I've spent a fair amount of time lately trying to assess my appetite for business building. Working for a serial entrepreneur, and honestly just listening to him talk, you start to get a feel for what the right questions are when asking yourself what you could be doing to build a business. More on that in a minute.
Today I was trying very hard to learn some new things. The understanding and knowledge did not come as fast as I had hoped, and that bothered me. Normally I get a lot of joy out of the process of discovery, so it seemed odd that I'd be so dissatisfied. That's when I made the connection to the business building.
I want to learn faster because, in my mind, knowing more means that I can do more to build Internet "things" that can grow the very loosely defined ideas that I think are viable businesses. But when you start to ask yourself the right questions, it's not as simple as know more, do more.
When you really get into the weeds of building product, marketing and sales, it becomes obvious really quickly that these movements don't depend on how much I know, especially in the coding realm. If I were to make a serious stab at executing on some of these ideas I have, I'd need to pay for help. That's somewhat at odds with the things that I most get off on, namely writing code and designing UI and system architecture. I'd have to let go of some of that to really execute.
This isn't a bad thing necessarily, as it really gets me into the right thought process. I can choose what I'm really willing to do when I better understand the constraints. Heck, constraints sure can make you creative.
Now I need to get back to my learning. Fast.
It's a question I've had with industry types, friends, ad people and other enthusiasts. In fact, we had a conversation about it at dinner the other night during our event. Looking at our sites, our year-over-year number of visitors isn't what it used to be. We've mitigated that to some degree by trying to make the sites more interesting, and there has been great payoff in those efforts, as people are spending a lot more time looking around and interacting.
But it seems like people just aren't as into coasters as they used to be. One of the most obvious reasons is that the building boom around the turn of the century is little more than a memory. If we do see something like that again, it won't come for decades.
I suppose I only have to look as far as my own experience to really understand it. Other parts of my life certainly take priority now. There is no RollerCoaster Tycoon, no Millennium Force being built, and frankly nothing that really captures the imagination. Immersive theme park experiences appeal more to me than the typical traditional amusement park.
The devices themselves, for me, quickly became secondary to the social component as well. The first few years I was into it, I couldn't wait to ride the next big thing. Now I'm content going to events and parks knowing that I'll be meeting up with someone.
I'm still hoping for another renaissance. Those were such exciting times. I just don't see it happening any time soon, with the big operators buried in debt, and the obviously realization that building giant rides is little more than a short-term win.
I feel so odd right now, and the best way I can describe it is say I feel disconnected. From Diana, from the world, from life. It's so hard to be more specific than that, other than to say that I don't like it.
Friday started off poorly. I was having printer difficulties while trying to print stuff for the event this weekend. Then I had to fight Word just to make the name tags line up right. When we started our journey, at least two people tried to kill me in a parking lot only a mile from home. It felt like a really bad way to start things. Fortunately some BWW put my mind at ease for the six-hour drive.
The weirdness fired up again when we stopped for dinner about a half-hour from Holiday World. We went to a place called O'Charley's, which is apparently a chain we don't have up here in Northeast Ohio. The service was glacially shitty. Our waiter creeped us out. There were a bunch of hilljacks in the parking lot just hanging out in their truck. The food was mediocre, about as bad as Applebee's. It just set a crappy tone for us after being in the car for five hours.
When we got to Lake Rudolph it was dark, which was a bummer because we hoped to get there earlier. But we stopped at the camp store for some firewood. I figured it'd be dry enough to not use lighter fluid, but it wasn't so I gave up. We were pretty tired anyway, so we gave up and went to bed. I surfed a slowly on the Wi-Fi for a little bit, and passed out myself.
The event went pretty well overall. We ended up having about a hundred people, which is more than last year. Diana's mad box office skills certainly made life easier for me. We hung out most of the day with Mike Graham, who I've always hit it off with but unfortunately don't see that often. It was very cool to meet his wife Corrie too, which is a relief because I though he was making her up. Her and Diana are now BFF's.
Raven was running exceptionally well, and I love riding it in the front. Legend is a shadow of what it used to be, and I'm not sure why exactly. It tends to jackhammer through certain sections, so by the time it gets to the helix it's remarkably unimpressive. The Voyage is still completely nuts. It doesn't run quite as fast as it did in previous years, but it's still killer. It's also still hard to re-ride a ton, but I discovered at Mike's urging that the front seat is actually very easy to ride in, even on crazy night rides. I loved it. And they ran two trains too!
Sadly, things went back to shitty when we left. We got back to our rental RV to find that some bastards stole our chairs. What the fuck? Is nothing sacred anymore? I mean, that's just not the kind of shit you do. And it's not about the five dollar chairs (I suspect the wood sitting there was worth more), it's about the fact that even in the middle of nowhere, at a camp ground full of kids and Halloween festivities, there are assholes. Camp Rudolph was pretty much "sorry about your luck," and I suppose I don't know what I would expect them to do otherwise, but it just annoyed me.
We made the best out of it and did the fire while sitting on the picnic table. Our backs were not pleased of course, but we had beverages and snacks and tried to cuddle and make the most of it. Again, it wasn't a big deal in the bigger picture, but it just colored things the wrong way.
On the way home, we saw the Browns-Bengals game getting underway at the stadium (or rather, people watching it), and then we stopped for lunch at Cheesecake north of Cincinnati. I finally got something different for a change, and liked it. I let Diana drive the last two hours or so because I was wiped out.
