One of the most troubling cultural phenomena that I've seen in recent years is a bizarre sense of selfishness and individualism among segments of the population. Basically, anyone that tells you what to do is bad or suspect, has ill intent or otherwise is trying to control you. It's all about me, and fuck you. Mind you, I don't think this constitutes a majority of society, but it's a really vocal group, and people seem willing to get sucked into that line of thinking.
Even if you don't subscribe to the value system of one of the common religions, which all promote helping each other out, I think it's a fundamental human instinct that we all have. We don't like to see people hurting, and it feels good to help. It's one of the most basic social contracts we have. You hold the door for the person behind you, because what kind of dick doesn't do that?
Individualism has its place, certainly. We should celebrate our authentic selves, and not bow to the conforming opinions of others, again, provided that it doesn't come at the expense of others. But the flaw in the behavior that I see, and one of the things that self-identifying libertarians in particular seem to ignore, is that it's impossible for any person to exist in a vacuum and not affect others. This is one of the risks of scientific research, that we always risk influencing the things we observe. For humans going about their lives, it's even harder, because we're not just observing, we're interacting with the world. We all have to share its resources and engage in cooperation in order to survive. That's not my opinion, it's an objective fact.
Yeah, I'm obviously framing this in the context of the pandemic. Wearing masks and social distancing and participating in the mitigation of the whole thing absolutely sucked, and it came at great cost in lives and economic damage. People protested about getting their haircuts and the chance to drink in a bar and such, because of their "rights" and their "freedom." Of course, we know that there's a cost to that, because we have a shared world, and we need each other. Healthcare workers, retail and distribution workers and other front-line and necessary people, all of whom work in the service of others, took the worst of the results of the actions of those who wouldn't play along. Now, the same thing is going on among the unvaccinated, which unfortunately includes kids under 12 who can't yet be vaccinated.
The thing is, human cooperation is not antithetical to individualism. If the vaccination ramp has demonstrated anything, it's that cooperation enables individual freedom. I can walk into a grocery store without a mask now, or have a drink in a theme park, because of that cooperation. Getting vaccinated wasn't just for me, it was for every other human I encounter, including my child.
Helping each other out is not "socialism" or "communism" (and these ignorant people don't understand the difference anyway). It's what decent people do. Sometimes we don't even have a choice in helping, but I don't complain about paying taxes, because they enable me and people in my community to enjoy access to education, safety services, paved roads, etc. All of these make it possible for me to enjoy my individualism. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say. I'm happy to get a vaccine, donate to charities, and hold the door, because it's my part in cooperation that enables people. Also, it's not "virtue signaling" or whatever stupid shit you dream up to justify your own selfishness, it's just not being a dick.
All of my individual successes, whether they're personal, professional or financial, have come about because of cooperation with others. I'm tired of hearing about your freedom to choose when it comes at the expense of others. If you really want to be patriotic, do the thing that helps everyone out. You're not giving up anything by getting vaccinated or holding the door.
There has been a lot of backlash directed at Jeff Bezos, the Amazon and Blue Origin guy, and Richard Branson, the Virgin guy, after both of them made private voyages to the edge of space with other passengers, largely as a tourism endeavor. For some reason, Elon Musk gets tossed in there as well, even though he's not getting into rockets, and SpaceX is mostly ferrying satellites and cargo for governments and private industry. There's a lot of hostility.
Certainly some of this is the optics. It doesn't help that Bezos, in a fit of cosmic stupidity, wearing a cowboy hat, thanked Amazon customers and workers for making his flight happen. That's not a great thing to say when your workforce is dealing with a fairly brutal working environment. Branson doesn't get a lot of love either. I think the controversy, if you can call it that, comes down to two topics: Wealth inequality and dedication of resources to solving problems.
Let's start with the wealth inequality. One of the problems with this as a broad topic is that the spectrum of wealth is treated as a binary or zero-sum situation, that there can only be wealthy people at the expense of poor people. In a democratic and capitalist society, the issue is that there is a floor to wealth, not having any, but no ceiling at the other end. There are hundreds of institutional norms and policies that have continued to slant the inability of people to ascend from poverty, but the existence of the rich guy isn't itself the reason for this necessarily. He's more the outcome than the cause. You should be pissed that Bezos pays so little in taxes, but fixing that requires change in policy. Hating on him or people like him doesn't change anything. As much as I align with a lot of the social causes of progressives, this is an area where I struggle to connect. Bernie is always there to incite rage toward the Bezos archetype, when he should be concentrating on the loopholes that prevent them from proportionately contributing to society the way the rest of us have to. Let's treat the causes of the inequality disease, not the symptoms like billionaires building rockets.
As for dedicating to resources solving problems, private industry is getting the same negative attention that the feds endured during the Apollo era. The scientific value of space travel is high even when it appears to be for the sake of space tourism. What we're really talking about is advancing technology. When Musk says he wants to make humans an interplanetary species, that we need a backup plan because of what we're doing to Earth, I don't question his sincerity. His company has been mercilessly focused on reducing the cost of spaceflight in order to make that happen, and if that means a tourist trip, so be it. Remember, early automobiles were the exclusive domain of the rich as well. Home computers and cellular phones were, too, and now everyone has them (as the same device, no less). Should the technologists of those times not tried to solve those problems?
Of course not, because the reality is that we as a society can do more than one thing at a time. That was true of government in the Apollo era, and it's true now for private individuals. If we're to criticize Bezos and Branson, then criticize them for not doing more philanthropic work or funding research for those causes, but not for building rockets.
Indeed, we often have to figure out what our moral expectations are. Bill Gates has dedicated his fortune to solving public health problems, even focusing on eradicating polio. How much is enough? Should he give up his mansion on Lake Washington to help solve that problem? We can apply the same question to normal people like us... Should we not vacation because we should spend that money to feed the hungry in our communities? The answer, of course, is that it's not a binary choice.
