Healthcare reform is not this

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

Congress is trying hard right now to take on the issue of healthcare reform, but the result is not the reform anyone is looking for. If you were to define the desired reform as broadly as possible, it would likely be to devise a system that results in lower costs and better access for everyone. I'm positive that not everyone wants that, but it seems like that's what the majority of Americans want. The new legislation doesn't make it cheaper, and it reduces access. It feels like it's almost just to spite a former president that left office six months ago.

The problem is pretty well defined: Healthcare is paid for by insurance, which is generally tied to employment, which is generally tied to socioeconomic opportunity. While I understand some people adhere to a strong ideology that access to healthcare is not a right, I am troubled by this because we don't really get to choose our health. One day, we can simply learn we have cancer. When we're children, we have no choice as to who our parents are or whether or not they're in a position to obtain healthcare for us. It's like the lottery, only we're all forced to play, and the consequences are a reverse lottery slogan: We're all in it to lose it.

I don't know what the solution is, and the Affordable Care Act only partially solved the access problem, but did little for the cost problem. Repealing the provisions that at least partially address the access problem, reducing the insured by 22 million, is not a win. I don't think our lawmakers really understand the economics involved here, because they see them only from the view of government expense. However, the poor get poorer when they can't afford care, and frankly even the well-off risk financial ruin when they can't pay. There are a hundred ways that the poor drag the economy, and that affects everyone. Further, think of the missed opportunities: People may stay in a job that they're not well suited for only for the health insurance, or worse, are unlikely to risk starting a new business that could have a ripple effect of growth for others, because they are too scared to leave their job for the health insurance.

Other nations, most of them even, have taken a more hands-on approach that results in higher quality care at a lower cost, particularly if you measure that care by life expectancy. The US spends the most per capita but ranks in the 40's for life expectancy. We don't get "better" for our money. Everyone else has some variation on single-payer systems (consolidated risk pools), national administrative systems, etc. Opponents describe these as broken, expensive systems while failing to acknowledge that we have a broken, and more expensive system. That seems intellectually dishonest. If we can't even have the conversation about the way others do it, then we aren't having a debate. We're only killing the conversation on the basis of high ideology that today offers no solution.

We can't innovate in the US either, because of existing regulations. There was a time before the Great Depression when you could pay a flat fee to a local co-op of doctors and hospitals, all of whom shared information and managed your care, but you can't do that now because it would run afoul to insurance regulations. We know that the inability to coordinate and share information is part of the problem, and this would help, but you can't do it.

What's most disappointing is that after seven years of saying that the ACA is a disaster, without qualifying what makes it a disaster, the GOP leadership has completely failed to architect an alternative that works for everyone. It's an enormous missed opportunity. They've been so busy pitching a way to save us from the past administration's signature legislation that they've completely neglected a way to save us with something better. That might appeal to the base that just wanted to stick it to the former president with a funny name, but it's not leadership.

As long as we fail to debate ideas in favor of supporting politics as a sports rivalry, we will get nowhere. Demand more from your government.


Silicon Valley bros and broken culture

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 25, 2017, 12:52 AM | comments: 0

The CEO of Uber is finally out, though as a huge stakeholder and board member, he won't be very far away. If you haven't followed along, this is the guy who went nuts on an Uber driver who complained the company was hostile toward drivers, all while a female engineer described a "strange year" of HR violations and another account puts the executive in an escort bar in South Korea. To say that any of this is not cool is an understatement.

I've worked in technology most of my adult life. My experience ranges from gigantic Microsoft to startups. I've seen success and failure up close. In every situation, the reward has been the chance to work with awesome people. Sure, it pays well, but it's not hard to get excited about building something cool, virtual as it may be, with people who share your passion for changing some part of the world. Those people include men and women, people from everywhere from India to Russia to China to Serbia to South Africa, people gay and straight. The diversity is fantastic.

But the stories out of Silicon Valley like the Uber situation are not uncommon. Tales of misogyny aren't the only recurring theme though. There are also tales of extraordinary burnout caused by unsustainable expectations and impossible work weeks. Investors throw gobs of money at long shots, looking for that one unicorn that will pay off. People shout cheers about innovation and fast failure, but the only thing they're trying to build is an exit and a payout. Seriously, how does a company like Uber lose $800 million in one quarter?

Silicon Valley is not the center of the universe. It's not reality.

Sure, we've seen a few exceptions in the last two decades of extraordinary new companies born in the valley, but Google and Facebook are those unicorns. The popular stat is that 90% of startups fail, and of those, often half of them die because there's no market for what they're selling. Think about the arrogance there: Founders so convinced that they have thought of something so great that people don't even know they need it.

The truth is that the valley culture is broken and full of money. The lack of constraints doesn't force any kind of creativity or establish a solid "why" for any company to exist. More to the point, there are real, sustainable technology companies all over the world that are making the world better, regardless of actual scope. Most of the technology world is not by the bay.

The most unfortunate thing about Uber is that it has an actually great, disruptive idea coming out of San Francisco, and it's largely obscured by all the things wrong with that valley startup culture. It's an (allegedly) $70 billion company, but at what cost? I wonder if things would have turned out differently if it was started and lived somewhere else.


Forever things are not real

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

We're in a bit of an HGTV thing at our house, I guess because we're planning to move yet again. There's nothing quite like feeling great about a move when some couple in California is spending a million dollars on a 1,500 square-foot dump, and feeling negatively uppity when a nice family fixes up a place that only cost $50k. Simon is fascinated with the tiny house shows, until we explain to him that having a tiny house would require him to give up pretty much everything he owns (which isn't even that much to begin with).

Aside from the hilarious and often ridiculous expectations of house hunters and renovators, I'm struck by the number of people who say that they're looking for their "forever home." That's the strangest damn thing I've ever heard of. Granted, pre-2009 me felt really stuck, and I suppose a crappy economy and years of non-acknowledgment that being a grown-up meant I could move caught up with me. But from that year, I went on to move five times in four years. What brought me happiness wasn't the idea that I could run from a bad situation, it was the idea that I could move forward to whatever it was that might make me happy and create a better situation.

