Archive: December, 2015

2015 Review: Personal life

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 31, 2015, 4:22 PM | comments: 0

I have to say, this annual exercise of looking back at life has actually been really useful to me. There is therapeutic value immediately, and a chance to look back to compare. As I believe more than ever that self-awareness has a lot to do with happiness, that's a good thing.

If I had to characterize 2015 in one sentence, it would be with the knowledge that I had one W-2 and one address for an entire year. Whoa.

Simon's dad

I noticed that I didn't write as much about parenting this year, and part of that is because the nature of the work is a lot different than it was. On one hand, it's a pretty great world where you no longer have to wipe your child's ass or bathe them, but on the other, they don't need you in the same ways, and that's kind of sad. Particularly after he started kindergarten in the fall, I found myself a lot more willing to just chill out with him and sit any time he wants to. It won't be all that long before he wants none of that.

With the challenges that turned out to be ASD, we had Simon in some flavor of school starting at age 2, so it feels like a natural progression to see him start kindergarten. There were a lot of questions in our minds about whether or not he could start on time, but by this time last year, half-way through pre-K, it was clear to me at least that he would be fine there. It's also clear that having him in one program or another, and in therapy, made a world of difference.

Academically, he's where he needs to be on average, getting way, way ahead in terms of reading ability, but math is more of a mixed bag. The writing is finally coming along, but it hasn't been easy. He makes close friends with some kids, but struggles to find broader acceptance, perhaps because kids find him a little "weird." The things that don't come easy to him upset him. Overall though, he's largely successful. The social challenge does concern me, if only because it reminds me of my own childhood.

The biggest developmental challenge still seems like his extreme sensory needs. He's so rough with us and other kids (which I'm sure won't help his popularity), because he needs that input. It's presumably because his brain still needs that input to learn how his body works. I know that at least one expert felt that this may be dyspraxia, but that condition typically includes some amount of cognitive impairment, which I don't really see in him.

One thing that's consistently fun about him, when he isn't challenging our authority, is his personality. He's a funny kid, often without trying. The things he does pick up are delivered in a hilarious way, and somehow he's managed to mostly not use any f-bombs, which is a miracle.

Evolving partnership

This is the first year in our (relatively) short marriage that I've noticed our roles evolve in some ways. Most notably, Diana works part-time now, and that changes our dynamic a little. It's not so much a financial thing as it is a minor redistribution of responsibility. I'll be honest, the bulk of the hard parenting work has been all Diana for most of Simon's life, but now with more evenings and weekends where it's just me and the boy, I take on a little more in the day-to-day. I think a lot about what that means, and what I should be doing with Simon, beyond just looking for stuff to do.

Not that things were broken before, but it feels like we're a little more deliberate in the way we communicate now. It's hard to explain other than to say we're more effective at being couple, even though Simon makes it difficult to at times to have couple time.

One W-2

As I said, I've been at a single job all year, which is definitely a change for me. I read somewhere that software people tend to spend about 18 months at a job if they're salary, and rarely more than 6 months if they're contract. I spent a good year at SeaWorld Parks as a contractor before I landed at AgileThought full-time last year. I've been with AT for 18 months now, which is crazy to think about.

This year wasn't quite as satisfying as the previous year, in part because I spent a lot of time working on stuff solo. While I can certainly be successful in that, it's more fun for me to be a part of something more broad, given my personality type of "directing motivator." In the context of this job, that's typically running a development team for a specific product. Fortunately, the company is sensitive to wants and needs, so I'll be getting back to that soon. What I'm really excited about is that I'm part of an effort to mentor new people, and people we've promoted to positions similar to mine, and I love that kind of work.

Work is a funny thing. I often equate it to relationships. Sometimes you hate to commit to it because it hurt you before. My earliest jobs were like that. The jobs meant the world to me, and when I got laidoff, it was like divorce (not quite like that, but definitely not happy times). By the time I was in my late 20's, I started to feel indifferent to work and my employers, and that left me in a rut. Between SeaWorld and AT though, I've really enjoyed the work, and the people, and when you get invested like that, you care more. When you care more, you're more likely to get stressed. It's like I'm learning to love again, but having to keep in mind that employment is still based on mutually beneficial agreement. I guess this is my roundabout way of saying that it's nice to work for people who really get it and run a good company.

Another highlight of my year involved the speaking gigs, which is something I still want to do more of. It's not directly related to work, but it's important to me in the same way that mentoring is. I feel strongly about the problem our industry has in terms of the low volume of top-notch people, and I believe the solution to that is education.

One address

In a few more months, we will have lived in our house for two years. Simon will turn 6, while his residence count will remain at 5. That's a nice change of pace.

