Archive: September, 2014

Slowly working off the regret

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 30, 2014, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

I can't say I've ever had any true regrets once time has passed, but I do have one that has been nagging me for a couple of years. Today I had another of a series of events that have helped me correct it.

I've made no secret that I think moving back to Cleveland after two years in Seattle was a horrible decision. I think this despite the fact that financially it exceeded my expectations in every way, and to be sure, we had some really good times and made some great memories there. More than anything, it was the professional regret. While I wasn't crazy about the team I switched to in those last six months at Microsoft (because it never shipped anything), I think in the bigger context there was a place for me there. At the very least, there was no shortage of great opportunities around town. The weird thing is that I remember standing at a window in Building 34, looking out at the mountains, accepting a job that I knew deep down was probably a mistake. But I put that instinct aside with the thought of finally getting ahead and not paying for two houses. That, and summers at Cedar Point.

About six weeks later, I started that job in downtown Cleveland, working for a marketing agency. I remember something about an email exchange I had with my would-be boss during the drive cross-country that set off red flags, though I don't remember specifically what it was. As fall was setting in, and Cleveland went from green to gray, I was already getting a sinking feeling, like I made a horrible mistake. I felt like I had failed and I couldn't even tell you why.

After a week and a half at that job, they still had no work to give me. Not content to sit around, I spent a couple of days prototyping something that I thought they needed, and that would differentiate them from other agencies around town. I brought it to a partner, and we did some napkin math around what it would take to build it. It felt like something interesting was happening, finally.

By the end of the third week, the only billable work I had to do was to FTP some files for someone. That wasn't exactly something that was using my skills. That day, they called me into the office and let me go, not because they didn't have any work for me, but because I didn't adhere to their strict policy about office hours. So they wanted me to physically be there until 5:30 and navigate awful downtown traffic at that time after doing only whatever I could find to keep busy.

What had I done? I moved my new little family for that? Was I, in some way, just being unrealistic? I was so used to working with amazing people. I felt awful for the stress I was putting on Diana over the situation. Fortunately, it was bonus and vesting time just before I left Seattle, so there was no real financial danger. I also never really stopped looking, and had an interview that very afternoon. It wasn't long before I had an offer from Humana, and began working remotely. Still... I remember being in that dark, downtown office in a trendy repurposed century building, and thinking I made an awful decision.

Now, to keep some amount of perspective, even then I knew that the feelings of regret were over something that was likely short lived. I had been there before. The layoffs in the early part of the decade and in 2008 most obviously led to new things. Life isn't permanent, and as it turns out, not much that happens in life is either.

Since that time, there have been several events that have helped heal that regret. I haven't been able to totally let go, but I'm getting there.

It started with my year at Humana. While the work and the position wasn't always as challenging as I would have liked, what was completely validating about it was the fact that I was working remotely. For me, it not only proved that I had the discipline to do it, but it proved in the general sense that distributed teams can work. It meant that geography wasn't nearly as important as I thought.

I did leave Humana to be proactive (I wasn't convinced my position would be there much longer), but after some less than stellar contract work (that did pay insanely well) and the whole desire to change climates, we landed in Orlando and I got a year to work at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. The work wasn't unfamiliar, but the scope was insanely huge. I was making design decisions that would impact the company for some time to come. I was having opportunities to mentor developers, learn new things about security and compliance, work with some great vendors, and, oh yeah, it was a theme park company. I don't know that I would've had an opportunity with that kind of scope and responsibility when I was in the PNW.

Then there was something that happened today. Keep in mind that I've had a number of false starts with companies that make software on a sort of agency model. I joined one early last summer, sort of. While it is a company that makes software as a third-party, its methodology is a lot closer to what a pure software player would do, and does it exceptionally well. In fact, it's not really an agency model at all. The short version of my position is to run a development team in a technical capacity, which can include everything from design and code review to in the weeds coding. I have a lot of autonomy (and work mostly remote again). Today one of the senior managers from the client I'm working with cornered me after a meeting, and was just gushing about how awesome our team has been on this project. I deflect most of the credit to the team, but secretly it feels awfully good to get that kind of validation that you're doing it right.

I miss Seattle every day, including everything from the people to the mountains. But there's no question that the future I've tried to make since then has been remarkable. There's an important lesson there, that I've learned before, but don't always retain. There are few things that end in your life that don't make way for something new, and you're likely going to be better for the experience. Being in that shitty office in downtown Cleveland on a dreary day in October felt gross, but it gave me focus, and I'm in a better place because of that seemingly poor decision. That regret is finally starting to fade.

There is no typical autism

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 25, 2014, 10:58 PM | comments: 1

We've met a great many parents of kids on the autism spectrum, as you would expect given school, therapy and community groups. Obviously we're not experts on the subject, and always learning given Simon's challenges. The thing that has surprised me the most is how different every kid is. The course of therapy and education is dramatically different for everyone.