One of the great truths in life is that we just don't know what tomorrow will bring. We make our own future as much as we can or are willing to, and in doing so we're free to change things. And while it might be sad or scary to think about, we also don't know how much time we have. More to the point, we can definitely steer our lives toward intended outcomes, but the variables make the specifics impossible to predict. I mean, I have some clarity on where I want my career to go, but some random thing could come up that leads me to a different, maybe better path.

A friend of mine put this more succinctly on Facebook: "I often have to remind myself that this is not the last home/car/beach umbrella I am going to buy in my life. Pull the trigger. Do the best you can. Move forward."

This is the truth. Things happen, good and bad, and we move forward. The idea that I would move into a "forever home" is quite frankly morbid to me. I don't want to choose the place I die because I'm not even half way there. The amount of adventure available to me is infinite, and I'm not going to miss it.

Now excuse me while I ironically get the words "nothing is permanent" tattooed on my body somewhere.


Making tangible things

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 17, 2017, 7:38 PM | comments: 0

One of the great things about my job is that I make things. Well, at this stage in my career, I'm half collaborating among people to get things made. I believe that this is what I was built to do, and while it's different from the things I got to make in my TV days, there is something there as a result of my job. That's very satisfying.

A friend of mine that I met almost 20 years ago is in town this week for work. His company, along with his partners, quite literally make roller coasters. They're building a new ride here in the Orlando area, so he invited me to bring Simon and Diana down to the site and see the almost-finished project. When I was standing there in the coaster train that he designed, with inverted track overhead, on a wood coaster, I thought back to the time we first exchanged email, while he was still a college student. I'm not sure why that struck me as so remarkable, except that it demonstrates how you can grow up to be a person that does something very cool.

It wasn't just his career progression though. That thing I was standing in exists today because of the sheer force of will to create something. The stuff that I make, thousands of people virtually "touch" it every day on screens, sure, but this thing made of steel and wood... it has weight to it. It just feels different than the bits that I make.

When I think about what I want to do in my spare time, I'm drawn to the idea of making more tangible things. Perhaps after we move, when I have more room, I can take up wood working or something. The challenge is coming up with something to build, because I definitely learn by way of doing. I'm already starting to think about house "mods" and plan to fully photograph the place before the drywall goes in.


Making software is hard

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 15, 2017, 7:34 PM | comments: 0

I run the software development operation for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. The product is fairly young, and the thing that makes me most anxious is staying in front of the crazy high potential we have in front of us. That's not really a complaint, because honestly this is precisely the role I've been looking for since, well, probably the last decade. It could be a very exciting ride.

Our founder said to me the other day that, "Making software is hard." He was half making a joke, but he was also serious because it's true. There are a lot of little decisions that you make every day that often have a bigger context. Business rules change constantly. You minimize complexity but encounter complex problems. And because it's never really "done," especially with a SaaS product, it never really ends.

But today was a good day, because the feedback we got from one of our customers demonstrated that the product will pay for itself many times over. That's awesome. We're fortunate to have a core group of early customers who are bona fide stakeholders, so we're very much building the right thing. (Sidebar: This always takes me back to my second position at Microsoft, in a group that never shipped anything, where my manager insisted, despite my protest, that we knew better than our customers in terms of what they wanted and needed.) Software might be hard, but it sure is awesome when you're making life easier for the people using it.

I've known this for a long time, but to this day I'm still amazed at the impact that having the right people makes. One of my strengths is guiding the process, but that's just a framework without people who can kick ass. You know you're doing it right when you can challenge people and they own the task and exceed expectations. I see it every day. Another strength I have is mentoring, but that's also not useful without willing and motivated people. The whole horse-to-water thing holds true.

Making software is hard, but even with daily challenges, is sure is satisfying when you get it right.


Looking back at our 2016-17 Broadway season

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 10, 2017, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

We finished up our Broadway Series season this week, after seeing seven shows. I really enjoyed myself, as did Diana even though she also works those shows. It's not an inexpensive endeavor, and I wish more people could see live theater, because there really is something very special about talented people coming together to create, support and perform a show. And to do so in such a beautiful new building is icing on the cake. I love going downtown for dinner, then spending an hour or so just hanging out with drinks on the patio there. It's probably the best kind of date night we can have without leaving the area.


The Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts in Wicked green. Frustratingly, they don't play with the amazing architectural lighting they have in place very often. The third theater, the acoustic theater, is now under construction in the space on the left.

I wanted to write a quick recap of the season, by show. We sold our tickets to our neighbors for the first show, The Illusionists, because we weren't really that into the idea of seeing a magic variety show. For the most part, this was a really strong lineup, and better than the previous year (we weren't subscribers, but did see a few shows).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I mentioned this show back in November because, quite obviously, a show about a kid with autism is going to generate a brain dump. It was the only non-musical show of the season other than Illusionists, and I thought it was brilliant. The material is challenging because you have to try and convey what it's like for a kid who is wired differently, and create empathy for that different view on the world. And if that weren't enough, the production design did a remarkable job of helping tell that story, without being too gimmicky.

An American in Paris

If you like classic Gershwin tunes and singing and dancing in old Hollywood musicals, this is all of that on stage. I don't think I ever saw the film, but I had a basic idea of what to expect, and it was definitely entertaining, if not the deepest thing I've ever seen. It was a bit long, and probably could have ended a good 10 minutes sooner.

Wicked

You know, Wicked is one of those cultural phenomenons that I knew I would eventually see, and to that end, I tried for years to not really learn too much about it. (I was going to do that with Hamilton, but failed entirely.) I only knew the music through peripheral contact, and the stars of the original Broadway run by way of what they did after. So beyond high expectations, I managed to go into the theater without knowing too much other than people love this show.

It definitely did not disappoint. The hype was all justified. It's a great show, start to finish. The music did not entirely grab me at first, but the more I heard it around the house, the more it has grown on me. I think I'd like to see it a second time, because there are things I'm sure I missed. The thing I walked away with the most is what a slamming critique it is of our society's tendency to fear the people we don't understand. It's not even subtle.

