Heading back to Amazon

After talking with a team at Amazon for the past several months, I finally make the move tomorrow back to Amazon to take on a new challenge. I'm excited. While Microsoft was good to me in many ways - including working a dream gig in the Xbox org - I realized I missed Amazon's high expectations of its employees, its relentless focus on the customer, and it's data-driven approach to making decisions. While I worked hard to instill such values at Microsoft, my successes were few and far between. I'm excited to be heading back. I left three and a half years ago due to work/life balance, my biggest challenge will be ensuring I can have a life outside of work and still be successful at Amazon. Even a bigger challenge given our kids schedule is 10x more busy now than it was then. Wishing myself luck, I think I'm going to need it.


I heart my Roku

I have seen the future of TV.

Last year as ESPN was launched on Xbox and Hulu picked up more and more shows, I did some research to figure out how to stream content to my tv. What started as looking at software packages to route content through my laptop and to the tv, ended up in me finding a Roku HD Streaming Player and ordering one for $60. It's a small device that connects to your home network via wifi, has HDMI output, and provides a UX to browse online "apps" or "channels" to watch content. Channels include Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Video on Demand. You can also subscribe to channels such as NHL, MLB, and UFC (and if you're paying a subscription you'll actually get to view the content :) ).

Another perk is that Roku supports a plethora of media and photo sharing sites. So I can stream Pandora through my TV, and it also has a SmugMug plugin so I can view my photos and videos straight from my SmugMug account. It also has support for Picaso, Facebook photos, Flickr, and other photo sites.

Six months ago Amy and I decided to dump Directv (and the $1000+ we flush to them every year) and use Roku exclusively. Haven't regretted it once. It's enabled us to discover shows we wouldn't have found otherwise, and we've used the savings to fund NHL and UFC content. We were able to watch March Madness and the NHL playoffs. For sports on ESPN, we switch over to the Xbox. Admittedly, I will be SOL come NFL season since NFL Sunday Ticket isn't an option.

A few friends have made the switch as well with the same results: no regrets.

Why do I think this is the future?

  1. No more "record show" mentality. All content is on demand.
  2. Because of that, trying out new content is easy. All shows are at your fingertips.
  3. High quality. I had assumed that quality would suffer streaming. In fact, Amy can watch Roku and I can game online over Xbox Live and neither one of us can tell that the other is online.
  4. Innovation. One cool thing about Roku is that the number of channels are limitless. And there's plenty of independent content providers and developers building apps and content.

The downside is finding content across apps. I watch to watch Harry Potter. Is that in Netflix? Amazon VOD? Another video service? Don't know until you search in each one. Awaiting the aggregator to come up with cross-app search. You know, like Google, eBay, and Amazon did in their respective spaces.

Beyond Roku, we're Hulu Plus subscribers. Love watching TV on my Roku, iPhone, iPad, or Xbox. And it being smart enough to know if I start watching something on my iPhone and I stop, it will pick it up on the next device I fire up HuluPlus on.


Garrett's last football game

Finally got some good video of Garrett playing football during his last game today. Throwing an interception, taking it the length of the field to the house, pulling a flag on fourth down, and a great catch... only to watch him fumble :)

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Garrett throws a pick six to his friend Riley

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Garrett takes it to the house

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Garrett's big fourth down stop

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Garrett with a sweet catch and a fumble


Garrett's Five Minutes of Fame

Late in posting this, but Garrett and his team skated on the Showare Center ice between periods last Saturday night. Spencer thinks the funniest part of this is when Cool Bird kicked me out of goal.

Garrett is #7 on the Gray team, he comes out pretty early and ends up taking the opening face-off for the Gray team.

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2010 Year in Review

I better get this written now before too much of 2011 gets behind me.

Wow, what a friggin year. A big year of change for everyone in our family. Where to start?

I think the big topic for Amy and I - and will be for a while - is Spencer. In 2009 we were unhappy with the level of help and insight we were getting in our local schools, so we enrolled Spencer in Bellevue Christian, a decision we both regard as being a good one, well worth the money.

Enrolling him there started us down the path of seeking an awful lot of professional help for Spencer - starting with doctor visits to rule out things like diseases and psychological issues. Turns out that while Spencer doesn't have any medical issues, he does show signs of both anxiety and depression. Unfortunately that's a consequence of whatever is hampering Spencer's development, and while good to know, doesn't help us with Spencer's development.

