snow was one of the many reasons I was ready to move in 2009. Cleveland was generally in the shitter in terms of economy and jobs in my line of work. Seeing so many friends move and find bigger and better things heavily influenced me. Diana had lived in a number of places as well. It was just time.

Seattle was awesome. I miss it every day. It really opened my eyes in a way that I desperately needed, and should have had years before that. Way back in 1998 I went to Portland for a conference, and it was my first time out west. All I could think was, "Wow, these are my people, and this place is awesome." It took a lot of life shaking things up, 11 years, before I actually lived in the Pacific Northwest. Today I talk with friends who have moved around, and we're amazed that we ever lived in Brunswick, Ohio. It's not that we're judgmental in those discussions, but wonder more if people realize that there might be something more out there.

We went back to Cleveland and didn't last even two years, and most of that was because of winter. It's not just the cold winters keeping you stuck inside, it's the flat, gray, featureless sky that dominates your vision for weeks at a time. Say what you will about Seattle's perpetual winter mist, the sun still comes out almost every day for a little while, there are evergreens everywhere, and there are goddamn mountains with snow on them everywhere you look.

Central Florida is not as pretty as the Pacific Northwest, but what it lacks in scenery it makes up for in sun and blue skies. My mom told me when she moved here that she was amazed at how much better she felt in the general sense. Given the fact that depression is an issue on that side of the family, I totally get what she meant. Seasonal affective disorder kicked my ass every year of my life living in the Midwest. It's just awful. I never had it in Seattle, and I certainly don't in Florida.

I'm always reminded of the movie Orange County, where the main character spends his senior year plotting how to get the hell out of town (and dating Schuyler Fisk, lucky bastard). An author that he admires and finally meets talks about the conflict that people have with the place they're born. That's me. I don't hate Cleveland, I just don't want to live there right now. I certainly don't want to deal with snow.

You don't know Orlando

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 13, 2014, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

We've had a couple members of our leadership team from Tampa in the Orlando office in the last few weeks, which inevitably leads to lunch out. Today, again, I the conversation turned to how fantastic Orlando is for all of the reasons most people don't know. When I landed here a little over a year ago, I was oblivious as well. Now I feel like it's a little secret that should be kept, maybe.

If you come to town as a tourist, you probably know 528, a few miles of I-4 and I-Drive. If you're really adventurous, maybe you know a few miles of the coast (Kennedy and the cruise lines), and maybe Legoland or Busch Gardens Tampa. That was probably my limitation as well when I moved here, and working for a theme park company may have even reinforced that. But I did obviously land in a place to live that was away from all that, and you have to branch out if you're going to live in any area. Don't get me wrong, I love me some theme parks, and it was a consideration for moving here, but it's a fraction of what Orlando is about.

This job opened my eyes quite a bit, in part because our office (where I got twice a week) is right in the middle of everything, downtown. Yes, Orlando has a downtown. The arena is two blocks away, the mixed-development revival of Church St. is a block, across the street is the amazing new Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts, Lake Eola is diagonally a few blocks... it's really fantastic. I'm told it's not a great place to live yet, because you need to actually get out of downtown for regular retail needs, but as a place to work and play, it's really fantastic.

In fact, you'd never know that the area was so in the same city as the attractions. There's a sense of an up-and-coming city when you're downtown, with a mix of start-ups and technology companies, as well as the typical big financial firms and such. Of course, a world-class performing arts facility is important to us, but I look at how those places benefit Cleveland and Seattle and I see how important it is to the general atmosphere and vibe in a downtown area.

There are a lot of areas that are uniquely "old Florida," as a friend calls them. I'm not entirely sure how you describe that... it's kind of a mix of old south, 60's modern, but not tacky. You find a lot of great old houses, family businesses and restaurants that have survived for decades, and a whole lot of money. Not sure what these folks do for a living, but they're well-off.

It's all a nice surprise to me. I've enjoyed getting more involved with local business and non-profits, as well as our local software development community. I'm guilty of seeing the area as one-dimensional, and in some ways relieved that it's not.

A fun day to be a developer

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 12, 2014, 10:25 PM | comments: 0

Today was a great day to be in my line of work, especially with the tools and the stack that I work with.

