The blog home of Jeff Putz

Our Covid story

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 18, 2021, 8:00 PM | comments: 0

Just when we thought we were going to make it through the pandemic without infection, Simon got it a couple of weeks ago. He had a serious fever for about 48 hours, but beyond that, his symptoms were pretty mild. That he caught it wasn't great, but it was the circumstances that had us firmly in the anger zone.

Let me back up though. In early 2020, initially I thought, well, we're all going to get this sooner or later. Then we started to understand the risk factors. With Diana's history of bronchitis, allergies, small sinuses (that's really a thing) and other respiratory things, that scared the shit out of me. Simon has already had pneumonia twice, plus frequent allergies, so that made me uncomfortable as well. As time went on, mitigation was awkward, but straight-forward, and it became clear that kids were fairly resilient to the disease. He went back to in-person school in January without issue. In April, with Diana and I vaccinated, we resumed theme park visits, since they're mostly outside and they require masks indoors. We tended to keep some space in front of and behind Simon in the queues, but again, the risk was understood to be pretty low, because science.

Where we weren't looking was in a small private group setting with another kid and parent, and that's where he got it. I won't go into the details, but beyond the implicit trust we would expect from other adults, there were indications made about safety. Yes, we should have asked a direct question in this circumstance, but the circumstance felt a lot like we didn't have to. To say that this has created trust issues doesn't quite describe it, but we've been careful to make sure that it does not affect Simon's friendships.

We all got tested, and wouldn't you know it, vaccines work. If you can live with a kid shedding the virus and not get sick, that's a pretty good indication that it's working. Friday his doctor cleared him to return to school in-person.

The problem though is the same as it has been since early in the year: Adults are fucking up what should have been a slam dunk in public health achievement. The feds bought everyone a shot. The third wave here in Florida was worse than the previous two, as was the case in a number of states. Why? Because of some ideological bullshit about freedom that doesn't actually work without cooperation. Then throw in moronic governors who actively tried to sabotage the public health experts of people on the ground in local municipalities. All of that desire to open America for business without mitigation has extended the pandemic by months, when it could have effectively been over already. And then my kid got it.

I wonder if Americans will remember that the pandemic showed just how much of a shit show our healthcare system is, especially given its connection to employment, when we experienced record unemployment. We can't keep operating this way. It isn't moral.


Don't let your software dependencies and pipelines get crusty

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 18, 2021, 12:33 PM | comments: 0

After about two straight years of making at least weekly contributions to my open source projects, I backed off this year. Parenting, self-care, life in general took priority. But with the imminent major release of .NET 6, and a lot of change in all of the other dependencies, I wanted to get POP Forums updated, both the open source project and the commercially hosted forum versions.

Going quite the distance between releases, a lot had changed for the open source code. The first part was the Bootstrap, used for the basic style and UI stuff, had released a major version. A big part of that is that they eliminated the dependency on jQuery, the front-end DOM manipulation library that has been used for a bazillion years. It's not a bad library, but Javascript does most of the same things itself now, and old browsers in the wild are finally becoming an endangered species, so there's little reason to worry about compatibility. If 0.07% of users are still using Internet Explorer, I think it's time to stop supporting it. So I wiggled all of the jQuery out, and it wasn't as time consuming as I thought.

Beyond that, I had to update Vue.js for the admin area, which was trivial. The next heavy lift was to replace all of the client libraries for Azure. Most have changed to new packages, sometimes different API's, and lots of change around Azure Functions in particular. The last part was a little challenging because all the new bits aren't entirely final, and neither is documentation. Mercifully, there was not a new version of ElasticSearch, so that didn't require updates.

I also had to update all of the build and release automation, which for the first time ever, wasn't that big of a deal. I was getting some warnings about one of the build agents running on a deprecated version of Ubuntu (two behind), and I had some access tokens that had expired for the commercial build. Getting that all resolved wasn't hard, but it did take time.

I'm just one dude who does this as a side hustle, so I can give myself a break for not being more proactive. I feel entitled to brag a little that I'll be on the latest bits on release day in a few weeks. But as any engineer knows, that latest/greatest thing doesn't happen in a lot of companies. In the old days, there was some reluctance because "wait for the service release." These days, this stuff is so thoroughly vetted, because of an enthusiastic open source community, and I don't think you should wait. You're almost always competing with feature work that product and sales folks want yesterday. If you don't make time, things get years out of date. It's always less expensive to make the smaller, incremental updates as they happen. Make it a priority.


Best .NET migration ever

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 15, 2021, 11:48 PM | comments: 0

I've specialized on a lot of Microsoft's technologies most of my career. I started to work with .NET when they were applying that name to anything that was a developer product. Now the term just refers to the stack of runtimes and frameworks that let you build stuff with a variety of languages, but mostly C#. When they went open source and multi-platform a few years ago, that transition was painful, especially in the pre-release cycle because things kept changing.

But last night I decided to start transitioning POP Forums to .NET 6, the release candidate bits, updating from 5, and I was done in about an hour. Everything compiled and ran locally, even with all of the peripheral stuff made by other companies (Redis, ElasticSearch). Even better, the Azure stuff all worked too, which means no weirdness with the storage emulator, and Azure Functions worked like a champ.

