Archive: July, 2015

Windows 10 mini-review

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 30, 2015, 9:46 PM | comments: 0

Windows 10 came out this week. Me doing a straight review on it is kind of silly, because who cares what I say? But there are some observations I'd like to make about it, if only because of my history with the products and Microsoft and such.

When I started at the company in 2009, Windows 7 was still in beta, but heavily used internally. It was wonderfully stable and cleaner than Vista. I left in 2011, and Windows 8 came along almost a year after that in part to spur touch screen hardware and tablets. I even jumped in and bought a Surface, which was cool, but not based on x86 processors, and therefore a weird bastard child of the ecosystem. That, and the OS forcing touchy stuff on desktopy stuff was totally rejected.

For me, I thought a lot of criticism was overblown. I mean, your Start menu essentially became full screen, but as a desktop user, so what? Were people really using touch apps anyway? I just assumed people were still using desktops for Office and the Web. I never used any "Metro" apps on the desktop. But sure enough, I scored an 8" Dell tablet in late 2013, and I totally understood Windows as a touch OS. It made sense, it was pretty good, and did I mention that little tablet was only $150? I still use it as my travel/read/consumption device. Heck, it was the smaller size that made me understand tablets period, as I always thought my iPad was too big for consumption activities.

Now, July 2015, Windows 10 is released. Despite a ridiculously long beta period, in public no less, I never really paid much attention beyond some of the developer events. I saw enough to understand that what they were doing was going to nail the one operating system that worked for both the desktop and tablets. And you know what? They really got it right.

I've got it installed in three places: A VM on my Mac (via Parallels), my Surface Pro 3, and that Dell Venue 8 Pro. The VM was a clean install that I'll use for development work. As strictly a desktop affair, the weirdness is gone and it works as expected in a desktop configuration. They did "move my cheese" in terms of some stuff, but it's super easy to find. In fact, the new notification center in particular is fantastic. I like it even better than the OS X version, because it includes notifications as well as the "quick access" stuff that used to crowd the task bar. It's actually borrowed from the phone OS.

The Surface is really a laptop masquerading as a tablet, but after having it more than a year, honestly I mostly use it as a laptop. It's amazing for travel because of it's lightness and thinness. It's just a little awkward to lap it. Still, this is where the OS tweaks are the most awesome. First off, the upgrade was fast and painless. When you yank off of the keyboard, it shifts into "tablet mode," where apps run full screen (or snapped so you can multitask), the start menu can go full-screen, and the virtual keyboard pops up as appropriate. It's very cool.

It was a pain in the ass to get the Dell to upgrade, maybe because there was so little free space on it. Then, today, the day after release, I learned that Microsoft put out an executable you could download to create installation media (like DVD's or USB drives), but it also facilitates a forced download and install, so I used that. Once it was done, and I turned on the full-screen start, it was like a very heavily tweaked version of Windows 8 as it appeared on tablets. It makes sense, and it runs incredibly well even on the sort-of-weak hardware. Probably the best feature is the Edge browser, which is a little snappier in Javascript-heavy web apps.

Overall, I dig it. It's a good release. I look forward to seeing what the last part of the equation is with the mobile version.

Weather depression

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 28, 2015, 5:48 PM | comments: 0

I know I've said it many times, that the struggle was real with seasonal affective disorder when I lived in Cleveland. It's why we didn't even last two years after moving back there. Even in Seattle it wasn't an issue, because despite the rainy winters, you could generally see the sun somewhere, at some elevation, most days.

We've had a weird series of days in the last week here in Orlando that have been Cleveland-like in their depression-inducing quality. Lots of rain coming from a flat, featureless gray sky. Combine it with some other frustration, something work related, or maybe Simon being difficult to manage, and I've been just spiraling down into a place where I blankly stare at HGTV to pass the time. I totally don't feel like myself, and it's pretty weird.