As a bonus, we made a new friend in the show who went to high school with a former girlfriend, and it's been fun to see him document his adventures on tour around the country. He showed us around backstage, and silly us, we didn't get a selfie with the Wizard of Oz. It's also crazy to see how much heavy stuff they fly in that show.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

Another show that I didn't know anything about other than seeing it on the Tony's one year, but it ended up being fairly hilarious. I think you can often get away with cheap laughs in theater, and there were plenty, but it was also clever. You'd think that reviewing clever ways to kill people wouldn't be that funny, but there it is.

The Little Mermaid

Let me get right to it.. the nostalgia wore off by the intermission. I tried in my mind to even defend the show for a few days after that, but it was pretty fucking terrible. I saw Disney's Lion King in Vegas some years ago, and it blew me away, so I expected they wouldn't screw up a classic. But alas, they did. The production looked cheap, the humping mermaids were weird choreography, and the new songs didn't really improve the story. The actor playing Sebastian got some good laughs, but that was one of a small number of bright spots. The plot changes from the film were more filler than anything, and an excuse for the lead to sing what was in her mind when she has no voice.

Matilda

I adored this show and it surprised me. I didn't know the underlying story from the book or movie in any detail, so the storytelling inside the story and how it became another character's story was brilliant and surprising. The abilities of the child actors were staggeringly amazing. They were so good. This was also the show that I felt had the best scene and lighting design (sorry, Wicked), as it served the story perfectly without being a spectacle. This was my favorite this season, and I'd love to see it again.

Finding Neverland

Our last show, just this last Wednesday, the same day we returned from our 5-night cruise. I knew more about what to expect in this show in terms of plot, and I can happily report that it delivered. Again, the children were great (as was the dog), and there were plenty of laughs. It's another one of those musicals where the music doesn't particularly leave an impression, but it's contextually entertaining. Like all of the Peter Pan fiction that has come since, it goes pretty deep into the exploration of mortality, and there are some moments that are very serious. In fact, there's a beautiful "death scene" in this show that is beautifully elegant, and I'd high five the production designers if I could.

Overall, I'm sad that we're done for the year, but the next season begins in September. There are more shows, nine total, but it's more of a mixed bag. I'm not that interested in On Your Feet!, and we're already groaning about the Phantom sequel (which we'll see if only to confirm the groans). Rent is coming, which I like as a story but have never understood the love for it or the music. Also, we'll see The King and I, which is a classic, The Book of Mormon returns and I'm stoked about that, School of Rock, The Lion King, which I've seen before, Waitress and Something Rotten. Being a subscriber this year means you'll be there for Hamilton the year after, and I imagine we'll do our best to see that more than once.


Cruise XII: Disney Dream, 5-night Bahamas with two Castaway Cay stops, June 2, 2017

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 8, 2017, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

I'm not going rehash all of the stuff I've written about before, because at its core, this is the itinerary we've done eight other times, with extra days. The important distinction here is that this one stopped at Castaway Cay twice.

It was about three years now that we sailed with our friends from Chicago, and we shared a cabana for that trip. I declared it the best beach day ever, which doesn't even capture how great it was. The bigger pile of awesome though is that it's hard to beat a day at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. You've got an enormous beach with twice as many chairs as there are people, two barbecue locations, tons of activities, bike rentals, stuff in the water to do, an adult beach... we've barely scratched the surface and that's after spending 12 days on that island. It's a beautiful place to go.

Our stops on the island were Saturday and Monday, with the stop in Nassau in between. The cruise was, as best we can tell from talking to a former server, the most booked of our experience, with well over 3,000 guests. You wouldn't know it on the island, because there's so much room to spread out. Also, maybe the threat of rain deterred some people, but it was flawless, with just enough cloud cover to make it more comfortable than usual. That first day, we were in the sand by 9:30 and didn't return to the ship until a bit after 2. Simon played in the sand, Diana and I had some beverages and stayed cool in the water... it was everything a relaxing day should be. Simon got a private tour of Scuttle's Cove, the island version of the kids' club, and he ended up spending about 90 minutes there. It was another fantastic example of how good the youth counselors are on these cruises. I really think they understand my kid better than I do at times.

On the second visit to the island, Simon went right into Scuttle's Cove. The timing was good, as we got to the island a bit late because we all slept in, and some of the aforementioned behavior issues influenced our morning. We needed a break, and we got it. Simon never even made it to the beach proper. He didn't communicate his needs very well at lunch in the club, so he didn't eat then, but we actually had a nice family lunch. I do love the spicy chicken sandwich they have on the island, and it seems to be better than the one they used to serve (it seems to have a more natural breading color, too). After lunch, the boy went back to the cove, and Diana and I finally did the walking trip out to the observation tower. It's about a mile each way from our usual "camping" spot, and I actually did it in flip flops without issue. It was very humid that day though, and a bit oppressive given the dehydrating substance I had been drinking. Disney thinks of everything though... there were water coolers along much of the route.

The most important thing about our aquatic adventures though was that Simon finally got on the Aqua Duck, the kind of boring water coaster that circles the upper decks. He did it with Diana while I was getting a massage on the Nassau day (we never go ashore there), and was quite proud of himself. He wanted to ride with me at night so we could check out the lights, and so we did. We did one final lap on the last day (at sea), and we've got ourselves a fan.

Speaking of that massage, it occurred to me now that every single massage therapist on every ship has been a Filipino woman under five feet tall. That can't be a coincidence, so why does the spa company hire that way? As an aside, I would like to mention that while I will generally suck it up and pay the crazy prices for a massage, I hate how they play a lot of games with the rates. They generally offer some kind of special for embarkation day only, but then they dick around and offer some lower rate a day or two later. I also get tired of them trying to sell product or acupuncture. They look at me like I'm an asshole when I say no thanks, because science.

