If there was anything I could say about the length of the pandemic, which frankly has different levels of "over" based on the vaccination of you and your family members and friends, it's that it was long enough that I learned what it really meant to have to wait for things. There were so many things that, as a practical matter of mitigating the spread of the disease, you had to put off. You did find the doable things pretty quickly, most of which involved outdoor activities, including, mercifully, trips to the beach. But longer travel was out. The uncertainty of it all also had people putting off big purchases or spending on leisure activities and eating out.
Now that things have gotten better with widespread, if incomplete, vaccination, some have already arrived at the point of what I call "rage spending," and all of that pent up demand is pushing the supply and demand curve into some interesting inflation patterns. Economists suspect it will be temporary, but we'll see. The travel industry is still not quite there, but with Europe opening back up and the cruise lines coming back in the fall, I'm sure people will be anxious to move about the world. I'd settle for seeing the Bahamas right now (or as I like to call it, East Florida).
Psychologically, I'm still stuck in this mode of waiting for something. I'm super focused on saving for retirement, I don't have anything I really want to rage spend on, I feel like I don't remember what I did in my spare time and I'm definitely waiting for the travel situation to improve. I guess I'm also waiting for Simon to be vaccine eligible. He's likely low-risk for his age, but the bouts of pneumonia, apparent allergies and such, I'm OK with being cautious. For all that longing for normalcy though, I'm still waiting for something even though things are kind of getting normal.
There are two routine things we did that aren't quite back yet: theatrical shows and cruising. We didn't get to the end of the 2019-20 Broadway season, and now I think it's the 2021-2022 season that goes deep into next year, but dammit, we will see The Prom this year. Cruise lines are all over the place, but if the protocols for Royal Caribbean are any indication (additional charges for the unvaccinated, separate dining times), I can only assume that it won't be "fun" again until more of the world is vaccinated.
I'd like to find ways to help others more, too, and I think a lot about that. As sensitive as I am to understand the value of self-care, life has certainly demonstrated that we have to play a role in moving the world forward. I'm not entirely sure what that looks like, but we'll figure something out.
Google dropped version 91 of Chrome, and suddenly, my open source cloud music player, MLocker, stopped working on Android. It had been something of a precarious situation in the first place. It wouldn't reliably run on iOS browsers at all because of some stupid restriction they have around playing media without user input, and on Android, you do have to deliberately tell it not to do battery optimization. The underlying platform is .NET Blazor, which compiles down to WASM, web assembly.
Fortunately, it's not my shoddy coding, and an issue appeared on Github about it, and someone filed an issue with the Chromium team as well. Given my excitement about WASM bridging the gap between native apps and the web, this was wholly disappointing. I definitely have work to do on that project (there's a caching bug), but as a solution to never have to depend on third parties for music and playlists, this rules my world. I want it to work on my phone. That's why I invested the time.
Fortunately, it looks like a non-issue in v92 of Chrome, and it's on their radar as a regression. Honestly, I give them all the credit in the world that they're wanting to support the WASM standard at all, and do it right. But aside from Apple's bullshit, I still feel more strongly than ever that these web-based standards that work just as well as native app code for 95% of non-game situations should be the direction of software development. It's literally just a packaging issue. If these WASM apps were available via the app stores, people would not know the difference, and software people wouldn't have to worry about trying to support three or more platforms.
In the mean time, vendors like Microsoft are still trying to bridge the gap between the mobile, desktop and web platforms. Blazor and now MAUI are trying to reduce the amount of code used across these on the UI end, which is the final frontier, since library code can effectively be shared in .NET across all platforms. And it's like, yeah, if we solved the packaging problem for web-based UI on every platform, we would be done already.
We're in a better place than we were five years ago, but still have so far to go.
Our work office reopened a couple of weeks ago, which is way up in One World Trade Center. Some of my coworkers that are based in New York have been going in a few times a week, and when I have calls with them, it's pretty cool to see the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Bridge behind them. They really had not been there for very long prior to the pandemic, so it sounds like it's very novel for many of them, too. I can't wait to see it for myself, eventually.
There's an interesting vibe among the people at this job. Many of the core folks who joined early on are still there, and they're in a very small group of people that I know who were in a start-up and stayed with it all of the way through an IPO. I "know" maybe three people total who have made that journey outside of this company, because it's exceptionally rare. The cool thing is that they embody that start-up spirit, and at the same time, welcome the many people who came after. There's no new versus old school, and since the company embraced remote workers years ago, there isn't a New York versus the world vibe either. It's wonderfully collaborative, respectful and exciting. It's hard to grow fast and maintain that vibe.
I jokingly say that sometimes being in a job can be like being in a toxic relationship, but there's a lot of truth to that. And just like a toxic romantic relationship, you might be the last person to realize that you're in one. When I take inventory of my professional life, I'm surprised by how many jobs I've had where I felt like I had to justify my existence, or leaders emphasized all of the wrong things, or worse, pretended that everything was as it should be, in denial about what wasn't right.
I look back fondly at a few situations though. Insurance.com was a solid place, even if I did kind of outgrow it from a career development standpoint. In retrospect, we all know things now that we didn't know at the time, like, the dev team was all white dudes, the expensive deployment routine was expensive, and owning your data center is dumb. We all got along pretty well, the churn rate was pretty low and we enjoyed what we did. Working in the Server & Tools Online group at Microsoft might be my favorite thing ever. Just an entirely different level of people I worked with there, and I wonder how the world would look today if I could have moved to the product side of Codeplex. When I was at AgileThought, I had a couple of remarkable teams that I got to lead on projects that billed millions of dollars, and many years later, most of those folks are still my friends. Now I add Olo to the good work vibes club.
My feelings about work, and where it fits into my life and identity, have swung back and forth like a crazy pendulum, from something that I compartmentalize and don't care about, to something that is a primary part of me. I'm definitely closer to the latter right now, but that's not so bad when you dig it.
Destin from Smarter Every Day posted a video about a boutique film processing business. He gushes a lot about film, about how the physics and chemistry of it all, the mystery about what you got, make it interesting. He's not wrong about the interesting qualify of film, and the founder of the lab talks a bit about how a lot of analog things like vinyl records and such are "coming back."
