Thursday, March 31, 2011


One thing from yesterday I forgot to mention: We went to the Pirates area, and there was a Captain Jack Sparrow "How to be a Pirate' show... and Bella got called onto the stage to learn how to swordfight... WITH CAPTAIN JACK! Isaac was furiously jealous, but he got to join up on stage later when all the kids were invited to join his crew and take the pirate oath.

I didn't read the fine print on this, but I think they are actually legally Jack Sparrow's children now.

Now: Today.

RAIN RAIN RAIN RAIN RAIN. From the time we woke up to the time we're drifting off tonight, it switched between hard rain, really hard rain, torrential rain, monsoon-type rain, and oh man am I tired of this rain. We had severe cabin fever, and were sort of crossing our fingers hoping for a clear-up by the late afternoon so we could go scamper around Epcot again, but no, it's still raining.

There were movies (Swiss Family Robinson), some Wii in the lounge, lots of snacks, some games (new Angry Birds:Rio, and some Mario on the DS), reading, and chatting.

Out of nowhere, we came back to our room to find roses and a beautiful beaded giraffe, and a note from the staff hoping we are having a magical stay. MAN does Disney know how to treat a family right.

Tomorrow we're revisiting the Magic Kingdom, to see a few of the things we missed... and the weather report is for blue skies.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Two good days

After the rain-fest at Epcot on Monday, we were in the mood for a little break, so Tuesday was a "no park day" - we had a big breakfast at the buffet in the hotel, and wandered over to the sister resort - Kidani. Both Jambo and Kidani share a view of the wild animal plain, but they seem to have different "regulars" - Kidani had some great Vultures sunning themselves, along with a couple of ostriches.

Jambo is a grand hotel, but Kidani is more suites-driven, with a smaller lobby, fewer rooms, and a cozy atmosphere. But they have a different pool area, and that's where we spent over 4 hours - a pool with a pretty fun waterslide and a "splash park" - zero depth with lots of fountains and misters. Jenny came to join us for a couple of hours too. The kids swam and swam, and got a little crispy in the sun.

The weather held nicely for us - it would have been a good park day, but we needed the rest.

We hopped into the car for dinner at the Wilderness Lodge, the Whispering Canyon restaurant. There was very little whispering going on, but lots of fun. Loud boisterous waiters, hobby horse races, and if you needed some ketchup, well, you needed to holler our for it, and chances were you'd wind up with a dozen bottles for your effort. The food was FANTASTIC as well - some of the best we have had on the trip.

A wander around the grounds of the Wilderness Lodge was good - it's a beautiful property, but all told, it does the north woods feel a bit TOO well - we thought we probably wouldn't want to go there for vacation since, well, we get that sort of think up at Ruttgers, so why do it here?

Today was an EARLY day - Up by 6, at the Magic Kingdom by 8, and on the Dumbo Ride by 8:10. In rapid succession we hit all of the Fantasyland greats - Peter Pan, Dumbo, Merry Go Round, Small World... No wait on any of it It was my first trip to Small World since, well, since it cost an A-Ticket to ride. And I loved it - it's WAY more charming than I remember it - and I'm sure they've updated it with certain PC tweaks, but it still feels like a wonderful call back to when you could point at a mountain and a doll in Lederhosen and say "That's SWITZERLAND!!!" The world doesn't feel quite as identifiable any more does it? Maybe it never really was, but I loved remembering those touchpoints.

On a whim we hit the Haunted Mansion - Isaac loved it, Bella hated it, even though we tried to prep her that it was "All Scooby Doo style ghosts - nothing real". Isaac was a real thrill seeker in general - he insisted on the Race Cars (he also insisted on steering, which led to many many jarring "bumps" as the car corrected itself on to the guide rail). AND he insisted on the Ripsaw Roller Coaster, which he laughed manaicallly during - he wanted to go on it again and again.