This was the first time that our dining service team wasn't excellent. They were just "very good," as the surveys go. They weren't what I would describe as disappointing, but our previous teams have just been so good that the bar is incredibly high. In fact, we've seen them around quite a bit on the various ships, and this time we ran into our favorite and talked to him for a bit. We had one disappointing instance where we sat outside for lunch in port at Nassau, because the dining room was pretty full. They were discouraging people to sit there because of birds, literally with people standing at the doors, but what we quickly found is that the birds were only a problem when unbussed tables sat there with food. I complained about it, and the response was largely one of inaction. It made me realized that being a customer-focused organization isn't necessarily about resolution, it's about taking action and owning a problem. Rare dropped ball for DCL.

We went to three shows this time around, including a magician the first night. Simon was surprisingly engaged for that show. We saw Villains Tonight, which has never been a favorite, but there was new stuff in that one. We closed with Disney's Believe, one of my favorites because it has a few original songs, pretty good dance numbers ("Step In Time" from Mary Poppins and "Dig A Little Deeper" from Princess and The Frog) and interesting scene design. My frustration with a lot of the onboard shows is that the tracked choruses are jarring and sound fake, when they seem to have enough vocal talent to do it live. The older the show, like The Golden Mickey's, the more obvious this is. If the newer, modern shows like Frozen and Tangled have a lot of tracked vocals, it's at least not obvious.

Also, and this might be because I married a bona fide theater professional, I don't like that there is no recognition for the performers or technical staff at all. I realize that they're not identified in the theme parks either, and I'm not expecting a Playbill, but come on, even regional park chains put up the names of their performers on the venues.

Other notes... I think the "cellular at sea" network works with Project Fi, because I had a pretty solid signal away from ports most of the time. Granted, traveling around the Bahamas usually involves close proximity to one shore or another, but still. I did a lot of Facebook sharing when I thought we were out of range. On the beverage front, I was relieved to see proper British Strongbow onboard, without all of the sugar. A US Coast Guard helicopter buzzed the ship 20 miles north of Nassau, for some reason. You know you're on a ship with children when FunnelVision shows an episode of "Nina Has To Go." We've never seen the adult areas this busy. I did the design tour for the ship, finally, and it was very cool. I mostly stuck to my "no elevator" rule to counter all of the gluttony, and over five days walked about 30 miles.

Overall, it was a great chance to unplug for a few days, and I loved the 5-night, 2-Castaway stop itinerary. It wasn't particularly adventuresome or different for us, but that was kind of the point. Now we just need a chance to do one without our little guy. Mom and Dad still haven't used our "free" credits to dine at Palo as platinum members.


My vacation wasn't as perfect as I let on

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 8, 2017, 7:31 PM | comments: 0

I found it appropriate that yesterday my blog post from last year about how "your online persona is a lie" came up in my Facebook "on this day" feed. It was also funny that my best friend asked me today how my cruise was last week, as if she didn't know by all of my Facebook posts. But no... it was far from perfect. There were some real struggling moments we had as parents, to say the least. I suppose that's what parenting is, but usually you hope that a vacation is relief from the things that stress you out.

I'm not going to sit here and say that our five night swing through the Bahamas was bad. We did have some extraordinary moments, and it was the most human I've seen Diana in the last six weeks following her extended battle with constant migraines. It was nice to not think about computers during that time, too. But we did have a series of challenges with Simon's behavior, particularly at dinner time. I think the biggest realization that we had is that we've not had a night away from Simon in more than a year, which is pretty bad. We love our little boy, but shit, it's not normal to be plugged in that long without a break.

Anyway, I'm rambling, but my point again is that you should never take what you see about a person online at face value. We all have challenges and our share of shit. I may proclaim gratitude and thankfulness for having a charmed life, but it's not all charming. I just don't think family and friends are interested in seeing or hearing about the crappy parts.


I met Diana 10 years ago

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 31, 2017, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

I know I write about this almost every year, but May 31, 2007 is the day that I met Diana. I have "firstdateaversary" set as an annual recurring event on my calendar, because in many ways, this is a date more important than our wedding anniversary. On the wedding day we made a commitment, but aside from making it legal, nothing really changed from one day to the next. As things have happened so quickly in our lives together, I think of the first date as the most important.

That was a crazy couple of weeks. I had just returned from visiting Kara in the Twin Cities, where she started work at Valleyfair. That next weekend I was going to Hersheypark for an event we did there, with Catherine, who was by then my ex-girlfriend, but traveling partner, and we went to Orlando shortly after that. The day I met Diana, I had been at Cedar Point at 5 a.m. for Maverick's media day, though I had already been on it a few days before that. I was busy all of the time.

Diana and I had connected on a dating site months before, but she spent time in Florida caring for her mom in the last few months of her life. Then my goofy schedule, and one cancellation from her due to allergies, put our first meeting off even further. When the day finally came, with drinks at a little dump called the Ice House near her work, we talked for a few hours while the Cavs played on TV's. We exchanged stories of working in radio and theater. She was a big nerd about some things, and I thought that was cool.

We had dates about a week apart after that, and it wasn't entirely clear where it was going, but it was going slow. There was no romantic first kiss, just an agreed desire to get it over with, and so that happened in the hot tub. After a few weeks, we realized that we both thought the other wanted a lot of tongue when making out, which was incorrect. We took our time, which is to say that it took at least two months before we were one of those gross couples that are always touchy-feely.

Diana moved in with me at the end of the year, and we got engaged in just under a year, married in less than two. Pregnant in a little over two, moved 3,000 miles in two and a half. Baby before 3, more moving, etc. Life has been a constant adventure, and while we've had difficult times, the difficulty has rarely been about our relationship.

The first decade went so fast, but I'm sure we have many more to go. Sometimes I'm frustrated we didn't meet a decade sooner, but we've definitely made up for lost time. Having a great copilot to rely on is a great feeling, and it sure makes parenting easier. I'm always amazed at the way she adapts and changes, and continues to be the strong human that backs me up.

So here's to our first ten years together, Red Delicious! We should totally do something cool this weekend.


