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General Life Lessons

I've recently started to watch reddit on a regular basis. Generally the conversation and information I Get there is a lot more interesting than Facebook. In the Computer Science Career Questions subreddit. The subreddit seems to be made up of primarily students or people on their first two years of the job. Someone asked me for some valuable life lessons, and my response has been getting way more upvotes than I'm used to. I thought I'd make an interesting non-technical blog post.

Here are some of the advice I'd give to people just starting out their careers. In no particular order:

  • Don't Quit: Keep your current job until you have a new one lined up. There is some psychology involved. When people hear you are happily employed they experience the thrill of the chase. When they don't have a job they think there may be something wrong with you. Ashton Kutcher has some great words on this sentiment.
  • Know Your Priorities: I spent the past 18 years as a consultant running my own biz. Most people view me as a successful businessman, but I've had a lot of missteps. I would probably be a lot richer going the 'traditional' route and switched jobs every 3-5 years. I have always valued flexibility over money. What are your values and how does that apply to your career choices?
  • Don't be Afraid to Fail: I've been involved in ~15 different ventures of varying success over the past 30 years. Hugely satisfying even if not always profitable. Go for it!
  • Control your Spending: Research the FIRE movement. FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. The gist is keep your expenses low, invest what is left over and soon the investment return will be more than your expenses, eliminating the need to have a job. I'm not FIRE yet, but keeping expenses low is part of what kept me in business during various failures. Corollary: Max out your tax deductible retirement contributions. Mr Money Moustache has become an unofficial spokesperson for the for the FIRE movement.
  • Learn how to Communicate: Take a writing course or public speaking course. This is probably more important to your future job prospects than anything technology related. Taking a Dale Carnegie course is recommended.
  • Keep in Touch: Reach out to friends and colleagues at least once a year to say "Howdy, let's do lunch." You never know where your next opportunity will come from, and even if nothing comes of it it's good to keep connections with people.
  • Technology works on a Cycle: Everything old becomes new again. Lotus Notes was a 'NoSQL' database in the 80s/90s that worked on similar client-server principles that the web works on today. The VAX machine my college uses had dumb terminals with a server doing the heavy work--not unlike a Chromebook using Google Services. Programming languages are similar. It is often hilarious to me see "all ya kids" trumpeting these brand new concepts from 20 or 30 years ago. Corollary: Businesses also work on a cycle and decentralize their infrastructure to increase efficiency and remove bottlenecks and centralize to increase company wide cohesiveness.
  • Be Niche: I find there are more opportunities being a specialist than a generalist. But, don't be afraid to change that specialty, though. A decade ago I was one of the most prominent Flex/Flash Developers in the world, but that technology is less important today. Two decades ago I was a ColdFusion expert, a tech that is also less relevant today. Both of these skills still get me client work, though.
  • Own You: A lot of the things you'll build for employers will be owned by them. Try to own as much as you as you can. Always be aware of the rights you're giving up. I recently turned down a book deal with a major tech publisher because they would not explicitly say that my self published writings were non-competitive.
  • Read Contracts: Read something before you sign it. Ask for a copy for your records.

Hopefully you find this interesting. I'll be back next week with something more technical. ;)

Happy Anniversary

A few milestones happened to me this year. This blog turned 10, so my Internet writings have been floating around for a decade. DotComIt started its 17th year in business. Personally, I entered another decade. This is intended to be a retrospective mushy posts about how awesome I am. :-)

The Blog

Social media wasn't a thing when I started blogging. I didn't have a Facebook account, and Twitter didn't exist. All my friends were on MySpace and was the place to go to discover new music. When stupid Internet quizzes came up, I would discover them on someone else's blog and would post results here. People used RSS readers to keep up on their friend's blogs, and aggregators could bring you lots of traffic.

Today, most interaction has moved to social media. I think the blog form is relevant for dispensing information, such as tutorials or screencasts, but they do not work as a place for discussion. The end result is that I blog less than I used to. Most of my recent blog posts are curated from the DotComIt technical newsletter, which focuses on longer in-depth articles. I've been writing the newsletter almost monthly since 2008, and that is a lot of content.