We pretty much hit everything we wanted to hit with no waits (again, thank you Tour Guide Mike), and laughed as we saw the Dumbo Ride with 50 minute waits by the end of our day. We're planning on revisiting the Magic Kingdom on Friday and hitting TomorrowLand with everything we got.

We left by 2, had some chill time at the hotel, and then started back to the Magic Kingdom for dinner, just in time for a short squll to pass through, throwing lightning around and forcing us down to 20 mph on the highway while sheets of water poured across our windshield ("A nice way to get the car clean" said Isaac). The rain cleared up just as we pulled up the The Contemporary Resort.

The Contemporary is the hotel that has the Monorail going right through it, which I thought was AWESOME. But inside, it really doesn't do modern much more than your average Courtyard by Marriott... it was just sort of blah. I wish it had a retro-sixties futurism happening, but it was more just, retro 80's Hyatt Regency sort of feel, which was not terribly awesome.

We did have a buffet dinner, and we had all of the characters drop by - Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, and Goofy. Isaac was out of his mind jumping around and hugging them all... but he did ask "why don't they talk?". Then Isaac and Bella did a 5 minute spontaneous dance which I will call the "cupcake sugar rush dance" - but it got quite the audience.

As we left, Pamela was beckoned to the table next to ours - they wanted to know if Joe and I were by any chance TV stars, because they could SWEAR they'd seen us somewhere before. I think that we just live a little big, maybe we give off that "comfortable in the spotlight" vibe. Because I'm pretty sure nobody saw that TV Pilot we made back in the late 1990s ("Papa and the Jimmy").

Tomorrow will be a lighter day - if the weather holds, we may revisit Epcot to see what we missed and spend a little more time in the international areas. But no big plans. At the very least, we're sleeping in for a while.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Almost unbelievable

On Thursday, our new system went live. On Friday, we hopped on an airplane to head down tot sunny Florida for a week at Disney World. First, about the work: I'm in shock, but things seem to be going well - there were some issues in areas that we had already known might cause us some trouble... and the fact that there were no OTHER major issues meant we were able to focus our resources on those trouble spots. I've been checking my work email no more than once a day, just to see if something huge has emerged, but no, it seems to be going ok. SO I'm just fine with being here.

The flight down was good - on time and relatively smooth... but the last 10 minutes had us hitting some pretty major bumps... and poor Isaac wound up puking all over the place as we taxi'ed to the gate. Of course I wasn't quick enough with a bag, and it wound up EVERYWHERE. Fortunately the door opened shortly and people were able to flee. The flight attendants were very pleasant - apparently Isaac wasn't the only kid to have lost his cookies on the flight, either.

The downside is that Isaac has been announcing that "i think I'm going to frow up" at every opportunity. It figures - he didn't really see why he puked before, so it's a potential for every minute now.

So Friday we checked in to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, an African-themed hotel with a gorgeous atrium and wild animals wandering around right outside our windows. There are 4 giraffes, a pair of zebras, and many ox-goat-bull style animals. Some with absurdly large horns. The room isn't big, but the view is great. Nothing like having morning coffee watching a giraffe nibble on some leaves 100 feet away.

On Saturday we did the Animal Kingdom park. Here's where Pamela's obsessive planning came into play - We did all the rides we wanted to do, with no waiting at all. She got us hooked up with Tour Guide Mike, which is a "Disney Insider" website. She set up an itinerary that was based on going "contrary" to the typical flow of guests at the park, and strategic collection of "fast passes" which let you jump to the front of the line (but need to be planned out). For most of the day, we were like Salmon spawning, flying against the crowds. We started with a character breakfast at Tusker House, where our not-very-African bacon and waffles were complimented with visits from Donald, Daisy, Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy, all in safari gear. The kids were thrilled.

We passed out early after that day, but not before running into Rick and Kari, parents of Bailey and Ty, who were at the tail end of their weeklong trip. We retired to the pool for drinks while the kids swam (mostly with Rick) - Bella discovered the water slide at the end of the pool and went down it thirty times. She counted.

