January 16, 2010

From Abby's science kit, appropriately titled, "My First Science Kit".

Last night, after dinner, we "did science". My daughter got a science kit from Santa Claus, and the first series of experiments are all about color theory. We created all those various colors by pipetting three primary colors from test tubes. Then we added Polyacrylamide crystals to the colored water and "grew" colored crystals. She loved it, almost as much as I did.

*sigh*

Look, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. The last week or so has been miserable. Bad news after bad news compounded on top of pain and (luckily) painkillers. I haven’t written anything in a week and I’m already going through “blog withdrawal”. They say, “write what you know” and lately it seems like all I know is that I’m not in a very good place. So I thought I’d write about that, or more specifically, write about why I won’t write about that.

I hate self-pity. Almost as much as I hate being sad or unhappy, or miserable, or whatever you wanna call it. But what I hate most of all is whining. Blogs are perfect vehicles for whining. Too often I see blog posts about how sad someone is, or how shitty their life is, or why the world isn’t fair, as if this is some new discovery. “Boring, Sydney…” The blogging equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

Yeah man, life sure sucks sometimes. But let’s put it in some context, okay?

People in Tuscon are dealing with incredible loss, after some horrifically random act of violence. Right now, someone in America is wondering how they’re going to feed their kids tonight. A little while ago, someone had their power cut off because they couldn’t pay a bill. It’ll probably get below freezing wherever they are, and their immediate concern is, “how will I stay warm tonight?”. Last year, some random couple experienced the happiest moment of their life. They had a baby, or perhaps they just got married and are excitedly starting a life together. This week their house was foreclosed on and they’re technically homeless. Neither of them have a job and their unemployment benefits just expired. Right now someone has to make a life or death decision about health care, and their whole decision-making process will boil down to the simple economics of, “I can’t afford this” … in America.

And that’s just off the top of my head.

Suddenly any “problems” I might have pale in comparison to the real situations people all over the country (and I didn’t even look outside of America, in the broader sense) are dealing with each and every moment of every day. There are people within a mile of me who have much more immediate, pressing matters. Life-threatening matters, perhaps. Real crises with real consequences, and there’s nothing I can do to help them. But you know what? They’re going to be okay. Whatever it is they’re dealing with, it’ll pass, and life will go on. The sun will rise tomorrow, the tide will go in, the tide will go out. We’re all ultimately going to be, “okay”.

So when I get melancholy over something as ridiculous as a tooth, or a bill, or some other carefully constructed stress point, I try and really, honestly, remind myself of the very real problems people all over America are facing right now. The temptation to throw a pity party is great, it seems, but I don’t think I’m ready to go get a cake and balloons just yet.

Purplicious and “Suicide Slurpees”.

Sometimes in life there are moments you just wish you could freeze and hold on to forever. I remember various times in my life saying to myself, “don’t ever forget this. Try to remember every detail, what the weather was like, what time of day it was, how you felt…”.

The other night was one of those times. Over the last 48 hours or so, I’ve just been turning this moment over and over in my mind, unable to shake it. Some things just resonate, I guess.

I got home the other night, and as soon as I walked in, I grabbed Abby, turned around and headed over to the library. My wife had some books she had reserved that had come in, one of them being “Purplicious” for Abby. The rest were books she had been really looking forward to reading, and since the baby was up, she couldn’t get over there, so I agreed to run over there and pick them up for her. Besides, it gave me a chance to give the Graphic Novel section a good once-over and see if any new graphic novels had arrived for 2011. Believe it or not, the Horry County Library has a pretty kickass collection of graphic novels. Abby wanted to tag along and who was I to say no to taking a kid to a library, right? As soon as she realized that one of the books on hold was not only hers, but it was the copy of “Purlicious” she had been waiting for, she squealed in that way that only happy four year-old girls can squeal.

