The blog home of Jeff Putz

Considering a video camera trade

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 1, 2021, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

About three months after I bought my Canon C200 video camera last summer, Canon released the C70. At the time, I rationalized that the trade-offs between the two models made it kind of a toss-up about which one was "better." With time and experience with the C200, and reading the observations of others and their experiences with the C70, I'm starting to feel like I should trade mine in.

If I'm going to do that, it might be urgent, for a few reasons. First, the C70 adopts the new RF lens mount, which is obviously the future when Canon is not likely to introduce new EF mount lenses. I imagine that they'll be available for a very long time, but their line of still cameras make it pretty clear where the future is. The C200 is also four years old, with no update, and if they do stop making it, I imagine its value will plummet. Even when I bought it, the price was a couple of grand less than when it was introduced.

The first thing that I rationalized was that because the C200 had raw recording, it didn't matter if the non-raw codec was recording 8-bit 4:2:0 (meaning it sees 16 million colors instead of a billion, and sub-samples the color resolution). As it turns out, raw isn't great because the file sizes are enormous, and an hour of video at 24 fps requires half a terrabyte of storage. I learned almost immediately how impractical that is. While you can transcode to a more manageable codec, that's another step and you still need to fit the original at least for a little while on your disks. Furthermore, the less color information seems to be the source of things getting ugly when I attempt to adjust for my sometimes poor exposure or color tweaking. This might be me and my weak skills, but I've seen color banding by the time I upload online, and a lot of softness around the edges of punchy colors.

The image quality is pretty great, provided I expose correctly. That's the case when I'm lighting a room, but I often get it wrong outdoors or daylight lit interiors (yeah, I'm talking cat videos). As others have described, the C200 is a little more forgiving if you over expose a stop or two, but not so much if you under expose. You get a lot of noise in the shadows, and I've seen plenty of that. Again, that's me not using the tool effectively, but many tests on the Internets show how much the C70 let's you get away with, well, inexperience. And yes, you can get away with it shooting raw, but as I said, that's often impractical.

There are some little things that add up, too. The C70 can do auto ISO, which I've learned from the R6 still camera (I need to do a review of that) is a surprisingly useful feature when you want to achieve a certain depth of field by way of aperture and sharpness by shutter speed. It's another creative option. It also runs longer on the same batteries, can do glorious 120 fps slow motion in 4K, all-I recording up to 30 fps, and the EF mount adapter is actually a speed booster, meaning you'll see nearly the entire frame of what your lens sees, focused on that super-35 sensor with more light and sharpness.

I'm trying to learn from buying into aging or unpopular technology, as I did with my old Panasonic AF100. The Micro Four-Thirds mount appears to have no future (glad I only bought two lenses for it). It feels like there's a shift happening.


Zen and the art of electric vehicle maintenance

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

The craziest thing about 1994 was that my understanding of auto maintenance went from zero to changing an entire engine in about a month, and not by choice.

I was a late bloomer, and didn't get my driver's license until the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, 1993. It was my college advisor that found this absurd, and since I had a lot of time that summer, he helped me get there. Then, toward the end of my junior year, I got my first commercial radio job, an hour away from home, so bumming rides for work was out of the question. My dad found me a beater of a 1987 Ford Escort, and with an unsecured loan of $1,200, the rusty mess became my first car.

I promptly drove it to Windsor, Ontario, for a beer run, ignored the oil warning light (because I just had an oil change), and the engine threw a rod on the Ohio Turnpike. It still ranks as one of the most stressful things I've ever endured.

I give Dad a lot of credit here, because he very matter-of-factly said I had to get a new engine and we would swap it out. I had a little money left over from the loan, so I was able to find an engine at a junk yard (an hour away, of course) for $125. The car was dropped by AAA in a K-Mart parking lot in Norwalk, and two days later, I strapped it to a rental trailer and towed it home with my parents' van. The car ran enough (spewing oil out of the hole in the side) to get it up on to the trailer, fortunately, because the only help I had was my mom.

Dad went over the basics of how a combustion engine worked, and how there were a bunch of plugs into with sensors that the computer used to optimize operation. Each one had a different kind of plug that went in one way, so we couldn't easily screw that up. So I rented a lift, and we wrestled the broken engine out of the car. Of course, because it was Ford, you needed a special wrench to get the belt pulley off or it wouldn't come out. I couldn't believe we got it out, because it was a tight fit. When we got the new engine in, I remember we took the head off, put in a new head gasket and cleaned up the valves and stuff. I don't recall how we got the timing belt right. At some point though, before all the plugs were reconnected, Dad left and encouraged me to put the rest back together.

So that's what I did. I got to the point of putting in the new air filter, and I was annoyed that I seemed to have misplaced the wing nut that secured the cover. I connected the battery, attempted to start it, and to my utter amazement, the car came to life. I tried to back it out, but the accelerator wouldn't go very far so it barely moved. I knew where the other end of the cable attached, near the intake, so I started looking around at how it worked. I pulled off the air filter and looked down into the intake, where I found the missing wing nut wedged into the valve. Had it found its way into the manifold, yikes, that would have been bad for the valves.

In the next week, I would endeavor to optimize some other things, including replacement front brakes, which I'll never do again because the car almost got away from me as the initial pressure was not adequate (fortunately I was in reverse and the hand brake worked). I leaked transmission fluid constantly, and eventually figured out the gasket on the pan had blown, so I replaced that. A year later, it was leaking gasoline pretty badly after a shop replaced the fuel pump (which died at 70 mph on the freeway, when we didn't have cell phones). The installation was fine, it was just the tank was so rusty that it was decaying. Lots of epoxy patched the leaks "enough." The car ran pretty well otherwise, getting almost 40 mpg most of the time. Finally, about 20 months in, it started leaking coolant from the heat exchanger behind the glove box, leaving a fragrant green puddle in the passenger foot well. That was it. I just started to work full-time at my second radio gig and did what every college grad does in their first job, and leased a Toyota Corolla for $223.25 a month.

With future cars, I changed my own oil when it was convenient until maybe 2006, but by that time, I felt like my time was worth more, I was too lazy to bring the used oil to recycling, and I kind of quit. In between, I recall replacing a radiator on Steph's Dodge Neon, and an a starter on a friend's car. I felt pretty good about all of that for a guy who was almost 20 when he got his license.

In 2014 we bought our first EV, and in 2015 our second, and we haven't had a gas car since. Maintenance has consisted of wiper replacement and adding wiper fluid, plus tire rotation now and then. There really isn't anything to maintain in electric cars. There are way fewer things to break. Oh, I had a 12V battery die in our Model 3 last summer, because Florida and non-use are still not good for those (it's ridiculous that any car is still using that ancient technology). Yesterday I rotated the tires on the 3, and after 22k miles and three year, the brakes are essentially like new because of the regenerative braking. The day before I replaced the cabin air filters and the wiper blades.