It was a great event, but the before and after were suboptimal, and I feel strangely out of place with the cosmos. Hopefully tomorrow will be better, although trying to get into a routine at the new gig is tough, especially since I'll be deployed soon.
Anyone else have the issue where you save a bookmark in Firefox, and the next time you start it up, it's not there?
I finally found the Easter Egg in the Hard Rock Memorabilia collection. It used to be on the button of Sinatra's tux. Now it's on Paul McCartney's letter to a Miami cop who server as a body guard. It's on the envelope. Inside that, zoom in on the Paramount, then on the marquee, where you can get up close and personal to some Beatles bobble heads.
This is more family friendly than what they showed at Mix earlier this year, with nudies of John and Yoko and some bizarre unused album covered with slabs of meat and baby doll heads.
I've been thinking a lot about Silverlight lately, for a lot of reasons. What really put me to task was my boss asking me what its impact is and if he should care about it. That certainly changed my approach and purpose for thinking about it.
As one typically does, I started by Googling around for opinions and analyst comments. There really aren't a lot of great objective opinions out there. There's a whole lot of "Flash roX0rz, Silverlight and M$ suX0rz" nonsense, written largely by Flash developers. That's not helpful, but it got me thinking a lot about Flash. I've spent a lot of time with Flash lately, experimenting with some stuff and getting to know it a little better. As an animation tool, it has a certain level of familiarity for me because I was using Adobe AfterEffects way back in 1999 to animate video. I remember the first time I saw the Flash tools, thinking that Macromedia totally ripped off Adobe (ironic since they've since bought them). What has been less obvious in my experimentation is how they arrived at the programming model. That's where I get hung up the most.
But I think that's the point at which I started to wonder if it was entirely appropriate to consider Flash and Silverlight competitors. Yes, they're both displayed via browser plug-ins, but Silverlight is an opposite in many ways to Flash. It's a UI/software platform that happens to do animation. When you define it this way, you describe it as a solution to different problems. At that point it doesn't seem like a versus debate anymore. And if you cut out the versus part, and therefore the platform religion, I think you get a clearer picture to consider.
That picture has a lot of clear pro's and con's. On the upside:
That said, there are also some valid concerns:
From the developer angle, it's hard to argue against it. From the designer angle, it's a toss up leaning slightly against it for Mac shops (especially those who haven't upgraded to Intel machines). From a business angle, you've got the idea that you can leverage existing talent to build stuff and pit it against end user adoption. At the end of the day, it seems that the best you can do is wait and see for some point after v2 goes RTM.
Of course, if you're a developer, you probably already can think of a great many things to do with it today, and I think it's important to get out there and try that stuff. Deep zoom is a killer feature, and we could only make it more interesting by finding more novel ways to use it. But there I go making it religious again!
I went to see Darcy this morning, who has been cutting my hair now for 15 years, and I was telling her all about the wedding plans. It seemed to click and be more real when I was telling her about it, and I think even more real was that it could be the most epic wedding I'll go to. I'm glad it's mine!
Honestly I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it because there isn't much for me to do. The date and location are done, and most of the details have been figured out. Diana, on the other hand, is in hard core dress shopping mode, but naturally I'm not really a part of that. My only remaining duties are to plan the honeymoon, which is less time sensitive, and show up.
But I was showing Darcy the photos of the boat and what not, and it hit me that having our reception there is seriously crazy. Who does that? It's like this glorious excess, but in a good way.
I think that having a really limited guest list makes a difference too. It may suck that you can't have everyone you know there, but it makes the time with those few people a lot more intimate. I think about the friends who will be there, most of whom I don't get to see that often, and I'm really happy about that.
Overall, the whole affair seems appropriate for what it's celebrating. It'll be less than two years from the time we met until the time we start jointly filing taxes. Heck, we had only met a year before when we decided to get married. I still scratch my head that she picked me out of an eHarmony line up. You really can't control when this stuff happens... it just does!
The Jungle Disk guys say it'll finally run as a service in the next release. That means I can finally ditch iBackup and use just S3 for home and my server. Yay! Oh, and it gets that icon out of my dock too.
OK, so I happened to see a picture of the Space Shuttle somewhere and I though, OK, this time, see if the damn thing is flying while you're in Florida, because it is pretty much does every time and I don't find out until after the launch. Well, what do you know, there is a launch scheduled while we're down there! I think that perhaps I should try to go see it from where ever you're allowed to watch. I've dreamed about it since I was a kid.
Bubba was on The Daily Show last night. It's crazy how eight years later, people still love that guy, me included. He's just so damn honest, smart and eloquent when he speaks.
And the thing is, a lot of former politicians are like that once they're out of office. I think if people saw today's Al Gore back in 2000, he would've been a slam dunk to win. Hell, even the John McCain of those days was sane and logical.
Not related exactly, but this clip from the show is pretty hilarious. Right-leaning media pundits are pretty hilarious. No wonder they get better ratings.
I felt really, really strange today. I've totally disengaged from everything I spent time caring about since July for some reason, and the only thing I can attribute it to is starting a new job. I can't really explain it.
As is the case with any new job, you can't get a feel for how things will be in the first week, and I suspect that's what's unsettling. When you work for yourself, even if it's not the windfall cash flow kind of work, at least you have a pretty good idea of how things are going.
Of course, I learned today that the other company that did not hire me just got a $20 million round of financing, which surprised the hell out of me for a company that isn't that big, and is already profitable. I don't know why that matters really, except that it's an interesting league to play in, and I don't get to play there.