Not only are the therapies different, but so are the range of issues, which is part of the reason that they lump all of these things into a "spectrum." There isn't a lot of awareness around this range unless you're in the middle of it. I'm trying not to react with anger when I hear people say things like, "He seems normal," because the truth is that they just don't know or understand what autism is.

If you're my age, your first exposure to autism is probably the movie Rainman. Later you had people associating it with Aspergers specifically due to the "Jerry" character on Boston Legal. Then you have any number of TV and movie kids, to say nothing of news stories, about kids who don't talk or make eye contact. You know how many of the kids I've met exhibit any of these specific issues? Zero.

In fact, we're very fortunate that Simon is the exact opposite of some of the most stereotypical behaviors. The kid queues like a champ, and is super polite to adults, almost to a fault. He can make eye contact, and be very expressive (if not understood) when he wants to. On the other hand, he plays in the stereotypical ways a lot of the time, organizing and aligning toys instead of using his imagination. He struggles to adhere to directions. He has the classic meltdowns periodically. It's completely strange how no two kids share the same checklist. And if that weren't hard enough, there are varying degrees of the behavior and the ability to modify the behavior.

So sure, Simon seems "normal," and I suspect he will seem so even more if his therapy and IEP are successful. The mystery that is autism includes a lot of circumstances where kids can learn to learn in a way that suits their different wiring. That's the reason it's so important to be proactive.

My displeasure over the "normal" comment (and for the record, the best thing I can come up with is "atypical wiring") might be tempered to an extent if people could just understand that what they perceive is an oversimplification of the reality. I don't think my kid is broken, and by me talking about it, neither should you. I share because despite the uniqueness of every situation, sharing information is what makes this all a little easier for someone.

The takeaway for you should be this: There is no typical autism. It's an enormous range of stuff. It's usually not Rainman. We're not being overbearing or overcautious parents. But it would be a disservice to our child if we didn't do everything we could to address what professionals have identified. He's a beautiful kid, and he's the joy of our lives.

Bootstrap in POP Forums, and why I resisted

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 8:58 PM | comments: 1

I haven't been writing much lately, in part because I spent a good portion of my free time in the last week overhauling the POP Forums UI to use the Bootstrap framework. You can see what it looks like on the demo site. It took me a long time to cave and do this, but I think I had pretty good reasoning.

The forum app has always been at the core of my personal site projects, chief among them CoasterBuzz. I'm a little meticulous about markup and CSS. I hate having too much of it. I hated using jQuery UI because it felt like bloat. Grid frameworks always seemed to require more markup (and they still do) and global CSS almost always causes trouble with other stuff when you drop it in. All prior experiments with these things failed, and let's be honest... a two-column layout is a nut that has long since been cracked and requires very little markup or CSS. In order to bend the forums a little to match the rest of the site it would be contained in, there's incentive to keep it light in terms of CSS.

I mostly achieved this. The number of overriding classes was not huge, and more global stuff around common elements mostly worked. You could basically drop the forum inside of a div and be on your way. It even worked pretty well on tablets, and in my last significant set of tweaks back in 2012, doing a responsive design didn't feel like a priority.

And then there was the mobile experience. One of the trade-offs for responsive is that you typically end up with more markup and CSS instead of less, so I wasn't ready to fully embrace that. Some people still weren't on LTE networks either, so I was bit conscious. Since the UI rendering was done by ASP.NET MVC, it was easy to strip down the UI to mobile-specific views, and it only took a few hours to do it for the entire app, as well as CoasterBuzz. I also didn't force it, and users could choose mobile with a link at the bottom of the page. In fact, you can see it today on CB if you scroll to the bottom. It's super fast, super light weight and concentrates on the reading of text. You can debate the merits of different views vs. responsive all day, but in this case it did exactly what I wanted with very little effort.

Around the time of that CB release in 2012, Twitter open sourced Bootstrap and it was starting to get popular. Early last year, it seemed like the web in general was starting to adopt its own look and feel, largely due to Bootstrap. It's like the web as an OS started to have a UI style guide. I was finally starting to think seriously about it because its use was so widespread, and they were even baking it into the MVC project templates. Then they released v3, and it broke a lot of stuff. That threw me back into caution mode.

Since that time, several things have motivated me to reconsider Bootstrap. Again there's the bigger issue of adoption, which has become pretty epic in scope. Then there's the large number of themes, which are available in great numbers, and range from free to cheap. It isn't hard to make your own either. I've also been dissatisfied with using mobile ad formats, because they don't pay, and the regular ones aren't well suited to mobile specific UI. After two years of phone upgrade cycles, more people have more bandwidth and faster connections. On top of that, the devices themselves are faster at rendering. Oh, and most importantly, Bootstrap itself has very clearly matured. That's pretty compelling.