One ritual that Abby and I have adopted… well… okay, one ritual that ABBY has adopted, has been stopping off at the new Turtle Market on 707 and getting a Slurpee (I call them Slurpees, they’re not technically Slurpee brand Slurpees, but that’s what I call ’em). As soon as we got in the car on the way to the library, she popped the, “can we stop on the way home and get a slurpee, daddy?” question. When the store opened a couple months ago, I took Abby over there and introduced her to the concept of the “suicide“. Since then we’ve been exploring every possible combination of mixed Slurpee recipe you can have. We’ve done green and orange, orange and pink, pink and green, etc. This time, we did pink on the bottom, and orange on the top. “It’s like orange, but it’s sour like lemonade and it’s pink when you suck it up the straw!” She was delighted with this one.

She paid for her drink, we walked back to the car, and I started buckling her into her car seat. She handed me the drink to hold, and looked me right in the eye and said, “Daddy, today has been the best day ever. I was good in school, I went to the library, I got Purplicious, and I made the best Slurpee ever!”.

I sort of sat there for a second, awestruck.

You know, we have lives that throw all kinds of “complications” at us. We have dental issues, insurance problems, car troubles, economic anxiety. We worry about jobs, our family members, our loved ones. We ponder futures and create stress. We drive around, oblivious to the world, completely unaware of the moment.

But right now, in the mind of a four-year old, the world revolves around Purplicious and Suicide Slurpees, and it couldn’t get any better.

Is there a name for this? “Embarrassment Coupon” perhaps?

I recently got on a Cafe Verona kick. Dark, “chocolatey”, it’s really a delicious coffee, and so lately I’ve been snapping up Starbucks Cafe Verona anyplace I can find them. I’ve got a little single-cup coffee maker at work. Black and Decker. It makes one little cup of coffee, and usually during the course of the day I’ll make a couple cups. It wasn’t until I was on my second or third bag, that I discovered that Starbucks will give you a free cup of coffee if you take the bag back into any Starbucks Coffee. “Hmmm” I thought, “that’s pretty cool. It’d be nice to be able to stop by Starbucks one day when I’m out and about and know that I’ve got a free cup of coffee coming my way”.

So a couple days ago, I finished a bag and before I could throw it away, remembered to save it. I took it out to my car and put the empty bag in the middle console between the two front seats.

And there it sat. Mocking me.

Was I so pathetic, that in order to get a free cup of coffee, I was willing to walk all the way into the Mall clutching an empty bag of trash? I don’t carry a purse, so it’s not like I had any clever place to “hide” it on my way in. No, I was going to have to walk into Starbucks and hand over my empty trash and say, “here’s my empty bag, can I have my little free cup of Pike Place Blend, please?”

That was when I realized the genius of Starbucks. They know you’re not going to redeem that shit. They know if you’re going to plunk down $7 for a bag of ground coffee, that you’re not the type of person who looks for ways to get a 90-cent cup of coffee for free. Oh sure, you might try to tell yourself, “well, they’re going to recycle them”, but you know that won’t happen. The little Emo Barrista behind the counter is going to look you over, judgmentally sneer, fill a little cup up with some coffee he was about to throw out, toss your little bag in the trash, then talk shit about you to all his friends when you leave. “Dude, today this guy brought in an empty bag of coffee in so he could get his free cup of coffee… I know, right?” Not to mention the looks you’ll get from every customer in the place. I mean, if I was in line and you approached the counter and offered up and empty bag of trash in exchange for a cup of coffee, I’d be like, “man… here… lemme buy you a Venti, bro…”.

So I mean, there has to be a name for that, right? You offer someone something you KNOW they’re never going to redeem, but you look good offering it. It gives people a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling, but in the end, nobody’s pathetic enough to redeem it without submitting to some kind of “walk of shame” and taking a few self-esteem hits.

I think I’ll call it, “An Embarrassment Coupon”.

Oh, and if you spotted me in Starbucks today during lunch, don’t tell any of my friends, okay?

My “completely random, devoid of any purpose or meaning” top 10(ish) list for 2010.

I originally wrote this a couple days ago, at the end of 2010, but since I was on vacation, and was trying to purposely make it a point not to do anything remotely related to “working”, I just saved it and decided to post it today. Enjoy!

Because lists are fun, and if my “top ten list” contains thirteen items then, well, that’s my prerogative, right?

