Butter emails and moral compromise

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 17, 2018, 7:11 PM | comments: 0

Butter Emails

The presidential election is now 18 months behind us, but it's extraordinary how angry some people still are about Hillary Clinton, the person who lost the election. A lot of people are sure she's guilty of a hundred different things.

Let's say for the sake of argument that they're all true. I mean, within reason. I would think that anyone with reasonable intelligence wouldn't actually believe she had someone killed, and if you think that, you're kind of lost anyway. But whatever else you think made her a bad person, let's go with that. Now let's look at the president. At the very least, you can prove how terrible he is just for what he says about other people. There isn't a lot of room for interpretation about whether or not he's mocked the disabled, disparaged veterans, objectified or sexually assaulted women, drawn moral equivalency between white supremacists and, well, everyone else... these are his words. He has also consistently defended Russians and others who do not have America's interests at heart. He has continuously lied about things that are plainly true, whether they be silly like the size of the inauguration crowd, or serious like the assertion that Americans pay more taxes than other Western countries. There are adequate records and lawsuits showing his business record, rich with bankruptcy and fraud allegations. It's plausible that he's had affairs during his current marriage, because one doesn't have a lawyer paying women off if there's nothing to hide. He's certainly had a lot of people around him go down in flames for committing crimes. The revolving door of administration appointees isn't normal either. There is no president in our lifetime that has exhibited immoral behavior like this. No person in polite society could hold down a job with this behavior.

So here's the thing... if the alleged behavior of Hillary was so terrible or immoral, and it's the source of such hatred and concern, why is the moral character of this president unimportant to you? I'm assuming all you've got is that he plays for the right team, and if that's all you've got, you're everything wrong with our culture right now. It's not OK to selectively apply standards of moral behavior.

I've said this a hundred times, but treating politics like a sports rivalry is toxic and destructive. I get that one party or the other may generally, if not always, align with your beliefs, and that's cool. I'm fairly split on issues, and even believe the middle ground (which no party represents) is often the right answer. But if I did align more completely one way or the other, it doesn't mean that any elected official is devoid of moral responsibility or character. Throughout American history, elected people from both parties have been found to break the law, and no position on issues (if they even have any) should be an excuse to overlook that.

If you believe in the broader positions of a particular party, insist on the highest moral character. You don't have to take what they give you.


In search of inspiration

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 16, 2018, 7:55 PM | comments: 0

Today was one of those days at work where I could sign-off for the day and feel pretty good about the work we did. Our net burndown (that's the amount of work we finished for the next release, for y'all non-software makin' folks) was pretty solid, we made some headway on some non-trivial issues, and in the general sense I can see a pretty great future for our product.

I ended the day feeling reasonably inspired. Today the inspiration came from a combination of new things I learned, a great solution from one of the people on my team and some news about a past project I had. Inspiration makes it easier to do the next thing. It also reminds me that, in a leadership position, tone and inspiration is something I'm very much responsible for.

This is an example of workplace inspiration, but I think in the general sense it's important to find inspiration throughout the different aspects of your life. Admittedly, it's not always easy in our culture lately. There are entire subsets of the population who only know how to be victims, who are intent on reinforcing hateful attitudes and thrive off of the fear of others. (And that's just the president. Zing!) But there are people all around you, in your community, that can inspire you every day. They're your neighbors, teachers, volunteers, etc.

In addition to the people around me, I tend to seek out opportunities to learn. History is a great source for understanding the way we operate as humans, and science and technology in many ways helps show a way forward. In my profession there are great resources online to learn, and I'm also really intrigued by some of the expert classes by famous people (like MasterClass).

I can't emphasize enough that any kind of art that makes you feel, like music and movies, is a great place to gain inspiration. A favorite movie or a track from my short list of best songs ever go a long way toward making me feel I can conquer something.

Something that I have to remind myself of all the time is that none of us are endless springs of relentless awesomeness. I mean, we'd like to be, but it's not a character flaw that we're not. It's OK to seek other people and things to light a fire under your Twin Cities.


Trip report: NYC, day 3, 4/7/18, Kinky Boots, Frozen and friends

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 13, 2018, 7:30 PM | comments: 0

Our third day in the city was mercifully not one that involved a ton of running around (only 7k steps on the Fitbit). I loved exploring the city the two previous days, and still find it remarkable that it's so easy to get around quickly. But as I mentioned previously, that Saturday was going to be cold, and we did have two shows to see. We didn't spring out of bed that morning either. As 11 o'clock approached, we headed down to Red Flame again, only to find they were swamped. We backtracked on 44th to Cafe Un Deux Trois, which was priced about the same but felt a little fancier. It got the job done.

The Kinky Boots matinee was at 2, but prior to that, we wanted to make an attempt at meeting up with one of Diana's college friends. She is currently working in the Carousel revival, which was in previews last week but opened yesterday (Thursday, 4/12), so work for her was just two blocks away. I only knew this friend via comments she made on Diana's Facebook posts, but had to resist being a fanboy because she was also the 11th actress to play Christine on Broadway in Phantom. As is often the case with people you only keep in touch with via social media, they had not seen each other in decades. They didn't have a ton of time to talk, but we walked her to the theater and she showed us tiny photos of her on stage in one of those photo collages that make a bigger photo out in front of the Majestic, where Phantom is still playing. (I was amused by the people queuing kind of checking her out, wondering if they should recognize her or say something.) I wish we had more time to talk, but I'll get to that shortly.

With the late breakfast, I was not really up for a big lunch, so we obtained baked goods from a Starbucks on 8th. From there, it was on to the Al Hirschfeld Theater for our second big show!

I didn't realize until we were sitting down, Playbill in hand, that Wayne Brady was starring in this show as Lola. It also has Kirstin Maldonado from Penatonix as Lauren. I missed the touring show in Orlando because that was the first year at Dr. Phillips Center, when we weren't subscribers, but I did see the movie, which I was kind of indifferent about. But knowing there was essentially a drag show finale, I figured at the very least the stage show would be a spectacle.

It ended up being pretty great in the general sense, and in fact the big conflict moments between the leads were way more powerful than they were in the movie. The minor twist as it relates to Lola's past is also a pretty powerful moment. Beyond that, yes, the dance sequences are pretty spectacular, and involve men doing moves that would certainly damage me for life. The members of the ensemble and minor characters are also pretty well drawn and generally charming. It's probably the most laughs I've seen in any show this season, too. If you can see it, see it. The music probably doesn't land in my soundtrack rotation, but it does have a few memorable songs for sure. 

Between, shows, we had dinner with another one of Diana's college friends, who by day is a sound engineer and mixer, currently working on Rocktopia, but responsible for sound in a number of current and touring shows. He's also producing shows, so he's fairly plugged in. He also does some TV gigs now and then, which you've seen. The thing that I found interesting about his story is that he's managed to raise a couple of kids and still balance what is really a lifestyle occupation with family life, and I give him all of the credit in the world for that. I wish we had more time to talk with him as well, because my techie nerd side would love to hear more about what he does, while my closet business guy self would like to hear more about the producing.

Meeting up with friends that deep into Diana's past is always neat for me, because we didn't meet until our mid-30's. We have these gigantic parts of life, parts that shaped who we are, that pre-date our connection, and that's weird. I try to be topical with her earlier profession by my flirtations with college and community theater. Now and then I have a story about radio or TV days for me. But these are essentially different lives, and I wish we could give each other more context about them.

