Archive: November, 2015

Our first EV road trip

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 28, 2015, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

We did a round-trip from Orlando to Waynesville, NC to visit my in-laws for Thanksgiving. This was the first time we've road tripped on electrons. The executive summary is, it's really not any different than driving a gas powered car on road trips, save for having to be a little more specific about where you stop.

It's easy to over-think driving an EV, because virtually everything about it is quantifiable with comprooders and science and what not. All of the same principles around physics and efficiency apply in the same ways. The faster you go, the less efficient. Temperature and elevation change also affect range. The only thing particularly interesting about any of that is the recovery of energy when going down hill for long periods of time. It's crazy to see range go back up.

What's really different about driving an EV? The thing I most often tell people is that, for most of your driving, public charging doesn't even matter. How long does it take to charge? I honestly don't know, because I plug it in when I get home, and unplug it when I go in the morning. I never have to stop anywhere except where I'm going. That's 98% of what most people do to driving.

For the long distance trip, the biggest change is that you have to plan a little where you're going to stop. So remove for a minute the cost of the car, because that's a temporary problem in the world of EV's. Let's also disregard the fact that Tesla has subsidized the high-power charing infrastructure. The point is that the only "inconvenience" is having to stop where the chargers are (something far outweighed by never having to stop anywhere with typical daily use). Our stops probably averaged 20 to 30 minutes of necessary charging time, but eating or chatting with other drivers often extended that time. The same trip last year, in a gas car, took longer, probably because of a stop at a sit-down restaurant.

If anything surprised me, it's that I didn't actually mind taking my time at any stop. Some locations are more interesting than others, for sure. What they all have in common is the sense of community among drivers. People are excited to share stories of where they've gone, people they've met in different locations, and a lot of nerdy stuff. You also get people who are not owners that are very interested in the technology. Today we had police officers chatting with us in two locations (St. Augustine, and Kingsland, GA, the latter of which is literally behind a police station). Those discussions almost always start with the charging questions above.

The sense of community extends beyond the chargers. I noticed a lot of waves and light flashes. The owners are extremely diverse in age, culture and income. I have noticed a lot of retirees, and a lot of technology people (often immigrants), but it's a pretty wide range overall of ages and professions.

It was a fun driving trip. I think if you had a lot of time and could take it at a leisurely pace, a cross-country trip would be fantastic.

Play time

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 25, 2015, 3:53 PM | comments: 0

I'll admit it: I haven't enjoyed parenting much lately. I think being a parent is hard enough under typical circumstances, but add in the challenges that come with ASD, and it can be completely maddening. Simon has been very inflexible about everything lately, over things that most kids would consider unimportant, and it's hard to keep a rational head and not react emotionally.

But there have been a couple of instances in the last few days where I've seen him quietly playing with toys in much the same way that I did as a young child. He lets himself just be lost in his imagination and play. He creates scenarios in his head, and also observes the mechanical nature of certain toys (in a somewhat obsessive way, but again, I understand him completely). There's a beautiful simplicity in seeing him play like this. It wasn't that long ago that he couldn't use the bathroom on his own. The challenges disappear, if only temporarily, when I see him like this.

Don't get me wrong, I love that he's also taking to certain academics in surprising ways. His online coursework through school (yes, that's actually a thing, and in kindergarten) is something he is totally into, voluntarily, and we're not even half-way through the year and already he's at the first grade level. That's amazing. Ironically, the same challenges that come with ASD may also give him this edge.

Still, it's that play time that strikes me as so important. Intrinsic motivation is the only kind that matters to kids, and they need the time to explore the things that interest them the most. I'm not a developmental expert, but I do understand the foundation that is laid by having some amount of freedom learn what they want to learn. It runs so contrary to the odd private school mentality that pushes for over-achievement at an age where it's arguably developmentally in appropriate to be pushing kids. No recess or phys ed? That can't be constructive.