Surely this will break in Azure DevOps when I try to build and deploy, right? I added a step to my CI build to use the newest SDK, and the build completed. Surely the actual Azure service would not be ready! It has been easy to deploy app services with new framework versions, but Azure Functions have been harder because of some fundamental changes they made. They were months behind on the v5 release. But no, they're up to date, and I was able to deploy the build without incident. I just had to run a few commands to configure it right.

The .NET Core transition was hard, it hurt, and I know a lot of people were turned off by it all, but the results these days are fantastic. If you would have told me then that all of my stuff would be running in Linux containers with exponential performance improvements, I would say that's nutty. But here we are. And with this release, they've managed to get all of the parts, from the code to the SDK's to the cloud products in Azure, all ready to go at about the same time, with little friction to update.

I had an email exchange today in which I declared that I'm an Azure fanboy, and it's more true now than ever. The developer story is pretty great.


Open source software joy

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 14, 2021, 7:24 PM | comments: 0

The Algorithm of Doom kept suggesting that I watch this mini-doc about Vue.js, a software framework that does front-end stuff. I finally watched it last night, and it's a pretty neat story. I use it on the admin side of POP Forums, largely for the reason one of the dudes in the video said he did, because it doesn't require a lot of knowledge to get started.

What Evan You found is pretty unusual. He worked on something that deeply interested him, and others found value in what he was doing. He figured out how to turn that into a way to make a living. That might be more unusual than hitting the dotcom cash-out lottery. It's not for everyone, because I know a lot of software developers enjoy getting projects and solving problems, but others want to drive that thing that intrinsically makes them want to plug in and make great things. I think that's fundamentally what drives most open source projects. As I've been in this game for a couple of decades now, I've seen stuff come and go.

I first open-sourced the forums with v7 in 2003. I had only sold a few licenses the year before, so it felt like it was time. I got laid-off again right after that, but with solid revenue from my sites, and some very lucrative contracting, I eventually took time off to write my book. It languished for a few years, but when I got to Microsoft and worked on the team that included CodePlex (an open source site that predated GitHub), I kind of got the bug to really keep up with it, and I've mostly done a release or two every year since. It has a modest number of stars and forks, and every now and then I get a few pull requests for it. A few dozen people get the source code every week. I love that someone gets some use out of it.

It's that time of year again, where I'll update the app to all of the latest things and try to get it released out into the world. Not a lot of features this time, mostly just updating to current things so it doesn't get too hard to maintain. I'm always surprised to see how many downloads the packages have. I'm not making Vue.js, but I'm so happy that some people enjoy using it.


Those who would take things from me

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 10, 2021, 10:38 AM | comments: 0

Dreams often manifest fears or worries, as well as joy and happiness (not enough of the latter). In addition to variations on the dead air radio dream and the school dream, I also frequently have dreams about losing stuff, or more specifically having stuff stolen from me. Let me take a stab at interpreting this one.

This theme usually happens in the context of something else going on. Last night's occurrence happened in conjunction with moving, or maybe trying to get home with a bunch of my video equipment after shooting with it. Some of my stuff was in a car, apparently not mine, that I couldn't drive home. So I go to check on it and some of my things are missing from it. The weird thing is that despite the anxiety feelings, I logically know that most things can be replaced.

If I go a little deeper, it's not the end state of not having the material thing that bothers me. The thing is that I feel as though I have been personally violated. When my first major purchase, a bike, was stolen, it felt personal. When someone stole money from me in college while I was in the shower, it felt personal. Honestly, when I came home to a robbed house that was missing the TV and microwave, in sixth grade, it felt personal. It was never really about the things. Heck, a few years ago someone took my two lawn chairs from our campsite while we were out doing things, and it felt personal.

I suspect this anxiety is related to the belonging desire, since it's more about how I'm treated than anything else. It's also weird to think that this isn't the same thing as worrying about what people think of me. I stopped caring about that a long time ago, but I still care about being disrespected, which might seem like a subtle difference, but it's not.

My hope is that this anxiety over respect improves my own behavior toward others, but I know that it doesn't all of the time. As much as I try to start the baseline interaction with any human from a place of respect, I know that I'm terrible at it. Certain things just immediately put me off. I want to be better about that.

On the bright side, if I'm having dreams, it means that I'm sleeping better, and the last year hasn't been especially great for sleeping. I have a new appreciation for mental health and wellness, and talking stuff out really helps.


Playing the classic video games

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 9, 2021, 1:26 PM | comments: 0

A couple of weeks ago, I acquired a Bandai-Namco Pac-Man's Pixel Bash machine. It has about 30 Namco games, some of them more classic than others, but all officially licensed and packaged in a real plywood cabinet. It isn't a bootlegged knock-off. This one is the "chill" model, because it has a little beverage fridge in the front of it, which is pretty cool. I first saw this at IAAPA a few years ago and I've wanted one ever since. As it was time to celebrate some recent victories, I felt like it was time to spend some saved pennies and plus up the home office.

I remember discovering quite early in my time with Diana that she used to dump quarters into Galaga machines as a kid, much in the way that I did with Ms. Pac-Man. Namco has been making a full-sized arcade machine (and cocktail model) with those two games for years, and this machine has that and all of the Pac-Man variants (except for the rare Baby Pac-Man, which was a hybrid video game and pinball machine that Bally made). I like Dig Dug and Rally-X as well, but this was mostly for the big two.