13. Pinboard.in
I love this service. Initially, I picked it up on the recommendation of some twitter peeps, and suddenly, with the impending demise of Delicious, it became my go-to social bookmarking service. It’s fantastic. It’s like someone took the idea of social bookmarking, Instapaper, and Delicious and mashed them all up. It’s as easy and convenient as Delicious was, using the bookmarklet is quick and painless. But that’s not the best part. See, my Twitter use is almost second nature. The people I follow are an endless stream of excellent links. Political blog entries, Code hints, Technology posts. I probably see at least a dozen posts a day containing links that I want to read later, that I want to share, that I think are worth bookmarking. Now it’s as easy as flagging the tweet as a “favorite”. That’s it! Now it’s bookmarked, and I can read it later, share it, whatever. It’s an amazingly useful service, and I love how well it’s executed.

12. “No Ordinary Family” on ABC
I’m gonna let you in on a secret. I loved ‘Heroes’. Go ahead. Laugh. I don’t care. I love superheroes, I love comic books, and I love anything that’s written in the same, fun way. So I was glad when ABC picked up on the hole in the current TV schedule and filled it with “No Ordinary Family”. It’s part “Fantastic Four”, part “Heroes” and part “The Incredibles”. Toss in Michael Chiklis for good measure, and you’ve got a sure-fire, guaranteed position on Jeff’s Top “Anything” list.

11. “Walking Dead” on AMC
Take the above, throw in some zombies, sprinkle a little bit of, “this shit ain’t on network television” and you’ve got “Walking Dead”. Look, I don’t care if you’re not a fan of comics. I don’t really care if you’re not a fan of zombies. I don’t care if you’re not fond of horror as a genre. You know why I don’t care? Because none of that’s really what this story is about. Walking Dead is about zombies the same way “Gone with the Wind” was about the Civil War. It’s not. “Zombies”, and the “post apocalypse” only serve as backdrops. They’re just the set. The real story is the people. Their story and their struggles when everything that they knew is suddenly taken away from them. Not just superficial material stuff, either. Things like, running water, electricity, transportation and more importantly, anything resembling a social framework. What would *you* do if everyone you loved was taken from you and there was no society left? Anywhere? That’s the story of “Walking Dead”. It’s the story of how the human spirit endures. Even when there are zombies about.

10. Acme Novelty Library – “Lint”
Hands down the best graphic novel of the last year. Bar none. Issue 20 in Chris Wares ongoing series tells the life story of Jordan “Jason” Lint. From birth to… well… death, and all points in between, Ware creates an amazing, spell-binding book. Every so often, about every seven to ten years, a book comes along that just reaffirms my belief that sequential storytelling is a bona-fide, pure, art form. Oh, I believe it with all my heart, but sometimes you lose sight of it after Civil Wars, Secret Invasions, and Reborn Heroes. This is that book and I consider myself damn lucky that it came along this year and I didn’t miss it. It can move you to tears, and you owe it to yourself to grab a copy. Get it. Read it. Then read it again, slower this time.

9. The Netgear STORA
Of all the hardware purchases I’ve made, and believe me I’ve made a lot of them, none has been more useful than the Stora. Photos, videos, music. It’s all there, and it’s always available, no matter where we are. Owning digital cameras, Flip camcorders, and an endless supply of music was always a storage nightmare. Photos were the easiest to move to the cloud, but video and music proved to be a costly endeavor. Enter the Stora. Redundant storage with mirrored drives and a nice web interface (with the added bonus of a terrific little mobile version). DLNA and UPNP have been pretty much flawless as well, providing an elegant streaming solution for a seemingly endless variety of TV-connected devices. Xbox360, GoogleTV, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Digital Camera, Macbook, Laptops, Desktop PCs… All reading and writing to and from one central, solid, dependable place. If you live a digital life (earth to you, you’re reading a blog) then it’s a must-have.

8. “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
“A documentary about Banksy that winds up not being about Banksy.” I guess that’s how I’d describe it. It’s a brilliant piece of work. Not only is the subject matter compelling (it is after all, at least on the surface, about Banksy and in a not-so-tangential way, about street art) but the way the story unfolds it just sucks you in. My favorite documentary of last year, and I watched a LOT of documentaries last year.