On a personal note; I think the design of this blog is in dire need of an update. I uses the default BlogCFC theme, and I haven't updated it in years. It doesn't even feature a rich text editor for writing blog posts, so all the HTML markup is stuff I write manually. I think my blog content could use a high level scrubbing as some of the posts are not relevant. I sometimes think that I should use this domain for something other than a Blog; with some sections dedicated to music and the sort. Such changes will have to wait for another day.

By the Numbers

I've written 686 posts on this blog; which averages to 5.7 posts per month. But, averages don't tell the real story. This graph shows the number of posts I made per year:

The first drop you see is in 2007; the same year I started The Flex Show. It continues to drop in 2008 as I prepared to launch Flextras. The Flextras blog was launched in the beginning of 2009. There is a bump in posts in 2012; the Year I shut down The Flex Show. In 2013 I shut down Flextras, open sourced the components, and started work on the Life After Flex series. Even though the stats of this blog don't show it; I was creating lots of content, just much of it was for other places.

When Life After Flex launched in 2014 and after writing that I took some time off. I'm only now getting back into the swing of things. If I follow my standard, next year will see a lot of blogging. Unless I update my Life After Flex course for AngularJS 2.0 [which is a possibility, but not guaranteed].

Categories Per Year

In my early days, my posts were a lot more varied; with everything from movie reviews to game reviews to whatever I tickled my fancy. Over time this blog became a lot more focused on technical content. Here are some of the top topics per year

Year Top Topics
2005 ColdFusion took the lead for my most blogged about topic this year.
2006 ColdFusion once again was the top of my blogging list in 2006.
2007 ColdFusion and Flex are head to head this year, with 34 posts on each one.
2008 Flex overtook CF as my top topic.
2009 Flex once retains the top spot.
2010 Flex is top again
2011 Flex is the top
2012 Writing and Presenting has the same amount of posts as Flex this year. I think this is the year when I published all the archives from my ColdFusion Developer's Journal column.
2013 AngularJS ties the top spot with ColdFusion and writing and presenting.
2014 AngularJS and Writing and Presenting take the top spot again.
2015 AngularJS and JavaScript hold the top position [so far] for 2015.

My top posts follow, relatively, the technologies I have worked with in my career. Starting with a lot of ColdFusion stuff, moving onto Flex, and most recently AngularJS and JavaScript.

In terms of specific content, I finally wrote a technical blog post that gets a lot of traction. It is a blog post on the solution to a problem I had with AngularJS and refreshing views.

I think the blog post is relatively well written, and was accidentally optimized for search engines. It has a question in the subject line and provides a few different solutions. I bet a lot of people having the same problem typed the exact question into Google. I think it is the rare case where I tackled a problem a lot of people have and wrote a detailed solution to the problem. I also provided plunkers with samples; which I don't often do.

My second most famous blog post is one on customer service issues I had with tracfone, a pay as you go service provider. I wrote it as a on-off post, and it is a bit embarrassing how popular it became.

Personal vs Professional Posts

When I launched this blog, aggregators and RSS feeds were all the rage. I decided to categorize every blog post as either a personal blog post or a professional blog post. That way folks could easily follow my technical content without the unrelated content; or vice versa. This worked out well, a friend even syndicated my personal feed to LiveJournal at one point.

My number of personal and professional posts, are roughly equal, with there being slightly more Professional Posts in most years.

I find the numbers interesting. ;)

ColdFusion vs Flex Vs AngularJS

The three main technical topics I write about are ColdFusion, AngularJS, and Flex mirroring the three main technologies I have used in my career. How do these stack up:

No surprise, here; there is a big jump in ColdFusion posts in the beginning, and that declines as Flex rises to the top. AngularJS is almost non-existent, but you see a slight rise in recent years. If all goes well, you'll see more AngularJS oriented posts next year.

The Business

Enough about the Blog; DotComIt has been going for 16 years. Sometimes I feel lucky I'm still around. I have seen a lot of businesses come and go; and many colleagues have started businesses only to grab a full time job shortly thereafter. I've used my consulting success to dabble in multiple different ventures, from Creating Flex Components to self publishing a training course on AngularJS. None of those ventures turned out to be profitable enough to shutter the consulting side of the business, and I'm fine with that. I'm lucky to have a solid base of clients that provide me with flexibility to be me. There is always room for more if you're interested.