So far, it has seen a lot of use. Of course Diana and I have the high scores on our respective favorites, but I'm surprised to see Simon really enjoying these as well. This is a kid practically born with touch screens in his hands, who doesn't appreciate that there was a time when you could only play video games either by crude home game system or in these stand-up cabinets that required quarters. But he's really into it, and that makes me really happy.

I'm going to do a video review of the machine, I think, so watch for that.


Wanting to belong

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 8, 2021, 6:23 PM | comments: 0

I've never really felt that I belonged. I mean that in the broadest sense, as applied to social circles, family, places, work, relationships, school, etc. That probably sounds very sad, and maybe it is, but not fitting in is something that I'm so used to that I mostly don't allow it to affect my overall happiness. This might even be one of the reasons that I'm not very nostalgic about, well, anything.

I was working today on my annual self-evaluation at work, when this came to mind. I know that in more informal situations, I try to make it known that I'm part of the gang, which likely comes off as weird as it sounds. I've got a pretty good track record of delivery, but I find myself wanting to augment it as something more, to be one of the cool kids among my peers, if you will. The truth is that for as much as I've come to expect being a bit of a square peg, I don't choose that. I've definitely had a life where I've tried to fit into those round holes.

That reflection, which is already a large component of what I do at midlife, often leads to an inventory of very lonely and difficult situations. I recall many situations in high school and college where I felt bad about myself for having such a difficult time with interpersonal relationships. In college in particular, I had a lot of very deep connections with women that ended in benign friendship or outright "no thanks." Was it me?

Let me keep some perspective here. This is me largely looking back, but occasionally checking in on how I behave today. Right now, I have arguably the best partner in life I could possibly have, who does not judge me or rate me, and maybe even excuses some of my eccentricities. Diana is an extraordinary match for me. Having been married before, and knowing how that didn't go that well, I can own a lot of that. (Just to be clear, Stephanie and I are still friends, and she'll always be one of the great loves of my life... we get each other even if we weren't an ideal couple.) I'm doing my best as a parent, I have a career that is uneven but certainly successful, and there are a few people who really seem to enjoy hanging out with me. That's good enough to call life so far a win.

The winning doesn't mean that there isn't hurt. Not fitting in doesn't feel good. One thing that I've done outside of therapy is schedule a full diagnostic to determine if I have autism spectrum disorder. I talk to the psychologist next month. If Simon can teach me anything, it's that I recognize much of what he deals with because I've been there. Whether it's not wanting to walk in the sand on the beach as a toddler or struggling to find close friends, I get him. I'm not always good at working with him, but I definitely get him. My last two therapists have suggested that ASD has always been a part of my life, but they're not the right kind of professional to diagnose it. If it's real, it explains a great many things about my life. If not, well, more therapy.

When I go back to Singles, one of the greatest movies of the 90's, I'm always reminded that Janet said, "People need people, Steve." It's true. That's why we need to belong.


All the new softwares

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 2, 2021, 3:32 PM | comments: 0

It seems like the fall is the time for all kinds of new software to come out. That's fun since you mostly don't need new devices to run all of the software. Some of it is still coming, some of it I have.

First, Windows 11 is out. I wouldn't call this a revolutionary release, but there are some objectives that make it a stronger operating system. From a pure user perspective, they've done a great job of cleaning up the UI so it's more consistent. The settings app is the best and most organized that it has ever been, and you won't need to go into any of the old dialogs unless you're a power user or developer. Windows Explorer looks cleaner, and they somehow managed to make dark mode work in most modern apps, and for some reason it even extends to Google web pages. They've also drawn a line in the sand for hardware requirements, so supporting less will allegedly mean greater stability, though I haven't had a blue screen in a long time anyway. What I'm most excited about is the forthcoming Android support, because it makes the hybrid and tablet models of Windows computers more useful in that form factor.

The new version of iOS doesn't seem immediately different to me, but I didn't see any of the videos that describe the changes. I did see that they've made some computational photography improvements that I believe require the new iPhone, so those aren't relevant to us and our iPod and iPad. The settings app is still a confusing mess, so no visible iteration there. And they still think borderless text buttons are OK, so I'll never understand that.

New Android coming next month, and the big UI improvement is the Material You API, which figures out the best contrasting colors and schemes based on your wallpaper. That's a neat science project, but what I'm more excited about is the more consistent use of fonts, particularly Google Sans, across the OS and the various apps. We're already seeing it in Calendar and Gmail. It sounds like you'll be able to use most anything in Google Fonts, which would be great.

Visual Studio 2022 is out in November, and after three years of minor releases, this one is a big deal because they've finally made it a bona fide 64-bit application, so it can effectively use all that memory that my computers have. I've been using the preview version and it's noticeably faster in all of the places it wasn't, specifically Intellisense auto-complete when you've got a massive graph of packages and projects loaded all at once.

.NET 6 will ship about the same time, which wouldn't really be that interesting except that the performance improvements are insane, for a framework where it was already insanely good. Compiler tweaks shorten time and reduce code size, multithreading is more efficient (moving stuff to async is worth it now more than ever), string and collection manipulation is faster.

I'm finally getting somewhere in my backlog of updating all the things on POP Forums. The update to Bootstrap 5 is done, and as hesitant as I always was about adopting a CSS framework, I have no regrets about this one. They've finally relented and allow links to be underlined by default, as they should be, and they purged the aging jQuery library from their Javascript, so that's one less piece of the payload to worry about. I also updated Vue.js in the admin, which was relatively painless. Earlier this year I updated all of the extra cloud bits to use the latest SDK's. Everything left is fairly minor, so once .NET 6 is released, I'll update that and everything will be current, even though I haven't really added any features.