The resurgence of various forms of analog media in the last decade or so has been interesting to see, and it seems like it's largely driven by millennials and younger. As a Gen-X person, I have kind of a mixed reaction to this. The younger folks aren't acting on nostalgia, because these were things that they didn't have in the first place. I wouldn't really write it off as hipster thing either. There's an inverse digital experience thing at play here, though some people, probably late 30's, are kind of in the middle. If you're old enough to remember, you probably don't miss it, but if you grew up with the Internet, there's something novel about life before smart phones.
Analog things have a certain tangible and physical quality to them that I admittedly miss. You can actually collect them. I had vinyl as a kid, but when teenage music obsession kicked in, I was all about the cassette tapes. They didn't have the huge album art, but they did have fold out liners. CD's (while technically digital) were even better, because the liner notes were far larger. And with things like Columbia House, we were able to get new CD's by mail, and everyone loves mail when you're in college. Well, we did, at least. These days, not only are few people buying digital music in a permanent way, buying MP3's, but they're using subscription services. They aren't really collecting anything, so I get why there's an appeal to collect vinyl.
Film based photography certainly has a similar appeal. The physical process of capturing an image on film gives you a tangible thing, both the negative developed film and the prints that you can hold. I get the print part more than anything. It took me a long time to stop getting prints of digital photos, and I didn't really stop until Facebook was generally available beyond college students. When the iPhone came out a year later, that really ended the prints for me. I haven't abandoned the technology of serious cameras though. Even in the "mirrorless" world, which is to say digital cameras that don't use the single-lens reflex mechanism, having a mechanical shutter and precisely manufactured glass leads to really amazing photos. Over the last 20 years, I've spent thousands of dollars on that kind of glass.
But while I appreciate the appreciation for the old tech, especially in photography, I can't say that I'm nostalgic for it at all. In high school I had virtually unlimited access to film for yearbook, as long as it was for the book. But in college, when I had my dad's classic Nikon F, every frame was like gold because the film and processing was crazy expensive and I had no money. Even as an adult, I'd rattle off a hundred shots on a vacation, and it would cost $50 by the time I was done, and I wasn't even sure if any of it was worth it until I got the prints back. That took a lot of the joy out of it. But when digital hit, all the things I wanted to experiment with became easy. I figured out how to shoot fireworks, use a flash effectively, use a flash off-camera... and it was all "free" without film. I'm often one to embrace constraints as they force creativity, but this was one I was happy to be free from.
Video cameras had a more subtle consumer impact, but even Super 8 film was expensive to shoot on and process. It doesn't seem like there's as much nostalgia for that, and the remarkable thing is that I actually own a 4K video camera that's good enough quality that Netflix says it's OK to shoot content on it. These are amazing times, as that kind of equipment used to cost tens of thousands of dollars! Going the other direction in age, there are a lot of directors who won't shoot movies digitally, a grumpy curmudgeon sentiment I don't get at all, especially since they're not going to edit on film.
It's all fascinating to me that people hang on to this stuff. I'm not mocking them, but I suppose that having lived in the era that these were state-of-the-art technologies, I definitely find the modern convenience of the new stuff to be superior. I loved my typewriter in middle school, but once you use word processing software, you don't want to go back. Like I said, I do miss the collection aspect of it, and I've got hundreds of CD's in boxes still that have moved 6,000 miles with me. I'm not even sure they still work!
While I'm excited to see the great battery life I'm getting out of my new laptop, I'm conversely sad about what I'm getting out of my phone right now. I have a Pixel 4 that's about 20-months-old, and it's not doing great. There's a good chance that it has something to do with having it in my pocket for a half-hour in the hot tub of the VRBO we rented in January. That the phone survived at all seems like a small miracle. But there was also the disappointment of my three-year-old laptop that I replaced. It's weird, because the original iPhone from 2007 I could go without charging over a few days, though admittedly, this is from the days when we were still mostly using phones for, you know, calling people and texting.
I hate the idea of creating electronic waste, but most things that we've retired in recent years have gone back to be recycled by the manufacturer. Loose lithium-ion batteries are surprisingly hard to recycle, like camera batteries or AA's. Best Buy used to have a drop-off bin, but they stopped doing that.
Despite my recent battery drama, the truth is that batteries are getting way better, faster than I expected. While it's frustrating how few are user-replaceable in consumer devices, in most cases they're getting better. Heck, I've got 150 kWh of batteries in the garage right now, and it's remarkable how well they age. Our Model 3 has lost only a few miles of range in three years and 25k miles, and still charges impressively fast at superchargers when needed. I think the magic there is that the computer spends a lot of time conditioning the battery when it's plugged in, which is 75% of the time on days we're using it, but more like 95% on days when we're just running errands. When I think about that compared to the big dumb nickel-metal-hydride battery in my 2010 Prius (and I loved that car, before it was destroyed by a careless driver in Tennessee), that's a lot of progress in a decade. There has been so much refinement in lithium-ion batteries, much of it driven by the auto industry, specifically Tesla. Power density, durability, weight and charging speed have all improved.
As for my phone, the battery size was always a little small, but at this point, I need to make it work for another four or five months, until the next wave of phones hit. I'm kind of loyal to the Google at this point, because their flavor of Android is the cleanest (though Samsung is way better than they used to be) and their photo science is arguably the best for the money.
Five years ago, a makeshift memorial formed in downtown Orlando in front of the Dr. Phillips Center, following the death of 49 innocent people at Pulse. There was no shortage of people in our work and social circles that went to Pulse from time to time, and it took a few days before they were all accounted for. While I was relieved about my friends, I was deeply sad for our community and the families that lost someone to this senseless violence.
The sadness turned into anger over time. I'm still angry, about the irrational hate directed not just at the LGBTQ community, but toward all people who seek equality. Florida is an embarrassment, recently passing anti-trans and voter suppression legislation.
Those seeking equality aren't looking for an advantage, they're looking for the same baseline that everyone should enjoy. That isn't something to fear. Five years later, we haven't come very far in dispensing with hate, and in some ways, we've gone backwards. I want to be hopeful, but it's hard.
Love is love. Let's do better.
There was a piece in the New York Times a few days ago about how messed up everyone is in terms of sleep. One of the biggest reasons for sleep issues is anxiety, and you know, we've had some things to be anxious about in the last year. If the pandemic and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people wasn't enough, we had a fascist autocrat who tried to overthrow an election, insurrection, an uncertain economy and job market... and then I'll add in the parenting difficulties and a challenging job.