My new boss said to me that it was likely I'd figure out something clever enough to make into a business plan some day, and that really stuck with me. I think working with him will train me to see those opportunities, which is something I'm not very good at. I tend to only get into things that truly interest me, which holds me back.
So at the end of the day, I think not feeling quite like my normal self comes out of the rush of feelings you have when you're transitioning into a new gig. That feeling is of course augmented by some lingering resentment toward my former employer, anxiety around financial goals and a strong desire to have everything in place for April.
Meanwhile, I've taken a strong interest in Silverlight and WPF.
Lego Batman is out this week... I think I might need the distraction!
Diana is suffering from a really shitty soar throat. Like, everything else is cool, but the neck section is not. She's totally got a phone sex voice, which, if it gets worse, will likely turn into no voice. She went to the doctor today, and thinks it's just the result of some draining nonsense related to allergies.
I hate to see her like that, because there's nothing I can really do but warm up soup for her. Now I know how she felt when I was trashed with that sinus infection.
Saw this page with video of Jem singing "Keep on Walking" and "They" with a guitarist on a swing. And she totally chokes on the first one. How adorable is she?
My first day at the new gig was, well, like any other first day. You mostly spend time getting your comprooder how you like it (or in this case a VM on my laptop), and that's mostly it.
Right now it's not entirely clear which project or client I'll be working with, so this week will be a little slow going. While I'm at the office though, I have some office space and a window, which is absolutely an upgrade from my last gig. Chances are that the company won't be in that office forever, as it's not adequate to grow in.
I took the job mostly because I think the owner is a smart guy who understands what my intentions are for work. He knows that I want to be "amused" by what I do. He gets expectation management, and that it applies to your own people as well as external clients.
While the future is not entirely clear, in terms of specific work, it sounds like there is a lot of room to potentially try new things and get into the tools that make the most sense. For example, there's a project I might engage in that could be WPF based if I thought it made sense. That'd be pretty interesting to me.
Of course, the other part of this equation is that I feel a lot more at ease knowing that I can pay for all of my travel between now and our wedding.
The week before last I was intrigued by the idea of getting out and shooting video, and trying to raise the game a little in terms of production quality. I've got this great camera that I've mostly shot standard def with.
I was surfing around when I noticed I still had a P2 card on my Amazon wish list. They've come down so far in price since I bought mine a little over two years ago, where each of the two 4 gig cards I bought cost around $750. The reason they're so expensive compared to conventional memory is that they're actually four high speed SD-cards wired together in a RAID so they can sustain the 100 mbit stream of data coming to them without error. Most flash can't handle that. The DVCPRO HD cameras generate about 18 MB of data per second!
I tossed my hands in the air, said WTF, and got a 32 gig card. Now I can shoot 32 minutes of 1080p if I want, or 80 minutes of 720p at 24 fps (film speed). Honestly, anything more than two minutes of 1080p is insanely expensive to distribute over the Web at the moment, so the 720p/24 is pretty cool if you get the camera settings just right (more on that in a minute). With one of my 4 gig cards, I can shoot 90 minutes of 720p/24, which is more than plenty.
I also bought a shotgun mic for on-camera use, which I've meant to do since I bought it. The built-in mic picks up the noise of the zoom lens, which is completely annoying. That was easy to justify, because I knew I could also put the mic on a fish pole for use in shooting whatever fiction I eventually get to shooting.
So with the chance to shoot some real HD junk, I started to experiment with the many settings the camera offers, and landed on something that's fairly low noise, but with the robust color that I like. The only thing that I wasn't totally pleased with was the shutter speed, which defaults to 1/48, because it looks a little "stroby" at times. (Technically, the shutter is 180 degrees, because it measures it like a film camera, so that's exposing the image for half of the frame rate.) When I get around to shooting coasters, I think I'll try slow down the shutter to 1/24 and see how much blur that causes.
I did make one error though that I couldn't correct in a clean way, and that was not white balancing outside after shooting inside. On the first clip I posted, my subject is all red outside. I knew it at the time, but for whatever reason I didn't react. That was amateurish, and silly since it's something I've known better about since 1989.
Beyond that, I found a little vertical striping on a couple of very hot reflective edges in one thing that I shot, and I'm not sure I can explain where those are coming from. I think it's just the kind of thing I need to watch for when I'm not doing run-and-gun ENG-style shooting.
The near-fatal flaw of my camera is that it's not shoulder mounted. Back in the day, I could slug around a camera and shoot for hours on my shoulder, but this thing is killing me when I freehand it. Add to the weight of the camera my light and wireless rig, and it's damn near torture to carry. Anton Bauer makes this really cool device to mount cameras on that also uses their batteries (in part to counter balance), but has two issues. One is that it has no quick-release, so what happens if you want to put it on a tripod? Heck, how do you even set the camera down? The cost doesn't include buying into their battery system either, though I admit those are things I could use with a future camera. I think a decent solution is to get this video monopod that has had a couple of good reviews online and in magazines.
Of course, the thing I dream of owning is an HPX500, although that would be tough to justify. Aside from being shoulder mounted, the thing that turns me on about it most is that use of real, interchangeable glass, which means shallow depth of field, and big 2/3" sensors that mean significantly lower noise. And hey, I even have a ton of storage to use already! In reality though I wouldn't even consider getting one unless I knew for sure that I'd be doing some serious feature work, and obviously I need a script before I can do that.