It's hard to say if it will continue, because the forecast in the summer always has rain. But usually it's the afternoon thunderstorm, with sun before and after (and sometimes during). I sure hope we get sunshine in the sunshine state soon.

Keeping the Seattle connection

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 25, 2015, 10:10 PM | comments: 0

One of our friends from Seattle was in town last week for a massive Microsoft (internal) conference, and we got to hang out a bit before and after. He was here with his family just a few months ago. It's fun to talk about Seattle and Microsoft and the old neighborhoods and such.

Moving to Seattle was a bit stressful, especially since at that point I had not really done any serious moving ever other than in high school. Plus the move involved a new job, a pregnant wife, selling two houses, and a completely unfamiliar part of the country. I don't think the stress really went down until Simon was born, and at that point, I was frankly too exhausted most of the time to be stressed.

But the thing that made it easier was having my brother-in-law and his family there, and our PEPS group. Having no social circle at all is rough, but here we had an instant pool of friends, all going through the same thing (new parenthood) at the same time. There were a lot of parties because of this, and it was pretty awesome. I missed that immediately when we moved back to Cleveland for that damn house. (Yes, I still can't let that go. I'm trying, honestly.)

We're still Facebook friends with most of those folks, fortunately, though it pains me that Simon hasn't been able to grow up with those kids, and especially his cousins. And talking about Microsoft makes me a bit nostalgic, too, especially with all of the change there in recent years. It has definitely turned a corner, and I do miss being a part of that.

The truth is that I don't imagine we would move back to Seattle unless The Perfect Job® came along, with relocation. We really like it here. Microsoft is probably off the table too, because they don't hire a ton of remote people, and I do like where I work now. Still, it's a beautiful place to live, filled with smart, wonderful people, and a pretty crazy technology scene. I miss it every day.

At this point, we've lived in Orange County longer than we did in King County, but it's socially a different animal. I was lucky enough to have my best friend living here, but beyond that the social circle has been slow growing. On the plus side, everyone visits eventually because of the theme parks, and it surprises me that a number of people from my very distributed circle of friends have moved here (friends in the broader theme park and related businesses). Changing jobs mid-way, since the first was contract, created a disruption for me, and with Diana only recently going back to work, it has been a slow build for her too. We've made some friends in the neighborhood after we moved, but one immediate neighbor moved, and now the other one is too. Hey, on the plus side, I already knew Orlando reasonably well, and it's pretty much a big grid with some lakes in the way, so it isn't hard to get around.

We haven't been out to Seattle since 2012, which is crazy. Well, I went back in spring 2013 for an interview (for a job that was so not a good fit), but that was just me. Next year we're planning to cruise out of Vancouver, but not sure if Seattle will be a part of that trip. I'm very excited that we're going to do a cruise with my bro-in-law's family. That will be super fun. I do look forward to seeing Mt. Rainier again, I just don't know when that will be.

The discouraging value of page views

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 21, 2015, 9:02 PM | comments: 0

The Verge recently posted an opinion piece that asserts that "The Mobile Web Sucks." It's a rant, to be sure, but it makes some points that I can identify with as a software developer. I think the core bit about the desktop web being awesome and the mobile web sucking (and fostering the app economy) is something I feel. The piece mentions advertising in passing, but it's part of the pain I feel as well.

Before it sounds all whiny, I started the sites first to share content. Then I kept going because it was the path that led to a career in software development. Heck, it's still the way that I keep current, because you rarely get to use the latest tech in your day job. At first I started to make money for fun via advertising, but as the sites got popular I made money to cover the ridiculous costs. I've written about it before, and costs have come down, and mostly I'm content to cover the costs and the stuff like computers, software and cameras that I use to build the stuff.

Still, what's discouraging is that traffic isn't worth what it used to be. Getting paid for what you do I suppose is a kind of validation, and it's especially cool when it's something you do in your spare time or as a hobby. It's hard to put a value on anything transmitted via electronic means these days, which might be the reason that so much of it is crap. The rise of shitty inventory created by sites like BuzzFeed and others cheapens it for everyone.