At a personal level, we reached a spot with my project at work where we're nearly ready to ship, and by most objective accounts, it has been a successful project. Being my first with this company, it's a bit of a relief to get that done. While I am in that place that technical leaders like to wallow in a bit, looking for the things I could have done better, it feels good to get 'er done. I had an amazing team to work with, and that makes a huge difference.

My partner for PointBuzz made the suggestion last week that we should just bang out a minimum viable port of the site to all of the latest frameworks and tools so we're not stuck forever in 2007. I was already pushing the forum app in that direction, and as it turns out, I had done a bunch of groundwork on the technical side. He checked in a bunch of code today, I did more backend stuff, and what do you know... we're in an enormously good place. I can't even put into words how great that feels.

If that weren't enough, Microsoft went into detail on its vision for the next version of everything, and it's awesome. At the top of the excitement is that pretty much everything will be open source. That matters because it opens more doors to using skills on more platforms. Not only that, but things will be more modular and easier to maintain (hopefully).

Of course, all of this new stuff means I need to find time to play with it, which is pretty scarce, but I'll get there. In the mean time, I need to put the wraps on v13 of POP Forums, which will add Q&A style forums. I need to get those up and running on a real site so I can validate they work as expected.

When I was a kid, we played with dirt

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 11:07 PM | comments: 0

We were out for dinner the other day, and we busted out a phone to keep Simon busy with a number-matching game. Ordinarily, we're pretty good about device-appropriate time. We believe that it's shitty to see a family at dinner or at a theme park all heads-down staring at a screen. Talk to each other, dammit! In this case though, on a non-therapy night and after he was getting restless, we relented if only to selfishly allow us to have a conversation.

Our waiter was dropping off some bread, and Simon looked up and told him, "I did it!" He had finished a set of numbers and was pretty proud of himself. The waiter turned as he was leaving and said, "When I was a kid, we played with... dirt."

That was admittedly a little silly, but he reminded me of something that has been on my mind a lot lately. We live in the future, and we completely take it for granted. I always bring up my little spiel about how, "We carry super computers in our pockets connected to all of the knowledge of the world." Seriously, that's not over-stating it. Think about that, and put yourself back in 1994 for a moment. Shit, put yourself in 2006.

Similarly, Diana was reading a book on her Kindle. This tiny, thin little thing holds countless books and sucks more out of the air. It's a goddamn miracle. All I can think about is the heavy, $100 books I had to buy in college, carrying them around. Now you could have a tablet weighing a few ounces (that you can "write" on no less) that holds all of those books, and also let you send email to the professor, order a pizza and watch last night's Tonight Show.

My kid will have no idea about life 20 years ago. When he's a teenager, I'm going to drag his ass on the Carousel of Progress at Magic Kingdom (partly as payback for dragging us on it) so I can beat it into him how slow progress was in the 80 years prior to the last 20.

It's almost infuriating to read about how some 24-year-old hipster was being dramatic about losing his shiny new iPhone at the club. Oh no, you can't take a selfie with a beer in your hand at 3 a.m.? I'd be more impressed if you expressed dismay over your inability to cite analyst predictions on whether or not Tesla can really meet Model III price points given expected battery production and costs in 2017. I'm not saying people can't have fun, but come on... look at what you have!

I don't expect that Simon will play with dirt, and I'm not going to prevent him from playing video games or listening to heavy metal of whatever the equivalent of Baby Boomer fears end up being. Hopefully he'll still ride bikes, catch frogs and do all of that stuff. But I won't let him squander the sheer amazingness that technology enables.

Political clarity resulting in apathy

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

I can't tell you how often I see something political, realize that I have a pretty clear opinion about it, and decide to completely disregard it. My life is full enough right now between home life and work that I just don't have the mental bandwidth to write about it.

I think there are a lot of other reasons, too, for my apathy, chief among them being the divisive shits on the Internet that insist on picking a side. It's completely infuriating. People treat real issues like sports, where the only thing that matters is that you're against the other team. Then if you try to interject something vaguely intelligent into the conversation, about how both sides have it wrong, you're viewed as some kind of uppity freak show. I mean, we have a president who hasn't really done anything, and an opposition that opposes his inaction with their own inaction. How is anyone satisfied with that?

Apparently pretty satisfied, because only 36% of voters actually showed up this month. That's pathetic.