I was never a car guy. I bought a Toyota Camry when I booked my first contract gig for $52/hour, and only kept it two years in favor of my third Corolla, for better mileage and lower cost. After that, I had a couple of Prii, which are comfortable and practical, but not "car guy" cars. Then I was so enamored with the Tesla Model S that I was willing to spend four times as much on a car just to be part of this magical space car movement. That was cosmically stupid, but I don't regret it. The Model 3 was mercifully cheaper, and the Model Y was the same but better with more options and space. For six years now, we've had cars that have "full tanks" every morning and require no real maintenance. And they're among the safest cars in the world. They're getting cheaper, too.

Still not a car guy, but I've legitimately enjoyed driving the last few years as an activity that was more than just a practical thing.


All of the clean air conditioning

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 22, 2021, 11:49 PM | comments: 0

For probably a year and change, our Model 3 was smelling not-quite-right when you first got into it. It got worse with all of the non-use through much of last summer. I try not to think about how maybe it was from driving through sewage early last year (some dude had an RV spilling his sewer load and I couldn't do anything to avoid driving over it). Then I happened to be reading through the owner's manual to the new Model Y... yes, I actually read it this time and learned all kinds of stuff... and one of the few things it mentions for scheduled maintenance is replacing the cabin air filter every two years. We're almost three years in, so...

There are a ton of videos about how to do it, and it's kind of a pain in the ass because you have to remove two panels and reach a screw in an inconvenient place, but I wouldn't characterize it as hard. All of the videos seem to recommend the same HEPA filters, and they all suggest using a can of foamy cleaner on the coils too, since you're already up in there. I'm happy to report that the improvement was dramatic and immediate, to the point that the interior of the car has no smell at all anymore. The old filters were in pretty bad shape.

This got me to thinking, gosh, every time that we've oscillated between AC and heat in our house this winter, the AC smells funny from the upstairs unit. I'm not saying it has irritated my allergies, which have been terrible, but I'm all for ruling out potential causes. I assumed that conceptually there probably wasn't any real difference in how you clean the coils in a home unit, so I ordered a couple more cans and cleaned those too. We ran the heat for an hour or so this weekend, and there was no stink when I switched to the AC.

And this is all cool (see what I did there?) because it's a bunch of simple tasks that I'm sure would cost hundreds of dollars to have someone else do it, so go me. Hopefully we'll be breathing easier.


Boredom too far

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 21, 2021, 10:23 PM | comments: 0

I was amused by an article about boredom in the New York Times, because I've had an interesting relationship with it in the last year. If it weren't for boredom, I may not have created as much stuff as I have, and this seems like a recurring theme for a lot of folks that need to channel energy into something.

But boredom also can serve a useful function. I've always treasured the opportunity to be a little bored now and then, because it gives me time to be present and ponder life. I know some people desperately avoid this, filling up their lives with constant activity because being contemplative might make them uncomfortable. Not me. To sit by myself, and really see leaves blowing in the wind, hearing birds sing or some such shit... those are happy times for me.

There's certainly too much of a good thing in this case, because the things we did a year ago, you know, gather with other humans and do human stuff, we can't do in quite the same way, for now. I mean, even the basic tasks we did, not for social reasons, but practical reasons, like shopping, involve masks and plastic barriers and all kinds of weird shit. We keep seeing evidence that the pandemic is unnecessarily persistent because we're bored with all of this, all the while people are stockpiling money if they can work, and doing stuff that pushes the boundary of what they would ordinarily consider "meaningful." Even when mundane things don't work out, it hurts.

My anecdote about that came today. I've been concerned for some time that one of our cars smells funny because of the air conditioning. So I learned all about how you should change the cabin air filters, and it's a pain in the ass, but what a difference, and here are a dozen videos that show you how to do it. So I ordered the new filters and the foam to clean the coils, and they were supposed to arrive today. I was so excited about doing this when I ordered the stuff in the middle of the night two days ago. Well, the foam shipment apparently got lost or something, and I felt like my whole day was ruined because of it. That's what too much boredom does to you.

Don't get me wrong, work is super exciting. Unusually so, even. But the excitement is still part of a consistent routine, especially when you work in software and organize your work in two week blocks and have a rhythm of ceremonies and meetings. It's imperative in your off-time to break up the rhythm with a different kind of excitement. Like replacing the cabin air filters in your car.

Well, I'll have to be satisfied with a fairly thorough deep cleaning of the interior until that can of foam shows up. Then the car will smell fresh and clean and we can drive to... school. And maybe Chipotle if I'm feeling frisky.


Electric vehicle, third generation: Model Y

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 16, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe, but today we brought home our third generation of electric vehicles, a Tesla Model Y. We were planning to go this route in August, when the lease expired on the Nissan Leaf and the other car was paid off, but since the Leaf was totaled in an accident (Diana was fortunately OK), we had to move up the schedule a bit.

The Y is the cross-over/SUV-ish version of the 3, which is to say it's taller and opens wide in the back to carry stuff. It's only a couple of inches taller, wider and longer, but next to our 3, it looks enormous. Tesla doesn't really have model years, because the cars are constantly changing. In our case, your drivetrain options were regular and performance, both with all-wheel drive. Shortly after we ordered, they started selling a "standard range" model with 80 fewer miles, rear-wheel drive only, for about $9 less. I really wanted the AWD, because it's super fun to drive, and doesn't slide out hardly at all when you corner like a moron. We also got the red exterior, white interior and a tow hitch as upgrades. We may explore a camper rental. All things considered, it was the same price as our 3 was three years ago, but now you get the dual-motor (AWD) configuration and basic autopilot included in a bigger car.

There are some nice changes here and there compared to our 3, but also some things that they cheaped out on. Because of hatch trunk, there are no cross-members across the rest of the roof. It's just one big piece of glass, which is one of the reasons it feels so big in the back seat. The trunk is powered, which should be standard in any non-economy car. As I said, they include the basic autopilot now, which means it will steer itself in stop-and-go traffic, but that doesn't include lane changing and summon the way it did back when we had a Model S. They're using slightly nicer wheels as standard as well. The side windows are now double-pane, apparently to reduce noise. The center console phone cradles now do wireless charging, but we missed out on the refreshed, nicer center console by about two weeks. It was already in the current 3, and the Chinese Y, but just started to hit the US Y's. The biggest change is that it's not the "piano black" substance that looks terrible because it attracts dust and finger prints.