A part of me believes, and maybe I'm naive, that this is cyclical. The only evidence I have to back it up is that we saw dips in the mid oughts, again as recently as 2012. It's just that this dip seems particularly gross.

Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of what I've stayed with for 17 years now. I was at a wedding early this year where the common thread many of us had was the sites, and that was pretty cool. Trying to figure out ad-supported content as a business is something that I'm glad I don't have to do for a living, because I don't know how we innovate our way out of this declining value. Even if you cover a niche (which in our case, is probably smaller than it was 10 years ago), you're brought down by the larger Internet average.

Simon lost his first tooth

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 20, 2015, 7:12 PM | comments: 0

It finally happened today. Simon lost his first tooth. We don't know where it went. He was eating lunch, and because he ate so well, he earned a doughnut. When his face was full of chocolate, his mouth was down one tooth. I suppose he swallowed it.

The funny thing is, the doctors suggested that he would lose his baby teeth relatively early, because they came in so early, but I think he's kind of average so far. The closest comparison I can make is to his neighbor friend down the street, and hers is only loose, not gone yet.

I'm not going to get all misty, but it feels like this milestone came really quickly. I mean, maybe not, it seemed like potty training took forever, conversational speech took forever, all kinds of developmental stuff took forever (and some of it is still taking forever). But the thing that is the weirdest of all is that he won't be holding our hands in the theme parks, or asking us to lay down with him at bed time forever. He'll be driving in no time. As much as he can be a struggle at times, there's no question that we have to value this time with him. He's not going to get younger.

Where is my passion these days?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 19, 2015, 7:50 PM | comments: 0

I've noticed that in recent months I haven't had much desire to write. I started to wonder why, and had to ask myself what it is that I'm most passionate about. A month ago I even wrote that I was bored. Am I just lacking the fire lately?

Passion can be exhausting for sure. I look at various periods of my life where I just had so much mental energy into things that it was hard for me to put time into anything else. When I was coaching, for example, it was the thing that defined me to an extent. That level of passion makes you feel alive and it gives purpose to your movement. It also comes with some risk, because anything that you're that into is going to hurt like hell if it fails. Apply it to a failed relationship and you get what I'm saying.

I don't think that I'm particularly risk averse right now. I joke about the fake midlife crisis thing, but I am at a place in life where I do generally understand that we never know how many tomorrows we have.

I think I'm in a place of transition. My passion for some things isn't what it used to be, and it's shifting to other things. Combined with a reduction in available mental bandwidth by way of parenting, it doesn't feel like I'm "all in" on very many things. I'm definitely committed to moving around at least four miles every day, EV's are my new obsession, and I think about traveling quite a bit.

Electric cars, because, America

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 6:45 PM | comments: 0

I'm going to ramble a bit here, so if you want to get to the flag waving quickly, skip to the end.

I wasted time recently taking one of those quiz type things on the Internets about your "political personality," and not surprisingly, I was almost dead center, leaning only slightly liberal (one axis was liberal/communitarian, the other left/right). At the very least, it explains why I politically disagree with pretty much everyone, since people adhere to a side as if it's a sports team.

In the greater sense, I'm so disenchanted with American politics because it's scary how much racism, xenophobia, classism, cognitive dissonance, hypocrisy, etc., is out there. Even science is made political, with total disregard for empirical evidence. To top it off, everyone is convinced that America is going down the tubes, and it's the fault of, I dunno, the gays or Obamacare or something. People are so fucking miserable in a time of unprecedented discovery and technological advancement. Minions are trending higher than photos of Pluto right now. That's messed up.

I don't buy any of this bullshit. In fact, I'm more excited about the future than ever before. Even working in technology, I'm not one to take the amazingness about it for granted. The Internet in your pocket is a miracle I couldn't have imagined 20 years ago. Well, all of that and I can't be miserable about the world because I would be less fun. It occurs to me, that nothing quite personifies my enthusiasm the way that the electric car does.

