I managed to work in a really solid walk today after lunch around Lake Eola, the big lake with the fountain in the middle of downtown Orlando. The weather was perfect. There's this little bar and grill down there (where I've never had lunch, oddly enough), and as I walked by, I noticed that half the people there were staring at their phones, including people who were there with other people. On a perfectly lovely day.
What has happened to us? I've got a whole post I intend to write about being present, as it has come up for me and my family in a number of contexts recently, but it's nuts. I see it everywhere. When people are in line for food, walking around between meetings, standing at a urinal, and worst of all, driving... can't anyone just be alone with their thoughts for a few minutes?
Look, I think it's a miracle that we can carry super computers in our pockets connected to all the world's knowledge, but let's be real. People are checking how many likes they have or playing Candy Crush. I'm not saying a little time wasting isn't worth it from time to time, but shit, put the damn thing down and look around. What does it say about you that you're so incapable of not reaching into your pocket and pulling out that phone when there's just the slightest moment that the world isn't stimulating you?
I've had most notifications turned off for a long time on my phone, and what I do see is time restricted. I ignore those Slack messages at work when I'm sitting in a 1-on-1 meeting, and you better believe I'm a little offended if you can't do the same for me. If I get a text in the car, it can wait. If I'm waiting to get a burrito, I look around and observe the fascinating rhythm of people around me (half of which are staring at their phones). Heck, even waiting in line at theme parks, look around, because the people watching opportunities are amazing.
Just try it. Try to not follow through on that impulse to look at your phone. Be present.
Because of my digestive issues as a child, prescribed acne treatments that didn't work and a terrible orthodontist, I pretty much swore off doctors for the first 15 years of my adult life. After the divorce, I started going for my annual check-ups, but missed a couple of years after each move. I never had doctors that I liked, but now I've had a really good one for the last four or five years. Diana sees him, too.
What I like about him is that his office is not a factory. You don't have to wait forever, and he doesn't seem like he's trying to get out as fast as possible. He spends the time he has to, in order for you to feel that he's covered all of the bases. He's honest and not judgmental. I've been with Diana on visits to see him as well, when working through her challenges with migraines and vertigo, and he's thoughtful and ready to offer a referral when the limits of his expertise are reached. He's a really good doctor.
I don't feel good about my overall health right now. I've gained a little weight, and haven't been processing stress very well lately. I largely work with the latter part of that by seeing a therapist, but a good doctor explains the science between how the psychological challenges mess with the physiological problems. And that's good, because science isn't a belief system. It informs you to make better decisions. I feel like I have better information now to make better decisions.
Despite my damage about doctors, and previously "meh" doctors, I'm happy to have a good one.
You might have heard, Disney launched a new streaming service on Tuesday called Disney+. The company has made a number of very important acquisitions over the years, including Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and most recently, the Fox studio businesses. Getting all of this under one roof was an important strategy for CEO Bob Iger, but he also saw a future that shifts watching habits to streaming. He's willing to take on some pain and even cannibalize the existing business instead of letting someone else do it. Apparently, 10 million people were signed up the first day.
I signed up in the morning, because they offered a bundle for Hulu subscribers, which we already have. Basically it's $14 to get Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, or $6 more if you want the ad-free version of Hulu (which we pay for). We already get Amazon Prime, so if you ignore the fact that it includes the shipping and same-day service, we basically pay $30 per month for a whole lot of streaming capability, which seems like a pretty good value to me.
While Hulu covers the network TV, and a number of minor cable networks as well, Disney+ includes almost everything they own, save for a few movies that other services have dibs on though next summer, and a few distribution deals that linger, like Sony's use of Spiderman and Paramount's distribution rights to Indiana Jones. It's nice to have access to all of that, and the big surprise for me is all of the stuff I've missed from National Geographic.
To me though, the real excitement is all of the new original stuff. I'm excited about The Mandalorian, a new Star Wars series about a bounty hunter, The World According to Jeff Goldblum, which is kind of a cross between How Things Work and Mythbusters or something, an extraordinary documentary series about Imagineering and a goofy reality show about high school musicals being made by casts a decade after graduation called Encore! There are a few others yet to start, but the original stuff is all pretty compelling so far.
There were a few problems the morning of launch for me, mostly around creating profiles, but I was at work anyway, so not a big deal. That night, I couldn't start the Imagineering doc, but that resolved itself in ten minutes or so. It's been pretty smooth since then, as Simon has watched most of the Mickey Mouse cartoons he loves already. The criticism has been pretty harsh about the tech problems, but honestly, no one has ever launched a streaming service picked up by 10 million people in the first day before. As someone who literally loses sleep over scalability problems for a living, I'm willing to cut them a little slack as long as it gets better soon.
For me, I look forward to the originals, and catching up on some of the Marvel movies, including Endgame, that I haven't seen. We're not really "Disney people" in the pin-trading super-nerd sense of things, but they own a lot of great content (and cruise ships), so they end up separating us from a lot of money that way. I think this service is a bold move, and nostalgia will certainly rope people in for a bit. The real challenge is good, original new stuff that will make the long-term argument. They need a Mrs. Maisel and a Jack Ryan or Fleabag to make it work in subsequent years.
The other day I saw something totally random about the 80's show, The Facts of Life. Because it ran for so long, there were a ton of episodes that ran in syndication in the after-school time slots. These were the years where I started, uh, getting urges as I headed toward teenage hell. So naturally, I noticed girls on TV, and this was a show about girls, so I watched it pretty religiously. (Also, there was nothing to do in winter after school in those days. I watched a lot of TV.)
When I got to thinking about the show, I remember how obsessed I was with Tootie, played by Kim Fields. Even when she had braces. It was that weird time of life where, if girls are your thing, you stop chasing them on the playground and start wondering why it's so hard to talk to them. It's not a sexual thing, or at least, I don't think it is, but infatuation seems to come easy. So yeah, Kim Fields might have been one of my earliest celebrity crushes.
What stands out about those feelings is that I wanted to tell people I had a crush on a TV girl, in that way that you test for what constitutes as appropriate conversation at that age. I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone at that age, which is something I've unpacked quite a bit over the years talking to therapists, but in this case it was worse. I felt like I couldn't tell anyone because she was black.
