Self-care, you should do that

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 21, 2019, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

In the last 15 years or so, I've seen a therapist on and off, for various reasons, and lately just to keep myself checked in when things are not obvious and my head isn't in a productive place. For the last few years, my reasons for those visits generally have to do with parenting or work and career. Both of those areas can be challenging at times.

I started going back again late last year, seeing her about a month or two apart, as I was feeling mentally exhausted, like all of the time. These sessions are generally very focused, because after years of doing this, I know how to prepare and where to start the narrative, even if I don't know exactly where it will go (and since it's on my own dime, I want outcomes... I can get a shoulder to cry on at home). This week, she understood the exhaustion related to parenting and offered some suggestions to roll with that, but the work side of it was a little harder to unpack. Not being a Type-A overachiever personality, she wondered why I was so invested and thinking about work at all parts of the day. We know that some of it is just the scope of responsibility, and me learning to delegate the right way at this scale. She shifted the conversation toward times that I've felt present and connected, and I learned some interesting things.

My most content times, where the world at large is not my concern, tend to come when I'm engaged in something else that I enjoy or care about. It's not that work is a dominant concern, it's that I don't have a lot of things to displace it from my head. I just don't engage in fun things strictly for me very often. I used to play more video games, and I used to get out and walk in the mornings (I haven't figured out how to do this not working remote), or I would even make the time to build and rebuild Lego sets. I used to regularly have lunch with my friend. Now, I mostly rely on the idea that I'm going to take a vacation eventually, but even that doesn't qualify as the self-care that I need, because in those situations I'm really looking after my little family, not myself.

I've set myself up for this: As a parent and provider, and a leader with wide scope at work, I exist in large part to serve others. This is certainly a noble and good thing to be, but it will absolutely be exhausting if I never take the time to back off and just do stuff for me. I can see this at home... Simon escapes from the grind of school and difficult social interaction by playing video games. Diana gets inspired and cranks out beautiful quilts and wall hangings in her amazing sewing room. The cats actively find ways to give few shits about my presence. Everyone does something to feed their soul and recharge but me.

So yeah, I need to carve out me time. I'm not sure what exactly for, but I need some side hustles to displace the constant parenting and work mental weights occupying my head. I used to be way more selfish and willing to follow my bliss, but lately I don't even know what that looks like. I'm not a broken person, but I'm definitely tired and I need to change that. Maybe it starts with seeing a movie, or a massage, or some kind of project I didn't know I wanted to try.

Trying to frame change as exciting

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 13, 2019, 9:42 PM | comments: 0

I am no stranger to writing about change. I think my obsession around thinking about it is largely rooted in the fact that it used to scare the shit out of me in an extreme way. If I go back 14 years, I had a routine and perceived safety, despite my career being kind of stalled. Change was something that could only be negative in my mind. I didn't have the nuts to try anything new, and why bother, because everything was "good."

Divorce wasn't a positive thing, but it was change like I had never experienced. About four years after that, I endeavored in the holy trinity of change: A new job, in a new city, with a new baby. That all went down in the scope of 6 months. If we expand that window out to 11 months, you can include getting married into that mix. Expand the window to 17 months, and then I moved twice. For all of the fear and resistance I had to change, I was largely forced to embrace it, and it turned out that it wasn't so bad.

When it came time to move to Florida, it felt more like a choice not forced upon me. I chose the Seattle move, but it was instigated in part because I had few choices in Cleveland. The difference in my feelings in the first few weeks in both places were markedly different. In Seattle, I felt like I was being brave for my pregnant wife and cautiously optimistic about the future, because I had to. In Florida, it was like, I'm here, I want this, I'll figure it out, and if it isn't right, I can change again. Closing in on six years, we've lived in three places down here, I've had a child that has been changing continuously, and I've worked almost entirely for companies that were growing, and therefore changing rapidly. Change is the normal I have to accommodate, because it's everywhere and it's inevitable.

Knowing how I felt about forced change versus voluntary change, I thought a lot about the outcomes related to both. The uncertainty wasn't really that different, and if I'm being honest, the excitement around the potential opportunity in the change was about the same. So I can't stop Simon from growing up so fast, and I can't stop work from being a growing company (well, I could work for a big established company, but it probably would be less interesting), and I definitely can't stop aging, so I have to figure out how to frame all of that as exciting opportunity.

I feel like there are two steps to that journey around change. The first was accepting it as inevitable, maybe even necessary. Part two is to view it as opportunity. I'm getting there. Nothing is permanent, and maybe the next thing is better than the previous thing. If it's not, we can always find a way to change some more. It's a glass half-full thing.

Fame shouldn't be the goal

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 10, 2019, 11:31 PM | comments: 0

While it's certainly not a new phenomenon, it's not hard to remember a time when you had to actually do something to be famous. Remember when Paris Hilton became famous for being famous? I really thought that was an anomaly, but now it's a whole category of "entertainment." The Internet has made it even worse, where "social media influencer" is a self-applied title, and some random girl who posts the same creepy selfie over and over from a room in her parents' house is followed by tens of thousands of people. Some young celebrities, and definitely young musicians, sincerely believe that the goal is to be famous, not actually make something worth being famous for.

Fame, if it's the positive variety, can certainly enable a lot of positive power. It can give you a platform to draw attention to important causes or lead to income that also advances important causes. But even then, you don't have to be famous for that, because you can always give your time for philanthropy. I tend to view the world through some degree of desired privacy, and I don't think fame would make that very easy.

Regardless, fame will rightfully come if you do awesome things. In that case, you should humbly celebrate the achievement, not revel in the fame that comes with it. It's just gross. I mean, when you were a kid, did you ever think, "Look at that person brag about their fame, I really look up to them!" No, that's weird. The online world has become about building yourself up as a brand, and you'll find freaks on LinkedIn with stupid self-descriptions like, "Professional innovator and winner." Um, if you have a track record of success, do you really even need to point it out like that?

I don't hate famous people, mind you. There are a great many famous people that I admire, and paired with their fame you'll find humility. George Clooney isn't posting on Instagram videos of himself bragging about his box office take. So if you wanna be famous, be like Clooney.

Chicken curry and other failures

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 9, 2019, 10:18 PM | comments: 0

Tonight I tried to take control and get dinner on the table. Diana was in the zone on her long-arm quilting machine, so I figured I'd make some chicken curry. I've made it twice before, mostly faking it with a combination of coconut milk, curry paste and hot curry powder. The first time it was oddly sweet, the second time kind of bland. So this time I really paid attention as I mixed ingredients, and did a lot of tasting until I felt it was "right."

And it was delicious, but it was hot. Diana doesn't do well with hot the way that I do, and in this case even I had a little bit of a nose run. I was pretty pissed at myself, because I was trying to be helpful, and I only really make three things well. Diana assured me it was cool, but I was still pretty bummed out.

The incident of the hot chicken curry made me realize that I've been way too critical of myself lately, and it has a lot to do with my general mood. I've made my share of mistakes in the last year, some more serious than others, and these have collectively weighed on me. But the weight has been too much, and frankly not justified. I've gotta let some things go. There are enough things in the world to cause suffering, and I don't need to be one of them.

Leveling up in adulting

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 6, 2019, 3:30 PM | comments: 0

I've noticed lately that it seems everything I do in terms of adult responsibility involves higher stakes than it used to. Parenting is harder and more important, job responsibilities involve more people and fiscal outcomes, and even things I volunteer for like being an HOA board member involve bigger things. I was thinking about this and had a Talking Heads moment, wondering, well, how did I get here?

With the higher stakes, everything seems more complicated. I often ask myself if things really have to be this way. I don't have any answers to that question, but my general thinking about all of it has also evolved rather quickly. Instead of feeling wholly overwhelmed by it all, I'm actually feeling like, I've got this. Life experience has been preparing me for it, and that experience is totally valuable. Time and experience are insanely valuable, and I've never quite appreciated that the way that I do now. Indeed, you don't know what you don't know, but there's some point I can't define where that self-awareness combined with what you do in fact know tips the scale in your favor. I think I'm getting closer to that point, and it's an energizing feeling.

I think I would stop short in saying that "it" gets easier. Maybe it does if you can retire, or when your kid is out into the adult world, or you stop volunteering for your HOA. I will say that you're better equipped to meet the challenges of life as time and experience are acquired.

It also helps to be at peace with the idea that maybe you never truly "arrive" anywhere. You're always in various degrees of winning and failure. Maybe that's when you level up.

Review and more love for Hamilton in Orlando

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 5, 2019, 9:07 PM | comments: 0

It's crazy the way Hamilton keeps being a thing and keeps growing into more and more of a phenomenon (yes, the lyrics seep into everything). With three tours now in addition to the runs in New York, Chicago and London, more and more people are getting the chance to see it, and some are hearing the music for the first time. I was talking with a coworker at lunch today who knows a volunteer working at the theater, and he said she avoided it for the last two years and then was blown away that it actually lived up to its reputation. I hear a lot of that.