It's funny (not in a hilarious way, but in an odd way), because early in the year we were walking through some models near us, in what's going to be a very neat little "town center" area, similar to where we lived in Snoqualmie. The idea that we could potentially walk to the grocery store, restaurants and even a movie theater, seemed crazy exciting. These units were called "urban cottages" because they were like big, non-connected townhomes, with a detached garage. We very briefly toyed with the idea of moving into one, but we came to our senses.

KB Home sucks. It's not that we don't like the house, it's that for the issues we did have, it was like going to battle to get them fixed. At the end of our first year, we went to mount some shelves in the living room, only to find that the wall wasn't flat. It took getting some regional guy in the hierarchy to cut through all of the bullshit and get it fixed. Stories like this can be found up and down our street. What a bunch of asshats.

But as I said, in the bigger picture, we're happy with the house. We still haven't painted it everywhere, and we're still missing window treatments, but it's definitely our place. It's cozy. Considering that I work from home 60% of the time, that's doubly important. We're very fortunate to have a lot of great neighbors on our street, too.

The electric space car

For a non-car guy who generally doesn't think much about status or prestige, nice cars have never been important. I have a long history of Corollas and Prii in my life. But last year, the electric bug bit me when we started leasing the Nissan Leaf, and we just couldn't wait a few more years for Tesla to deliver the less expensive Model 3.

The Tesla Model S is a ridiculous splurge, to be sure. Even with the cost though, it wouldn't feel as ridiculous if it wasn't so powerful and beautiful. That's the thing that held me back as long as it did... because powerful and beautiful cars, to me, have the stigma of being purchased by people obsessed with status. That's not me. But this one... the Model S is for science. Beautiful, powerful science. I'm sticking with that.

Electric cars are totally doable. Mind you, we already knew that with the Leaf. I'm sure we're typical that we drive each car a thousand miles a month, and 98% of that driving is local. The Leaf has no issues with that, despite a typical range just under 100 miles. People always ask about public charging, which we rarely need to use, and how long it takes to charge, which we don't know because we do it at home.

The Tesla addresses the other 2% of driving scenarios because it has a range over 200 miles. We can drive to Tampa or Canaveral round trip, no problem. For the 0.5% of driving that goes further, the company has been good enough to build very fast chargers less than 150 miles apart from each other, for "free" (in quotes because it's obviously subsidized by the cost of the car). We took ours round-trip to Waynesville, NC, without issue, and no significant extra time stopping more than we would have otherwise.

While the cars are expensive, because they only build 500 a week and they're currently targeted as luxury vehicles, Tesla does prove out how realistic electric cars are. They've solved the problem. The cost of the energy is a fraction of what it costs for gas, even with sub-$2 gas prices. It's a lot cleaner, too. Sure, most of our electricity is produced by fossil fuels, but economy of scale means the emissions per mile driven are a fraction of what they are compared to a gasoline car. I'm not sure the world realizes how transformative this is. We're very excited to be a part of it.

Health indifference

Last year was a neutral year for me in terms of fitness, and regrettably, so was this year. I didn't gain any weight or anything, but I didn't stay active in a consistent fashion. As usual, I let my brain fill up with other things that made it harder to stay in a routine. While I didn't gain any weight, there were periods where I didn't feel particularly good, and that's problematic.

On the plus side, my eating volume is a lot lower than it used to be, and that's probably the reason I didn't gain any weight. At some point I stopped drinking Coke (not sure if I'm better or worse for the lack of caffeine) and replaced it with Sprite. I drink a lot less of it, presumably because it's not as addictive. I also don't eat nearly as much bread, and less potatoes as sides. When I eat out, I'm more likely to leave stuff behind, which is a change from life-long habits. The diversity of food that I eat still sucks, but I seem to be averaging 1,600 calories per day when I'm inactive.

My brain is full a lot of the time, and that's my real hang up. It's not an excuse, it's just how my brain prioritizes. I need to work on that and keep the activity consistent. It only gets harder with age.

Social circles

One of my complaints is that we're not as socially engaged as we should be, partly because we don't initiate the contact as much as we should. Our neighborhood helps with this, since Simon rides the bus with neighbor kids, so we see neighbors frequently. I work with one of my neighbors, too. I wish we all got together more, but I suppose that's on me to say, "Hey, bring something to grill, we'll hang out."

With Diana working, her circles (and by extension my own) are larger. Ditto for my work sphere, since the Orlando employee base is growing. If that weren't enough, friends from up north keep moving here, and that's fantastic. We've got a nice thing going down here!