That wasn't the last time I felt that. In grade 8, I was passing notes with a girl I had a crush on, who insisted we had to try and find a lesser used hallway between classes to make out. Weird thing about schools... those places usually don't exist! It never happened, but I remember the same feeling of guilt, wondering what certain family members would think if they knew my first kiss was with a girl from the east side of Cleveland.
I grew up around a lot of racism, which was pretty weird for a kid who was becoming a product of Cleveland's court-mandated school desegregation. I remember people talking about it more in the context of "busing" than anything else, and I didn't understand it was about racial equality, I mean really get it, until we moved out of Cleveland to an entirely white suburb.
I can't do anything about that past, but I can make sure that my own child never feels bad about who he likes. I think we've been fortunate that, especially in Orange County, diversity is his normal scene. We still need to be proactive though, as we've recently learned a couple of kids in the neighborhood have adopted racial slurs as their latest thing. As he's started to learn about slavery and civil rights in school, it's encouraging that he identifies these as illogical human issues, but I know we have work to do to teach him about how people feel when their physical attributes cause people to exclude them.
Also, Tootie grew up to be very pretty, but it's sad that she was on a Real Housewives show.
Remember the whole "Occupy Wall Street" thing back in 2011? The short story is that a bunch of unorganized people camped out in a park in Manhattan's financial district to protest a vague set of concerns over wealth inequality, corruption in the financial system and other vaguely immortal behavior rooted in capitalism, but not capitalism itself. There is historical precedence that shows wealth inequality destabilizes or destroys societies, so that's a valid concern, but you have to consider at what point it's a problem, and how desperate the people at the bottom are. And certainly, as we began recovering out of the great recession, it was clear that greed and a lack of regulation and accountability made that happen.
But where the protest came from was a disorganized sense of entitlement and victimhood. It was composed largely of white, middle class college educated people with expectations that a degree meant they didn't need to work their way toward success. This still goes on today to an extent, where people who took out $300k in student loans will never get ahead because, well, they borrowed $300k for education. Like I said, there are bona fide issues to address about "the system," but if your reason for challenging it is that you feel like a victim and you're entitled to something, I have a really hard time getting behind that.
In the days of Ronald Reagan, he led the GOP with something often branded as "compassionate conservatism," which suggested that government would work with philanthropic organizations to alleviate poverty, and generally be sensitive to the plight of the poor, but not be solely responsible for lifting people up. It encouraged people to take responsibility for themselves to advance in life. Now, this is the same period that brought us "trickle down economics," the theory that investment and wealth building at the top raises all boats, but we've seen for the last 30+ years that doesn't work. And taking responsibility for yourself is also a nuanced problem, as environment and birth lottery still drastically affects outcomes. But the core tenant of the party, that you are responsible for you, is still a good value to adopt, even if there's a ton of nuance around its practice.
The GOP has since become the Occupy movement, entitled and claiming to be a victim. It supported a president that it knew was immoral from the start. Now that he has, in office, broken laws with mounting evidence, it believes that it has become a victim of the "Dems," the free press and phantom conspirators. Even if all of that were true, it doesn't change the fact that the president has acted illegally. You can't do things that are wrong and be the victim. If you get a speeding ticket, you can't blame the cop for speeding.
No one is trying to "overturn" the election. If the Senate would in fact remove the president, and I somehow doubt it will, Hillary doesn't become president, Mike Pence does, the other guy you voted for. The House is doing exactly what the Constitution outlines. All this nonsense about not being "fair" to Trump is not real. He gets to defend himself in a Senate trial. The House acts more as a grand jury investigation, and to that extent, has adopted the same rules the GOP outlined for Clinton's impeachment. The accused isn't entitled to anything in the investigation phase anyway. Read the Constitution.
The Mueller Report made an extensive case for obstruction of justice, which for some reason the House did not act on. Now their own investigation has mounting evidence that the sitting president attempted to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political rival in exchange for aid. It's not ambiguous. The president and his party are not victims here.
Nut up and face the music. Take responsibility. That's what Reagan would have wanted you to do.
Last week I finished Bob Iger's book The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. It might seem a little obvious that I would read his book given my general interest in theme parks, and by extension Disney, but I picked it up mostly because these executive memoirs mixed with business leadership advice are easy and interesting reading. It's probably not surprising that parts feel a lot like Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc., because running Pixar ultimately translated to running part of Disney.
Iger's story is unusual, and there's a degree to which you have to take his advice with a grain of salt. Few people work their way up from the bottom in what is ultimately the same company by way of acquisition, and even fewer are equipped to run a company of that size with such a huge degree of success. What I'm getting at here is that he is in fact a unicorn with exceptional instincts. You and I, if we're being honest, don't have that. It's a great story though, if somewhat sanitized. He dances around the fact that his predecessor, Michael Eisner, lacked the humility to know when it was time to move on, and some of the bosses he worked with were somewhat toxic in their approach. He does acknowledge that Steve Jobs, someone he had great love and respect for, was not the easiest person to work with. He also seems honest about the painful decision to have to let go of John Lasseter after allegations of sexual misconduct.
A common thread with Catmull's book is the desire to see what isn't obvious. It's interesting that both talk about the importance of this, but the closest thing that both offer to advice is that you have to rely on other people to some extent to see it. Certainly, that's another argument for surrounding yourself with the best people who are better than you. This is, ultimately, what makes Iger so successful. Even as a network TV guy, he saw from the start that for this media empire, you have to be willing to disrupt your own business before someone else does, in this case by making a big bet on streaming, and as a content creator, you still have to give people room to make the best possible art. There are people who believe that a huge company can't make great art, but disagree entirely. If anything, having the streaming outlet will give them even more room to take risks and tell great stories.
At the end of the book, Iger gives a summary of advice, as it relates back to his experience. This is the usual fare you would expect, largely around mature and honest communication. What's interesting is that even when there are billions of dollars at stake, the fundamentals about decision making and relationship building aren't really that different. I think his position is that, if you can constantly be thoughtful about these aspects of leadership (something, again, I believe he's uniquely capable of), you can apply his advice at any scale.