I wrote a quick article on a QuickTime launching component for ASP.NET over on my tech blog, which was the first order of business prior to posting anything. I'm really happy with that part. I also modified my Flash player to no start downloading the video until you push play. I hate working in Flash because the coding half of it is not well thought out in how it interacts with other pieces (and the debugger completely blows). But I got it done.
One thing that fucked with me for hours is that your QT files have to be in a ready state for them to download correctly into the Flash or QT players, so you can play them after having a little data. I'm not sure if non-Pro QT works this way, but if you have the pro version (by default you do with Final Cut), it "remembers" where you last stopped. To get around that, I had to let the movie play to the end, click the backward skip button, and then save it. Then I had to upload those files. What a pain that was to figure out.
Anyway, the camera work is not great because of the arm fatigue, but I posted the first of a couple of clips on PointBuzz, starting with a Club Blood tour. The 720p version looks pretty good except for a couple of places where it's a little blown out. I'm happy enough with it I guess.
Great, I just got a warning e-mail from my host not being able to ping the box. That's not a good sign. I bet I'm saturating the pipe.
I noticed on my bank statement a $10 "service fee" for my checking account that I've never seen before, apparently because I had no direct deposit activity. Whatever, I don't care what the rules are, that's a bullshit fee.
So I call the 800 number. First person just says she can't do anything and have a nice day. So I ask to speak to a supervisor, because I guess I'm just used to call center schmucks being powerless to do anything.
Supervisor goes through the same thing and tries to talk me off the phone as to why there's nothing she can do. At this point I get hostile because she's being useless and non-helpful, lecturing about how I should be getting some direct deposit action. I explain that doesn't happen when you're unemployed, duh. I don't know what my options are except to go to another bank, so I start get assholish because I'm annoyed. Finally she says she can transfer me to the branch where she "thinks" someone can help me.
Local branch manager answers the phone, I explain the situation, he's like, "Yeah, we just need to switch the account type. You use your debit card five times a month, right? Because that'll waive the fees."
Why do you have to be a dick to companies, where you are the customer, in order to get anything done? That's a shitty way to do business.
Get it. Lots of interesting influences in the music, from the Middle East, Japan, some banjo (pop music needs more banjo, right?), etc. Loved her first album, and this one is even better.
Finally, Microsoft gets it right responding to Apple. This was so obvious.
Of course, I'm still not gonna go running to Vista. :)
I had two seemingly unrelated conversations the last two days that cause me to scratch my head and look at how I approach life more critically.
The first was with a soon-to-be co-worker who mentioned that he used to write poetry all of the time when he was younger. I wondered privately why he didn't do it anymore. In fact, I can think of all kinds of things that people who are middle-aged don't do anymore. Why? Is abandonment of creative and idealistic ventures part of growing up?
Later that day, I was chatting with a younger friend about dating. There's a guy who is interested in her that is a bit older, six or seven years I think, and her arguments for not dating him surround issues of child rearing and retirement timelines. She insisted she didn't want to date anyone who wasn't marriage material because she knows what she wants. I thought I did too when I was early 20-something, but it took until my divorce, lots of dating and failures, to understand what I really wanted, and accept that what I want would change.
So we have two contrasting stories. Someone just into true adulthood who has a rigid definition of how life is supposed to be, and someone middle-aged who has abandoned what life should be. How completely strange is that? It would seem to me that when we're younger we should be open to possibilities, and when we're older, we should hang on to the things that enable those possibilities.
As of Monday, I'm making the big(ger) bucks again. Funny how yesterday I was bummed about missing out on a job. Got the salary I wanted, vacation is flexible, work will likely be interesting.
Aside from losing a ton of money on paper again today (what's the suicide rate on Wall Street lately?), it was a suboptimal day.
First off, despite four interviews that I thought went pretty well, I didn't get that job that I put off the other job for. That was a serious kick in the nuts. I know the company is pretty high end, but I didn't think it was out of my league, even if I'd be a low-man. Fortunately, the other guy that I was putting off to see where the failed opportunity was going to go wants to see me tomorrow. So hopefully he isn't calling me in just to tell me to go fuck myself. :)
It's almost like I saw it coming, because I slept poorly again last night. I've been living in my head a lot lately, I guess because I've got anxiety about getting back to work. I'm worried that if I don't get back in soon, I'll get behind paying for travel, carpet and my various toys.
Then I had an issue with a site that I built and host four years ago and continue to support for free, which is frustrating to no end. It's not inconvenient enough to say, "Go take it off my hands," but I hate when a bunch of constraints prevent me from improving it. It's a combination of ancient code built on ancient .NET v1.1, and less than great practices I followed back then.
Fortunately, things got a little better when I discovered my search engine optimization gains. That has been a goal of mine for some time. After getting the hot tub cleaned up and refilled, I did a little more diagnostic work around my server, and was pleased to see it was running under load at around 8% CPU usage and no disk bottlenecking. I even hacked out a little blog entry about building a QuickTime component in ASP.NET. These things certainly helped me feel better about my ability today.
So tomorrow is about a possible employment meeting in the morning, and in the afternoon I'm going to CP to shoot a mini-doc on the creation of various Halloweekends attractions.
I didn't just have one of my intestines ripped out or anything, so that's a dose of perspective. My house wasn't flooded by a hurricane either. On a scale of bad days, mine wasn't that terrible.
