Archive: May, 2016

Most popular blog post ever: Complaining about Applebees

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 31, 2016, 11:47 PM | comments: 0

As I've been thinking about my blog lately, mostly because I've been messing around and updating the software behind it, I started to wonder what the most popular post has been. Hilariously, it turns out to be one I wrote in 2011, complaining about how crappy Applebees is. Mind you, it has only been viewed about 2,500 times (in the context of a quarter-million overall views during that period), but it's funny how you just don't know what might stick.

That experience put me off from chain restaurants in general pretty badly.

My priorities cause financial anxiety

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 31, 2016, 11:40 PM | comments: 0

One of the goals of our post-Seattle financial makeover was to eliminate as much debt as possible and have a respectable savings situation. I'm glad we achieved that, because God knows moving back to Cleveland sure wasn't a great idea. There aren't many grownup things I'm particularly proud of, but turning it around is on the list. I suppose it wasn't that big of a miracle, getting down to one housing payment while maintaining income, but after carrying various levels of revolving debt for around 17 years, it was a big deal to me.

As I've mentioned before, this swing has also made me cash-obsessed. I still use revolving credit (a lot), but I always pay it off. I also have to remind myself that because long-term credit is so cheap, it doesn't make sense to throw too much cash into things when your money works harder elsewhere. Finding a sweet spot to target with our house, and even the car, took some restraint. It just seems like the right thing though to have liquid cash, ready to go if it's needed for an emergency, and I keep these arbitrary targets in mind that I feel like I have to meet. I'm not even sure what the targets are supposed to protect me from.

Those targets cause me anxiety, because for the last six months we haven't really moved toward them. We're in a great place in terms of conventional wisdom, and I'm still putting money away via 401k, but I imagine better. We haven't reached "better" mostly because of our priorities. Sure, part of it was buying that silly car, but we have also placed travel very high on our priority list, and it's not cheap. Last fall we decided it was time to go to a new place, and Alaska (via cruise) was at the top of the list. The cruise itself was only about double the 3-day excursions we had been making, but pile on the airfare and activities in the various ports, and it's certainly the most expensive vacation I've ever taken. (To be fair, it does include three people instead of two.)

Again, priorities matter. We don't spend a lot of money on "stuff," but we'll spend quite liberally on doing things to create fantastic experiences. Heck, even the EV, which is technically "stuff," has led to a lot of great experiences. I've been accused of being "rich," but I'm far from it. We just make deliberate choices about how we prioritize the income we have. I wish my 20-something self would have understood this, because I think I would have had a very different, more interesting life.

On the plus side, the vacation, since most of it had to be paid for well in advance, is already paid-off. The airfare hit in last month's cycle. At this point, we will be able to take the trip and not have to think about paying for it. No more anxiety.

Nine years with Red Delicious

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 31, 2016, 11:42 AM | comments: 0

Today is the ninth anniversary of my first date with Diana. I have it on my calendar. I'm not sure why, but to for me this is the day that I most associate with what would be one of the most extraordinary changes in my life. Our wedding, while important and amazing, signified a transition to be sure, but the day we met was a pivot point.

I remember sitting in that bar, outside, while the Cavs were playing in the background. Diana was lovely (and finally I got to date a redhead), and she was exactly the kind of positive nerdy type that I dig. She was passionate about certain things and had interesting experiences. I wouldn't describe it as love at first sight (because really, that sort of thing is really just horny at first site), but there was a feeling like this was someone I should have connected with sooner.

I still like to joke that it almost didn't last, because according to Diana's BFF in Cleveland, she needed convincing to give me a chance. Diana says it wasn't like that. The first few dates were fun, but I certainly didn't know what I was doing. Fortunately, my hot tub and a trip to a wine festival helped, as did the local Irish festival and a Cedar Point trip. Our early dates were mini-adventures. Then we would have weekly dates, mostly at her house during the week, where she would kick me out so she could get up early in the morning. Weekends were more fun. She moved in less than six months after that first date.

One of the most striking things about this anniversary is that it just doesn't seem that long ago. I remember that first date so vividly. It's the miles in between that make it seem so staggeringly impossible to reconcile (five moves, one child, six significant jobs, lots of airline miles, many roller coasters). I could not have imagined anything we've done so far, so I don't know what to expect going forward. That's pretty exciting, actually. I think that, together, we've managed to build a relationship where we're free to pursue the things that we want, when we want. That has led to the spontaneous ordering of a house, big moves (one mistake, one slam dunk), job changes, solid parenting choices, etc. We're pretty good at making big decisions together, and most of the time we get it right.