Admittedly, some of this distaste for Bezos feels justified. I cringe when I hear him talk, and I despise the way people are treated in his distribution centers. But if I try to separate the person from this idea of commoditizing space travel, I think it's a worthwhile endeavor, and not mutually exclusive to lifting people out of poverty or preventing disease or any similarly worthy and moral effort.
There were a few people who thought that because I really liked the musicals of Disney's late 80's/early 90's movies that I was a big Disney fan in my college years. I didn't really know it at the time, but I was more of a fan of musical theater than anything, and those movies were just animated versions of that. On my first visit to Walt Disney World as an adult, I was kind of underwhelmed by the lack of the thrill rides, though it didn't help that Stephanie and I blasted through three of the four parks in one day. We spent most of our time at Universal Orlando, where I remember thinking that, "They've out-Disney'd Disney." I thought the Lost Continent, not based on any big Hollywood IP, and Jurassic Park, were mind blowing.
I think it was my visit to Disney in late 2009, with Diana pregnant, that I really looked at WDW differently. Being months away from parenthood, I noticed every child and how they moved through the parks. It was a totally different experience. A year and a half later, we returned to Universal Orlando, and had Simon with us. Even those parks, which I spent so much time at in the years before, was totally different with my tiny human.
Moving here was not motivated by the theme parks (well, except that my first job here was for one), but it was a huge plus. Having no amusement park or theme park near by when we lived in Seattle was definitely a trade-off for the amazing scenery. But the day after Simon and Diana arrived, we took that little 3-year-old to Magic Kingdom, and it was amazing for all of us.
It's true that theme parks are owned by huge multinational media companies that essentially print money by giving people a contrived environment to indulge in escapism. What I fail to understand is why those who align with that criticism think this is bad. Real life, whatever that's supposed to mean, is hard. Everyone is burdened with something on a scale between basic survival and extraordinary responsibility or expectations. Even if money makes some things easier, you still have to roll with interpersonal relationships of all types, maintaining your health and generally finding your place in the world. It often feels like we don't have time to hope or experience wonder. We forget what it's like to see the world with child-like curiosity and joy.
Theme parks, I believe, can be a form of art, and art serves as a way for us to engage emotionally. I've stood at the base of a snow-covered mountain and have been completely awestruck by it, of course, but the natural wonders of the world create a different emotional response than art. A song or a movie can move me, but rounding the corner and seeing a real-life manifestation of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars is a pretty powerful thing too. I logically understand that there's a tall dude in that Chewbacca costume, but I allow my imagination to believe otherwise.
Like any form of art, I'm sometimes inspired by theme parks. The first time I walked into Hogsmeade at Universal, I couldn't believe it. Thousands of people made a movie real. I felt the same way the first time I walked into Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. It was inspiring to think that humans conceived of all of this, and they made it. Are my challenges really that hard? Definitely not!
All of that new Star Wars goodness had just opened when the pandemic started. Even though the parks would re-open four months later, I wasn't convinced that the science made it OK to go back. And frankly, the inspiring fake reality of the attractions was grounded in a reality that included plexiglass barriers and people wearing masks. That wasn't escapism. Once we were vaccinated (the adults at least), and things started to become more normal, it felt right. We missed the escapism. I missed the inspiration.
I'm not crazy about the cynics that believe that the art and escapism of theme parks is somehow artificial or juvenile. As I said, we don't get a lot of permission or time to see the world with wonder and joy, and that's unfortunate. I'm thankful that we have those opportunities, and that they're so convenient for us. I can see fireworks from my window, every single night, and it makes me smile every single time I see it. It's not "real life," but it's still inspiring.
As someone who tries to be an empathetic human being, I've come to realize that there are countless things that I do everyday that are not part of any conscious decision making. The way I exist in the world was largely chosen by someone else. If you can acknowledge and accept this, I think it becomes a lot easier to accept people who do not conform to what you believe to be standard operating procedure.
The most obvious of these constructs is religion. Sure, you will meet people who have converted or changed religions for one reason or another (often marriage), but for the most part, no one chooses their religion. You are born into a family, and you accept what they believe. You did not choose it. If you didn't choose it, how can you be so sure that you've got the "right" religion? Obviously, you can't be sure, and that's why it's called faith, but my point is more that you had no part in choosing this. You were not offered alternatives, or the option to forgo religion entirely.
Society has countless social contracts that are completely arbitrary. I mean, why do boys wear pants and girls wear dresses? There is no universe where you could objectively convince me that a skirt isn't more comfortable (in warmer climates). But if I start wearing a skirt, you'll immediately identify me as weird or make assumptions about my sexuality. Did you choose these standards? Of course not. When you were a kid, someone gave you dolls or toy trucks because of your gender. There is no logical reason for this, it's just a standard that you accept, but did not choose.
Gender profiling, of course, is just the start of it. We do the same thing with race, ethnicity, religion, wealth, sexual identity, etc. Many of these social contracts are the source of inequality as we know it today.
So what do you do with this? If you encounter someone or something that varies from your expectation, ask yourself where the expectation came from. If it is arbitrary, and not something you got to choose, maybe it's not something to judge others by. Your system of beliefs and values may not entirely be your own, and they may run counter to the very morality that you claim to embrace.
This post started out with a bunch of self-aware stuff, but I want to go a different direction. I kind of want to complain. Why do we have this cultural expectation that rest is the reward of hard work? Shouldn't rest just be part of the normal cycle of things?
For a number of years, I've been very specific about making sure that I take a week off quarterly. Go at it for 12 weeks, then take a week off. I think that this is a good practice, but we all know that you can't just be at your best for weeks on end. In a conversation with some of my peers the other day, it came up that one of our execs, for example, realizes that there are times when we're just not effective, whether it's because of life, fatigue or you're just not interested. In those cases, he just walks away, and does something else. Granted, we have to be adults and understand what we're accountable for, but deferment isn't neglect. What he says makes a lot of sense.