Mo' travel

We did three cruises this year, the last of which was with my friend (and former girlfriend 9 years ago) and her darling little family. Cruising is definitely more fun with other people. While I don't want another of my own, it sure was fun to hold a baby again. It's kind of cool how the Disney Dream feels so familiar to us, and we're lucky that it's so convenient to do those three-night weekend sailings. We'll finally break the routing this year doing a four-night on the Magic with my brother-in-law's family, and we'll be doing a week on the Wonder out of Vancouver to Alaska. I'm so stoked for that!

We did a long weekend at Cedar Point again this year, and without water main breaks, it was a partial success. Simon ended up spiking a fever, but with the newly renovated Breakers Hotel, it was hardly the worst place to be! Our primary reason for being there was of course for Coasting For Kids to benefit GKTW, and the event was again a big success. Not sure what this year will bring, since Cedar Fair isn't going to do Coasting For Kids with us.

I went to Holiday World twice, after a pretty long absence. The first time I went, it was for the media event for Thunderbird, where I shot a little mini-doc on the people who made it happen. They're such good people up there. The second time, we did an event at the park, which had kind of mediocre attendance, but fortunately the park handled virtually everything. The highlight there was hanging out with our Chicago friends and their girls. It bothers me that we only get to see them once a year, because we have a great time with them every time. I'm trying to talk them into another cruise, of course.

We also did our first road trip in the EV up to my in-laws place in North Carolina, which was a surprisingly relaxing drive since we split it up into two days (we did it in one day, both directions last year, and it was brutal). There were also some nice overnight stays at Legoland Florida and one in Clearwater for my company holiday party.

Less worldly concerns

I made it a point this year to be less concerned with the problems of the world. Politics in America are at a lifetime low right now. There is no intelligent discourse or talk of policy, just fear-mongering and third grade bullshit. As such, it's not that I don't have opinions, I just don't engage with people as much as I used to. Life is too full to spend some portion of it on the nonsense.

There is a realization that I've been coming to for a few years, and it goes like this: The world has a lot of problems, large and small, and the truth is that the really big ones are generally too large in scope to have meaningful impact on. That's not defeatist, it's just perspective. As is the case with work, often times your potential to create impact may be in a smaller scope. That doesn't make it less important. If you can raise money or volunteer for a local charity, the results are visible and obvious. Why chase unicorns when you can make meaningful change right in front of you?

Am I happy?

In the general sense, I would absolutely characterize this as a happy year, though there were some brief periods where I felt like things were less than ideal. The work related stress got to me a bit, and there were periods where I felt like I couldn't get anything right with Simon. Every year can't be a charmed experience, but it was still mostly right. Again, looking at the world right in front of me, right now, goes a long way toward being consistently happy.

I don't like resolutions, but I do want to come out of next year being a slightly better parent and husband. I want to further develop the "soft skills" at work. And I want to figure out how to be more consistently active. They're all pretty straight forward goals. Mostly though, I want to enjoy the moments I can never get back. My boy isn't getting younger, and neither am I!

2015 Review: The business

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 31, 2015, 11:15 AM | comments: 0

It feels like I just did this, looking back at the previous year. Time is different, both slower and faster, when you don't move or change jobs. My little hobby business is a little easier to evaluate this year because I don't have the income from working a 1099 job intermingling with the "fun." I suppose the news isn't really good, but it's not really bad either.

On paper, I financially took a loss. I consider travel related to the sites to be expenses, and this was also a year where I upgraded a lot of equipment and software. It was time. My desktop (a 2009 iMac) hasn't even been on my desk most of the year, as I relegated it to Simon, so it was time to squeeze in a replacement before the end of the year. Also, I took a hit on some things that I knew weren't cost effective, but certainly fun. Creating something like Opening Thunderbird meant spending money on an extra equipment, checking equipment on my flights, licensing music, etc. The direct expenses to make that, not including the equipment I already had, was about a grand.

Ad revenue was down about 7%. Visits were down only a few points on CoasterBuzz, but more on PointBuzz because traffic in the first part of the year was down (the audience grows and shrinks based on what they're building for next year). Page views on both sites went down, partly because of the newer version of the forums which result in fewer unique views and more dynamic page loading. Mostly the ad drop was the reduction in visits but CPM's continued to take a dump toward the middle of the year, which is the worst time because that's our highest traffic period. Strangely, the rates stabilized, and went up, in the last quarter, but that's also our slowest time of year. The most troubling part of the story remains the same: User per user, page view per page view, we make half of what we did five years ago, and that sucks. This year, the story was that Google completely failed, and I think we were lucky that the backup ad providers more or less made up for it. I miss the good old days where you could reliably expect Google to score more than a grand a month.