Overall, it's an easy and quick read, and even if it can be a little touchy-feely, worth hearing about his story. Media consolidation isn't necessarily the best thing, I would generally say, but what's striking is that he seems intent on keeping the soul and creative culture of the company in tact. I think he's succeeding.
I posted a few weeks ago about ordering a Pixel 4, and how I justified it, so I won't rehash that here. Let me just talk about the phone.
The phone is the same size as the 2, or pretty close, but the screen is larger. It has a reasonable bezel at the top with a speaker and the various sensors, a thin bezel at the bottom, and rounder screen corners. I personally think all of the notch and bezel opinions are silly, and I don't care that there's technically more screen real estate. As long as it properly fills a 16:9 ratio when horizontal, it truly doesn't matter.
I think the back is actually glass now, but the white one at least has this really great textured feel that doesn't get finger printy. The sides are a nice black composite material, and the power button is orange. Mostly none of that matters, since I immediately put it in a rubber-like case, as I've been doing with phones since 2012-ish. It also helps protect the camera bump, which is now a square.
The biggest change is the switch to face unlocking instead of the fingerprint. It generally works, but sometimes it feels a half-second too slow, and I'm not sure what the criteria is for it to "look" at you. Is this an improvement? I think it's just a lateral move. The fingerprint was at least intentional, where sometimes you just want to look at the time on the phone or a notification without unlocking it. I'm on the fence, which is to say in the long run I probably won't care either way.
The phone initially defaulted to gesture navigation, which I think was available already in the newest Android on my previous phone, but I didn't know. Basically it means that side swipes acted as the back button, bottom swipes were like pressing home, and swiping up half-way and stopping was like the task switching button. I tried it for a few days, and it felt slower. With this elongated screen, I can say for sure that I definitely don't need that screen real estate for apps. I switched it back to the old school buttons.
From a capability standpoint, I do notice switching apps is slightly faster, and they're also more likely to maintain state, presumably because of the RAM availability. But also, if what I remember about Android is correct, this is more about how developers implement state when the app is closed, forcibly or otherwise, so I wouldn't blame that on Google either way. The crazy high 90Hz refresh rate is sometimes obvious in scrolling, but mostly in animations inside of apps, especially games. It's a subtle usability tweak.
The radar is pretty cool. It is one of the things that instigates the face scanning, which made unlocking a little awkward in the Bahamas last weekend, where the radar is not authorized for use (because it's radio frequency energy). It was slower to unlock in those cases. Where I suspect most people will dig it is that you can wave your hand over the phone to snooze an alarm. You can "air swipe" to the next song, but I haven't tried that. It's a neat hardware trick, but I think it's just another sensor to add to the suite of gyroscopes and such.
The camera is, as you would expect, extraordinary. It delivers on everything they talked about in the announcement. White balance is improved, low-light photos are impossibly good, and the portrait mode has definitely improved, especially with hair. The computational zoom is probably an improvement, but it isn't perfect, and I think some of the gain in image quality comes from having a second camera. Is it better than the Pixel 2? Yes, incrementally. Comparing photos of the two, I think the biggest thing is that the white balance is more accurate in a variety of light sources. It also manages to squeeze out a little more dynamic range in those difficult scenarios.
Is it worth $800? No, I don't think any camera is. If it weren't for the Fi credits and trade-in, I'd never pay that much when a $500 phone is almost as good. Heck, the $200 Motorola I got my mom is pretty great. I'm paying for the opportunity to be at the front of the camera technology, mostly, and if I was more budget conscious, I would likely be satisfied with a less expensive phone.
My earliest memories of peace, that feeling of being truly in the moment, without being drawn into the past or future, are vivid and fresh in my mind. The first came from a great many naps taken in the pop-up camper we had growing up. My mom always wanted to chase us out of the camper to do stuff, but being there in the cool breezes with the forest noises, drifting in and out of sleep, was fantastic. Similarly, I remember being on my dad's sailboat on Lake Erie. Sometimes, you could catch it just right that you could lay on the bow in the shadow of the sails, without risk of sunburn, and hear nothing but the sound of the water moving around the hull as the wind moved you forward. It was wonderful.
I don't think I really experienced peacefulness like that again until my first marriage honeymoon, when we had a hotel room right on the ocean. Waterfront stays after that reinforced these happy places and sense of peace, and having the chance to spend more time on beaches after moving to Florida made me realize how good the sea makes me feel. Then the cruising started in 2013, and I'm certain that I'm addicted to all of the senses... the wind, the smell of the ocean, and more than anything, the sound of the water.
We squeezed in another voyage last weekend. It's not inexpensive, especially compared to a day at the beach, but not only is there the chance for that environment of peace, but there's no Internet to distract me, and if there's one place I know that there will be no fights to put food in my son, it's on a cruise ship. I'm taken care of, as is my family, and I can spend time taking care of me.
It's especially powerful to hear the sound of the water while feeling the motion of it. These are the best nights of sleep for me. I don't know how to meditate, but this is being present in a way that I haven't found elsewhere. The stress disappears, my brain shuts off, and I just hear the waves. I only feel peace.
My stress comes from the usual places. However, I'm not a Type-A personality, and I'm not a box-checker around the life ideal that culture generally prescribes. The stress isn't entirely self-inflicted. Sure, I feel like I do "have" the wife, the job and the house, but those aren't a product of some nebulous pursuit of happiness. They aren't the keys to happiness, they just enable some degree of comfort. The happiness I have to choose, and sometimes I allow life's challenges to interfere with happiness. Forget my Instagram feed, because my real life is that sometimes it's really hard to be me.
It's not hard to feel peace at or by the sea.
I randomly bumped into a long-time friend today, having gone an unusually long time between crossing paths. We caught each other up, talked about life changes, new challenges, opportunities. That got me to thinking about another recent conversation about active career management, and another one about more adult problems, another about therapists forcing you to confront your damage, and yet another one about stress and leadership...
No matter where you are in life, it never gets easier.