Finally, some decent traction on Google for my sites. CoasterBuzz is finally off the 7th page of Google results for "roller coasters," moving up to 7th on the first page. It won't likely have any material effect on traffic, but it's a start.
Meanwhile, PointBuzz is in a solid second place behind the official site Google-ing for "cedar point."
I really needed to feel like I was doing something well today.
I think it's just statistically certain that I was due for a day that wouldn't go well. This is that day.
I mean, holy crap, 21mp, and it does 1080p movies.
Warning: 57MB download, 720p HD, graphic animal violence
The airfare gods smiled upon us and provided us with some decent rates to MSP, so we're gonna visit Kara for some haunt and mall goodness. Hooray! We're doing a somewhat goofy schedule, Saturday to Tuesday, but I'm glad we'll get out there. Haven't seen her in more than a year, which is pretty weird.
Orlando is all set up as well, including everything at Disney. Haven't booked a car for the two days I need to go to IAAPA, but that's not terribly critical yet.
And the latest endeavor is setting up the honeymoon to Hawaii. I'm meeting with a travel agent at AAA on Friday to start exploring the details. They work with several travel companies that package stuff and get deals, so we'll see what they can swing. Not sure of the travel dates yet, because Easter is actually one week from the day we arrive there. That's suboptimal, but we'll figure something out.
I really need a job to pay for all of this! :)
I almost forgot about this, but Shirley Manson from Garbage is a Terminator in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. How bad-ass is that? I dunno... she got to be a urinal to start with, so we'll see how it goes going forward.
Me: So I take it you've been pretty happy with it then since getting your Mac?
George: Yeah. I'm getting pretty sick of Windows now. It's good to program on, but I'll be damned if it doesn't frustrate the hell out of me now.
The new iTunes visualizer is trippy. I feel a little fucked up after watching it.
I had three hours of phone interviews today with people from a company I'm very much hoping to work for. That was crazy. It's not any less exhausting doing it by phone. You start to get tired of talking about yourself.
But I think it went pretty well. The last time I had that kind of marathon was in Redmond. This was a lot different, because these guys seemed genuinely interested in what I was about and what I had done. That's a far cry from Microsoft, who seemed more interested in trying to stump me or give me puzzles to solve. I'm more and more convinced that's mostly useless in assessing the ability of your subject. I felt like it was OK to simply say, "I don't know," when there was something I didn't know.
From what I can gather, said company is doing some really cool things in the near future, so I'm crossing my fingers. This is the first time in a long time that I've felt pretty good about what a company does, and what it stands for. I'm crossing my fingers.
It's hard to believe, but Caity is a senior and this will be her last year playing volleyball for an institution. Time goes by so fast. Of course, I've had kids recently get married and become rocket scientists too, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.
Her team struggles a bit. I don't think her coach is very good at all. I know from experience that you can fix a lot of individual problems if you identify them and work with the kid, and there are high school problems that some of those kids have. I mean, come on, you work with them six days a week, I never had more than two in J.O.
I saw one of the former coaches for my former club, who "assists" at the school we visited, but as best I can tell, he's mostly a ball shagger. He was instrumental in selling out the club, and I'm still a little bitter about that. I miss coaching a great deal, but I feel like the only way to achieve what I really want to do is to start my own. Finding kids isn't the problem, but gym time is a pain. And honestly, I'm not even sure where I'll live a year from now.
In any case, good to see Caity and chat with her parents. Her dad introduced me as her "favorite coach" to his brother, which certainly makes me smile. Honestly it's not hard to commit to a kid's development when she's so committed to the game. I wish I could clone her for my next team!
I finally saw No Country For Old Men. Didn't care for it. It seemed dark for the sake of being dark.
Burn After Reading was great. Now Lebowski great, but damn close. Brad Pitt is the shit. Actually, everyone gave an incredible performance. I'm not sure how you classify the movie (tragic farce comedy?), but it's a winner.
Awhile back I mentioned how sometimes I get sucked into these science projects, and I end up not doing more productive things. That particular science project was me trying to build a drag-and-drop list. Sounds silly, right? Because there are existing solutions. But I had good intentions.
First off, the ReorderList control in the ASP.NET AJAX toolkit blows. It has all kinds of problems selecting stuff as you drag, the rendering forces you in to an unordered list, and it doesn't have the nice clean movement you see in other similar pieces around the Internet. The underlying code is hopelessly complex too, and I'm not sure why it has to be that way. More on that question in a moment.
My second motivation was just that, dammit, I want to see if I can do it. I remember the first time I saw the getBounds method in the AJAX framework, and I immediately thought it was a key time saver to creating a drag-and-drop list.
So what did I manage to do? I managed to do the dragging part, which came pretty easily. I managed to create a placeholder that lived where the item was coming from too. This object model that I had come up with, however, made it exceptionally illogical for altering the list as you were dragging. All along I already had something in mind for this control, and at this point I was just wasting time when there were solutions out there. Really, really good solutions.
Something else recently landed me on the Yahoo UI page, and I figured I'd give that a good look to see if it would do what I wanted with minimal pain. For the most part I think it can, but it wasn't nearly as easy as Scriptaculous. They use some odd naming conventions (like event handlers being called "observers"), but for the most part everything is so straight forward. The code is fairly easy to understand, and definitely has seen many rounds of refactoring. The Sortable object was exactly what I needed. I looked at JQuery as well, and it looks remarkably similar.
Why is the ASP.NET AJAX stuff so heavy? It reminds me of so many server-side controls that try to do everything but succeed at being useful only a small percentage of the time, primarily for those old-school line-of-business app developers. Although, does it really matter?