A lot of things have gotten better certainly, and we're doing things as we did B.C. (before Covid). Date nights, eating out, theme parks and the usual Central Florida activities. For me personally, my sleep is still wildly inconsistent, and some of it is anxiety. A lot of it though is that I can't really settle back into healthy habits. I did OK during the bulk of 2020. I wanted to slam cocktails every Friday night for awhile, but that didn't last through July, because my body was pissed. I did OK with eating too, until roughly the holidays, and I kind of lost control.
Trying to understand what makes it so hard to commit to healthy routines and habits has always eluded me. It's different for everyone. Some of it is chemical, of course, when it comes to food. Sugar tastes good, after all. Honestly, I'm better off there than I used to be. I generally don't drink more than 6 ounces of soda a day, down from probably 24 maybe two years ago and replaced with soda water or ice water. But sometimes, give me a rice bowl full of curry and I have no self-control.
I do OK with food limits outside of the seasonal relapses, but physical activity is always hard for me to do. I just hate exercise for the sake of exercise. But walking a couple of miles every morning doesn't take a lot of time, it just takes a good night of sleep, which creates a cyclical problem. I need sleep success to get up and walk, but a good walk would probably lead to better sleep. Since we've been visiting the parks again, a day where I knock out 6 to 8 miles, I sleep great. The walking works great for me to keep my weight in a healthy spot. I'm also not sure what my natural cycle really is, which the article above says is important. I might be a night person who sleeps in, but that's not compatible with work, and I like to spend time with Diana in the evenings.
The last part of the equation is certainly that I don't set very good work boundaries. I'm anxious to get to it in the morning, and prepare for whatever is coming that day. Even when I'm getting up earlier, I tend to want to sit down instead of walk. That has to change. Fortunately, since getting a standing desk, I am not sitting quite as much, though the more meetings I have it seems the less motivated I am to get up. One of my coworkers literally has a treadmill under his desk, and he's in great shape. Not sure I can go that far.
I'll get there eventually. Like anything, it's a process of prioritization, and I'm doing that poorly at the moment. And don't get me started on the people who think you're just weak of have personality flaws. Those people are not helpful. We all have our shit to deal with.
I saw a T-shirt once that said, "The nerd you beat up in high school reads your e-mail," or something like that. I thought it was comical, because as I was graduating high school, I don't think we fully appreciated the role that computers would play in our lives, let alone that we'd carry them around and stare at them constantly. I think the spirit of the shirt was more about the fact that it was never cool to be smart, but the smart kids grew up to eclipse everyone else in terms of "success" or wealth or whatever.
Is it intelligence that really separated the nerds from everyone else? I don't think that's what it was. While I appreciate more than ever the developmental differences between humans, I think that curiosity and a desire to separate fact from fiction is what makes you "smart." I've certainly met very wise people who could barely send an e-mail, successful in most conventional ways, just as I've met people who are the opposite. Maybe I'm conflating wisdom and being smart. My only real point is that I don't think it's straight up intelligence.
Critical thinking, however, is a huge factor, and frankly I think that all people are capable of it. I believe that it is a learned behavior, but it's likely a choice, too. What I find so odd though is that our society seems to not only devalue those who engage in critical thinking, but treat critical thinking as some kind of weakness, or domain of the elite.
How the hell did we get here? As a kid, I revered scientists, doctors, teachers, engineers. They were the people that carried our society forward, and they inspired me to want to do something like they did. (Until puberty, when I decided to be a DJ, but I eventually came around on that.)
Perhaps the worst part is that society seems to have abandoned critical thinking, and those who engage in it, and replaced it with willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance, led by ideologues and demagogues. If you look at the best people in history that moved us forward, they were the critical thinkers. The worst of the worst? The ideologues and demagogues. Every time.
We've gotta stop doing this. We're still stuffing the nerds in lockers, and they're reading your e-mail. How do you think that's going to work out?
When I started coming down to Orlando in my early 30's for theme park trips, I instantly felt happiness when I would walk from the hot outdoors into some over-air conditioned place. At the top of these memories is arriving at the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal. Coming in, feeling that blast of cold air... it felt like vacation. It makes me smile just thinking about it.
Now that I'm local, "normal" temperatures are all different. We keep the house at 75 during the day, and 72 at night. 70 or lower is "jacket weather." Any time we have highs around 80 and a nice breeze, that's perfect weather. Granted, June to September is when we also have high humidity, and it's the part of the year we would rather be inside. The myth that it's always humid is a lot like the one that says it's always raining in Seattle. It's a seasonal situation. Just last week, we were in the upper 80's but the humidity was under 40% (for reference, the inside of your house is probably 50%-ish).
Air conditioning in the summer is insanely cold in tourist spots. The theme parks are notorious for this, especially in attraction buildings, but even restaurants and hotels are like this. I should do a comparison with, say, the average Target or restaurant in non-tourist areas. If my observation is incorrect, maybe it's just my frame of reference to my happyjoy feelings.
I had the crazy cold AC feeling twice today while my family visited Animal Kingdom, and it made me smile.
I wrote a review a little over three years ago when I bought an HP Spectre x360 laptop. I was compelled to do so because it was the first non-Apple computer I bought since they flipped to Intel CPU's back in 2006. Not quite two years ago, I built a Windows desktop as well. There's a lot of excitement about Apple's M1 CPU's, as well there should be, but native app support is mostly beta (looking at you, Adobe), and I don't have a lot of confidence that running Windows VM's (and in turn Linux containers) is where it would need to be. Pricing wise, the M1 MacBook Pros are in the same price point with similar RAM and storage, but you're still stuck with those useless touch bars and terrible keyboards.
What's the motivation to replace my three-year-old laptop? From a performance standpoint, it still is pretty solid. The biggest issue is that the battery life was getting pretty bad, often less than four hours with a developer load. If I'm being honest, I could have replaced that inexpensively, and maybe I still will. It also can get pretty hot when compiling or doing CPU intensive things, which is not ideal for lap use. There were other minor annoyances, like fan noise when it got hot, or a nagging touchpad driver issue where it wouldn't remember my preferred scroll direction. Overall, I did love the HP even with the quirks, and at $1,400, it was a really great value, especially compared to comparably equipped Macs at the time.