It feels like there's another transition that we're going to make, but I don't know what it is. Maybe it's professional, for one or both of us. Maybe it's the realization of some larger calling. Maybe it's just trying to figure out how to keep Simon busy, engaged and social over the summer. I don't know, but like I said, it's an adventure that I look forward to.

Here's to many more happy years, reddelicious! I love you and can't wait to see what we do next!

ASP.NET Core middleware to measure request processing time

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 30, 2016, 11:37 AM | comments: 0

One of the things that ASP.NET Core promises is a faster, streamlined processing pipeline. Naturally, you start to wonder how fast your pages render before being spit out into the tubes. With the fantastic ability to chain middleware in the pipeline (think HttpModules and HttpHandlers, only without the bazillion events), it's super easy to wrap most of the processing in a timer.

In high level terms, a request comes into the app and it is then "seen" by whatever middleware you have configured in the Startup class. If you've fired up a new project, you've already seen some of the included middleware configured in the Configure method using extension methods like app.UseMvc(), for example. These helper methods are likely calling something like app.UseMiddleware<T>(), where T is some type that includes an Invoke() method to do stuff, and a delegate to hand off processing to the next middleware. (This is all well documented, so I won't get deep here.)

It makes sense, then, that you can create your own middleware, and register it first in Configure to capture the time it takes for the entire process. Even better, you can do it inline without having to create a class for this simple output. It goes like this in the Startup class:

public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app, IHostingEnvironment env, ILoggerFactory loggerFactory)
	app.Use(async (context, next) =>
		var sw = new Stopwatch();
		await next.Invoke();
		await context.Response.WriteAsync(String.Format("<!-- {0} ms -->", sw.ElapsedMilliseconds));

	// all the other middlware configured here, including UseStaticFiles() and UseMvc()

Hopefully that's straight forward. Each middleware calls the next, so while they execute in order up until they reach those next calls, they execute in reverse order after that for any code that falls after the next call in each middleware. The important part here is that it injects a comment at the end of the stream with the number of milliseconds it took to execute the rest of the middleware pipeline, which likely includes all of the MVC bits. So with that in mind, a few caveats:

  • This is not well tested. I can see it write out some (really fast) execution times on pages, but I'm not aware of any unintended consequences.
  • I would rather write to the headers collection, but unfortunately it's read-only by the time the last line fires. I'm sure someone more clever than me can figure out a way to do this.
  • I'm not sure what the consequences of doing this are on non-HTML output. I don't see the time being appended to static files, for example, but I'm not sure what it does to images that are streamed out from the MVC framework, for example (i.e., images taken from a database blob and written out from an action method).
  • This doesn't measure whatever overhead is involved in creating and managing the pipeline itself. I haven't looked very deeply into this to know what's going on, but as the point for ASP.NET Core is to ditch a lot of the crusties that came with old ASP.NET, I imagine it's not significant.

Have fun, and if you have ideas about how to improve this, do let me know!

Comments back, running the ASP.NET Core RC2 bits

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 30, 2016, 12:48 AM | comments: 0

I finally got around to updating my blog app to ASP.NET Core RC2, which is to say I spent a lot of time on it because it's so different than RC1. The tooling isn't great yet, and I encountered new weirdness with Entity Framework Core, plus deployment issues. I'm sure there will be blog posts about it all eventually, and a lot of opinions about how the brave new world of .NET as OSS hasn't exactly been a great experience. I see the vision, but it has been rough.

That said, RC2 means the bug I had before is gone, where the CAPTCHA on comments broke because the framework couldn't read your IP address. People don't comment on the blog itself much anyway (usually it's just friends on Facebook), but it works again.

The female celebrities of Instagram

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 28, 2016, 8:05 PM | comments: 0

I used to make jokes about Instagram, calling it "Instapoopy," because the version they had for Windows Phone back in the day was crap. But a friend of mine at work made a very good point about the service in terms of why he liked it. "It's not really about politics or anything, it's just people sharing moment with pictures." When I switched to a Nexus Android phone, I kind of got what he was talking about, and for whatever reason, Instagram suggested a lot of celebrities to follow in things that I was already familiar with. Mind you, social media isn't exactly real life, but what's great about these women is that they present a life that's far more normal and humble than you would expect.