I'm also fascinated with anyone who has been able to make a living in the entertainment business. You have to fight like hell to "make it," and then keep fighting to stay in it. You're always looking for your next job. You have to believe in your creative gifts enough, willing to share them, to keep at it. It seems exhausting, but I wonder what it's like to be a part of something that moves more than a thousand people every night. I admire the people who do it not for some kind of celebrity reason, but because they have the tenacity and energy to keep doing it.

The funny thing about Disney is people love to hate them when it comes to art and integrity. And I get that, because deciding to do a stage version of Frozen certainly sounds like a cash grab. The thing is, they've made some staggeringly good, enduring movies, and Lion King on stage easily eclipsed the film. So while the company is a crazy gigantic conglomerate of sizable wealth, I think it's unfair to suggest that they can't make great art.

Still, Frozen, I think, is very nearly a perfect film. The strongest criticism that I've read about it is that it's hard to say who the film is about, though I think the question should be what, and not who. My answer is that it's about relationships of all kinds, including those you have with yourself. To that extent, the movie is like three or four subplots that overlap, and I think that's OK. The challenge in making it a stage musical is that there's virtually no music in the second act. They also recruited the screenwriter to write the book, which I think is a different talent. My hope for the show was that it would be as good as the film or better, and I wanted just once to see something with the original cast, so I can say I did.

I left the theater feeling that they did in fact make something better than the movie, and I really liked it. The spectacle of it was what you would expect, and if you saw the show on the Disney Wonder, they definitely borrowed some ideas from there in terms of visual design. The costumes and puppetry are amazing, the sets beautiful, and the lighting, video and effects generally serve the story. (Fun fact: The video designer, because that's a thing now, is the same person that did The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which frankly uses video as the set itself.)

The changes to the plot are not huge, but they necessarily added a lot of songs to the second act. None of these are filler. Like Lion King, they go a little darker, when Elsa contemplates the outcome of her own death, and Anna wonders if she'll die without really knowing love. I wouldn't go so far as to call this edgy, but it's a little more adult themed than the movie. The comedic highlight of the show comes right after the intermission, with a song called "Hygge," the Norwegian word for feeling comfortable. Shop owner Oaken wanders in from the crowd and eases you back into the show with a joke about the lines at the restrooms, when Anna, Kristoff, Sven and Olaf show up and find themselves in the middle of a kick line of Oaken's naked family.

This original cast is something to behold. In an unsurprising lineage to Wicked, Cassie Levy playing Elsa is a former Elphaba, which of course was originated by Idina Menzel, the movie Elsa. Patti Murin as Anna played Glinda, though not at the same time as Levy. Not to take anything away from Idina or Kristen Bell, but these two on stage take every song you know to a new level. The guy playing Olaf seems to be channeling Josh Gad, but I don't know how much people would tolerate deviating for that.

Overall, I loved it. I don't have strong feelings about it, since it is a derivative work, but I'd definitely see it again (if it wasn't one of the most expensive shows in town). They'll have to make some compromises in the staging when it tours (there are an awful lot of holes in that stage), and I wonder if they'd be clever enough to do some of the video projection custom to each theater.

We settled back into our room around 11, and I couldn't sleep again. Honestly, I would have liked one day more (yeah, I went there) to run around and see stuff. It would have been cool to see Carousel, too, if only because I "knew" someone in the cast. But as far as grownup, child free trips go, this one was fairly epic. It wasn't cheap, but I feel like we made the most of "us time" in a way that we have not in some time. I look forward to going back to New York, though I'm going to shoot for a May time frame instead.


Trip report: NYC, day 2, 4/6/18, Trinity Church, 9/11 Memorial, Hamilton: An American Musical

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 11:30 PM | comments: 0

For our second full day, I knew we'd go downtown, but didn't get real specific until the night before. What we settled on was a trip to the cemetery to find Alexander and Eliza Hamilton, do the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and make time to get back to midtown for dinner before seeing Hamilton. Squishy possibilities included going to Battery Park and doing the observation platform in One World Trade, but given another slowish start to the day, there just wouldn't have been enough time.

After breakfast, we took the R train from Times Square to Cortland St., which actually lets out in the hideous Westfield World Trade Center shopping mall, sort of, which seems to connect below ground to World Trade Center Three and Four. That put us up on Church St., about two blocks from Trinity Church, our first stop for the day. It's here that we would find the final resting place of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton, the very subjects of the musical that motivated our visit to the city. It was surprising, the number of people who came there to see the grave. Most of the headstones in the cemetery are in very poor condition and many are not readable. Hamilton's inscription reads as that of a founding father should, but as his biography reads, he was certainly no saint. Still, he was killed too early, and his personal choices limited his impact. He definitely ran out of time.

After a lap around the grounds, we headed a block over to the former World Trade Center site, now the 9/11 National Memorial and Museum. I know there was a lot of emotion and controversy over what to do in that space, but I think they got it right. It's a beautiful and peaceful spot. It's weird to think that Diana worked in one of the towers briefly in the 90's doing temp work.

The line for museum tickets was enormous, so we quickly bought them online via my phone. Our entry time was 1:00, a half-hour out, so we went back over to Church St. (after finding nothing in the mall) for some bona fide New York City pizza at some place called Steve's Pizza. I don't think anyone there was actually named Steve, but I still enjoyed it as a quick bite to get me through the afternoon (in lieu of more museum food). I'm not a fan of NY-style pizza, but you know what they say about pizza.

At our entry time, we ended up queueing for another 20 minutes to get in, as a number of groups went in ahead of us and had to go through the security screening. The museum begins as a series of ramps and stairs that go several stories under ground, in the larger pit that acted as the foundation for the original buildings and surrounding support structures. If you look at the photos from the 70's of the construction, you'll see that "trident" structures at street level are many stories above the actual base of the building, and that the area around it was eventually built up to street level with parking structures, train stations and mechanical support for the towers. Similarly, you'll see the same thing in photos of what would eventually be called Ground Zero. The museum and outdoor memorial occupies most of that space, leveled off at street level.

As you descend the ramp, you'll first see what they call Foundation Hall, which is the open area between the former north tower and the slurry wall, which held back the Hudson River across West Street, before there were more buildings there. It's from this vantage point that you can see the memorial "cubes" that seem to hang from street level above, where the fountains are. Around both of these, the original foundations of the towers are preserved, the steel box columns cut down to the concrete, though in a few places (as in the photo below), you can see the concrete pulled away to see the steel beams in their entirety. There is some fascinating architectural and engineering history here, and it's striking how controversial the buildings were, which is not surprising because they weren't particularly attractive buildings.

The area beneath the south tower fountain has a short film, an education center and a hall with photos of all of the 9/11 victims, including those at the Pentagon and in PA, as well as the handful from the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. It's probably the most difficult part of the memorial, because it's not easy to disconnect thousands of faces from the destruction. These were after all people with families and friends whose only real fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The area beneath the north tower fountain contains artifacts and a walk-through timeline of the day, and despite the big steel building fragments displayed elsewhere, it's the core of the museum. You've probably seen most of the video and photos before, and these are combined with pieces of plane wreckage, charred office items, wrecked vehicles and other items from the disaster sites. This part wasn't as difficult as I expected, in part because we have seen so much of this on TV, and in documentaries made later, that it wasn't new. You never accept it all as normal, but it's not unfamiliar.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was clear that Saturday was gonna be cold, so running around town wasn't appealing. But you know, staying in the middle of the Broadway area, another show was a great plan. You can get tickets for all but the most popular shows (i.e., HamiltonFrozenEven Hansen) at solid discount prices a day in advance through TKTS, this little stand that has three locations. The Times Square location, for whatever reason, was more restricted and not selling Saturday matinees, so we had to go up to the Lincoln Center location, which was easy enough on the D train. The weather was flirting with 60, and it was a beautiful day to be out. Round trip I think it was a half-hour, and we got great seats for Kinky Boots for 40% off.