Not allowing ourselves to acknowledge and act on the idea that we need rest seems like one of those cultural things that we're programmed to do. These dotcom bros who talk about "rock stars" and other such bullshit are part of the problem, but it's a uniquely American thing to suggest that rest and a balanced life shows weakness. It's required by law in other countries. And to be clear, there's no mandate for this at work, it just feels like an obligation implied by past experience.
We have messed up priorities.
My birthday week ended up being a bust in some ways, given the wash-out weather from Elsa, me being sick and some other events outside of my control, but if there's one thing that I can call a win, it was that I was far less exhausted mentally, as I had been feeling. The reason is pretty simple, I think, because I made an effort to just concentrate on me for a few days. That's only selfish if it's the way you roll all of the time.
Like a lot of people, I think the last year left me feeling anxious and exhausted for all of the obvious reasons. And even if you do believe that you have the power to positively affect the world, it seems like a daunting task. Throw in the usual (or extra) stress of parenting, work and a good midlife crisis in the mix, you know, it doesn't feel great.
It's hard to give yourself permission to concentrate on yourself. We derive a lot of self-worth on our ability to do things for others, and for work, and indeed the world. It can be an identity issue. While society reasonably looks down on sociopathic behavior, it doesn't exactly make it normal to engage in a little self-care either. It's not the same thing as being selfish, but we kind of lump it all together.
It's probably my age, but I spend a lot of time wondering if I'm doing everything I can to leave the world a little better than I found it. Like probably most 40-somethings, I want to have purpose and meaning. What I'm learning is that you can go too far in that pursuit, to the extent that it takes way more than you're giving. I'm learning to not do that. Instead, I'm doing the same thing I would do in my professional life: Prioritize important things, set reasonable goals, and take a quiet victory lap as appropriate.
More to the point though, stay informed, but don't doom-scroll yourself into despair. This is a lot easier now that we can leave the house to do recreational things, certainly. If you see injustice or poverty or something else that bothers you, it's OK to be influenced by it, but there's only so much you can do in the moment. No one has infinite scope or resources, so you lean on that prioritization and goals.
For a long time, especially in the aughts, there were at least three or four network TV shows that I tried to religiously watch, typically recorded on my PC-based DVR that I build a million years ago. By the early 2010's, there were still a few shows, but it was down to maybe two. By 2016, I think I was down to zero. I remember watching Parenthood, The Black List and This Is Us was probably the last one. None of it was that compelling, or I just wasn't going to commit to 20 episodes.
Things have changed a lot in the last few years. I wouldn't characterize my TV watching as massively increased, but there's way more stuff worth watching, of a higher quality. Streaming changed everything. Netflix had the unusual hit first, then Hulu, and then Hulu had all of the network shows (if any were worth watching) the day after. Then Disney+ launched, and they blew the doors off of the storytelling possible in short seasons. As for the casual "background" stuff to watch, Disney had a little of it, and Discovery+ filled in the blanks with all of the HGTV and Animal Planet stuff. Not to be left in the cold, Apple brought a few good things like Ted Lasso and The Morning Show. The timing, with the pandemic, was certainly ideal. I think we spend around $30 on streaming a month (I don't know anyone who actually pays for Apple+), which is still less than what it was with Internet plus basic cable.
And now, because they keep consolidating the broadcast stations on fewer physical channels (digital you can put a bunch of virtual channels on a single physical channel), everything in Orlando is on channels that I can get from home over the air with a FireTV Recast. So when we want to see local news or sports on network TV, it's all there. We still watch most stuff on Hulu from the networks if it doesn't have to be live.
Today they announced Emmy nominations and it's almost all streaming stuff they would never have on the broadcast networks. I'm thrilled to see The Mandalorian and WandaVision with a ton of nominations. Also Ted Lasso. These shows have been so good.
If anything good came out of the pandemic, it's that for a year or so, much of humanity did its best not to spread around a disease that caused a relatively high number of people to get sick and/or die. While we can debate how good we were at that, or are given the vaccination holdouts, the interesting side effect of all that disease transmission mitigation is that we had historically low instances of all of the usual stuff. US flu cases were down an insane 99% in the last part of the year, which seems impossible.
Two things we can expect in the next year is the largest year-over-year flu case increase in history, obviously, but also, a lot of us are gonna get sick with something for the first time in a long time. My last thing was some mild flu-like thing in the fall of 2019, I think. Friday, I woke up with a sore throat and crazy sinus pressure, which I think is a sinus infection, or maybe just what one would consider a "head cold." First day I had a fever of 100.7, though this came pretty late in the day. The second day I was at 99.6. Today I was normal, but dealing now with fatigue from non-sleep and some productive coughing. Perfect way to end my week off. <eyeroll>
Of course, the first thing you think, and everyone is apparently anxious to ask, is, "OMG is it the Covid?" With breakthrough infections among mRNA vaccine recipients around 1 in 500, and none of the stereotypical symptoms or sequence of symptoms, it seemed highly improbable. Indeed, through the worst of it, none of it felt unremarkable or exceptional. It was bad enough that I wouldn't have wanted to work, and I watched a lot of TV and movies. Two movies had John Lithgow, can you guess which?
I'm not sure this even came about from exposure to other people. I creatively tried to breathe water the other night, which led to me coughing and pushing it up into my sinuses. Almost without failure, water into my sinuses results in bad things, but usually it's because I don't swim right and took a bad turn in a water park. Or there was the time I inhaled very fine pepper at the Paris breakfast buffet in Vegas, and briefly made faces like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction when she tried to snort heroin. Stuff that isn't air in those cavities are bad news. Sure, it could have been being around people in the theme parks, but because of the weather, we weren't in crowded places much.