As a parent, one that feels emotionally drained entirely too often, seeing that play time in action is such a relief. It makes me smile. Having an only child may not be entirely ideal, but when he does have his alone time, I love seeing how engaged he can be. It's that moment where you can think, "Yeah, we made that." They're wonderful moments.

With independence, you may miss the reliance

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 20, 2015, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

It's appropriate that Simon's elementary school is named Independence, because it very much describes the thing that he is gaining, little bits at a time. It's so weird to think about the day we brought him home from the hospital, this tiny little human who couldn't do anything for himself. Tack on memories of frustration where he would cry for hours for reasons we couldn't completely understand (one instance in a hotel, in particular, stands out when he was about six months).

In the last few weeks he has taken an interest in showering by himself. To this point, we've mostly helped him in the bath tub, in large part because one of his "challenges" has been allowing water to pour on his head. It still freaks him out to an extent. But now he wants to shower himself, and he's very proud of himself when he is able to hold his head under the water long enough to rinse the shampoo out of his hair, which he (mostly) washed himself. It won't be long before we simply aren't involved in this process at all.

And it's weird to see that push-pull sentiment in action. Even now, there are times where he'll get upset if we won't hang out in his room while he gets dressed. He can do it himself, and insists, actually, but he wants us to be around.

As the parent, I find myself in the same position. I want him to do as much as I can by himself. It's not really that I have better things to do, but some days I don't want to do the mundane things I have to do for myself, let alone someone else. Still, as this transition continues, it means he needs me less and less. I can't help but feel a little sad about that.

This parenting experience is a part of a broader set of emotions that clearly come with this particular age. At this point in life, I've had a lot of experiences. I'm very aware, every day, of the extraordinary volume of experience, good and bad. It's strange to think about how happy the moment can be, thankful for every one, and simultaneously be stuck on the nostalgia of the better moments of the past. I'm attending a conference at one of my favorite vacation spots this week, which is now local, and it exemplifies this phenomenon in every way. That will have to be another blog post...

Peaceful inactivity

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 14, 2015, 7:42 PM | comments: 0

We hit our weather sweet spot today. It topped out just below 80, and we had a nice breeze all day. It feels good to open up all of the windows and turn off the air conditioning. This afternoon, I stole a few moments to crash out on the patio and doze off, just thinking about... whatever.

I think many would argue that this is an example of being lazy, but I believe it's just the opposite. I don't think people just switch off to be with their thoughts enough. I've known a lot of people who seem so frightened by the idea that they pack every minute of their lives with something to do.

I used to spend more time doing this when I was a kid, and when I was in college. Obviously, we don't have as many obligations in those stages of our lives. I try to find time, but it seems like there's always something to do, even if it is a leisure activity. I'm not sure if I would call it mediation, but to simply resign yourself to a peaceful place, with no obligation, no screens, no agenda... there's something freeing about that.

Try it. Force yourself to think about the moment, and your place in it. You'll come out feeling better even in times of chaos and strife.

My Android "Marshmallow" review

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 8, 2015, 8:44 AM | comments: 0

I jumped on the smartphone train when it really became a legitimate thing, with the first iPhone in 2007. I followed up with the iPhone 3GS. I switched to Windows Phone in late 2010 in part because the phones were free, since I worked at Microsoft. I would end up sticking with that operating system, through its different versions, for five years over two phones. The Nokia Lumia 920 was a great phone that I used for three years, and the camera ability in particular was fantastic. The OS evolved a bit slowly in terms of features we all take for granted, but I was able to overlook that because the design tenants around continuous flow of information (no paging or breaks, live tiles, panoramas, etc.) and a far more centralized means for managing the way apps interact with the phone.

During that time, I still kept in touch with iOS, obviously, because we've had iPads. It has added a lot of incremental minor things, but the thing that disappoints is that they haven't deviated from the "dumb grid" app launcher design. If there is anything I've admired about good software design, it's the ability to get to productivity sooner. iOS doesn't do that beyond active notifications, which I liken to constant distraction.