Some years ago, when Toyota introduced the Prius, I was somewhat in awe of the fact that they could make a vehicle that did more than 50 mpg. Fuel efficiency was not a priority for environmental reasons as much as a gradually rising cost. My senior year of college (1995), sometimes I could get gas for under a buck a gallon. In 2010, with Washington state taxes, gas was often over $4, and since the life-changing was already extreme with the move and all, I jumped on the Prius bandwagon, and I loved it. That low end and the coasting where the electric motor was engaged was the most interesting sensation ever, and on energy recovered from the waste of turning an internal combustion engine, no less!

Around that time, the Elon Musk had been CEO of Tesla Motors for about a year, put a bunch of his own money into the company, and took it public. They were building this crazy roadster and selling it for $100k. Living in Seattle, I saw quite a few, and the company would demo the car at internal Microsoft events around bonus time. It was fascinating to me, in part because Musk was clear in telling people that this would just subsidize a sedan, and eventually an "affordable" car down the road.

Meanwhile, late that year, Nissan introduced the Leaf, and while the range was not impressive, it was a practical commuting car. I made a connection in my head around this time, that a battery-powered car didn't seem that ridiculous when I was carrying around a (relatively) thin little super computer in my pocket called an iPhone. Knowing this, combined with my warm fuzzies over the electric part of the Prius experience, I started to feel a bit like burning liquid pumped out of the ground to get around felt archaic.

Fast forward a couple of years. Tesla releases the Model S in the summer of 2012 to real customers, with a huge backlog of orders. The next year, Motor Trend names it Car of The Year. It gets the highest safety rating of any car ever by the feds, the first perfect rating. Owners are crazy loyal and passionate. They manage to crack a nut that Detroit could not, and with a high-end premium product no less. They got my attention.

In the spring of 2013 I rented a Nissan Leaf on my visit to Orlando to interview and scope out neighborhoods. The awesome power and instant acceleration had me hooked. It was amazing. The range wasn't ideal, but I could see the potential. By the time we moved, I would see the Model S around town now and then. By mid-2014, I was seeing them quite a bit. After driving one, well, how could I not be totally enamored with the car?

About a year ago we leased a Nissan Leaf for two years. Diana's Hyundai, while reliable in the general sense for six years, had some pretty strange failures early on and in the end (pinched fuel lines and blown coolant hoses to the transmission). The Leaf doesn't need anything. There's no oil to change, no timing belts or filters. Motor is fed electricity, it makes the car go. Really quickly. It resolved any doubt we had about the future. It was electric.

But my love is for Tesla. Tesla is everything that's awesome about America, and here's why, in bullet point form:

  • It's run by a South African-born Canadian-American immigrant, who believes in the opportunity of America. It continues a long tradition of immigrants improving and building our nation.
  • Tesla proves that saving the planet is not exclusive of making money. A cleaner way to drive also happens to be potentially lucrative in the long-run. If Musk is wrong, ask yourself, why is GM going all-in to catch up?
  • Admittedly, it's hard to argue what it is we "make" in software, but it doesn't feel like Americans really "make" anything anymore. A car is about as physical an object as possible, and nothing is more originally American than making cars.
  • Musk's vision takes on everything about the status quo. It's not just about Detroit, he's also the largest shareholder in SolarCity, which takes on the very idea of centralized energy production and turns it upside down, pushing for distributed, renewable energy.
  • If you have solar and you have a Tesla, your car is powered by the fucking sun. Think about that and let it sink in. Your space car gets its energy from space.
  • An American company is leading the way where the famously efficient Japanese won't take a chance. Toyota, the manufacturer of every car I've purchased in my adult life (prior to the Leaf), is dicking around with hydrogen, which is not cheap or efficient (shocking since they know the potential leading the hybrid technology). Even Aston Martin's CEO recently admitted that they need to get on this electric thing, because wow do those cars perform.