Your fear of terrorism is irrational

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 30, 2017, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

The attack last week on a pop concert in the UK was upsetting to say the least. If you live in Orlando, you haven't forgotten about the Pulse shootings, either. Whether or not that was a terrorist attack of a home-grown crime doesn't matter. It's a scary, sad, anger-inducing thing.

Terrorism is a last resort disruption that acts in a way that a full nation can't. A terrorist organization can't destroy another nation with its air force and navy, or a well organized force of a hundred thousand people. If it's an organization at all, it doesn't exist as a member of any world order. Because it doesn't have that power, and make no mistake, it's about power and not religion, it has to improvise and look for other ways to affect the world. The actual damage it does is usually symbolic and rarely devastating relative to other things we can't control (especially natural disasters). The symbolic damage is really good at creating fear.

Fear is a powerful motivator, and it influences our decisions. We don't try to cross an 8-lane freeway on foot, because fear makes the powerful suggestion that we might not survive. It's a useful mechanism in that case. On the other hand, sometimes fear just gets in the way. When we're teenagers, we're afraid to talk to people we want to see naked because, well, just because. Nothing bad can actually happen beyond being disregarded by the people we desire, but this generally does not result in a fatality.

John Q. Terrorist can't outright destroy a functioning nation by way of brute force. He doesn't have the resources. But if he's patient, he can set things in motion to have it destroy itself. Because fear is such a powerful motivator, it can cause people to have strong feelings of distrust... toward each other, toward the government, to people not like us. The United States already has this seed in place, because despite 200 years of slow progress, we're still not over racism. As a society, we've managed to marginalize this to an extent, but not enough to avoid electing an authoritarian who takes advice from a white nationalist. It started before that, even, when through two presidents, of different parties, we allowed our freedoms to be eroded through domestic surveillance programs. I thought the Brits were more evolved than us, but they too think they can go it alone, by leaving the EU.

The terrorists don't win by killing people, they win by getting us to tear ourselves apart.

Let me frame it a little differently, though. If you're an American, your odds of being killed by a refugee terrorist in the US is 1 in 46 million. The odds of being killed by an illegal immigrant terrorist are 1 in 138 million. Now, because I'm going for perspective, know that the odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 113. Think about that. If 9/11 happened once a month, getting in your car is still exponentially more dangerous. Are you scared of getting in your car?

Your fear of terrorism is irrational.

When you change your behavior, engage in fear of people who look different, elect people with a nationalist or isolationist agenda, you are giving the bad guys exactly what they want. I'm not suggesting that we become flippant about the real problem of terrorism, but the reality is that most of us are not affected by it, and likely won't be. Don't give the bad guys what they want.


US healthcare is not for everyone

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 28, 2017, 10:43 AM | comments: 0

With Diana's recent bout of migraines lasting four weeks, I once again appreciate how screwed up healthcare is. The first problem is that healthcare can, for the most part, only be had because of insurance, and insurance is largely dependent on having a job that provides it and hopefully subsidizes it to some extent. In a perfect world, where everyone had a job and these circumstances, that would be great, right? Of course, we don't live in a perfect world, and furthermore, kids don't get to choose their parents or their circumstances. Make no mistake, had my kid been born to parents scraping by financially, he wouldn't have had all of the therapy that has allowed him to compensate for ASD and his developmental challenges.

Back to my wife's situation, she's had a number of visits to a neurologist with $50 co-pays each time. Her MRI had a co-pay of $200. Seeing her general practitioner had a $35 co-pay, and the emergency room he sent her to had a $300 co-pay. Now we're going a second time, for another $300 (IV infusions just aren't available here anywhere but in a hospital). This isn't a cut on our insurance plan, because it doesn't really matter who is writing the policy. While inconvenient, this isn't a financial issue for us. But now imagine that I was a worker in the local tourist service economy, making $10 per hour. We would be closing in on a grand to treat this one problem, which is a month's worth of take-home pay for a service economy worker. That person would have to choose between financial hardship, maybe bankruptcy, or not getting the care at all.

Why are we OK with this?

The cold hard facts are that we pay more in this country per capita for healthcare than any other nation (it's not even close), but rank 31st in life expectancy. If life expectancy is a proxy for the quality of care, then we are absolutely doing it wrong. We pay twice as much as the UK, which funds a public system and ranks 21st. America likes to be number one in stuff, but why in healthcare costs?

As much as I think a single-payer system seems like a good idea, right or wrong, my greater frustration is that we won't even have the conversation in the United States. All of the alternatives are off the table, without any regard to their merits, because sticking with the big pile of expensive suck we currently endure is better. That's completely insane.

If you want to wave a flag and chant "USA!" then you really need to accept that this system sucks. That means considering alternatives and having the conversations. Stop aligning with your favorite party, because this isn't a sports rivalry. Cast aside the ideological bullshit and demand something better from your elected officials.


I'm handling stress

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 24, 2017, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

I have historically been terrible at dealing with stress. When the going would get tough, I would predictably fall into certain patterns. I would kind of withdraw from the world, not be excited about anything, bottle it up, sleep poorly, and the worst part, have repeating bouts of IBS. These last few weeks, my stress level has been pretty high. Diana's condition, and the lack of medical progress, was difficult for me to see. Simon asking if Mom was going to die, while still experiencing anxiety about many things, including second grade (yeah, months in advance), has kept me on a short fuse. Work has been busy, but I don't know that it has been any more stressful than usual. I typically enjoy the responsibility I have, though in the context of the rest of life, maybe it too has been wearing on me.

Things were different this time. I knew I was stressed, but I seemed to process it differently. The starting point is probably that I've been in a solid routine of daily movement. While I definitely want to drop some weight, I'm mostly trying to offset all of the sitting time that comes with my line of work, and make it a permanent part of life. I haven't shut down and become anti-social, and I vent about the stress to friends. Somehow I've managed to sleep pretty well, too. The IBS hasn't hit, probably because of the activity and the general avoidance of fried food.