  • For example, there was Sutton Foster, of Younger fame, and of course a great many Broadway shows. She's the triple threat, kind of dorky, and my age. Her humility despite her fame is interesting.
  • Foster's co-star, Hilary Duff, presents a surprisingly normal life, as a parent.
  • Olivia Wilde is already going beyond being pretty, and she's doing indie films, charity work, producing, being a parent with Jason Sudeikis.
  • Jaclyn is a woman from Suicide Girls with tattoos and dual-noserings who posts some naked photos from time to time, and is sort of a micro-celebrity, but she's interesting because she posts photos from motorcycle trips all over the west.
  • Ariel Winter is the younger daughter from the show Modern Family, and she's been in the press for divorcing her emotionally abusive mother and getting a breast reduction and letting her scars show in the red carpet. Most recently she posted prom photos. Imagine being 18 and living in a Hollywood world.
  • My favorite might be Daisy Ridley, who went from being mostly unknown to a core figure in the Star Wars universe. She puts a sense of humility and respect on display, fascinated with the world she has been thrust in to. I only hope she stays humble in light of the unprecedented fame she's acquired.

Why refusing to hear opposing view points makes you suck

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 25, 2016, 3:30 PM | comments: 1

When I was in college, there was a gentleman named Larry Simpson, who was appointed the director of multicultural affairs. My understanding is that he passed away from a brain tumor some years after I graduated, and that's sad, but I remember many of my conversations with him very vividly.

Ashland University was, as you might expect, a fairly conservative place in terms of its politics, and its political science department in particular, despite constant denial, was extremely right leaning. Larry was heavily involved in residence life (I was an RA for two years), so as part of our training, it wasn't unusual to have him speak to us. What was interesting, however, was that he was the first black Republican I had ever met. Even in the early 90's, the party wasn't exactly inclusive. Imagine my surprise (not to mention that of the minorities in the res life staff) when Larry told us that he though affirmative action was wrong and unnecessary. His argument against it was sound and logical, and the only reason I could rationally disagree with him was that his argument was predicated on ideal conditions. (Sidebar: This tends to be why I can't fully back ideologies from either extreme... they make too many assumptions about context.)

Larry took his share of shit from others. One of the black residents on my floor candidly told me that he thought Larry was a "sellout." Honestly, that statement made me really uncomfortable at first, because I liked Larry even if I disagreed with him, but the resident had a very different perspective about racial identity and social classes. His family struggled in poverty, and it was ultimately a wrestling scholarship that brought him to the university. Having originally grown up in an inner-city neighborhood, not really seeing color, and not really knowing how rough it probably was at the time, this was likely the first time that I realized that race wasn't the only issue that challenged people, but also social class and economic status. Indeed, our perspectives are very heavily influenced with our experiences. If Larry's story was vastly different (it was), then it makes sense that his perspective would be different. Race alone did not define his experience.

And that brings me to Oberlin College, just 35 miles to the north. It was a school even then where, as Larry put it, "Their minds are so open there that their brains might fall out." A feature written in The New Yorker (if you can get beyond its pretentiousness and ridiculous writing style guide) talks about the activism on-campus for... something "better." The truth is that I don't entirely get what it is that the students are after other than for college to be easier. I get the concerns around the politics of racial identity, conformity, "the man," and all of that. These are not new issues. I'm frustrated with the move from quiet, private expression of "-ism's" to the very public and implied convictions of the same variety. ("Make America White, er, Great Again!") These are struggles that we still deal with today, and while I believe there is progress, I'm not naive enough to think that these are solved problems.

What strikes me about this piece, and other incidents at other colleges is this complete bullshit notion of having "safe spaces" where you don't have to hear anything that may offend you or cause you to disagree. This isn't liberalism at all. This is exactly what the right has been engaging in for decades, and it isn't any better. If you want to seclude yourself in an echo chamber for a big group hug, nothing changes. College is supposed to expose you to as much knowledge as possible, and some of that comes from things that make you uncomfortable. Suck it up and deal with it, because it doesn't get easier after college.

Let me make it clear, I'm not suggesting that it's OK to tolerate a little racism. But uncomfortable history? Learn about it. Unpopular opinions? Hear them, and understand where they come from, even if you don't agree. Isolation from these things is hypocrisy at its worst, and likely the very thing that you're rallying against.

I would think that over time, any individual, based on more experience and more data, would become more and more moderate, and less likely to adhere to rigid ideologies. There's too much nuance in life. But it seems the opposite happens. People get less flexible and more entrenched over time. We've gotta stop being like that.

I thought Larry Simpson was kind of full of crap when I was in college. It's funny how much I learned from him anyway.