Android didn't really start to take off until 2010, and the really hot hardware probably didn't come until a few years after that. Still, I messed with it now and then as part of various jobs, and it mostly seemed like a poor attempt at a "me too" to iOS. Couple that with fragmentation among manufacturers and carriers (because the OS is open source, and it can be customized as desired), dreadful energy management and some minor amount of compatibility, and I just wasn't interested.

Google has been putting out its own devices, commissioned to various manufacturers, since the start, and they at least solve the fragmentation problem. And with this year's Nexus 5X and 6P, they finally have really outstanding cameras, too. The new OS version, "Marshmallow," makes great strides in energy management. In other words, the 5X was a pretty solid choice. At more than $200 less than an iPhone for similar hardware, it seemed like a no-brainer for a guy with a 3-year-old phone and fear that Windows Phone will continue to whither. I won't get into the phone itself, as it has been well-reviewed. It's very nice, very thin, solid battery life, crazy fast charging, and the camera is strikingly good.

The TL;DR version of this is that in terms of the OS, I feel like I'm trading a better app ecosystem for a less refined operating system. It's probably a good trade, but if Redmond could get some serious app parity (or start running Android apps), I'd go back.

While I'm critical of the iOS grid-o-useless-icons, Android added widgets fairly early in its history. These are essentially little pieces of UI that you can embed within the icon grids. They do the kinds of things you would expect, like display calendar data or weather. They kind of work, but there are some issues that make them feel more tacked on as an afterthought. The OS really looks at them and app icons as two different things, and they appear disjointed, without standard sizes. Many don't have obvious functionality, like message or notification counts (like the red badges in iOS, or whatever the developer wants in Windows live tiles). That, and the paged groups of icons are an inferior paradigm compared to inertial scrolling on Windows that doesn't have those breaks. I suppose since the icons don't tell you anything, maybe that matters less.

The overall settings around the OS are fairly easy to find, fortunately, and the instrumentation in particular has come a very long way since the last time I played with Android. I remember friends complaining about how a rogue app could zap the battery, and they wouldn't know which one. The battery app now makes that easy to figure out. The data app is also great for diagnosing obscene data consumption, and it even lets you set the data collection period to match your billing period. Other than Google services obnoxiously uploading stuff when not on WiFi (I was able to restrict it), I've not had any real data or battery issues. I did notice that it's not great about limiting what I call "data banging," which is what happens when you have weak connectivity and everything is desperately trying to phone home, but that issue isn't unique to this platform, and it's definitely not good for battery life.

My biggest frustration is that the OS lacks a lot of native features that are there on other platforms. It doesn't do visual voicemail. It doesn't read my texts when I'm on Bluetooth. There are apps in some cases to handle this (AT&T makes the voicemail, and it looks like Cortana will handle the text reading), but it feels like it should just be there.

Then there are other weird things, like a total lack of centralized notification management. You can centrally decide which apps can't notify or can break through quiet hours, but deciding how they appear (sounds, vibration, visual) is left entirely to each app, and some don't let you get that specific at all.

Another native thing... the camera app takes entirely too long to start. I already hate the compromise of not having a hardware camera button that lets you half-press to focus, but having the app take so long to appear, often as much as four seconds, isn't cool. Then it saves more than one picture sometimes. I thought this was only when you had the HDR setting on, but it happens regardless, but only on the first shot.

Putting the quirks of the operating system aside for a moment, the big win is of course that the app ecosystem is much better than what I had for Windows. Mind you, I'm not a big app user, and I never have been. Still, there are two that I really like having: Amazon Music and the Walt Disney World app. The few others I use also exist on Windows, but they're far less robust, specifically Facebook. While I'm not a heavy user beyond curiosity, Twitter and Instagram are better too. The mail client is actually superior here, because as it's intended to use Gmail, it has proper buttons for archiving and for deleting. While I'm not crazy about the calendar app, it does at least allow you to see all shared calendars because, again, it's made by Google. Oh, it's nice to use the official Tesla app instead of the unofficial Windows port as well.