As I mentioned, we ended up having dinner a second time at Connolly's, because the curry chicken is amazing and it was convenient across from the hotel. I didn't have much to drink the entire trip, I guess because cold weather isn't really great "drinking weather" and we didn't have time to risk any hangover-ish feelings, but they did have Magners, which is a little harder to find around where I live.

We made a quick stop back up to the room to kill a little time, then headed out to the Richard Rodgers Theater for our primary motivation for this trip: Hamilton. We arrived around 7:15 and were third in line (behind this teenage girl with the most amazing purple hair you've ever seen). I had noticed that every show had these enormous queues of people hanging out before shows, and I wondered why they didn't let people in sooner to buy drinks and such. When we got inside, I realized that most of my theatrical experience is with really big theaters, or at least theaters with big lobbies. Playhouse Square in Cleveland doesn't hurt for lobby space, and obviously our pride and joy, Dr. Phillips Center, is enormous. Beyond that, I've been in some big musical halls, and the Paramount in Seattle, all with adequate lobbies. Most Broadway theaters have no such luxury. The Richard Rodgers has about 1,300 seats though, and it's a beautiful place to see a show. We were in the second to last row of the balcony (no mezzanine) and I was perfectly cool with it. As I mentioned in my previous post, we scored tickets first-hand via a "verified fan" email list, at a face value of $200 each. That's still more than twice what we pay for any show in Orlando, but the market is what it is.

The show has been all the hotness for a long time, and when I started to really listen to it in earnest in late 2016, I was skeptical of the hype in part because it seemed like integrating hip hop lyrics into a musical would be a gimmick. I was totally wrong about that. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a creative genius who managed to blend most every genre into the show, and even the rap influences tend to span decades of styles (including those from my 80's childhood). More importantly, it's really dense, which is fitting for a historical drama about a guy who did an awful lot in his 47 years.

Hamilton is an ultimate love letter to the founding principles of the United States, a nation founded by immigrants, and the founders themselves, who were anything but confident in the democratic experiment they would begin. Its self-awareness is extraordinary, not just because it takes on the ideology of freedom in a time where humans were traded as slaves, but by casting diverse people, most of whom would not have had any rights if they lived in Hamilton's lifetime. These were imperfect people, and we're challenged to embrace their achievement while acknowledging their flaws. It's not something they teach in school.

Seeing the show fills in the blanks not made obvious by the soundtrack. You witness more than two hours of movement, which I'm sure is a deliberate choice to match the man that Aaron Burr suggests "writes like he's running out of time." Indeed, the turntable in the stage makes it possible for the cast to move continuously. The blocking also enables funny moments between Hamilton and his friends, King George and those leaving the stage, and of course, the cabinet battles, complete with hand held microphones.

Most amazing is the choreography. It's precise and dynamic and mind blowing, unlike any show I've seen. (And one of the women in the chorus is from Orlando!) Songs like "Yorktown" attempt to wrap up the Revolutionary War and the place that the principles have in it ("Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction! When you knock me down I get the fuck back up again!"), and it's intense and beautiful and borders on overload to see.

I was familiar enough with the scene design from the various documentaries and clips, and it's a very utilitarian space that's versatile enough to do whatever they need with minimal props and some moving stairs. But the lighting design is something else entirely. I'm a total lighting nerd, and when I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be one of the four people in the world who design lighting for arena rock concerts. In lieu of that, I did it in college for a year, but I studied the shit out of it and to this day I notice it more than most of the production work. Hamilton integrates the lighting tightly with every aspect of the show... with the set itself, the actors, the choreography, the blocking, the costumes... all of it. It serves the story and the action in every way, whether it's censoring Hamiltion with red light ("Sit down, John, you fat m[BEEP] f[BEEP]er!"), setting a painful night scene ("Burn") or grouping lines of soldiers together in formation, it's tight.

The hardest thing about the show is that the original cast recording has been out for years, and those performances were epic and set the standard. It's impossible not to have some expectations. Still, I might argue that the story is the main character, and the hip-hop nature of many songs makes it possible for any performer to put their spin on the part without departing from the intent of the text. James Monroe Iglehart, who is probably best known as the guy who originated the Broadway Genie role in Aladdin, or Titus' nemesis in Kimmy Schmidt, absolutely kills it as Lafayette/Jefferson. The rest of the cast did a pretty great job, though I do think it's hard to live up to Christopher Jackson's George Washington. That particular role with that actor was something special and rare. Michael Luwoye as Hamilton may have been better than Miranda. Like I said, there is generally room for actors to make these roles their own, I think.

Overall, it was the emotional experience I expected the show to be, finally being in "the room where it happens." My favorites, "Wait For It," "Yorktown," "Say No To This," "One Last Time," "It's Quiet Uptown" and "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" were the moving moments that I hoped for. It met all of my expectations, and I can't wait to see it again next year in Orlando.

It was an emotionally exhausting day, but entirely worth it. I didn't want the day to end, and I couldn't sleep.


Trip report: NYC, day 1, 4/5/18, The Met and Late Night With Seth Meyers

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 10, 2018, 4:00 PM | comments: 1

Last August, I received an email from the Hamilton mailing list, indicating that a batch of tickets were going on sale for "verified fans" first. While I knew it would be touring to Orlando at some point in 2019, I didn't want to wait another entire year to see what I feel is one of the most important pieces of art to be made in years, so I was open to seeing it. Sure enough, we scored tickets without having to deal with the resale market. They were still $200 each, but people were paying a lot more than that, so we made plans eight months out to visit New York. (#thegreatestcityintheworld, if you're a Hamilton fan.)

I had never been to the city, which is weird to say out loud, but I didn't see LA until I was 37 either. The only top-5 big city I had any experience with was Chicago, which I liked in small doses, but honestly I found generally exhausting on every visit. I think part of the reason for that was having to drive there. I didn't care for LA at all, even though I didn't see much of it. So while I was optimistic about New York, I was a little worried that I wouldn't care for it. Fortunately, that was not the case. Aside from an extended wait for our shuttle at LGA (which was refunded), getting around was easy enough on the subway and walking, and we ended up spending about $35 on subway fares and walking just under 20 miles for the three-ish days we were there. It didn't even bother me that much that it was cold much of the time, though I certainly missed the Florida heat.

Our general plans were fairly loose beyond Hamilton and Frozen, the latter of which had just opened two weeks before and we were lucky enough to get tickets. I also scoured the late night shows for ticket lotteries, but SNL did theirs at the start of the season, Fallon does his monthly and Colbert wasn't even taping, but we got lucky and scored for Seth Meyers. Even then, since it was free, it wasn't a hard commitment. I vaguely knew I wanted to see the main branch of the library and Grand Central, since both were near our hotel, the Millennium on 44th just off of Time Square (an ideal location for quickly crashing after the shows). After we arrived Wednesday night, I realized that I had not really researched any of the museums, and I always wanted to see the Egyptian stuff at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so we made an audible to go do that on Thursday.