So I made the revisions and committed them. The admin pages haven't been updated, but I'll get there. I feel like this gives me a good fresh start to make more changes and continue to see its evolution.

One month with an electric car

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 2:48 PM | comments: 0

Time flies when you're being a smug EV driver. Just kidding, I'm not smug. We've had the Nissan Leaf now for a month, and I thought I would share our experiences with it.

First off, this is a commuter car, and it's practical because we have a second car that runs on gas (well, it's a hybrid, but you know I mean). I obviously can't take the Leaf to Tampa because its range is limited to around 90 miles. That's OK, because when I need to go that far, I can just as easily drive the Prius V. So for the people who ask that question, no, you probably can't use it as your only car if you need to travel further. I know some people who don't have a car at all, so I suppose it depends on how you roll.

The range is completely a non-issue then. Unless we're leaving Orange County, it's completely unlikely that we'll ever need to drive 90 miles. In practice, it looks like you could squeeze 110 miles out of it pretty easily in ECO mode and no air conditioning, but I'm not sure why you'd want to. When I drive it into the office downtown twice a week, there are charging stations there. Diana takes it GKTW Village about once a week as well, where there is a free charger. Believe it or not, we don't charge it at home very often at all.

At this point, I don't think we'll install a 240v charger in the garage. The advantage would be that you could get a 100% charge from zero in four hours, or zero to 80% probably in two or three. Given our driving habits, that's never necessary. For one thing, we never get much lower than 25%, and the conventional 120v charger has yet to not finish overnight. It's rated for 20 hours for zero to 100%, but again, it's usually the last 20% that takes the longest.

In terms of comfort and space, it's surprisingly cozy for a small car. Even the back seat isn't terrible, though anything is smaller when comparing to a Prius (no idea how Toyota squeezes so much space into those cars). I especially like the arm rest on the console, which is soft and squishy for my delicate elbow. In great fits of irony, this is the first car I've ever had that had seat and steering wheel heaters. You know, now that I live in Florida.

Then there's the whole thing about driving it. The acceleration of an electric car is addictive. I always had hints of this when driving the Prius in PWR mode, but being purely electric is something amazing. From a dead stop, you can launch it. It's not like a muscle car either, because the wheels don't spin, though they will screech a little around corners as the car will slide a bit. And honestly, because the cost per mile for energy is about half of what a hybrid is, and almost a fourth of that of bigger cars, there isn't much expense to driving like a bit of a moron. All of that acceleration is cheap!

The car has a "B" braking mode, which is the equivalent of engine braking, and familiar to people who have a Toyota hybrid with a continuously variable transmission. The guy at the dealer plugged this as an enhanced regenerative braking mode, and while that's true, it's not really what it's for. It's for going down hills, down-shifting as it were with a typical automatic or standard transmission. If you want the more aggressive regenerative braking and somewhat neutered acceleration for the sake of range, it has the ECO mode for that. It might give you five or six more miles on a charge, but it makes it considerably less fun to drive.

The verdict at this point is that it's a pretty great car to drive, and surprisingly inexpensive to own and operate with the tax incentives (in this case given to Nissan since it's a lease), the rebates and the cheap energy. Even if our electricity here is two-thirds oil generated, it still comes up pretty green because of the efficiency of that electric generation over the single-car combustion engine. The net carbon footprint is obviously substantially lower, by half or more compared to an ICE car, depending on which research study you look at.

We like it, and it's definitely the most fun I've had driving any car in my garage. It's no Tesla, sure, but it's still a lot of fun.

Waiting in line to buy a phone is silly

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 20, 2014, 9:11 AM | comments: 2

Yeah, I'm going to say it out loud, I think people waiting in line for hours to buy an iPhone are ridiculous. It has nothing to do with the iPhone specifically, I just think it's a colossal waste of time.

First people will make an argument that there's some kind of scarcity, but that's silly. History has shown this is rarely the case. Not only are there usually plenty to go around, but you could just order one and have it shipped to your house. As a friend pointed out on Facebook, you could walk into a Best Buy near him and buy one instantly.

And that's not even the point. Even if there was a scarcity issue, why do you need it right now? How will it make your life better than if you get it a few days later? I bought the first iPhone the day after it came out, and was at the Apple Store all of five minutes, avoiding the chaos of the day before. Do people not value their time? Not only that, but it's just different hardware. If you have the previous iPhone, you already got the software update. The thing won't cure cancer. There isn't even an exclusivity angle there, because millions of people have the same object.

Another friend compared it to waiting in line for an amusement ride, but that's a straw man argument. If you want to ride the latest ride, your choices are to wait or buy into some kind of premium queueing. You don't have a choice. There is always a choice to buy a gadget, and there's a difference between buying "stuff" and having an experience. And no, I don't think waiting in line to buy something is an experience.