I'm not hating here, let me make that clear. The first time I wired up server-side stuff to the client-side, and then had two client-side objects interact, I totally understood why Microsoft's framework is pretty cool. It's just the stuff being built on top of it that doesn't seem to be as elegant and useful as I think it should be. But regardless, it thrills me that these frameworks can live peacefully together.
Diana says it's Programmer Day.
(And Tyler too.)
Palin did an interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC, and it did not go well. He pounded the foreign policy issues and she danced around them constantly. He couldn't get a yes or no answer on any hard questions, and she essentially wouldn't answer them.
And worse... she says "nuke-u-ler" too. I can't believe anyone, after seeing that interview, would be comfortable with her being one heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world. She's going to get owned in any VP debate they do.
I got e-mail this morning from SuicideGirls.com saying they miss me, and they'll give me a year membership for $29 bucks. That's a lot of naked, er, articles for twenty-nine bucks! Seriously though, I was actually into that site not for the articles, but the hair. Faithful readers know I love hair, and there was a whole lot of well-photographed, colorful hair on that site. If this software developer thing didn't pay so well, I'd totally cut hair for a living.
But what the e-mail got me to thinking is how that site does not rely on advertising to live. What a great position that is to be in. This is the month that annually reminds me how not steady online advertising can be, especially as a smaller publisher. Kids are back in school, traffic slides a bit, summer ad campaigns end, and it generally blows. If it weren't for CoasterBuzz Club, there would be no site. I started the club almost seven years ago to help out when DoubleClick dropped me like a bad habit and I had my own T-1 to pay for. I'd rather have a thousand paying visitors than a million non-paying visitors.
So the first ten days with the new site have been too weird to take a guess on the redesign's impact. Again, traffic usually tanks at the start of September, and ad spending does as well. Plus I've scaled back on pop-ups. And then, one of my ad providers was serving another providers ads for backup, which is not desirable because I do that on my end. The one I favor was getting less traffic, and when they get less traffic, they give me less high-paying stuff, so that was hurting me. And finally, until Google does a major re-index, as they periodically do, there's no telling what kind of SEO impact I'll see, and that could change traffic drastically. I just can't wait to get "edit" and "quote" out of my top keywords as seen by Google.
But I'm happy with the way the site is performing from a technical standpoint, and the use it's getting from the users who do show up. Everyone is hanging out 33% longer and doing more than they did a year ago. Now I just have to earn the visitors back who got bored with the site. It's not a huge percentage, but it's enough to be disappointed.
I actually got some content up on PointBuzz myself today. Hooray! Typically Walt is the content guy and I'm the code monkey guy. While that arrangement has served us well, it's kind of sad that me, the career media guy with all of the fancy equipment, doesn't contribute more.
Walt has to watch his vacation day count, so since I'm "self-employed," I headed out to Cedar Point for the afternoon. Shot a bunch of stuff around the new Halloweekends attractions. Have I mentioned how much I love being able to shoot true wide angle on a DSLR? The 24-105mm f/4 L is Canon's sweetest lens, hands down. (Because, you know, I've tried them all!)
Afterward, I got to have dinner with Timmay and a friend from the home office. Sounds like the weather won't be so good this weekend, which really sucks.
This is too classic of a video...
For as much as I bitch about incompetent IT people, there are always users who are far dumber. I questioned if this was real or not, but it seems too plausible to not be.
I'm sure it wasn't in my financial best interest, but I ordered a much larger memory card for my HD camera. I'm not even going to say what it cost.
But the camera has seen a total of 60 hours of operation, and I'm reasonably certain that most of that was shooting in standard definition. Don't get me wrong, when you have three CCD's that are higher resolution than standard def being scaled down, you get awesome SD. But that wasn't really why I bought the camera.
So why did I buy it? Partly because I could and I missed having "real" video gear, partly because of my film aspirations (which I haven't pursued) and partly because I knew I could make some of the money back (and I did a little more than half). I loved the idea of going tapeless, too.
Then I got the urge to shoot this weekend, but want to do it in HD so I have something respectable to put on the Internets. But I also didn't want to be restricted to 16 minutes (at 720p/30). Thus, the desire for a bigger card. Now I'll be able to record a little over an hour. I can work with that. And hey, I really like the P2 platform, and with Panasonic heavily invested in it, it's not going anywhere. Future cameras will also support it. Maybe some day I can afford (and have use for) an HPX500, which can be had for under $15k with a lens and batteries.
So we'll see how it handles low light. They used the same camera a bit in Cloverfield, which is a lot of darkness, and a lot of stuff composited into the shots, so I feel pretty good about my chances. My only real technical complaint is that it's hard to get shallow depth of field, and the lens is obviously not interchangeable, but it doesn't matter much with the type of stuff I've used it for.
I booked our Disney trip, and again, there was somewhat of a failure in getting what I hoped for. Right now it's looking damn near impossible to visit MSP next month because the airfare is insane. $800 for the two of us on a weekender is not cool. Sigh. No Renegade or Spongebob with Minnesota's tallest ambassador.
For Disney, I was hoping to stay in a monorail property, and really do it right, since Diana has never been to Disney. I was hoping for the Contemporary or Grand Floridian. Both are booked pretty solid, except for little pockets in the middle of the week. So the more I thought about it, the more I figured there was no reason to stay in the nice places if it wasn't on the monorail route.