Let's be real though, the pandemic is receding and after the last year I want to rage spend on something. I feel guilt about electronic waste, but computers and cameras are the things that I create with, and I like nice tools. I didn't want to spend more than $2k, and wanted something that would again last at least three years. It really came down to three choices. The newer iteration of the HP was one, which still looks great and is well equipped. The next was Dell's XPS, which is a triumph in design. The last choice was the Surface Laptop 4. All have the most current, 11th generation i7 CPU's and 16 gigs of RAM, and were priced about the same. The HP and Dell at that price had the higher resolution screens, and in fact the Dell even used an OLED screen, though these both come at the expense of battery life. They also have Thunderbolt connections, which I used exactly zero times on my last HP, while the Surface Laptop did not. However, the Surface Laptop also had longer battery life with the conventional screen, which I realized is the same pixel density as my desktop monitors, where I see no pixels. It also had the Alcantara covering on the keyboard, which I totally love in "ice blue." Also, Microsoft's hardware driver support is perfect, and there's absolutely no bloatware to uninstall. On paper, the Microsoft product is not the best, but I love the way it feels and looks, so that's what I chose. The Dell might be better, but my weird texture feeling habits wanted the Alcantara. I ended up getting it from B&H which means I saved on sales tax and came in $300 under budget.
Microsoft has been doing a great job with packaging, which is to say it's attractive and doesn't get too ridiculous with plastic. The only other things in the box are a few small paper bits with the warranty, and the power supply. They're still hanging on to this magnetic Surface plug thing, which I've never been that crazy about because since it's round, you have to twirl it to sit right. The magnet will still hold it without it being connected. That's worse here because the bottom of the laptop is tapered inward, so the angle is awkward. But if you really hate it, the good news is that you can also charge through the USB-C port, but then you can't use it for peripherals.
Lifting it up, it's about 2.8 pounds, same as my HP. When you open it, that blue-ish Alcantara is just fantastic. It has an almost oily feel to it at first, but once you've handled it for a week or two, it feels more like proper fake suede. I definitely preferred HP's keyboard layout, and would argue it's the best, with dedicated home/end, page up/down buttons down the right side, and a dedicated insert button. If you're a software developer using a richly featured development app, you know there are countless keyboard shortcuts, some involving insert. The surface puts those buttons along the top, shared with the function keys, so it takes some adjustment in muscle memory to get them right. Insert is shared with delete, so you have to hold the fn key to use it. The keyboard is a little mushy in the middle, which I only notice if I'm really banging on it, but otherwise it's totally the right amount of key travel. It's almost as good as a Lenovo keyboard. The touchpad is enormous, has a satisfying real click, and being surrounded by Alcantara is surprisingly useful in just feeling around it.
The screen at full-brightness is an assault on your retinas in normal interior situations, but it's helpful if you're outside. I find that 50 or 60% is comfortable inside. There are no pixels to be seen. It's one of the best touch screens that I've seen on a laptop, as it doesn't flex much or feel cheap. Bezel haters might not like that there are bezels, especially compared to the XPS, but if you do touch it a lot, smaller bezels usually result in more false edge touches. The important thing here though is that they're not using the 16:9 aspect ratio, which is great for movie watching, but shitty for anything document driven, whether it's web browsing, word processing or writing code. I didn't realize what a drag that was on my last laptop until I landed on this one. The 3:2 is fantastic.
Boot time is fast, resuming from sleep is nearly instant, and the Windows Hello feature, where it reads my face, is so much faster than it was on my HP. Running software with the 11th-gen i7 and 16 gigs of RAM is easy, even with my typical developer load. That means Visual Studio, Chrome, SQL Server, various Docker containers running and other things. I've yet to feel it get truly hot, only slightly warm. The only time that I've heard the fans come on is when installing Visual Studio. This is a vast improvement over the old HP. Performance feels snappy, even with Visual Studio and Resharper. I'm surprised at how robust Photoshop feels, too.
It took awhile to get an accurate feel for battery life, and while it does vary, it's extremely predictable. The aforementioned developer load can pretty consistently get 8 hours if the screen brightness is in that mid-range. But even at full brightness, I was able to get 6 hours. For more typical web and document work, I expect around 12 hours. I haven't tried video work, but I wouldn't expect great battery performance on any computer.
Overall, I've really enjoyed using this computer. The design is solid, it's light and it performs extremely well. I'm confident this one will go at least three years as well.
The economic recovery is coming on strong right now as we attempt to emerge from the pandemic here in the US, but it's an uneven recovery with seemingly contradicting signals. But if surviving the most serious health crisis in a hundred years wasn't reason enough to look at the issue of how healthcare is paid for in the US, then looking at all of the ways it would strengthen our capitalist system is. Yes, I'm writing about this again.
But socialism! they say. I've covered that, and it's ridiculous to single out healthcare, the one thing paid for by most of the developed world outside of the US by government, as something materially different from safety services, schools, military, etc. Read that rant if you're stuck there.
Here's the problem: A lack of access to healthcare, or more specifically the ability to pay for it, bankrupts people, it causes them to not seek preventative care, and these poorer outcomes are a financial drag on society in every way. From the perspective of employers, they would rather not be in the business of providing health insurance at all. Even if they don't meaningfully subsidize it, it still costs them time and money to administer, and they would rather keep people at a part-time level and not have that expense (this is certainly aggravating the labor shortage right now).
And how many people simply couldn't risk not having health insurance, so they don't attempt to start a small business, or participate in a gig economy? Right here, that's me. I have, three times in my life, been in a position where I could try to spin up a legitimate business, and sustain that for 18 months easily, but I've got a family with needs. Simon's medications alone cost $100 per month, and that's after the insurance. It would be in the hundreds without insurance. It's prohibitively expensive for individuals to buy insurance without a group, unless you're poor enough to qualify for big subsides under the ACA.
Absolutely no one likes working with health insurance companies. Employers hate it, doctors hate it, and it certainly sucks as an individual. Even in the best possible scenario, where the employer pays for it entirely and there are no deductibles or co-pays (my situation when I worked at Microsoft a decade ago), dealing with the billing and unsettled charges is a constant shit show. And then I worked for an insurance company, and saw the inefficiency and waste up close. These companies add no value.
Does this mean that insurance companies would largely go out of business? Probably. Does it have to be paid for? Yes, but the per capita cost under the current system is the highest in the world, 50% higher than second place (Switzerland) and more than twice what third place Norway spends. It can't be worse or less efficient. We spend 2.5x what the UK does, and we would theoretically have the advantage of economy of scale for our own national health service. Ask someone in Norway if they would like to abandon their healthcare system and adopt ours. No seriously, I have, they think we're fucking nuts.