Of course, it's worth noting too that my team at work is shipping all kinds of great stuff on a regular cadence. I mean, it's not stuff I use directly every day, but it certainly impacts a whole lot of people. I really enjoy working with those folks.

Enjoying all of the new bits this fall.


Walt Disney World is 50

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 1, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

The Walt Disney World Resort is celebrating 50 years, starting today, a celebration that will last for about a year and a half. There is a ton of stuff going on, with new attractions and shows and such.

I didn't grow up with the parks, and other than a day spent park hopping three of them for the coasters on a comp ticket around 1998 or so, I didn't really visit the place as an adult until 2006 or so. I was dating Cath at the time, and we did several days around the resort before doing a few days at Universal after that (where I had been a passholder for a couple of years, despite living in Cleveland). We stayed at Pop Century, and we did the whole dining plan and magical express from the airport, and it was a lot of fun. It was too much damn food, but still a lot of fun. Having grown up with Cedar Point, this was a different experience, one that seemed to revolve more around food, but I wasn't complaining.

A couple of years after that, Diana and I would visit a couple of times, and after Simon was born, we moved to Orlando for a number of reasons. It was mostly weather, cost of living and job opportunities, but it didn't hurt to have theme parks, obviously. After scoping out the area, I really liked the area west and north of Disney, which just eight years ago was barely developed, compared to now. We ended up building two houses there.

I arrived here a week earlier to start a job, but within 24 hours of Simon and Diana arriving, we made our first trip to Magic Kingdom. It's not that I didn't appreciate the park pre-parenthood, but it was something different with a 3-year-old. To see his joy on the carousel and the train, and then meeting characters, those are really vivid memories. My inner theme park nerd also was pleased to see him so interested, even at that age, in how things worked. He would come home and arrange blocks on the floor to create "rides" with his cars, and use Lego wheels to pretend they advanced the cars.

Because we're so close, and our friends from around the country tend to all visit here eventually, having annual passes seems like a required cost of living. While we love a lot of Disney's IP, particularly the Star Wars and Marvel stuff, I'm not sure that I would consider any of us Disney "nuts." But when your backyard playground is WDW, well, that's where you go. The various Epcot festivals, especially Food & Wine, are annual happy times for us, filled with food, music (well, most years) and friends. We literally go there for lunch now and then.

It's really amazing how much the parks have changed since we moved here in 2013. Back then, Seven Dwarfs wasn't even done yet at Magic Kingdom. They're still working on Tron over there. Animal Kingdom added the entire Avatar area. Hollywood Studios added all of the Toy Story and Star Wars Galaxy's Edge lands, plus Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway. Epcot was mostly stagnant other than adding another Soarin' theater, but then they blew away the entire center of the former Future World, added Remy's Ratatouille Adventure in France, and we're waiting for the Guardians of the Galaxy ride and the new areas in the middle. It seems like the "fans" hate all of the change, but I love it.

There's a lot of debate out there right now about the cost of what Disney offers, and whether or not they're outpricing some segment of the population. People have strong emotional feelings about the rat, and while I wouldn't broadly call it entitlement, a visit to Disney World does seem like an American rite of passage. It's a capital intensive business to be in, and the product seems to be good enough that people are finding a way to pay whatever it costs, because the parks aren't getting less popular (pandemic aside). I think we may take it for granted a bit, to see epic fireworks, get Dolewhip or ride Space Mountain, for little reason other than it's Tuesday. But pricing is relative. Compare the cost of a day at Disney to things like concerts, stage shows, sporting events, etc., and I think a day at the park is priced about right relative to those things.

Lots of exciting things right now, with the new night time shows at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and the holidays aren't far off. Given the warm weather, it's hard for outside to "feel" like the holidays here without a theme park visit. I'm really looking forward to that. I also can't wait to see Spaceship Earth with its new lighting package, while under-glow monorails drive around it.

Happy anniversary, Walt Disney World. It's a bummer your namesake never got to see it open, let alone what it has become today.


Lab results, meh

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 30, 2021, 6:09 PM | comments: 0

My labs came back with my thyroid hormone levels unchanged, and my cholesterol and triglycerides insignificantly lower. In other words, the levothyroxine isn't doing it at the current dosage, so the doctor is doubling it. She is also not content to wait and see what happens with cholesterol, and is putting me on Crestor.

Here's the thing that I'm struggling with. Neither of these situations is really my fault, which is to say that behavior didn't get me here. I could certainly exercise more, but even talking through my eating habits I'm not doing that poorly. I rarely drink soda and haven't had red meat in over 16 years. But I still feel like I'm at fault for something, or just feel shitty that my body is in some way defective.

The funny thing is that hypothyroidism can cause depression and fatigue, so that may be part of the reason I feel shitty. It tends to drive high cholesterol too. Hopefully the higher dosage will get some results.


The dark cloud of health concerns

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 28, 2021, 8:26 PM | comments: 0

For the most part, I can really say that things are objectively going my way lately. Parenting is challenging as always, but work is the best it has been in a long time, I don't have any major financial concerns, I've got the best partner ever and I can watch fireworks every night. It should be mostly fun to be me.