Mostly you get more for your money now, specifically out of the drive train and battery, so that's all good. However, they have become a little cheap in other areas. They don't include a NEMA 14-50 plug with the charger anymore, which is what you need at home to charge at 7.8 kW (with the proper service and plug, obviously), or ~31 miles per hour. They also don't include the Homelink module for free, which will typically open your garage doors (or gates, if you live in that kind of neighborhood) when you get close to them, automatically. That's a $300 upgrade you have to buy after delivery, which includes the cost of a mobile service appointment. The cost of connectivity isn't baked into the car forever either. First year is free, but if you want the streaming audio (Slacker and TuneIn), streaming video (Netflix, YouTube, Hulu access), traffic and web access after that, it's ten bucks a month. Also, and this one is super weird... this car has a $2,000 upgrade available that boosts your 0-60 time from 4.8 to 4.2 seconds. Self-driving, if it ever becomes widely available, is still an extra $10k, which may be worth it if it's truly autonomous and you can start autonomously letting the car Uber people around.

The fit and finish of the car is vastly better than the 3 was three years ago. It doesn't look bad, but if I look critically at the "old" car, I can see varying gaps in the body panels, and the trunk sometimes doesn't stick closed. The only misaligned thing I can find on the Y is one side of the trunk joint, which is not quite flush with the rest of the body. The rest of it is tip-top, with no weird seals not set right or carpet not tucked in right or the other kinds of things you used to find on some cars. The back half of the frame is a single cast piece, down from 70 pieces in the 3, which likely contributes to the precision. The paint is perfect, though I had no problems on our 3, despite some widespread complaints.

I've only driven it 35 miles so far, but it's mostly what I expect it to be, which is to say it feels a lot like the 3, only "tighter" because of the AWD. I drove it home specifically for a couple of turns I know I could take hard in our Model S (which was also AWD), and you just point the wheels where you wanna go, and that's where it goes. Launches from red lights are as giggle-inducing as ever.

Our first go around with EV's was a 2014 Nissan Leaf, more or less its first generation, and we stretched that lease to 4 years. The Model S came in 2015, which was obnoxiously expensive, but the only choice for long-distance road tripping at the time. In 2018, we sold the S for the Model 3, starting our second generation of EV's. Later that year, Nissan stopped letting us renew the Leaf lease, so we swapped it for another Leaf, the better, second generation with range of about 170 miles. It was another perfect commuter car, and it did a good job of protecting Diana in the accident. This Model Y feels like our third generation, and in terms of capability against price, it definitely is. We've come a long way since that first Leaf. That the standard range Model 3 now starts at $38k is closer to being mass-market, but until you can buy a long-range EV for $20k, we're not quite there yet.

Haven't had to visit a gas station (rentals aside) since 2015, and that's amazing. With solar, some of our "gas" comes from the sky. My hope is that we can avoid buying anymore cars for at least five years, which will be interesting because that would be eight on the Model 3. Other than replacing tires and adding washer fluid, I don't see why we can't get there.


These allergies though

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 15, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

I pretty vividly remember the first time I had serious allergies, in grade six. I was wheezing, sneezing and my eyes itched like crazy. My dad told me, "That's hay fever," and I asked when I would be over it, equating it to a regular fever. "Never," he said.

Obviously I learned more about allergies and the cause, and I remember my doctor indicating that a cold wet towel was ideal for helping with the itchy eyes (probably in part because it kept you from touching them). It became a ritual mostly contained to a couple of weeks in the spring, and if it was warm enough, I could keep it under control just by turning up the air conditioning. When I moved to Seattle, I had almost no allergies at all. Diana, who has far more severe allergies, even had some relief. I had a day here and there, but mostly, I knew life without allergies.

Florida moved the problem earlier in the year, as it seems to be certain kinds of tree pollen, and it comes early. Most year, again, it's fairly mild and I can roll with it. This year, it's really bad. Our car was coated in a film of pollen, which wouldn't be so odd if we didn't park it in the garage. The pollen levels have been high for almost a month straight, with the only reprieve being the five days we spent in a VRBO in Melbourne, on the coast. Medications usually work to an extent, but they haven't been that effective this time. Worse, even those that aren't supposed to make you drowsy make me drowsy. So I have to choose between having a head full of snot and sinus headaches to being in a fog. I usually defer to late afternoon, so after work I just sit around like a slug. The mind and spirit are willing to make things and engage with the world, but the body says, nah, I'll pass.

There has been a surprising side effect though. There's an increasing body of research that suggests that histamines are a producer and result of irritable bowel syndrome, likely tied to some kinds of foods, and taking an anti-histamine can actually ease the symptoms. I've had IBS for most of my adult life, but managing stress and diet has generally allowed me to control it. I know from experience that fried food is likely one of the big contributors, for whatever reason, but I've long theorized that spicy food is also a big driver. Regardless, because of the allergies, I've been consistently taking anti-histamines, and I've been symptom free for a month. It could be coincidence, but maybe it's not.

Hopefully we turn a corner on the pollen soon. Only three months until swamp-ass season!


Free speech is not without consequence

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 10, 2021, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

Beyond the obvious misunderstanding of how free speech works on the Internet, there's a building voice of grievance that some people are being simply persecuted for their opinions and what they say. "It's cancel culture!" they say. While there is certainly a problematic thing happening where people try to out-woke each other on the Internet, there has to be some understanding that just because you can say something doesn't mean that you should.

As I described in the piece about speech on the Internet, free speech conceptually is centered around the prohibition of government preventing free speech, as described in the First Amendment. It doesn't say that there isn't consequence for expression. We have laws that hold you accountable if you literally shout fire in a theater that isn't on fire, and you can be held liable in a civil case for damaging things you say about someone that are untrue. This is true in your job as well, where you can't insult your boss or sexually harass your coworkers.

The fact is, even my 10-year-old with autism, who often struggles to adhere to social contracts, understands that there are consequences for swearing, for example. Everyone gets this.

That's why this emerging narrative that an aggrieved "conservative" bloc of voices is being silenced is a little ridiculous. Let's not confuse being "cancelled" or marginalized with a response to saying vile and heinous things. If you are attributing wildfires to "Jewish space lasers" or encouraging insurrection, the response to that isn't political or divisive... you said some nasty shit and there are consequences for that. This is the same social contract we have in our daily lives, as described above. It's not about silencing or disenfranchising anyone.

You can't have it both ways, suggesting that the free press is the "enemy of the people" for its reporting, and then turn around and say things that are actually destructive and play victim for the response.