I don't know what the path is, but the current path sucks. Put away all of this ideological bullshit about your freedom and government overreach, because right now, you're owned by the system and getting nothing for it with lower life expectancy (we rank 40th in the world... USA! USA!) and our infant mortality rates are more than twice of those in the aforementioned Sweden and Norway.
I just finished a burst of continuous therapy, which is to say I had it several weeks in a row. This happens now and then, when I go months in between, and I feel like I'm just not operating efficiently. I liken concentrated psychotherapy to when you have dull pains that you need to treat and rehabilitate. In this case, I've been feeling kind of mentally spent for a combination of reasons, and talking through that with a professional, understanding the causes and what I can do to cope, is the outcome that I'm after. It's also helpful because the therapist I've been seeing for years is too busy to see clients, operating a larger wellness practice that includes the new therapist. Fortunately, she seems to have figured me out pretty quickly.
For this series, a lot of my "spentness" is rooted in parenting challenges and just the overall mental cost of the last year. Lots of bonus issues, too. I have an intense and challenging job, but as long as I'm (mostly) getting the outcomes I hope for, it doesn't factor into the fatigue as much. It contributes, because you can only do so much in a day, but it's everything else that adds up.
There are a few takeaways and actionable things to do. The first is that the parenting will never be all wins, and I have to accept that we do an awful lot of the right stuff. It's not easy, but we're operating as well as can be expected. Diana and I spend entirely too much time feeling bad about taking time for us, and that has to change. There are a ton of tactical things we can do differently, many of which we learn with his therapist. It's an ongoing journey, and there really isn't a destination.
There's a lot more to tell, but I'm not going to share it broadly. The short story is that I have a lot of self-awareness that I didn't have a few weeks ago, and I can work with that. Working to be a better human being is hard. Already though, I'm feeling a little less spent, and happier than I was. I can see now that I've been in a bit of a funk.
This is the part where I am endlessly frustrated that most people don't have access to mental healthcare, and if they do, it's often stigmatized as something you only need if you're broken and less of a human being. We really need to change that.
If I were to list the reasons that I can still maintain CoasterBuzz and PointBuzz, it's not the part where I fanatically tried to make the performance of those sites high. The top reason is that, after 20 plus years, I've never let them get too crusty. The amount of change in the underlying technologies is pretty staggering, with endless frameworks and platforms along the way. I never thought it would all run on Linux now, let alone on virtualized everything.
I took a break at the start of the year from recreational coding. I haven't written code at work in quite a few years now, and really it has been intermittent at best in the last ten years, because I've done more managing and "architecting" (whatever that even means anymore in software development) than anything else. But I actually enjoy it when I'm not being held to some kind of delivery, and I do think it lends credibility to you in the eyes of people you lead.
This year, I'd like to finally shake the forums free of their ancient jQuery dependencies, which is obtainable now because Bootstrap, the base style framework I use, has also ditched it. Later this year, .NET, the platform I've been leaning on for the backend for most of the years (with many frameworks on top of that), will turn to v6, a consolidated, run-everywhere version, and I'd like to get everything up to speed there. Most of what the sites ran on two decades ago has long since been deprecated and isn't supported, and I've seen at many jobs what happens when you don't keep up. The code gets super crusty, and no one wants to update or maintain it. I did go almost four years between updates to PointBuzz once, and that was pretty painful.
For all of the change, there is one strange thing that has never changed: I've been using SQL Server as my database the whole time. It has changed over the years, but the data itself has barely changed. There are other persistence technologies at play since then, of course, including Redis, ElasticSearch, Azure queues and storage, and probably other things, but there's still SQL under there. It's pretty flat in terms of schema, so that may be why it has mostly aged well.
That said, we went through a period in .NET circles where we tried to use object-relational mapping frameworks to abstract away all of the SQL. For me, it started with flirtation, something called LINQ to SQL, which translated method chains into queries. There were others, too, including NHibernate (we inherited its use on the MSDN Forums at Microsoft, and it was a mess). The thing that really started to catch on though was Entity Framework, I think in 2010-ish. And within a year, they added what they called "code first" support, meaning that you could define your entities in code, then let EF turn it into a database schema, along with magical schema updating.
Here's the problem with ORM's: They're leaky abstractions. There just isn't a universe where you can get away with not understanding what's going on under the covers. If that weren't enough, the various control libraries that started springing up "worked" with EF to do things that maybe you didn't expect. I inherited a project once where one of these tables aggregated totals three different ways, which resulted in total scans of the database every single time someone viewed the page, which is bad. But the biggest problem is that these frameworks inevitably produce queries that are inefficient when your data set gets large. For that reason, you end up trying to tweak your code to get the underlying queries to be better formed, which leaves you in the place where you're better off just using SQL directly, which has barely changed in decades.
Getting back to my sites, CoasterBuzz is using EF to this day, and I hate it. The worst part is that when .NET went full open source, with the "Core" moniker the last half-dozen years, EF changed significantly and in breaking ways. I played along and figured out all of the things that broke. What a waste of time. There is so much awkwardness in the code. My little project this weekend was to purge it all, and I got about 80% of the way there.
There is a useful level of object mapping though. For a number of years I've been using Dapper in various projects, which maps your query results to objects, and objects to parameters. I even adopted it in the forums a couple of years ago. I love me some Dapper.
I wanted to get the crusty stuff out so I can enable a few new things, and this will make life easier.
We had an interesting parallel in therapy today, in going from the reasons behind Simon's meltdowns, and my own inability to sit with the fact that the world has a lot of inequality. The average autism meltdown is often caused by a situation that can't be reconciled logically, because of the way that you're wired. For my boy, sometimes that's as simple as him not being able to reconcile that an undesirable behavior results in punitive consequences. As my therapist pointed out, I can't easily reconcile issues of inequality in the world, and it leads to quiet tailspins in my head that make it difficult to move on from. I'm still trying to decide if I want to pursue a formal autism diagnosis for myself, but the parallels here are stunning. Seeing it like this now is a serious breakthrough.