When I used to talk about finding balance all of the time

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 24, 2016, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

One of the themes I see in my blog posts from the 2004 to 2006 years, which included the time leading up to and including my divorce, was an almost relentless pursuit for balance. (It still isn't clear from reading then that I had any sort of big life issue, except when it was.) I found that my priorities and basic functioning were all out of whack. In those days, I found balance by way of coaching, being a roller coaster nerd, working (occasionally) and being social.

These days, I find that I'm not very balanced at all, and it's starting to wear on me a bit. Symptoms include anxiety, trouble sleeping, mental exhaustion and the occasional visit from IBS, something I don't get that often anymore. I can't say that I'm entirely surprised, I just think that I'm starting to realize that living in the Sunshine State alone isn't enough to keep me operating at a high level.

Alas, I can't balance things out by coaching, because the opportunity for coaching juniors volleyball here sucks. Whereas the metros in Ohio each have hundreds of high schools, we have a couple dozen. Maybe 250 kids out of 1.3 million residents play varsity volleyball, so USAV barely exists. The problem with my other hobby is that it's the same thing I do for a living, so it's hard to engage in that when much of the time I need a break from it after hours. So I've come to realize that part of my issue is that I need a new hobby, or at the very least, need to follow through on some of the other things I liked to do, but don't follow through on.

I'm also in one of my, "Hey dude, you should really take a vacation," modes. I'm going about 18 weeks between meaningful trips, and that's way too long. Me and my little family unit have our half-day trips to theme parks and such, but it's not a real vacation. I spent about 24 hours on the ground in Ohio for a roller coaster opening, without the family, and that doesn't count either. I know from experience that a solid long weekend, not more than three months apart, goes a long way to recharging, but I forget.

I realize now that the cruises we have taken are such a happy place for me because of the glorious, forced disconnection they impose. I get on a boat, someone hands me a fruity drink, and tells me where to eat, and I can completely switch off. That is so far from daily life that it pulls me the other way, into a balanced state.

The bottom line is that I know what a balanced life looks like, and I need to enforce it.

Outrage: The new American way

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

Have you noticed lately that people aren't happy unless they're outraged about something? Outrage has become a national obsession that drives our politics and much of our culture, and yet it requires practically no effort and results in absolutely nothing happening.

Nowhere is this more true than in social media. Enormous amounts of energy are poured into being outraged about something (examples include Obama, vaccines, climate change, GMO's, the LGBT "agenda," etc.), and the outrage is rarely based in any fact. Instead, it's ripe with hyperbole and willful ignorance, broadcast in an echo chamber where beliefs may not be challenged. "Like and share" is not activism. It requires no effort, and there is no risk. It's just people putting a lot of time into being pissed about something, reinforcing themselves with an electronic mob. If that weren't infuriating enough, it's often intended to thinly veil a sense of victimhood or hate.

The truth is that so much of the outrage isn't directed toward anything that is, in a meaningful way, affecting people adversely. The outrage comes after a decade and a half of our culture insisting that we be scared of something, whether it be terrorism, the economy, income disparity, or some nonexistent threat to your way of life. While the world certainly comes with challenges, as does life itself, the constant outrage doesn't change anything. It doesn't move you or others forward.

Imagine, if you will, that people would instead use this time spent on outrage to learn and study things like economics, anthropology, the sciences... most anything that would result in a better understanding of the world. Or, in lieu of education, what if the time was spent working at a soup kitchen in an urban church, or building a house for Habitat For Humanity, or helping out at Give Kids The World Village? These are the kinds of things that improve the world, and make you more of a contributing citizen of it.

I'm not suggesting that it isn't important to be civic minded. Far from it. What I'm saying is that all of the bullshit outrage accomplishes nothing, and it dumbs-down our culture. There are amazing and great things going on all around you, if you choose to see them and get involved. But you'll never see them if you don't put down you goddamn phone for a minute and stop tapping "like" and "share."

Participation trophy

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 13, 2016, 7:55 PM | comments: 0

Simon did a local parks & rec soccer league for a couple of months this year. He wasn't particularly good at it, but he seemed to enjoy it and made some progress throughout the season. At the end of the season, at a team gathering, everyone on the team got a trophy. For showing up.

I get that my kid is 6, and every day we make decisions about what to do to help him, and when to let him "struggle." I already thought it was a little weird that there was no score keeping, but I could roll with that. However, I was a little taken aback by the idea of granting trophies for showing up. It's not like we could deny that with all of the other kids getting one. A trophy implies some kind of achievement or above-average accomplishment. There isn't anything special about showing up.