The truth is that the hypothyroidism diagnosis really fucked with me. I'm a person who has never so much as needed glasses, and I can't tell you the last time I needed a prescription for anything other than the very infrequent lorazepam I've taken. Heck, getting the Covid vaccine kind of made me feel invincible. I have a follow-up in a few days to see what impact the levothyroxine is having on me, and my suspicion is that it may depend. At first I felt uneven, with wild swings between fatigue and energy, and now that it has leveled out, I'm mostly just hungry all of the time, and my resulting behavior has negated the weight loss I initially had.

But the bigger stress is that I have a colonoscopy and endoscopy coming up in late October. The guidance has changed about when to start doing colonoscopies to age 45, so my doctor felt it was a good idea. The GI says that my history of IBS is not reason to expect something terrible going on in there, but that's not comforting. My doctor ordered the endoscopy because I've had an issue now for about six years, every three to four months, where I have difficulty swallowing. When food gets stuck, sometimes I have to force it back up. A part of me believes that if whatever that is hasn't killed me yet, I shouldn't worry. I've also recently wondered if it was related to a food allergy, since the last two times it happened was with specific food I had. I just don't know.

There are two realities I haven't warmed up to. The first is that if there's a problem, it's there regardless of doing these procedures. The second is that most things they find are not things likely to kill you. I mean, that's the point of colonoscopies in the first place, because even if they find cancer, it's early enough to treat it efficiently.

I suppose this is partially a normal thing for people entering middle age to think about. I'll feel better after the scoping.


Fading Facebook

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 26, 2021, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

I first saw Facebook in 2005, when it was only open to college students. There were a lot of college students in my social orbit (all of them coaster nerds, natch), and I thought, wow, this is a cool way to keep up with your friends. In September, 2006, it opened to everyone, and I signed up the first day. It took a couple of years, but my Gen-X friends and coworkers eventually got there. That was the beginning of the end of blogs and AOL Instant Messenger.

If you don't remember, Facebook was pretty simple back then. It had a feed of posts made by people that you were friends with, ranging from drive-by status updates to photos from some earlier event. There was no iPhone yet, so real-time attention whoring and over-sharing was still years away. Facebook didn't have groups or brands, it was just people that you knew. As someone with a very distributed social circle, the result of college, many jobs, moves, and hosting an original "social network" since 2000, Facebook was extremely useful.

You know how things changed in the intervening years, of course. The first serious problem was when they prioritized the algorithmic feed over your friends. When Facebook put engagement over your social circle, that was the beginning of the end. To say that it has played a role in fucking up our country is an understatement.

I've continued to use it largely as a journal. Few friends are still using it in a meaningful way. The export function could ultimately be useful to me as that journaling function. Still, mostly I've hung on this long to keep connected to others, but now that has largely been diminished. Then this week, their usual piss-poor quality practices made it even less useful. It stopped notifying you of replies and responses to your posts. Without those, there is no conversation. I've never used it for real-time notification (I limit that to text messages and personal email), but now there's nothing there beyond likes, which are not interesting to me. They're not even notifying you of birthdays anymore.

Maybe I need to follow through with making my own social network, even if I end up being the only one using it. At this rate, that's where Facebook will be in the grand scheme of things anyway.


Let's talk about Inspiration4

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 26, 2021, 5:11 PM | comments: 0

The launch and return of the Inspiration4 mission very much lived up to its name. Four civilian, non-professional astronauts spent about three days in orbit. Unlike the sub-orbital flights by Branson and Bezos, this crew went well beyond the orbit of the ISS and stayed there for a few days. Only one of them was a billionaire, and he chose to use the opportunity to select others who represented hope, generosity and prosperity. All of it was used to raise over $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The Virgin and Blue Origin stories attracted a lot of attention for not great reasons, mostly for billionaires being billionaires. Let me be clear that anything that advances the eventual democratization of space travel using reusable spacecraft is a good thing. It has to start somewhere. I think it's also true that we need a backup plan, because humanity clearly can't be trusted with its own survival on just one planet. But those first two flights were stunts that brough people to the edge of space, who promptly held press conferences. The Inspiration4 mission didn't involve the company CEO, and SpaceX is already pretty good at ferrying things to and from space.

The tourists definitely took a lot of pictures, and they did some light scientific research. Apparently they will open source whatever data comes from that. I think that in many ways, one of the lasting artifacts of the mission will be the documentary (on Netflix), which through the first four episodes has been completely excellent (and OMG who is picking the music, because it's amazing). Certainly the money raised will also have meaningful impact.

One of the more critical things that I've seen is something that dates back to the Apollo days: People ask why "we" spend time and energy on space when we have so many problems on the ground. I'm still surprised by this response because I think the answers are obvious. For one thing, we as a species and society are capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Space exploration has never come at the expense of something else, and it's not a zero-sum arrangement. Certainly we can ask questions about what our priorities are. I strongly believe there are not good reasons to accept that poverty exists, but it's a choice we make.

More importantly though, I think space travel does in fact serve as inspiration for what's possible. I totally get how easy it is to become cynical, that we're doomed to make the same mistakes over and over and never truly get better at being human. The last year and a half have made that view worse. But people leaving the planet, potentially going to another one entirely, that's the stuff of dreams. If we can achieve that, what else are we capable of? Seeing extraordinary achievement inspires us. Now wrap that up in the context of what it means to be in space, how vast it is, how relatively small, and temporary, people are. While some may feel this makes life pointless, I can't think of a greater motivator to make it count.