Sunday was a chillaxing by the pool day - the kids were tired, we were tired, and we spent many hours at the pool, Randy, JeMae, and Jenny came by after THEIR day at Animal Kingdom, and there was another swim-fest into the evening. We had dinner at the big buffet in the hotel, which has African-themed foods (which to my tastes means "sort of BBQ, but with a great red harissa sauce you can put on everything"). The food was great.

Monday was our day for Epcot, and it was a RAINY RAINY DAY. It started drizzling, but by the time we finished our first ride on "Soarin'" (the imax flying ride), the lightning was flashing and there was a half inch of standing water everywhere. We stuck to plan and got to do the indoor rides we wanted to do, but by 11:30, we were getting hungry - we ducked into the british pub in the "international" part of Epcot and had a leisurely pub lunch... while the rain thundered down. "A Beautiful British Summer's Day" as Papa said a few times. More than a few times.

Since we were in the international area (which has exhibits from Canada, Great Britain, Morocco, Germany, Italy, USA, China, Japan, France, and I'm sure I'm forgetting one), we decided to fill out a "passport" for Bella - where you go to each country, find the "kidcot" station and get a stamp and talk to a native speaker.

It was actually very fun, though by the end of it we were thoroughly soaked. Highlights included Japan, which had an amazing gift shop, and Great Britain, where we ran into Tigger AND Mary Poppins! Mary was very nice to Bella, and Isaac did some jumping with Tigger.

Soaked to the bone we made our way back to the hotel, and we're taking another day off Tuesday - we all need the break. I wound up carrying Isaac for most of yesterday and my shoulders and arms are all a-twitch from exhaustion. I'm sitting in the grand lobby using my phone's connection, since Disney has taken the admirably retro approach of not only NOT having any Wifi, but also charging $10/day for a cabled connection.

It is forcing me to think twice about checking emails... so I'm really only checking in once a day with work, and am offline a lot.

And I needed some serious offline time. I'm very happy to be relaxing.

NEXT UP: We're doing the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, and we hope the weather agrees with us!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In case you're wondering

The golive went very well. The 36 hours of conversion pre-live were successful, and as of this writing, we've been up and fully live for over 18 hours, with no major incidents to speak of (knock wood). I leave on my vacation knowing I brought them right up to a good golive. Now it's just watching and fixing, which the team can definitely do.

And I'm going to Disneyworld!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


1) Yesterday Isaac was dancing around the kitchen, with Spiderman in one hand and Electro in the other (small plastic dolls), singing "Chicka Wow Wow!.. That's what my baby say,.... Chicka Wow wow... That's what my baby say". I have no comment.

2) I'm terribly thrilled about a product for the iPad: The Fairlight CMI. Back in the 1980s, the Fairlight was between $30-60,000. It was big and white and had a video screen with green text and you used a LIGHT PEN to program it. Duran Duran had one, as did Thomas Dolby, and so many others. I have written about my Fairlight Lust many times in the past.

Well, the co-inventor of the Fairlight, Peter Vogel, went and made a version of it for the iphone and ipad. It has the same sounds, it works in a lot of the same ways, and you program it in the same way. It is in every way that matters, a full on Fairlight. And it runs in an iPad. What's even more fun is that when you load sounds or select programs, it plays the sounds of the clicky keyboard and clunky disk drive. It's a bit gimmicky, but perfect for me. So I've been playing with it a bit, loading up the breathy ahhh sound and playing "Ghost in You" by Psych Furs, and "Shout" by Tears for Fears.

3) We're going live this week... and I really do think we're ready. My team is at the hospital now preparing for chart conversions that start at midnight. To kill time before gotime, I've declared a Haiku competition.

4) I had a good work weekend for my Maryland stuff too - I heard back that they were very happy with the info I delivered. That made me happy. I do like doing good work.