Figuring out the screen time problem

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 8, 2021, 10:47 AM | comments: 0

While the mid-80's were definitely a different time, I can't even put into words the feelings I had when I had the opportunity to use a computer. In sixth grade, Benjamin Franklin Elementary school had a TRS-80 on an AV cart, which is to say the computer sat on the shelf while the TV was on top of it. If you were sitting in a chair in front of it, you had to crane your neck up to see what you were doing. But pecking in stuff like this blew my mind:

10 CLS
20 PRINT "WHAT'S YOU NAME?"
30 INPUT N$
40 PRINT "HELLO ";N$

That was magical. In grade seven, in middle school, I was able to get an extra period here and there in the computer lab, where we had a room full of IBM PC Jr.'s, and it was never enough time. The teacher suggested he would look into me getting one as a loaner for the summer, but it never happened. I would stare at the ads in computer magazines for hours wishing that I had one. Finally, the next year, my dad gave me an 8-bit Atari computer (with a cassette tape drive!) that he received for going to a time share presentation or something. Shortly thereafter I wrote my first program, a text-based Wheel of Fortune game.

Grownups mostly seemed to treat my strong desire to create things with computers as an inconvenience, and I'm still resentful about that. Now I'm a parent, and my son is in many ways like me. He can't get enough time. For awhile I was concerned about this because Simon was largely passive, playing games and sims by downloading things, but he has pivoted to use much of his time creating things. Games like Planet Coaster, Parkitect and Minecraft are inherently creative endeavors. So while he's not writing programs, he is being creative, and I think there's enormous value in that.

But the problem is that he spends too much time behind the screen, to the extent that it results in poor behavior when it's time to disengage. It does look like addict behavior, when he gets angry because he can't get just one more hit. It was becoming particularly problematic in the evenings before bed. There was always one more thing that he wanted to do, and it didn't take long before the shouting began.

We were not well aligned about the solution to this. Some of his challenge is that he struggles to transition between things, a very typical thing for ASD kids, so you try to mitigate that with timers and schedules and such. Diana wanted him to have some visual cues indicating his time was up. I wanted to take the blunt force approach, by making the Internet router simply turn off access for him at a certain time. I want him to be accountable and learn responsibility and not have guard rails for everything. Unsurprisingly, his therapist suggested we do both, and give him the warnings (we're telling him to set a timer) in the short term, and eventually let him own it without warnings.

Three nights in, this is working pretty well. He can't argue with the machine cutting off access, because the machine doesn't care. The positive is that he's owning it, with relatively little discomfort. The negative is that it feels crappy that when it's his human parents directing him, he resists and is often disrespectful about it. But whatever, it's not delaying bedtime activities, so it's a win.

I still want to make sure that he gets to exercise his creativity, because I see it's important to him, and I know what that feels like. I understand the intensity of his feelings. But I also want him to do other things, and I think we've got a path there now.


Aging camera gear to sell

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 7, 2021, 11:40 PM | comments: 0

I've been thinking lately that I should try to unload some of my old camera gear. When I was thinking about Canon's change to the new lens mount, I was thinking that maybe I should let some of the older things go. I'm just not sure if what I have is really worth anything anymore.

My original Canon 5D (no mark) body is, uh, a "classic" for sure. I've taken thousands of photos with that thing, and it's almost 13-years-old. I see it for an asking price of $300, but I know I wouldn't pay that much for it. My old 7D body, which at least shoots video, looks like it goes for $200, typically, and that one I've had for a little more than 11 years. I've got extra batteries and stuff for them too.

The old video camera, a Panasonic AF100, has really depreciated. That makes me sad, because I captured some really nice memories with that. I bought that one in 2012. I've seen that go for about $250, but the lens I have routinely goes for $500. It's probably one of the best micro-4/3 lenses ever made, a 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom with OIS. I also have a speed booster EF to micro-4/3 adapter which not only let me use my Canon lenses on it, but it also added a stop. It effectively made my 24-105mm f/4L open up to f/2.8, which is why I could squeeze pretty decent low light out of that camera. I've got a 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens for that too, which made for some interesting results. That thing was $350 at the time and I barely used it.

Hopefully I can find a good home for some of this stuff. It's all in pretty good condition, and you can still make art with it.


The long exhale

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 7, 2021, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

I wrote recently about "feeling it," with "it" being the weight of the world. Along with those feelings, I feel as if I've been in the process of a very long exhale for weeks now. It's hard to describe.

After the chaos of the last year, it feels as though we're in a transition of sorts, toward something "better." There's a new administration in the White House, but obviously that doesn't mean a lot after two weeks beyond the fact that insane things are no longer dominating the news. White nationalists are still out there, racial injustice still exists, the pandemic still limits everything, the planet is still warming, but there are reasons to believe that these are can improve. On the home front, work has been awesome, I feel like we're getting somewhere with Simon's therapy, Diana is making sense of his future education like a boss, we're in the process of replacing the wrecked car.

Slowly, I'm feeling engaged again, as that week away felt like a transition. But it's really slow going. I get done from work, and in the evening I just kind of switch off. Same thing on the weekends. I'm finding little bits of inspiration, trying to engage more with Simon, look after Diana more (she had a rough migraine week). I posted another video, and I've got ideas for more. I'm feeling a little more like myself.

Isn't that a weird thing to consider? Not feeling like yourself? That's a pretty normal thing to experience already when you cross 40, but throw in everything else, especially a pandemic that largely limits your exploration of the world, and it's worse. Sometimes it's the little things, like wanting to not be on high alert when Diana drives somewhere (following the accident). Other times it's the big things, like wondering if you're impacting the world in a net-positive way.

I'm mildly amused that I just used a breathing metaphor during a pandemic.


Podcasting sure did get cool

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 1, 2021, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

It's amusing that celebrities all seem to have podcasts now. Diana has been listening to Smartless by Bateman/Arnett/Hayes (she found it particularly hilarious when they did an ad for Manscaped). I've been listening on and off to Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert, and sometimes Alec Baldwin's Here's The Thing. My old standby, of course is Leo Laporte's This Week In Tech, one of the oldest podcasts.

I first saw Leo on the old TechTV cable network, which back in its day was a wonderful niche network for nerds. It was unapologetically geeky, about computers and gadgets and video games and stuff. Comcast bought it in 2004, mostly for the distribution, to merge it with G4. They messed with Leo's contract, and he walked away, relying on his syndicated radio show and appearances on Regis. It was around that time that podcasting was "invented," which is to say someone augmented the RSS schema to include an "enclosure" payload. It had nothing to do with iPods, it was just a name (Apple didn't adopt the feed format for at least a year or two). Leo basically reinvented TechTV as a series of audio shows, and he eventually added video, creating an entire network of his own.