Travel aspirations

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 24, 2021, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

The last time I was outside of the state of Florida was the first week of January, 2020. That's the longest at any point in my entire life I'm sure that I haven't left the state that I'm in. (Even though the state of me is always changing... see what I did there?) In January we rented a VRBO on the Atlantic side, right on the beach, which was amazing, if a little isolated. The pandemic ramp has gone a lot slower than I expected, even following the science as best we can. Once Diana and I were fully vaccinated in April, we started to go out more locally, to local restaurants, and of course theme parks. With Simon still ineligible, we've tried to stick to outdoor stuff, so the parks have been workable for that. In July we even did a couple of nights in a Disney hotel, to enjoy the pools (and poolside bar), along with the Skyliner. But we still haven't really gone anywhere.

We're already booked for the inaugural sailing of the Disney Wish in June, so we'll leave the country at least for that one. Excited for the new ship, but also generally excited to restart what I call "lazy travel." The short cruises that we've done are gloriously brainless trips that require almost no effort on our part. We drive an hour to the port, people bring us food, we don't have to worry about feeding or entertaining Simon, and the views are pretty awesome in between the ocean rocking us to sleep. No Internet. That's our happy place.

But we had planned more serious adventure travel prior to things shutting down. Last year we were planning to cruise to Alaska again without Simon, bookended by some Vancouver time while he attended "cousin camp" in Seattle. It would have been our longest vacation without child to date and we would have been unconstrained. Like, we could've done the adult-only train trip into Yukon, or hung out with Canadians in downtown Vancouver. Still pretty bitter about not getting to do that.

This year we planned to go to Europe. I'm not sure what that specifically was going to be, but I hate that I still haven't been there. That may have involved a cruise as well, so we could do some country sampling in preparation for return visits to extended stays in one or more of those nations (Iceland, Norway, Russia, etc., the northern routes). It may have involved some circulating around the English countryside as well, so Diana could show me where she spent a semester of college.

I also would like to return to Hawaii, and since I'm on that side of the world, maybe see New Zealand.

I honestly don't know how much of this is realistic when factoring in Simon, but I'm definitely ready to go. His passport renewal is even in-process. At work, they normally make us use all of our time off, but again this year, with the pandemic lingering, I can carry over another week, which I am absolutely doing. Team Puzzoni needs to get out of Flori-duh.


Hang in there, phone

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 23, 2021, 9:07 PM | comments: 0

My current phone is a Pixel 4 that I bought in October, 2019, replacing a Pixel 2 that I had for the two years prior. Google made some weird choices with the 4, starting with facial recognition to unlock it instead of a fingerprint reader, which was less than ideal when we started wearing masks five months later. It also had some kind of radar thing so you could wave your hand over it to snooze the alarm or advance music tracks. The big sell was the advances in computational photography facilitated by a custom processor, which were back-ported to the other models relying on the stock CPU. In other words, it wasn't a great upgrade and I should have waited another year. My battery life wasn't great though, so I'm not sure if I could have waited.

In January, when we rented a beach house for a week, I baked the phone in the pocket of my swim shorts sitting in the hot tub for a half-hour. Battery life has been questionable ever since. Then recently, the inductive charging has only been working intermittently. Worse, it appears that the NFC radio has died completely, because I can't use the phone to pay for stuff at all. I didn't realize how much I relied on that. I can't get through a day without charging a little, which is not great considering I work from home.

In about a month, Google will introduce the Pixel 6 in at least two sizes, and I plan to buy one. I'm #teampixel because I firmly believe that they have the best photo science, without question. The design has historically been "meh" according to critics, but I don't know what you're supposed to do that's interesting with something that shape that you're going to put in a case anyway. The Pixel phones have always had a very clean version of Android, too, sans the crap that other vendors add. I'm very happy with Android, and it's easy to sideload my own apps, and it uses bona fide Chrome for a browser, so web apps work the way they should, even with the phone off.

I think Apple has some nice phones this year with better price-feature ratios, finally, but they're still a little pricey. I'm not crazy about where iOS has gone though, with some weird home screen management, and a settings app that is a nightmare to navigate. I'm also endlessly annoyed with Apple crippling web apps in Safari. That frustrates me more than anything. So I'm not likely to return to iPhone any time soon.

At the end of last year we finally upgraded Diana's aging Pixel 2 to a Pixel 4a with 5G, and it was only $350. Considering it has the same camera abilities as my 4, at less than half the cost, that was a steal. Its replacement, the 5a, is widely regarded as the best Android phone right now at only $450, provided you can live without inductive charging. I might have bought one if it weren't for that, but I really like that convenience.

But for all of my complaining about pricing, I suspect the 6 is going to be expensive, and I'll end up paying whatever they ask for because I'm a schmuck. It will be twice as expensive as Diana's phone, but not twice as good. Not only that, but I'll probably buy the big one, not because I like big phones, but because my eyes get tired at night and I just can't roll. (This is still weird to me, that the same phone in the morning I can see fine, but can't have it too close to me at night.)

So hang in there, old phone that I can't use to pay for stuff. You've got a month to go.