For a long time, I've worked on the assumption that my desire to be right or correct about certain things was rooted in some level of narcissism, ego, or just needing to be right because my step-father always insisted that I was wrong about everything (mommy and daddy issues are often core to psychological challenges, because they are after all your first instructors in human interaction). It certainly can be about those things, but if it was, there should be some kind of dopamine hit or satisfaction when I "win" on a particular issue. I rarely experience that. When I'm right about something, I just move on without celebration. When I can't rationalize the outcome, it just sits with me and grinds my gears.
Inequality, whether it concerns race, gender, sexual identity or any of those things, is inherently irrational. I have a lot of anxiety about "solving" it, which of course is not something any one person can do. This leaves me in the state of impossible reconciliation: I observe a state that should not be, and it leaves me stuck, unable to move off of it. I can apply this to a great many things in my life, professionally, in parenting, in relationships, that get me stuck and unable to act.
To be clear, this is a starting point in a longer conversation. You don't solve things in therapy in 55 minutes, but you can often identify patterns and then work out how you roll with those patterns. These irreconcilable situations are in many ways silent meltdowns. I'm old enough, and have practice controlling my outward emotions, but I think what's going on in these situations plays a huge part in my frequent feelings of mental spentness. Instead of lying on the floor kicking and screaming, I play the situation back in my head on endless repeat and generate anxiety.
I'm going to be on the look out for this now. What do I encounter that I can't just sit with, and why? Am I having the grownup equivalent of a quiet meltdown? Is this autism wiring? There are more questions than answers, but I'll take it.
I feel like this year has been a series of opportunities to exhale. We had another one today with the end of school. I won't rehash Simon's school struggles, but hopefully it's one less thing grinding on him, and in turn making things intense for us.
What else is there? The first time we can really travel, that's going to be a big one. Seeing some combination of high vaccination rates and low infection rates locally, at the county level will be a big deal. Getting Simon vaccinated will be huge, hopefully in the fall. Having people over for a small gathering. Seeing a musical, in a theater, with people. First movie in a theater (in that case I can do without the people).
The funny thing is that I feel like I always have an overwhelming sense of urgency about... everything. That's exhausting in a totally different way!
We're enthusiastic Discovery+ subscribers, since we don't have cable. There's a ton of what I would describe as "background TV" on that service, which is to say a ton of HGTV and Animal Planet shows that are great for half-watching when you're winding down for bed or blogging. I've watched enough HGTV stuff though to be completely dissatisfied with my own house, after living here for about three and a half years.
Fun fact, I've never owned a house that someone else lived in. My first one, in 2001, was actually built for someone else by Pulte. They bailed or something, and I think we (Stephanie, first wife, and I) were able to make some changes for paint and countertops, but otherwise, it was set for options. It was pretty basic, but probably pretty common for suburban Cleveland. Laminate counters, vinyl flooring. Meh. In Orange County, my second house was built by KB Home, and we were able to pick all of the things. We didn't go super deep on options, but I think we had mostly nice stuff. I was particularly fond of the carpet, which was a little shaggy and despite being light in color, surprisingly durable with squishy padding. Our current house, which we moved into three and a half years ago, was also built by Pulte. Despite being McMansion in scale, it's basic as fuck, as the kids would say.
The cabinets don't have the slow close thing. The baseboards are oddly misaligned, and worse, they used something that cured sticky, so all of them have a layer of dirt and dust on the top of them. Even after cleaning a few sections, they still look shitty. The carpet looks like a dozen people have lived here after a decade. It's really a mess and desperately needs to be replaced already. The exterior paint looks horrible. The house is structurally sound, as best I can tell, but the finishes suck. It's not all bad. Our kitchen counters are beautiful, but you can't really get white quartz wrong. We don't appear to have the stucco problems that some neighbors have. The iron railings are nice too.
Our bathroom is where I'm most dissatisfied. We added two options: A frameless glass door for the shower, and some "better" tile for the shower and around the tub. "Better" means some off-white subway tile with some small detail stripe around the shower at eye height. It was not worth an extra grand. That tile is used around the tub, which is built into a weird box that extends perpendicular in between the sinks. It's so weird. But it's a standard tub that no adult can submerge in. The floor is the same basic 1-foot tile squares you'd get anywhere. Like I said, basic as fuck.
I'm hesitant to put money into the house, because I think if we're still here eight years from now, it'll be a miracle. All of that "forever home" stuff on HGTV is bullshit. I can't predict the future. But we will have to replace the carpet at some point. Florida houses are weird, they don't like carpet, and replace much of it in our previous house when we sold it. But our downstairs is mostly engineered hardwood, with the upstairs, my office and the downstairs playroom being carpet. I do think renovating the bathroom will add to value. We refinanced last year, and the appraisal was legit, with solar and the irrational area appreciation helping us out. We contemplating blowing out the patio with an extended enclosure, but the math wasn't great. The solar definitely helped us.
Here's the thing about home value: It totally doesn't matter unless you're actually selling the house. For now, I just want to live in a place that feels like the home we want to live in.
With my borderline obsession about saving and investing for retirement in the last year, I read a lot of stuff. "The Algorithm" suggested an article recently written by a guy who retired a couple of years early, reflecting on his assumptions and reality since making the decision. It was less about the financial implications of retirement and more about the way you actually live. He had a particular narrative that made me feel pretty self-aware and not great about my personality when it comes to follow-through.
The short story is that he spoke about how he imagined that there are a great many things we say we would do, if only we didn't have to work. As he put it, we make a great many excuses about what we don't follow through on in the name of work. I totally do this. He then just calls himself out: If it were really important to you, you would prioritize it and figure out a way to do it even with a day job. That stings, because he's totally right. Or at least, mostly right. I'll get back to that.
I've been thinking about the subject a lot in a miniature fashion, asking myself, if I could do anything for my next vacation, what would it be? Some of the time, the answer is, "As little as possible," or some kind of excursion that would require as little of me as possible, like cruising. But beyond that, what are the leisure activities that I would want to pursue? The reality is that I just don't know, and that's horrifying. Have I become that dull, that I can't even point to fun things I like to do? Was I always like that?
Now, before I tear myself down, I acknowledge that I'm being a little dramatic. Out of hobbies came my entire career, a published technical book, a bunch of teenage volleyball teams that played above their perceived ability, contributions to philanthropic causes and an entire community that may not have obviously come together were it not for things I did two decades ago. A lot of good came out of things I pursued out of interest, not just for me, but for others. But this acknowledgment also shows how I value my spare-time pursuits, largely by impact and scope. Few things that I do are wholly for my own satisfaction, like building a chair or doing a crossword puzzle.