I reviewed the show when we saw it in April, and I think I generally stick to those observations. A few weeks ago I even wrote about the enduring love for the show. The only thing that I can really add at this point are some observations about the #PhilipTour cast as it stood in Orlando, and taking Simon to see it.

Although first, it's worth mentioning that, while I have no official connection to the Dr. Phillips Center beyond Diana working there part-time, I still take great pride in seeing this amazing show in this amazing place. The Walt Disney Theater is such a beautiful place to see a show, and this is the 22nd I've seen there (plus one in the smaller Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater, which is next to the Disney). I hope the touring companies love performing there as much as I enjoy seeing stuff in that space. While I certainly appreciate older, historic theaters, this one is something for Orlando to be proud of. It's the little things, like the "wave wall" in the lobby spaces (which they infuriatingly don't animate the lights on anymore for unknown reasons), to the performing arts school, to the strangely deadening sound when you stand next to a wall.

If there's a negative to hearing an original Broadway cast recording before you see a show, it's that it tends to shape your expectations about what the actual show should sound like. As I said when reviewing the show in April, the hip-hop nature of the show leaves a lot of room for interpretation, especially for the male parts. To that end, Nik Walker as Aaron Burr absolutely blew me away, as his take was way different than Leslie Odom's version. That's not in a better or worse way, but he made it his own and it was amazing. Similarly, the "four of us," Elijah Malcomb as Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Fergie Phillipe as Mulligan/Madison and Kyle Scatliffe as Lafayette/Jefferson were so, so good. Joseph Morales as Alexander was different, but he grew on me. He seemed tentative at times and really went for it at other times. I can only imagine wanting to do it your way and not emulate Lin-Manuel Miranda. I again felt that Washington is a challenge to play, and Marcus Choi did great in the first act but it's hard for "One Last Time" to fit anyone who can't do full on R&B or gospel. The recent remix of that song with Christopher Jackson and Obama probably made that standard even more impossible to hit. Oh, and you can't not acknowledge Jon Patrick Walker as King George, because he reliably brought the funny.

The ladies get less flexibility because more of their parts are straight singing, but these Schuyler sisters were every bit as good as the originals, and maybe better because we got to see them. Shoba Narayan owned the stage, whether she was encouraging Hamilton to "Take A Break," beatboxing for Philip (seriously, it's funny every time), "Burn"-ing the letters or ending the show. Similarly, Ta'Rea Campbell really made you feel the regret in "Satisfied" and the sadness in "Uptown." Rounding it out, Nyla Sostre as Peggy/Maria Reynolds made the best case for a lonely woman in a red dress tempting a bastard orphan. I just don't know how these three could have been better.

Now that I've seen it more than once, I appreciate more than ever the simplicity in the scene design and a lot of the subtle choices made with lighting. This is a dense show with a whole lot of dynamic things going on, so the easy way out is to make the lighting into a rock concert vibe, but instead it almost always serves the story. Paths on the stage show direction. Color conveys the lust of Maria and the self-inflicted harm of Hamilton. Subtle motion and color combines to imply oceans and hurricanes. It's really brilliant. And it does get a little bit apeshit during "Yorktown."

The dance break in "Yorktown" gets thunderous applause, every time, and the song isn't even done. That song alone is worth the price of admission, and it's the best several minutes of live theater I've ever seen. The choreography and motion is so masterful that I wish you could stand up and clap at the end of it, even though you've got two more songs (and a sad moment when we learn about Laurens' fate) before the end of the act. Oh, and the music makes me lose my mind, too.

I don't know how I can gush about it still, because even the art that I love the most I can typically find flaws in as time goes on. I'm not there yet. It's so end to end good that I'm perfectly happy to invest 2.5 hours to just retreat into it and listen. With three tours now, I can only hope that it comes back through town, and the sooner the better.

The important thing this time around is that we got to take Simon to see the show. He loves the music, understanding he isn't to repeat the profanity, of course. Kids with ASD engage in creativity often in different ways, or sometimes not at all, so whenever he latches on to art of any kind, but especially music, I want to encourage that. It's a really long show, but he did fairly well, saving his questions during the first act to the intermission (and you bet he remembered all six questions). The second act was a little harder. But like his parents, he too was blown away by "Yorktown." As a future techie nerd, of course he loved the movement of the turntable on stage. He asked good questions about how much was based on reality, and it was the first time I think he's heard that slavery was a thing, and that equality is still a struggle. That's important, because his classmates are incredibly diverse, but his normal isn't representative of larger challenges in our society.

So glad we've had the chance to see this a few times now. Imagine when they start licensing it for amateur performance. It will be the new Grease in high schools everywhere!

Two lonely boys

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 1, 2019, 10:26 PM | comments: 0

Simon and I have had some solo nights lately, as Diana is working many of the Hamilton shows over its three-week run. This is typical a few times a year, and honestly I enjoy the chance to spend some one-on-one time with my boy.

Something I've noticed though is that Simon can get borderline desperate for attention with us. I think there are a lot of things to unpack there, not the least of which is that he's an only child. I wish I would have had the courage in the years immediately after his birth to really be enthusiastic about adoption (and maybe I would have been if I stayed at Microsoft, as the company would have paid some of the expense), but given the amount of attention he requires due to his challenges, I'm selfishly OK with the fact we didn't go that route. He generally seeks a lot of adult attention.

What he lacks is a lot of meaningful friendships with his peers. Two years ago there was a little girl in one of his classes that he really bonded with, and she was exceptionally kind to him, but he hasn't had that friendship opportunity since. He has exactly the same class this year as last, which is great for teacher consistency, but those kids just aren't his people. I fear he's largely given up on many of the neighborhood kids too, because Simon ends up being "it" for all of the tag games, and he's just not good at playing sports with them. An ASD kid can already be perceived as a little weird, but one also has a hard time keeping up with all of the arbitrary rule changes to games that kids make.

Simon has expressed his loneliness to me, and it's heartbreaking. I just don't know what to do with it. I hope that he'll connect with someone in school next year, or that he sticks with swimming and joins a team, or some random, kind kid in the neighborhood will sort of look after him. Certainly he can be happy by himself, when he loses himself in the bliss of playing a computer game for a few hours, or laughing his ass off at the Lego Batman Movie for the millionth time.

I can relate to him a ton. There's little doubt that I was the weird kid in school, and my self-awareness about this got serious in middle school, and worse in high school. I too was content to mess around with my computer or close myself in my room to listen to music and play through Super Mario on my Gameboy again. It wasn't until I started working a retail job that I branched out a bit, but beyond that I was socially isolated in high school and didn't like many people, and frankly I was probably the weird kid to a lot of folks. The girls who played volleyball were very kind to me (and especially their parents), but we didn't hang out socially, for the most part. At some point I made out with a random band geek I met at a basketball game for a week or two, but that was it. I was never looking for validation via social interaction, which is to say that I didn't need to be liked or popular, I just wanted to make deeper connections.

There were two adults in my high school life that had a huge impact on me. The first was the athletic director, who got me involved with girls volleyball and paid me to do a number of jobs for the athletic department. The other was my boss from the city, who paid me to run camera at city council meetings. They took an interest in me, and as far as I was concerned, I didn't need friends if I got to operate a score board or a video camera. This was typical of my teen years, in that I desperately wanted to be a grownup and do grownup things, because grownups respected me.

If I were to project my own experience on Simon, I imagine that he has the same capacity for social interaction as I do, and that there is definitely a limit to the capacity of his "social batteries." Sometimes you just need to recharge, and I try to be sensitive to that. He definitely gravitates toward adults. I also bet that he has little use for relatively superficial relationships. This is probably the hardest thing about my personality. I have little use for trivial relationships because the energy required to maintain them is exhausting. I've always been at my most content when I've had some small number of deep friendships, and some people just magically qualify for that status. Over the years I've had a few of these, and many have been geographically distributed, unfortunately. Obviously, I've also had some romantic relationships that also qualify.

So it's me and the boy these few weeks. Understand that I have no negative feelings toward Diana and her job. Quite the contrary, I love that she loves what she does, and shit, she gets to see a lot more Hamilton than I ever will! But I definitely get a little lonely, which is why I invest the time in Simon. I don't want to orchestrate his social development, but I sure hope he makes some solid friends.

My art is better than your art

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 28, 2019, 10:08 PM | comments: 0

I had some interesting exchanges with people about musicals recently, on Facebook even (who said nothing good ever happens there?). It started when I said, after the not-quite-live TV event, that I don't really "get" Rent, and I never have. That's probably extra surprising because when it came out, shortly after I graduated from college, it dealt with some of my pet causes, including HIV/AIDS awareness and inclusion and equality for non-straight people (did we have an acronym in those days?). Back then, it was just that the music didn't grab me. Eventually the movie made me even more indifferent, and finally seeing it on stage last year confirmed that indifference. I find almost all of the characters unlikable, and the interpersonal conflicts feel silly. And don't get me started about the Mark character, who comes off as a hipster douche. Maybe it just hasn't aged well.