7. Dreamweaver CS5
Seriously, what can I say about this tool? It’s damn near perfect. Even now, when I’m sitting down and REALLY digging into it, and I stumble into things like CSS Enable/Disable, Live View, CSS Inspect, I just gain a whole new appreciation for how easy and fun this makes my workflow. This tool single-handedly reminds me why I love to do what I do. Hell, the CSS panel and Code Inspector alone is worth the price of admission. For example, one of the great things about Dreamweaver is how it really immerses you in the cascade. When you’re working with CSS in Dreamweaver, you’re smack in the middle of the cascade and your workflow becomes almost zen-like. Without really thinking about it (or maybe it forces you to think about it on such a deep level that it becomes almost invisible) you’re working directly with inheritance and working on styles at every level of the document in precisely the right way. You can have your TextMates, or whatever text based IDE you’re stuck using. One day with Split View and you’d be a changed man in much the same way people come out of the water baptized. Throw in Live View and Code Inspect? I suspect your head would explode. In fact, I almost feel a sense of pity for people who are creating complex websites and aren’t using Dreamweaver. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to work on a WordPress site, for instance, and not have CS5’s CMS capabilities. Not to mention those poor miserable souls who aren’t able to take advantage of Browser Lab. It must be kinda like building a car from the ground up, with only a hammer.

6. Green Lantern 76
Hurray! After years of searching and failed attempts, I finally nabbed a copy of one of the most important Bronze Age comics this year. Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil’s ground-breaking work took an underperforming book (about to be cancelled!) and transformed it into the voice of a generation. There is no better example of the revolution of the “socially responsible comic” than this. Considered by many to be a watershed moment in comics, when comics moved from the playful, fun, and frivolous, into the “real world”. By allowing Hal Jordan to play the straight man to Ollie’s “social conscience”, O’Neil and Adams were able to craft some of the best story-telling of the era. Their journey only last a handful of issues, but the effect of their work still resonates today. I’ve got a lot of important, rare, beautiful comics. Some are more valuable than this one, some are rarer, but this is the one I’d consider the “jewel” of my collection. The one I’m most proud to own.

5. Irredeemable and Incorruptible
Mark Waid knocked it out of the park. Imagine Superman. Invincible. All-Powerful. Super speed, super hearing. Completely unstoppable. Imagine what it would be like if suddenly he snapped. Who could stop him? Nobody, that’s who. Mark Waid took the premise of “what would happen if the most powerful being on the planet suddenly decided he didn’t like us anymore?” and went with it. I mean, he didn’t just go with it, he went all the way with it. No holds barred. You know that dark place where you just thought things like, “well, would he destroy an entire city?” Oh yes. He would. In a heartbeat. Literally. Without remorse, and without even a hint of feeling. “Yeah, but he wouldn’t like, kill kids or anything, would he?” Oh, he most certainly would. In spectacular fashion. With his heat vision, of course. Because that would literally be the definition of “blink of an eye”. “But what about the Justice League? They’d stop him, right?” Are you kidding me? He’d go through them like a hot knife through butter. You think Batman’s all that? He wouldn’t last a nanosecond. Waid takes all the archetypes and puts them in their proper places and lets the story run. It’s one of the most amazing stories I’ve read in comics in years. Remember what I wrote above about Ware’s Acme Novelty Library? Well, every so often a comic comes along that reminds you that even in a sea of Heroes being Reborn, or Secret Invasions, Black Nights (or Bright Days, whatever they’re calling it this month) there are still people putting out honest to goodness, straight up, kick you in the face, superhero comics. Let’s all take a moment and thank Mr. Waid. He made 2010 a great year for comics.

4. iPad
What can I say about the iPad that hasn’t already been said? I guess all I can say is what I actually use mine for, and how it made it to number 4 on this list. Let’s see… I don’t buy new comics anymore. I just read them on the iPad, and I probably won’t buy another new comic book ever again. Think about that for a moment, because that’s pretty significant for a lifelong comic book reader. I watch Netflix on it with headphones. I put an entire season of the Smurfs on it, and suddenly my daughter is off in a back room someplace running the battery dead. She’s better at touch navigating at four years old, than I am at 43, having far more “touch navigation intuition” than I believe I’ve ever had. I’ve got an entire library of programming reference books that used to take up a whole room in my house on my iPad that I carry around with me. They’re always available. The shelves at my house? Not so much. By the way, those shelves? Gone in 2011. I have an annual membership to Lynda.com that I’ve had for about four or five years and in the months since getting my iPad I’ve used more than all the time prior combined. I bought a $4 picture stand at Target, propped up the iPad next to my laptop, and just put the headphones on. Then, for the next several hours, I just get lost in training videos. It’s heaven. That’s just the personal shit. I have a whole folder full of apps that help me do my job for things like Analytics, data visualization, site mapping, presentations. Oh sure, the syncing sucks (seriously, it can’t sync via bluetooth? #AppleFail) but beyond that, it became an almost instant utility.