I have a gadget problem, I'll admit it. I've owned seven different tablets in a category that has only really existed for four years. I get it. As much as I've tried to focus discretionary income on experiences and not stuff, I still buy some stuff (an electric car, even). But I draw the line at subjecting myself to inconvenient circumstances just to have an object a little faster.

I think a part of my distaste for this gadget lust is rooted in a broader concern that people are so busy being plugged in that they aren't engaged in life around them. I see this all of the time at the theme parks, and it annoys the shit out of me. People run into you because they're busy looking down at their phones (admittedly, the parks encourage their use with info about wait times and such, but people can't be looking at that all of the time). More sad is the kids who are ignored by their parents because they're too busy texting or looking at Facebook or whatever. It's not that you can't do this, but know when to stop. You're in the happiest place on earth... look around you!

The next time you absolutely have to drop some cash on the next shiny object, I challenge you to wait a few days. I think your life will be just as robust, and you won't have wasted any time.

Time to think about phones again

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 9:19 PM | comments: 0

Diana dropped her phone the other night, and the screen bit the dust hard. The outer glass was fine, it was the LCD inside that broke. Of course, the timing is horrible, because we're about two months away from the end of our typical two-year contract. And don't be fooled by AT&T's early upgrade... what it really means is that you can pay full price on a phone and make payments. No thanks! I ended up getting her a Nokia 520, no-contract phone for a little under $50. The camera sucks, but it's not bad for a totally unsubsidized phone.

Diana had a Nokia Lumina 820, and it was a damn good phone. It's guts were the same as my 920, only with a lesser camera and not a high-resolution screen. We're pretty sold on Windows Phone still, at least to the extent that we've been happy with the operating system and the specific hardware we've had. The 920 has been fantastic, in part because of the great camera, arguably one of the best of any phones ever, and the high res screen.

Still, it's good to look around, so I've had my eye open. I'm really impressed with all of the Android hardware out there. The OS is getting better, but while the widgets are getting more robust, it's still a weird mix of that with the icon grid that doesn't tell you anything. The carrier reluctance to push updates quickly also is a bummer.

I was encouraged to see that Apple finally made the iPhone bigger. That was long overdue. I'm also glad to see they made a nice curved edge phone. That said, they're still making it unnecessarily tall with that extra bevel space at the top. It also reveals two OS issues. The first is the convention of putting buttons at the top, which are now out of thumb reach. The "reachability" feature is kind of a hack to address that, and it seems awkward. The other thing is that the OS has no "responsive" conventions, where stuff lays out in a natural and flowing way (like HTML or XAML), meaning they end up scaling stuff. My frustration with the iPhone is mostly that it still doesn't really tell you anything on the home screen beyond some count badges. No calendar items, no weather forecast, status from my wife.

I think it's pretty much a 90% certainty that we'll get Windows phones again. My hope is that the 830 hits AT&T soon, because that would be a suitable replacement for Diana. For me, well, it's hard to say. The HTC M8 that they just put out in a WP version is pretty amazing, but I need to see some photo samples. It's hard to beat the good Nokia cameras. There's a 925 that's aging, and the 1020 has been out for awhile. The closest replacement is the Icon or 930, depending on which carrier it's on, but neither is available on AT&T. We're staying put there, because the share plan with the corporate discount is too good to leave.

Truthfully, I don't need to really upgrade. The battery is still in pretty good shape, getting me through a long day without issue. Diana needs a new one, because that camera is terrible in the cheap no-contract unit. We do have a 4-year-old who does cute things, after all!

Theater vs. theatre

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 14, 2014, 12:16 AM | comments: 0

One of the parts of my life that I often forget about or don't make room for is my love of theater. See, the problem is, I started to get interested in high school, and I wasn't even cool enough to mix with the theatre crowd. I was always less interested in the academic angle, where people got knee deep in interpreting the text and studying the finer points of acting. I was more about sound and lighting than anything else.

But in college, I went in with theater declared as a minor right away. It kind of made sense, because radio/TV majors had to do a semester or two of stagecraft anyway. In that year, I had a really good time getting involved in a number of shows and getting to really dive into lighting as both a theoretical topic and a technical one. Heck, I was the only one in R/TV who cared about lighting. One of my instructors thought I was crazy for bringing the only light kit we had out on shoots for my sophomore documentary. I got a lot out of that year.

But after that first year, the theater department's technical professor got canned (rumor was he slept with a student or something), and I just didn't feel like it was something that would make any difference professionally. In the summer before my senior year, I did get involved with community theater in my home town, and that was a lot of fun. It appealed to my need to contribute, because they never really had anyone who thought about lighting beyond, "Can you see the actors?"

