2017 Review

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 31, 2017, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I've been doing these year-end retrospectives for a long time now, and like most things broadly characterized as "social media," this too is a habit more for my records than anything else. As a history enthusiast, I understand more than ever the value of understanding where you've been to make better decisions about where you're going. I will say, however, that it's hard to package life into a year, because a lot can change in that time.


While it was, and is, hard to not have the daily contact that I did with folks at AgileThought, after leaving just over a year ago, I can say with certainty that joining novi AMS was the right choice. Long-term product work does prove to be more satisfying, and I'm flexing a lot of muscles that I didn't previously get to use as much. I get to run a dev team, I brought solid process into the company and because we're still relatively small, I've organically filled in some other blanks that appeal to my strengths. I'm trusted with maintaining the company "zen" and doing quite a bit of professional development, which are things that I truly believe can't be left to chance, especially as you scale. I jokingly tell people that I'm the "VP of Puppies and Rainbows," but it's partly true!

I had to hire three people this year, and it took most of the year. That took its toll in terms of stress. As much as I have a streamlined funnel process to narrow down the candidate pool, it's so time consuming. If I were tracking the time, I bet it took around 20% of my time this year. Fortunately, being a distributed team means that we were able to cast a broad net. One person was in Oklahoma City (then moved here) and another is in Virginia. Only one local from the three. You've got more options when you're not constrained to geography. I'm really excited about our team and its ability.

I was painfully self-aware about my inability to deliver on a major new version of the software this year, and to this day it grates on me. In the end, it comes six months later than anticipated. Granted, the long hiring process was part of the issue, and then normal things that come up during the course of business further pushed it back. The hardest thing about being a technologist is accepting that business does not occur independent of technical needs and wants, so you balance them the best you can. Fortunately, this particular fog is lifting as we get customers on to the new product.

The other hard thing has been keeping the work and the rest of life balanced. When you like what you're doing, it's harder to just switch off and do other things. Sometimes you need to hear your kid say from the other room, "Why is Daddy still working?" The only time that I took off in the second half of the year was to move and do a long cruise weekend, so really just two days, and that's not cool. That's why I took the holiday week off, even if I wasn't going anywhere. I need to be more aware of this, because mental fatigue is real.

Looking forward, we're starting to pivot from survival and reactionary effort to innovation. That's a sweet spot that's completely unusual, but if you can get into that groove, and the business is good, it can last for many years. I'm pretty excited about that.

This was also a good year for Diana, even in a part-time job. She's been a lead usher for a few years now at the big theater complex in Orlando, and she's the go-to person there on the front-of-house side for part-timers. There may be some new opportunities for her, too.

The business

For years I've been doing a separate blog post about where "the business" went, but this year, I'm not. I wrote previously about how revenue these days is something Google owns you for, and the audience prefers largely now to do everything on Facebook. I'm still making a little money, but it's been the same story on CoasterBuzz every year... more unique users, for less money. PointBuzz has seen user declines to 2012 levels, which wouldn't matter that much because it's better off in terms of traffic than 2007-2011, with far fewer visitors, but making way less. (Page views are harder to measure, and maybe matter less, because around that time the forums became "infinite scroll," so the views matter less.)

Obviously, a huge part of the shift has to do with going mobile. Half of our traffic comes from phones now. It's not that we don't show ads to mobile viewers, it's that they're not worth much, and they don't fill much of the inventory. Combine that with the reluctance of people to leave the walled garden of Facebook, and it's not good news for the niche publisher.

I'm not bitter about all of this, just disappointed. The fun of the Internet in the oughts was that you could find all of this crazy stuff built by people who were really into some specific thing, and it was weird, sometimes crappy but very real and exciting. Most people now don't even remember this, but CoasterBuzz was started in large part as a directory to all of the stuff people were building out there in the world of roller coaster fandom. When a site in our directory had a news item posted, sometimes they'd get shut down from all of the traffic. I didn't need to post news as much because everyone else was doing it. PointBuzz is a rarity... there are very few community sites now committed to a single park that isn't in Orlando.

That said, we'll keep doing it probably because it's hard to stop something you've done for two decades. The sites still let us stretch our legs to build stuff we don't get to do in our day jobs. I'll keep maintaining that damn forum project on the latest bits. I'll keep posting photos and do a video doc now and then. I just won't expect to make any money on it.

If I do endeavor to do anything new, it will largely be for the purpose of asking people for money in return for something. That dashboarding project I've had on the shelf for years, I may yet some day polish it and launch it now that the costs to scale it and charge credit cards is so low. If it makes a hundred bucks even, I'll feel validated, because it's something I want myself anyway.