Mostly I want to use this opportunity to complain about the fact that a third of my time off was wasted in bed, and I want a do-over.
I have a rule where I make sure that I take time off at least once a quarter. Travel has been challenging, to say the least, in the last year, and it's still not ideal since Simon is not yet vaccinated. Our go-to summer cruise wasn't an option either because the industry isn't back yet. But every few years, we like to do a short stay on-property at Walt Disney World, to enjoy the pools and resort life like a tourist. I also feel pretty good about spending money in Orange County as it rebounds, and while Disney is certainly an enormous multinational company, in this case it employs more people in one place than anywhere in the US, and that happens to be where I live.
So two months ago we decided to do two nights, as Simon had been asking since the last time we did it, at Coronado Springs in the fall of 2019. The trick was not telling him. The second trick was just finding a room, because there weren't many to choose from that were under $400 a night. The resorts are not fully open yet, and apparently it's less an issue of demand and more about available workforce. We did find a Cars themed room at Art of Animation, which is a weird property on the map. It's one of the furthest away from Magic Kingdom, sitting opposite of Pop Century, the massive budget complex across the lake. Both of these became better when they opened the Skyliner gondola system, connecting the hotels to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Art of Animation is mostly suite rooms though, so parents get a little privacy and a separate bathroom. As well designed as the rooms are, they're a little utilitarian, with a lot of very durable materials, and in this case, without any carpet. They're not "cheap," they're just not the kind of luxury you'll find in the premium resorts. But they're also not bargain priced, because they're suites.
I was already taking the week off, so we scheduled our stay to be Wednesday to Friday. We started by going to Epcot in the morning, and around 1, when I got the notification that the room was ready, I told Simon that I had to run home to handle a "work emergency." What I really did is go straight to the hotel. Even pre-Covid, they were doing direct check-in, so I just went to the room indicated in the app, used any of my bazillion magic bands, ticket cards, or my phone, to enter the room. Our suitcase was already hiding in the car. From then on, Diana just had to execute a ride on the Skyliner to "check out" the hotel.
Of course I recorded his reaction below, which was totally worth it. I wish I could say everything else went as smoothly, but it didn't. Thursday was a total wash-out because of the tail end of tropical storm Elsa. We didn't get a boarding group to Rise of the Resistance on either try, and spent a good half-hour sheltering in the inactive Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular venue as it rained. We saw the Lightning McQueen Racing Academy show, had lunch, and nothing else. We put in solid pool time in the afternoon, fortunately. Friday I missed completely, sick with what I believe was a sinus infection, fever and all. Again, happy that the surprise worked out!
After last year's dabbling with fake tattoos, it should come as no surprise that I finally got around to doing it for real. I was all ready to do it then, but you know, pandemic and stuff.
I had been thinking a lot about what to do first, because there was the lyric from "Sound" by the band James, and then there was the aforementioned rough idea of combining a classic compass rose with a mandala design. The latter is pretty abstract and requires some real artist time, so I figured I'd do the text thing first. After experimenting with the fake stuff, I eventually realized that I wanted it all on one line, all lower-case, in a mono-space font. I really like the simplicity and subtle serif accents of Courier Prime, which I found on Google Fonts. Two minutes in Photoshop, done.
Finding someone to do it was not as straight forward. Here's the thing, the people who are really good artists are also the most technically skilled, and a lot of them are so booked with work that they only do the stuff that they want to do. That's fair, but it's also kind of frustrating. On top of that, some are independent, but not great with communication. One guy whose work I really like here books via Instagram messages, and only once a month when he posts a story saying he's ready to. You can imagine how compatible this is with me, a guy who makes a living in software.
A friend recently got her first tattoo at Hart & Huntington, which is right there in the middle of Universal's City Walk. This sounds like a tourist trap, but it's far from the kind of places you'll find on International Drive or 192. Not saying there aren't good artists in those places (there are, but they didn't return messages), but those are areas I avoid. The roster at H&H is, as best I can tell, all A-players. Their portfolios are all pretty great, depending on what kind of style you're looking for. The guy I narrowed in on was Scott "Cool-Aid" Irwin. Among the folks working from that shop, I felt like he had the most diverse set of skills. He can do all of the styles. My little bit of text wouldn't be that interesting, but I could see from his work that he'd nail it.
I would have liked to have had Diana along, but I ended up going solo for a 12:30 appointment. Parking at Universal is now $26, so yikes. The shop is super clean, and comfortable. The paperwork is all digital, so read and initial a bunch of stuff, and you're good. I only had to wait about a month for the appointment, and they use a bona fide scheduling app.
Scott printed out the text that I had uploaded, and we talked about the size. The trick with the forearm and something so linear is that your skin twists in all kinds of interesting ways there, which I learned with the fake stuff last year. Too close to the inside of the elbow, he said, and it scrunches up, too far over your wrist and it's just never going to be straight. At this point, I was pretty Zen about it, and I wasn't looking for perfection. He put it on the transfer paper and we figured out how to orient it with me standing to cover the 80% cases of relative straightness. I actually like the position, as it seems dynamic when I turn my double-joined elbows or wrists around (not sure which, I just know not everyone can bend their arm like I can).
From there, I got comfortable, and he asked me what my pain tolerance was like. I asked if it could be any worse than having a man push 14 gauge needles through your nipples, and he said I'd likely be fine. It felt exactly as I expected, like someone was poking me thousands of times with a tiny needle. A part of me was disappointed that it didn't hurt more, like I wasn't earning it. In fact, I didn't experience any of the anxiety or hormone rushes of my piercing experiences, which is very unexpected.