I've tried some new things in the last year for fun, and I created a lot of things. I don't give myself the freedom though to not keep doing them, which is weird (and something to ask my therapist about). Last year, I started doing a radio show, for free on PRX. After about six months, I just stopped. I really feel bad about that, though it doesn't help that some random program director keeps asking me to make more. I made a bunch of Lego and drink videos, some of which are still sitting unedited on my computer after five months, and that feels bad. After two straight years of weekly commits, I stopped regularly working on my open source projects early this year.
All of this comes back to priority. The author of that retirement story wrote a lot about change, but he never connected change to prioritization. Our priorities do change, even for the things that we do for fun, and we have to be cool with that. I think what feels icky is that when your priorities change and they aren't replaced by new priorities. This, in a nutshell, describes the midlife crisis: What do I do with myself next to create meaning in my life?
There's a healthy way to explore that, I think, because the infinite range of possibility that is your life is exhilarating. I have to keep reminding myself that I could not have predicted where I am today, not even three years ago. Sure, I had some high level goals and things to drive toward, but there is so much chaos in the intervening time that today is nothing at all the way I expected it to look.
What will I prioritize? I don't really know. I've been talking about writing another screenplay for almost 20 years, and making a movie for 15, and I'm not really any closer to that because I haven't prioritized it. But there are things that are starting to percolate to the top. I'm ready to get back into the open source projects, update them for all the newer technologies. I vaguely have some ideas about but home decor (which may result in gutting my bathroom). Maybe I'll get that tattoo that I've been thinking about. I definitely want to get out of the country.
Getting back to that idea that you can't use work as an excuse for all of the things that you haven't done, I agree with that author to an extent, but I do believe we have a finite capacity to engage with the world. Work and parenting together takes a lot out of me. Retirement would eliminate both of those, and the exploration that sometimes I don't have any energy for I think will get easier in that case. At the same time, I'm hyper-aware that you can glean a lot of wisdom from people like that author who are living what you can only imagine. In other words, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle between prioritization that available mental bandwidth.
Continuing our return tour of the Disney parks, we visited Epcot yesterday. In no hurry to get there, we arrived just before 11, not realizing that the park did not technically open until 11. The first thing that we noticed was how beautiful the entrance area is, and it's vastly different from the state it was in on our last visit over a year ago. The Leave A Legacy photos have been reimagined and posted out of the way to the east of the main gate, outside of the park, where you are not likely to see them. (Apparently the contract to purchase a photo on these was 20 years, and the last one was sold in 2007.) The tram roads no longer lead into the area under the monorail station. The one up the middle stops just short, and the one from the eastern lots ends in front of the new security checkpoints built forward of the ticket booths. The result is that people disperse in a less crowded way when the park closes, which is good. The gates now have signs hanging from the roof, similar to the other parks, directing entrances and exits. They still have a passholder entrance, which was shockingly empty, so the return of passholders is clearly going to be slow going.
The new plaza without the Leave A Legacy nonsense is far more open and green. It's a spectacular and inviting area now, with the fountain in front of Spaceship Earth restored to its glass monolithic glory. Unfortunately, that's where the beauty ends, because from there on, it's construction walls everywhere as the old Innoventions buildings are renovated and replaced. The concept art they were showing before the pandemic had them repurposing the east building, and erecting some multi-story structure with trees on top in place of the south end of the west building, but who knows how it will shake out now.
With no Fastpasses, we headed to Frozen first, and waited about a half-hour. This is when I noticed the first weird thing: There were no Norwegian people anywhere to be found. As you went around World Showcase, this continued to be the case everywhere except for China (I didn't check every country). Obviously the pandemic has restricted travel, so it's not surprising, just odd. The theme park industry in general is having a tough go of it because of the inability to hire internationally this year.
The rule for masks now is that you have to wear them inside the buildings and on attractions. As it gets warmer, this is a welcome change, and I applaud the CDC for committing to the science and making this the recommendation. Simon, 11 and unvaccinated, preferred to wear his in more crowded situations, as he's used to it in school anyway. I'm OK with him making that informed decision for himself. That said, I'm starting to feel like the parks should optionally vaccine card people for wristbands at this point, and if you have one, you don't need a mask inside. I feel like that would incentivize people to get vaccinated, because literally every adult and teenager can at this point. There's no excuse. Yeah, I'm unapologetically judgy.
Simon is a picky eater, and when it comes to Disney food, the mac and cheese is one of his only agreeable things. The only place you can find it at Epcot is Sunshine Seasons, in The Land. Unfortunately, this location, which used to have some decent seafood and Asian choices, is in basic mode, with burgers and hot dogs, so that's a drag. If it weren't for the Flower & Garden Festival, the counter service choices would just be dismal in Epcot right now.
The lines for Soarin' and Living With The Land were nuts, so we headed back out to World Showcase. We stopped in to that big tent thing they call World Showplace, between Canada and the UK, where the Cider Place stand is. I've never been in there for anything, but it's frankly a great place to stop in and get drinks under the air conditioning, as a guy plays piano. They have a fantastic cider flight, and a cold salmon sandwich on a cheddar biscuit that Diana was into.
Next I grabbed proper "chips" from the UK. I'd like to point out that this is a pile of thick fries for $4.25, whereas you'll spend something like $8 at Cedar Point or Kings Island.
Since it was just after 1, meaning we could park hop, we used the opportunity to exit the park and get on the Skyliner to Hollywood Studios. I absolutely adore this transportation ride. With Covid, you'll always get your own gondola. When they first announced this system, I thought it was kind of odd, but it is fantastic and efficient.
We wanted to get a lap on Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, Simon's current favorite, but unfortunately, it broke down while we were in the queue. We wasted about a half-hour, and it was down for some time after that. We went to see the Mickey short compilation in the theater down the midway, and then got some early dinner for Simon and me, knowing how things all close early. It's funny how a kid's chicken strip meal borders on too much food for me. I don't need a lot.
Hollywood Studios without any of the live shows is kind of a disaster. What normally takes thousands of people off of the midways leaves you with just the rides, and while there are more there than we had a few years ago, it's still not a ton to do. Worse, Rise of the Resistance is simply not available unless you are there when the park opens and you get a boarding group.