It was simple enough: If you could wire up a microphone to your computer and figure out Skype, you could record a show with your friends no matter where they were. There was free software to edit the audio, and you just needed a place to host the files. That's what made Leo's story so awesome, that he could leverage an existing audience without taking on investors or a working with a "media company."

Being an ex-radio guy, of course I thought that would be fun to do. In 2005, CoasterBuzz was only five-years-old, I was heading toward divorce and looking for things to do. I bought a little Mackie mixer (which is on my desk again, for the radio show I did last year), a phone patch, and was able to do a proper mix-minus to connect people via Skype or phone, so we could have guests. I could have faked some of this with limitation in software, but for a couple hundred bucks, it gave me a lot of flexibility. The CoasterBuzz Podcast debuted September 25, 2005.

Parenthood, changing priorities, and honestly just feeling like there wasn't much to say about the amusement industry news that hadn't been said, we were only doing about one show a month by 2011. After 211 shows, we kind of stopped late that year. We did one more a year later, then a reunion of sorts last year, because Covid. We had a fairly consistent audience, seeing around 10k downloads a week, which I guess was pretty solid at the time. We received a lot of feedback about not doing it anymore, but again, I think we all just felt like it had run its course.

And now, almost a decade later, everyone has a podcast. This Week In Tech has had over 800 shows. Big media companies are trying to work them into their mix of properties. Our car can literally suck a podcast out of the air from anywhere and play it just by searching for it. There was a bizarre article on The Verge about how jobs for podcast production required Pro Tools experience (which is wholly absurd that anyone would use for such a simple thing). It's all surprising because podcasting was another one of those democratizing things that anyone can do, and now it's literally a big production. I feel like I've earned some hipster cred or something that we did a podcast, and stopped doing it, before it was cool.


If you're feeling it, I see you

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 28, 2021, 11:47 PM | comments: 0

Last week's beach retreat was awesome, even though I didn't get in the ocean much beyond my ankles. It reminded us about how hard remote school is for Simon, but otherwise, it was a fantastic change of scenery. We should have done it sooner. What has surprised me since is that the feeling of depressurization, release and relief seems short-lived.

I felt the same way after taking the holidays off, and that was only a few weeks earlier. Within a week, I felt like I was often moments away from losing my shit. I was impatient with Simon, short with Diana and generally agitated by unimportant things. Why? It's definitely not work, where I feel like I'm doing some of my best work, and challenges are exciting instead of being struggles. Heck, during the work day, I'm mostly in the zone. But it's like, when the day is almost over, or it's the weekend, I'm kind of left with my thoughts, and there's anxiety and non-specific fear.

Obviously, a lot of it is just missing out on the unrestricted movement in the world, and the close social contact that it involves. I'm not even talking about close friends... I'm even talking about interacting with the server with the blue hair at Bento or actually talking to a neighbor and seeing their newborn-ish child up close. Live music and theater, observed with a crowd. And yeah, meeting up with friends from out-of-town at a Disney resort.

But it's also the uncertainty of when we'll get all that back. It feels so close with vaccinations rolling out, but the feds and the state have done a pretty shitty job of distribution so far, neglecting to use the last ten months to actually form a plan. And with the spread completely out of control, the virus is likely to mutate more quickly, giving rise to potentially more dangerous variations, possibly even those that are resistant to vaccines. That certainly doesn't inspire optimism.

Parenting feels like a constant struggle. He's headed for "the change," and he's already socially awkward, and he can't have the unrestricted social interaction at school that he desperately needs (some of the neighborhood kids are dicks toward him, so that doesn't help either). At home, he just wants to be seen and share the things that he's interested in with us, and I feel like the worst parent when I just can't give him that because I just want to hibernate. It feels so terrible because no one gave a shit about anything I cared about growing up, and I'm falling into the same pattern with him. He's so lonely. That's heartbreaking.

There's also the feeling like we need to be preparing at all times for the worst financially, like you could lose your job, go broke trying to pay for healthcare, that sort of thing. Having a good job isn't enough, it turns out, to free you of financial stress, especially when you have the damage of being intermittently employed during the great recession and the post 9/11 time period.

Oh, and there's also things like your wife barely avoiding being hurt in a car accident that totaled the car, various health crises in the family, self-loathing from slug-like movement behavior, fascists in government and the domestic terrorists they align with, etc.

So if you're mentally exhausted all of the time, I see you. I may not have the same circumstances, but I get it. We're all trying to keep our shit together, if not for ourselves, for the people we care about. It's exhausting.


Social media companies and user accountability

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 28, 2021, 8:00 PM | comments: 0

The great social media banhammer against Donald Trump was understandably met with concern, because it raises all kinds of questions about the power of these companies relative to public discourse. (And for the record, I'm not talking about aggrieved Fox News commentators who are worried about their follower counts, because, you know, there are actual newsworthy things happening in the world.) I wrote previously about how free speech works on the Internet, and the executive summary is that anyone can put something on the Internet, but the platforms you use are owned by private companies and you have to play by their rules. Remember: The First Amendment is about government restricting your speech, and that has nothing to do with what a business that facilitates Internet discussion does.

Online services have since the start had terms of service that they expected users to live by. Back in the day when the Internet was more of a curiosity than an essential tool, the stakes for these terms were higher. If someone posted something on your service that caused harm to others, you could be held liable for that. That's what Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act addressed, shielding the service operators from getting sued for something someone else posted. The reason that's important is that, without that provision in the law, the surface exposure for liability was too high to operate. I can tell you for sure that it was discussed a great deal when small publishers like me were trying to figure out if we needed some kind of general liability insurance. Still, it doesn't mean that you can knowingly host harmful or illegal things without consequence. You can't be a haven for child porn or copyrighted material, for example.

It's puzzling that Trump wanted that section of the law repealed, because it has nothing to do with the alleged bias against "conservative" voices. Section 230 is the reason he had a voice at all on Twitter for as long as he did, because Twitter couldn't be held responsible if, for example, the president incited insurrection. But then, he clearly hasn't read the Constitution, so a specific law like this didn't have a chance of being read. And again, the courts have said repeatedly that the First Amendment is not applied to a service not run by government, and, in fact, forcing any kind of neutrality in moderation of these services using the law would be unconstitutional.

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have always had rules against hate speech, illegal activity, threatening others, etc. These companies have banned users for far less severe reasons than anything Trump has posted, but they decided it was in the public interest to not enforce those rules for national leaders. Think about the message this sends, and how paradoxically it aligns with the actions and words of aggrieved Trump allies: It says that Trump isn't subject to the same rules as everyone else.