I asked Scott and another artist there what had changed in the last 20 years, because in my college days, most tattoos looked like they were done with blunt crayons. They explained that a lot of it was just that equipment was generally more available, and you certainly didn't have to make it yourself. Ink pigments, they speculated, have also improved a lot. Really small needles help too. Above all though, Scott said you could really focus on the craft, and not get wrapped up in the tooling.
I remember a point where I would never even consider it, but Stephanie had a few before and after we met. When I met Diana, she already had her cat tattoo from about seven years prior, and then we moved to Seattle two years later, when I gained an entirely new appreciation for body art. I started to get some ideas even then about what I'd like to get, and time just got away from me. Like, a whole decade. Then Covid, and yeah, I may be having a minor midlife crisis. I'm owning that.
So my first tattoo is simple, and it's a starting point. Because it's small, I speculated that it would almost have an old typewriter ribbon feel due to the variances in my skin and imperfection of the human doing the work, but it's way cleaner than I expected, for now. This guy is so good. I imagine after it heals and fades a little, it will have more of that texture. It's in a spot that rarely gets sun, but I still imagine it will require a touch up 20 years from now.
The other idea, the compass rose and mandala thing, if that makes sense to put on one of my calves, I probably want to do that. It's the only part of my body that I unapologetically believe looks great (thank you bicycles and volleyball). I don't know if I should wait, but probably not. Not saying I'm gonna have a full sleeve in the next year, because I don't have that many ideas, but the genie is out of the bottle now.
Walt Disney World did a couple of test runs of Happily Ever After, the fireworks and video projection show, at Magic Kingdom late in June. The intention was to bring the nightly show back starting July 1. I can't quite put into words the symbolic meaning of this. Living about 11,000 feet away from Cinderella Castle (and thankfully out of the thick of the tourist stuff), the nightly fireworks were something that you could set your watch by. Every out-of-town visitor that stayed with us would make it a point to watch. On March 15, 2020, I watched the show from my driveway, and wondered when we would see it again.
About four months later, the Walt Disney World parks reopened, oddly enough just as Covid cases were starting to get really out of control. But the strange, dystopian approach, with plastic barriers everywhere and "wait here" signs on the ground everywhere, made it clear that things were far from normal. The live entertainment, including the fireworks, did not return. As much as it seemed like a bad idea to open the parks, the reality is that there was little to no community spread, which makes sense given the protocols they were using. We were in no hurry to be a part of that.
We bought back in when we got vaccinated. Simon, being 11, is not, but he did so well in school wearing a mask, and following the rules to reduce risk, that we figured that he could handle it. Even with the eased restrictions, he still has to wear his mask indoors at the parks. But in those first few weeks, the lack of live entertainment made the parks feel like, I dunno, I guess a fancy count fair. Street performers and live music, and even the parades I hate getting stuck behind, give theme parks a certain soul. And the nighttime spectaculars, well, there's a reason they refer to them as a "kiss goodnight."
Since July 1, we've had a number of people hanging out on our street at 9:15, because ours offers the best view in the neighborhood. They did not do the usual extra-large show they normally do for Independence Day ("perimeter fireworks," as they say, because they launch them from all around the perimeter of the park instead of just behind the castle), but it was still a welcome experience. On Saturday, we went to Epcot for the last three hours, after a total rain-out of a day. We got to do the primary rides, take one last sip from the Flower & Garden Festival stands, heard live music, and saw Epcot Forever, which should be called Epcot Temporary, since it's a placeholder they started doing when Illuminations ended. The new show, Harmonious, starts in October. Not impressed with the placeholder, but it was still amazing to be in the park and sharing the experience with the people who help pay for my schools and roads (tourists paying sales and bed taxes).
Welcome back, fireworks.
If you stalk me on social media, then you know that I am absolutely obsessed with what I consider one of the best albums in years. I bought the previous two Wolf Alice albums, My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life, and they were both pretty strong, if a little inconsistent. I've always loved "Sadboy" from the latter as one of those fantastic songs that builds up, chills out in the bridge, and then shreds.
Blue Weekend is extraordinary in part because this is a bona fide, long-form album. I don't know if they meant for it to be listened to for 40 minutes straight, but it deserves and demands it. There are no throw-away songs at all. Every one is good, and they range from piano ballads to face-melting screamers. Prior to the album release, they put out "Smile" and "The Last Man On Earth," and I thought, "Wow, these are both amazing, I hope they can deliver on the rest."
Spoiler alert: They totally nailed it.
If I had to label Wolf Alice, I'd call them indie or alt rock or something like that. They're fairly guitar driven, but these are real compositions, with rich texture from all the parts and beautiful production that doesn't bury singer Ellie Rowsell's voice. And like I said, she's equally comfortable behind the piano as she is screaming at you. She captures what I like about other female-led rock bands (Garbage, Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeah's), her feminine voice contrasts wonderfully against a wall of sound. Where they leveled up though is that this set of songs has an amazing flow, and I find it hard to not finish the album. It's so good.
About the songs:
I challenge you, as a rock music fan, to not like this album. It's so good. I haven't felt like this about any album in years. Probably the last two in this category are The Naked And Famous' 2013 album In Rolling Waves and Grouplove's Spreading Rumors from the same year. This one is just so good.
In my second "real" job, at Penton Media, I met my friend Mike. I learned fairly soon that he declared an entire week around his birthday as being named for him, and celebrated accordingly. This is something that I started to embrace for myself thereafter, to varying degrees, depending on the year. It was a big deal when I turned 30, for example, but being in the midst of our Florida move, went largely unrecognized at 40.
There are a lot of reasons I think you should celebrate yourself, at least annually. By the time you get into your teenage years, birthdays become less important to you. Mine was always joined with Independence Day, which was also my great-grandmother's birthday (she lived to her mid-90's, when I was in high school), so it was never entirely my day alone. And to be clear, I think that's fine.