Club memberships were down a little, but not dramatically so. My suspicion is that it's because there were fewer events this year. On the plus side, events have largely gone club agnostic, and there's little incentive to fly your own events anymore. I do think it's time to look at family memberships, however. They sell so well that the average cost per member is only $11.43, which is way too low. For years I've charged $25 for the primary member, then $5 for up to three more. It brings the average way down. That said, I don't think the add-ons are really site users, and they're more in it for events. I think ten bucks would still be a deal, but I wonder how it would overall affect membership. I can't count on ad revenue, clearly, so I have to be careful.

On the expense side, moving to Azure has been a huge win. The apps can't run multi-node yet, but the next forum version will get me there. I'm also planning to use the search service, which should be way more accurate. I honestly would like to spend twice as much so I can be redundant and faster, but it's a hard sell when ad revenue is so crappy.

In April I did a refresh of CoasterBuzz, mostly to get on v13 of the forums, but also to get to one, responsive design instead of the different mobile views. The payload is larger this way, but on LTE connections it's still crazy fast. Anecdotally, I think I might be getting some Google juice on the sites for the speed. That's why I like controlling the whole stack of software (that, and I have no excuse since it's what I do).

We didn't do anything with QuiltLoop. I think I'll likely just shut it down at some point. I still think there's a good idea out there, but I don't have time to think about it.

POP Forums gets a lot more action since moving it to GitHub, which is not surprising. Right now, I'm in the early stages of rebuilding it for ASP.NET 5/MVC 6, which is a pretty substantial change. So far, I would even say that I wouldn't convert existing apps to the new frameworks unless I was planning to use them for years to come. It's a lot of work, and very much a clean-sheet Web pipeline that throws away the baggage of old ASP.NET. Again, it's not strictly part of the business, but it's the basis for the sites and keeps me current.

I would also like to port the very basic CoasterBuzz database mobile app to iOS and Android using Xamarin, since I have a free subscription until the fall. It shouldn't be that hard, but I just haven't figured out when I'll commit the time to it.

I imagine next year will be profitable, as I'm not planning much travel and do not expect to buy any equipment. That hopefully means increasing the charitable contributions as well, which were not as large this year.

Our gift giving practice

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 24, 2015, 10:34 PM | comments: 0

As everyone else has turned in for the night, it occurs to me, looking under the tree, that there isn't all that much there. Diana and I are not big gift givers, and when people ask, we suggest donations to charity on our behalf. (Give Kids The World is of course one of our first choices.) I suppose there are a lot of reasons for this, but I haven't spent much time deliberately thinking about it.

This year, our biggest gifts are frankly parked in the garage, and docking in Port Canaveral every few days. We bought a car this year that is obnoxiously expensive, but a technological marvel that our inner computer nerds and tree huggers absolutely love. We also cruised a lot again this year, three times. With that kind of leisure spending, I think we get a pass on gifts.

We're also lucky that Simon isn't much of a "gotta have everything I see" kid. This was not a deliberate choice on our part, he just doesn't want stuff (yet). He tends to get very fixated on one thing, maybe two things, and he's good. Beyond that, he wants to spend his time working on his online learning for school, build platforms around any kind of track with his blocks and watch roller coaster video. That said, he's starting to understand that things he sees in the store can be purchased, and sometimes he asks about it.

I do think that keeping the gift giving to a minimum just makes Christmas more pleasant. For one thing, I suck at thinking of awesome things, and I don't want to keep score. We tend to get what we want throughout the year, as our hobbies and interests require (Diana's is very consumption based, while mine are more capital intensive). We're disciplined about spending.

Christmas, for me, is a time of year where I reflect with wonder at the quality of life I have, and as corny as it sounds, that's a huge gift and a blessing. It would be difficult to improve on that with gifts.

America already is pretty great

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 21, 2015, 9:31 PM | comments: 0

Today an American company founded by an immigrant landed a rocket vertically minutes after launching. Stop saying we need to 'make America great again.' It already is if you'd pay attention.

Video here.

The 2015 playlist

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 21, 2015, 9:00 PM | comments: 0

After a record 2014 playlist of 54 songs, this year was... kind of mediocre. In fact, there were only 29 songs, and some of those weren't exactly a timely reflection of music we like. So here it is...