Ultimately, the world of social interaction on the Internet, the people running these companies, decided that it was better to not hold users, all users, including Trump, to the same accountability standards, largely in fear of being perceived as unfair arbiters of truth and free expression. So concerned were these business leaders about that perception that it took insurrection of the US government to get them to act. And what I find so crazy about this is that, since the ban, even Twitter seems to be less of a shitshow than it usually is. (YouTube comments are still, unsurprisingly, a dumpster fire for other reasons.) If "big tech" wants to be "neutral," it has to start with applying the same standards to all people, and frankly if online communities won't hold each other to high moral standards for truth and honesty, I don't care if the Twitter steps in. It's their company, to do as they see fit, and if conservatives are all about "letting the market decide," then Twitter is free to do as it wishes. If the market disagrees, cool, it can move on or someone can build something else. But as we saw with Parler, it's not that simple. You might be shielded from civil suits if you allow posts threatening violence to live on your system, but the people who own the pipes may not be so willing to do so, not out of political bias, but out of a desire to not be associated with that as it would be bad for the rest of their business.

For the record, I think that the Google-Facebook advertising duopoly is bad for consumers and the world. I've stated that countless times. But if you want me to get onboard to agree that they're complicit of bias or something else, no, that's not going to happen. They're definitely at fault for something, but it's mostly for not holding elected people to the same accountability that all of their users are.


Retail therapy at scale

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 25, 2021, 7:22 PM | comments: 0

Like a lot of people, assuming they're not enduring financial hardship, I've had a lot of strong urges to buy something to compensate for the half-functional pandemic world. It's an urge that I haven't had in any meaningful way in a very long time. In my 20's I wasted so much money on stupid shit that I didn't need that had no long-term value (and I didn't save or pay into a retirement account, which causes a fair amount of anxiety now). When I got to the point of rebooting life, post-divorce, I mostly spent money on doing stuff.

The experiences-not-stuff philosophy really took hold when I invited my girlfriend at the time, in 2006, on a trip to Las Vegas. We had not been dating for very long really, and despite being naive about early stage relationships, it seemed like a really good idea. As it turns out, we dated for a long time, and I think the success of that trip was honestly predictive of the length of our relationship. The memories of that trip are enduring and amazing, and since that time I've focused (successfully) on having experiences like that.

Having experiences typically involves other people and travel, and obviously in the pandemic there are limitations to that. The routine stuff that we would do is definitely off the table, like cruises and theme parks (Disney isn't even selling passes at this point). The revolving door of friends and families who crash at our house can't do that. No big parties. The bigger things, like big travel and bona fide tourism to places we haven't been are indefinitely on hold.

I remember the hits of dopamine from buying stuff, and getting it home and unwrapping it. Buying CD's was the most economical, certainly. I'd roll in to a Best Buy and talk out with two or three discs, without really knowing if the music on them was any good. The endless string of computer parts were like that too... a little more RAM, another hard drive, or a really special moment, a new video card. Less frequently, there were big ticket things, like a new laptop or a video camera. Of course, the dopamine was erased when my credit card bills came, because I didn't buy any of that stuff on cash. I had significant revolving debt until I was 39, though it was generally manageable by the time I was 33. I didn't make good choices.

These days, retail therapy doesn't even make sense. Even pre-Covid, I didn't really buy stuff in stores that often, unless there was a special or sale or something (last one was this laptop, three years ago). Things like music and movies don't even exist in physical packaging now. I went on a Lego buying binge this year, but all of the sets involved waiting for stock and then shipping time.

Only the really major purchases deliver "the feeling" now, and those are infrequent. Buying a new camera last summer definitely sparked joy, but the pace for buying those is every eight years. There aren't really things that I want the way that I did back in the day. Except maybe a pinball machine, but that seems so superficial. Maybe I don't know how to have fun anymore.

Well, sooner or later, we have to buy another car since Diana's was totaled, but those purchases, even when it was the electric space cars, usually start with purchase regret, not dopamine.


Transitions and contrast from inauguration day

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 25, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

Joe Biden took the oath of office as the 46th president of the United States under extraordinary circumstances unlike anything we've seen in my lifetime. I can't say that I was particularly excited about his nomination, but his choice for VP in Kamala Harris felt like it balanced out having another ancient white guy in the Oval Office. More to the point though, Biden may be snooze-inducing, but he's a functional adult who has devoted his entire professional life to the service of his country. I might give the old man static about his age, but I do respect people who devote their lives to public service, regardless of their political orientation. This is an unfortunately stark contrast to the outgoing president whose intent was about power, and retaining it even when it wasn't earned. We'll get to the score card in a bit.

Frustrated with the daily nonsense that Trump induced, I started to wonder what I would do if I were president. Between Bush's and Obama's books, I don't think I could survive the campaign process, but as the top manager of the federal government, you have a luxury you almost never have in business: You get to pick your team and drive toward outcomes that have nothing to do with profit. Governing is not like a business at all, but all of the management wisdom that I've gained over the years would most certainly apply to the job of president. My m.o. has always centered around the humility of understanding that I do not have all the answers, and that you must surround yourself with people who fill in all of your blind spots. The more complex and large your organization is, the more you must delegate, trust and enable others to follow through to your desired outcomes.

Biden started to build out a team of experts the moment it was clear that he won the election. The appointees have almost universally been experts in their fields, including a lot of people who have experience governing. Experts and experience are inherently valuable to reach desired outcomes, and there are not shortcuts to this. Contrast this to the Trump administration, which was a revolving door of cabinet members, many of whom had no experience in the relevant departments that they led. Close advisors were family members and associates with no experience in anything relevant. Furthermore, 7 advisors or staff were indicted or convicted from Trump's inner circle, and 34 indictments came out of the Mueller Report, which investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump drained the swamp and filled it with criminals and sycophants that pledged loyalty.

Biden's inauguration speech was predictably about unity and addressing the crises of the pandemic, racial injustice, the economy and climate change. He was not antagonistic toward political adversaries, only hopeful about meeting these challenges. Notably absent, he didn't list grievances or blame scapegoats, let alone declare that we've all been the victims of "carnage," as Trump did in his inaugural speech. Words matter.

The inauguration ceremony itself was weird. Covid alone would have made it weird enough, but then add in the fact that DC was essentially an occupied city, with 25,000 military troops from various agencies and services. It happened just two weeks after a bunch of delusional people followed the previous president's directive to challenge the election, with no evidence of it being fraudulent. It's the kind of thing that you're used to seeing in other countries, where dictators ascend to power by fascist means, discrediting elections, the free press and anything that causes them to appear weak. And of course, Trump was one of a handful of presidents ever to skip out on the swearing in of his predecessor, which I feel is petty and pathetic.