But as I got older, I did notice that birthdays, along with Christmas and the various "greeting card" holidays, came with a lot of baggage among some adults. Far too many people use these occasions as ways to measure how much others love or appreciate them, a kind of test of sorts. That's pretty toxic and gross. And now everyone has a day, and collectively there are too many days. Can't we just respect, appreciate and value people everyday instead of having to make it a point once a year?
I realize that I am probably not culturally aligned with most everyone here, but I've just not maintained any expectation that others should be celebrating me on a special day. That's why I feel pretty good about taking a week to celebrate myself and do the things that I want. Sure, I get significant attention from Diana and Simon, but I have zero expectation of it.
I've got some interesting activities coming this week.
Ad revenue from my sites has been taking a gradual dump for years, but last year in the pandemic it got particularly bad because no one was advertising, and traffic to the sites tanked because theme parks weren't exactly something people were interested in when they couldn't visit them. As I wrap up June, I'm shocked to see that the rebound has been extraordinary. After losing money most of last year, things are in the green again. It'll probably take a year to make up for the losses, at least, but it's going in the right direction. Back in the good old days, a decade ago, I could pay my mortgage with the ad revenue profit. We're not back in that territory, but were it not for the previous losses, at least I could make a car payment now.
The raw numbers for June are nuts. CoasterBuzz revenue was up 240% over June last year, attributed to only a 31% rise in page views, but revenue per page was up 160%. The PointBuzz numbers are a little harder to figure out, because last year I moved the forums on to the hosted service and didn't have all of the traffic instrumentation moved over. Revenue I can tell is up 100%, with revenue per page up 180% on 25% fewer page views. I can't exactly explain that one, but it partly has to do with the way forum pages are infinite scroll, and there are more posts being made without refreshing the pages.
For additional context, CB is up 100% in revenue, PB up 20%, compared to 2019 (the last "normal" year), on 26% and 34% fewer visits, respectively. That unequivocally demonstrates a significant change for what traffic is worth these days, and that's an unexpected trend.
To go way back, it's harder to compare because of differences in tooling. June 2021 for both sites is down around 70% in page views compared to 2010, but only down around 40% in visits, and 10% down in users. The page views is easy to explain, because back then there was no infinite scroll in the forums, so that number isn't useful at all. The visits and users are a better story, though it says that there aren't significantly fewer people, they're just coming back less often. Regardless, the revenue compared to 2010 is down 42% across both sites (I had a mix of five ad providers in those days). So depending on how you measure it, users are more valuable, visits are about the same. If you want to account for the biggest change, the traffic almost doesn't matter. Now, two-thirds of traffic comes from mobile devices, and in 2010, it was essentially zero. That is your big change in behavior.
Early last year, I invested a lot of time into getting all of the things on modern frameworks and technology, the biggest part of that being to migrate everything to .NET Core, so it could run on Linux, which is cheaper. I also enabled some redundancy, so everything runs on two nodes, so one could die and no one would ever know. It also means I'm totally "cloud enabled," so I could scale up and out if I needed to, to the extent that I doubt the site would go down under an unexpected "traffic event" or inbound links.
Unfortunately, that redundancy, largely in support of the hosted forum app I never had the money to market, isn't free, so the timing of it was pretty bad. That's why I lost money last year. I've got a fighting chance of making it back this year, but every month will have to be good to get there.
I find myself in a Friday night position that I haven't seen in a very long time. I got done with work, Diana has gone off to work at the performing arts center, I'll make some dinner for myself and Simon, and then, I dunno, we'll hang out. Tomorrow we'll visit a theme park. Last weekend we went bowling. My upcoming time off will not involve looking for the most isolated possible place to travel to. Basically, it could be any weekend in 2019.
For now, at least, I don't take this arrangement for granted. One year ago today, we were watching Covid cases and hospitalizations quickly get out of control here in Orange County. As you know, it got much worse, and the only reason it ever got better was vaccines. Meanwhile, we endured the most incapable national leadership in my lifetime, making the pandemic response worse, and eventually instigating insurrection and trying to overthrow our democracy. What a shit show.
Things still range from bad to worse in a lot of places, so I am happy to embrace and cherish the sense of normalcy that we're enjoying. There are still some gaps here and there, mostly the fact that we can't vaccinate the kids yet, and travel is still weird at best, but the baseline of seeing my darling wife able to work in her service job again, and the tourist lifeblood of our area starting to flow again is a big deal. Just walking into a restaurant or grocery store without a mask, not having to deal with that risk, is something I take seriously.
I hope to make this weekend count.
My last post got me to thinking about how things were in the early aughts, as far as Internet communities go. Before I get into the technology itself, there's an important take-away for me to consider. No modern social media platform has created a network of people that I've connected with like the communities I started in 1998 and 2000. Whether it was a bunch of people celebrating at a wedding, vacationing with friends or having a friend who actually builds roller coasters give a tour for my son, those networks from the "old" days have been exponentially more valuable than those made via the major platforms. That's not a humble brag, it's just the truth. Even the people I do interact with on the platforms came from those sites or real life communities like work or school.
How did Internet communities work in those days? It was a mess of stuff that barely worked together, but it did work. Forums were all the rage back then, and I learned during the pandemic how surprisingly enduring those communities can be. Individuals often had blogs, which we vaguely referred to as online journals or diaries in the early days. They all had comment systems, which would allow for "track back" links in comments when you referred to them in your own posts. In place of notifications, you usually had an email tell you that there was activity to go back and look at. Most people didn't own their own stuff, but things like Live Journal (which still exists), Tumblr (in 2007-ish) and various open source things made it possible to have these interactions across services that were not centrally owned like Facebook or the Twitter, with harmful algorithms designed to artificially keep you engaged. Everything had an RSS feed, so you could use any one of a ton of RSS readers to keep track of what was going on. It was chaotic, and it didn't work that well, but it was glorious.