So yeah, I love America, because Tesla. I want to be a part of that. I leave you with video of Model S P85D launches, because, America.

My two-year Floridaversary

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 12, 2015, 6:25 PM | comments: 0

Two years ago today, I rolled into Orlando, exhausted from two days of driving with a car full of cats. At the one year mark, I was more nostalgic about the journey and all of the changes. This year, it will probably be the last year I'm thinking about the anniversary, and honestly I think more about how little things have changed beyond the fact that we're comfortable.

Some things have become routine, like getting around town, favorite places to eat, going to work. Other things are surprisingly not routine, like seeing rocket launches, going to Walt Disney World, even wearing shorts in January. Regardless, we still feel that moving here was an enormous win.

Maybe the biggest measure of time has been in Simon's development, which of course we obsess over to some degree. Just thinking about his communication ability in particular, or lack thereof, in the last two years has been an enormous leap. I still feel like he's behind compared to some kids, ahead in other ways, but in any case glad we've since had the ASD and sensory diagnoses to help figure out how we best help him.

It has been nice to work a full-time gig with relative stability. While the crazy cash that comes with contracting is nice, I'm not sure if it's worth having to spend so many brain cycles thinking about what's next. It has been excellent to work with so many smart people as well. I've been feeling a little burned out, but I'm learning to use vacation time in vacation land.

Maybe the most remarkable thing to observe has been the development of the area we live in. When we arrived two years ago, the neighborhood where we built our house was a big area that had stalled a few years before. It was mostly orange groves. Now there are hundreds more houses, and a solid mixed-use development is going on a mile down the road. Our neighbor is selling, so it will be interesting to see what kind of gain they've made in a year and a half. Here's hoping I never have the situation I had in Cleveland with the housing crash.

I'm not a beach person, but I do love going to the coasts. Mostly I go to the gulf for work (Tampa) and the Atlantic for cruises and rocket launches. More than anything, I've learned to really enjoy going downtown. Orlando, it turns out, is a great small town of sorts. While we have no office requirement for work, I love going in to the office at least twice a week. Even though I don't exercise it enough, I can go ride a roller coaster almost any time.

In my short list of places that I've lived, I can't see ever moving back to the Midwest unless it's for a dream job. Seattle I still love dearly, but again, it would have to be for the right thing. I dig Central Florida. We chose wisely.

Valuing inspiration

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 11, 2015, 9:19 PM | comments: 0

After a week off from work, sorting out life and trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to relax a bit, I did come to an important realization. Our ability to be awesome doesn't have to come strictly from within. A little inspiration can in fact go a long way.

I suppose our culture tends to champion the individual who can, through sheer will and perseverance, conquer all. It's a pretty unrealistic view of the world, because most people just don't have it in them to be like that. It's not a character flaw, it's just the way it is, and I liked it to my perspective that the scope of your influence on the world isn't important as long as you have any positive effect on it. For "normal" people, external factors, inspiration, can make us better.

Our muses come from many places, and mine come largely from music and movies. Every once in awhile, there are specific people who also inspire me, some I know personally, some I don't. Events that have a positive impact on the world can be inspiring. Sometimes, even a piece of technology can inspire.

I've spent a lot of time recently being very heads-down, focused on the search for my inner inspiration. While that does certainly come in waves, it's the external things that really wake me up and move me forward. I need to make a more consistent effort to look for that inspiration.

Trip report: Legoland Florida and the Legoland Hotel, July 7-9, 2015

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 9, 2015, 10:14 PM | comments: 0

My time off was starting to accumulate in a way that demonstrated that I really wasn't taking enough time off, and I was starting to burn out. At first I thought about how I wanted to take some kind of epic vacation, but I scaled it back to mostly not doing much of anything at all for a week. Still, I wanted to get out and do something cool that was new to us, and around that time the new Legoland Hotel opened up in Winter Haven. I knew that was something Simon could get behind, so we decided to do a couple of nights there in the middle of the week. After almost two years, we still had not been to the park.