We invested in a long-arm quilting machine for Diana, which in theory could make a few bucks here and there. It's a really long-term play though, because even if she has the bandwidth, desire and customers, making the money back will take years. So mostly, it's something cool that allows her the creative freedom to make stuff, and any income after that is gravy.


I spent a lot of time in the late summer being lazy, because it's hot, and as I wrote in the fall, the timing is such that my daily checkup reveals that I need to get off my ass, move around more and be a little less ridiculous about how I'm eating. My blood pressure was a little higher than last year, which was already just a little over normal, but having a good doctor meant telling me what to do about it without prescribing drugs. My cholesterol still favored the "bad" by a little, so after talking about what I eat, he wanted me to take Omega-3 supplements. Sure enough after doing that for six weeks, my blood pressure was down significantly, though the top number was at the high end of normal.

It's obvious that I still need to lose weight if I'm to get the cholesterol and blood pressure to more long-term normal numbers, and that's not going to get any easier with age. I just have to decide to prioritize it, which is hard because so many things compete for brain cycles, and frankly this particular thing is largely abstract and only poses a theoretical risk.

The health of my family is a bigger concern. Diana's migraine situation hit a new low this year, and Simon's struggles with ADHD and ASD also cause him to compulsively pick his skin all over and it keeps getting worse. He has a dozen bandages on right now, and it doesn't stop him from just picking whatever random skin he can touch. It's frustrating and heartbreaking.


I'm not sure how to approach writing about this, and I've avoided doing so for much of the year. This year was extremely difficult. When you combine ASD, ADHD and regular 7-year-old behavior, it's fairly easy to be overwhelmed, frustrated and defeated. He's on three different drugs now, and as of right now has no less than 15 band-aids to cover all of the places he's picked to the point of bleeding, including his finger tips. Few things cause anxiety and sadness for me the way seeing my kid unable to stop harming himself does. And just this week, quite suddenly, he's obsessively putting his fingers in his mouth.

If that weren't bad enough, I know that Diana takes the worst of it, with the daily struggle to get through homework (which is of marginal educational value to begin with). He gets so anxious about failure that he doesn't even want to attempt anything even mildly challenging, and we get entirely blank sheets of work coming home from school. There is some question about whether or not this is a learning disability, but I'm not convinced that it is. He flips out about not being able to do a challenging task in a video game, and that's something he loves. I think his intelligence is fine, but he doesn't cope well with adversity. That might be our fault to an extent, because we've given him plenty of shortcuts over the years for even the most mundane things, and often more for our benefit than his. It's hard to pick those battles.

He also doesn't stay on task... for anything. Getting dressed or eating breakfast in an exercise in constant distraction. I know the amphetamines he takes on school days helps, but his pediatric psych is still experimenting with dosages and drug mix. This iterative process isn't fast enough. Add in his general disregard for social contracts (like parents don't need a reason to tell you what to do) and a complete non-understanding of consequences, or cause and effect in general, and you can imagine how things go some days.

I end up having a fair number of evenings with him alone, when Diana is working, and I've been trying to use that time to focus on positive interaction with him, to talk about all of the things he does well. When we're correcting him for almost everything, he may feel as though he's totally broken, and I don't want that. We see him reading more, including some comic book style books about science stuff, and I praise him for that. I'm trying to figure out how to get him to engage in service and kind acts toward others, even if it's just us, because he struggles with that.

Eating is a huge struggle. We don't go out to dinner as a family, ever, anymore, because he won't eat anything that isn't macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese or a hot dog.

I imagine that this will all get better, and if not easier, then replaced with other hard things, but this year wasn't easy. I lost my cool way too frequently, and it shouldn't be a mystery about why he does the same when I'm his teacher. I'm self-aware though, and I know I've been getting better at it throughout the year.

He's a sweet kid. You definitely love your kid in a different way than any other human being, and that's probably why it can be so hard at times to keep perspective. It's hard to match the joy of a few laps in the lazy river at Legoland with him, or the screams on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We're lucky to have access to the theme parks, because I feel like they appeal to so many of his interests... the science and technology of rides, the jobs of ride operators, putting on a show of sorts. And of course, he always feels like he belongs, because that's what they do.


Once again, we knocked out three cruises this year, but the most important one was in the fall, when it involved just me and Diana. It was way too short, but it was awesome. It's honestly the most quality one-on-one time we've had in a couple of years.

While not strictly vacationing, we did make a few beach trips early in the year, and then we kind of forgot. We have a pass for the Canaveral National Seashore, which is a wonderful beach. I also made a short run to Cincinnati to open the new ride at Kings Island. I had two work trips, to Austin for SXSW, then a long weekend for a hackathon at Intuit's campus in Mountain View.