Fast forward to 2007, and I meet this woman who was a union stage manager with off-Broadway experience as well as work in the many Cleveland theaters. (Believe it or not, Cleveland is one of the top cities in the country as far as the breadth of professional theater in one place.) By that time, she was working a more manageable job with a bank, but she still cared a great deal about it. That woman was Diana, and obviously I married her.

I've always enjoyed hearing her stories (she has a good one about riding in an elevator with Alec Baldwin before a show), but I've always been hesitant to bother her with my own interest, I guess because it seems insignificant compared to hers.

Today I think we made a minor step toward sharing the interest, in that we've talked about getting involved at the new performing arts center here in town. She's exploring work and volunteering, and I'm searching for a way in the general sense to get involved. I know that they're using some of the space at times for community theater too, so I need to look deeper into that. At the very least, we know we're going to buy some tickets to some shows. I hope people realize what they have here in that awesome facility.

So I'm not much of a theatre geek, but I do like theater. I don't remember where I first saw someone make the distinction, or insist upon it, but it was probably high school. I don't have much in the way of street cred, and I won't apologize for liking a popular show, but I do enjoy the art. It's still something that is vastly different from any other kind of entertainment, especially musicals.

That missing fall tradition

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 13, 2014, 11:19 PM | comments: 0

This was the weekend that Halloweekends started at Cedar Point. I'm not going to lie, this is one of the last few things about living in Cleveland that was awesome and that I will always miss.

For the unfamiliar, this is the time of year where the amusement park is only open weekends, through the end of October, and they open up haunted houses, scare zones, and place "fall stuff" all over the place like pumpkins and corn stalks and what not. Throw in the cooler jacket weather, the leaves changing color and that scent that goes with that time of year, and it's a pretty magical thing. Sure, they have some extra ticketed stuff that goes on at WDW, but that's not even remotely the same thing. In this case, the location and tradition matters.

I had a tradition spanning several relationships where I would get a room up there for closing weekend. So many friends and romantic relationships and awesome times, it's hard to capture it in words. In the general sense, the park has been an integral part of my life for most of it, and particularly in the last 18 years or so. The thing I didn't really expect was that so many good friends would end up working there, so it can be hard to see them having a good time (at their jobs no less) and I'm not there. Our disaster of a trip earlier this year, when the water main broke and we spent two days looking for something else to do, makes it sting a little more.

Fall is a little tricky here in Orlando, because it doesn't really start until November in terms of temperature, and by that time you're fully engaged in holiday mode from Thanksgiving to the new year. But there is something to be said for that. We do get our jacket weather during the most festive time of year, and we don't see snow. The holiday stuff at the Disney parks is pretty intense too. Seeing the Candlelight Processional, the lighting of Cinderella Castle or the Osborne Family Lights just doesn't get old.

I hope that next year we can get back up there in the fall. It's definitely a trip worth making.

Vacation anxiety

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 6, 2014, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

I have vacation anxiety. I'm anxious because I don't have a single vacation planned. That's entirely weird.

A year ago, we had just set up shop in Orange County, and honestly, it was a long time before we felt like we were not on vacation. I mean, when you first start to live in the place you spent so much time traveling to for leisure, it's an adjustment. If that weren't enough, we were in uber-saver mode so we could buy a house. We were free of any mortgage obligations from our previous houses, but had nothing to show for it, so I banked literally a third of my income. That meant we pretty much weren't traveling anywhere.

As we got close to buying the house, and were comfortable with what we saved, we took a sort of last minute cruise. At the same time, we booked a second one to take with our friends from Chicago in the late spring. We also planned two trips to Cincinnati and one to Cleveland. Last weekend we even did a child-free overnight locally. Basically, we've tried to make up a little for the non-travel of last year.

This has in many ways led to a different kind of anxiety, because we haven't really recovered from that savings purge with the house. And the funny thing is, we're paying significantly less than we did in the rental. However, while our monthly expenses are lower, there have been all of the little house things to buy that have added up, Simon's therapy bills, and obviously, the travel expenses. I have to remind myself that going to a regular salary job means I'm doing the 401k thing again, so I shouldn't be freaked out by the small savings.

Yes, I'm sure some people wish they had these kinds of problems. However, the financial makeover I've tried very hard to achieve over the last five or six years led me to the realization that I'm way behind for any kind of retirement, and having cash around is critical for emergencies when you're a one-income household and have a child. These rules would apply regardless of my level of income.

But getting out and seeing the world is also part of the life that I want. I spent too much time in my 20's buying crap instead of traveling, and that was stupid. The "where" in terms of travel isn't that important at this stage (largely because of Simon's age), as long as I'm making memories and enjoying myself with my little family and my highly distributed friends.

I have the anxiety until something is on the calendar. Some people look forward to weekends, but I look forward to the next trip.