There have been a lot of jokes made about participation trophies, especially in relation to millennials. I have some first-hand experience with this. Back in 2005, when I was coaching varsity volleyball at a small, private high school, I recall having a conversation with the girls about what it means to be exceptional. My assistant coach, who was at most only five years older than some of them, totally understood this as well. When a few kids were putting volleyball second, and missing a practice, for other things (like Spanish club and who knows what else), the talk was necessary. The kids insisted, "We need all of these things for college entrance and resumes," etc.

Me and Liz broke it down like this: Every kid in college is going to have all of the same things in their past, and you will not be special. A large volume of activities in high school doesn't make you well-rounded... it just means you're average at a lot of things. However, if you commit to something and work hard to be better at it, that's something that can make you stand out. Otherwise, you're just showing up. The kids found this perspective wholly depressing, but admitted we were probably telling the truth.

I think that overall, the millennials get a bad rap and a silly stereotype. I am, after all, part of the slacker Generation-X. (And suck it, world... we made the Internet what it is today, and we're the new industrialists.) However, the stereotypes are at least partially rooted in some upbringing, and I saw it first hand. Little Sally "deserved" play time, and didn't have to earn it, if you believe what their parents had to say.

The bottom line is that I want my kid to have a happy childhood, but I don't ever want to give him the impression that showing up makes you special. That would not serve him at all.

The Newsroom: Best TV show ever

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 13, 2016, 7:06 PM | comments: 0

Last year, we quickly watched through the first two seasons of The Newsroom on Amazon Prime. It was on HBO a few years before. The show was widely known indirectly for one of the first scenes in the series, where Jeff Daniels' character goes on a rant about how the US is not the greatest country in the world to a bunch of college kids. Considering he plays a news anchor, his assessment about what we suck at made for a fantastic alternate reality, where some news agency actually wanted to be about... the news. The third season went Prime, and we just finished it.

I'm a big fan of Aaron Sorkin, and especially for those of us that worked in TV in some capacity, his show Sports Night was an effort that we didn't get enough of with only two seasons. Of course, I also dig things like A Few Good Men, The Social Network and The West Wing seasons that he wrote. But for him to revisit TV, and specifically news, was a welcome endeavor. We're in an age where actual news on TV is scarce, and the public at large isn't that interested in truth. Imagine then, a news organization, led by a Republican news anchor, that believes the public can handle something better, call out political bullshit, and above all, embrace the importance of bona fide, professional news gathering and reporting.

The show explores those ideas in the context of actual news events, and I think that's brilliant. It also includes plenty of the interpersonal drama that you would expect, and every character is so incredibly well written and developed, it's hard to dislike any of them. (The most surprising is easily Olivia Munn.) But the thing that I couldn't help but smile about at the end of most episodes was the idea, the hope, that real news and a society that wasn't willfully ignorant could be a thing. Maybe it's naive, but it's a good dream.

Highly recommended, watch all three seasons.

The inability to understand the concept of consequences

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 11, 2016, 9:14 PM | comments: 0

Kids with ASD are developmentally all over the map, at an age when kids already are wildly different in terms of progress. As Simon nears the end of kindergarten, he's made huge progress in a lot of areas, and we continue to learn coping strategies around his autism related challenges. It's still a mixed bag, as he can read nearly at a second grade level, but can at times struggle with clothing that's inside-out. As an adult it's hard to understand that this is possible, but as someone who appreciates the atypical ways in which an ASD brain is wired, it makes sense.

Our current challenge has proven to be tough to crack. Simon is having a hard time understanding the concept of consequences, or even basic cause and effect. At first, one may write off his behavior as six-year-old defiance. However, when he believes that his sadness is caused by others reacting to his own actions, and he can't reconcile that his action caused the reaction, it takes him to the kind of meltdown that we would typically associate with some other circumstance or social contract that he can't reconcile.

Here's a concrete example: Simon sucked in some medicine via a syringe, for reasons we can't understand, he randomly spit it out. It's not the waste that's an issue, but not knowing how much he might actually have taken. In any case, this caused anger on our part, and his response was that we were making him feel bad, and to please stop. We've had similar scenarios in the last few months.

The frustrating thing here is that we haven't had a successful strategy to help him understand this. When we try to explain it, he wants no part of it. I'm sure we'll eventually figure out a way to get through to him, but trying to understand how he sees the world in this way is difficult.