Let me start with the hotel. It's a really beautiful property. It exceeded my expectations in almost every way. At 150-ish rooms, it's big enough to have great service, but it's not too big. The lobby instantly greets you with the sound of kids playing in the bricks, and connects to the buffet restaurant and the bar area next to a castle. Just beyond that is the pool, a heated treasure with foam bricks floating around. The elevators are flanked by a whoopie cushion in the floor, and once inside, disco lights and music immediately turn on the moment the doors close. If you've ever played the Lego video games, you'll appreciate that.

The rooms are available in several themes, and apparently it's the pirate themed rooms that fill up first. Fortunately, that's what we scored. Immediately inside the door, a sleeping area with bunks and a TV greet the kids, and with a pull-out, they can sleep three there. After crossing through some storage space, the well-decorated bathroom is bright and shiny. The bathroom has a stool for the kids, and an anti-slam toilet seat with the inset training seat. The main bed is enormous with plugs for your gadgets on either side, and a desk with a fridge sits under the TV. There's also a safe, though they didn't buy the right kind, as these require a key from the front desk. There is a keypad to set if you're clever, but straight keypad safes would have made more sense since you can't lose a PIN. There are Lego objects built all around the room. Ours included a great skull and crossbones over the bed, while a number of bugs were found elsewhere in the room. There are also graphic prints covering some walls and borders, plus a custom printed carpet for the entire suite. It was a really great room.

The room has a treasure hunt that leads to a few clues that together open the "safe" in the room. Inside you'll find some kid activities and stuff to do in the park. It's a really brilliant start to the stay.

The main restaurant offers buffets in the evening, though it's a little steep at $20 for adults and less for kids. Still, the breakfast buffet is included with your stay, and it's completely awesome. They have the usual assortment of breads, meats, eggs, potatoes, drinks, cereal, fruit, etc. They also have lox, an omelet chef, muffins and cinnamon buns (rationally sized). While you're eating, Lego characters (including the female-patronizing "Friends") walk around to talk to the kids. It's probably the third best breakfast buffet ever, second only to the Disney cruises and the one at Paris in Vegas.

The stuff available at the bar is pretty good, too. In addition to having locally sourced stuff on tap, they have a number of appetizers and sandwiches throughout the day, and a few dinner plates in the evening, plus an assortment of stuff for the kids. The bartender even makes the rounds out to the pool.

Speaking of the pool, it's heated and fantastic. It's not huge, but it never got super crowded while we were there, and I'm assuming the occupancy for the hotel was pretty high. My favorite thing about it is the foam Lego bricks. There is a boardwalk just beyond the pool, down by the lake, which looks recently improved, with some other pieces rotting away. Those are presumably from the Cypress Gardens days. They've also done a gas fire pit down there, but I'm not sure how much use it's had. It really does feel like a resort hotel, and it's fun to see the Island In The Sky popping up above the pool every few minutes.

People keep asking me if the hotel is worth it, given cheaper alternatives at Universal and Disney. Well, if you want to stay at a Lego hotel, this is pretty much your choice. I wouldn't pay the holiday rates (over $500 per night), but in the mid-200-something range I think it's worth it for our family.

As for the park itself, there is a lot of history there with the former Cypress Gardens, and through the failures of the park during the oughts, including the reboot from the Kent Beuscher days (I can't think of any person in business that had as much bad luck as him), much of it is still there. Comparing the park today to what it looks like on Bing Maps, I think the important parts have been preserved while Merlin has otherwise taken a clean approach to building out the park. It's really quite beautiful, end to end.

This is not a park with huge thrill rides, and I don't think anyone expects that it would be. I do think there is enough to do to keep parents interested and riding with their kids, and maybe even enough for teens to stay engaged. All four roller coasters are relatively tame for what they are, but still a lot of fun. Coastersaurus is a gem of a little wooden roller coaster, and very well maintained. The mini-Millennium Flyer train is a little tight for the legs, but still very fun. Project X is a fantastic Mack mouse ride too.