My feelings on the show are not universally shared, and in fact are probably the opposite of what most people think. I don't care for Les Miserables either, so that's at least two strikes against my musical street cred. I don't hate either one of them, mind you, I just don't identify with the generally high praise. The truth is that I don't hate very many musicals, and I've seen probably around 40 lifetime (about 20 in just the last four years) at various levels of ability. I mean, even the Gloria Estefan show was entertaining, if not particularly deep. I've only ever truly hated one show. Overall I think musicals are an essential art form that I wish more people could see.

When it comes to art, we like what we like. Not everyone will understand that The Big Lebowski and Lost In Translation are brilliant movies, and it's OK that those people are wrong. (Winky emoji or whatever.) Still others will never appreciate Garbage or The Naked And Famous the way I do. But it's good that art makes us feel stuff, even if it is indifference.

I'm a lousy entrepreneur

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 27, 2019, 10:00 AM | comments: 0

It's probably not surprising that a lot of people working in software have at the very least a side hustle of some kind. Mine came about long before I had "software developer" on my business card (what's a business card?). I have friends that have done after-hours consulting, some have tried to bootstrap startups... lots of situations that involve some kind of entrepreneurial endeavor.

I've been asked so many times why I don't have my own business, to which I respond that I do, it's just not mortgage paying, but mostly it's because I'm a lousy entrepreneur. It's not that I have some shortage of ideas, it's just that the world distracts me with far too many things.

Maybe I had a better shot before I had a child, but now, Simon is both a great consumer of my energy and a reason to try and retain some level of consistency and risk avoidance. With the ASD and ADHD concerns, decent health insurance is also important. I adore my little guy, but the amount of patience it takes in the day to day is extraordinary, and I'm still not very good at reminding myself to be patient. That's a lot of energy.

Having a day job is certainly a challenge, too. I've had a few intervals where I have worked on my own projects between jobs, the last one being in the second quarter of 2013, when I ended a crazy good contract and hung out as we plotted the move to Florida. Each of those, I've really failed to turn an idea into something that was shipped. Well, I take that back. I built a quilting community that I hoped Diana would work with and promote, but the truth is that it was not very well conceived and not mobile friendly, so it had little chance of working out. But during full-time work, it's hard to think about hustling something on the side, and this has become more and more true as the level of work has increased, especially in the last five or six years as jobs have been more management oriented.

I also have concern about the way that entrepreneurs often kill themselves for the work, but I'm not sure if that's really necessary or a symptom of type-A overachievers. Most people who start a business seem to really neglect everything else in their lives, and I wouldn't want to do that. However, as is the case when working for The Man, some people do that as a choice. I've worked with some founders who set no work-life boundaries, and the payoff for not doing so is negligible or non-existent. So this one I guess is an asterisk.

But if there's a real concern, it's around the one that means hiring people comes with enormous responsibility. When you hire people in a small startup situation, your leadership and direction is what ultimately puts food on their table. If you can't make the business generate enough money to pay them, you will disrupt their lives in a serious and potentially harmful way. That makes me incomprehensibly uncomfortable, in part because I've been on the receiving end of that scenario.

I never set out to make my hobby (the coaster web sites) into a business, but in the heyday of web advertising I could pay my mortgage with it and then some. It's unfortunate that I still get the traffic but not the money, because of the way the ad market has changed and gone half-mobile for less money. Again, that was not a business by design, because if I were to start something new, it would be with the intention of asking for money from people. That's a different game than making content and having people accidentally see it and fill your bank account, and it's a game that I fundamentally understand but have so little interest in.

Of course, the biggest obstacle is probably that I mostly don't believe very much in any of my ideas. A lot of my ideas over the years have been more content based ideas, which might be fun to an extent but don't make great businesses.

The thing is, I don't mind working for The Man, and I know that's the reason that a lot of people start their own business. The Man has at times really screwed me (often because of the economy), but he's also provided a lot of opportunity for me that I didn't fundamentally have to create. Maybe there is something in me that I'm super passionate about that will become a business. I don't feel like it's critical to my well being, and I'm happy to let it happen organically when and if it's viable.

Ephemeral social media sucks

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 24, 2019, 9:33 PM | comments: 0

My overall social media consumption has dropped off sharply in the last year. As I've mentioned before, I find myself using it as a historical record for myself more than anything else. But what I loathe the most is the ephemeral stuff.

Last night I knew there were some cool things that our local theater put up on Instagram as stories, really great backstage stuff during Hamilton. I'd like to see it again, or show it to Diana, but it's gone. It no longer exists. Even if it did exist, I couldn't easily point someone to it. I rarely look at stories on Instagram, because it's too much of a time investment, and not as efficient as scrolling.

Let's be real: If Snapchat wasn't a thing, Facebook/Instagram would have never added this silly feature. "It's what the kids are doing," cool, but they're still not using Facebook. And Snapchat will circle the drain and die, it's just a question of when. They've had a revolving door of executives, their user growth has slowed to a crawl and they're running nine-figure negative cash flow every quarter (and hey, that's down from $2 billion). And WTF are you really selling teenagers?

The other thing is that frankly I'm suspect of anything you're willing to post in public that you aren't really willing to commit to. What you're saying is, "This moment isn't valuable enough to keep," and that speaks to how superficial social media can be. I'm not saying it's all like that (I've seen plenty of great sharing about everything from eating disorders to woodworking), but how many times do you have to show yourself making a duck face over a plate of sushi.

I'm probably just being a hater, or I really am getting into midlife and not "getting it."

The enduring love for Hamilton

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 19, 2019, 1:32 PM | comments: 0

Hamilton's #PhilipTour is coming to Orlando for a three week run, opening Tuesday night. I'm excited out of my mind to see it again. I realized that it's been around for a long time, and it's crazy how the show is still popular after several years. Some of that is naturally the fact that you couldn't easily see it unless you went to New York, then Chicago and London. The touring shows started out with long runs on the west coast. Now there are three tours going at the same time, which is fairly nuts. Lots of people are getting to see it now.

Hamilton had its insane Tony run in 2016, notably the day of the Pulse shootings, and so a lot of people first met Lin-Manuel Miranda when he gave his "love is love" speech. At that point, I had heard a few songs from the show, but assumed that it wasn't more than some hip-hop gimmicks forced into a Broadway musical. (It would be almost two years until I would also see Waitress and understand how robbed it was of recognition in the shadow of Hamilton.) That Tony performance was intriguing though, and over the next few months I would revisit it from a distance. Mostly Diana was listening to it. Then on a road trip in December to Delray, where I got to be a bridesbro, we listened to it straight through and it really grabbed me. A drive down the Florida Turnpike that would otherwise have been forgettable comes to mind from time to time when I hear the music now.

I'm sure I've listened to it more than a hundred times in the two years since. It's the most dense narrative set to music that I'm aware of, and it includes everything essential to good storytelling. There's war, death, romance, affairs, history, triumph, tragedy... it's all there. Alexander Hamilton was literally and figuratively a bastard, his accomplishments eventually limited only by his ego. He was surrounded by all of the people who founded our nation, and compromised on what freedom could really be. The founding of the United States is such a great story of sheer will to create, tempered by the issue of slavery that would nearly destroy the country some decades later.

All of that density means that there are so many things layered into it to discover. There are the structural things, like the way Washington's cadence is slower and more deliberate, while Hamilton's is faster and more clever. There are the homages to classic genres of rap music. There's the historical context of the cabinet battles and how the financial systems came to be that we use today. Sure there's a lot of dramatization, but it's striking how it's still fairly grounded in the history as compiled in Ron Chernow's book.

When we finally got to see it last April, it's like everything came together. The action on stage filled in the blanks, and even having seen clips before, I was blown away at how good it was. When you take a bunch of period inspired costumes and combine them with modern dance and music, performed by a diverse cast that most certainly doesn't match the well-off white people they play, you'd think it would be jarring, but it all works.

There is, I suppose, a political angle to Hamilton, though what others find political I find largely matter-of-fact. The show reinforces that the nation was founded by immigrants and that this fact is a strength. It calls out the contradictions of our Constitution and the necessary process to reinforce it. As Hamilton's writings often pointed out, there is a fragile balance between democracy and chaos, and the people we choose to lead matter. I don't know if I would lean Federalist in those days, but Hamilton seemed to lean socially liberal (when it suited him) and fiscally conservative, a position I can definitely identify with.

Regardless, the thing that really makes Hamilton enduring is the music. It's really great, start to finish. In an era where music is disposable, hit driven and about the big singles, it's fantastic to encounter a coherent body of music that lasts over two hours. The story of the bastard orphan from Nevis is sad, but there's little question about his legacy. It's the most unlikely of pop culture forces. It gets kids into American history, and imagine what it will do when it can be licensed for amateur performance.