There was good weirdness that first evening though, when a perfectly capable press secretary answered questions as honestly as possible, wasn't really stumped by anything, and was willing to get back to reporters on things she couldn't answer. This is one of the many reasons that I hate moral equivalence arguments about "sides:" this side tends to hold its own accountable and understands the role of the press in this system of democracy.

Biden wasted no time undoing much of what Trump "accomplished" in his term, which is to say that he countered or rolled back executive orders (the ones that weren't already struck down by the courts, and there were a ton of those). Presidents rarely achieve any lasting legacy without passing legislation through Congress. Just ask Obama, as his major achievements included the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, tax relief acts in 2010 and 2012, repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Matthew Shepard Act and some reform of the Patriot Act to reduce domestic surveillance. Not to take anything away from Obama, but basically he got one big win per year in office. (And hey, remember "death panels" and socialism and the destruction of "traditional marriage" by Obama? None of that happened.)

Trump did none of that, despite having party alignment for half of this term. Trump signed a lot of bills, but his administration didn't initiate any significant legislation. The tax cuts in 2017 were a big win for him, but they came from the GOP leadership in Congress. Two years later, the Congressional Research Service reported that the law mostly benefited high earners and corporations, with negligible impact on everyone else. It also added trillions of dollars to the deficit over a ten-year period. 

And if you consider those "wins" at all, was it worth it? There's a pretty long list of negatives that came with it, not the least of which is the complete break of decorum and respect for the dignity of the office. If people had little trust in government before, now they have even less reason for that trust. This is a man who made the argument that the election was fraudulent, even though it was the same election that allowed the GOP to gain seats in the house, even in states he lost. It was then litigated in 50 cases he lost, often with judges he appointed.

Biden is a moderate, old school politician with decades of experience in government, working with seven presidents as a senator, then as a VP. There are a lot of talking points by the willfully ignorant about him being a socialist boogeyman (or more ridiculous, a communist), and the usual batch of fear mongering, but I don't think the Democrats could have picked a more benign candidate. I expect that during this year he'll get the vaccine supply chain under control, propose economic relief as appropriate, and next year, if things stabilize, address racial justice and climate issues.

I am concerned about the wave of white supremacy and fascism that adheres to Trumpism, because even if it is forced into some dark corner of the Internet, it doesn't mean it ceases to exist. I'm also concerned about all of the people who believe that such an association is OK, if only to hope that their "side" is winning. As I've said before, you can engage in right-leaning or "conservative" politics and still disavow the racists. Racism is not a difference in opinion. This is the definitive issue of our national identity, and it's one we've been failing to fix for centuries.

For now, I just revel in the fact that I can wake up and there are no news alerts. No one was fired or called a name on Twitter by the leader of the free world. Another executive order wasn't struck down by the courts. There are no inappropriate phone calls with foreign leaders or domestic officials. No former officials are getting indicted or convicted. Racists aren't being called fine people. The world feels a little more sane.


Maker break

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 24, 2021, 7:18 PM | comments: 0

I seem to have unintentionally taken a "maker break." In the last few weeks, I haven't made very much stuff, after generating a crazy amount of things last year, especially in the last couple of months. I let my GitHub 100-week contribution streak end. I've written very little. No video projects shot or edited. Last week on the beach, I was generally feeling relaxed and peaceful, with no desire to do anything after work other than hear the ocean.

I'm reminded of the fact that I somewhat abruptly stopped doing the radio show last summer (although a college station in Maryland just picked up literally all of them), and that really felt OK. Many of the things that I like to do for fun tend to be projects, so they're not things that I can do in one sitting. Others, like the radio show or the Silly Nonsense videos, are recurring endeavors. Sometimes, finishing things feels a little like work.

To that end, I've been in couch slug consumption mode lately, unapologetically. I watch movies, binge TV, play solitaire on my phone, read from my Kindle. It's satisfying to do nothing at times. I'm also getting the itch to make stuff again, but I'm not rushing into it. I did cut another video, this time a time-lapse of the LEGO Star Wars Mos Eisley Cantina.


Allure of the Seas

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 21, 2021, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

I love that Royal Caribbean has a ship called Allure of the Seas. The name of that ship describes something that has been in my blood for a long time, even if I didn't really understand it. I always enjoyed staying on my dad's sailboat when I was a kid, and I've obviously always liked spending time at Cedar Point, surrounded by Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay. But being around the ocean has intensified those feelings a hundred times over. When we took our first cruise in 2013, I was shocked at how much I loved it. A year later, taking the second one as a Florida resident, I loved it even more. To date, we've taken 19 cruises. In between all of that, we've had days at the beach, both on the Atlantic and gulf coasts.

This week, we rented a beach house via Vrbo down in Melbourne. It was super clean, with what I call "beach appropriate furniture" and a garage full of beach toys. Not luxurious the way that I typically want in accommodations, but perfectly adequate for families with kids. It was a little pricey, sure, but it satisfied two conditions: The endless sound of surf outside, and a hot tub because it won't likely be warm enough to hang out in the ocean. We made our meals, watched the presidential inauguration, grilled chicken, chased down sand crabs at night and empties six bottles of wine. It was everything that I hoped for. And for the middle three days, I worked remotely while Simon schooled remotely (I was more successful than he was). I didn't even take the time off, but when I took breaks for lunch and retired for the day, I touched sand and listened to that glorious surf.

This partial week near the ocean made me realize that the great peace that I feel when we cruise has a lot to do with just being near the ocean. In the Covid era, not spending much money and wondering what I want to do with life, I wonder if I am meant to live by the ocean. Looking into it, it's not an inexpensive endeavor. If you want to live with the ocean literally in your back yard, prepare to drop a cool million (unless it's a condo tower filled with spring breakers). You can even buy some undeveloped land for around $350k, if you have the cash. I don't see any way that we can afford that any time soon, and I'm not sure that the story gets better even in ten years. That's a bummer.

But we could still be cruising quarterly if that were in fact a thing right now. Watching Captain Kate on IG makes me even want to consider cruising with someone not Disney. Seriously, get me the vaccine, and I'll lick the handrails clean if it means we can cruise.

I dunno, I have this strong realization that the sea makes me feel so present and calm, but it doesn't seem like it's easy for me to reach a place where being near it is my standard operating procedure. That troubles me.


If MLK Day makes you uncomfortable, that's a good thing

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 18, 2021, 7:00 PM | comments: 0

I remember in 2010, shortly before Simon was born, thinking on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, how remarkable it was that we had a Black president. The normal that I knew, growing up in the age of desegregation bussing, had effects going all the way to the White House. The gaps in equality that I even a child could observe, in the late 70's and early 80's was slowly closing. Nothing was "solved," per se, but there was measurable progress.