Half way through the Flex craze, I noticed that I got a lot of respect for being a business owner. Most of my friends consider me a success and I love talking about business, sometimes even more than coding.

Right now; I'm in a rare spot where I don't have a second venture ongoing; but I can't wait to see what I jump into next.

Thank you to all the clients who have hired me; continue to keep my plate full, and those who will hire me in the future.

What about Me?

For most of my professional career, I have striven to become a leading expert in what I do. I speak at user groups and conferences. I write books, produce podcasts, and participate in user forums. With the decline of Flash, and Flex, the community I attached myself too has scattered and I've lost some focus as a result. I have not decided what I want to conquer next; and do not have a community at the moment.

Looking back, I think I've reinvented myself three major times during my professional career.

The Programmer

The first iteration was Jeffry the programmer. At the start of my career I was employed by a business to business consulting firm. I did a lot of Lotus Notes development, but also touched on other technologies such as iCat and ColdFusion. The work was fast paced, and I learned more than I could ever imagine. We pushed the boundaries of technology at the time. But, the pace burnt me out. I only realize this in retrospect. I left there quite hastily to do something different.

The Business Owner

The second iteration is Jeffry the Business Owner. I left my former employer with no plan. Thankfully the dot com boom was crazy and I was able to get some consulting work via word of mouth. I feel into running a business like no one else should. At this time I also had the opportunity to write a book for Osborne McGrawhill; which I took. I still don't know why the acquisitions editor reached out to me. He actually told me that if he were the Emperor I'd be the one he would clone. I had a knack for meeting deadlines that is unusual in the publishing industry.

The first book lead to more writing and presenting opportunities, and that worked as my businesses promotional arm. It didn't bring me clients directly, but it did help me land projects. When you teach others, people who have no ability to evaluate your skill are willing to assume you know what you're doing. It makes you an easy sell to the business bean counters because it gives confidence you can do what you claim.

The Product Creator

My desire was always to build and support a product instead of getting into the consulting grind. When Flex came along, I decided to go all in. I started work on Flextras immediately. I redirected my writing skills to podcasting in an attempt to build an audience of Flex developers. I started spending a lot of time on StackOverflow to answer Flex based questions.

I think I did a lot right (and a lot wrong); but in the end Flash lost relevance and the product business failed. I fell back to the consulting grind and have been juggling multiple clients ever since.

What Next?

I have no idea what is next for me. I'm focusing on servicing existing clients; biding my time and vetting different ideas. I haven't had an idea worth chasing after yet. What would you like to see me do?

Random Thoughts on 2014

Inspired by my good friend John Wilker, I thought I'd put together some random thoughts on 2014. In no particular order, here they are:

  • Patent Pending may move into my "Favorite Band" spot. Their music is clever and fun. When performing they choose energy over technical prowess, but I really don't mind. I imagine it hard to sing well while you're jumping around like a jackrabbit on speed whose fur is on fire.
  • I took a vacation to Yellowstone park and proved I can have a good time while not working.
  • A big thanks goes out to all of DotComIt's clients who keep me busy. I currently have a few consistent clients which is great on the cash flow, but not so great on fulfilling the Entrepreneurial urges.
  • I released a training course on AngularJS early in the year; and then updated it later in the year to include an extra book on NodeJS. I still sell a few "pay what you want" copies each month, but the upper tiers have all but been forgotten since the initial launch. For whatever reason, I have failed and pushing folks through a sales funnel. I really thought the six hours of Angular screencasts would be appealing; but perhaps it is not communicated well enough.
  • I play Bloon Monkey City almost every day, because everyone needs a brainless casual game to give their mind time to work.
  • I was performing an Edwin McCain song in my office and my wife said I sounded good; which is the second nicest thing she has ever said to me music-wise. Remind me to be nicer to her.
  • I reviewed 16 games for Just Adventure. That means I reviewed one third of the games they reviewed games this year. Holy Carp! I didn't realize I was that big of a contributor. The site has changed a lot since I started writing reviews for them in 2009; and a lot of my older reviews are no longer on the site. It bums me out a bit. Check out the 2014 year in review over there. I wrote the non-game parts; and edited the game parts.
  • Since ending The Flex Show, John and I don't chat nearly as much. I miss it. I gotta figure out how to use Google Hangouts at some point. I should see all of my friends more, but life gets in the way.
  • Speaking of Entrepreneurial drive; I'm working on creating a dirty card game. I have no idea if I have a good balance of naughty and entertaining or it just vulgar and offensive. I should get my first prototype today.
  • One of my songs was put on a community coder's compilation. I chose a song from my February Album Writing Month set that I liked. Speaking of which I wrote and recorded 19 songs for February Album Writing Month. Near the end of the year I started writing songs w/ Shadow. My songwriting is all mathematical while she is very artsy. It has been an interesting experience.
  • I made it another year without updating this blog's design or my company site. I really gotta do that.
  • I supported a bunch of PledgeMusic campaigns. Some people do it better than others. I'm really excited for Ryan Hamilton's album; especially since he promised us a full set of demos for the album. I eat that stuff up. Compare that to Guster whose presale prices are higher than I would expect suggested retail price to be. It is just one more time in recent years I feel like Guster is trying to rip off their biggest fans. I seem to be the only one indifferent to People On Vacation's release. It's an album I keep listening to because I don't get it and want to hear the brilliance everyone else hears. I think some of the songs are great, but the production feels like a glorified demo and not of professional quality. Sometimes I complain too much.