The long-term problem that eventually reared its ugly head was that the Internet isn't free. Someone has to pay for hosting and bandwidth. I've always understood this, because I've been writing the checks for almost as long as the commercial Internet has been a thing. Depending on your age and experience, you still might not understand it. But it was shocking to me last year when people were losing their shit after watching The Social Dilemma. If you aren't paying for something, then you are the product. The early aughts led people to believe that everything is free, none of it has value, and the market responded by making you the product. Today we have Facebook, Twitter and YouTube because of it.
So to make things potentially decentralized, at the very least, you have to expect that people will either be willing to pay for something, or be exposed to advertising, hopefully in a less evil way than what the algorithmic social platforms do. I've never been that bothered by Google's ad targeting, because Google isn't also trying to get me to doom-scroll for hours down rabbit holes to show me more ads (but I do hate that they're essentially an advertising monopoly). Will people pay for something like this? I naively believe they will, but that's because I ask for people to give me money to help pay for CoasterBuzz, and some do. It's also what I do, and I happily give the New York Times money every month, and annually give cash to Vimeo even though I barely upload any video there.
How can you be decentralized but find your tribe? I don't know. My sites I suppose are "centralized," but they have always been niche communities for very specific interests. Having your own blog with comments on, and the track-backs, was like a big messy kind of social network. The problem is that the general pool of users today can't seem to do anything without an "app" even if you don't need an app. I know, I'm raging again about how the browser should be the app. I'm actually more optimistic about this than you'd think. If you are a professional white collar worker, you probably spend most of your day in a browser running Google or Microsoft apps. If we can get those same people to understand that's possible in the mobile world, that could be a good thing.
Then there's the issue of privacy. All of that chaos back in the day was cool, but there was no assumption of privacy. It's funny how Facebook has solved this problem, but because of their shitty algorithms, the people you actually want to see your stuff never do (enjoy these conspiracy theories instead). Giving permission to users to see certain things is hard enough of a problem to solve in a closed platform where you control everything, so I'm not even sure if it's possible in a decentralized way. Actually, I have some ideas about the way I would technically design it, but they all end up being computationally expensive and insanely redundant.
Would people spend $20 a year to have a somewhat constrained, private social network? I believe they would, but it's only valuable if the people that you care about are also there, and that's the hard part. If this fantasy alternative existed today, I'm not sure I'd go there without the network I have. The network itself, though, is not portable.
End brain dump. Thinking about where we were, where we are, and where we might go doesn't lead to any clear solutions. But it's fun to think about.
I've been blogging since before it was called blogging. Since I own the data and the software, I can go way back, and see how immature I was in my 20's. Or see how I predicted Yahoo's irrelevancy. I social media-ed before anyone called it social media. When Facebook went generally available beyond college students in 2006, I already had a site called CampusFish that allowed you write and post photos in albums, and even via MMS from your phone (as in flip phone, pre-smartphone). It even did post-back linking, the glorious, no-one-owns-it precursor to the walled gardens of modern social media. And I asked people to pay $12 lousy bucks per year for it, and about a dozen people did for a few years. I felt pioneering but with no business plan or specific intent other than to see if I could build this stuff.
Before I started CampusFish in 2003, I wrote a few times per month about my general observations on coaching volleyball, visiting amusement parks, and sometimes work. After CampusFish started, I still did the long-form writing, but also more drive-by and photos. I was writing for me, making a record of what was on my mind. The cadence got to be pretty intense by 2009, which makes sense since I got married, had an epic layoff, moved to Seattle with a pregnant lady and four cats and started working at Microsoft. Somewhere in that time, maybe the year after, I shut down CampusFish and moved here to my vanity domain, and since then, I started to write less. A lot of it was about parenting, projects that never made any money, parenting, work and more honest, vulnerable talk about mental health. I also started to write more about politics, not because I was enamored with anyone left-leaning, but because I couldn't believe we as a nation elected a horrible human being who turned out to be an autocratic nationalist with no interest in the Constitution.
But in recent years, I find myself wondering why I write anything at all. Well over a thousand people land here every month, and I have no idea what they're after or why they bother to read what I have. And they are reading stuff, as the 15% that are return visitors are spending 1 to 4 minutes here, on average. I'm not really writing for them, but I'm not even sure if I'm writing for me anymore. I write about stuff multiple times, and frankly, I don't want to hear myself talk about how screwed up healthcare in the US is for the hundredth time.
A friend of mine stopped maintaining his personal blog a few years ago, and now he just posts shit on Facebook, which makes me sad (for similar reasons as the commercialization of podcasts makes me sad). And the people that I care about that are still posting on Facebook are either gone behind the fucking algorithm or stopped using it. For me, I'm using it as a record of activity for me, and memories, and not much else these days. And I will be sad when even my fellow Gen-X'ers abandon it as well, because I don't know how I'll keep in touch with people from college, jobs and different cities that I lived in. I want to keep those connections so I can see them again when we visit, or when they eventually visit Orlando.
Not sure where I'm going with this, but I'm in a pretty solid cycle of starting to write something, and then abandoning it because I don't think anyone will want to read it, and the content doesn't serve me either. I love the blog format though, because while it's a little narcissistic, it's not like the train wreck of filtered duck-faced selfies that social media has become. But those sentences right there imply that I believe I'm better than all of that, and have something to say. The truth is, I'm not sure.
Maybe I need to get back to the care-free days of just posting random crap, and for that matter, make it possible to upload photos again for photo posts, from out in the world. Because when Facebook does finally die, I'll still have this.