What was less obvious at the time was that the election of Barack Obama would, in many ways, instigate a "last stand" of sorts among the people not content to see the American order involve the inclusion of people of color. For many years, especially during the Obama administration, I thought that the opposition toward anything he did was simple partisanship. While it certainly was that, it was deeper than that, as we now understand famously that the "base" that Republican politicians cater to, themselves now a minority, root their opposition not in conservative policy in the name of Ronald Reagan, but in the old order of white supremacy. That's not some divisive plotline on my part, it's observing the most ardent Trump supporters: If the goal is to "make America great again," they can only be referring to the time prior to the civil rights era. America wasn't that great then. Even when it achieved prosperity and leadership on the world stage, in the decades immediately following World War II, it certainly didn't include women and minorities.

I'm always stirred by MLK's quote from his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."

White Americans have always had the power to realize change that would result in a just and equal society among races. It's a power that was abdicated by its founders, kicking the can down the road for future generations to deal with. Wise as they were, I'm sure they never expected it go as many generations as it has. They could not have predicted that in 2021, white people would still hold the cards. There was a particularly striking infographic in The New York Times last fall, showing that in various corridors of power, from police chiefs to senators, those with the power were overwhelmingly white, and did not reflect the population of the United States. One of the annoying things about this is the people who suggest that, "The most qualified people should hold those positions, not those who fit a racial profile." Yeah? Then why do those same people insist they be Republicans, who are overwhelmingly white and male?

We objectively live in a country where, on a per capita basis, you're at greater risk of being singled out by police with cause, being denied access to financial instruments, denied the chance to interview for a better job, etc., if your skin is not white. It's mathematically a fact, and no amount of mental gymnastics can invalidate that fact. As a moral and decent human being, there's little opportunity to be ambiguous about your position in this reality. It's not divisive to say you're for changing this, it just makes you a person who believes in the most basic tenets of human respect.

Don't be the white person who dismisses the presence of injustice.


The time you have left

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 18, 2021, 5:20 PM | comments: 0

I probably have quite a bit of time left in my life. Forty, maybe 50 years in front of me. There are always these things that I think about that seem like time has gone by fast, or slow, and in the last year, both. But as Mr. Keating reminds the boys in Dead Poets Society, we're all "food for worms," and for that reason, he encourages the kids to make the most out of the time they have. That's a weighty subject when you're a teenager, one you largely disregard, and honestly, I didn't even think much about it in my 30's, a time of particular crisis and identity for me.

Even at a young age, sometimes we do think deeply about what it is we're going to do. As in, with our lives, with our time. In that discussion that we have with ourselves, the consideration of time, and the rather temporary condition that is life, we consider the meaning of it all. There are two ways that you can go: The brevity of life can make you ask if there's any real point to any of it, but it could also incentivize you to make the most of what you have. A humble person can acknowledge that no one is going to care who they were beyond a generation, or two at best, but it doesn't mean that you can't leave the world better than you found it. I would also factor in that whatever animal instincts we have left drive us to contribute to society as a survival tactic, and for the survival of our children.

Let's be honest, there's a lot of struggle in life. Even when you have advantages, whether it be money or some other socioeconomic condition that you were born into, the challenges combined with the ephemeral nature of life make you wonder why you should fight the struggle. Hope and optimism don't come easy to everyone, but those are the things we rely on to keep moving. I think it's a good idea to help others find it, too.

Like most people, I have certain gifts and abilities. I don't know where they came from, or why I have them when others don't. I can't write a song (or sing one), or inspire anyone with athletic achievements, but I'm pretty good at other things that have a measurable impact on the world. I'm pretty good at helping others find those attributes, too. The scope of impact as it relates to my abilities is unimportant, and chances are that most people have impact, and it's just a question of whether or not it's positive.

I think that there are some basics to strive for when it comes to our time left. The blanket goal I'm after is to leave the world in a better state than I found it. This means reversing hundreds of years of structural discrimination against minorities, women and other marginalized people. I want to do my best to have a light touch on resources I consume, and show others what is possible with sustainable energy, waste reduction and the exploitation of science. I hope to show people that autism isn't a disability, but a different perspective.

What will you do with your time?


The accident "caught on tape"

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 14, 2021, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

The car accident that Diana suffered three weeks ago, as it turned out, was caught on the dash cam of the guy who helped her out of the car and made a statement to OCSO. The short story is that Diana did in fact have a green light, and the other driver turned in front of not just her, but another car as well. FHP apparently cited the other driver.

Obviously this is a relief to Diana, because like any driver, one tends to question if there was something they did to contribute to the accident, or could have done to avoid it. You can see from the video below that the other driver hit her rear quarter on the driver's side, causing the car to spin 180 degrees, then roll backward until it hit the median. (You can also see the driver in the left lane just drive away, which doesn't say a lot for humanity.) It's pretty obvious why the side curtain airbags deployed, that's for sure. The contact was pretty brutal. We watched it frame by frame, looking at the timing of it and making all kinds of observations about the time it took for the car to spin around (2/3 of a second), the time from the start of the other driver's turn to impact (1.2 seconds), etc. I think the unfortunate thing is that the driver in the left lane saw it coming, and by braking blocked Diana's sight line, so there was nothing that she could do to avoid it. Quarter-second variations in any of these factors could have led to drastically different outcomes. Had the driver been going faster or earlier, she might have T-boned Diana, probably sending her into the crosswalk sign, or worse, the signal pole or brick wall. A little sooner than that, and Diana or the left lane driver would have T-boned the other driver, which I imagine would have been worse for everyone.

The driver was young, just turned 18, so presumably still in high school. To that end, I can't fault her inexperience and hold no ill will because the only long-term problem we're aware of is the end of the car (injuries, I guess you never know). But in the moment, for the three hours we waited for FHP (which never did show), she made this strange comment about being "cool" about it and not a "hit and run" driver. Her mom, who came to the scene, was also kind of toxic toward her. At the time, I was just trying to get Simon to relax in the backseat of our other car, after I dragged him out of bed. But as I looked at the car, where it landed, and watched the traffic light sequence several times, I couldn't see any likely scenarios where Diana was at fault. The force to get the car to spin like that had to be non-trivial, so my assumption is that she came in pretty hot for some reason. I can't tell from the video if she was turning from a stop, but Diana had to be going at least 30 (speed limit is 40), getting back up to speed when the light turned green, for the car to roll several car lengths past the start of the median. The rear wheel took the brunt of the impact, and I think she's fortunate that the low center of gravity from the battery kept the car upright. This is why most EV's have solid crash ratings, because they have a low, heavy thing that makes up most of the floor.

So thank you, Nissan, for keeping my special lady safe. Cars may not survive this sort of thing, but they do a remarkably good job of protecting the people inside.