There are my random thoughts. Happy 2015 Everyone!

Pizza Dough

Someone asked for my Pizza Dough recipe, so here it is. I got this from my brother primarily, but have tweaked it slightly


  • 2.5 Tablespoons of Active Dry Yeast
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Sugar
  • 1.5 cups of warm water
  • 3.5 cups of Flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

Make the Dough

  1. Dissolve Yeast and Sugar in warm water
  2. Sift Flour (I sift it directly into my Kitchen aid mixer bowl)
    • My siblings add extra Gluten here. For each cup of Flour, remove one tablespoon of Flour and add in one Tablespoon of Gluten. I do not do this.
  3. Add salt to Sifted Flour
  4. Add Olive Oil to Flour Mixture
  5. Add Yeast/Sugar/Water mixture to Flour Mixture
    • If you're adventurous you can add extra seasoning to the dough at this stage; Basil works really well.
    • If you saved a small dough ball from your last batch; add it to this batch to give this batch a sour dough taste.
  6. Mix in Kitchen Aid Mixer with Dough Hook. I usually run this for 10 minutes or so, usually on mid-speed. You can watch the dough as it mixes. If it looks too stiff; I may add more water; or if it is too watery I may add more flour.
  7. Coat a separate bowl in Olive Oil. I eyeball it, but roughly use a tablespoon and then use a basting brush to coat the inside of the bowl.
  8. When dough is ready; move from KitchenAid mixer to Olive Oil Bowl. I'll roll around the dough in the bowl.
  9. Cover and put someplace warm for 2+ hours. This will let the dough rise; it will probably double in size.
  10. Punch dough down and break into 2-3 dough balls. Store in the refrigerator. [I use a large Lock and Lock box; although that brand is no more]

Make the Pizza

  1. Heat Oven to 550 degrees
  2. Put Flour on Counter; roll out dough with a rolling pin. Add additional flour to rolling pin / on top of dough if dough sticks to Rolling pin (or counter)
  3. Roll up Sides of Dough (I do two rolls to make the edge of the pizza)
  4. Add sauce, cheese and toppings
  5. Cook for about 10 minutes

7 Random Facts About Me

This showed up on Facebook and I thought I'd make it into a blog post for no particular reason.

OK, I'm doing the random fact game. Here are 7 random facts about me you might not know.