On the surface, this sounds like a pretty horrible and terrible realization. The idea that no amount of money, experience, whatever, makes life easier, that seems sad. I'm here to explain why there's way more nuance to that than you think.
I'm often reminded as a parent that the meltdown my child is having over some issue that seems irrelevant and maybe even silly to us is in fact the worst thing that's ever happened to them. That's not being dramatic... it probably is the worst thing that's ever happened to them. As we go through life, we often define ourselves by all of the things we've survived, maybe not giving enough weight to the things we've succeeded in doing. We all endure a lot of bullshit, and sometimes it's just dumb luck when we don't. I'm not suggesting we're incapable of affecting our outcomes, just that the circumstances can be pretty random. So as we move through life, we keep piling on all of this scar tissue.
And it's true, being financially well off, or checking off some other arbitrary boxes (careers, spouses, houses, whatever), don't materially change this. It's because human interaction is really the source of the hurt. We confuse material comfort with emotional comfort, the latter of which is really hard to achieve under most any circumstances. Life is pain.
However, remember the worst thing that ever happened to you? Mom telling you "no TV" was probably superseded as the worst thing a long time ago. I can count off all kinds of things just in recent life that have been hard, like moving, losing a job, being the parent in that meltdown, there are no shortage of things. While the difficulty never really stops, your ability to process it should be on a path of continuous improvement. There's something strangely freeing that comes with the acknowledgment that the next difficulty isn't far away. This doesn't mean that you stop trying to change the things that suck, or mitigate the circumstances that cause pain, it just means having the confidence to say, "I've got this."
The reality is that nothing is permanent. You're caught between the fact that the challenge you have will soon be behind you, and the fact that you will eventually die. That's a pretty compelling argument to not dwell on either end of that spectrum. If you can accept this, you can be present and make the most of the time you have in between. The only alternative is to not do that, and I think everyone knows deep down that's not how you should roll.
So yeah, it never gets easier. What are you going to do about it?
Early last year, I bought my first Windows laptop in almost 12 years. It was a big deal, because those Macs I bought were awesome. But other OEM's started building really nice hardware, and Apple was charging a premium while the others built really nice stuff with the same specs, and Apple was charging too much while delivering crappy keyboards and that annoying f'ing touch bar that I did not want. You don't have to be a math genius to know that spec for spec, spending $700 or more for the same hardware was dumb. So I bought this magnificent HP laptop. And dammit, it was beautiful. Seriously, as I type on it, I'm in awe of its clicky-enough keyboard and 4K screen with painted-on typography. It's wonderful.
But a few weeks ago, about 20 months into ownership of this beautiful hardware, the machine started crashing every time I closed it. I'd open it up, and it would have to reboot, losing whatever I was working on. It seemed like an anomaly at first, but it kept happening. I started looking at the event log, and from what I could tell, it was doing a "blue screen of death" (BSOD) while it was trying to transition into sleep. Crash dumps, read with some open source tool, confirmed this. All I could tell was that maybe this was happening because of the driver for the fingerprint reader, which I never use (because this laptop uses its magic infrared camera to identify me). I couldn't just disable the fingerprint reader, and there were no updated drivers for it, so I had no idea what to do about it.
It's been almost three weeks, and I've been pretty annoyed. On weekends in particular, I let my kid play Planet Coaster on my desktop, because I spent good cash on a great 3D card. Tactically, maybe this wasn't a good decision, but I bought a nice laptop so I could work on my software projects anywhere. So with my desktop off the table, I need the laptop, since I'm trying to build hosted POP Forums as something I can sell before the end of the year. That doesn't work very well when every time I close the thing it dies.
Back in the day, before 2006-ish when I bought the first Intel MacBook, I generally expected that I had to reinstall Windows desktop about once a year. This was not a huge investment of time, because I always had a secondary hard drive that had all of my data, and that's the stuff that mattered. Thinking back though, what did non-technology people do? Flattening your hard drive and starting over, without losing stuff, was not the domain of common folk. But in those days, I could reliably expect that stuff would just break, and the only real way to repair it was to format and start over. A decade prior to that, we used to joke, when I worked at CompUSA, that the classic Packard Bell support line (they made cheap PC's at the time), was "reinstall Windows." But it really was a thing.
In my various day jobs, including Microsoft (duh), I had a number of Windows computers, and they were all generally reliable. In fact, I bought a Surface Pro 3 about five years ago, and it's been a great, reliable backup for me ever since. I still travel with it when I don't intend to write code. Not a single problem or reinstall. I don't think this is HP's fault, but it's endlessly irritating.
I finally bit the bullet today, and did a full on, delete the partition and reinstall, reinstall. The crashing seems to have stopped, but of course I need to reinstall all of the peripheral stuff, like Visual Studio, SQL Server, Docker and such. It's not a huge inconvenience, but it's not without cost either. At the very least, it's like six hours watching it install stuff while I interact with my family or grill chicken or watch Back to The Future for the first time with my son.
I do think things are better. The reinstall only required that I add an updated sound driver, and the software for the touchpad so I could properly double-click and scroll. Windows understood everything else in the laptop without extra work. But still, there was no obvious path from the crashing, and that sucks. Windows rot, as I used to call it, is still a thing. Hopefully I don't need to reinstall next year.
Last night I started what could only be an Ebola infection, and today I was pretty miserable. OK, it's probably not that serious, but I felt pretty crappy. Then a nice man from FedEx delivered a Pixel 4 to my door, and at least that made for a happy moment.
I bought a Pixel 2, actually two of them, the other one for Diana, about two years ago. She was three years into a Nexus 5X, and I traded in my OG Pixel after just one year. That's not typical for me. I usually go two years and change before phones, the record of 3 years held by the classic red Nokia 920 (RIP, Windows Phone). I thought I could go three years again, and I suppose I could have, but I talked myself into the Pixel 4 for several reasons. First, my battery on the 2 was not very robust anymore. If I didn't charge on the commute home, it wouldn't last all day. Then there was the usual round of Google Fi credits, so with the trade I could score about $210, which is almost four months of free service for us. Then I watched that professor dude talk about all of the computational photography improvements in what already is the best camera on any phone. The kicker was just that Google will finance the phone for free over two years, and I'm not even going to notice that extra $30 per month out of my business account, so whatever.