So I relinquished to the old standby, Pop Century. It's perfectly adequate and (relatively) clean, so why not. I was originally gunning for Animal Kingdom Lodge, but when I realized it was just as far away from everything but AK as Pop Century, I figured screw it. I suspect we won't be doing much other than sleeping there anyway. The hotel snob in me will compromise.
We are going to do the dining plan for both of us, for the whole eight days, and with that and the room, we clocked in around a grand. Considering how much good food that includes, I'm really pleased with that deal. We still had to get her park hopper, but I have my annual pass. Overall I feel like it'll be pretty reasonable, and we won't have to worry about how much we're spending on food since we did it up front.
The only thing left is to book restaurant reservations and find a car for the two days I have to go to IAAPA. We will likely sneak off to Universal for part of the day on Monday, and come back to eat either at Downtown Disney or in whichever park is open late that night. The dining plan lets you stack all your meals into one day if you want, so that's no worry.
I'm pretty excited. I'm pretty easily sucked into Disney once I'm there. I ordered a small camera bag today so I can cart around the 5D without the bulk of the backpack and other lenses. I'm going to document a vacation in high quality for once!
If I had a dime for every time someone posted something asinine like this from my sites...
I have to admit, I'm excited about this. As I said after seeing the movie, I feel like there are better stories to be told in that franchise. Lucas created this great universe, but at the end of the day didn't do a good job with character development (and outright sucked at writing dialog).
I'm a little stressed out.
On one hand, I have a likely job offer (I've asked for something formal so we can be clear) from a company that I have a lot of respect for, and I think there's potential for game-raising action on my part. It would be a strong leadership role.
On the other hand, a company based elsewhere is moving on to second and third interviews with me, and it's a rock star kind of company where I could learn in ways that would raise my game. But assuming the additional interviews do work out, we're like two weeks minimum from an offer.
I'm not sure what my preference is. I suspect the pay would be about the same either way. Both could be sweet gigs but for different reasons. If I take the former, I may never know what the latter has to offer. But if I run out of time or decline on the former, I don't have any guarantee that the latter will pan out after additional interviews.
I suppose these are good problems to have, but they stress me out. Lead, grow, take charge, or learn, expand and telecommute. Not an easy choice.
Sarah Palin is hot. Yeah, there, I said it. Any man who prefers women would probably agree with me. But honestly, it shouldn't matter. And yet, a woman no one has heard of, with an unknown record, whose foreign travel consists entirely of Canada, vying for the VP spot, has boosted McCain in the polls. Isn't that completely fucked up?
There are a lot of books that suggest that the Internet is making us stupid (see this excellent essay from Wired that explains why this isn't true), but I completely disagree. I think the sad thing is that we're not getting any smarter. It is easier than ever now to go to the Web sites of the candidates, read their issue sections, and know exactly where they stand on every critical issue. Where something is complex, there are plenty of articles out there that break it down further (like this one regarding the details of both candidates' tax cut proposals).
We don't have an excuse to be ignorant, but we are anyway. I suppose that in a world where reality TV is watched obsessively, ads that make stuff up or stray from issues work because people find that easier to digest than reading about issues. I especially love the current McCain ad that insists Obama will raise taxes (on the super wealthy, it's true), and flashes a bunch of pictures of old white men no one knows. Obviously people are responding to that, and it's sad.
History so far has shown that democracy is one of the best forms of government, and I'm thankful I live in the country that pioneered it. But what happens when the wisdom of crowds is based on sound bites and charged feelings? It's scary to think about.
I've got anxiety issues. They're manifesting themselves in dreams, and sticking with me when I wake up. I was having some kind of negative dream when Diana left this morning, and when she woke me up to kiss me goodbye, I thought she was mad at me for something. It was so odd.
The biggest issue I suppose is the job thing. It looks like I've got two very real near-offers now, and I'm hoping those hold together and one or the other happens soon. One more than the other. I'm tired of pissing around with recruiters. I'm ready to go back to work.
I'm also anxious that airfare sucks, because so far I haven't found anything to MSP that we can afford, and I really want to visit my favorite Minnesotan. Haven't seen her in a year, and that sucks.
I gotta chill out a little.
I helped Diana do some repair work at her house today, putting up railings around her balcony thing. I'm not entirely happy with the result, but no one is going to fall off the thing, and that's the point I suppose.
I like tools, especially power tools, but I'm not much of a handy guy. I'm not good at doing handy work. When it's at my house, I have a fighting chance since things are generally new, but in an older house like Diana's, I'm not sure how to deal with things like old rotting wood, too many layers of paint or whatever. Plus I'm out of shape and have soft hands. What can I say, I don't even cut my own grass.
But I do feel accomplished at least. That's always a good feeling.
I think this one is laugh out fucking loud funny. I damn near pissed myself. Can't wait!
This made my day, and it was already going pretty well...
This year I'll be moderating a panel discussion instead of doing my own thing, which is a pretty sweet arrangement. I get to steer the conversation without having to generate all of the content!
I really like working with the amusement industry, though I don't see a lot of potential to align what I know and work in it. I think that's me not looking hard enough. But it's an industry that is often behind in technology and modern marketing, which I think has IAAPA's constituency nervous in an age where disposable income isn't as disposable as it used to be. And what there is competes with other stuff.
This will be the seventh show I've been to. I skipped the two most recent years in Atlanta because, well, it's Atlanta (show attendance dropped too). Next year is Vegas.