  • "Bellas Finals: Price Tag/Don't You (Forget About Me)/Give Me Everything/Just The Way You Are/Party In The U.S.A./Turn The Beat Around" Pitch Perfect Soundtrack
  • "Hey Now" Matt & Kim
  • "Get It" Matt & Kim
  • "Long Way Down" Robert DeLong
  • "Ex's & Oh's" Elle King
  • "America's Sweetheart" Elle King
  • "The Business of Emotion" Big Data
  • "Black Sun" Death Cab For Cutie
  • "Every Other Freckle" alt-J
  • "Tomorrow" A Silent Film
  • "My Type" Saint Motel
  • "Halfway to Hell" Sheppard
  • "The Shade" Metric
  • "Dead Inside" Muse
  • "Until We Can't (Let's Go)" Passion Pit
  • "Drag" Day Wave
  • "Renegades" X Ambassadors
  • "2 Heads" Coleman Hell
  • "Dreams" Beck
  • "Never Ending Circles" Chvrches
  • "Leave A Trace" Chvrches
  • "Bros" Wolf Alice
  • "Roots" Imagine Dragons
  • "S.O.B." Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
  • "Sedona" Houndmouth
  • "Lights On" Big Grams
  • "Magnets (featuring Lorde)" Disclosure
  • "Wax & Gold" Tracy Bonham
  • "Soarin'" Jerry Goldsmith

Let me start by saying that we were late to the Pitch Perfect thing, but it was one of the most quotable movies since Mean Girls. As for "Soarin'" at the end (from the ride at Epcot), Simon finally started to like it just this month, and they're closing it soon for the re-do. No telling if they'll use the same music, or even a different arrangement.

Not on the list is anything from Garbage, but they did a reissue of their debut album, including all of the B-sides, and it was fantastic. I didn't have all of the B-sides, so it was fun to get those all wrapped up in one place. Hard to believe it's 20-years-old, but it's also remarkable how awesome and current it still sounds.

The biggest change this year is that it wasn't very single heavy, as it was last year. It was a good year for a few albums, for sure. Elle King was a fantastic break out, and I can't believe that she wasn't more recognized by the press and the shitty Grammy's. She's got a fair amount of cross-over appeal. It's also pretty weird that she's apparently Rob Schneider's daughter ("You can do eeet!").

Chvrches was the biggest stand out this year, as their second album got everything right. I loved their first one, but this one was awesome start to finish (except for one song that the dude sang). I've seen some live performances with them, and their singer is not super polished, but they're making really great electronic music.

Metric finally put out another album, but I was admittedly not as stoked as I hoped to be. "The Shade" is a good song, but overall the album doesn't pay enough attention to melody the way they typically do. It's a little experimental for them, which I suppose is good for them, but the noise and guitars that used to layer on top of great songs is largely absent.

Tracy Bonham put out what I would consider her second-best album after Blink The Brightest, and while I can acknowledge it as being really great, it also doesn't suit my tastes exactly. It feels a little more country than I would like, but I'm hoping it's a success for her. She's so completely awesome, and "Shine" is still likely my favorite song ever.

Wolf Alice kind of snuck in under my radar. They were playing "Bros" on AltNation, and there's a lot of great murky and noisy stuff on the album. I dig it. I'm definitely a fan.

There were other notable efforts, from Muse, Matt & Kim and Death Cab, but none of them really pulled me in for the long haul.

Hopefully next year will be a little more interesting.

Star Wars is everything I wanted it to be (no spoilers)

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 20, 2015, 8:39 PM | comments: 0

I went to see The Force Awakens this morning by myself, hell bent on seeing it as soon as possible because I knew that with time it would be harder to avoid hearing about it. As movies go, it's rare that something so high profile could have so little out there, and indeed I went in knowing nothing beyond what I saw in the trailers.

The verdict: It was perfect.

I'm not really saying that it was without flaws, because I need to see it again before I can arrive at that conclusion. It was perfect because it is everything that I wanted a Star Wars sequel to be. The expectations were impossible, and yet it worked. The story was great, the casting was perfect, the performances were all strong, it was the right mix of nostalgia and looking forward... all I can really do is gush.

J.J. Abrams is someone I've respected for a long time, and for a number of reasons. It's weird, because he's had his hand in a so many things as a creator, but not often as a director. He's the mind behind Alias, one of my favorite TV shows ever, as well as Fringe. His resume where he was a triple-threat, producer, writer and director, is actually quite small. It was Super 8 back in 2011, where he had that end-to-end control, that I felt I totally understood his ability. It was a masterful effort, and one of my favorite all around movies to this day. It was actually that movie that gave me the confidence that Abrams was the right guy for Star Wars.

I'll gush some more about the movie after I see it again, and get all spoilery about it. I can't wait. This is the Star Wars movie we were looking for.

Diversifying your technology when you're a technologist

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 18, 2015, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that really struck me about a tech conference I recently attended was the number of people, mostly software developers, who were very anxious to hang on to technology that isn't working. Specifically I'm talking about Windows Phone, which has become the outlier of phone operating systems in the US. One could argue that it's the best OS (I would), but an OS without widespread adoption is a disincentive to make stuff for it, even if it happens to use the same tools that you use for the web and desktop (as was the case for much of the target audience of the conference). Diana and I gave up on it when the announcement for new hardware finally came, and underwhelmed while not improving the software story. We really hung on longer than we should have, really.