If it sounds like I worked hard to justify it, I did. I'm generally alarmed at how disposable we treat phones, which offer only incremental improvement from year to year. Frankly none of them are worth more than $500, either, including this shiny new technological marvel. I considered getting last year's model, but with the promos, I'd only save $90. Honestly, even my 2 was still a top notch phone, and even with the degrading battery I could have probably gone another six months at least. But I've been exceptionally good about buying technology for the last five or six years. My habits have changed dramatically, knowing I'm behind on retirement, our family medical bills are extensive, and I'd rather take a vacation than buy stuff. It's not the worst thing to spend a little on something that I use every single day (though I'd like to use it less).
I'm looking forward to getting out of bed and making some photos with this little guy.
Mark Zuckerberg made a speech about free speech, and why Facebook is so critical to it. I don't think you'll find many people who think that free speech isn't important, but the brilliant mind who created Facebook also isn't smart enough to understand why what he's arguing is not sound. Free speech has generally been promoted in the context of government, that a true fair and reasonable democracy requires it. But Zuck argues that a private company has no place regulating free speech, which is convenient for him to say when he's arguing about how important and empowering Facebook is to free speech. The company has been rightfully criticized for its role in spreading propaganda and reinforcing extremists, even inciting violence, by way of its algorithm.
Government most certainly should have to take the good with the bad, as an unusually straight forward belief that government can't pick winners and losers. Corporations have no such restriction, and frankly are obligated to get involved. Facebook, by taking an ideological stance, is suggesting that there is moral equivalence between the empowering aspects of free speech and the toxic interaction that it enables.
While Zuckerberg takes a strangely centrist position, he's still being an ideologue, a person that adheres to a political position without allowing for nuance or a spectrum of factors that make an ideology impractical. This is far more common at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, but I suppose it can land in the middle, too.
Certainly we've seen a crazy amount of normalization via declared moral equivalence on the part of some right leaning folks. Look, I'm not for "free college" or forgiving student loans, but what kind of mental gymnastics do you have to do to suggest that these are "as bad" as dignifying white supremacists, making friends with fascists dictators, discrediting career generals or flagrantly showing disregard for freedom of the press? No elected leader is going to get anyone killed with free college, no matter how much I disagree with it.
Some things aren't just opposite sides of the political spectrum. Sometimes, there is a deeper truth about these sorts of issues, and they lean one way or the other. Being an inflexible ideologue does not serve you or any bit of discourse that moves us forward.
Over the years, and especially since having a child, I've watched way less TV than I used to. That's partly surprising because a decade ago, one had to deliberately set their DVR to record stuff, if they had a DVR at all, so the convenience of watching stuff wasn't where it is today. In more recent years, I've tried to keep up with one or two network shows, but I don't watch any of them at all right now. I bought a FireTV Recast to DVR over-the-air stuff now, but the only thing I really watch with it is the nightly world news.
However, I've found that I am watching a number of things without strong intention, or looking for the shows, because they get critical praise and they come in shorter seasons. There are a ton of series like this in the last few years. On Amazon, it's been The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Catastrophe, Fleabag, The Romanoffs, Jack Ryan, not to mention a ton of really good original movies. Hulu made Veronica Mars the show it was always meant to be, and some people apparently can stomach Handmaid's Tale. Netflix has a number of winners, in particular great kids shows like Voltron, The Magic Schoolbus and Captain Underpants.
I would venture to say that most of these shows wouldn't exist were it not for the streaming services. Even with a billion cable channels, there isn't room to be experimental or interesting with the prospect of low viewership. The shows aren't infinitely cheaper to make, certainly, but even the cost dynamic to promote them is different when you're not using your own broadcast airtime to sell them. It's a different world. There's a certain democratization of TV that has occurred, and the "good" stuff has risen from the streaming services. I feel like there are more good shows than ever.
My suspicion is that this won't last, but I'll try to be optimistic anyway. The World Wide Web was a great equalizer at first for straight up "print" content, but in the last 20 years, we've seen the Internet fill with total shit, and people content to consume it. With a lower barrier to entry (I mean, you're reading this blog, right?), putting crap "on the air" is relatively cheap and easy. Look at all of the nonsense that people repost on social media. There's no critical thinking anymore.
For now though, I'm excited to see some of these new shows coming out. There isn't a single show I've watched the last few years on network TV, except maybe Younger, but I'm not sure if that counts being on TV Land (it's so good, by the way).
I was talking with one of our UX/designer experts at work the other day about finding the things that please us in terms of design. I typically discount my own opinions in this area, but she correctly pointed out that we all have things that we're drawn to, things that invoke an emotional response. Since that conversation, I'm surprised at how often I see small things that cause that response. They're everywhere.
For example, I love great typography. Our phones and computers now have so many pixels that we stop seeing the dots. Words look almost like they've been precisely painted on to the screens. Those perfect curves look so smooth, and I wonder if "kids today" even remember big chunky low-resolution text. Sometimes it's just the icons. The newest version of Android refined the battery and wifi icons subtly, and tiny as they are, they look better.
Cars have a ton of design joy baked into them. Some are better than others. Tesla has gone crazy minimalist in their cars, and that long wood dashboard with no visible vents and a single screen in the middle is genuinely beautiful on the Model 3. I even dig the aerodynamic wheel covers, which are generally pretty divisive.
If you want to really appreciate design, I don't think anything is as well thought out as the Lego system. The basic brick and its ability to snap on to other bricks thousands of times, consistent across decades of manufacture, would by itself be impressive. But when you get into the wider collection of specialty bricks, and the ways they connect, it's staggering how absolutely nothing is by accident. When you start putting together things with studs on more than one side, and see how they can unite precisely at different angles, it's amazing.
Even completely utilitarian things like highway interchanges have designs that can be inspiring. They serve as a symphony of direction and efficiency (until they're almost immediately overloaded, at least).
There is beautiful design all around us. Stop and enjoy it. Some humans worked hard on it.