The Cleveland visit, and nostalgia

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 6, 2016, 4:25 PM | comments: 0

It was very cool (literally and figuratively) to get back up to Cedar Point this week. When the media event started to wind down, I felt rather melancholy. Part of it may have been the infrequency with which I get to visit, and I'm sure being there without Simon and Diana was also a bummer. Quite honestly, the highlight of my day was easily the video call I did with Simon before he had to go to school. He got to see the ride run, and I walked up to the station where he got to see a few trains dispatch. The joy on his face was priceless.

I had the chance to meet up with friends, talk about old times, and I even had a few minutes with my favorite CEO. It was an intense 24 hours. Granted, I've come to realize that so much of my remaining love for Ohio is centered on Cedar Point. Cleveland in the bigger sense, honestly, is still a feeling of, "I'm done with that."

This time, just landing at the airport made me feel glad to not live there. The trees were still without leaves, the sky was gray, and it was depressing. The airport is half-closed, the surrounding area is trashy, and it just feels wholly depressing. Getting into the suburbs did feel a little better, and I was overjoyed to have lunch at the Winking Lizard in Avon (on the way back, too). Then that cold, gray trip down SR 2 made me sad again. Fortunately, when I arrived at Castaway Bay, which was open just for press, the sun peeked out, and I met friends for dinner. Outside of Cedar Point, that's how the day on the ground in the area went. It was a love-hate thing.

When I think back to our late July, 2011 visit, we felt as though our social world was more appropriately aligned with Cleveland. While I didn't have a super extensive social network in Seattle, having changed jobs at MSFT made me feel to an extent a little isolated. In reality, we had a pretty good circle of friends. After making the terrible decision to move back to Cleveland, we found that the nostalgia definitely warped our sense of belonging. It was such a great move in the financial sense, paying for just the one house, but professionally and socially, it wasn't a great idea.

That's where I think this quick trip has given me some peace. That 2011 decision really nagged me, even to this day. While I don't hate the place where I was born, this trip made me understand that I was there for too long, and the nostalgia does not trump that reality. I can visit Cedar Point and my friends in and around the park, but that's really the limit of my attraction to the area. I liked Seattle better than Cleveland, and Orlando is a fantastic tie. We're people best suited with views of Mt. Rainier or Space Mountain.

Valravn review

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 6, 2016, 3:19 PM | comments: 0

I decided with only a few weeks to go to fly up to Cleveland for the Valravn media day at Cedar Point. I ended up not going up to Carowinds last year for the Fury 325 opening and regretted it, so I wasn't going to make that mistake twice. Unfortunately, I don't think the rest of the family will make it up there this year, because our big Alaska cruise is going to be epic, and epic in cost.

In any case, here's what I posted on PointBuzz:

I had my first laps on Wednesday, for the media preview. Once I got beyond the extreme green glow of the Raptor lift at 4:45 a.m., I was impressed with the scope and size of Valravn in real life. It's quite a bit more impressive than any photo can really show.

From a design standpoint, this is the evolution that you would probably expect for the dive coaster category. While I imagined it wouldn't be vastly different than Shiekra at Busch Tampa, I was pleasantly surprised. Here's the thing... the taller drop is, obviously, longer. It's probably only a fraction of a second, but it just seems to drop forever. It's fantastic. If you're sitting in the back, it tosses you out of the seat and seems to hold you just away from the train. It doesn't feel like any other first drop.

The other thing that impressed me is the forces in the first two pull-outs. If you're standing in the middle of it all, you can appreciate that these are fairly compact, and presumably that's what makes them feel as extreme as they do. G junkies will love it.

After the second vertical drop, it's the roll that I found extraordinary. I'm not sure how they did it, but this is the perfect floater roll, and it seems perfect in any seat of the giant trains. It was totally unexpected. The airtime hill also doesn't mess around, with some pretty solid air. The restraints do not impact these moments at all.

The left and right ends of the train offer different experiences. While the right will pop your heels over head in the first inversion, the left does that for the roll. Front offers easily the best visual on any coaster ever (you can literally see the entire park), the back has that crazy push out of the seat on the vertical drops. I can't pick a favorite. They're all good in different ways.

I can't give enough credit to the design team for the way they integrated the ride, the new walkways, the marina gate, into one beautiful and consistent package. While the views from the main midway are certainly impressive, walking into the area from either end is the most visually interesting thing in the park since Corkscrew.

I think the ride will be a huge hit in a park that seemed to have it all. I bet it will be good for Blue Streak traffic, too.