The timing for our next vacation helps a lot, too. It's a little harder now to take vacation time, because I can't just yank my kid out of school because we feel like it. He actually has to be there now. I imagine we can still pull him out for a Friday three-night cruise now and then, but not often. It's so important to unplug on a regular basis, and I still forget to do it. There's no medal for ignoring your limits and burning out.

It seems as though effective stress management is something that grownups should just be able to do, but I know people way older than me who haven't figured it out. Life is challenging enough without having your brain in this weird chemical state that feels terrible. Figuring out how to process and purge stress seems like a good use of time. I'm a lot better at it than I was even five years ago. Perhaps being a parent has granted me more patience.


It seems like things catch fire every four years

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 24, 2017, 8:37 PM | comments: 0

When I look back at my life, it seems like bad things happen every four years or so. They aren't necessarily bad things happening to me directly, but some category of stuff that really blows. The last few weeks were one of those things, where Diana started a migraine headache that wouldn't go away. Slowly, it was like she was disappearing into a pile of mush, and it was heartbreaking to watch. That's not a way to live. It was, perhaps indirectly, related to some other health scares, all generally not a big deal in the end, but we finally moved forward today by bailing on her neurologist and revisiting our GP, and he put her in the ER where she got a nice cocktail of drugs via IV to break the headache. It's not gone, but she's not rating her pain at 10 anymore. The hope is that she's better in a few days.

Four years ago, she had "the" health scare, right as we were moving from Cleveland to Orlando. That one turned out to be OK too, but the timing sure was rough. Four years before that, we were abandoning Cleveland, pregnant and failing to sell two houses. Four years before that, my first marriage fell apart. Four years before that, well, 2001 wasn't good for anyone, but it was my first introduction to surviving unemployment and a poor economy. Should I start worrying about 2021 now? Of course not, I don't buy into coincidental bullshit.

If this is our hiccup for the year, I can live with that. Diana is full of Benadryl and passed out now, getting her first real sleep in weeks. Simon is hopefully a little more at ease too, as his ASD tendencies don't leave a lot of room for the nuance between minor cold and certain death. Team Puzzoni soldiers on.


Review: Pandora, The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 15, 2017, 10:23 PM | comments: 0

Disney started doing passholder previews today, and we were able to secure a reasonably early time on a school night. A few things to keep in mind... This was a limited preview so the new area at Animal Kingdom was not busy. The line for the snack/beverage shack was the only significant line. The river ride was a walk-on, and the flight simulator ride was running in 15-minute blocks of passes handed out at the entrance to the land. It appeared that the new restaurant was fully operational, but we didn't go in. Also, this was before sunset, and we were out at 7:45 p.m., before it got dark. I suppose there are spoilers here, if you're worried about a ride being spoiled, so avert your eyes if you don't want to know what's in there.

I have never seen Avatar, the movie. I remember when it was released, people made a big deal about it, but between moving cross-country, starting a new job, looking after a pregnant wife and otherwise having a full plate, I didn't see it. When I finally bought a Blu-Ray player, it was offered as a free mail-in, but I forgot about it. So going into this new thing, my full understanding of Avatar is that people somehow projected themselves into blue cat people living on some amazing planet that was going to be strip-mined. Or something. Mostly, I heard the movie was really pretty.

Crossing the bridge to what used to be Camp Minnie-Mickey and the theater for Festival of The Lion King, a little bend and foliage hide the area for a big reveal. Or at least, it would be a big reveal if you couldn't see the back of it from the parking lot. The floating rocks are impressive, but not quite the gravity defying thing shown in the artist renderings. You definitely can trace the load-bearing elements, but it's still visually very cool. It's also very windy. I'm not sure if that's intentional, or just something that happens (it's like that walking under Spaceship Earth at Epcot most of the time).

From the central area under the rock island things, the Na'vi River Journey is off to the left, as well as a restroom, while Flight of Passage is to the right. They appear to be in the same building, which has an impressive series of queue paths that mix the alien plants with real plants and probably the most expensive rock work ever made. Even the hand rails have a custom finish and custom lights and such. Further to the right is the bigger counter service restaurant, a gift shop and a beverage stand.

You'll notice that cast members are happily shouting alien words at you, which is kind of weird, and maybe a little awkward. When someone at Epcot in the France pavilion says, "Bonjour!" to you, you get it, because it's a French person, and you have a frame of reference. The people in Pandora are just saying some made up stuff to you that isn't real anywhere else. It comes off as corny, and maybe it's worse because I didn't see the movie.

We started by boarding the Na'vi River Journey. Most of the queue is in the shade or under cover, but I imagine that even on a busy day it will move pretty quickly. The ride seems to have a lot of boats running very closely to each other, and it loads in pairs, four rows total at a time. Dwell time is very short. Drop in, sit down, and off you go.

If there's a story to this ride, I don't know what it is. The first turn has some small glowing things that look like... uh... let's say adult novelties hanging from the ceiling. Then you see a blue cat person that says something, and off you go into a jungle forest thing. Each scene uses some brilliant and convincing effects, and some of the 3D video projection is convincing enough that you have to look hard to even see that it's video. While there are some places here and there where you can see lights, they're probably the most hidden of any dark ride I've been on, so you need to look hard to be taken out of the moment.

I'm just not sure what the moment is. Every scene has some new bioluminescent plants or critters. I can tell that the "native" music gets louder and more layered as you go, and culminates in a blue cat person that is easily the most fluid animatronic character I've ever seen. I don't know what he's singing, or why, or where all of his buddies are, but he definitely seems to stare into your soul.

Then it's over. I mentioned that people described the movie as being "eye candy thin on plot." If that's what they were going for in the river ride, then mission accomplished. I did it twice, and while certainly magical and beautiful, I had no frame of reference and wasn't sure why I should be emotionally invested in it. This might be confirmation bias here: Since Pandora was announced, I wondered what the viability of this IP-made-themepark strategy was, because it's not like people have been talking about Avatar for the last seven years. It's not on T-shirts and lunch boxes or generally a part of the public consciousness.

Is this harsh? Maybe. Fortunately, it's not the only attraction in Pandora.