Awesome is right there in front of us

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 4, 2014, 11:41 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I've been very vocal about in recent years is my frustration with the fact that we have unprecedented knowledge at our fingertips, and we largely squander it. Our culture even seems to prefer living in ignorance. Maybe it's largely an American phenomenon, but I don't really know.

Tonight I watched Episode 12 of the new Cosmos series that aired this year: "The World Set Free." Among other things, it explains climate change in scientific terms. If it seems like the science is so easy to understand that Al Gore can present it, that's because it really is that easy to understand. It's just known physics, and it was theorized even before the industrial revolution brought us into a mode of CO2 emission. I can't explain why people make it a political issue or insist that it isn't real, given the fact that few things in science are so agreed upon. I suppose it's the need to feel that we as a species are too above nature, or maybe it's just good old fashioned defense of capitalism.

One of the neat sidebars on that show included the history of solar energy. It had many significant false starts, the first in the later part of the 19th century. The idea that all of this free energy was there for the taking was, not surprisingly, usurped by the cheapness of fossil fuels. It's a mistake we continue to make over and over.

But despite our cultural issues that prevent us from moving forward, we have the technology today to reverse climate change and embrace energy that won't bake us in the process. In fact, we have the ability to solve a great many of the world's problems, if only we will ourselves to do so. Think about that sincerely for a moment, beyond the obvious cheerleading for humanity angle. How can you not be excited about that? Awesome is right there in front of us, if we choose to embrace it.

This doesn't mean we all need to get PhD's and become uber-scientists. It does mean that each of us has to use our energy on less of the things that take up a lot of our bandwidth. We have to stop hating and fearing each other, for one. It's the root of everything that has gone wrong throughout human history. Of course we need to enjoy our lives with some things that we might consider meaningless (like reality TV), but it can't consume us. Above all, we each need to take more time to understand the world around us. That isn't going to happen watching cable "news" networks. I think we're generally pretty good at helping each other out, but it seems we only do it when things are at their worst. I hope that can change.

I'm naively more optimistic about what we're capable of than I ever have been. I want to be a part of that capability. I don't know if I can play a leadership role in that process, and honestly it doesn't matter if it's me or someone else. I want Simon to see that awesome is possible. It's right there.

What's my next big thing?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 10:06 PM | comments: 0

I was talking with one of my peers the other day about the kind of work I was generally doing with my team. In my role, it can vary a bit from one project to the next. For this project, I'm not doing much in the way of in-the-weeds development, but instead doing a lot of design and code reviews, build process maintenance, some pairing, and even a little BA work. And mind you, that's not a complaint at all, because having more administrative responsibility is something I've actually been craving for awhile. It plays to the skills I think I have and want to develop further.

Still, it's easy to get disconnected and out of the loop if you're not careful, and that hurts your street cred. Worse, it leads to a path where you could end up just another level of management somewhere, which isn't really very interesting. This is why I'm always happy to have spare-time pursuits where I'm free to engage in whatever I'm interested in. I've complained in the past about POP Forums being my curse, but to be honest, it has been a great playground for me for a long time where I could experiment and do anything.

But it also begs the question, what's my next big thing? What can I really put some effort into that will be satisfying outside of my day job? This is what happens when you work with good people. You see them doing great work and you're inspired to up your game.

I think one of the natural things to do is take the forum app to a new level in terms of performance. I always maintained it as this thing that someone could drop into their application and run it in a shared hosting environment, but maybe it's time to build it as something intended to scale. I've already started to go down that route, where the next version can run in a multi-instance scenario with a shared caching layer. It's something I started to think about way back in 2010, when I was still working on the MSDN forums at Microsoft. I think I secretly wanted my humble app to be the MSDN forums. I think with a little work, it could probably be up to that task.

I have no idea what the criteria for success is in that case, but my thing is that I just get excited about the tool box that's out there. I mean, there all these great platforms with queues and service buses and search indexes... there's no limit to how awesome it could be.

Then there's my reluctant fascination with mobile stuff. I've made my dislike for the app-tastic world pretty clear, but it doesn't mean that I don't see any need at all for apps over the web. I have a lot of ideas there, too, to the point that it's hard to pick one.

I often think about what I could do with CoasterBuzz, but mostly because there's already an audience there. The reboot in 2012 was a bit of an undertaking, but it's been easy to make a ton of incremental, largely unnoticed updates to it since then. No one will ever care that the home page renders in less than 100 ms, but I love knowing that it does. Funny how your motivation changes over time. A dozen years ago I just wanted it to be popular, now I just want it to be fast. I do wish there was a way to better monetize it (traffic isn't worth what it used to be), but money isn't much of an intrinsic motivator.

The last year and change has been good for me in terms of career. I think I have clearer goals around what I want out of a job (more responsibility and constant opportunity to refine my leadership skills), but I don't want to miss out on the technical ability, even if it isn't core to my daily responsibilities. My complaint about the business landscape is that there it lacks technical leadership, so there's definitely a gap to fill there. I wonder why my next big thing will be, realized on evenings and weekends.