Everything is about weather

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 17, 2019, 8:30 PM | comments: 0

My friends back in Northeast Ohio are preparing for a big snow event. If you can avoid having to go out, these are typically not a big deal. I can only remember one time where I ever lost power in extreme snow, in 30-something years, and it was only a few hours. Basically you just need to hang out until it melts a little and/or the road crews catch up.

But winter is still an enormous pain in the ass and being outside sucks unless you happen to be a winter sports enthusiast. Let's be clear: When it's hot, you're uncomfortable and that's the worst of it provided you stay hydrated. Cold is far more likely to kill you. You can't just drink some water to deal with it. Leaving the house is not just uncomfortable, because it involves slush and wetness and wind that cuts through your clothes. I get it, some people think it's worth rolling with, but I did it enough times to know I'm totally over it.

Living in America's subtropical dingaling is not without its challenges though, because hurricanes. It's less of a big deal away from the coasts though (there's a reason Uncle Walt built his castle here), and new construction is about 95% immune to the effects unless we get something truly extraordinary. Orlando's record sustained wind speed appears to be 79 mph, which must be pretty scary because sustained wind in the mid-50's was "exciting" during Irma. I can't imagine what it's like to be on the coasts.

But extremes aside, the normal routine no matter where you live tends to be a topic of discussion and influence, even when it changes just a little at a time. I mean, we're seeing temperatures in the 50's in the morning right now, and work is like an icebox when I get there. So I'm breaking out sweaters and long-sleeve shirts, which are not even on my radar 10 months out of the year. I know, poor me, right? The daily high of 90 with afternoon thunderstorm seems like a distant memory already.

I tend to think more about it though because I'm very conscious of energy consumption. It's not an issue of expense as much as I really care about it. We have the technology today to not burn anything, but we need the will to use it. The cost profile requires an economy of scale and some changes in how we approach distribution, but a world run on renewables is doable, and I want to be part of that.

Disney Fantasy: New Year 2019

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 16, 2019, 10:42 PM | comments: 0

Our cruise history is fairly repetitive. We did Alaska once, and it was borderline life-changing, but otherwise we've got a long series of round-trips to the Bahamas and do mostly the same things in different combinations of days at sea and stops in Nassau and Castaway Cay, ranging three to five nights. It's harder to take Simon out of school now at this stage, so vacations often have to be tied to his time off. Against my better judgment, in terms of cost, we decided to finally do something cool for a New Year celebration, and booked seven nights to the Virgin Islands aboard the Fantasy, the only of the four Disney ships we had not been on.

Let me get that pricing thing out of the way. I fully understand there being a premium on those fares, because of the holiday, but it was annoying that at no time did they disclose that there was a blackout against the usual 10% off that you get for booking a placeholder reservation while aboard a prior cruise. We've enjoyed that discount on every cruise other than the first two. Fortunately, they did at least honor the onboard credit, which is $200 for a 7-night cruise. Still, I can only imagine the margins that they enjoyed on this cruise, which was more than twice what we paid for seven nights in Alaska in 2016. I can say that while we had a good time, felt very taken care of and can now say we did a New Year's cruise, we will never do it again. It's not worth it.

The Disney Fantasy is the newest of the four ships, and debuted about a year after the Dream, which is the ship we've spent the most time on. It's strange because most of the ship is exactly the same, to the point where if you were kidnapped and dropped on the ship, you'd never know the difference in many areas. The style of the Dream is art deco, while the Fantasy is art nouveau. I have trouble telling the difference, but the latter feels "softer" in terms of lines, and in this case the color palette feels more gentle. The lobby atrium is beautiful and invokes peacock colors. It's far more attractive than the Dream to me. Beyond that, the night clubs are very different, but it's a mixed bag as to whether they're better themes or not.

After departing Canaveral on Saturday, we enjoyed two days at sea, really hauling ass at 18 to 20 knots. The motion was really pleasant, especially when sleeping. At-sea time is some of my favorite times, because of the glorious disconnection and a wonderfully slow pace with no urgency around much of anything. I saw three movies total (Mary Poppins ReturnsRalph Breaks The Internet and Ant Man and The Wasp). Simon autonomously enjoyed the Midship Detective Agency game (a scavenger hunt around the ship using QR cards and "paintings" around the ship).

We had two alcohol tastings. The first was a rum tasting session, because hey, we were in the Caribbean. I now know what 12-year-old rum tastes like, and it's pretty damn good. Sipping drinks is not something I've ever taken a particular interest in, but I do appreciate the craft and the aging process. Rum is probably my favorite kind of liquor because it's really versatile. I used to hate on Malibu in particular, but it's such a great, easy-drinking rum to mix with a hundred different awesome things. The second tasting was actually a mixology class. I wasn't as fond of this bartender's lineup as much as the one we did last summer, but I did learn some things.

The shows on the Fantasy were mostly new to us, though Believe is familiar territory. The other two shows were solid and at the very least entertaining, with Aladdin being the signature show for this ship. It was more of a "spectacular," and their genie was right out of Believe. This was a very strong cast overall though, one of the best that we've seen. However, among the big shows, Tangled on the Magic is easily the best, with a close second to Frozen on the Wonder. I continue to be annoyed that Disney does not in any way recognize their actors or stage managers at people, not just on the ships but also the bigger shows in the theme parks. I think that's lame. Even the Cedar Fair parks put their names up outside the venues. I don't know if they're worried about spoiling some kind of "magic" or some other bullshit, but it's lame.

The second night at sea was New Year's Eve, and I have to hand it to Disney, they throw a pretty good party. The dining staff roamed the decks with trays of fancy finger foods in the hours leading up to midnight, and despite hard selling champagne packages the prior two days, they made very sure that everyone had a drink in their hand, including kids with sparkling apple juice, in the last hour of the countdown. It was relatively inexpensive prosecco, but I know I'm not that picky. For about 2,000 people hanging out drinking, it was a surprisingly family friendly environment, without feeling lame. Of course you could have stayed in the adult areas if you wanted to, but they had a pair of pretty solid DJ's. Simon was right up front, in the pit. They had "fireworks," but of course, the bar is impossibly high living next door to Magic Kingdom. People were into it.

The first stop was in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We did not book any shore excursions in advance, figuring we would just wing it. Unfortunately, I see why after the hurricanes last year Disney stopped sailing there entirely. It's in pretty bad shape. There's really nothing to do in town, and buildings are in dire need of repair, there are literally dumpsters sitting on the waterfront. I didn't feel unsafe, but was happy to return to the ship. There's a desperate hustle just off the pier to get people on to sketchy transportation to go see stuff around the island. I initially considered ferrying over to the adjacent island to see "the baths," a bunch of interesting rock formations off shore that you could walk through, but when I saw the ferries, I was glad we didn't.

The next stop was at St. Thomas, which was in much better shape and frankly like any coastal Florida town, only with people driving on the wrong side of the road. The list of things to do there is huge and overwhelming, and I think if it was just Diana and I we would have been more ambitious. Instead, all we really did is a tram ride up the side of the mountain, knowing this would make Simon's day. Fortunately, and not surprising given that it's a US territory, there was a Payless a block from the pier, where I was able to replace my broken flip-flops for $4.

From St. Thomas, we actually got close enough to Puerto Rico to hit their cell phone towers, and I would very much like to visit that island someday. We spent another day at sea, which included a number of opportunities to hear Suzy and Alex, a lovely British duo that was performing a range of music, but specifically some alt rock tunes that probably no one else in the bar knew. That was very cool.

The last day was at our beloved Castaway Cay, home of the best beach day ever. This one did not disappoint. The ship arrived about an hour later than the usual Bahama itineraries, so we weren't ashore until about 9:45. We parked at our usual spot, opened some drinks and enjoyed ourselves. The last time we did a winter cruise I couldn't even get in the water, because it was too cold, but this time I sucked it up and just ran into it. Problem solved! It was definitely cold though. Before lunch we walked as a family out to the observation tower, which wasn't a great idea because chafing when we were all wet. There were still a few walkers left on the 5K as we went out. It wasn't very sunny that day, so it was mercifully not too hot. One of these days I want to rent bikes. After lunch, Simon checked into Scuttle's Cove, while we plopped down at Conched Out, the bar near Cookies One and our usual beach chairs. Such a beautiful place with fantastic service all around.

That night unfortunately was the start of Diana's stomach flu, making for a very uncomfortable night and worse morning. It was a crappy way to end the cruise (no pun intended), and Simon and I suffered the same issues the next week.

As I said, we had a great time, but I'll never spend that much to cruise to the tropics again. It's not worth it. I could quite literally lap Alaska twice on the Wonder next summer, or do two weeks around the British Isles and into Scandinavia on the Magic. I think the fact that Tortola was so shitty was the biggest factor, and I wonder if replacing it with San Juan or something would be better. I know we were largely paying for the holiday, and I accept that, but it's not going to be a repeat trip.

