Archive: May, 2019

Getting my learning on

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 16, 2019, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

I don't write code for work anymore. At the scale where you have 30+ people reporting indirectly or directly to you, you really couldn't do it even if you wanted to. At the same time, if you're going to make decisions about engineering, you should know what you're talking about, and what your leaders bring to you. I know how important this is from being on the other side (with managers who absolutely did not understand anything about engineering), and it makes a huge difference. To that end, having a project where I can always be building something serves as both a tool to keep me rooted in some kind of vague legitimacy, and also be a hobby. I also find that education in software development is super critical to the advancement of the field, and I can't just talk about it.

After Node.js came out and a massive world of front-end web tooling and frameworks started growing out of control, there was a crazy amount of specialization that started to occur between front-end people and everyone else. The specialization annoys me, because it's harder to find developers who can build something end-to-end as a vertical piece of functionality. But I'm a little guilty of this myself. Even when I was doing the consulting work a few years ago, I generally didn't get beyond some recreational basics around whatever front-end tech we were using (and in my defense, it was an appropriate level of knowledge for the job). I still never felt good about it though, because I had all of these false starts on Angular and React. A year and a half ago I toyed with Vue.js, and I really liked it, but never followed through.

For me to learn something new, I need to apply it to something in a practical way. So I decided that I would convert the admin area of my forum app into a single-page app using Vue.js. It's around 20 forms of various kinds, with some of it more interesting than other parts, and no significant validation or guard rails, because it's so infrequently used. But whatever, I wanted to at least port it to use Vue, and so that's what I did.

Unlike my false starts, I immediately "got it" in part because I didn't have to get super deep into all of the surrounding stuff that goes into modern Javascript (i.e., the bundling, transpiling and the like). I get those things because I've had to troubleshoot some CI builds, but Vue was appealing because I could just not use any of that, if I wanted.

I really enjoyed learning about Vue. I'm no Vue-master (see what I did there?), but I now feel pretty confident about how to use it going forward, in the very hybrid way that the forum will likely go eventually.

It's a relief that after 20 years at this, I can still learn new tricks.

The confidence of getting older

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 6:25 PM | comments: 0

I've seen a number of younger friends, former volleyball "kids" and just random people on the Internets express some excitement over reaching various milestone ages. I'm surprised when I see it for some reason. Maybe because I've celebrated big birthdays, but not celebrated the act of reaching an age, if that makes sense. Heck, I basically glossed over 40 because it happened just before we moved. But there is something glorious about getting older.

Growing up is a somewhat painful process, full of carnage, but it sure is fun when you level up. I've said before that it feels like you encounter a lot of change every four years or so, and for me that's been like a new graduation every so often. I'm in the midst of one of those right now, I think, understanding myself better in terms of what I'm capable of professionally and as a parent and spouse. I think a lot of it comes down to leaps in confidence, all while understanding you've got blind spots.

More than anything though, maybe not every year, but as time goes on you feel like you've got something to show for it. It's easy to get caught up in all of the things that you don't know, or wish you knew, but give yourself a little credit. You're better prepared for today than you would have been a few years ago. With age comes experience, and it's OK to lean into that.

Yes, joints crack in weird ways and things hurt for unknown reasons as you get older, but the world is a whole lot less a mystery than it was. That's why getting older isn't all bad.

Back to Universal Orlando

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 12, 2019, 6:12 PM | comments: 0

I had an annual pass to Universal Orlando for a number of years while I lived in Cleveland. The first time, it was because the math was so favorable with the hotel discounts that it paid for itself with one trip. But then there was a period where I went two or three times a year. In fact, I started going in 2002, and literally everyone I've ever dated seriously or been married to traveled there with me. All of those times I stayed at the Royal Pacific Resort, on-property, and was a platinum member of whatever Loews' crappy loyalty program was. In fact, the quality of service seemed to get worse every year, but the in-park perk of having Express entry into everything was worth it.

After Diana and I got married in early 2009, and pregnant shortly thereafter, we wouldn't return until 2011, flying in from Seattle, with Simon. That was after the first wave of Harry Potter attractions opened, and it was quite a change. In the old days, we pretty much had a run of the place, and City Walk would be so non-busy that we could always land there for dinner. The wizard made our little secret more crowded, but to be fair, there were few new attractions in the prior decade.

When we moved to Orange County in July of 2013, I figured we'd have passes to all of the parks by default, but it didn't happen. We bought Disney passes the day after Simon and Diana arrived, and got a comp and discounted SeaWorld passes shortly thereafter (because I was working there as a contractor, and a coworker generously offered). But we didn't buy Universal passes, I guess in part because we lived so close to Walt Disney World. I also thought it wouldn't be as fun, not staying there. I mean, I had never even entered the parks from the parking garages at that point. In those six years, we had visited three times, always on comps from friends who worked there, and only one of those times included Simon.

This year, they offered an 18-month deal on the passes, and we caved just before the promotion ended at the start of April. Because we bought the highest level passes, which include Express after 4 (there was no way I'd not do that), they were almost as expensive as Disney, but with 50% more time, I figured we would give it a go.

Simon and I have been twice, and Diana came along for the first time last night. Simon is surprisingly interested in the thrill rides, and to my surprise he volunteered to ride Rip Ride Rockit and Dr. Doom's Fear Fall. He also digs the big Harry Potter rides in both parks. He's still about an inch and a half too short to ride Hulk, but to my surprise he's interested in it. It's all good news, that he seems into it.