Mini-holiday without our boy

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 1, 2014, 8:59 PM | comments: 0

Finally, for the first time since late 2012, Diana and I had an overnight without Simon. My dear friend Kara offered to watch him while we did adult stuff. I think she offered because of some combination of us watching her dog or her love for hanging out with Simon, but whatever the case, I'm incredibly grateful. I trust her completely, and she engages him at a level that I can't possibly sustain. She always ends up cooking with him or taking him to interesting places or something, and this weekend was no exception.

Meanwhile, the Puzzoni leadership team started our 27-ish hours of fun by driving out to Port Canaveral to do a Segway tour. I think we scored a Groupon for around $50 for two of us, on a 75-minute tour. Considering we've paid nearly a hundred each for Segway outings at Epcot, this was a no-brainer. There really isn't a ton of stuff to see out at the port, but it is fun. Obviously you can see the cruise ships there (the Disney Fantasy was in port), and there are also a bunch of little restaurants there that cater mostly to the marina folk, I assume. There's a big observation tower museum thing, but we passed on that. We did a lot of off-roading on the Segway, which was super fun. Plus, they're not governed like those that Disney used back in the day. We did go over to the Army Corps of Engineers lock between the port and the river, where a couple of manatees were humping.

We lunched at a place called Milliken's Reef, which I could only describe as uniquely coastal Florida. Live entertainment every day, tiki bar in the sand, waitresses with tiny shorts... there are probably hundreds of places like this on both coasts. Fortunately, this one had pretty good food, and we would totally go there again if we were in the neighborhood. I would be fun to watch the ships leave in the late afternoon, I'm sure. I need to watch for it the next time we're actually departing from port.

Our bigger picture goal was to relax and take it easy. While there are certainly a billion things to do around Florida, we didn't want to spend a bunch of time driving either. Even the trip to the port approached three hours total. I did look at some of the usual places on the gulf coast, but they were crazy expensive, including the spot we got married down near Ft. Myers. But as it would turn out, Disney had a crazy good Florida resident rate on everything for the weekend, and the calendar implied (correctly) that the parks would not be busy.

We scored a room at the Yacht Club for $250, on a room that's normally at least $400. Score. They also have a spa there, which was the other goal... couples massage. They had a 15% passholder discount. This quickly shaped up to a deal that appealed to my inner "benefit oriented consumer," meaning you are willing to pay to be well taken care of.

Yacht Club and Beach Club are essentially the same resort, even if they do have separate lobbies. They still share the same pool, spa, food places and such. The only significant difference is that Beach Club is a little closer to the rear entrance of Epcot. We picked it because we wanted alone time, a great pool and that Epcot proximity for dinner and dessert. I really do think that these are the best two hotels in all of Walt Disney World. If you have kids, and expect to spend a lot of time at Magic Kingdom, sure, a monorail hotel may be a better choice, but you'll pay dearly for it.

We checked in just after 4. Let me get out a rant here about Disney, and understand that I'm super critical because software is what I do (and did it for a year at a theme park company, no less). On one hand, they seemed to get the Magic Band situation right. Since I booked online, logged in with my Disney account, they shipped us new Magic Bands (now we have two each), and figured out to associate them with our annual passes. The system wasn't smart enough to see our passes as additional room keys, but whatever, that would have just been extra awesome. What they did fail at is getting the room folio to work. You can associate a credit card with your reservation online, and they even confirmed it at the desk when we checked in. When we went to use it, however, it didn't work. The whole point of the system is to easily use it to spend money freely. In any case, I went to guest services, and after being on the phone with the resort for about five minutes, they got it straightened out, gave us some Fastpasses, and I was on my way. Additionally, we encountered "server too busy" messages on the WDW sites, and it's pretty typical that using the mobile app fails at least once every time you attempt to use it. I'm probably too "inside baseball" on this topic, because you can't work in software without knowing people who worked on these projects, but it's amazing how fragile their system is, and that's unacceptable. It leaves people on the front line having to bat cleanup for them.

In any case, we had a 6 p.m. reservation at the Rose & Crown in the UK part of Epcot. While we've had many beverages there, including Pimm's and the non-American Strongbow (they recently changed it to a sweeter formula for us American fatties), we have never actually had food there. I'm sorry we waited. I had the Indian-style chicken masala, and it rocked my world. Diana had salmon, and she also loved it. If that weren't enough, we had the best nerdy and adorable waitress ever who was all geeked out about finding good Indian food in Orlando. She said "indeed" a few times, and we decided that we needed to use that in every day speech more. We really enjoyed ourselves, even at an outdoor table, though it was very breezy and they have many fans. We'll absolutely go back.