Having a 5-year-old, it's like the park was made for him. There are a lot of small transport kinds of rides, as well as some really unique rides. The jousting horses are neat, the dark ride is fun, the Dragon coaster has a long dark ride element, the splash battle is epic, they have a double-deck mini-carousel, a themed Disk-O, free-driving electric cars, boats to drive in a channel... there is a lot to do. Simon was pretty content just to walk around Miniland, where the big Lego building models are, to push the buttons that made stuff happen.

There is a water park as well, for a small upcharge or included in annual passes, but we didn't use it, as we were content to use the pool at the hotel.

We walked through the classic Cypress Gardens on Tuesday, and they're quite lovely. The centerpiece is this enormous Banyan tree that is completely remarkable. It's great to see the care that still goes into maintaining these grounds.

The only entertainment we really took in was the ski show, which is another shout out to the park's very long history. It was a lot of cheesy kid humor, but still fun.

I can't say much about the food in the park, for two reasons. One, most shops had given up by the time we were looking for dinner on Tuesday, as the park was thinning out because of nearby thunder that shut the park down most of the day. There was a lot of cold food sitting out. We might have tried the pizza/pasta buffet if Simon would eat it. (We ended up going down the road to a Zaxby's.) The other reason is that we simply ate at the hotel. That said, our on encounter at the ice cream shop near the driving school on Thursday was pretty awful. They were understaffed and unmotivated, and it took 20 minutes for them to serve the two families in front of us.

Operationally, the park has some issues. I hate to say this because I found the ride operators to be really fantastic and great with kids, but it's not their fault. The park apparently has a policy of shutting down nearly everything when there is lightning within 30 miles. That's pretty much all of Florida in July, most of the time. It's completely infuriating. Simon was three away from getting on the joust ride Tuesday when they got the call. Poor kid was so deflated, but like a champ, he suggested we try again the next day. Still, we arrived at the park at 12:30 that afternoon, and saw stuff run for maybe a half-hour all day. Their lightning policy appears insane compared to other parks.

One other complaint is that some of the queues need better shade, and they all need to abandon the queue rails they're using. They have metal bars that kids can bang up and down in the holes, and the resulting sound is like nails on a chalkboard.

These issues aside, it's a lovely park and a fantastic attraction if you have young kids. If you're going there as an adult without kids, you may or may not enjoy it unless you have a Lego fetish. Simon really loved it, and I loved it in part because of the hotel stay. I think I would have liked it more if Simon would have braved Coastersaurus sooner, and not as we were leaving. Still, we bought annual passes, so we'll be back. The "awesomer" passes were a no-brainer, because they get us into the Orlando Merlin attractions as well (the Orlando Eye, aquarium and wax museum).

Electric thinking

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 5, 2015, 7:37 PM | comments: 0

Electric cars have been in the news a lot lately. I'm pretty excited about that, because after having one for almost a year, I'm certainly sold. A few of the articles have spawned some solid conversations on tech sites, and it's pretty clear that the naysayers (and vested interests in oil) don't quite get the line of thinking that not only makes me lean electric, but see it as the only outcome.

There are two sidebar topics that I don't think matter in the long run. The first is the cost of the cars. The short-range cars like the Leaf are a little pricey, but there really is only one game in town for long-range, and that is the Tesla Model S, which is not cheap. Between Tesla's desire to bring the Model 3 to market, GM going for the Bolt, and Nissan rumored to be pushing the Leaf to a 200-mile range car, I think the cost discussion isn't important for the long term. The other is the question of "green" energy, which is a side show for two reasons. One, our electricity might be mostly generated by fossil fuel today, but it's still more efficient than gasoline. Two, despite the skepticism in our culture around renewables, they're going to happen. We have free energy overhead, and it's unlimited. We'll get there.