About having a hard time

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 16, 2019, 8:00 PM | comments: 0

In the last two weeks, I've started and deleted three different blog posts about various things that I'm having a difficult time with. They're some combination of being sick, struggling to be a parent and work wearing on me a bit relative to the rest of life. The delete button came as soon as I started to proofread a paragraph or two. I said to myself, "Dude, this is not suffering. There are 800k people not getting a paycheck right now. What right do I have to complain about anything?"

There are really two things at play here. The first is that we filter ourselves online. I try not to do this, because I'm so not interested in using the Internet as a platform to establish a persona. I write in part to create a record of life, the good and the bad. But I realize to an extent that there's an analog precedent for this as well. In broader social circles, you don't typically complain about life or express discontent because no one wants to be around that. That's not to say that you don't confide with close friends, but you don't sit down for lunch and explain the depths of your challenges with six people.

The second thing we do is invalidate our feelings because of the idea that we can't feel something because, relative to some standard or other people, it's "not that bad." For me I conflate the standards with the things I have. I have the unreasonable feeling that since I have an amazing wife and a lovely house, I can't feel stress or or pressure. But the presence of positives does not cancel out the hard things. Life is still hard even if it's harder for others or there are things that might mitigate the pain.

So I've had a tough couple of weeks. It's not my problem if you think I'm not entitled to that. (Smile emoji or whatever.)

Pet euthanasia and parenting

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 11, 2019, 5:02 PM | comments: 0

We had a scare today with Emma, our oldest cat ("Princess Bitchy Pants"), when she was suddenly howling in pain and not able to walk easily. It turns out she had some huge abscess near/in her butt that burst while at the vet, so she's on pain meds and has to wear the cone of shame when we're not watching her so it can heal. They'll reevaluate it in a week, and it could end up just being a random infection or something more serious that caused it. Either way, she's 16, and we know she won't live forever. We kind of make jokes about her time coming, because we're realistic, but it will certainly be sad. We lost Gideon last spring, and that was hard because he was a big lover, and a lot younger.

We told Simon that Gideon was very sick at the time, and that he would live with the vet until he died. Technically this was not a lie, it's just that he only lived there for an hour at most. We encouraged him to say goodbye to him, and frankly there wasn't a ton of attachment there because Gideon was scared of Simon pretty much from the day he started moving around on his own. The grabbing hands were not fun for the big fella. A few days later, Gideon's photo came up on a screensaver and Simon asked how he was, and I guess we never explicitly followed up, so we told Simon that the cat had passed. There were some tears, but he seemed to get over it pretty quickly.

Here's the thing, I don't think I can explain euthanasia and its moral and ethical implications to Simon. He struggles with a lot of basic social contracts as it is (because ASD), so I don't see any universe where I can successfully explain killing your pet intentionally to him. I can barely rationalize it myself, and I've been through it three times in the last decade. We talk about it in humane terms but don't apply the same standards to humans. It's completely irrational to me that we play God to our pets, even though I know it's the right thing when they're suffering.

I guess where we are now is that we'll tell Simon that when it's time to take her to the vet for the last time, she won't be coming home, but I don't think he's ready for the intentionality of it. I really look forward to the easier conversations like sex and drugs.

Is happiness a choice?

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 7, 2019, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

I've had a strange combination of conversations across different parts of life recently about what happiness is, and my resolution that happiness is a choice is surprisingly controversial to some, and even perceived as outright wrong by others. Let me explain myself a bit.

People encounter bad and negative things. There is no doubt that people can not control a great many things, whether it be depression, a death in the family, divorce, financial hardship... there's no limit to the list. You can't simply choose to not feel negative emotions over these kinds of things, and I'm not suggesting that you can, or that you should. We as human beings need to process yucky things.

There are also a lot of things that we simply don't want to do that add up, in all aspects of our lives, including work, home life and everything in between. They include things like grocery shopping, paying bills, commuting and writing TPS reports. There's a whole category of things that just come with being an adult that we would probably not do if we could get away with it.

So there is no universe where we can be happy at all times by way of external factors. Like everyone else, I'm going to encounter my share of shit and have to do stuff I would rather not do. But life in aggregate is of course a journey, and it is one that ends in death for every single one of us. This reality forces us to make some decisions about how we choose to view life, while it lasts.

I don't know if my strategy will work for everyone, and I would preface this by saying that it is not infallible, and like everyone, some days will be harder than others. While it's hard to choose a feeling, it is possible to choose to think about the things that contribute to making happy feelings. I try to shift from thoughts of my parental struggles to the love that my child can exhibit toward me. At work I try not to linger in struggle when I can celebrate wins and progress. In all cases, I don't rely on external factors to make my happiness. It's not up to my family or my job to make me happy.

There are certainly situations that you have to change when external factors weigh too heavily on your life. Steve Jobs was famous for saying, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something." I've made changes to relationships, jobs and other scenarios in those cases, and eventually come out in better shape.

None of us are entitled to happiness. Heck, even the Declaration of Independence refers to the pursuit of happiness as a right, not the happiness itself. (Mind you, the founding fathers didn't think it applied to everyone, but that's a topic for another day.) There's something freeing about accepting the accountability of your own happiness. You must focus on the things that you can control, and yes, they may be hard to change. Life can be hard, but it doesn't mean it has to be unhappy.

Code writing for fun again

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 6, 2019, 7:49 PM | comments: 0

I've spent a fair amount of time lately thinking about work and how it relates to fun, happiness, enjoyment and other endeavors as they relate to puppies and rainbows. This is not a post about that. But I will take you back to the years immediately following college, when I thought life was all about being a big radio star.

I was fortunate enough to start working in commercial radio a little more than a year before I graduated, and with that headstart I was able to go full-time shortly after graduation, and in the market where I already lived, no less. By this time it was already obvious that the thing I enjoyed so much in college, and even part-time for money, was not very fun when I had to make a living at it. I went to government TV after that, which was fun for awhile, but I saw no clear future until I shifted into software. The lesson here is that sometimes, doing what's fun when it's your job can be less fun. To bring it full circle, I have a friend that is an attorney by day, and has a syndicated public radio show by day, and he loves it.

When I first started writing code as an adult, it was largely because I wanted to do interesting stuff with the Internet, and you had to do a little programming to make that work. It turns out that I really enjoyed it, and I was able to build a career out of it. All of that hobbyist effort trailed off over time, however. I recall by the time I was at in 2006, coding at a senior level and at a fairly high volume, I spent less time doing it for fun, on the side. After that job, it was up and down based on the position. The more "lead" and "manager" gigs I had, the less I would code in the job, but the more I would in my spare time. The last six years has been a season of coding between zero and 50% of the time, meaning my energy for the fun stuff has been higher. I've been at a consistent 0% now for eight months, and so the interest has increased.

Let me be clear that coding for fun and for money are not binary opposites. You can do both at the same time, but as with anything in life, it's not all fun, all of the time. I mean, even on vacation, you have to do stuff you would rather not (like buy sunscreen, wait in airports and deal with cab drivers), but it doesn't mean you can't enjoy the good parts. I do think that coding in a thoughtful and always-learning way has limitations, for everyone. I've seen the best get burned out and junior and mid-level people turn out crap in volume. My own experience is that I've only got so much bandwidth to give the craft.

Now that I've got more of that bandwidth, back in the all-manager realm again, probably to stay, this time, I want to devote more time to my open source project and modernize it. I think I'd even like to give hosted forums a try (because cloud), if only to make a few hundred bucks a month. Heck, I have a bunch of domain names that I could build into useful things, I just have to make some choices and stick to them.

Last year's contribution tracking on GitHub wasn't bad. You could see where I was between jobs, and then in December I made a ton of commits just around the effort of updating the forum app to the newer Bootstrap version. Lots of busy work, but if I get some of that out of the way I can do more interesting things. When I'm active, I actually see some pull requests happen. I'd like to make next year's graph greener.

2018 Review

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 28, 2018, 9:00 PM | comments: 0

These retrospectives seem to come faster and faster. I am acutely aware of the passage of time lately. With that said, given the perception of urgency, let me get to it!


This year was marked by a ton of anxiety, which is a new experience for me. I mean, I'm no stranger to stress, and how to deal with it, but anxiety is something different. When the last year ended, I felt good about the progress I made with my team after a grueling year of hiring, and it was good to turn a corner. But in April, the risk I accepted by joining a small bootstrapped company became a liability when I got let go, and the timing was pretty terrible. I have generally distilled work down to a simple business proposition, where a company gives you money, and you provide something of value, but I swung in the other direction where it was something very much attached to identity and purpose. I haven't felt that way about work in a long time, and in that sense it was a good reminder that we should strive to fall somewhere between those extremes. I let work-life balance get out of whack, and a year ago I knew that was a problem.

Honestly, there was a weight lifted at that point, though the timing was terrible even if the cash flow situation was good (I'll get to that). Around the same time, Gideon, our big cat, was dying of cancer, Simon was struggling at the end of school and picking his skin off because of meds and I was putting in way too many extra hours for work. I needed a break.