  1. Early names suggestions for my last 'major' band, Far Cry Fly, were Ampersand, Kermit's Children, and Fozzie's Malaise.
  2. I have taken saxophone lessons, piano lessons, and voice lessons. I have taught myself guitar, bass, and drums. Other musicians say I have a great sense of timing and I accredit that to Steve Chetcuti, my saxophone teacher.
  3. My house is full of Cabbage Patch Kids, Webkins, and other random stuffed animals. We call them our "Imaginary perfect children." Someday I want to write a book about them and it will be a "Rugrats meet Winnie the Pooh" sort of thing.
  4. I have written 3 books that were published by Osborne McGrawhill. I am currently working on the fourth. These are technical books.
  5. I have participated in February Album Writing Month for four years straight; writing and recording 14 songs during the month of February. If you Google my name, some may come up on the Internet. But I'm not sure. I posted some songs on some music sites; but I forget the names.
  6. I make my own Dairy Free ice cream. Since it is Dairy Free perhaps it shouldn't be called ice cream? But, it is the same concept made with an ice cream maker.
  7. My band, Far Cry Fly, once got kicked off stage a few songs into our set. The owner walked up and said "play one more song and get off." because people were not dancing to us.

My Hamburger Recipe

And now for something non-technical. A friend asked for my hamburger recipe. I've made this with both ground beef and ground turkey and we really like the taste. It works great for meatballs too:


  • 1-1.5 Pounds of Ground Meat (Beef or Turkey). I buy the biggest package I can at BJs and split it in half.
  • 1/3 cup of Olive Oil
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Cup of Breadcrumbs (I use Panko Bread Crumbs which I run through a Food Processor and make very fine. The measurement of 1 cup is after they are food processed)
  • Seasonings (This is what we use)
    • 2 teaspoons of Parsley
    • 2 teaspoons of Onion Powder (or Diced Onions)
    • 1 teaspoon of Garlic Powder


  1. Mix all Ingredients Together. I use a KitchenAid Stand mixer; but you could also do it with your hands.
  2. Form into patties [or Meatballs]
  3. Bake in Oven at about 400 degrees for 10 minutes. This only partially cooks them; so if you want to eat right away you can bake for a bit longer.
  4. Store in freezer or fridge until ready for your meal. Often before cooking I will stab them through the center with a knife.

I've toyed around with different seasonings to mixed results. But, everything has been edible. Add Red Pepper if you want something spicy. Add oregano and/or Italian Seasonings if you want something with an Italian flair.

More Stupid Memes

I'm avoiding doing real work.

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought?

I don't think I looked in the mirror yet today.

2. How much cash do you have on you?

None. My wallet may have a $20. I don't usually do cash.

3. What's a word that rhymes with DOOR?


4. Favourite planet?

Pluto; no wait Dagobah. Actually, no opinion.

5. Who is the 4th person on your missed call list on your mobile phone

I think I only have three missed calls and they are all unknown.

6. What is your favourite ring tone on your phone?

I only use one; which is the intro Chords to the Far Cry Fly, My Saving Grace.

7. What shirt are you wearing?

Pajama tops

8. Do you label yourself?

I guess so. I'm a small business owner, a software engineer, a recording engineer, an author, an Adobe Community Professional, a podcaster, a musician, and a songwriter. Did I miss anything?

9. Name the brand of the shoes you're currently wearing?

I'm wearing slippers, not sure of the brand.

10. Bright or Dark Room?


11. What do you think about the person who took this survey before you?

A little bit crazy; but that's okay.

12. What does your watch look like?

It was one of those one w/ digital stopwatch timers that would count down backwards so I knew when to flip a tape when bootlegging concerts. I may still have it.

13. What were you doing at midnight last night?


14. What did your last text message you received on your mobile say?

I receive most of my text messages through Google Voice at a computer.

15. Where is your nearest 7-11?

No idea, but there is a CVS and a Walgreens right down the street.

16. What's a word that you say a lot?


17. Who told you he/she loved you last?

Red; the Cabbage Patch Kid.

18. Last furry thing you touched?

If I had to guess, it was "Pillow Bear Smokey", a stuffed animal that lives in my bedroom.

19. How many drugs have you done in the last three days?

Does Pepsi count as a drug? If so, then 2. IF not, then none.

20. How many rolls of film do you need developed?

None. Who uses film?

21. Favorite age you have been so far?

They all blur together. I tend to look forward not back.

22. Your worst enemy?

I don't think I have any enemies. At least not overtly.

23. What is your current desktop picture?

It's black, so no picture.

24. What was the last thing you said to someone?

In person or on twitter/FB? Either way, I have no idea.