One nice thing that Microsoft has done is get its software all over Android. That means that I was able to install OneDrive and not miss a beat as far as backing up photos to where they already were. Heck, it will even allow you to do it over cellular, which wasn't possible on Windows. That's nice since it would seem to me that immediate backup is exactly what you want when shooting memories, not waiting until you're back home on WiFi (or lose your phone in the interim). The OneNote app is every bit as simple and good as it is on other platforms, so we're able to share our grocery list and other notes between us. Word, PowerPoint and Excel are there too. Also in beta is Cortana, which honestly has been one of my favorite things about Windows Phone. It solves the text reading problem allegedly, though I haven't had a chance to receive a text in the car yet since installing it. (I turned off the Google Now stuff, because after two weeks, the only thing it would tell me is the commute time home... as soon as I got to work.)

Chrome really shines as a browser. It's so fast, especially compared to Safari on iThings, and also to MSFT Edge (which admittedly is on my 3-year-old previous phone). Stuff renders as expected, and Javascript performance is surprisingly good.

At the end of the day, I feel like I've had to trade a really excellent, well thought out core experience for better apps. While Microsoft is making it easier to port iOS and Android apps to Windows, it doesn't mean that developers will do it. On the other hand, if they actually ship the "Astoria" feature that makes Android apps run on Windows phones, that would be killer. I'd go back in a heartbeat. For now, it's kind of a limbo where I'm happy enough with the Nexus 5X despite its flaws. The trade-off will be something to keep thinking about.

Refocus at home

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 6, 2015, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

Sticking with that theme of retrospective and change in the fall, I've been feeling a bit that I might be missing out on something that's right in front of me. Specifically, I need to remind myself that Diana and Simon are right there, and they're an important part of my life. Probably the most important. It's not that I neglect them, but certain realities make me think that I need to reprioritize a bit.

Simon is 5, and he's in kindergarten. An obvious observation, perhaps, but I can't help but think about how fast he seems to have gotten to this point. After spending time with Catherine and her charming little Will last weekend, just under a year old, it's not hard to think back about how little Simon was a short time ago. OK, so he was never really "little," but he was certainly a baby. Now he's this little person with opinions and things to laugh about. It seems sudden, even if it's not. It doesn't help that Facebook reminds me every day how little he was a short time ago.

Diana is heads down into some fantastic quilting work and, more and more, well networked in social media. That's pretty cool to see. She's also back in the workforce, part-time, and very engaged into the question about what comes next. And with ever slight improvements in Simon's independence, it's getting a little easier in certain ways to engage more in couplehood, which is tough when you've got a child with some amount of special needs.

Meanwhile, I think I've been a little too in my head to really engage with them the way that I think I should. Some of it is work, I'm sure, as I just ended a project that really took a lot out of me mentally (though as far as I'm concerned, I nailed it). I feel like I'm coming out of a little bit of a fog in that sense. My interests in everything else are starting to light back up, and I want to make it more of a point to hang out with family and friends.

It's funny that I've understood the importance of balancing your life for the better part of two decades, and yet it's still hard. I suppose self-awareness still goes a long way.

Taking back the fall

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 6:59 PM | comments: 1

When I look at this time of year in a long-term historical context, there is a lot to be said about the awesomeness of fall. In high school it was the girls volleyball season, in college it was, well, going back to school after summer and reuniting with friends, I got married the first time in the fall, had my first post-split romance in the fall, countless fantastic Friday nights and closing weekends at Cedar Point... all coupled with cooler temperatures and a lot of miscellaneous good times.

But in 2011 we moved back to Cleveland in the fall, and that decision almost immediately felt wrong. I've written about it countless times, about how the financial implications of it certainly worked out, but it led to a little over a year of regret. At the very least, it made me finally understand that nothing has to be permanent, and that's why I live where I do now.

For some reason, I have a hard time letting go of that regret, even four years later. I'm not sure why. It was hardly the most tragic or sad time in my life. At the time I really felt that I was mastering my own destiny. Socially and professionally, it turned out to be cosmically stupid, and that still stings.