I ended up having three reasonable job offers, which frankly was lucky because work is harder to find at the level I'm at. Only one really fit the direction I wanted to go, and they found me, so that also involved a little luck. It was the position I didn't know I was looking for until the new ownership firm invited me to apply. I wasn't even sure it was for me until the second interview.

The gig at PowerDMS has been super challenging, but the thing that's really different is the scale. The difficulty is rooted in my ability to challenge the assumptions I have about how the familiar success patterns apply to a larger org. The good news is that I really like the people, the product and the market opportunity. I can see the future, and it's really exciting. I've not been in a company during a private equity growth phase. Should be an intense ride.

One thing I still struggle with is the balance. In six months I've only taken net 7 days off, even though we have unlimited time off. I did 14 weeks without a break, and even then I did a staycation, a series of date days with Diana. I'm finally taking a week off, on a boat, unplugging completely. I have to remember to do this, because not doing is making an excuse. There will always be something, in every job. Take the time off.

The business

After 7 straight years of decline, ad revenue finally went the other way, and in fact was up 24% year-over-year, which is remarkable since it's mostly from Google. That sounds great, but the decline over the 7 years was on the order of a 70% decrease, so it has to just about triple over this year's total to reach back to 2010 levels. What I still can't nail down is why CoasterBuzz traffic is twice as valuable as PointBuzz traffic. Part of it I'm sure is that PointBuzz leans heavily mobile (69%), and mobile is less lucrative in terms of advertising. It's not age, or at least not in the ratio I would expect, as PointBuzz leans just slightly older to the 35-44 group, according to Google. It's creepy that they know that.

Speaking of the mobile phenomenon, one of the interesting things is that CoasterBuzz sells way more club memberships to desktop users. 77% of club sales go to desktop even though they account for 41% of traffic. I've always maintained that the site is a workplace distraction that weights heavily to business hours, but this seems to reinforce that. Unsurprisingly, club members account for only 1.4% of traffic but view a staggeringly high 7 pages per visit, compared to 2 for anonymous users, and 5.5 for logged in, non-club users.

I need to think of something fun to build and run on the side that isn't world dominating or time consuming, but makes some nice side-coin. That's definitely not some kind of content, but perhaps some simple thing that people will give me recurring money for. I mean, if I could find some reason for people to give me $50 per month, I would only need 20 of them to score a grand per month.

Sustainable energy

We ended up replacing both of our EV's this year. Nissan wouldn't allow us to keep extending the lease on the Leaf, as we started at two years and ended at four. We replaced it with another Leaf, and it's pretty great with about 60% more range. We also sold our Tesla Model S and bought a Model 3, several months after our reservation came up. It's a less expensive car, but still pricey since the "inexpensive" model won't come until they can get to the volume that allows it. It's an amazing piece of technology, and while I like participating in this transition to sustainable transportation, I look forward to the day when a long-range EV costs the same amount as a Prius. After 3.5 years of being an all-EV family, I can't ever imagine going back to gas. Using gas seems completely absurd, and we have 80k miles to back up how much better electric is. I haven't been to a gas station in that time.

We also installed a 10 kW solar system on top of our house. It doesn't quite cover all of our electrical use in the summer, mostly because of the cars and the fact that I now commute. Still, after the federal tax credit, the return on investment period should be just under 9 years, and obviously it adds to the value of the house. We've been in the house for just about a year, and it's not cheap to keep it cool. (It didn't help that the insulation wasn't well distributed, but we had that taken care of in the warranty period.) If we had the roof space for another 4 kW of panels, I would consider it. I applaud California for mandating solar on new construction. It's so obvious that a distributed grid is our future, and looking at Kauai's evolving co-op as proof, we have the technology to get there.


My yearly check up last summer was about where the other have been in recent years. I haven't lost enough weight, or in the case of this year gained, my cholesterol is just a little too high and triglycerides are way too high. But something interesting happened with blood pressure, because I got it down to normal at the time of the visit. I think I was moving around just enough to affect that, along with taking Omega-3 supplements per the doctor's orders. That was a relief.

But the truth is that I have largely treated eating as a sport this year. I definitely eat my feelings, and I let it get out of control this year. I can't tell you how often I've found myself eating to the point of discomfort. I wouldn't say that I've unlearned the habits of the last decade or so, but I definitely have not given respect to those habits. Mind you, I'm still generally avoiding the worst of it, like fried food, excessive junk food, etc., but eating three times your weight in low calorie foods is still overeating.

My activity level isn't good either. I mean, Fitbit actually says I did 2.1 million steps this year, over last year's 1.8 million, but an embarrassing amount of that walking was undoubtedly to lunch or around Epcot during the Food & Wine Festival. The biggest change is that I'm not working remotely, so I'm not getting out and walking around first thing in the morning. I really miss doing that. This is on me, obviously, and I need to make better choices.

The aforementioned anxiety definitely caused some problems for me, but I realized that much of the way I could roll with it was to make time to switch off. I've come to realize that for most of my life I've engaged in what others would call meditation, or some variation thereof. For me it's not an issue of trying to flush my head of all kinds of thoughts, but rather redirect myself toward whatever is present. It can be just feeling the sun on your face while you lie in the sun, or the sound of the ocean (or train whistles in the distance). I think it's also OK to let your mind drift toward fantasy and good memories, too. It's definitely good to have a nice nap now and then, because it's rest for your brain and your body.

This was the first year in a long time that stress was causing the physical manifestation of IBS. For me at least, it generally comes as the result of poor eating or being tweaked out, and in the case of this year, probably both. It got better toward the end of the year, but that extreme cramping in a constipation-diarrhea cycle sucks. It has generally been rare since moving to Florida, but it caused some rough days this year.

Diana had a few serious headaches this year, one requiring an ER visit to break, and also started on a medication that caused her to lose a ton of weight, to an unhealthy point. That was scary stuff, to see her kind of fade like that, but the doctor put her on something else that had weight gain as a side effect. I'd rather she had to watch her intake of delicious cheese than be skin and bones, so we'll take that.

Simon's ADHD medication situation changed a bunch, where he went from picking his skin off to not seemingly have any real effect on a different med, and I'm not sure where we really are now. The problem is that the cycle to prescribe, validate and adjust is so long that I worry it isn't going to help him in an already challenging year of school (because of the fucking testing expectations). It's also not particularly easy to explain medication to a kid who doesn't have anything physically wrong, especially when he also has ASD.

Parenting and family

I feel like I've turned a corner with parenting, but only after a mostly rough year. In all of my desire to see more empathy from Simon, I realized I wasn't exhibiting much toward him. I've spent a whole lot of time to trying to figure out how to balance his independence and helping him, leaning generally toward letting him flail a bit. That's made me the somewhat less liked parent, but I know it's what he needs. He still splits on developmental issues, getting ahead on some things while behind on others, and that causes us all anxiety. The testing pressure is getting to him because he believes that it's critical he not get anything wrong, and reading comprehension (or more specifically, retention) is hard when your mind is all over the place with ADHD. He struggles to even choose a story with the home based lessons, let alone get to reading them.

Where I do feel like I've made some progress is just generally being patient with him and trying not to react emotionally. I've got a long way to go on this, but I feel like I'm getting better at it. Just changing the expectation that I'm not going to flip out on him when he asks a question is a start. He can't compute sarcasm, and jokes don't always land with him, but he's got this level of scientific and relational intelligence being held back from the way he processes the inputs. I can relate to this so much, and when I'm patient, I can find other ways to package something so that he gets it.

More to the point though, I'm latching on to the experiences that make him happy. When he finds music he likes, I listen with him. When he engages in a topic that interests him, I go there. It's not usually social behavior that he gravitates to, but I connect with him anyway. I love his sense of wonder at the world, and wish I could bottle it because I know it doesn't last.

I hope that I've done a good job being a husband, because Diana is a slam dunk as a wife. Her role as mother is critically important because she handles the doctors, medications, IEP and extra activities, and I'm there to support her in all of that. She also looks out for me and checks in every day to see how things are going at work. She still manages to work part-time, and covers a non-trivial part of our budget.

The one thing we don't do enough of, or at least we get into streaks with, is alone time. We get our Broadway season nights off, but then we don't make time beyond that as much as we should. I realized this especially in December when we had a number of outings, compared to a really spread out set of date nights for much of the rest of the year.

We unexpectedly lost Gideon to cancer, our middle cat with all of the nicknames (Basement Cat, Big Papa, Thunder Paws, Fatty, Big Fucker, etc.), in the spring. We had a long run with four cats until Cosmo, my cat, passed in 2013. I expected that Emma, now 16, would be the next to go, but aside from some white fur seems to not be slowing down just yet. Gideon was my favorite of Diana's cats, even though he took the longest to warm up to me. I joke about his weight, but he was mostly just a really large cat. He still liked Diana better, but he was a lover when he wanted to be. I miss that cat, and the timing wasn't good with the job chaos.

We're pretty sure we want to get a pair of kittens once we're down to one cat. It will be nice to have cats that know us all from the start.