I hate Facebook for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it's a terrible company, but it's where the people are, and I want to stay connected at least superficially with the people I've met across thousands of miles of moving. I like the memories function though, because it's neat to see where I was on this day years ago, with 13 years of history. Sometimes though, you can't help but get some icky feelings.
In 2011, this time of year, we had moved back to Cleveland. I won't rehash the reasons for that again, but suffice it to say that we were wrong about the social aspect, totally right about the house situation, and I correctly predicted that we'd end up in Central Florida. It all worked out, but the regret of leaving Seattle sat with me for a very long time.
By the time I landed at Microsoft, I was in active career management mode. Being a huge company, there is probably something well suited for you once you get there, but it may or may not be hard to find. I got so close to what I would consider a dream job at the time, running a development team that made test tools for studios using Xbox Live. The hiring manager was honest with me: I could have done the job, but the other guy had just a little more experience. He was even trying to get budget to build a second team, and put me on that one. That would have changed the outcome entirely, and I still wonder "what if." Where I did end up was a team that was "old" Microsoft in its approach, and trying to change it was hard. It left me with indifference.
So I landed at this marketing agency in Cleveland. I've worked for various organizations like that one, for periods ranging from two weeks to four months, and every one of them was a disaster. In this case, I had nothing to do. Imagine you worked on an app for the world's largest software company that processed 100 million interactions per month, and then you've got nothing to do. Then they complained that I was arriving and leaving early, 7:30 to 4:30, which has been my m.o. always in order to avoid traffic. They didn't trust people to be grownups, so they fired me.
I sensed it was going to be a disaster, and quite literally had an interview elsewhere at lunch that day. But that intense feeling of, "What have I done?" was such a sinking feeling given my desire to actively manage my career. The next few weeks were actually loaded with opportunity. I had offers to decline even before I got back to Cleveland, and then I randomly was flown to Louisville to speed date/interview with groups there for remote work. It ended up being a terrible company to work for, but it was still valuable experience. I just remember the constant gray skies of Cleveland, and thought, "What have I done?" In retrospect, that was probably the source of much of the regret.
In an expanding economy where you do something that's in demand, career mistakes are temporary. I'm not alone in making these kinds of mistakes, as my friends have all been there (especially those on the west coast). When you make them, it's important to stop and be deliberate. What are your goals, personal and professional? Where do you want to live? What income do you need to make your financial goals? How long do you have to do it?
We were in Cleveland for less than 19 months before I got back on track. The work here in Florida has been generally good, and now I'm at a company that's growing fast. It's challenging, but it's the part of a company lifecycle that I haven't been a part of before, and with significant responsibility. The mistakes were OK in the long run, if only to give me focus.
I read an interesting career advice essay today that made me realize what I already know, but rarely define out loud: Success, and the path to it, are not easily defined. He was using it with the lens of west coast technology companies and startups, which is not at all representative of most everything else, but still, that itself shows how squishy these definitions are.
For me, I suppose my definition looked like this: Find a field that you are interested in, get solid, white collar jobs, make enough money to retire and own a modest house. That was the basic starting point. Then it got more complicated over time... longevity became increasingly unlikely, especially with economic volatility and tech companies having wildly unpredictable outcomes. The gig economy became lucrative and its lack of long-term commitment had a certain feeling of freedom even with the uncertainty. Then for the better part of the last decade, I've wandered between pure technologist and manager, so the professional accomplishment definition of success has been fluid too. And what does winning look like? A certain salary? Title? I don't know.
If that weren't enough, there's a completely different dimension if you own your own business. I've had a business for two decades, that I started by accident, and outside of the online ad boom 15 years ago, it's mostly been a hobby. I've not deliberately started anything for the purpose of my own sustainment. With all of the experience I've gained in companies from tiny to gigantic, shouldn't I be qualified to do that, and do it well?
This sounds pretty midlife crisis, which is appropriate because, well, that's where I am. At the same time, the late start to parenthood, and starting over with a second marriage, I have the life priorities of someone in their 20's with the life experience of someone with two extra decades. Given what's important to me, defining success can still have a basic starting point, it's just different now. My goal is to be able to provide for my child and my wife, and make sure the latter is well taken care of in a decade when we're empty nesters, even if something were to happen to me. I think as we get older, we transition success from "more" to "enough."
So that's well and good, a solid base to shoot for, but where the anxiety starts to creep in is looking at how we get there. I spent money like an asshole in my 20's, running a negative cash flow for a number of years, and while I had that under control by 30, I didn't really reverse it until later. I'm behind on saving, and suspect that Social Security will be a fantasy when I retire. I've only got half of what I should saved if you don't count home equity (and I sure don't). If financial planning is a measuring stick for success, I sure don't feel like I'm doing it right.
Success for me, today, has more to do with my little family unit. It was never about keeping up with the Jonses. It's always been about personal satisfaction though. I have to combine it with what is practical now, and those are sometimes hard to reconcile.
I've written many times that people treating politics as if it were a sports rivalry is I think the core problem in our culture. I seem to recall in my teen and college years that there was a healthy skepticism of all politicians, regardless of party, but maybe I was just naive at the time.
In the obvious case, average Joe's and career GOP politicians are lining up behind the president, defending him for the indefensible. Look, this is a guy who did and said things that no person would excuse as an employee in a minimum wage job before he was even elected. Now the guy released evidence showing he asked a foreign power to investigate his political rival, then did it in public asking another country to do the same. Forget whether or not it was quid pro quo (it was, look it up), the whistle blowers, the Democratic opposition... they're all secondary to the thing you can plainly see he did wrong. Now the same people, who took an oath to defend the Constitution, are calling the impeachment process unconstitutional when it's literally enumerated in the Constitution. We've landed in bizarro world.
The other side doesn't get a pass. Last weekend, Ellen took in a football game with George W. Bush, and she took all kinds of shit for it. Now, it's no secret that I'm about as far from a W. fan as possible. Years beyond his presidency, I think he made some terrible decisions on the basis of even worse information, for sure (though the special place in hell belongs to Dick Cheney), but at the end of the day I can't really do anything about any of it. It's already more than a decade in the past. He's a human being, and there isn't a reason that Ellen can't be kind to him. We have to stop this ridiculous fucking with-me-or-against-me nonsense.