It's so weird to spend most of the day talking about coding and not actually doing any. Although I'm really not complaining! I had a brief phone call with one recruiter, and a longer one with him in the afternoon. While I can't stand recruiters who are little more than resume brokers, this one is almost going overboard in trying to match me with a particular client, to the extent that I feel like I'm doing too much of the work. The client is interesting though, so I suppose I'll see it through.
Moving much faster, after two months of moving nowhere, is the company that I originally was holding out for. I had lunch with the owner and his CTO, and it sounds like the company is a good fit. This guy is all about relationship building with his clients and his people, and he's open enough about his failures that there's little mystery about how he operates. He's even invited me to hang out in the office and meet anyone I want if it helps convince me. If he makes an offer, it'll be hard to say no.
Then there's that third company, which called me at the wrong time yesterday (time zone issues) and as a result I was talking to someone else at that time. I've known the president and founder on a casual basis for years (he's a founding member of the ASP.NET team at Microsoft), and everyone who he has hired is top shelf talent. What they do could be a good fit for my interests, and if the details of the job and telecommute thing all work, and they like me, there's potential there as well. But time is against them, because I'm not going to leave this other local guy hanging.
Of course, there's the part of me who is sad to see my long summer vacation come to an end, but honestly, getting laid-off was one of the best things that could have happened to me this year. I reconnected with my "hobby," go to know the new cats in the family, traveled to Florida care free (extra day? no problem!), and most importantly, got to do some soul searching. I understand my career priorities better than I did. I understand the scope of my own business, for now, as well.
And hey, I'm getting married too. :)
I figured that today's plan was to decompress. I've been pretty intense the last four days or so (with various breaks for mini-trips and dine-outs) getting CoasterBuzz launched and tweaked, so I need time to sit around in my underwear and let my brain be stupid.
There were two things I did want to do today for the site: Get out an announcement e-mail of the relaunch, and explore some of the .NET-based iPhone Web app stuff that has already been created. I've not had a chance to do either one.
First off, I've had a flood of contact with recruiters for stuff that doesn't suck. Again, I'm pretty comfortable not working for another couple of months, so I'll wait for the right gig. A couple of calls were just to set some stuff up for this week.
The guy I had been holding out for called me today and explained that he was still a couple of weeks from kicking off the project he could hire me for, but had something else in mind as well. He apologized for the inaction, indicating that the company isn't big enough to self-fund hiring me just to retain me for six weeks. I certainly respect that.
Then I got e-mail from a really cool company based in Texas that handles communities and forums for big companies (like MySpace and Dell). They'd let me telecommute if they hired me. That could be a really interesting gig.
I planned to go see a movie this afternoon, but I just never got out the door.
I flipped the switch to turn CoasterBuzz back on a little after 3 a.m. last night, once I was content with the data conversion and had the basic content up.
Being a one-man show for this kind of thing is a very different experience than what you see in a team environment. While I don't feel like I've pulled off any huge feats of programming, I'm reminded that the forum app clocks in around 10k lines of code, and CoasterBuzz specific code is around 2k lines. I should probably give myself more credit than I do. Hacking together a site with a bunch of free apps isn't that hard, but doing it all from scratch is quite an effort.
By morning I had found about two dozen "issues," three of which were actual bugs. The one was a silly mistake amplified by the fact that Google's bot was hammering the page over and over on ten second intervals. You'd think the smart people at Google would not let that happen. Once I cleared those from the log, there were a few things to clean up, and lots of formatting issues.
The forum search indexing is going a little slow, and I wonder if there's a better way to do it. I mean, in real life it wouldn't be an issue because there aren't generally hundreds of thousands of posts queued for indexing, but I still think about it. I cranked it up to one topic per second and the server just choked over disk thrashing. One topic every two seconds seems to be going a lot more smoothly.
That server has been running now at The Planet for five years. It's a 2.4 GHz P4 white box with a couple of standard hard drives and 2 gigs of RAM. I've wanted to upgrade for some time, but I don't really want to pay more when it's adequate 99% of the time.
Hopefully this will give me a better idea of how the forum performs too. It has been running on PointBuzz since November, but it's a lower traffic site, and it never really gets tested. I suppose I'm curious more for me than anyone else. I still have that little site to sell the forum, but honestly I'm not sure if I'm that motivated to truly sell it to the world at large, even for a couple hundred buck in revenue per year. I still wrote it for my sites first and foremost.
The integrity, or lack thereof, of the the coaster and park databases bothers me, but that'll be resolved over time. There are a lot of ugly tools on the back end for me to manipulate that data, and I'd like to find a way to expose them to users in a reversible fashion. That was one of my early goals going to back to 2006, and one of the things that created a big hang up for me.
On July 1, I lost my job. That day I decided that it was now or never if there was every going to be a CBv4. I threw away most of what I had and started over. Looking back, there were probably around 160 actual man hours involved, spread over the two months. I don't think I've been that focused since I wrote my book. I didn't feel that focused, but all of a sudden, I put some color around the site layout, it felt more real, and I was a lot more driven to get it done.
There's plenty to do, of course, but key word is "enabled." Now the infrastructure is in place that I can make good on things I'd like to try, whereas, I used to be bound to the mistakes and limitations of my experience level of five years ago. Working at Insurance.com made me nuts at times, but it also gave me a lot to think about in terms of building something that's easily maintained and scaled.
For now, my brain needs a break. Perhaps I'll go see a movie tomorrow. Maybe then I'll get a job.