No moving

Yay! We didn't move this year! No change of address for an entire year. Getting settled this time seemed to take forever, maybe because it took six months just to get handles on the kitchen cabinets. But despite the slow going, the truth is that the place feels more like a home than anywhere else we've lived. We bought Simon some non-Ikea furniture, Diana's sewing studio has all of the vibes and my office, which I only worked out of consistently for six months, feels like a place where great things could happen. The kitchen has been a warm place where we've made everything from homemade pasta with family to drinks with friends. And there's so much natural light in the evenings, which is everything I love about Florida. The nightly fireworks, just 11,000 feet away, are pretty great as well.

I think this is the year where I finally get over the move away from Seattle. I love that town, to the extent that I still identify with it in some ways more strongly than I did with Cleveland, despite being there only two years. I may still regret leaving Microsoft to an extent, but leaving that beautiful part of the country ultimately created the opportunity for a life here in Central Florida that has been mostly great. I think the thing that made me realize this was just talking with my brother-in-law, who still lives there. The housing costs have become so insane there that you couldn't easily buy in unless you've been there for at least a decade or more building equity. Houses cost double at best, and usually more, and even with higher salaries there, you won't have the kind of financial flexibility you have here. We would have been long-term renters there, but here we've built two houses. Despite being burned by real estate in Cleveland, I still think the long term play is to have something to show for years of living somewhere instead of having nothing.


Toward the end of last year, I got an email about doing a verified fan purchase for Hamilton tickets in New York City. After more than a year of listening to that show, it was time to see it, and I had to get over my distaste for large cities (fueled largely by Chicago and a brief visit to LA). We scored tickets for April, around our anniversary, and made a four-night, three day tour of the trip. I won't rehash that trip here, but we saw HamiltonFrozen and Kinky Boots (with Wayne Brady!), as well as a taping of Seth Meyers. We stopped by Trinity Church to see where Alexander and Eliza were buried, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, The Met, Grand Central and lots of subway tunnels. We packed a lot of stuff in, but we didn't over-do it, I think. It was just the right amount of adventure travel. I loved the city and can't wait to go back.

We booked a 5-night Bahamas cruise with two stops at Castaway Cay again this year, and while not particularly adventuresome, it's quite frankly one of the most relaxing vacations we can do. Beach days at Castaway are among the best you can have, so going 2x is a lot of best days. There is also a whole lot of built-in babysitting on those ships with the kids clubs, so we get lots of private time, adult meals and bar dates for "free." The down side is that it's so popular that the year-over-year price increased by a grand for the three of us, for the same itinerary at the same time of year. There aren't many deals these days for Disney cruises. That said, we did score a great rate on a three-night that we did just two weeks earlier by booking the last possible day. That seems redundant, but I didn't know what my vacation situation was going to look like once I went back to work (I had one offer by then, anticipating another), so we went big given the deal.

We ended the year on a week-long cruise to the Virgin Islands. To be honest, I enjoy the cruise experience but don't find the tropics to be that interesting as cruise destinations, and a lot of the decision making on these is influenced by the fact that we don't have to fly anywhere. But we still had not been on the Fantasy, so now we've seen the fleet before the new ships launch. We really want to hit the European itineraries, but we're not sure if that's a with or without Simon situation, and in the latter scenario, getting someone to watch him for an extended period might be hard.

Of course, when you live in Orange County, Florida, you do stuff all of the time that is vacation-like. When I finally took time off in the new job, I didn't travel, but I did a series of day dates with Diana. We went to theme parks, did mini-golf, rented a boat... tourist stuff. I'm not sure if that really counts, but there was a lot of festival food and drink at Epcot, and some early morning rides in the new Toy Story land.

On a related note, it has been years since I took so few photos. My phone logged only 1,200 photos, compared to 1,500 last year, this despite the fact that the Pixel 2 is an amazing phone with an amazing camera. I didn't bust out my Canons or my fantastic smaller Panasonic mirrorless either. I feel weird about that, because I love photography, but phones have come a long way, though their fake depth of field tricks are not entirely convincing. I need to do one of my little photo shoots with Diana and Simon this year.

Dollars and sense

This hasn't been a good year. It's hard to make that case when there hasn't been any net adverse effect on life (especially relative to the struggles of others), but whatever, my therapist says it's OK to measure life as it appears before you. The short version is that the fiscal plan for the year tanked in a big way, and there's a lot of real cost associated with it.

The year started with our house sale falling through because of a flaky buyer and a real estate agent (the buyer's) who sucked at life. I fully expected maybe two months of overlap between the two houses, but it ended up being six. Six months with two mortgages. No sooner was that resolved that I ended up forced into a few months of "self employment," which further derailed things. This all went down in the midst of trying to replace the car with the less expensive Model 3, and get solar installed on the roof. All of that adversely affected getting the equity from the previous house rolled into the new house so our cash flow wouldn't be totally screwed up. It cost us well into five figures, and that delayed recasting our mortgage by about seven months (plus another several voluntarily, because dammit, we were still going to vacation hard once in the winter no matter what).

The move to the newer house was totally within our means by all of the usual metrics in terms of housing as a percentage of income, debt ratios and all of that. Even then, I wanted to make sure that the net increase in monthly expenses didn't become astronomically high, so a smaller car payment and less electricity expense would help mitigate that. The end result is that we get there, but almost a year later than expected and no savings to show for it.

None of this is the end of the world, but as someone who used to carry a bunch of revolving debt for years, pissing away money, it doesn't feel good to even lean in that direction. I carried a balance mostly out of convenience for a couple of months (because I had to direct cash to the car replacements and solar, all in progress when stuff happened), and that felt gross. I was also surprised at how medical co-pays and deductibles stacked up, and it angers me that someone making $30k a year would be screwed or just not get the care if they had a similar situation.

On the plus side, the markets all ended the year on sale, thanks to the dipshit-in-chief that keeps freaking out investors with every Twitter hit. My return on retirement accounts is in the shitter this year, but I don't need to retire so whatever. It means I need to make solid contributions.

The world

Last year I said I was disappointed that we had, "Nazis, mass-shootings, massive hurricanes, wild fires, starvation, nuclear proliferation and my country is being represented by a man with no moral compass." Not much has changed this year, but people don't seem willing to admit to supporting a fascist in polite conversation as much as they did two years ago, so that's a step in the right direction. People are getting involved, especially women and minorities, and that's positive. I'm not as down on the world as I was a year ago. I see the seeds of a better future, and I'll do what I can to support that.

Stepping away from social media to some extent helped my world view as well. I get no notifications on my phone anymore, and at this point use Facebook and Instagram more as a historical record for myself than anything else. I only read news from real journalists. I see what good people are doing to change the world. It's not that I avoid politics, because you have to pay attention, but I don't let it dominate my head space.

Am I happy?

I struggled quite a bit in the spring and summer this year. I felt like I wasn't winning at very many things and something about my age was creating a sense of urgency for something I couldn't even define. I didn't think that I was being the father I needed to be. There were lots of uncomfortable feelings. But I eventually started to work things out, retain perspective and try to focus more on being present. While I'm still rolling with the challenges that come with entering midlife, and that's on me, I get so much joy by being around my darling son and wife. I feel like I beat the odds, getting to be with two people that wonderful.

Ultimately, the thing that's important to keep in mind is that we only have so much time, and using it to be unhappy is a choice we can't afford to make. That statement of fact is something that is driving more of my day to day to decisions.

The 2018 Playlist

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 21, 2018, 8:39 PM | comments: 0

Here it is, another yearly playlist in the books. This year's list was all over the place, in a good way. I like things a little weird.

The thing that dominates the playlist is the "Hamildrops," a bunch of songs covering or inspired by Hamilton. It's the gift that keeps giving. They decided not to do a Hamilton Mix Tape 2 album, so instead they released these individual songs all year. I ended up adding five of them, including the "One Last Time" that came out just today, with Chris Jackson and Barack Obama. Jackson played George Washington in the original cast, and Obama does the spoken word part of Washington's farewell address. It's brilliant.

Also weird, I was all about the music that SpaceX was using as the musical interlude to its launch webcasts. I found one of them on Soundcloud at the start of the year, and then was happy to buy the album Test Shot Starfish came out with later. I don't know if it's "good," I just like it because it reminds me to be excited about rocket launches and landings.

I didn't buy very many albums this year, but there were some notable efforts. Bishop Briggs released an amazing collection of songs. Chvrches released another one, but it wasn't as good as their previous albums (interesting because it was their first working with an outside producer, apparently). Wolf Alice also put out a solid effort, and "Sadboy" rocks hard after the bridge. Elle King is thankfully back, and I need to spend more time with that one.

Lots of singles this year that grabbed me. AJR has a lot of potential. Weezer is clearly doing whatever they want. I'm intrigued by this young Norwegian girl Sigrid and her brand of synth-pop (and interesting videos). Mike Shinoda is doing well post-Linkin Park, though many of his songs don't appeal to me at all. I'm really excited to see where the Regrettes go as well. That Bob Moses song I think came out a year or two before, but I didn't discover it until this year.