We started our morning (slowly) with breakfast at a diner called the Red Flame. Aside from their insane juice pricing, it was as reasonable as I would expect for being in the proximity it is to Broadway. They were also crazy fast, and we ended up eating there three of the four mornings, and I'd do it again. We were out by 11, and headed a few blocks south to our first stop, the main branch of the New York Public Library. It's an extraordinary building, for sure, but also a functional library. I wanted to see it mostly because of the scene in Ghostbusters. Around back is Bryant Park, which I'm sure is lovely when there are leaves on the trees, but we were battling sub-40 temperatures and some crazy wind.

From there we headed to Grand Central to see the beautiful building up close, but also to get on the subway. This was a theme in all of the things we did, that these beautiful, old, well-maintained buildings were also used every day. That really speaks to the vitality of the city. We bought a couple of Metrocards, and the swipe readers almost never worked for me first time until I realized I had to go slower. We wanted to take the 4 uptown to 86th, which would put us a few blocks from the Met. It was surprisingly crowded, and we chatted with a young woman who was apparently going to law school (and thought Diana's nosering was cute). The express train threatened to make local stops, but then it didn't, and there was much rejoicing.

The Met was something I've seen in countless movies, and as I said, their Egyptian collection is extraordinary. It was always my favorite stuff at Cleveland's museum, and they plus it up dozens of times over in New York. Of particular note is the Temple of Dendur, which was a gift to the United States from Egypt, as it was relocated from an area being routinely flooded by way of a dam. You don't find many 2,000-year-old buildings being relocated. They have a number of artifacts even older, where you can actually touch the carvings in the rock, and it's extraordinary that you can connect to some person who has been dead for millennia that way. I found it to be deeply moving.

We also spent a little time looking at an exhibit of paintings of parks and gardens, including a number of familiar pieces by van Gogh, Seurat and Monet. I'm not even remotely an art historian, but there were a lot of paintings there I've certainly seen in books countless times, and it was cool to see them up close. Oil paintings are fascinating to me because of the texture they show in person. We also toured their medieval collection, and a stunning collection of French luxury rooms reconstructed from actual rooms decorated in the late 18th Century. We could have spent more time there, but instead we ate some of their crappy cafeteria food (for the arts!) and checked out familiar sculptures before heading back to the hotel for a brief rest. I'll also admit that we got fast food to tide us over through the taping, which would last until almost 8.

Check-in for Seth Meyers began at 4:45, and they over-provision tickets to make sure the studio is full, so you don't want to be late. NBC does a really nice job welcoming you and making you comfortable for the shows, and I was immediately struck by the familiarity of the decor inside 30 Rock, as it obviously dictated the interiors of the Jimmy Fallon ride at Universal Orlando. They didn't want you taking photos anywhere, and especially not in the studio, but you could see the back of our heads in the televised show (S5 E87), so we were totally there.

As a former TV guy, there was nothing surprising about the taping of the show, which was live to tape, meaning the breaks were all timed to actual commercial times. I explained to Diana that the intention is to not have to edit anything, so they run the show as if it were live. They did, however, stop tape and Seth came up into the audience to take questions for some reason. He seems like a really solid guy, definitely a writer at heart, because he was very gracious to some (frankly) dumb questions that amounted to "favorite color" queries. Standing right next to us, I asked him if he found parenthood difficult working in show business. He said that in this gig it wasn't bad because he doesn't have to work weekends, the way he did for SNL. His second child was just born Sunday, in the lobby of his building no less.

The audience entrance for the show is right next to that of SNL, so on the way out we saw Mikey Day and Kyle Mooney leaving. After sending us down the elevators, no joke, they route you out through the gift shop. Obviously a company that now owns theme parks.

After the show, we dropped into an Irish pub called Connolly's, which was a largely unambitious effort because it was across the street from our hotel and we were pretty spent from the day of running around. Figuring on proximity to Times Square, I assumed it would be, at best, convenience food, but it turned out to be really good. I had a chicken curry that was fabulous. It wasn't cheap, but meh, I'm used to eating at theme parks. It was so low friction and convenient that we ate there again the next night, because I really wanted that curry again.

A word about Times Square... it's obnoxious. It's filled with chain restaurants and retail that you can see literally anywhere in the United States. Why the hell would you care about any of that there? There were people lined up in the cold around the block for a fucking Buca di Beppo, while local places a block away had tables available and better food.

We were back to our room by 10, but we were pretty tired. It wasn't even the running around as much as it was the cold. Florida has ruined me for cold. It makes me tense up every muscle in my back and it just starts to hurt. Still, it was an awesome, successful start to our vacation.


Adventure vs. relaxation vacations

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 7, 2018, 11:02 PM | comments: 0

We're just about winding down four nights in New York, which in practical terms has been three action-packed days. I'll write more about the activities later, but I want to talk a little bit about the way I think of vacationing.

It's no secret that since moving to Central Florida I developed something of a cruising problem. The context of that is important: I went about 8 months after moving with no real break from work, in part because I was contracting (which means you don't get paid when you're not working), and in part because I was saving for our house that was being built. A Florida resident offer came up for a cruise, and it was a compelling proposition. All we had to do was drive an hour to the port, get on the ship, and people would take care of us and tell us where to go to eat. For one day, they would do the same on a beach. As burned out as I was feeling, that made perfect sense.

The cruises are what I would call relaxation vacations. They have very little in the way of structure and there's a lot of sitting around sipping girly drinks. My personality is such that I need that kind of thing periodically. I try to make at least 15 to 30 minutes a day, not at bedtime, to chill out and think about nothing. I need that time. A relaxation vacation does this for me.

On the other hand, you can engage in a kind of travel that is purely about the adventure. Maybe "adventure" is too strong of a word, because I'm not suggesting that you have to participate in extreme sports. But sometimes, you want to go at your locations hard and do as much stuff as you can. That's what this New York trip was about for me. I was going to a new place with literally endless possibilities. It doesn't mean that I had to plan it all out, but I never had The Met, Grand Central, a trip uptown just to get tickets, or a third show on my agenda. We did all of that anyway. I haven't had a vacation like this since our Alaska cruise (which was not like the tropical "normal" cruises we take because of all the port adventures).

I suppose you could do both on a trip, but it sure depends on the locale. I mean, I can't ever imagine going to New York to relax. I can't imagine going to the beach for adventure.

I was looking forward to this vacation for all of the entertainment that you can't get elsewhere, but kind of dreading being in a big city, because my half-dozen visits to Chicago were always exhausting. As it turns out, I'm definitely tired, but New York isn't nearly as exhausting as I expected, probably because I don't have to drive anywhere. Most of our subway riding was in non-rush hours, so the only thing exhausting was having to walk through Times Square, which is obnoxious. The rest of the adventure was excellent.

Our next vacation will be with Simon, and of the relaxation variety. After that, who knows. At some point, I'd love to take Simon on an amusement park road trip (when I know he'll ride stuff). Washington DC is on the list. Diana and I would like to cruise Northern Europe, mostly as a sampler so we can figure out where we'd like to return.


Finally beyond the McMansion financial drama

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 2, 2018, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

We finally closed on the house sale today. That was more drama than I would have liked. We closed on the new house at the start of November, and had a buyer one month later. They strung us along through late February before the deal fell apart. Actually, it wasn't so much that the buyer was being a pain as much as the lender. I figured since they were putting half down, it was a slam dunk, but they had a bunch of debt in whatever country they were from, and the American lender is the one that was playing games. Fortunately we had them put up some non-refundable money to help us out, but time is money in this case. We had another buyer soon after, and the deal was pretty solid. Would have liked a few grand more, but overall it was fair.