Flight of Passage is the simulator ride. More on that in a moment, but let's talk about the queue and pre-show. The stand-by queue is really long, and transitions from outdoors, to a cave with paintings, to an airlock sort of thing, to some interior bioluminescent environment, to a lab (which has a lot to look at), and finally the Avatar "interfacing facility" that let's you plug into a Smurf. This is explained in a poster in the Fastpass queue in three easy frames. It shows you sitting in the seat, "clearing your mind," then you psychically connect to your avatar (are these basically brainless blue-meat people for your use?), then you ride a Banshee. Got it, let's ride!

They were still feeling out loading and training, so with the scheduled times and no standby for the preview, it still took about a half-hour to get through the ride. I don't think they're running at full capacity, so I'm not passing judgment there. The first room piles in 16 people, though the first two seats were apparently broken. A screen on the wall blacked out the #1 and #2 positions. What follows is a far too lengthy explanation about matching your DNA to an avatar (again, are these soulless, brainless meat-people?), and they blow some parasites off of you and suck your DNA into the walls or something. In the next room, they explain the ride system to you, which has seats and restraints similar to a Zamperla Disk-O with the outward facing seats. There is also more story explanation about connecting to your meat-person, as told by Dr. So-and-so, which might be a woman posing as Sigourney Weaver. It probably doesn't matter.

Once we were seated, we ended up being there for awhile because of a disability load. I'm OK with that, but since my 7-year-old was a little anxious, I was worried he'd freak out. There's a little screen on the front of the seat to create some distractions. The 3D glasses are the best made of any ride, and are the best of any 3D movie or ride I've ever seen. The room goes dark, there are some flashes and the shield in front of you opens to reveal a gigantic screen. What follows is a flight simulation that moves you up and down, and each seat pitches and rolls individually. Along with wind and water effects, it's the most convincing flying sensation of any simulator I've ever seen. It raises the game. The world of the blue people is visually interesting, and has some "gee whiz" moments, even for someone who doesn't know the film. It's a bit more aggressive than, say, Soarin', or even Star Tours, but the movement is more precise because of the nimble, individual seat. It also has nice touches, like the ability to feel the Banshee "breathing" between your legs.

I'm torn. I was completely underwhelmed with the river ride, but really impressed with the flight ride. Again, the problem here is that I'm not in any way invested in the IP. There are other examples in town where this matters. For example, I don't care about The Mummy, but it's a damn fine roller coaster anyway. To me, that's why the thrilling flight simulator here works, but the boat ride is frankly not more interesting than Pirates of The Caribbean. At least I can relate to pirates.

We'll be back, but probably only to see it at night, which I imagine is spectacular. If Disney wanted people to have more to do, they've succeeded. I'm just not sure that the emotional connection that people have with it will be very strong.


Hey! We found a Smurf Thundercat taking a bath!


TNAF is still awesome

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 14, 2017, 9:41 PM | comments: 0

I almost forgot to mention that I saw The Naked And Famous the week before last at some goofy amphitheater I didn't previously know about here in Orlando. They opened for Blink 182.

They only did about 10 songs, which was a bummer, and of those only one was from In Rolling Waves, my favorite of their three albums. They've been playing more songs at some of the festivals and such, and I hoped beyond hope they'd play more. Alas, I was just happy to see them. It was almost three years ago that I saw them play The Beacham here in Orlando, and that was a fantastic show. I'm still struck by how live they are relative to their recordings, and they sing well, too. I'd love to see them take another swing through the area as headliners.

I'm not a Blink hater, but I wasn't all that interested in seeing them. I guess I just thought of them as a Green Day knock off, meant to capitalize on the pop-punk thing in the late 90's. But while Green Day eventually started doing Broadway musicals, Blink perfected an enduring appeal to everyone from frat boys to teenage emo girls with plugs in their earlobes. That's an impressive way to roll for two decades. It seems a little silly for 40-somethings to be singing teenage anthems, but hey, good on them. I'd be lying if I said I didn't know any of their songs, because I pretty much knew them all. They're definitely entertaining live.

It's weird how these days I'm more about going to see a Broadway level musical than a rock show, but what I'd give to see someone like TNAF in that environment. I'm definitely closing in on midlife.


Simon's America

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 14, 2017, 3:50 PM | comments: 0

Politics in the last year have been a real downer, for sure. It has felt like there has been a renewed desire to hate and discriminate against groups of people, on the usual basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender and sexuality. I was so sure that we were slowly moving beyond that.

Being a dad definitely causes me to be more engaged in the desire to be outspoken against this irrational hate, because I don't want my kid growing up into a world that makes it OK. What surprises me is that, already, at the tender age of 7, I can see that Simon's America is not reflective of the one that I see on TV and social media. It looks more like the one that I've lived in, especially in my profession, which I perceive to be far more diverse than average.

When I look back at the parent group we were a part of during his first two years, I see parents from many professions, either from or one generation removed from immigrants from all over the world. Now that we live in Florida, we go to birthday parties and see that many of his friends speak Spanish. His friends have included Jews, Hindus and Muslims. The parents come from everywhere from Macedonia to Brazil to India to New Jersey. The families range from single parent by choice to same-sex couples.

Simon's America is how America looks, and that diversity can't be stopped. Even though we're experiencing a bump in the road, and we are obligated to be vocally opposed to the hating, this is our future. It's real life today for my kid, and I see it in my personal and professional life. This America isn't something to be scared of, and I would argue that it's something to be celebrated. Our future is only going to get more challenging as we rely more on machines to do things, and divisiveness toward people not like you won't change that. Baseless fear of other nations with which we necessarily participate in a global economy won't help either. We have to break the cycle of fear and start working together again to create things.

Simon's America is pretty great. Hopefully you'll want to come along for the ride.


Selective memories

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 14, 2017, 3:09 PM | comments: 0

One of our cats gets nervous about, well, everything, but he especially freaks out when I pick him up. In fact, he seems to kind of gloss over and pretend he's somewhere else, in a way that's kind of disturbing. It's as if his brain has a self defense mechanism to block out the unpleasantness of the situation.