25. If you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to fly, what would it be?

If I could fly, then I'd have the perfect getaway for a million dollar bank robbery.

26. Do you like someone?

I guess so.

27. The last song you listened to?

Bowling for Soup, I Gotchoo is on right now.

28. What time of day were you born?

No idea.

29. What's your favourite number?


30. Where did you live in 1987?

Somewhere in CT.

31. Are you jealous of anyone?

If I think about it; then pretty much everyone more successful than me. If I don't think about it, I realize they are probably jealous of me for the exact same reason. Success is just a perception that shouldn't be judged in relation to other people, only in relation to your own goals.

32. Is anyone jealous of you?

See above. But, I don't know of anyone personally jealous of me.

33. Where were you when 9/11 happened?

Living in my sister's Condo. The TV Guy was out for some reason, he hooked me up w/ free cable so I Could watch w/o bunny ears.

34. What do you do when vending machines steal your money?

The last time I used a vending machine was in the eBay offices; which do not take your money.

35. Do you consider yourself kind?

Yes, but I can be a cruel bitch in business; and I'm more apt to be honest than tactful. I recently took stock of all my friends and realized I don't know any Aholes; therefore I am open to the possibility that I am one.

36. If you had to get a tattoo, where would it be?

I have no need to get a tattoo.

37. If you could be fluent in any other language, what would it be?

Russian, so I understand the other half of the things my wife vocabulary.

38. Would you move for the person you loved?

I don't think I do anything for the person I love unless I want to. So, probably no.

39. Are you touchy feely?

Yeah, but it's tough to know where the limits are in a business environment and/or w/ business colleagues in a non-business environment.

40. What's your life motto?

I don't have one.

41. Name three things that you have on you at all times?

Wedding Ring, I guess. I can't think of anything else.

42. What's your favourite town/city?

Anything that isn't in New York.

43. What was the last thing you paid for with cash?

I don't use cash.

44. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper and mailed it?

Thank You notes for people who pledged to The Flex Show pledge drive.

45. Can you change the oil on a car?


46. Your first love: what is the last thing you heard about him/her?

This meme, actually. She LiveJournal's up a storm.

47. How far back do you know about your ancestry?

I know I have parents and grandparents.

48. The last time you dressed fancy, what did you wear and why did you dress fancy?

I don't dress fancy. So, probably the last day of high school where they forced us to wear ties.

49. Does anything hurt on your body right now?

My right jaw.

50. Have you been burned by love?

I guess so.

51. Name three things that make you happy!

Playing Gee-tar Creating a cool Architecture for something, such as a Flextras Component or a client's application. Shutting off the computer.

Seven Things Meme

I saw this on a friend's Live Journal and thought it was interesting enough to partake myself:

A. List seven habits/quirks/facts about yourself. B. Tag seven people to do the same. C. Do not tag the person who tagged you or say that you tag "whoever wants to do it."

  • There are about a dozen cabbage patch kids, 50 webkins, and hundreds of other assorted animals throughout my house. I don't have kids.
  • I can solve the Rubik's Cube, most of the time in under five minutes.
  • I spent >$200 for this ergonomically correct keyboard drawer, and >$600 for this ergonomically correct chair, but still have a crappy desk which I believe prevents me from working in an ergonomically correct way. I blame the constant dull ache on the right side of my jaw to ergonomic issues.
  • I have been Pepsi / cola free since the Sunday after last Thanksgiving. It has affected my ability to work in an extremely positive way; instead of putting in 4-6 hour days I can put in 10-12 hour days. I'm more aware and more efficient and I can get things done. I did go out to Wendy's with the wife and have a Frosty Float w/ Root Beer a few days ago. Most of the time I drink water and various juices. I want to start juicing my own fruits and vegetables.
  • The first loaf of bread I ever made came out very salty, I think I mistook teaspoons and tablespoons in the measurements. I would be less liable to do that if there was a consistent abbreviation for them. I think I'm learning that 'b' means tablespoons and no 'b' means teaspoons.
  • I did not pick up the phone call two--now three--times this morning. I woke up late and am still shaking the dust off.
  • Coming up with seven items was harder than I thought, but I'm not going to tag anyone.