5) Friday is when we take off for vacation and I am INCREDiBLY READY for this.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sail the Skies

Another Dream, transcribed for your consideration and enjoyment:

Started in a communal loft space where me and my friends are all staying - we're wrapping up a visit to Tokyo, and preparing to head to the airport. I'm setting my facebook status, and linger for a moment on my Facebook picture: It's a small animation that I recognize as a student movie I had done in college - short movies of my friends eyeballs, shot in grainy black and white. As I'm reviewing the movie, I try to remember which eyeballs were for which friends. The last one before it loops is of a guy with pretty bugged out eyes, shifty, and I remember "I don't recall his name, but boy was he a jerk".

Facebook status updated, it's time to head to the airport. I'm running late so I commandeer one of those airport carts. For some reason, the airport has been done up using a fake beach theme, with big plastic palm trees, and huge dunes of sand, making "islands" on the blue concourse carpeting.

Naturally, I swerve the golf cart into one of the beaches and get stuck on the sand, so I jump out and hightail it for the gate.

The airline I'm using has a "nautical theme" - "Sail the Skies". The upshot of this is that instead of having a regular jetway to the airplane, the airplane is sitting out on a blue painted circle on the tarmac (the "sea"), and they ferry me out to the plane on a "boat launch" (which is basically a rowboat on the end of a forklift). I'm sitting on the prow of the boat, as I'm ferried out to the airplane, and clamber out into the open airplane door (without a stairway). The stewardess has a sailor outfit on.

I settle into my seat and look at my flight itinerary: Looks like this isn't a direct flight, but a one-stop. Hmmm... This flight goes direct to DALLAS Texas, at which point they're transferring me to a BUS to drive to Minneapolis. I have two options - either one of those tall shuttles they use for rental car transfers, or a long Ford Econoline van.

As I'm reviewing the options, I'm disappointed: It's 20 hours in a van, and EITHER option is not that big of a vehicle. "Oh man, that's a long time, and I don't want to have to talk to the driver that whole time"

And that's when I woke up.

Friday, March 11, 2011

That's odd

I'm back in Maryland - a 24 hour trip to meet with the project sponsors and give a status update. Given all of the things happening in JimmyVille these days, I was perhaps a bit ill-prepared for this meeting, so I pulled some late nights across the week, worked on the plane, drove the hour from Baltimore to Frederick, got in after midnight, and worked in the room until the wee hours, got up early to finish, and met with them at 10am.

Fortunately, I actually pulled it together, and we had a very good 4 hours of meetings.

I hopped back in the car for the hour drive back to the airport, got through security with PLENTY of time to spare, found a seat, and actually fell asleep in the chair for 45min. Flat out, snoring, drooling (i assume from the dry corners of my mouth). I woke up, found I still had all my stuff and celebrated with a Potbelly sandwich. I'll be actually BOARDING in another hour - it was better to get here early and beat the traffic.

Now I'm squatting behind an unused gate agent desk, since the Thurgood Marshall Airport has about 7 power outlets spread across 14 gates, and all of us power vampires are hovering around waiting for someone to finish charging... I'm here for another 5 min to top it all up, and then I'm giving up the spot to one of the three guys who are watching me type this.

Looking forward to the weekend, I am. LOOKING FORWARD.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Another Evening

1) Bella and I finished Harry Potter 4 - The Goblet of Fire. This is the "pivot" book where things start getting pretty dark in the series, and I was a little worried about whether Bella would track it all... but heck, she was right there with me, and I loved revisiting it. I must confess that the full three chapters before the last one were very full of "monologuing" - first Voldemort, then Moody/Crouch, then Dumbledore - everybody was giving these very story-heavy speeches that explained all the strange happenings in the book in detail. On one hand, I sort of resent the spoonfeed method, but on the other hand, Rowling was really trying to make sure everyone (kids kids kids) understood all of the things that were happening. And Bella got it.