Overall, it was a good year for music, if a little slow in the middle of the year. I hope this means some momentum going into the next.

The long history of "devops" and my hobby development projects

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 20, 2018, 10:10 PM | comments: 0

I submitted a speaking abstract for an event last week about how you can use all kinds of free stuff to do continuous integration for an open source project. Also just yesterday, at work we saw Microsoft light up some great integration between GitHub and Azure DevOps (formerly called VSTS, among other things). We're at a point where we're starting to take all of this automation for granted, but I thought it would be amusing to look back at where my own efforts have taken me over the years in the context of my hobby projects. Buckle up... it's a long story. 

If I go back to the launch of Guide to The Point (now called PointBuzz) in 1998, the site was a bunch of static HTML pages. I used an app called Microsoft FrontPage to work with all of the files, but was still mostly manipulating the HTML directly. I used some shared hosting account that was $20 per month. Here's where it gets more ridiculous: FrontPage was actually using extensions on the server so I could manipulate the files directly (over a modem and land line, of course). Every now and then I would use FTP to make a copy of them locally, but I was editing on the live server. There was a Perl-based bulletin board app called Ultimate Bulletin Board (UBB) that ran in its own folder.

By the end of 1999, I had written my own forum app in the old scripting platform called ASP, using the VBscript language. It actually had SQL injection vulnerabilities here and there because I did some dumb things, though none were exploited because bots and script kiddies weren't a thing then. I was still editing files directly on the server with FrontPage.

In 2000, I launched CoasterBuzz  and spent much of the year improving the forum, but my workflow didn't really change. My traffic on the sites was getting ridiculous, so I rented a dedicated server from a company called CrystalTech for a base $350 per month. They were getting annoyed with me because I was using a ton of bandwidth, on the order of 50 gigabytes per month, so I was starting to spend $600+ each month. Advertising was fortunately covering it, but ouch. I was starting to sell the forum app, too, which meant spending a few hundred dollars on a secure certificate for the site, plus fees for a merchant account. The important change during this time was that I installed Visual Source Safe, a very crappy source control system that Microsoft had at the time, on that server. I was still editing files on the server though.

In 2001, CrystalTech was giving me crap about the bandwidth, so I looked into getting a T-1 to my house. Sprint hooked me up, and it was about $1,000 per month, plus the cost of a server I built, SQL license and a Cisco router. Things went to shit that year, with the dotcom bust and 9/11, so I lost my job and my key advertising provider, Doubleclick (which would eventually be bought by Google for the ad serving tech), dropped me. That's the year I started CoasterBuzz Club, which saved my ass.

In 2002 I updated the forum and sites to run on ASP.NET Webforms. I finally started developing stuff locally, and using some combination of Visual Studio and FTP to deploy the sites manually to the server under my desk. And when I screwed up, I had everything in source control. After two years with the T-1, dedicated servers came down in price, and I was spending around $300 per month instead of a grand. By the end of that year, I started giving away the forum for free, because no one would buy it with other free options available.

It was some time in 2004 or 2005 that I switched from Visual Source Safe to Subversion as my source control, again, installed on my server. Beyond that, really nothing much had changed for years. Then, in 2010, while working at Microsoft in the group that also maintained CodePlex (I worked on MSDN/TechNet forums), I moved the source control for the forums to CodePlex so it could be a true open source project. I think I also switched to Mercurial at that time, which was the hotness for awhile and comparable to Git. I recall we used it on MSDN, and I think CodePlex itself was using Mercurial for source control. I didn't actually do a release for the forums on CodePlex until 2011, when I finally finished a conversion to the MVC framework on top of ASP.NET, with unit tests and everything!

Active development on CodePlex ended I believe around 2014, much to the dismay of me and some of my former teammates in Redmond. They didn't announce its closure until a few years later, but knowing of its imminent death, I moved POP Forums to GitHub around that time, which also means I obviously switched entirely to Git for source control.

Also in 2011, Microsoft started testing a cloud version of Team Foundation Server (TFS), and I signed up to be an internal beta tester. TFS had its own source control I think, but they were also going to support Git, which was exciting because CodePlex was doing that too. It was pretty rough, which is to say it barely worked. Even though I left the company late that year, I was able to stay in the beta program. In 2012 they started a public preview, and at that point I moved some of the Subversion repositories I had from my rented server (which had changed companies three times) to Git on what would officially open as Visual Studio Online in 2013. They would rebrand it as Visual Studio Team Services then this year as Azure DevOps. Somewhere in this window, probably closer to 2011, I started using Microsoft's "web deploy," which is a dumb name, to uh, deploy my sites via the web. It's tech that already sits in Visual Studio and most any Windows-based build system, so it's super convenient and very fast.

In 2014, the cost structure for cloud resources, specifically platform (PaaS) offerings and not infrastructure (IaaS), finally beat the curve and allowed me to migrate everything to Azure. That meant no more feeding servers with patches, maintaining backups, cleaning up logs or any of that nonsense. I also lit up a virtual machine there of the cheapest kind, and put my old remaining Subversion repositories there. That VM still has some of the old file structure from the dedicated servers, even though I keep it "off" so only the storage costs me these days.

Starting around 2005-ish, every job I had involved setting up some kind of continuous integration pipeline of building and deploying code. I'm not sure how it ended up being me in these jobs, but the tools were pretty terrible, and every year I had to relearn how to do it. I think at Microsoft we were using Team City and some hacky Powershell scripts to run msbuild or something, and it wasn't until I got to SeaWorld Entertainment where the tooling was intuitive enough to feel obvious. The basic tooling shell and gated nature of those pipelines is still there, but now we've thrown in constantly evolving things to package up front-end code and a lot of scripting to push out to any number of compute flavors.

Despite this work history, it wasn't until 2016 that I fully automated a CI build and release pipeline for POP Forums, the open source project I still maintain (though not very actively, so there's some ancient crappy code in there). It took a few years for the next iteration of .Net, Core, to stabilize, so I finally felt like it was worth it to deploy the latest bits somewhere that people could mess with. This year I went even further by publishing NuGet packages of the code as part of the build, and I use those packages to feed CoasterBuzz when I'm developing it (PointBuzz still uses the "old" version of ASP.NET MVC).

So my workflow today, and this goes a long way from where I started, pushing static HTML to a shared server, is this:

  • Commit and push code to GitHub for POP Forums.
  • Azure DevOps is triggered by GitHub to build the project with all dependencies and run all of the unit tests.
  • If the build is successful, it builds packages that are published to MyGet (I still need to add a step for an npm package, but I'll get to that when there's something interesting to publish).
  • The build is deployed via web deploy to an Azure App Service where the world can mess with it. All configuration is stored in the definition of the App Service, entered via the Azure portal.
  • CoasterBuzz is cloned from a private Git repository in Azure DevOps, and I work on it entirely locally.
  • The CB solution references the packages on MyGet, so I update them as needed. Even the views from the forum are in a package.
  • When I build it locally and it's ready with passing unit tests, I use web deploy from within Visual Studio to deploy CB to the staging slot in the app service, which uses the same configuration and same database (because changes are so rare).
  • I smoke test and validate the changes in the staging slot, and if everything is good, I click a button in the Azure portal that swaps the staging and production instances, and my changes are on the air.

The costs are fairly inexpensive as well. Here is the rough break down for all of the sites:

  • A single S1 service plan (1 CPU core, 1.75 gigs of RAM) hosts all of the sites at a cost of about $74/month. It averages about 80% memory utilization and CPU peaks around 5% during the day at most. I'm super proud at how fast it is, with page renders under 100ms.
  • An S0 SQL database for each site, at $15/month each, and another $5 each for a B database for the forum test site, my blog and PointBuzz Live (our live blog site). That's $45 total for all of the databases. CB and PB get 10 "DTU's," which is their abstraction around "transaction units," or how much you can push stuff in and out of the database. Typical load is around 20% during the day, but it tends to spike to 80% at times, in short bursts. The bursts come from the inefficient self-rolled search indexing I build into the forums. I would use Azure Search for this, but their pricing is terrible, based on storage instead of computing power.
  • Bandwidth is somewhere around 120 gigs most months, and costs about $10. Remember, that first dedicated server I had wanted $200 for less than half of that bandwidth back in 2001.
  • There are all kinds of things that come "free" with all of this, like the fact that there are always about three copies of the databases, and if the "server" ever dies for the sites, it transparently spins up another one. Right now this system barely breaks a sweat at 5 to 10 requests per second (that's not counting fetching static things like images or scripts), but I can scale it up almost instantly to the point it could handle 250 requests per second easily.

It's a crazy different world from 1998. It's still nothing compared to some of the things I've worked at in various jobs, like the MSDN reputation/profile system, which even then handled 100 million transactions per month. Still, all of this amazing technology to use, and much of it is free.