After dinner, and with a few pints of cider in me, we used our Fastpasses on Test Track. Even though we can generally get a pass on any day we expect to go, by booking in the morning, we don't because Simon just refuses to try it. Diana had not been on the "Tron-ified" version of the ride yet, so it was new for her. It's fun. I know Simon would love it, with the touch screen car designing and such.

We happened to hear Off Kilter playing during dinner, by the way, and we need to make sure we see them a few times in their remaining four weeks. They've been playing Epcot for something like 15 years, and while I don't know the reason for their departure, Canada won't be the same without them.

The other big grown-up splurge for the night was doing the Illuminations Sparkling Dessert Party. They have an area split roped off on the north side of the World Showcase Lagoon, where you'll find many delicious desserts and sparkling wines from Washington and Italy. Have you ever seen doughnuts and churros flambéd? I haven't either, but pouring 151 rum on it, lighting it on fire and then putting chocolate, ice cream and whip cream on it, as it turns out, is pretty much the most awesome idea ever. It was fantastic. It's a little pricey at $49 a person, but it's not difficult to get your alcohol's worth, and the desserts are top notch. And hey, you get to view Illuminations from the absolute best spot. That show never gets old. Totally worth it.

By this time I was probably feeling a little too good, and we considered going over to do the fairway course at Fantasia Gardens mini-golf. Instead, we opted to do the pool. This is the only pool I know of that has sand in it. It's a very coarse, and yet very soft sand, and frankly it's completely awesome. What is less awesome is that the very short little lazy river they have is something like 8 feet deep at one point. I can't understand that at all. Since I couldn't easily climb out, I had to pull myself out, and that's when I had a wardrobe malfunction. I believe the lifeguard had to see my naked ass, if only briefly. Apparently I didn't think to tie up the drawstring in my shorts ahead of time. As they say, with alcohol, all things are possible.

One minor complaint: It's really hard to get snacks around there late. The kitchen at the outdoor bar and grill must close pretty early, because just before 10, there was no food to be had. I certainly didn't need more to drink! I had to go all the way to the little store and snack bar over in Beach Club, where I settled for Cheetos.

We slept in. In fact, we slept much later than we intended, but without our small human crawling into bed with us at 7-something, we stayed in bed until almost 9:30. The negative of this is that there was no chance we were going to get any kind of counter service breakfast (the nearest was at The Land in Epcot), but it was a small price to pay for sleeping in. We did have a Fastpass that we booked a few weeks ago for Test Track, so we did it again, and shot some video inside of it to show Simon what goes on. Shortly thereafter, we acquired a cronut. Sidebar: the stands for Food & Wine are already out of hibernation.

Our massage appointment was for noon. The last time we did this was 2008, at the Portofino at Universal. I must never wait that long again. The spa facility at Yacht/Beach Club is pretty nice, though not anywhere near the level of what they have at the Portofino. But with the passholder discount and such, it's still worth it. I walked around relaxed and feeling awesome the rest of the day, which is something to be said after the gluttony and alcohol of the previous night.

We grabbed lunch at Pei Wei on the way home, taking half of it home. Simon was excited to see us, and we were excited to see him too. Our philosophy has been to never worry about traveling with him, and generally that strategy has worked well. It's unfortunately expensive to fly three people around, but it's worth it. Kara took him to the science center and they had a blast.

Kara hung out at our house for the afternoon, and I think I dozed off for a bit. All four of us went back to the Beach Club to meet our friends Jeff and David, who were down here planning their wedding for this winter. They haven't revealed everything, but it sounds like they're going to make a huge impression. Disney can apparently do pretty much anything, so it should be interesting to see what they come up with.

And finally, for Labor Day, the reunited Team Puzzoni spent the morning at Magic Kingdom. I still had not been on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, so we made the attempt by getting to the park when it opened. The sign said 60, but we only waited 30 minutes. It's a cute little ride, and the animatronics are amazing. All told, I got to ride three roller coasters with my little family, plus Splash Mountain, the People Mover, Peter Pan and the train. We thought about doing more stuff, but all three of us were kinda tired. We had a nice lunch and packed it in. Who knew, but Labor Day is about the most non-busy day we've ever seen there. Bummer for the vacationers that it was a short day because the Halloween Party extra-admission stuff is underway.

We packed in a ton of action this weekend. Sure, some of it was stuff we've done before, or at the very least in places we've been before, but that's partly why we moved here. We're not pin-trading uber-nerds, but we do enjoy what Disney has to offer. It was really great to do some of the stuff we just don't get to do when Simon is with us. I don't think a lot of people realize how much grown-up stuff there is to do at the parks and on their ships.

It was one to remember, for sure. We need to schedule these kinds of short getaways more often. We love Simon and all, but we need couple time now and then, without it being parent time.