Now the challenge is to execute a series of financial gymnastics moves with the proceeds from the house. First thing is to get solar on the roof, which will reduce our electric bills and add value to the house. Next, we sell the Model S and buy a Model 3, because a less expensive car means a smaller car payment. That was never a very rational purchase, and I'm tired of paying for it now that there's something cheaper (I won't deny that it sure has been fun to drive though). Once the car transaction is done, we can roll the rest into the house loan to get that payment under control. I was always trying to figure out how to get more space without major decreases to our monthly cash flow, so much of the anxiety I had was in the ability to realize all of that. Every month that passed caused doubt in my master plan.

This process caused a lot of self-inflicted stress. We didn't have to move, but the opportunities weren't going to get cheaper, and the walls were really closing in on me in my office (occupational hazard of remote work). I feel like I'm just now having the chance to enjoy the space, because the process is essentially finished. I'd be OK with not having to move again for a solid decade. Next move will hopefully be to a smaller place with a view, after Simon is out in the world.

Now, it's time to be more in the moment and enjoy life. This neighborhood has been awesome so far, with kids constantly knocking on the door and dragging Simon out to play. We quite literally see and talk to almost all of our neighbors, all of the time. The development is small enough that frankly we're getting to know a ton of people (and their kids), and that's very cool. I do miss some of our old neighbors, but they're only a mile away.


Do you ignore your own perceptions if they're not convenient?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 10:17 PM | comments: 0

Imagine that you have to hire someone for work. A quick search online reveals all kinds of interesting things about them, none of them good. You learn that the job candidate has been sued for all kinds of things, has been accused of having affairs, made racist statements in public, and seems to have a habit of calling people names on the Internet. Presumably, you'd never hire this person, right?

I think you know where I'm going with this.

Science has been pretty clear about space for a very long time. We know the world is round, if only because we have humans floating around the world right now. You may have even seen live video of a dummy in a space suit orbiting the earth in a sports car put there by a big rocket. Decades ago, we put people on the moon, and three guys got close and nearly didn't come home. Given all of this observation and reality, what exactly would compel you to believe that the earth is actually flat?

There's a woman who posts all kinds of blatantly incorrect things about food online, and once insisted a conspiracy among airlines for pumping nitrogen into the cabin air (hint: the atmosphere is 78% nitrogen). People defended her anyway. Gwyneth Paltrow has a company that sells stuff of no scientific worth and apparently suggests putting things into your vagina for strange reasons in the name of "health." An entire group of people still insist that autism is linked to vaccines, despite there being zero science to make that link. And yet, people will believe these non-scientists, just because it reinforces what they want to be true.

Another thing that drives me nuts is the cult-like thing around people who sell stuff via multi-level marketing companies. Because of math, we can very clearly deduce that MLM product sales mostly benefit the company that sells them, and a few people at the top. John Oliver does a nice job with the math. Yet, people who go all in insist that they have a "business" (no, you're a contractor at best), they have work freedom (no, you still have to do work), there's no limit to the earning potential (no, see the aforementioned math), they're changing the world (no, you're just selling product). The reality is something totally different.

Why do people completely block out the most obvious perceptions? If self-awareness is a cornerstone of success and happiness, is it really self-serving to chuck the reality out like this?


Gideon has cancer

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 25, 2018, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

Our middle cat, Gideon, has a big cancerous tumor on his right hind leg. His general lab work is all solid, and it doesn't seem to have spread anywhere else, but it's big enough that the vet wouldn't attempt an amputation. Next he'll see a specialist who mostly will try to determine if they can get enough tissue around the tumor while taking the leg to extend his life, but the potential for the cost to get extraordinary is high. It puts us in the crappy place we often have to be when it comes to our pets, having to decide when the right time is for them to go.

Gideon is the second of Diana's three cats. He's also the one with the most nicknames, many of them rooted in the fact he once weighed almost 20 pounds (Tubby Lovin', Big Sexy, Big Papa, Black Panther, Thunder Paws, Basement Cat... it goes on). While he was overweight, it's important to note that he's just a big cat to begin with. That's why his sad little squeaky meow is so funny. Giant cat, tiny voice.

He's also the one who would often be on high alert when there were strangers outside. He also seemed to know when Diana's neighbor was being murdered in her old neighborhood. Otherwise, he's always been a bit of a fraidy-cat. It took years before he would let me give him love. I'd pick him up and he'd kind of gloss over as if to be pretending he was somewhere else. Eventually he started to tolerate it and purr now and then. For Diana, he would climb up on her at night practically suffocating her, waking us both up with that motor of his.

I think we're trying to mentally prepare for the inevitable outcome, but it sucks. He's our gentle giant. Right now, he limps a little, and certainly isn't high energy. It's an aggressive form of cancer. It's hard to shift into that mode of thinking about what a great cat he's been and all of the adventures he had with us, because he's still here.


Casey has leukemia

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 24, 2018, 8:01 PM | comments: 0

This was unexpected, but one of my former volleyball kids, Casey, has leukemia. It sounds like the diagnosis came quickly and obviously it was unexpected. She's about to start several weeks of treatment. Casey is the daughter of one of my assistant coaches, and I also coached one of her sisters, so collectively, they're among my favorite people originally from the Cleveland area.

I believe they'll be starting a GoFundMe to help with incidental costs, but regardless, please keep the Biltz family in your thoughts. Casey was a great kid when I coached her, one of my favorite DS's, and her family has been nothing but awesome to me. She was a great kid and I'm sure a great adult.


Choosing a better life

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 22, 2018, 7:10 PM | comments: 0

We had the privilege of seeing Waitress last night, and I loved it. Pretty great music, amazing cast, really beautifully imagined scene design, and the story was a variation on one of my favorite themes, the coming of age story. In this case, it's the part where you realize that the only way to have a better life is to choose it. Sometimes you just need something to happen to you to make that realization, or there is some path to take to get there. Spoiler alert: I probably wouldn't suggest having an affair with your married gynecologist while pregnant as a first step, but you know, it just depends.

The story presents the hardest part about choosing a better life, in that it may not be totally obvious that you can make that choice. I can relate to that, because it took me a very long time to make the now obvious observation that I could move away from the place I had spent three decades in search of something else. My damage there was that I simply wasn't open to it. It's not even that I objected to the idea, I just wasn't looking for anything that might be different.

I'm completely sensitive to the socioeconomic barriers of economic advancement, but when it comes to better work and career, the one sure way to not advance in any way is to not try. I might be somewhat left leaning, but it's hard for me to empathize with anyone who is unwilling to pursue something better. We get that here locally, where people will work for Disney in a crappy, front-line, low-skill job for a decade and can't understand why that kind of work will never make them comfortable. And hey, I've been there... I worked in radio and retail right after college. I made it work by living with my then-girlfriend and living in a tiny apartment, looking for the work that would yield better outcomes (an entire career change, as it turned out). I had to choose to do that, because it wouldn't happen by accident.

This certainly happens with interpersonal relationships, too. No one enters them with the intent of failure, but if we're being honest, all relationships either end in a break-up or death. To me, that's reason enough not to see time as a reason to stay in a relationship that isn't good. That's probably harder than the job angle, and I'm a terrible person to judge. I guess I'm lucky because at least I could still be friends with ex's, but I wasn't usually the one to say or see that, "This isn't working for me."