3. “Contra” by Vampire Weekend
I think I wore out the ones and zeros on my copy. Best album of the year. Self described as “Upper West Side Soweto”, these guys are everything I love about indie rock. Smart, funny, catchy, and gleefully self-aware. I’m not going to wax poetic about it, or over-analyze it. It’s just great music.

2. Fallout: New Vegas
Last year I wrote a blog post listing my top ten video games of 2009. This year I’m not even going to bother. Last year the number one game of 2009 that I played was “Fallout 3” (which was actually released in 2008, but I spent most of 2009 playing). This year, New Vegas was released around October or so and I haven’t touched another game since. Oh sure, Red Dead Redemption was spectacular, no doubt. I enjoyed Singularity, even though it was over pretty quickly. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was a hoot and I enjoyed playing it with my daughter, who loved watching Spider-Man act… well… “Spider-Man-ish”. Bioshock 2 was amazing, I thoroughly enjoyed Lego Harry Potter, Dead Rising 2 was a total blast, and Alan Wake was completely ground breaking. But one game stood head and shoulders above the rest. After spending about 120 hours playing New Vegas completely through, I realized I had only scratched the surface and as soon as the credits had finished I started it right back up again and started making different decisions. The first time, I was making a conscious effort to “do the right thing” morally. The second time, not so much. The result? A completely different game, with a completely different story, leading to a completely different outcome, and a completely different experience. It was fantastic. Entire new storylines unfolded before my eyes. Characters interacted with me in a completely different way, and my life in the Mohave Wasteland of post-apocalyptic Las Vegas was wholly different as a result. Apparently, at least according to the Prima Strategy Guide I got from Toys R Us for free when I pre-ordered the game (which was the best decision I made, by the way) there are about 26 different endings. Yep, twenty six. We’re not talking slight variations on an ending, we’re talking 26 pretty much entirely different endings. Depending on who you ally with, what decisions you make, how you complete storylines, you’ll find yourself in one of about 26 different places with alliances spread among half a dozen or so different factions, each vying for a piece of the Vegas action. Considering a run through a game will take you about 100 hours or so to complete, you’re looking at a lot of gameplay. I loved it. Game of the Year for me.

1. The 2010 Cervelo RS
I don’t even know where to begin to write about how much I love this bike and how much it’s changed my whole outlook about riding. It’s perfectly sized, the geometry is dead-on, it’s quick, responsive. It feels like it was created from the ground up just for me. After spending the last several years riding an older, aluminum, Trek, I could instantly tell the difference between full carbon and aluminum. It was incredible. I’ve always loved riding, having a sense of, “I could do this all day”. But this is the first time I’ve ever gotten on a bicycle and actually thought that I could literally ride it all day. I got the bike in the late summer of this year and was only able to put about 1500 miles on it before moving indoors to the rollers, but I’m looking forward to this spring when I can pull it out and really put it through its paces. I have a feeling that the combination of speed, comfort and warm weather will make my new year’s resolution of 5,000 miles in 2011 a cakewalk.

My dear friend, Steve Wilson.

I write about stupid stuff. I write about video games, and comic books, and why this phone is better than that phone. I write about which peanut butter to eat. I’ve never written about anything I’d even remotely classify as “meaningful” to anyone outside of my close friends and family.

That’s why I’ve sat in front of this monitor for the past week and have been completely paralyzed by an inability to articulate the loss I’ve felt over the last seven days.

Last week I lost a dear friend. My boss, mentor, co-worker, and dear, dear friend Steve Wilson passed away last week very suddenly after a short illness.