I'm more centrist than I ever used to be, probably because the constant extremes are exhausting. Admittedly, there is no moral equivalence between describing white supremacists as "some good people" and subsidizing college, so even if I don't agree with either one, I'll side with the college because it's not going to get anyone killed. But the tribalism prevents us from even talking about anything. Congress hasn't done anything useful in at least six years and keep passing record deficits. People vote for the dog catcher based on party instead of ability. We have the government we deserve.
Just stop it with the sports rivalry politics. Let's go back to the healthy suspicion of both sides, engage in critical thinking, and stop enabling the shit show.
I've spent a lot of time in the last week, my staycation week, working on the hosted version of POP Forums. The idea is that you give me money, and I'll host a copy of the forum for you. Diana asked the appropriate question about this: "Does anyone want this?" It's a valid question... I'll get back to that.
In 2000, my little hobby sites, Guide to The Point (now PointBuzz) and CoasterBuzz, were making a surprising amount of money from advertising. Those were pretty awesome days for content publishers. You could make a lot of coin without a lot of audience. It didn't even matter that everyone was doing it, either. There was so much ad revenue out there that everyone could make money in their spare time. (If only that had been something 7 years earlier when I was in college... I would not have had student loans and had my own place.) The promise of the Internet as an equalizer in all things was real back then.
As the story goes that I've told a million times, I wanted to own the whole experience, and since my sites had a forum as their core, I wrote my own, and so POP Forums was born. I figured, since I wrote it, I might as well sell it, and I did as downloadable software, $175 a hit. This was the reason that I first acquired a merchant account to collect credit card payments, and it came in handy in 2001 when I started offering CoasterBuzz Club. I made OK money selling the forum, even though I really wasn't much of a software developer in those days.
Eventually I started giving it away as an open source project, in late 2003. It wasn't until 2010 that I started also developing it in the open, hosting the repository on CodePlex (RIP). I moved it to GitHub in 2014 when Microsoft left CodePlex to die. As an open source project, it attracted enough attention to be translated into six languages, and sometimes I get someone interested who does a pull request and contributes. It's been forked dozens of times, and a half-dozen people clone it everyday. That's not a wildly popular project, but the bottom line is that some people find it useful, and that's gratifying. I would be building it anyway for my sites.
This has been my approach to entrepreneurship from the beginning: If I'm building it anyway for myself, there's no real risk to selling it because it's not a deliberate business. That's a huge cop out, for sure. You can't fail if you didn't intend to "make it" in the first place. It's also the reason that some of the arbitrary things that I've started "for the money" rarely were finished or had any follow through. It's weird, I can get into something in a day job as an objective with a team, but if it's something I'm starting on my own dime, and I don't have my head into it, it never materializes.
I vaguely remember the time when a number of web-based software packages started to become software-as-a-service (SaaS), and thinking that was nuts, but I've been working on commercial SaaS products now for more than three years. It's not nuts. Getting back to the earlier question, I don't know if hosted forum apps are something that people want, but there are a few players in the market today that suggest that it's a thing. A few are making in excess of $3 million a year, even. It's not a huge market, but it's not crowded. I'd be content to make a grand a month. It would more than pay for the expenses.
As I mentioned, making it real is what makes it work for me. So we're planning to migrate the PointBuzz forums there as the first "customer." I know the app isn't perfect, and lacks features, but so what? If I wait for that, it will never be out there. The UI needs a fair amount of modernization, but the upside is that it's really, really fast. I'm very proud of the performance, with most pages loading in 100ms or less from my decidedly erratic connection at home. I don't know what the upper limit of scaling is, but in tests I've found that it can do 1,000 requests per second pretty easily on cloud infrastructure.
Some part of my nights and weekends will be devoted to figuring this out for awhile, but I'd like to launch it before the end of the year. I've got most of the hard parts finished... multi-tenancy, taking money, provisioning... the only big part left is recurring billing, but that shouldn't be very hard. I've got complete continuous integration environments set up already. The only quasi challenging thing on the radar is provisioning free secure certificates for customers who want custom domain names, but I'll figure it out.
My hobby is for fun and hopefully a little profit. 😁
I've been thinking a lot about solitude and struggle in a number of different contexts. Not sure if I have a point, but I need a brain dump.
First, I realize when I'm being reflective that I've spent a lot of time in my life in solitude. I mean, shocking volumes of time by myself. As a kid, I didn't really hang out with other kids. In high school I had my roles helping out in athletics, where I cared a lot about the other kids and their families, but I didn't have a lot of deep connections. In college I spent the first two and a half years not having any idea where I belonged in the bigger picture. It's not that I don't connect with people, it's that I don't value superficial connection. Deep connections don't come easy or often, so that explains the solitude.
The post-divorce time taught me a lot about how to be alone in a constructive way, which is to say that relationships should be additive to who you are. You can and should value relationships, but you need the foundation of having a good relationship with yourself, and that's a huge struggle. The parts with other people are easy by comparison.
I see my son going through a lot of the same things already at age 9, and it's heartbreaking. It's a similar struggle. He spends a lot of time alone, and doesn't find social connectivity to be easy. His relationship with himself isn't great. I don't know how to help him, because it took me literally decades to get even partially comfortable with myself, and being by myself. Telling him he's smart enough and good enough isn't going to do anything. It would help if he could find one kid who wasn't a dick to him, but like him, I found it was only the adults who really could be that person. There's a brilliance in his thinking, and I need to help him learn how to express and value it.
I spent most of today alone at my computer, writing code for my side hustle. I enjoyed the time to myself, but I feel guilty that I'm not spending the time with Simon and Diana.
I was talking to a friend who recently started therapy to help unpack a lot of damage. I've been in and out of it since college, and it helps a great deal with self-awareness. The underlying theme of all those sessions is about the struggle. Life is struggling... with relationships, family, parenting, work... it doesn't seem like it ever ends. That may sound kind of depressing, but I will say that you almost need that contrast to see the joy and happiness in life.