There's no doubt that we often find ourselves in circumstances that suck. It's often not our fault, and it's not fair. But we can't move forward without choosing to. It's the first step to change, and sometimes we need someone or something to remind us of that.


The artist within

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 20, 2018, 10:16 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend, I gave a talk at Orlando Code Camp (fifth straight year... share your knowledge, developers!), and while talking about system design, I heard myself say something to the effect of, "It's part art, part science." I know I've said that countless times about writing code, and I really do mean it, but art is something you really feel. I really feel solid code and application design, but it certainly can't move me to tears the way actual art can.

In another life, I imagined myself an artist. As a friend of mine jokes, I still do, because I have a visible piercing. My college pursuits leaned entirely toward the creative, because I double-majored in radio/TV and journalism, with the latter emphasizing more editorial writing than anything. I even minored in theater for a year. All of my energy was poured into creative stuff, and that continued for four years after school. While the world of the Internet has certainly involved creativity, it's not at the same level.

There is something inside of me that has a strong desire to create something, or be a collaborator in something entirely creative. Every time I go see a show, and think about all of the artists and others that worked to make it happen. I watch the special features for a movie and I envy the people who are sad when they're done shooting. I see someone build a door and paint it, and I feel like even that's an interesting creative endeavor.

I need to figure out how to prioritize creative endeavors. That part of my life is going unfulfilled.


The challenge of being challenged

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 16, 2018, 11:04 PM | comments: 0

Tonight I met a friend and his wife for dinner after talking a bit at the speaker party for an event we're both speaking at tomorrow. I'm still struck by the fact that there are so many people I connect with at best once a year and we can talk for hours. In any case, they're going to be parents soon, and we talked about how that can change things. He's originally Canadian, so his take on American politics are interesting. We also swap stories about running software development shops. With all of these things, I'm struck by one thing that we kept coming back to: It's hard to willingly be challenged by others in a healthy way.

In charting our career growth, we acknowledge that a lot of it comes in the ability to raise others (which not surprisingly is why we speak at tech conferences). Where that becomes tricky is the desire to leverage the knowledge we have, but know when it's OK to be challenged. While this in part comes back to my general theme of leadership with humility, leaving yourself open to challenge is really, really hard. I'm sure it's even harder for people who have more Type-A tendencies.

If wisdom should bring you anything, it's the idea that you rarely have all of the answers. But no matter how hard we try, human beings still have pride, and it's a natural defense mechanism to create a blockade against things that may force you to reconsider your position on virtually anything. I mean, how else can you explain the extreme partisanship that people engage in?

As a manager, I struggle with this every day. Sometimes I do have the right answers, backed by experience. Other times, not so much, and it's not always easy to know which bucket I'm falling into. But it's also hard when you consider any political or social issue. And if that weren't bad enough, our culture now considers the ability to change your mind as a weakness.

I can't solve the cultural issue, but I can do right by the people I interact with and be the guy who listens and allows others to challenge what I think. It doesn't mean I will, or am obligated, to change my mind, but being inflexible and convinced that I have all the answers is a life-limiting endeavor.


Protesting is good, but ineffective without voting

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 10:48 PM | comments: 0

It was encouraging today to see the massive protests among teenagers across the country with regard to gun violence. Regardless of where you may fall politically on the issue, it's good to see engagement like this. It means the upcoming generation is getting involved in ways that, frankly, few recent generations have. Democracy is only as good as the involvement of its constituents, and for several decades now, we've been getting the government we deserve because of our apathy.

This wasn't just social media outrage, this was people getting out and expressing their frustration, demanding to be heard. The last few years have been like that in most demographics, and it's encouraging to see it in youth. However, if you were paying attention in November, 2016, you could also see why people were a bit disenchanted.

Say what you will about the suitability of the president or his former opponent, but there isn't any reliable polling data that suggests the federal government's legislative or executive action of the last year (what little there actually was) represents any kind of majority. How can that happen? Obviously, money and campaign finance pay a part in that, and US intelligence agencies believe there was significant Russian propaganda involved, but at the end of the day, I mostly believe that we are where we are because of voter apathy. I don't know how else you allow an immoral, racist, sexual assaulter gameshow host become president. It's absurd.

So these kids, they have the best of intentions, but as they turn 18, their intentions aren't meaningful if they don't vote. Civil engagement is the only way anything can change. It's odd, because people are reasonably willing to do this at the local level, when they want to see a new school get built or a traffic light installed, but insist that the feds do the right thing, and then walk away... it doesn't make sense.

I feel bad for my son's generation in that they've got a lot of shit to clean up. Despite the age of school-aged children, I'm impressed with their sense of urgency. I believe they can succeed where we failed, but only if they vote.


The world as novelty to Silicon Valley

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 8, 2018, 11:24 PM | comments: 0

I read with amusement New York Times piece about a tour of Silicon Valley folks traveling around the Midwest and finding it was cheaper and ripe with opportunity in terms of real estate and talent. It's amusing because everything about the Internet is rooted in the idea that there is no geography, and the barrier to entry is less expensive than ever. So why is there this whole system of venture capital and throwing money at founders who throw free snacks and dry cleaning at their people in the most expensive real estate market ever? (That was rhetorical, but the answer is because people are more interested in unicorn fortune making exit events than they are sustainable businesses.)

I finally got to visit the valley in November, when I went with part of my team to do a hackathon at Intuit headquarters. We drove around parts of Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View. It's a nice area. It reminds me of the Seattle suburbs and maybe the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. It's staggering though that you'll pay more than $1,800 per square foot for a house in Palo Alto. For reference, that's 15 times what you'll pay here in the burbs of Orlando, for a house that wasn't built 50 years ago. If you're a software developer, your salary will only be about 35% higher in the valley versus here, so draw whatever quality of life conclusions you want.

Still, there's this inefficient system of venture capitalists putting money into things that mostly fail, and mostly have no lasting impact on the world. It strikes me as wasteful. I've worked for two product-oriented startups, and one was funded by related businesses, the second is completely bootstrapped. More importantly, the second is a completely distributed company, so there's no real estate to fund and the talent can live quite literally anywhere. Do you want to pay 35% more for your engineers than you would elsewhere? Hire them in the valley. Heck, interns apparently get paid $80k there.

I've said it before, but the percentage of technology work that takes place in the valley versus the rest of the world is relatively small. Assuming for a minute that you really need top tier talent to do some kind of really hard work, why do they need to live there? I worked for a big "classic" technology company in Seattle, and that was about the ceiling for my tolerance in housing expense.

I admit, there's a certain vibe about places where a bunch of technologically inclined people live and work. I felt it in Redmond and even on the far east side where I lived. But from a purely economic standpoint, it's expensive with little gain if you're a company setting up shop. Of the almost-five years I've lived in Orange County, Florida, four of those years I worked remotely. The last year has been with a brilliant startup, with great people in five states, and before that a Tampa-based company that is overflowing with really excellent, smart people located all over the country. Both are growing, sustainable businesses. And hey, we even have beard-wearing, single-speed bike riding, IPA-drinking hipsters here!

Location is something you say three times when you're opening a retail business, but if it's a technology company, meh, it shouldn't matter.


What does successful business leadership look like?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 8:31 PM | comments: 0

I've had a couple of conversations recently about what it means to be a good leader in business. It's an important topic for me, because while I've flirted with entrepreneurship, ultimately I don't know if I could commit to it because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of being on the hook for other peoples' livelihood (read: their paychecks). So I'm kind of resigned to working for others, and I've made some pretty horrible choices during the wandering phase of my career. Over time I feel like I've collected a fair amount of data about what to look for. I should probably write a book about it at some point, from a software development angle, of course.