Fortunately for us, last Christmas old friends of ours pulled Amy aside at a Christmas party and starting asking some questions about Spencer. That led me to read The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, which gave us an "Aha! That's it!"

There's no shortage of information on what Sensory Processing Disorder is; however, therapy for it is much, much harder to come across. With some information in hand, Spencer started down the path of physical therapy and speech therapy. God bless Microsoft's health benefits. It's been a long year, and couple with therapy and our own research, we think we have a pretty good grasp on some of Spencer's core issues (dyspraxia, gravitational insecurity, etc). As we enter 2011 we are meeting with a brain specialist that we hope will help recommend further therapies for Spencer.

And as if that wasn't enough, Spencer was diagnosed this past year with lazy eye, which is affecting his ability to write. It's supposed to affect his reading ability, but we aren't seeing any adverse affects. Somehow he is compensating for it and loves to read (we got him a Kindle for Christmas and he read two books in the first 24 hours). Add another two therapy sessions a week to help with his vision.

My big takeaway after a year of research is that it's amazing Spencer is able to learn in a classroom environment, or ride a bike, or skate on ice skates. He's done a phenomenal job coping with the deck he's been dealt, and has identified his own coping strategies that help him accomplish what he wants to accomplish. For example, this past May he earned his bodan (last belt before black belt - videos are here) in Tae Kwon Do after four-plus years of hard work. Incredibly, he's also playing hockey and developing quite nicely, proving me 100% wrong as I did not think he would be able to pull it off. This past fall he's taken up piano and is doing well with it.

We have a long haul ahead of us with Spencer, he is helping us and working hard along this journey, and while it may get frustrating at times, Amy and I both repeatedly say to each other "giving up is not an option." We are also thankful that Spencer's issues are minor in the grand scheme of things.

Switching gears over to Garrett, he's had quite the busy year with TBall, hockey, and football. All before he even started kindergarten, which was also this year. Football was his favorite sport before Christmas, when Santa brought him some goalie gear, now we can't keep him off the ice. In 2011 we are limiting him to two sports at a time, and he's opted for football and hockey.

Working with Garrett on hockey has been fun. I've been helping out a little with his team, I get to get ice time, with a puck and nets, I get to share my limited skating knowledge with him, I get to watch him develop week-over-week, and he's got such a knack for skating and puck handling that people are amazed a) he's only 5 and b) he's been skating less than a year. Can't wait to see how he develops over time.

Garrett is off to a good start in school. While he's a chatterbox and trouble-maker at home, he's apparently quiet and an angel at school. Maybe he should live there permanently. Seriously, he's doing a phenomenal job and strangely enough he loves homework, simply because he sees his brother do it and he's quite the competitor.

Amy went back to teaching after a 9 year hiatus. As I joke, Washington must really be hurting for teachers. We were lucky that she found a job fairly close-by that fits in with the kids schedules - she works 5 hours a day, enabling her to get the kids after school and ensure they make it to all their activities. She likes being back in the classroom, although she is frustrated by the overhead imposed by the government that gets in the way of her teaching.

Amy also volunteered to be the team manager of two of the three hockey teams in our area. That gives the benefit of allowing Garrett extra ice time with the second hockey team (Garrett's coach coaches both teams as well).

I of course started working with Xbox this year, which has been the most exciting year in my almost-twenty-years-in-the-software-industry. I've blogged enough about that. Outside of that nothing to report this year. As you can see above, a lot of time spent on Spencer and helping the little guy out, and it occupies a lot of our mindshare.

My talent for taking naps regardless of time or what's going on around me never wanes.

I'm now convinced I will never see Purdue in a Final Four. And it's been 10 years since Purdue went to the Rose Bowl. My how time flies.

I'm struck by how well Amy and I continue to adapt to the increase rate of busyness in our schedules. I realize all parents are faced with this and go through it. But looking at other parents of older kids I've always wondered "how the ef do they do keep up?" I've learned you just do. Although I will admit, our busyness has taken a toll on us. While we usually host a Thanksgiving get together and a New Year's Eve party, this year we did neither, and stayed home by ourselves for each for some much needed recharging.