2009 Holiday Letter Plus a Look Forward

This is a slightly modified version of the Holiday letter that T and I sent out. If you didn't get one, but thought you should have, let me know. T wrote most of this because I Was too lazy.

The year has, indeed, been busy. Most of the year was consumed with wedding stuff. In fact, if you look closely, you'll still find things that need to be put away; the twinkle lights from our wedding reception are doubling up as winter decorations.

2008 concluded with a trip to PA to meet some Houser relatives that T had never met and Jeffry still can't remember the names of. The rest of our winter was low key, with some local hiking and short trips to the Poconos and Boston.

Summer eventually came, which gave T more time to prepare for the wedding. We spent thousands of dollars at Home Depot to make our house presentable. The monotony of house projects was broken up by some short trips to VA and Vermont.

Our wedding weekend was not traditional. We started the weekend with several competitive games of laser tag and some yummy pizza. We did the deed before a beautiful cascading waterfall in the middle of the woods. Back at the house, we enjoyed an all day delicious barbeque styled open house reception. The next day, we headed to a local amusement park for some enjoyment. Jeffry's car was broken into the next day; but we still closed the weekend with a trip to the Yedinak Farm in Moscow, PA. We took a tractor ride, hung out by the pond, and picked backyard blueberries.

T's long-time friend, Irina, came in for the wedding from Moscow, Russia, with her daughter, Juli. They spent 2 weeks visiting Mystic, Boston, and many other local affairs. It had been 15 years since they'd seen each other!

The summer ended quickly when it was time for T to go back to the classroom, teaching eager young minds in the 4th and 5th grade. September and October were relaxed, but November had Jeffry bouncing all over the Northeast promoting Flextras, his set of UI Components for Flex Developers.

In November, T and Jeffry traveled to Newport, RI, meeting up with the Houser clan for a Cliff Walk and a trip to the Coggeshall Farm Museum. Next, they headed up to Vermont for a Guster concert. Then we had a rural Pennsylvania Thanksgiving meal at Jeff's brother's place in State College, PA. And finally, T got to be a tour guide when another friend from Russia, visited CT!

Our first Christmas together was spent, ironically, apart, a mutual decision to satisfy Jeffry the Homebody and T the Traveler. T went to Williamsburg, VA with her friend Rachel and enjoyed 3 days of sightseeing which included a side trip to Jamestown.

So, that was our Holiday letter; which got snail mailed out last week sometime. I'm not sure what the next year holds for us, but here are some things I expect to do in no particular order:

  • I expect to do more home cooking and add more fruit and vegetables to my diet.
  • There is a chance I'll buy a juicer, funds permitting. The thought of juicing your own veggies holds a strange appeal for me.
  • I did not buy replacement pages for my day timer, instead moving to Google Calendar synced with my iPod touch. So far so good.
  • I expect to have no more conversations about when the decade really starts, or ends.
  • There is a slight chance I'll switch from Blockbuster On-line to Netflix, part due to the streaming service, part due to the fact that if I build an app against the Netflix API I can expense the account
  • I will find a good, simple, bread recipe and finally use our baking stone and peel. I also plan to finally make some Pizza [from scratch] for T. I used to do it all the time with moderate success, but not in ages.
  • I'm going to try to participate in February's National Album Writing Month. Want to write a song or two with me? Are you in the area?
  • I will be a success!

Tales of Monkey Island Review

A brand new tale in the world of Monkey Island is out. After a short walk down memory lane, I sat down to play the Tales of Monkey Island series. Tales of Monkey Island is a single story released as five episodes over the course of six months. I was happy to have an old school style adventure game for today's world, but unfortunately the game lacked some of the polish I'd expect from a non-episodic adventure.

Running the Game

When playing the older games today, getting them to run was an adventure of its own. I wouldn't have expected any issues with such a brand new game, but alas I did have one serious issue. My game machine is not powerful enough to run the game at full capacity. I had to knock the quality setting down from 6, the default, to 3 before I could get beyond the title screen. TOMI comes with no documentation; not even a PDF. It was only through trial and error I was able to find the quality setting and change the setting. This took about an hour, because moving the mouse smoothly across the title screen was not possible at any setting higher than 6. It was a jagged movement, as if the screen only had 6 pixels. Once I figured that out that initial problem, I was able to start the game, things went much smoother. Thankfully each new episode was able to 'find' my settings from the previous episode and I did not go through the same setting nightmare each time.