To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. To somehow try to ┬áput into words what this loss means to me has been impossible to say the least. Better, more eloquent people have spoken and written about him, and their words have only served to highlight, in my mind, just how wonderful he was in ways that I struggle with even now. I worked with him for over the past decade and can very honestly say without even a hint of hyperbole, that I wouldn’t be the man I was today if it wasn’t for Steve. He taught me so much about advertising, design, art, music, and life. I don’t really know what else to add. I’ve gone over and over it in my mind, and I’m just having a very hard time even processing the fact that, here we are a week later, and he’s gone. His was a beautiful soul. I was fortunate to have known him.

Andy Lesnik, Steve’s business parter of 25 years, and my boss, wrote a moving tribute to Steve that he read at his memorial on Friday. You can read it here.

Another close friend, Marty Hardin, wrote an equally eloquent post on his blog.

UPDATE: Patrick Evans, who also spoke at Steve’s memorial on Friday posted his wonderful tribute to Steve on his blog. It’s beautiful. Please take a moment and read his thoughts as well.

They’re all much better than I am at capturing why this man was so important to me and so loved by everyone who met him. Read their words.

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving: Day Five, Six, and Seven

Hug the people you love. Tell them you love them. Make sure they know how much they mean to you. If you have kids, hold them tight and be right there, in that moment. Don’t be anywhere else in your head. Hold your wife (or husband). Tell them how much they mean to you. Call your mom, dad, sister, brother. Tell them how much they’ve impacted your life. When I say the words, “best friend”… you know the face that just popped into your head? Call them today. Tell them how much it means to have them in your life. Tell them a funny story about something you two did that you always think about that makes you smile.

THAT is what’s important. Nothing else. Not work, not “the internet”, not TV, not anything you can get on eBay.

That’s the “Seven Days of Thanksgiving”. I’m finishing it up early because I’m not going to waste time sitting around thinking about things to blog about over the next week. I’m going to spend that time with the people I love.

You do the same. We’ll get back together after the holidays. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving with the ones who are most important to you.

Be thankful for them.

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving: Day Four

Friends. Not “Facebook Friends”. Real friends. Friends that you regularly spend time with. Friends that you talk to. Friends that you’re honest with. Friends that you think to call when times get rough, or you need support. Friends that call you when they need support, or advice… or just an ear. Friends without judgement. Friends that are there for you, or that you’re there for, no matter what, at the drop of a hat. Friends that don’t play games, or add drama to your life. Friends that are just… friends.

If you have these people in your life, take a moment and thank them.

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving: Day Three

Easy one tonight, Family.

I’m sitting here typing this after one of those nights that you always look back on as “one of the greats”. My mother-in-law’s birthday. Me, my wife, the kids, my brother-in-law, his wife, their kids, and my mother-in-law… all spent the evening bowling down in Surfside Beach. I wouldn’t trade nights like this for all the money in the world. My brother-in-law lives in the same neighborhood, across the street. Our daughters have spent their whole lives growing up across the street from each other, sharing playdates, birthdays, holidays and a whole host of important days and memories. My mom and dad live right across town in a town that’s only about 15 minutes across and my mother-in-law lives right on the way to work. I’m surrounded by family and I love it. I’m very fortunate to be this close to the people who matter most and I don’t ever forget it. We don’t want for babysitters who are eager to get the kids.

This Thanksgiving we’ll spend it over at my parents’ house and I won’t forget to take a minute and give thanks for the location and the company.

The Seven Days of Thanksgiving: Day Two

I’m sitting on the sofa writing this while I watch “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and help Abby cut out pictures from an activity book (I cut out all the hands, “because they’re hard”). After the movie we’re going to go shopping for birthday presents for Grandma, who’s coming over tonight to eat dinner (and a cake we’re going to bake, later). After dinner and after the kids are in bed, I’ll make a little time to go out in the garage and ride my bike on the rollers.

I’m thankful for time. I’m thankful that I have a whole day like today to spend with my wife and kids doing nothing more than enjoying each other’s company and making memories together.

There are a lot of things you could be thankful for, but if you don’t have time to enjoy them, they’re not much use, are they?