My last therapy session was to talk about the struggle, and how much of it was self-inflicted. We definitely put pressure on ourselves in a lot of aspects of our lives, which creates some of that sense of struggle. I've noticed discreet times in my life where I was happiest, when I ran out of fucks to give about whatever felt like a struggle. There's a weird dynamic there: You have to find the combination of action (or non-action) that allows you to be a reasonably productive member of society, while also letting go of the struggle. In other words, don't be a worthless bum, but stop doing the things that hurt.
The period of my life I can best point to in order to describe this struggle reduction was 2013. I bailed on a terrible job, picked up contract work that was slightly better but didn't matter, and resolved to reboot and move to Orange County. The second half of that year was strangely low stress, even with the big move. I was working a contract job that may not have been renewed or converted to full-time, and it was OK. I had seen enough chaos to know that I could figure it out. That was freeing. Parenting wasn't super hard yet either.
The truth is, I don't know that the solution is that you simply need to walk away from the hard things. I think it's how you perceive the hard things. Look, I'm not a Type-A personality (which I assure you is an anti-asset at this stage of my career). I have the capacity to see the relative importance of hard things, and there's a huge scale, all of which lies below the fact that I'll be worm food someday. It's surprising how easy it is to forget that.
We haven't done a real "theme park trip" in a very long time, and considering that we only drove three miles for this one, I'm not sure it counts either. But the situation was straight forward enough: I was overdue to take a week off, Simon missed his entire first week of school to illness so we couldn't pull him out, and I was overdue to take a week off. Some weeks ago, I saw an ad for Florida discounts on rooms at Walt Disney World, and found that Coronado Springs, a moderate resort, was down to a little under $250 per night, with tax. We had never even been on that property, but folks seemed to like it. I figured, OK, it's around the corner from Simon's school, it will be unfamiliar, and that will have to be good enough for a brief retreat.
The resort has a Mexico-Southwest feel to it, and the new tower they added made it more classy. The rooms were all recently renovated, as were a lot of common areas, and quite frankly it's all very beautiful. We stayed in one of the older Casitas buildings, but the room was brilliantly new. It follows the usual convention of tile flooring, granite surfaces, a great shower, and room under the beds to stash your suitcases. It's rounded out with an unusually large TV and LED lighting. The room wasn't as large as those we've stayed in at Beach/Yacht Club, but it was more than adequate. We had a slight snafu where the fridge had someone else's leftovers, but a manager came by and cleaned it out.
This particular property is probably best known for "The Dig Site," a centrally located pool complex that includes a Mayan pyramid and a water slide. There's a great waterfall that flows from the top of the pyramid, and a small bar and food stand sits next to it. As pools go, it's one of the best I've seen on WDW property, second only to the one at Beach/Yacht Club. My only real complaint is that it wasn't heated, but that's clearly a Florida life problem.
This is Disney's convention property, so it's huge, with over 2,300 rooms. There are a lot of restaurant and bar options, including a few places in the tower that we did not make it to. However, there's a great full-service bar right in the lobby. We had breakfast at the counter service restaurant, which wasn't bad. We had one dinner in the Rix sports bar, and it was kind of shitty. They advertised turkey burgers but didn't have any, and the boneless wings I had instead were overcooked. The surprise was the Three Bridges restaurant that's, as you might imagine, at the center of the three bridges across the lagoon. It has a small food menu, but the food is extraordinary, as is the service and beverage options. We managed to sneak out there for a 90-minute date night while Simon watched a movie back in the room. It was a weekend highlight for sure.
Our boy strangely never had an on-property stay, so he was excited to stay there and ride the buses that he's watched for six years. They're not always conveniently timed, but we had one long wait, and others that were perfectly timed. The one night, I met a friend at Disney Springs, and was happy to have that option with the strong beverage I had at Jock's Hangar Bar, and the jug of sangria with dinner earlier. I do find it lame that the resort now charges for parking.
Overall, I give Coronado an enthusiastic thumbs up. It very much felt like a vacation, even if we were close to home.
As for our theme park outings, we finally endured a wait for Smuggler's Run at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in Hollywood Studios. I think it ended up being just under an hour, but the line kept moving. The theme of that land and attention to detail is amazing. When we sat down in the Millennium Falcon, I'm not going to lie, I got a little emotional, but there are things to do immediately so no time to screw around. Simon and I were pilots, where I did lateral movement, he did vertical. Unfortunately he didn't hear that it was inverted, like a real plane, so, he crashed into a lot of stuff and we scored 20%. It was still pretty cool.
Beautiful as Galaxy's Edge is, there isn't a ton to do there. The lines for the Cantina are insane, and Rise of The Resistance doesn't open until December at best. It will definitely be a more complete experience with the other ride.
We spent a few hours at Magic Kingdom on another day, where I discovered that Pecos Bill's has a rice bowl that I'll eat, and it was delicious. More importantly, there's something I'll eat that isn't deep fried. I also have new appreciation for the air time in the back seat of Space Mountain. That was nuts.
On Monday, I met up with a friend from DC, and we did an Epcot drink-around-the-world tour: 11 drinks in 11 countries. I did this once before when Diana and I had our first child-free vacation some seven years ago, but this was planned. As I suspected, this isn't really that much of an achievement. That many drinks over nine hours probably won't even get you buzzed. But it was fun to have good company and people watch. The jerk chicken in the Caribbean stand is amazing, and I still love the cheese bread in Brazil. We had dinner at Le Cellier, which is still crazy expensive, but the food and service are great. We all had fruity drinks with glowing ice cubes, and the waitress immediately caught on to Simon's distress over this and brought one for him. We definitely reported this kindness and attention to a manager.
The big event was the last show for Illuminations. I've not seen it that crowded in a long time, and definitely not that late in the day. Rain almost made things miserable, but it stopped just as the show started. Unfortunately, they didn't really do anything special for it, but I've never heard anyone cheer for a nighttime spectacular like that. The show will certainly be missed.
So for four nights, we did Disney like tourists, and despite the familiarity of the parks, the resort made it feel like a vacation. We had a really good time. It's clear that Diana and I need another long weekend away though, and we need to figure out how to make that happen.