In a more general sense, we as a family are actually pretty diverse in the technology we use. While my developer expertise is centered on Microsoft's platform, these days that involves so much open source that it's really the tooling at the core that's specific to their platform. Everything else really isn't platform specific anymore. Our computers are Macs, where we run Windows virtually as necessary, but not primarily. Our phones are now both Android, the pure flavor straight from Google. Simon has a 3-year-old iPad, Diana has the one that I just won for doing a survey, and I have an inexpensive Nexus 9. Our TV is mostly fed by an Amazon Fire TV. Our music comes from Amazon's service, but we back up to Microsoft's OneDrive and Amazon's S3. Even our cars have evolved, as we have no Toyotas for the first time in 20 years, with a Nissan Leaf and a Tesla Model S in the garage.

There's a place for brand loyalty and enthusiasm, sure, but I don't get the people who go for 100% buy-in. As a technologist, it seems like a particularly strange thing to engage in. There have been relentless Apple fanboys forever, and I remember knowing a few Microsoft types when I worked there as well (back when they really didn't make anything cool other than the Xbox). These days, there are fewer reasons that you need to have everything with the same logo, as interoperability has come a very long way. I still hate the app-ness going on, particularly with mobile devices, because each is their own micro-universe, but it's not like 2003 where you needed a Mac, and iPod and iTunes, top to bottom, to listen to music on the go.

We have unprecedented choice when it comes to most technology. There are a lot of areas where we still need to do better, but it's an exciting time.

Why we spend way too much time thinking about terrorism

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 17, 2015, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

In addition to causing a bunch of asshat politicians to instill fear and xenophobia for the purpose of getting elected, the terrorist attack in Paris has caused people in general to spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about terrorism. The response is not generally proportional to the threat, but psychologically, that's what Americans need for some reason. We need to be scared of things.

Technically, that's what terrorism is supposed to achieve, so when you decide to be scared, give up your civil liberties, or support a pandering, hate-mongering dipshit running for office, the terrorists do win. I don't even mean that as a joke... their objective has been achieved. Well done.

Still, if you remove the snark, there are even better reasons to not spend so much time being worried about terrorism. Those reasons are math. Here's a sample of things to worry about in the US. Lifetime odds of dying:

  • in a car accident: 1 in 77.
  • from cancer: 1 in 7.
  • in a tornado: 1 in 60,000.
  • from a lightning strike: 1 in 84,000.
  • in the Persian Gulf War (if you served): 1 in 3,162.
  • in a terrorist attack: 1 in 20,000,000.

It's not my intention to trivialize the death of innocent people. Certainly that is tragic, and impossible to explain. What I'm trying to say is that the energy spent responding to the "threat" is completely disproportionate, and that energy would be better spend on a million different things that could prolong your life or make the world an incrementally better place.

In a massive bout of irony, the 9/11 attacks seemed to unify people for a brief amount of time. Americans seemed more willing to help each other out, regardless of gender, race or religion. That sentiment didn't last long. Culturally, we're bigger dicks to each other than at any point in my lifetime. Feeding into the current round of nonsense won't make that better. If you're living a life of fear, turn off the goddamn TV and Facebook and live your life. Volunteer doing something worthwhile, or plant a tree, or help out a school... anything else.

Time is precious, sure, but it doesn't mean you can't stop moving

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 16, 2015, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

If there's anything that surprises me about having a child, it's the way it makes you acutely aware of the passage of time. I mean, change has been my thing for the last seven years to begin with (anyone who knows me exceptionally well for longer knows how odd that is), but you pop out a kid and the change he or she undergoes is so fast and dramatic. It gives you a very real frame of reference.

Awareness of the passage of time I think makes some people panic and feel like they need to be constantly moving and doing stuff. I totally get that, but it's possible that some folks take it too far, to the point that they're moving so much that they don't actually appreciate any of the time that passes. Workaholic type-A's are the worst, I'm sure.

Diana and I are pretty busy. Obviously we both have Simon, I have my day job, and she has her part-time job, a ton of volunteering at school and GKTW, and she services her quilting audience. We have kind of a build-up of, "When is the last time we've just sat together," realizations. We had one last weekend, where we were chilled out, probably a bit tired, sprawled out on the couch talking. A particularly good song came on, and we both thought about how there was a time when we were kids and could just lose ourselves for an hour listening to an album of music. I think when we pack our lives full of obligations and activities, we deprioritize things like that, perhaps even feeling that they're a "waste of time."