There is an interesting option in the settings named hint frequency. I wish some documentation would tell me what that means, but I assumed this somehow related to in game hints. I turned it all the way down in hopes of making the games more challenging. By my estimate I spent 5-8 hours on each chapter, slightly more than the estimated 2-4 hours per chapter. I only turned the hints higher at one point in Episode 5 was I was ungodly stuck. It turns out my issue there was a missed screen exit. Once I discovered that exit, I was able to easily solve the puzzle at hand. At some points in the game you do have to walk right at the screen. Getting around in the game will be quite easy, especially if you've played other games in the adventure genre. Unfortunately instead of pointing and clicking to move around, you have to hold down the mouse button and move the mouse. It aggravated my wrist occasionally, but for the most part was not too bad. Beyond that, the game sports the traditional point and click to interact with items.

Onto the Story Already

The game starts out on a ship, and in order to make it seem realistic, the ship actually bobs back and forth on the waves, moving both your view of the scenery and the hotspots you need to click on to and fro. This is a cool effect that you get used to pretty quickly, but I think they should have introduced the game, and therefore the interface in some other manner.

Guybrush Threepwood, our hero, getting ready to fight LeChuck , our villain, with the Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu. Guybrush just needs to finish up the voodoo spell; which doesn't go as planned. LeChuck turns into a human and his demon essence floats throughout the Caribbean infecting pirates. Guybrush ends up on Flotsam Island with a cursed hand. On Flotsam Island all winds blow towards the center of the island, meaning no pirate can ever leave. It is up to Guybrush to find a boat and crew and to solve the wind problem so he can escape and find out what happened to LeChuck and Elaine.

The game plays much like a traditional adventure game. The puzzles are logical enough, often based on using or combining inventory items that you collected along the way. Some require more thought such as solving the map puzzle in Episode 1, and a different map puzzle again in Episode 4. I was impressed with the amount of locations in each game, as I expected them to be heavily watered down due to the time constraints of creating an episodic adventure.

Guybrush's search will lead him to meet up with many old favorites such as Stan--now a lawyer, The Voodoo Lady, and Murray the Demonic Skull. It also introduces the best character to grace a Monkey Island game since Murray: Morgan LeFlay the female pirate hunter. Morgan, like you and I, is a fan of Guybrush. You might even say she has a bit of a starry eyed crush. The two characters play off each other fantastically; in some cases, it mirrors the interplay between Elaine and Guybrush from Escape from Monkey Island.

Episode 1 focuses on Guybrush getting a boat and getting off of Flotsam Island. Episode 2 and 3 focuses on Guybrush finding La Esponja Grande, a magic voodoo talisman to help get rid of the Pox of LeChuck. Episode 4 focuses on using La Esponja Grande in a Voodoo spell; and episode 5 finishes off the story with a final showdown. Episode 5 has a real treat, where you get to play Guybrush as a Ghost and a Zombie, mirroring the first two incantations of LeChuck.

As with many stories, the game raises more questions than answers. It calls into doubt the true intentions of the Voodoo Lady, and she takes a much larger role than in previous games. The characterization of Elaine seems to back flip between the character we all know and love to someone with intentions not quite as clear. Each episode progressively improved in gameplay and story, until episode 5 where the characterization of Elaine slipped and none of the questions raised were ever answered.

What Next?

In episode one you can find treasure maps on-line and explore the jungles of Flotsam Island for more treasure. I thought that this was a great way to add replay value and was disappointed this option was not introduced in future episodes. Even so, while traversing the jungles using a creative map system was fun the first time; it wasn't enough to get me to go through again. The first treasure was a special background for your computer. I thought it was a novel attempt to add replay value to the game and to provide additional benefit to the customers.

I guess now I go into the waiting game. I'll probably replay through the game, possibly on a better computer with higher quality settings, around the time that Tales of Monkey Island 2 comes out, and I hope there is a sequel. I greatly enjoyed the adventure despite the questions it raised. I hope it is leading somewhere and I look forward to joining Guybrush on another adventure, hopefully next year.

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