The bigger picture thinking around electric tends to be hampered by a century of using combustion engines. We think in terms of gas stations and the ubiquitous infrastructure that they represent. At our house at least, there are two things that we've learned, even with a range-limited Leaf. The first is that 95% or more of our driving is local. Putting 100 miles on a car in one day happens rarely. That means the need to charge the car during the day almost never happens. The second part of that is that every person (outside of apartment dwellers, for now) has a charging station at home. You plug in your ride when you pull into the garage. If you're really thinking future state, imagine when you have solar on your house.

For real, if you're being completely honest and your driving habits are average, a short-range electric car is doable today. It will reduce your energy spend on driving by somewhere between 40 and 90%. (Remember, I'm putting off the cost of the cars for now... this is an economy of scale problem that will solve itself over time.) We have never had range anxiety in these 95% case trips.

Cars are as American as apple pie of course, and a lot of people equate the freedom of movement that they provide with freedom itself. As a matter of economics, the other 5% of driving scenarios has to be figured out in order for electric to catch on. For us, a gas-powered Prius has filled the needs of that 5% easily, but I can say with confidence that the Tesla solution can also bridge the gap. Again, forget for a moment the cost of that car, and assume that will be a solved problem in the next few years.

Tesla fixes the problem by creating a battery system that can charge from zero to 80% in about 20 minutes at their supercharger stations (which are "free" for owners, which is to say they're subsidized by the cost of the car). At first glance, that doesn't seem like a great arrangement, but consider that an 80% charge will get you at least 190 miles, which is almost three hours of driving. Taking a 20 minute break every three hours seems like a normal thing to do. At the very worst, I don't see it as a deal breaker against six hours of continuous driving with gasoline. As charging gets faster and range gets longer, this will only improve, but the situation today doesn't seem awful to me. And remember... your first charge happens at home overnight.

Now, I am somewhat critical of Tesla because they do use proprietary chargers, but between the desire to use tech that the rest of the market hasn't produced and the need to demonstrate it can work, I give them a pass. Well, that, and they're freely giving away their patents as well.

A friend of mine just road tripped thousands of miles around the eastern part of the US in a Tesla, which very much proves how much sense the electric car makes. And if you've driven one with all of its torquey goodness, you know how much fun it is. I don't buy any of the mental blocks from critics that say EV's aren't doable. I continue to maintain that the internal combustion engine is prehistoric by comparison, to say nothing of the fact that it's complex compared to electric motors.

The future is electric, whether you embrace it or not.

Hooray for thunderstorms

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 5, 2015, 5:43 PM | comments: 0

Seattle is hands down the most beautiful place I've lived, and is easily a top three for most beautiful places I've been overall (I put Kauai and the big island of Hawaii higher, if you were wondering). Despite all of the natural beauty, and those epic mountain ranges, it lacks one of my favorite natural phenomenon: thunderstorms. No joke, you know that weather radar they show in most places with lightning strikes? On Seattle TV, they would lead the news with that map showing two hits on it. It was kind of funny.

When you grow up in the Midwest, of course thunderstorms are part of your spring and summer. Weather is reasonably predictable in the short term there, because you can see those lines of storms both on radar and by simply looking up at the sky. It's always amazing to see it roll in. Unfortunately, you do get tornados there, and all things considered, it's crazy that I've only seen one myself (and a couple of waterspouts, if that counts).

Florida gets a ton of storms in the summer too. They don't have the same kind of consistent organization though. They do often move in lines, but the direction changes a bit. More importantly, they just kind of spawn starting in the afternoon. You almost always get sun in the morning, but rain is pretty common later in the day. It's real wrath-of-God kind of rain, too. At least the tornados are more rare, unless associated with a hurricane or tropical storm (we've had neither since moving).

In any case, I've always loved thunderstorms. It kind of reminds you of where you fit in the world. The storms teach humility in the face of nature. The cats, however, are not always fans.