Maybe we need to define what it means to be a successful leader. The truth is, we all know about CEO's that failed and generally sucked, and there are a great many leaders in small to medium-sized business that keep getting paid for years even though they clearly aren't good at what they do. Success isn't really measured by the ability to get paid or stay in business. To me, it's measured by the quality of your product, your people, your longevity and your outcomes.

The first and most important quality among leaders is not unique to business leadership. In those roles as in life, you absolutely must be self-aware. If you can't approach everything with the humility of knowing what your weaknesses are, I don't think you can be truly successful. This is hard for me, maybe because of my undiagnosed ASD tendencies (other people just seem so wrong all of the time!), but that I can admit it might itself mean I'm self-aware.

I used to think that Type A personalities were better suited to business leadership than Type B, but I've met a number of people that have completely squished that theory. One CEO in particular that I've learned a lot from, without even working for him, is definitely more B. I do think Type A's are more driven to leadership, but I don't think they're better leaders for it.

Self-awareness plays a big role in knowing personal limitations, and how and when to collaborate. The best leaders have vision, set direction and hold people accountable, but they mostly delegate. They're leaders that guide, not direct. That admirable CEO replaced one that wanted to get hands on everything, and as the company grew, he became less effective in his micromanagement. Of course, he wasn't self-aware of this. Mid-level managers are the worst about this, because they can't timebox work, and expect everyone else to disregard time in the same way, making everyone miserable. Knowing where you stop and others start begins with hiring really smart people and letting them run with things that they're better at.

I think too much is made of the difference between leaders who are visionaries and those who are operators. Both types, think Steve Jobs vs. Tim Cook, can be successful if they lead with self-awareness around their limitations. I think Jobs was mischaracterized as being a control freak, but was he? His vision was extraordinary, but he needed a Cook to understand supply chain to make the vision happen. Conversely, Cook isn't the visionary, but Johnny Ive and his inner circle can be.

The one additional quality that I think defines success is to see what isn't there. That's probably the rarest of qualities. How do you know what's missing if you can't see it? Is there a market that you're missing, or a pivot you can make that will redirect you toward success? Humans are creatures of habit, so I give anyone a pass who can't do this. It's certainly one of my shortcomings, and you might have already guessed that I overcome it by giving others the opportunity to see what I can't.

If the various books I've read on leadership fail at anything, it's that they never talk about the self-awareness and humility. These qualities are often associated with a lack of confidence or weakness, and that's a load of crap. The thing that always gives me confidence, and confidence in those I work with, is the ability to challenge each other in a respectful way. I get it every day both with my boss and the people who report to me. I'm not saying ego is always a non-factor, but most of the time we reach conclusions that get us moving in the right direction.


Simon at 8: A year in photos

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 5, 2018, 8:55 PM | comments: 0

Being Simon's dad is not always easy, to say the least, but I see it as being one of the most important things that I'll ever do. It was a really challenging year, as we've had to navigate ADHD, the skin picking and challenges in school. On the flip side, we've seen some deeply emotional feelings from the kid, and some intense connections. And now he's 8!

We're starting to get to that point where I start to wonder when he won't want us to tuck him in at night. I remember puberty hitting me at 11, and that's only three years from now for him. He's a picky eater like I was, he wants to be in front of a computer like I did, and sometimes, it's clear to me that he isn't always struggling in school, he just doesn't care to do what he's supposed to. Fortunately, he's often charming, and he clearly gets that from Diana.

I don't know when Simon will realize that living around theme parks is not normal for most people. As part of the Legoland passes we had last year, we were also able to go on the Orlando Eye as often as we wanted to.

The picking problem got pretty bad this year, and it has taken a lot of months to try to get some healing going. Earlier in the year, it was mostly just him picking the pads of his fingers, and so we put gloves on him. Later came the arm and leg picking, which required a lot of long sleeves and pants, for months. We still don't quite have that beat.

We did three cruises again this year... but Simon only did two. Already in second grade, it's hard to pull him out of school for any length of time. This was our 12th cruise, a super chill 5-night with two stops at Castaway Cay, the best beach days you'll ever have. He wanted us to wear the matching Orlando United shirts, as we have on previous trips.

I'm not ashamed... one thing we do hard like tourists is Dolewhip. This wonderful substance makes any difficult day easier. If it's busy at Magic Kingdom, we'll get it at the Polynesian Village Resort. It's also available during some of the festivals at Epcot, and at Animal Kingdom.

My friend Mike is a bona fide roller coaster engineer, so when he offered to show Simon around the new ride at Fun Spot, of course we had to take him up on it. This was my junior ride operator's dream come true. It made his summer. The ride had not tested yet at that point, but he was able to flip the transfer track, which might has well have been like running the ride to him.

As I mentioned, we had Legoland passes last year, and they have pretty much the perfect water park for young children. Simon can do lazy rivers like a boss.

If you don't count a number of trips to see Blue Man Group, Simon had not been to Universal Orlando since he was 10 months old. A friend hooked us up with some comps, and we spontaneously took him on a lap of both parks. Finally, after 16 years, I got that credit on Pteranadon Flyers. Surprisingly, he got a lot of stuff too, in part because he didn't know what to expect. We had firsts together on Kong and Transformers, but he also did the Jurassic Park River Adventure, Forbidden Journey and The Mummy. Another year or two, and I suspect we might need to get passes there as well.

In the three days before Hurricane Irma, we might have had our best days at Walt Disney World ever. We were walking around Epcot with virtually no one there. Simon finally started riding Test Track earlier in the years, and he became a little obsessed with it. This night, the ride was down for light rain, but this amazing cast member, Kiersten, walked him into the ride and around the various queue and loading areas for a private tour. Her kindness and patience for his questions (which aren't always very clear) was fantastic. He was devastated when, a few months later, we learned she had transferred elsewhere. She really left an impression on him.

The hurricane prep didn't end there. The next day, we were at Magic Kingdom, where he got a front row ride with his friend Aiden on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, at what one would consider a "not busy" version of the park.

During the storm proper, which peaked around 3 a.m., we put the boy to bed in the closet, because the side of the storm that often carries tornadoes was going to roll through overnight, and really, it's already so damn noisy that I'm not convinced anyone would react quickly. For him it was just another adventure. I didn't sleep much.

Whatever inner coaster nerd is left in me, this will forever be the year that Simon finally started riding Space Mountain. We're no longer restricted to the weakest rides at Magic Kingdom, because with this, he has now done them all. The final WDW holdouts are Rock-n-Rollercoaster and Expedition Everest.

Lego is a part of our thing, and so are rockets, since we can see launches all of the time from home. In this case, we combine the two with a Lego Saturn V rocket. He can't understand why they used to throw away almost the entire rocket. He doesn't get that landed boosters are a recent thing.

This is a new favorite. During the longer show runs at Diana's work, she works more and Simon and I do more "boys' night" stuff. This was a Sunday night before a holiday, so we stayed out a little later at Magic Kingdom, then ended the night with Dolewhip at the Poly. It was a perfect night after a number in a row where his behavior was less than ideal. I like to hang on to those nicer moments.


I'm socially deprived

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 3, 2018, 12:01 AM | comments: 0

Fun fact: Over the years, I've taken many of the personality tests out there, and I've always straddled the line between introvert and extrovert. From what I've read, that's unusual, because people tend to fall firmly in one camp or another. So it's surprising then that I feel like I'm socially deprived right now. It's unfamiliar territory.