That's bullshit. The places that music (or a book, or just lying with someone talking) can take you are pretty important, and fulfilling. We don't need to be making something or doing something 24/7. The ability to be still, reflect, dream, connect, etc. has extraordinary value. Not surprisingly, it's Simon that has reminded me of this. Not only do I watch him tune out the world, engaged in observing the workings of some toy, but sometimes I sit with him and just let him cuddle up to me while he watches TV. I just close my eyes and enjoy the moment. Can you say that you allow yourself to live in the moment like that? I'm deliberately trying to have more moments like that. If every waking moment is dedicated to an outcome, you'll miss life.

Accepting you have only so many steps left to take shouldn't cause panic or anxiety, it should make you realize that you will never have this very moment again. Enjoy it.

Plans for me time

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 11, 2015, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

I'm in the somewhat unfortunate position of having to burn some vacation time before the end of the year, because I can't carry all of it over. In this case, it's three days, but I'll take four because of the placement of the holidays so I can have the holidays plus weekends for 11 straight days off. I thought I planned better than that, but I guess not.

The thing that kind of sucks about taking time off the last week of the year is that it's pretty much the worst time to travel. Here in Orlando, all of our touristy stuff gets swamped as well, so it isn't a good idea to go to those venues either. (When Disney hotel rates start at $200, and go up to $4k for one night, you know it's bad news.) In short, traveling is crappy, and typical vacation stuff that's local is crappy, so you have to be creative.

For me, this largely means an opportunity to switch off from work and do stuff that I want to do. I suppose that being selfish isn't exactly what I mean, Christmas season and all, but with 56-ish hours not interrupting my agenda, there's a whole lot of time to do whatever I want. It's been so long since I've done this that it seems like I need to remember what I like to do. So in no particular order...

  • Hang out with Simon J and Red Delicious. That isn't selfish at all, but with more time, being on my stomach on the floor doing kindergarten things doesn't mean I'm thinking, "This is time I could be doing something else." Although maybe I can convince someone to watch him so Diana and I can have some us time.
  • Play video games. I may end up finishing it before then, but I'm really digging Rise Of The Tomb Raider. Maybe there are other things to play too, but I don't really know what's out right now.
  • See a movie or three. I can't wait to see Star Wars, but I hate crowds. Our closest movie theater is at Disney Springs, and you can be sure there's no way in hell we're going over there during the holiday break. I wonder if Claremont has a theater. We may take Simon to see The Good Dinosaur, if it lasts that long. Sounds like it might be Pixar's first bomb.
  • Write some code. Yeah, I know that sounds like work, but there's a lot of new shiny stuff I enjoy learning about. I scored a free Xamarin subscription, which is tooling to build mobile apps using the tools I already know, so I want to port the CoasterBuzz database app to Android and iOS, just to say that I have. The new versions of ASP.NET and MVC are in RC status too, and I'm doing a talk about them in February. Porting the forums are a logical way to get up to speed.
  • Read stuff. I'm a third of the way into Bill Nye's recent book, and there is some fiction I can borrow for free on Kindle, so I'd like to do that. I don't do a lot of pleasure reading.
  • Write stuff. I don't even know what this means, but it could be blog posts, technical blog posts, some screenplay pages... I dunno. I enjoy it and I don't do it enough.
  • Photograph Simon. I wanna bust out the cameras and photograph the kid. We haven't done a photo shoot in awhile, and Facebook keeps reminding me how gigantic he is now by showing how small he was. I gotta do this before we get him another hair cut, and hopefully before his front baby teeth are gone, as that dramatically changes how a kid looks.
  • Build something with Lego. The ferris wheel is fun to build, and Simon loves it. There is something calming and wonderful about following those instructions and making a model.

Those are the big things I can think of. I'll have to revisit this list and see how I did.

The politics of hate

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 8, 2015, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

Being born in the early 70's means coming in to the world toward the end of the American civil rights movement. I was unknowingly a part of a historic transition in that movement, when desegregation was imposed on the Cleveland schools as a result of a lawsuit. Locally, it was simply known as "busing," which moved kids around the racially split city. Starting in second grade, I went to school 15 miles away.

The benefit of this was also unknown to me at the time. At that age, impressionable as you may be, you don't think, "Gosh, I'm going to school with kids who have a different skin color." I don't recall really thinking anything. Kids are kids. I have an amusing story about how my first kiss was almost with a non-white girl, and it might have happened were it not for poor timing on the part of a meddlesome teacher. Indeed, I didn't really "see" color until I moved to the suburbs and there wasn't any.

Irrationally disliking groups of people based on race, religion, gender and ethnicity is certainly learned behavior, and that's why I refer to my experience as fortunate. It shaped my beliefs the "right" way. But I also hope that, as a rational, thinking human being, that adulthood would have eventually showed me the way. In my line of work, you wouldn't get very far being a bigot, because it's very diverse.