My impression is a mixed bag. I remember thinking the first time I saw Islands of Adventure that they out-Disney'd Disney. The two Universal parks desperately needed something new, and Potter was a big score. In the general sense, I'm very much in awe of the themed achievement there. It's so incredibly well done, in every detail, from the paintings inside of Hogwarts to the bank lobby of Gringotts, and especially the outdoor areas. Even the utilitarian design of Kings Cross Station is amazing. The Potter rides are so well run, as well.

Everything else is so hit or miss. The operations can be glacial in some places. The food service is generally mediocre at best and the food itself kind of sucks. The restrooms are almost universally (see what I did there?) a disaster. In recent years, everything has become a screen, often in 3D. There is litter in the queues and you'll still find a lot of food stands closed in the evening (unless they sell alcohol). It's frustrating, because they're on the verge of being as good as Disney even with their goofy mashup of IP, but they just don't run the place quite as well.

The future is bright though. This Hagrid roller coaster looks like it will be amazing. Apparently they're putting in a roller coaster in Jurassic Park, which seems a little light on theme, but that's OK.

It's fun to visit Universal, even if it is a different vibe from my "younger days" without child.

Silly purchases and dopamine hits

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 9, 2019, 7:43 PM | comments: 0

I wasted a lot of money in my 20's buying crap. I always got that little dopamine hit when I'd come home from Best Buy with some CD's or movies. Sometimes I'd buy more expensive stuff, too, but I couldn't tell you what any of it was. (Except for the pair of speakers I still have in my living room after two decades... those were a good purchase.) The worst part of it is that I bought all of that crap on revolving debt, so I was paying interest as well. But I still remember the feeling, even if it was momentary.

I've been feeling that desire again lately, but generally have not acted on it. There are a lot of reasons for that. For one, I almost never go into retail stores for anything other than groceries. In a rare exception, I bought my current laptop over a year ago by going into a Best Buy, but haven't been in one since. Most stuff I buy online, which even through Amazon Prime does not have the immediacy or pleasure of buying in person. I also view money completely differently now, because I worked so hard to reverse my financial situation some years ago, and I'm behind in retirement. I rather buy an experience than more stuff, and our tenth anniversary New York trip is a perfect example of how great that ideology is. There are some big expensive things I'd like to buy, like a video camera or a pinball machine, but otherwise, there aren't many things I particularly lust after. Heck, I even struggle with all of the packaging to throw away when I have something new. I'm literally not set up to spend like I did in my 20's.

But what's missing that I'm getting the buying itch? I haven't been able to unpack that. I love my family and my job, and I derive meaning and purpose from those things. I have my share of stress certainly (maybe more than I should), but I'm trying hard to be deliberate about "me time" and such.

It might be that we've had some really uninteresting expenses. For example, we're finally going to get a water softener because we're tired of water stains in the bathrooms, the hydrogen sulfide smell, the toilets growing stuff every three days, etc. That's about as un-fun as buying something gets, but those big ticket items kind of eat into any "extra" cash.

I'm sure it's a passing feeling.

Hope is not a strategy

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 5, 2019, 6:41 PM | comments: 0

A guy that I work with, in the context of some evaluation of some technical thing being discussed, declared that, "Hope is not a strategy." The discussion was about some work resulting in some kind of outcome, and the other guy said that he hoped it would mitigate the problem. Indeed, having hope does not lead to something tangible.

I was thinking a lot about that this weekend. We all have difficult situations in our lives, and endure probably more suffering than any of us deserve. The really hard to deal with stuff is the stuff we can't control. For the things that do fall within our influence, we can get so beat down by the world that we relent and fall back on hope or faith. Neither of these things move the needle.

Life has been more challenging than I'd like in the last few years, and some of that is certainly self-inflicted pain. However, some of that pressure has been lifted by first separating the things I can and can't control, and with the former group, understanding that I can't hope my way out of those challenges. I consider this one of the empowering things in the toolbox required to keep your head up. Knowing that you have to act to improve something seems common sense enough, but pair that with other realizations (like, most problems are transient, you'll be dead soon and don't have time to waste on feeling bad, you know more than you did yesterday, people will probably be there to help, etc.), you can be confident that you'll figure things out.

Hoping for things to change will definitely not work. It's not a strategy for betterment of any kind.

Orlando perks

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 5, 2019, 2:22 PM | comments: 0

Friday night, we went out to Animal Kingdom for the evening and met up with one of our Cleveland friends. I thought that we hadn't been in about three months, but I forgot about a passholder night at Epcot we went to for two hours in mid-March. Either way, the point was that we haven't been in the parks much this year. And if that weren't enough, we caved and bought Universal Orlando passes as well, because the 18-month deal that ended about a month ago was too good to pass up. A friend also gave us his yearly friends and family comps for the SeaWorld parks, which includes all of them including the Busch Gardens parks. We're up to our eyelids in theme park options.

Then on Saturday, we met up with some friends from Cleveland who were staying at the Port Orleans French Quarter hotel. We hung out at their pool with fruity beverages while Simon made a new friend and did the water slides and stuff. Unfortunately they closed the pool because of rain, but we invited the friends to our house because why not?

All of this fun, entertainment and friends is possible mostly just because of where we live. When I get wrapped up in the harder parts of life, or just don't stop enough to pay attention, I forget how awesome this arrangement is, and the perks around living here. We can generally do the stuff that most people come here to do on vacation, but year-round. And if that weren't fun enough, the "most people" that we know from all over the world tend to all visit here eventually. That's a pretty sweet deal just for living here.