Keeping up the front-end

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 23, 2021, 12:14 AM | comments: 0

I've mostly avoided adopting front-end app frameworks in POP Forums, which is good because there's no way I could have kept up with all of the false starts and changes. There was Knockout, then Angular, then Angular again, then React, then Vue... and none of it made sense for a text-heavy app like this anyway. But the style framework, and even the basic front-end scripts I have I do want to keep current, and that means ditching jQuery, as not even Bootstrap (the CSS base I'm using) needs it. I was hesitant to even put the work item in my backlog, because it felt like a lot of work.

Tonight I mostly got there, with the exception of the wire-up for post previews (because it needs the new Bootstrap). Javascript basically can do all the things now that jQuery did. I'm not even sure if I need the polyfills anymore, because I don't care about supporting aging technology, and my stats show almost no one is using it. It's a bit more verbose in syntax, but I'm happy to have one less dependency.

I do actually use Vue in the admin, and I'm a version behind there, but it looks straight forward to update. I use it in a very minimal way, and out of one file. In fact, I've mostly avoided all of the messy front-end building and npm dependency messes. The forum script is only 5k compressed. I've never even bothered to rewrite stuff into TypeScript, because I wouldn't really win anything for doing so.

I find this sort of work tedious, but since I'm not doing it for salary, it's not too bad. All things considered this, refactoring has been going fast enough.


Tattoo two

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 20, 2021, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

It was just two and a half months ago that I made good on finally getting a tattoo, and as I said then, it was really just half of what I wanted to do. I'm not getting any younger, and I am a grownup, so why wait?

The idea here actually evolved quite a bit over the last 10 years. We were still in Seattle, and I saw a woman in one of the Microsoft cafeterias that had this amazing shoulder piece that was kind of like a steampunk watch mechanism, photo-realistic and in full color, and I had never seen anything that detailed before. As I said, that's when I really got the bug, but then time got away from me, what with the parenting and moving and jobs and pandemic and stuff.

But the ideas would come to mind again, and over that much time, they changed a lot. Inspired by what I had seen in Redmond, I thought about some kind of clock face with gears and a sun and moon revolving around it, which evolved into a compass device. After that, bits of realism came and went, and it got more symmetrical. Over time, I started to really like the clean line work I would see on the Internet, but rarely in person. The gears, and the detail they would involve, started to fall by the wayside when I started to see more geometric stuff happening that was also detailed. Mandalas had a ton of detail if they were drawn that way, and that really appealed to me. Meanwhile, with all of the cruising and general desire to be near the ocean, the nautical vibes from a compass rose really stuck. It occurred to me that the two things, in the right hands, could skillfully be combined and layered. These were two things that I've seen separately quite a bit, but even for reference, I couldn't find many examples on people.

Of course I went back to Scott "Cool-Aid" Irwin at Hart & Huntington, and if you follow him on the Instagram, you can see that he can do pretty much anything. Last time, I was also super impressed with his ability to see how things best fit on different body parts, his knowledge of needle sizes and machines, how the ink pigments have improved over time and a hundred other technical things that I think you want a good artist to help steer you on. But he also can illustrate anything, and you can see that from his stuff online. You can't pigeonhole him into any one style. Even though I had a lot of anxiety about the process of finding the "right" thing, I felt pretty good about trusting him to get there.

I got to my appointment a little early, but Scott was already drawing, as I gave him a heads up about what I wanted. As much as I wanted to nail something down in advance, it was definitely more efficient to just be there and have some conversations with him. That's a weird interaction, because you're basically telling an artist how to change what they've done. I mean, it's constructive criticism, but I appreciate there's a human there. Anyway, from his starting point, we talked about shading the compass rose, and putting basically a mini-mandala in the middle, and then some sizing go arounds. The fourth time, I believe we had it right, and he worked up the stencil.

The first time on, he didn't like the way it was sitting, even though it looked straight to me. The curvature of the back, especially when I leaned on that leg, made it look kind of "bent". He washed it off and reapplied it probably 2 degrees off of the first attempt, and it made a difference. It was a little disconcerting because it was kind of a purple mess, but you could see where the lines belonged.

This was more "pokey" than my first one, and I admittedly winced a little toward the shin. I don't know if there's such a thing as good pain, but this feels like you're earning something. Total time in the chair was about an hour and 45 minutes, and about an hour before that spent on drawing and revising. The shading in the pointy parts didn't feel like much at first, but they felt like a sunburn afterward and looked pretty bad for the first few hours. Lots of good conversation in the shop, and it's crazy how these days you literally have people bringing their kids. Really great vibes there.

Is there any particular meaning here? No, not really. For a long time, I thought about ways that elements of some design could have special meaning, but over time, I kind of let most of that go. Ultimately, I just wanted to have something that was visually appealing to me, that felt like art. This became even more the case after Diana got her new tattoo a few weeks after my first one. For whatever self-esteem issues I've had in my life, the one thing I've always felt good about was my lower legs. Some combination of cycling in high school and volleyball in college created definition, and it has stayed there even while the rest of me has varied from fit to doughy and back.

What's next? I don't know, but I think I'm good for awhile. I really wanted to do these first two things at the same time, and last year. A part of me wishes I didn't wait so long, but I give myself a pass because, well, life has been pretty busy. As fast as the last ten years went, my focus the next ten is to be less busy. This will be a story from the year that I realized this.