Back at Epcot, we continued to work our way around World Showcase. Morocco is basically closed off. Restaurant Marrakesh is closed. The festival cart there did have a delicious pineapple and pear cider, however, from Spain. At this point, we encountered the Disney Princess horse carriage coming around for about the third time. I guess since you can't get photos with them, you can at least see them roll by.
In the American Adventure, they have some kind of delightful rum punch thing, and that was delicious. Voices of Liberty is performing outside in the amphitheater, finally. Simon had his first funnel cake. It was a solid stop.
We hoped to get some frozen margaritas in Mexico, one of my favorite things available year-round at Epcot, but the line was insane.
It's worth mentioning that the new night time show pieces are all floating out in the World Showcase lagoon, and they're massive. I understand that they've been working quite a bit on this show lately, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with. It still sounds a lot like a jukebox show, which is why I loved Illuminations for not being that, but we'll see. Every indication is that it will be the most epic of their shows.
We rolled into Test Track, which was Simon's greatest priority. Posted wait was 40 minutes, but it ended up being a few minutes less. No designing your own car, unfortunately. What a release for the kid though. We ended up being solo in our car, but the photo still hasn't shown up in the app, which is a huge drag. It would have been frameable.
We ended the day on Spaceship Earth. Is it weird that there's something comfortable and familiar about the smell of that ride? We paid proper tribute to the Phoenicians, then left a little before 7.
Overall it was a fun day, even though we didn't do much other than log 18,000+ steps. We did Frozen, the Skyliner, the Mickey short and Test Track, with lots of walking, eating and drinking in between. Probably not ideal for Simon, but it was satisfying for me.
Simon finishes grade 5 next week, and next year, he'll go to a private school that is a little more squishy about grade levels. Tonight we toured his new school, a small private school that will have around 70 kids total, K-12. They just moved into a new building, and there will be four teachers for the "upper school," which is the group for kids who are middle and high school age. The idea is that all kids, especially if they have different or special needs, don't always align with the state outlined levels, and often may be ahead in one subject but behind in another.
The reason we're going in this direction is because we couldn't see him being successful in a middle school with 2,500 other kids. In fact, he was already a nervous and distraught mess today, because there's no real work going on at school, and it's largely social, and he's struggling with that. It's not just that some kids are unkind, it's that he doesn't have the right expectations. Throw in remote school most of last calendar year, and he's starved socially.
Academically, his grades are actually fine, A's, B's and S's, but they don't really tell the whole story. And in fact, we don't even have a good understanding of what the story is. He struggles to get a few sentences on paper when faced with a blank page, but is it that he finds writing difficult, or is he daunted by the blank page? I've seen him crank out a couple of sentences in a row when he was motivated, but why is it that in school he gets nothing written after an hour? Conversely, we see him struggle with math when it's homework, but is that because he wants to do fun things or because he doesn't know? He brings home some great math test scores.
Kids with ASD and ADHD are often intelligent, but learn differently, so the struggle is more about understanding how a kid learns. You can only do that if you give him the attention and opportunity, and even in the elementary setting, the public school failed to provide that. His principal and one of his teachers were fantastic, but the support system around his IEP was suboptimal at best, especially when he was remote last year. There's no universe where that would get better in a huge middle school. This new school can meet him where he is, and we're hoping that he can go back to a public or "regular" high school after a few years, if he can develop the skills to be successful in that situation. We just don't know yet.
Simon's emotional and social maturity is definitely a year or two behind. He connects better with younger and significantly older kids, but struggles with his peers. We're seeing some development there as well, and seeing a therapist and emerging from the pandemic is helping. Difficult as this might be, I'm really impressed with his self-awareness about what he's feeling. Even today at the new school, he was able to tell me that he was feeling overwhelmed and nervous and worried about whether or not the kids at this new school would like him. Being able to see that himself was not a thing a year ago.
Diana has been amazing in this process. She checked out several schools, talked with the folks at each one, and figured out how to use the state's grant program to help pay for it. She navigated the IEP process and official diagnoses that qualified him for the grants. This school isn't huge, but it's the school that most closely matches what he needs. It has been a journey, and I'm really happy about the way it turned out. She's a remarkable mother.
I hope that we're setting him up for long term success, because he says he wants to go to college and specialize in hospitality management so he can run a theme park. It's a little early for him to be setting those goals (especially that precise!), but I love that he's looking forward like that. The reality is that we have to take things a little at a time, and that's hard. I don't want anything to hold him back. When he's willing to slow down and listen, and absorb things, I'm often surprised at what he can understand. If autism or any comorbidity doesn't interfere with his cognitive ability, his path forward involves developing the coping and compensation skills for the unique way that he learns. If it does run interference, then the goals are still similar, figuring out how to maximize his ability. Not knowing how it will go is scary.
For now, we're going to celebrate the end of a difficult year, and enjoy summer. That kid has had more than his share of trauma and drama in the last year (same for his parents). It's time for some easier and more relaxing days.
I was reading something about the changes in the mask policy at the theme parks, written by a non-Central Floridian, and they mentioned something about comfort because it has been "hot and humid." This myth that it's always humid in Orlando is as persistent as the one that suggests it's always raining in Seattle. (For real, you have to irrigate your lawn or it'll die in the summer, because there's so little rain in Seattle summer.)
Around midday today, it was about 81 degrees with humidity around 39%. That's mostly been the story for the last few weeks. In the winter, it's very dry, to the point of wildfire risk, and also gets cold enough to turn on the heat for short periods of time. We've got some potential record highs coming next week, but with humidity well below 50%. Does it get humid? You bet it does.
In June, the humidity starts to rise, and by July, it's full-on swamp-ass season. The afternoon thunderstorms become more prevalent by then as well, as weather and moisture from both coasts meet in the middle. The storms become less frequent in September, but we still have some humid-ish weather through the end of October. I often hear people from Ohio talk about how terrible this is, but if we're being honest, Cleveland basically has the same weather from July to September, with high humidity. It also fluctuates a lot more between 70 and 100 because it doesn't have the Atlantic to help regulate. So really, "fall" down here doesn't arrive until November, maybe six weeks later, but then it's amazing until the following June.
So don't be projecting your humidity on us. Yeah, 90 is still 90, but 70 is also jacket weather. And who doesn't love jacket weather?