I think it has been easy for me over the years to believe that issues around racism, sexism, xenophobia and the like have gotten dramatically better, because in my sphere of existence, that has largely been the case. Maybe it has in some ways, but I think the last year or two has really shown that things do still suck. "-Isms" were something that simply didn't come up in polite conversation, and they were relegated to people who found their echo chambers in the privacy of their own homes. Now it's audible on the Internet. It's audible in response to unarmed black kids being shot, and people hanging on to symbolic racism, and most recently, willful ignorance about religion. After seeing same-sex marriage become legal, in what amounts to light speed when it comes to the American judicial process, I find myself being confused about how all of this hate could be a thing at all. And yet, here we are.

Today the conversation is about Muslims, just because radical fundamentalists have committed acts of terrorism in the last few years. Terrorism tends to evoke a very emotional response, which is largely the point, and you can't seem to argue with people that a tiny minority of violent people doesn't represent one-fifth of the world's population. Willful ignorance is the way to go for some people, apparently. (You'll never change their minds, but you can blow them when you tell them that Jesus does in fact appear in the Quran as a prophet, born to Mary and performing miracles, no less. The text differs in his role and relationship with God, but it still has strikingly similar accounts to the Christian Bible.. It's fascinating to read about the overlap between the Abrahamic religions as a matter of anthropology.)

Today was an interesting day, because I think the capacity for Americans to tolerate the hate and stupidity seems to be going down. You can thank Donald Trump's side show of racism, and now fascism, for that. The idea that you should start rejecting people based on their religion is of course a strikingly dangerous idea, and history has over time shamed the human race for the violence it is capable of. Right here in the US, in our short history, we have the denial of civil rights for two centuries (a problem that is still far from solved), the fear mongering caused by McCarthyism, Japanese internment, codified segregation, slavery... we've made a lot of the same mistakes over and over again. Hitler's version of Germany was the most destructive of all.

White American Christian victimhood has become a thing, but it also seems to be a minority of people. They're a very loud minority, because they're very scared (of everything, apparently). I don't think you can change these people. I do think it's time for Americans to stand up and embrace who we are supposed to be: A nation of diverse people working to make a better nation, and a better world. You can call that naive optimism, but I'd much rather live my life that way than living in constant fear.

The value of what I have to say

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 3, 2015, 8:22 PM | comments: 1

Last month was a historically low blogging month for me. As in, I haven't written so little in more than a decade. As I'm always somewhat conscious of my identity, of who I am and want to be, I'm some combination of concerned, sad, surprised and maybe a little freed.

I love to write. For me, it's therapeutic. Getting things out of my brain cause wonderful things to manifest, whether it's saying them out loud or committing them to digital paper. This even works professionally. I can often solve a more difficult problem in minutes, provided I start talking about it with someone.

My immediate question is, why? Why am I writing so much less than I used to?

Above all, my personality has changed (hopefully for the better). I'm a lot less anxious than I was, say, five years ago. I used to write about a lot of things that made me anxious. I used to think that everything was important, especially important to me. In short, I concern myself with less, which leads me to the next point.

I have limited mental bandwidth. Not only do I reject more things from consuming CPU cycles, but life is more full than it ever has been. I have a child, and he deserves my attention. I'm married, and while I hate the cliche about how marriage is a lot of work (because I think that you're doing it wrong, or with the wrong person if that's true), marriage still means giving your partner attention. Work is challenging and I spend a ton of time thinking about stuff, maybe too late into the day. My head is pretty full, most of the time.

I'm not entirely certain what I have to say contributes anything. This might be my evolving personality, but much of my writing over the years has been somewhat masturbatory in nature. I've often written because I felt like it was good for me, and even if it was honest, reflective, and sometimes self-deprecating, I did it because it felt good for me.

Related, what am I really going to add to the conversation? I'm another guy with opinions and an asshole. Some people even make a career of having an opinion. I don't know that anything I have to say constructively adds to the noise.

I'm extraordinarily conscious of being negative. This is partly the parenting thing, but also because I fully realize how negativity can affect me overall. At some point, I started pushing away people that were negative, because having them in my life in a non-trivial way only brought me down. The world at large is extraordinarily negative (look at politics, for example). Much of what I want to spew about is in response to that negativity. I don't want to be drawn in.

The truth is, there's actually a ton of stuff I'd like to write about, but when I sit down at night, after Simon is in bed, I don't feel like I've got the energy to write. To be honest, I don't like that about myself, but there are probably a dozen things I would like to be doing that fall into this "I'm spent" category. Prioritization is hard these days. Mostly I've written about the neatness of electric cars, sometimes stuff about autism and parenting, and quite a bit of travel logging. There's more... but I need another hour in the day.