The back to school dream

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 18, 2021, 2:59 PM | comments: 0

Two years ago I mentioned the recurring moving into a dorm dream that I frequently had, but I want to expand that into something bigger. While the moving in and dorm scene is often part of these dreams, they have since evolved into a series of dreams involving the start of school. Sometimes it's high school, with me having to go back for one last semester or something, but more often it's college. The locations vary a lot, infrequently something that seems like a college campus, but otherwise ranging from something like the Microsoft main campus (which feels like a university) to a cruise ship or combinations thereof.

What happens in these dreams? I generally encounter people from my entire life history, ranging from friends today to people I knew in college. I don't think Diana has ever been in one, but Simon was once because I was late picking him up for some reason. There is usually some concern about completing something on time. The security issues I mentioned in that previous post often come back, but not always. In last night's version, I did return to the street to find my car missing. There is always a lot of walking around looking for someplace that I'm supposed to be, and worry that I'm going to miss something.

Still absent from these dreams is any sense of social anxiety, which is good, but the new themes of missing something, these time based anxieties, are not welcome. I suppose that they're not exactly surprising either. Between the pandemic conditions of the last year and a half and my own reckoning with midlife, it isn't hard to see where the anxiety comes from.

My doctor has suggested it might be worth exploring active anxiety management, but I feel like we need to get this hypothyroidism thing under control first before we start throwing more medications into the mix. I also believe that therapy in the last year has also helped with a ton of the anxiety. The minor panic attacks I use the lorazepam for have become less frequent, maybe three to four weeks apart, so none of this anxiety is creating a quality of life problem at the moment.


Pandemic Friday nights

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 8:38 PM | comments: 0

Early in the pandemic last year, when it wasn't clear that we could really do much of anything, we settled into a kind of rhythm. It usually involved me pouring a drink around 4 in the afternoon, as work was winding down. We would fire up a live stream from Suzy and Alex, a duo we met on our New Year's cruise at the end of 2018 on the Disney Fantasy. They're wonderfully charming, from the UK, and played covers of stuff. If they weren't playing, then we would run some playlists, and get our drink on.

Tonight, as work winded down, we did something kind of similar, but without any specific dinner plans, it was a "fend for yourself" kind of night where we would pick over leftovers or frozen food. I fired up some playlists from my own streaming music service, and we tried to set some new high scores on Ms. Pac-Man (machine review forthcoming).

A lot of our weekend activity lately has been going to Epcot, sadly without friends since they're not really visiting Orlando again yet. Between that and Diana's return to work, we haven't had an evening at home at the same time in awhile. I don't want to go back to a year ago, but I guess I want to point out that it wasn't all bad. We tried our best to make it work, roll with what was going on.

We're so close to getting beyond this. Fuck, I wish people would just get vaccinated so we could move on. Then we get the kids approved, and we put it all behind us. I don't understand why the people who last summer were all, "But the economy!" are all now avoiding the vaccine, which costs them nothing. America seems extra stupid, and that's frustrating.

On the plus side, there has been some really good music this year.


Too many old comprooders

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I have a lot of computers that I'm not using. When it comes to laptops, my upgrade cycle has been about every three years. The improvements from one to another are often marginal, though battery degradation is usually an issue. My desktop cycle is much longer. My late 2009 iMac I used until late 2015, so that was six years. It became Simon's computer. I replaced it with another iMac, and I used that until early 2019, so about four years, and that went to Simon while the old one I gave to one of his former teachers. At that point I built a Windows desktop, and I suspect that will last me at least another three or four years.

But most of the laptops are still hanging out. I have my 2012 MacBook Air still, which is sitting in my cabinet. It can still act as a build agent for iOS apps, which I admittedly don't make unless it's out of experimentation. That one had its battery replaced at some point after moving to Florida. I have a Surface Pro 3 that I bought in 2014, which was never my daily laptop, but I used it when traveling and going to clients for work because it was nice and small. The same year I bought a 13" MacBook Pro, and that was my daily driver until early 2018. That is currently Diana's laptop, so she's using a 7-year-old machine. That was the year I switched to Windows, and I bought the HP Spectre. I used that one until last spring, when the battery life got particularly terrible, and I was always annoyed at how warm it would typically get. I replaced it with the Surface Laptop 4, which I adore because of the goofy Alcantara fabric. It never gets warm, and even with a big developer load I can get 6 or 7 hours of battery life out of it, more with benign web browsing.

Note I still have all of those laptops. The Air I'll hang on to. The Surface Pro 3 I almost never use except to drive the lasers when we have raves at home. (Or a New Year's Eve party, which last happened December 31, 2019.) Like I said, Diana is still using the MacBook Pro. Yesterday, I bought a $45 battery to replace the failing one in the HP, and now it works like a champ again, though it gets a little warm still. Not sure what to do with that one. I could give it to Diana, but at this point I think she prefers Macs, and she really deserves a new computer. She says she might be content with a ChromeBook.

I think I might donate the HP, because someone can easily get another three or four years out of that thing. The rest, I'm not sure.

The funny thing is, I remember that laptops were really shitty back in the day unless you spent a ton. The Sony VAIO I bought in 2000 I remember paying at least $2,500 for (with 64 megabytes, not gigs, or RAM). Then in 2005-ish I bought an HP to tote around for consulting, and it was shit. The power connector came loose, and I had to solder it back into place. I only had that one for like two years, when Apple flipped to Intel.