2) Isaac and I had our Tuesday MAN DATE, since Pamela and Bella were at Synchro. We went to Edinborough Park again, and he was WORKING me hard - we had a game of tag around the gym that had us running top speed for 6 laps, before we both collapsed. After a while of this, I told Isaac to "go find some kids and just PLAY will you?" I turned to my iPhone for a minute and when I looked up I saw Isaac standing with ANOTHER DAD, playimng bounce-catch with a basketball.

Basically since his dad crapped out, he found another dad and just started playing. The other dad had his eye on his own kid (WHO WAS PLAYING WITH OTHER KIDS), and indulging Isaac pretty well, but I had to get up and get engaged again - don't want to look TOO much like a deadbeat.

3) Tonight Isaac said he was sad that there were no real superheroes "In This World". In This World is his way of saying the real world vs pretend, but what I love about the turn of phrase is that it really doesn't deprecate the other world: It's equivalent, just not this one. Scooby Doo lives, but not in this world.

Anyway, I asked if he wanted to be a superhero, and he said no, not really. He just wished there WERE real superheroes, and he'd want to have their costumes to dress up in. He doesn't like that he can dress as spiderman and batman, but that they're not in THIS world. He thinks it would be much better to dress as a "REAL" superhero.

4) Ok, I'm over my snit about the Washburn Reunion. The popular people and I are now reconciled, and I'm helping plan this with them. Actually the committee is three people, a popular girl, a burnout who got expelled, and me, the arty nerd. It's like some sort of unholy trinity, and it's actually an excellent metaphor for how the walls and the labels disappear as the years go on. I'm very happy about it now.

And that's it!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Not the Midas Touch

For some reason, as has been documented many times in this journal, I have something of a black thumb when it comes to technology. You’ve seen me writing about laptops with dead batteries and cracked hinges, about hard drive crashes and fried motherboards, about smashed screens on Kindles, about home phones that lose their battery charge in a matter of minutes.

There’s just something about me and my own personal electromagnetic field that is somehow perilous to tech. It’s not ALL bad: I have become VERY good at making sure everything is backed up. And it does keep me on an aggressive upgrade path as well. And it’s not EVERYTHING: I have pretty good cellphone mojo, and my home TV/DVD/Cable/Internet setup seems pretty solid (knock on wood).

But in this past week, I’ve had two more outages: My Macbook Air has been one of the more troubled units – first it was a dead battery. Then it was a broken screen hinge, then I had to have it tuned up because the screen hinge fix came loose, and now it’s in the shop for another dead battery AND the screen hinge has come loose yet again, AND it has a roaring fan. And they took it from me just before some business travel.

I sat and thought: How will I make it through a week or more without my laptop? I have no spare. The work laptop from my current client is locked down very tightly and I can’t use it for anything not on their network (I don’t even take it home anymore – there’s no point). I needed something.

So I’m typing this on a new Macbook Air – the smaller 11” one. I admit to having lust in my heart for this thing since I first saw it months ago. Looking back on my history, I’ve had several very small laptops, and I’ve always loved them – my little Sonys of the early 2000s come to mind. I love having a tiny computer. Pamela, on the other hand, does not love my little computers. She is not as in denial as I am about our age and the eyesight, and she wants big keys and big letters on that screen. We agree to disagree in this realm.

But I sort of resent that my hand was forced on it. The resentment isn’t too bad, because dang it this is an AMAZING laptop. And when the old one comes back from the shop, I’ll work out what to do with it – maybe Pamela will want it, maybe we’ll sell it.

FAR more galling is the fact that my THIRD Kindle has died: Kindle 1 was the small one, and it got a cracked screen. Kindle 2 was the larger DX, which died due to a design flaw – the hooks that hold the cover on can get bent if you open it wrong, prying the case of the kindle apart… which happened. So they sent me another Kindle and another case, and within a month, the case started cracking the side AGAIN, so I took it out and have been using it bareback.

And the other night I took it out of my briefcase (in a pocket without anything else in it), to find the screen completely fritzed out – it looks like a pressure crack, but might “just” be a bad motherboard. Whatever it is, it is dead.