Even in the warmer climate, for some reason I still associate the season with that decision. It left me in a very strange place in the long run, where I absolutely love my life and where I live, and simultaneously wish we never left Seattle and the wonderful people and career potential it held. The thing that I'm slowly reconciling is that it's OK to view two different situations as your ideal, not with one better than the other, just different. It's kind of like the argument that I make about parenthood. It isn't that it changes you, per se, it just makes you this other thing in addition to what you were before.

We've had three fall seasons now in Orange County, two of them in our house. We were still too preoccupied with our move in the first one to think much about it, and the second was similar, only we were settling in and getting to know our neighbors. This one was a little too warm, and we had the special experience of cruising for Halloween. There is no routine or tradition in our fall at the moment, but I want to figure out a way to "take it back" and not make it about the poor decision before the course correction.

That's something we've already managed to do with the holiday season. Diana is a Christmas nut, and we have our yearly movie viewing, the Lego train, and the beautiful events and attractions now at WDW. Thanksgiving has annually involved my in-laws. Last year we had a bunch of the neighborhood families over for New Year's Eve, with the wonderful fireworks at Magic Kingdom, and I hope we can do that again this year. I want to extend that season of memory making into October and November as well.

Cruise report: Disney Dream, Halloween Weekend, 2015

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 3, 2015, 10:18 PM | comments: 0

I'll make this quick, because from the outside, I'm sure these seem repetitive as this was our seventh sailing. The important points this time around include the fact that we joined my friend Catherine and her lovely family, and also that it was Halloween. Oh, and also, this was just the second sailing for the ship since its drydock enhancements.

I've said this before, but it's definitely more fun to cruise with other people you know. Part of it is that you of course have the company of good people, but for us they also remind us of how awesome the experience is when some of it feels somewhat routine.

The Halloween theme around the ship was super fun. They had a tree in the lobby atrium that sprouted jack-o-lanterns after the first night. They had trick-or-treating, characters in costume and various themed events throughout the weekend. It wasn't quite as all-out as their Christmas effort last year, but still a fantastic time. My only criticism was that they had very loud club-thumping music in the atrium during the treat rounds, which Simon could not handle.

On a related note, this was the first time since our first cruise that we went to see all three of the stage shows. We tend to skip Villains Tonight, but it was pretty solid. Believe is still their best show, and this time in particular it was pretty amazing. I was able to see Bridge of Spies in the movie theater, and we ended up seeing Inside Out again, too.

We again struggled with Simon a bit in terms of his separation anxiety, and couldn't really get him to hang out in the Oceaneer's Club. He did decide to go when we explained there was some cupcake decorating, and he spent a good 20 minutes in there (with Diana waiting outside, just in case). Then there was some kind of misunderstanding, where he apparently thought he wouldn't get a cupcake, and that led to tears. When we got him calmed down enough back in our room to decipher what may have happened, he was able to go back, and ended up spending a bit more time there. It's a struggle, but it's progress.

Our beach day had Simon being quite the fish again, which is fantastic. You get a lifejacket on that kid and he's reasonably confident to go out to the platform. Unfortunately, the sunscreen we were using must have been old and completely ineffective, because the poor kid got quite the burn on his arms. He was tired and spent by noon, and he crashed for a 90-minute nap back in the room. I think it was the reason he also barfed, for seemingly no other reason, after dinner. It's not a cruise without him spewing.

The improvements to the ship were often subtle, but others were obvious. The official blog has the highlights, but it was the little things for me that shows they were paying attention. There were new shade areas in several places on deck, including a new family wading pool in front of the forward funnel on deck 11. They even covered much of the stairs for the Aquaduck queue, and added more glass wind repelling walls on deck. The mini-golf course was refurbished, too. You could find new carpet and paint all over the place. I think they may have been replaced the railings outside of our room. The concierge area has a new hot tub (can't believe they didn't have that already) and some new shaded areas. It looks like much of the hull got fresh paint, too. It's such a beautiful ship.

Overall, another successful weekend. We still didn't get to do everything we would have liked, but I'll take that when it means not having to plan stuff or think too much.