If there was anything I could say about the length of the pandemic, which frankly has different levels of "over" based on the vaccination of you and your family members and friends, it's that it was long enough that I learned what it really meant to have to wait for things. There were so many things that, as a practical matter of mitigating the spread of the disease, you had to put off. You did find the doable things pretty quickly, most of which involved outdoor activities, including, mercifully, trips to the beach. But longer travel was out. The uncertainty of it all also had people putting off big purchases or spending on leisure activities and eating out.
Now that things have gotten better with widespread, if incomplete, vaccination, some have already arrived at the point of what I call "rage spending," and all of that pent up demand is pushing the supply and demand curve into some interesting inflation patterns. Economists suspect it will be temporary, but we'll see. The travel industry is still not quite there, but with Europe opening back up and the cruise lines coming back in the fall, I'm sure people will be anxious to move about the world. I'd settle for seeing the Bahamas right now (or as I like to call it, East Florida).
Psychologically, I'm still stuck in this mode of waiting for something. I'm super focused on saving for retirement, I don't have anything I really want to rage spend on, I feel like I don't remember what I did in my spare time and I'm definitely waiting for the travel situation to improve. I guess I'm also waiting for Simon to be vaccine eligible. He's likely low-risk for his age, but the bouts of pneumonia, apparent allergies and such, I'm OK with being cautious. For all that longing for normalcy though, I'm still waiting for something even though things are kind of getting normal.
There are two routine things we did that aren't quite back yet: theatrical shows and cruising. We didn't get to the end of the 2019-20 Broadway season, and now I think it's the 2021-2022 season that goes deep into next year, but dammit, we will see The Prom this year. Cruise lines are all over the place, but if the protocols for Royal Caribbean are any indication (additional charges for the unvaccinated, separate dining times), I can only assume that it won't be "fun" again until more of the world is vaccinated.
I'd like to find ways to help others more, too, and I think a lot about that. As sensitive as I am to understand the value of self-care, life has certainly demonstrated that we have to play a role in moving the world forward. I'm not entirely sure what that looks like, but we'll figure something out.
Google dropped version 91 of Chrome, and suddenly, my open source cloud music player, MLocker, stopped working on Android. It had been something of a precarious situation in the first place. It wouldn't reliably run on iOS browsers at all because of some stupid restriction they have around playing media without user input, and on Android, you do have to deliberately tell it not to do battery optimization. The underlying platform is .NET Blazor, which compiles down to WASM, web assembly.
Fortunately, it's not my shoddy coding, and an issue appeared on Github about it, and someone filed an issue with the Chromium team as well. Given my excitement about WASM bridging the gap between native apps and the web, this was wholly disappointing. I definitely have work to do on that project (there's a caching bug), but as a solution to never have to depend on third parties for music and playlists, this rules my world. I want it to work on my phone. That's why I invested the time.
Fortunately, it looks like a non-issue in v92 of Chrome, and it's on their radar as a regression. Honestly, I give them all the credit in the world that they're wanting to support the WASM standard at all, and do it right. But aside from Apple's bullshit, I still feel more strongly than ever that these web-based standards that work just as well as native app code for 95% of non-game situations should be the direction of software development. It's literally just a packaging issue. If these WASM apps were available via the app stores, people would not know the difference, and software people wouldn't have to worry about trying to support three or more platforms.
In the mean time, vendors like Microsoft are still trying to bridge the gap between the mobile, desktop and web platforms. Blazor and now MAUI are trying to reduce the amount of code used across these on the UI end, which is the final frontier, since library code can effectively be shared in .NET across all platforms. And it's like, yeah, if we solved the packaging problem for web-based UI on every platform, we would be done already.
We're in a better place than we were five years ago, but still have so far to go.
Our work office reopened a couple of weeks ago, which is way up in One World Trade Center. Some of my coworkers that are based in New York have been going in a few times a week, and when I have calls with them, it's pretty cool to see the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Bridge behind them. They really had not been there for very long prior to the pandemic, so it sounds like it's very novel for many of them, too. I can't wait to see it for myself, eventually.
There's an interesting vibe among the people at this job. Many of the core folks who joined early on are still there, and they're in a very small group of people that I know who were in a start-up and stayed with it all of the way through an IPO. I "know" maybe three people total who have made that journey outside of this company, because it's exceptionally rare. The cool thing is that they embody that start-up spirit, and at the same time, welcome the many people who came after. There's no new versus old school, and since the company embraced remote workers years ago, there isn't a New York versus the world vibe either. It's wonderfully collaborative, respectful and exciting. It's hard to grow fast and maintain that vibe.
I jokingly say that sometimes being in a job can be like being in a toxic relationship, but there's a lot of truth to that. And just like a toxic romantic relationship, you might be the last person to realize that you're in one. When I take inventory of my professional life, I'm surprised by how many jobs I've had where I felt like I had to justify my existence, or leaders emphasized all of the wrong things, or worse, pretended that everything was as it should be, in denial about what wasn't right. Thankful I'm not in that situation now.
I look back fondly at a few situations though. Insurance.com was a solid place, even if I did kind of outgrow it from a career development standpoint. In retrospect, we all know things now that we didn't know at the time, like, the dev team was all white dudes, the expensive deployment routine was expensive, and owning your data center is dumb. We all got along pretty well, the churn rate was pretty low and we enjoyed what we did. Working in the Server & Tools Online group at Microsoft might be my favorite thing ever. Just an entirely different level of people I worked with there, and I wonder how the world would look today if I could have moved to the product side of Codeplex. When I was at AgileThought, I had a couple of remarkable teams that I got to lead on projects that billed millions of dollars, and many years later, most of those folks are still my friends. Now I add Olo to the good work vibes club.
My feelings about work, and where it fits into my life and identity, have swung back and forth like a crazy pendulum, from something that I compartmentalize and don't care about, to something that is a primary part of me. I'm definitely closer to the latter right now, but that's not so bad when you dig it.