But the thing is, we didn't really vacation very hard this year, and that's kind of a regret. Mind you, that has a lot to do with the new house, but it still seems like we should have done more. We didn't do a single road trip, though the usual annual one didn't happen because my in-laws no longer live in North Carolina. I only took two days off from early June to Christmas, if you don't count the two days for moving (I certainly don't).

Dollars and sense

Speaking of not spending a lot on vacations, there was a lot of financial discipline to endure because mortgage companies are all up in your bank statements when you're buying a house. That experience culminates in mostly draining your savings, so in some ways it's like we have to start over. After my Cleveland house experience, I don't just assume that money you sink into a house is going to be there later, so it's a lifestyle choice you make, and not necessarily an investment.

We're behind in terms of retirement saving/investing, depending on the advice you follow. That advice is a little inconsistent, because it assumes that you should be spending the same amount in retirement, which I hope isn't the case since by then your kid is on his own and you hopefully don't have a mortgage. That might be naive. Regardless, we'll be able to somewhat offset the additional cost of the new house with cuts in other places this year, by trading in the Model S and going solar (along with the tax credits for both). There will be anxiety in the short term until we close on the house sale. Maybe it's just age, but I have more anxiety instead of less about my financial well being, and it's been fairly stable now for about seven years. It wasn't really unstable before that, I just did a lot of stupid things.


We experienced our first real hurricane when Irma rolled through. Impossibly, we didn't even lose power, despite the storm center passing about 40 miles west of us. A lot of people were anxious to call this the "eye," but after dragging across most of the southern part of the state, it was most like a loosely organized center of rotation. Despite the TV news hysteria, no part of Orange County even measured hurricane force winds, sustained at 74 mph or higher. Our sustained wind topped out around 50 mph, gusting to the low 70's. We didn't have any real damage to speak of other than down trees (which the HOA propped back up), but we did have a little water seep up through the base of one wall. In our area, most of the issues were with down trees, roof shingle damage and electricity outages that lasted days. It was actually the wind on the Atlantic coast that was the worst.

It could have been worse for us, but to be worse it would have had to of hit one of the coasts a little further north, or stay off shore and be bigger. What I learned is that it's best to just monitor the updates from NWS and NHC, and ignore the local TV stations entirely. They don't communicate the science, they just dangerously have people stand outside and show you radar. The whole "eye of the storm" thing was particularly annoying, because it doesn't really mean anything in this case, as the most damaging winds in our area were near Canaveral, further away from the storm center.

Yet another move

Diana's quilting machine is 10-feet long, and to make it fit, we had to remove the closet doors in her sewing room. It was very cramped.

Frankly, I was feeling squeezed as well, after working remotely for four out of the last five years. Then my best friend started building a big ass house with her new husband, and I started to do the math in my head. We could do that too without significantly changing our lifestyle. Once I got over the feelings of guilt for buying something nice for myself, and the stress of figuring out the financing was done, I started to enjoy thinking about how we would outfit the place. Mind you, a month in, I got a little tired of hanging light fixtures and curtains, because it's easier to watch it on HGTV than actually do the work.

It has been a nice change though. The other house took longer to sell than I would have liked, but we're really comfortable. We didn't have to buy furniture or anything, because it's the same number of rooms, they're just bigger.

The world

This year felt like another shit show outside my immediate sphere. Nazis, mass-shootings, massive hurricanes, wild fires, starvation, nuclear proliferation and my country is being represented by a man with no moral compass or coherent policy direction beyond "fear brown people and blame everyone for your failures." As discouraging as this is, it's extraordinarily disconnected from what I see close to me. In the circles where I run, diverse people are changing the world and living together. They're demanding more of the people we elect and holding them accountable. They set examples of how people should treat other. And hey, we ended the year with a new Star Wars and Pitch Perfect movie, so it can't be all bad.

That global shit show reminds me of where my greatest accountability is: To raise a child who is good, kind and wants to leave the world better off than the way he found it. That's where my focus has to be, no matter how difficult it is.

Am I happy?

Again, this year, that's a tricky question. I felt a lot of pressure to keep things together when Diana was enduring her headaches and Simon was everything that he was. I felt overwhelmed a lot. I would say that I was intermittently unhappy because of the overwhelming situations. It felt a little like a coaching year for me, because coaches have to hold everything together. I would have these great victories at work and then that night have what I thought was a total parenting failure. I spent a lot of time feeling helpless to get Diana the right help outside of the suggestion that her doctor sucked (I think I was right about that).

It got better later in the year. I felt a little more zen, most of the time. Christmas and Broadway shows have a way of lifting the spirit, certainly. I'm excited about the coming year, with some of the travel we have planned, the roadmap at work, summer in the suburbs (the neighbor kids are outside a ton). The year was a bit of a draw... ups and downs, strikes and gutters.


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