Lion King is in town right now, so that means that Diana is working a ton at our wonderful theater facility. This is awesome because I love where she works, she loves where she works, and with so many hours, she makes a serious contribution to the family income. But it's a little tough for me, just because I don't have my partner around as much in the evenings after work. I wouldn't have it any other way. In some ways I'm jealous of the awesomeness that is her environment.

After something like 15 years of friendship, my BFF lives only 2.5 miles away. In all kinds of weirdness, we have mirror images of the same house, we both have Tesla's in the family, we'll soon both have solar power. But since I don't work downtown, even voluntarily, and she's on the road more now for work, we don't really see each other that much. It's kind of a failing on both of our parts, but some of it is just the reality of our situations. It still blows.

I have a surprising number of friends from Cleveland-Sandusky-Detroit down here, but I'm not good at seeing them either. Sometimes I just don't feel right about bugging them. One friend just took on the role of president of Come Out With Pride Orlando, and I see his involvement, and think, fuck, what I am I even doing with my time?

Since we moved, we don't see our neighbors as much. I love our new house, but we had a pretty good thing going over there. Sure, line of sight, we're only one kilometer away from our previous address, but we don't spontaneously roll down to neighbors, where our kids hang out and play, we drink some wine, and enjoy good company. It's still possible, it just requires more planning. We have some pretty cool neighbors in the new place, but we don't really know them that well yet, so those relationships haven't totally developed yet.

Work, well, I have a rule. Historically, I've avoided even having anyone in my reporting line, up or down, as Facebook friends. I feel like it's important to have some kind of firewall in those cases, though in a small company, that means I'm excluding pretty much everyone. But that's frustrating, because I really like the people I work with. On the plus side, all of the people I worked with at my last job are fair game, but I don't keep in touch with them very well. That's totally on me. I endure some self-loathing in that respect, because I really liked those people, and I suck at keeping in touch.

Diana works with some amazing people that I really like, but while I see them often when we go to shows as guests, that's the extent to which I know them. Beyond that, many have been at our house when we've had parties.

One of my issues is that my personality is such that I don't have a lot of capacity for trivial relationships. I want to engage with people on a meaningful level. I want to know what makes them tick, and I secretly want them to care about what I'm about. I'm genuinely shocked when people take an interest in what I do, which is odd because I tend to ask people a lot of questions about their lives when I first meet them. To that end, when I meet someone new, I don't fucking care about the weather... who are you?

One of the obvious remedies to my deprivation is to have a party. We've been in the new place now for four months, and we haven't done that yet. I guess we need to get something on the books and make it happen. But I also need to expend more energy on maintaining all of those existing relationships that are spread around. We're all "busy and important," but it doesn't mean we can't make plans.


Professional celebration

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 1, 2018, 10:45 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that I do monthly is email everyone in our small company an update on the overall state of our development efforts. Sure, we're a software company, but outside of the actual developers, there isn't always a ton of deep understanding about what the technical endeavors are about or why we're doing what we do. I like to think a little over-communication is OK.

For the last year, we've been trying to finish up an effort to launch a fundamental change to the way the app works, which was technically challenging to an extent, but the extended time had a lot more to do with also maintaining the usual, daily business needs and unexpected things (not to mention hiring quality people). But a few weeks ago, we put our first customer on the v2 platform, and this week we put on two more. All of that effort is starting to pay off with its intended benefits, and we stay ahead of our growth curve.

It's a moment worth celebrating, though things have been moving so fast that I really haven't taken a breath to realize the achievement. I'm definitely feeling it though... I'm quite literally sleeping better than I had been. It's sinking in.

I'm really proud of the work we did. For me personally, the achievement isn't so much the technical outcome, but being patient enough to hire the right folks, managing expectations and doing my best to guide the process. I deflect most of the credit to the team, as they're the ones who executed on the vision. This is exactly what I left a fairly comfortable gig in a consulting company for: Responsibility for long-term product development. It's extraordinarily satisfying.

Being a remote company, our folks are scattered around, but we'll have most everyone in town early in the summer. We will absolutely celebrate then.


Photography and physics

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 26, 2018, 8:32 PM | comments: 0

Phone photography has come a long way in the last few years. The sensors have gotten to the point where a lot of the quality is now deferred to the software in terms of color preferences, noise reduction and lately depth of field. I'll freely admit that I'm surprised at how far things have come, relative to the ability of SLR cameras. I wouldn't do engagement photos with a phone, but the quality gap sure has shrunk a bit.

The latest high end phones are doing tricks with depth of field using distance data and an algorithm. Using two cameras (Apple) or different pixels in the same camera (Google), they figure out how far away stuff is and blur it as if it were being viewed through a lens with an open aperture. The Google way of doing this is more or less the same way that Canon calculates auto-focus in its cameras (and it works really well, apparently). I think it's a convincing effect (see below, as shot on my Pixel 2), and most of the time it feels like something I would shoot on an SLR. Probably 1 in 10 times, something about it feels fake, or it didn't get a good distance read and something isn't blurry when it should be. Even in my sample, look at the woman's foot in the lower left.

Getting great results with shallow depth of field usually works best with a long lens. That's why sports photography tends to isolate the moment so well, because the background is often indecipherable. The algorithmic depth of field on phones mostly works with portraits of humans. It doesn't make sense in most wide angle photos otherwise. Even my sample below may not make the most sense. So the question then, in my mind, is can we achieve the "long lens" capability on phones? My guess is that it's going to be awhile.

You could probably argue that a phone can have enough pixels to allow field cropping as a zoom. There have been phones with a 40+ mega pixel sensor already, and in practical terms, for online use and even in prints, anything over 20 is probably overkill. But phones have lenses as wide as a 28mm equivalent to a standard SLR camera, which is already pretty wide. Assuming you have 40 megapixels to start with, going to a 200mm zoom equivalent, which is merely an OK zoom, would leave you with less than 10 megapixels to work with. My Pixel 2 starts with 12, so cropping that would get you down to something like HD video, which looks great in motion, and terrible as a still. Plus there are likely to be issues with the measured distance with so little data.

I theorize that the only way you make this work on a phone is to have larger sensors with more dense pixels, which from a pure physics standpoint eventually gets in the way of the amount of light you can collect, or, you find some way to make an actual, optical zoom lens more compact. The latter sounds like a really hard problem to solve. I have one of the less expensive versions of a 70-200mm zoom, and it has 16 separate pieces of glass in it, and it can't do wide angle at all. More pixels sound possible, but I don't know what the constraints are on the dual pixel scheme are. My armchair technologist opinion is that it would be a tougher nut to crack.

Maybe it doesn't matter. The cameras in my last three phones (Pixel 2, Pixel and Nexus 5X) have been so good that I'm not compelled to bust out the SLR's, or even my Lumix with the exquisite 12-35mm micro-4/3 lens, very often. I use the SLR's when I'm doing something quasi-pro like shooting a charity race, fireworks, or any night time exposure, because you need the manual exposure, or maybe a birthday party. I took the Lumix with me to Alaska (glad that I did), but for every cruise since it's been phone only. Every year I take more photos with my phone than the year before.

I'm naive to think that clever people will never figure out the science of putting SLR capability into a tiny package. Fortunately, even with the technological leaps we've seen, there is still a difference between "taking pictures" and "photography." That's pretty uppity of me to say, but let's just say that YouTube hasn't made everyone a filmmaker either.