The weird thing is that, if you really look at American life objectively, things are going a lot better than they were a half-dozen years ago. Unemployment is at its lowest rate since 2008, inflation is relatively stable, domestic energy production is high and our gas prices are way down, the NASDAQ index has doubled in five years, home values have been headed up for a few years, and even the domestic auto industry has made a comeback. Things aren't perfect, mind you, but despite government's inability to do anything, things are certainly improving. I do think that things are different, but instead of complaining about it, we should be focusing on how we adapt and thrive in an evolving economic landscape. The service economy isn't going to just revert to a manufacturing economy, for example. College alone isn't going to score you six figures. The lottery still won't make you rich.

Despite this, I remain optimistic. I still think we have unprecedented opportunity, in many ways enabled by technology. I fully intend to be a part of that. Part of that means staying involved and engaged, no matter how difficult it can be at times.

We're due for new phones

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 9, 2014, 1:32 PM | comments: 0

Our two years are up on the contract for our current phones, so we're free to get something else. We'll stay on AT&T because I'm still getting a significant corporate discount, and on top of that we have a friend in our plan that further reduces the cost.

Let me first stay that it's completely strange how people already take it for granted that they can carry a computer in their pocket connected to the knowledge of the world. When the first iPhone came out in 2007, arguably the first smart phone that demonstrated the potential and ubiquity of this connectivity, we were just taking for granted the Internet on laptops over WiFi. I do feel like the potential is enormously squandered over stupid shit like selfies and food porn, but I certainly understand how it has enabled entirely new ways of doing practically everything.

Right now, I'm using a Lumia 920, and Diana is using a cheap, $50 no-contract Lumia 520 because her 820 took a dive a few months ago and the screen broke. (It wasn't the outer glass, it was the LCD screen under it, believe it or not.) We're still enormously happy with Windows Phone as a platform. The "app gap" has mostly closed in the last two years, but it really doesn't matter because we're not really app people beyond perhaps Facebook (Diana also uses Instagram). I think the reason we find it most useful is live tiles. When we turn on the phone, we can quickly see everything that interests us, like the current temperature, what's on the calendar, and who triggered a notification for messaging or FB or whatever. I just can't see going back to the icon grid that is iOS (and to a lesser degree, Android).

Cameras are still a priority for us. The 920 has been completely fantastic in that respect. Exterior photos are generally amazing, and interior are solid if you take a little care in how you expose. The only thing that keeps it from being as good as my little (aging) Canon S95 is the lack of a physical zoom, but being on a phone it kind of makes up for that. The competition has come a long way in terms of cameras, and iPhone in particular (the big one at least) has finally come to a place that doesn't suck. Ditto for many of the high end Samsung phones.

I suspect I'll get the Lumia 830 as my next phone. It's a slight upgrade in terms of the camera, and similar hardware otherwise. It's not expensive, and I can put an SD card into it so I can just dump all music on to it instead of having to decide what to put on there. It still does wireless charging as well, which seemed like a silly feature, but now I'd hate to not have it. It doesn't appear that anything higher end is coming to AT&T, and honestly I'm not even sure that it matters. It's funny how outside of the cameras, phone specs are mostly unimportant to me.

As for Diana, that's hard to say. The 830 would be a logical upgrade for her, but she's not a fan of the larger size. They don't really make smaller phones anymore, so that puts her in a weird place. The camera on her "burner" phone is awful, so I don't think she wants to hold on to that one for the distance.

Florida cold owns you

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 2, 2014, 3:50 PM | comments: 0

As you might expect, I was defiant when we moved to Florida. "I'm gonna wear shorts every single day no matter what!" Last winter, I more or less did that, except for the day we had in the 30's. That was freakish.

Something happened over the summer though. Granted, it was a pretty brutal summer. Normally there are little breaks from the super heat, and you rarely see anything higher than 92, but July and September were tough. So when we started to finally see some reprieve toward the end of October, "jacket weather" was anything under 72.

Yesterday we skipped the open window weather and last night went to the turn on heat weather. The overnight low was mid-40's. During the day, it barely made it over 60 and it felt downright chilly with pants, a long-sleeve T-shirt and a hoodie on. It's true, Florida has turned us soft.

Compared this to Cleveland, where you bust out shorts every spring when it gets over 50. Or in Seattle, you just kind of wing it year-round because the total range of temperature isn't very large anyway.