I must now give Amazon some amazing credit here: I called to ask about it, and they said “well, you’re just out of warranty, and it doesn’t sound like you were abusing the unit, so I’m just going to send you another one.” That was at 6pm Friday. At 8:30am Saturday, there was a new Kindle on my porch. WOW.

So now I can get back to work on Infinite Jest. What a crazy book.

Working Stiff

We are at a few weeks from golive at the Minneapolis client, and that means one thing. We are at a few weeks from our trip to Disney! My team keeps forgetting that I’m there to take them right up to the edge, but not across the finish line, and it’s a little odd to keep reminding them… but on the other hand, it’s forcing me to be smart about allocating responsibilities across the team: If I was going to be here, there are any number of tasks that I would have been tempted to say “I’ll just take that”, when in fact it would make better sense to farm it out.

So I’m trying to look at this as a positive. I mean, for me it IS a positive – I’ll be spending days in the sun with my family having fun instead of sitting 12-14 hours a day in a hospital basement manning a command center. So yeah, positive. And I WILL be in that command center the day I get back… but by then, the sheer naked panic should have subsided and we should be in crisis management mode.

I was afraid that my holding to this schedule would somehow impact my standing with the client, but oh look in my inbox, they just asked me to stay on to the end of the year. So they must not be TOO disappointed with me.

With the big golive behind us, and with me having a safe home base for the next 7 months, it’ll allow me to spend more time on building out other parts of the business. Specifically, we are starting to grow the data analytics line, which is MINE. I have one analyst already, and am looking for a second. We have one gig underway, a second one being negotiated, and clients 3 and 4 are identified and ready to go this summer.

This is the sort of thing I was hoping to be able to do with this company – to have the time to organically build out a practice area, while not being on the hook for DOING all the work myself. My boss/mentor Dan says it’s building a “long tail” – anyone can do work, but to grow you need to be able to find it, start it, and hand it off to someone you trust. It’s tough for a control freak like myself to trust that someone else can do work as good as I can… so I’m definitely keeping a close eye on the deliverables, but so far so good.

Business is on my mind because I’m flying home now from a leadership meeting in Philly. We spent 2 days talking about our staff, our growth, our strategic plans… and I was just happy to HAVE one. At the last leadership meeting, I was stymied because I had been trapped in Cleveland with a full time job and not really able to focus on growing my own work. Now I do have a big project, but I’m not on the road, and I have flexibility to take time out in the day to make things happen. Plus, it’s WAY easier to take a day trip out to Maryland or Philly from a home base, instead of tryng to work out flights from Cleveland.

I still love my company – whenever we get together for a few days, I leave liking us just as much as I did when I walked in. We have strong personalities, but we’re all competent in our own ways. There’s a good base of respect across the organization, and while we do go down the rabbit hole on minutae sometimes, it’s always a fun journey. And we’re doing GREAT – we have had 35% growth over the past 3 years, and are on track for that this year – we’ll be over $12m this year if we just work the business we’ve already sold. We could hit $16m easily this year, and over $20m next year. It’s not a bad place to be.

We do need to be smart, however: There’s a lot of business out there, and we’re not getting it at the expense of anyone ELSE: So while the growth is great, it’s not only because we’re good – we need to recognize it’s a great market. It’s that sort of humility and drive to keep ourselves tied to our core values and integrity that further cements my love for the company.

That and the fantastic dinners we have when we get together…

And now something a little different:

One of my co-workers is Gregg, who brought me into the company. He is an abrasive east-coaster who has a penchant for strange turns of phrase. From this trip we had two gems:

“Let me throw something else into the wrinkle”. This is like one he had last year “we’re all going to have to put our hands in the fire here”. The classic mixed metaphor.

“I’m superstitious – I’m the kind of guy who carries around a lucky rabbit head in his pocket”. This one had us completely unable to work for about 20 minutes as we tried to stop laughing.