I think that memories might be like that, too. I frequently mention how I miss Seattle, along with the mountains and perfect summers and what not, but my friends there have not been shy about just how brutally crappy the weather has been this last winter. I only spent two winters there, but they seemed decent enough to me. The rain in November and December was a drag, but it seemed like there was always a break in the clouds either at work (Redmond) or at home (Snoqualmie) on any given day. Maybe because of the change in elevation? I dunno, it just seemed tolerable. Maybe the mountain views skewed my perception.

An alternate theory is that maybe I just have selective memories. The two years spent there were very intense, mostly because of having a child, but also because of the moving and marriage and new job and such. I may have been too tired to remember everything, or my brain just skips the parts I didn't like and goes right for the sunny mountain moments. And cheese. If that weren't enough, I've had additional memories to help paint over any potential unpleasantness, including a visit where we got to see a Garbage show, and last summer as our bookends to the Alaska cruise. It was just completely perfect.

For my Seattle friends, don't worry, July 4th is right around the corner, and therefore summer is only weeks away!


Like you're running out of time

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 11, 2017, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

Because everything comes back to Hamilton, there's a theme in the show about its namesake and, "Why do you write like you're running out of time?" While a useful foreshadowing device (spoiler alert: Aaron Burr shoots him), it's a testament to his extraordinary drive that made him such a key figure in the founding of our country. We're all running out of time, technically, so a little urgency to do "stuff" is probably healthy to an extent.

I feel this urgency all of the time, but I think I have different opinions about what "stuff" is important and should be prioritized. I've known a lot of type-A people who see little other than work, but for little reason other than it's what they think they're supposed to do. In fact, I find it valuable to spend time daydreaming and contemplating such things.

The thing that I often come back to, as a guiding principle, if you will, is that the things that are an act of creation are worth emphasis, and taking what little time we have. I'm pretty liberal about what that means. The aforementioned daydreaming is, for me, something that results in a lot of creation. It's the origin of so many things I've created, for fun and for work. Parenting is an act of creation, as the first teacher for your kid. I can't even work in a job that doesn't involve creating something. Some time ago, I realized that the scope of what I create was less important for my own happiness as long as I was happy creating.


Monochromatic decorating

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 9:48 PM | comments: 0

I was going to write about politics, but honestly, I think I'm too exhausted to do it, and I don't know that it's constructive. So let's talk about decorating!

We go through little streaks where we watch a lot of HGTV. I'm not sure why, but it feels satisfying when some young couple comes up with the strangest "requirements" for a house or a renovation, and they live in a market where a house costs nearly a minimum of a million dollars. It's such a different world compared to the Cleveland market, or even here in the western reaches of Orange County, Florida. It's not so different, however, than Seattle. I love it out there, but man is housing expensive.

Anyway, the thing that is really striking is how trendy decorating can be. Right now, it seems like the new hotness is monochromatic decor. By that, I mean virtually everything is some shade of gray. The paint is gray, the flooring is some shade of gray, counters and cabinets are white, accents and furniture are white or black. I keep seeing this over and over again. It's not just on TV, either, because many of the home models around us are decorated the same way. Apparently, making your house look like the interior of a futuristic spaceship is the thing to do.

I'm not dissing this look, mind you. I actually really like it. My concern is just that it seems like something that would very quickly feel dated or overdone, the way that cherry wood and brown granite does now after 10 years or so. Mind you, the gold standard even four years ago was dark cabinets and a certain lighter speckled granite that was everywhere (guilty).

When it came time to pick stuff for Puzzoni McMansion v2.0, I was kind of dreading it. I like the monochromatic look, but accept that if we bail 15 years from now, we might have to replace it with whatever people like then. Plus, everything in that category was conveniently more expensive. As it turned out, we were able to combine a lot of choices to make something that covers a wide range of tastes, and is hopefully a little more unique. We're doing the base paint as a light gray, flooring that is a light brown with a somewhat gray tone, dark brown cabinets, white counters and in the kitchen, a marble backsplash that mixes white, grays and browns to tie it together.

The fun (and cheaper) part of decorating will involve adding color via window treatments and lighting. Although, we're strongly attracted to a concrete coffee table. We saw one in a model that was awesome. So, a little more gray before we get into color.


Sad kid gloves

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

This year's parenting stress has come in the form of pediatric psychiatry. I mentioned previously that Simon was diagnosed with ADHD after some issues in school where he couldn't stay on task. A low-dose amphetamine seems to have made a huge difference for him, according to his teacher, but it has potentially amplified or surfaced some new issues.

The first problem is that the therapist that should be offering the treatment to pair with the drug for ADHD said she couldn't work with him because he has crippling anxiety. We've seen this at school, too, in that if there's something he doesn't feel that he can do, he simply shuts down and avoids failure entirely. He had a mini-meltdown in art class because having to draw caused more anxiety than he could take. It's hard to say if the new found focus makes this worse or not, but either way, we feel very strongly that drugs should be paired with therapy, so we need to work through that.

The other problem, and the one that is emotionally difficult for all of us, is that Simon has taken to picking the skin from his fingers. Not just the cuticles, mind you, but the actual pads of his fingers too. The school called last week because the nurse is spending a lot of time putting bandaids on his fingers, and there's no end to it. If that weren't enough, when we ask him to stop, he immediately feels bad about, because he doesn't understand that it is, to some extent, and impulse that he can't control.

He was on Prozac for awhile to address the anxiety, but it didn't seem to be working, and certainly the compulsive finger picking should have been kept in check too. Now he's on something new, and we're hoping that's the ticket. It's absolutely heartbreaking that the kid is 7 and having to medicate like this (he also takes allergy meds). If there's a bright spot, it's that he seems to have developed a lot of coping mechanisms for the ASD behaviors, which is a serious achievement.

For now, sometimes we need to keep gloves on him when he's playing, which, again, makes him feel as though he's doing something wrong. It's a difficult time for this sweet little kid.