The blog home of Jeff Putz

The need to collect things, physical or not

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 20, 2023, 9:17 PM | comments: 0

People like to collect stuff. I don't mean that in the hoarder kind of way (though that's certainly a thing). I used to be all about judiciously growing my CD collection, but from high school, it was about a decade and change before iTunes, and subsequently Amazon, started selling music digitally. I don't think I got much over 300 discs, if that. Now I can say that I have well over 8,000 songs, most of which I legitimately bought. And since I first started developing my personal music cloud almost three years ago, I've played songs over 43,000 times. We can count all sorts of things.

When I started to really get into roller coasters, I was counting those. Oddly enough, despite running a coaster nerd site for two decades, I only just recently exceeded 200 rides on my track record. Like a lot of things you might collect, you might reach a point where you think, "These things aren't really different or interesting enough to go out of your way to collect."

I know some people are fanatical about collecting airline miles, like George Clooney's character in Up In The Air. I've gotta say, that one seems odd because you're gonna be sitting on your ass for every one of those miles, probably not doing anything super exciting.

These days, I'm mostly fanatical about collecting money in retirement accounts, since I didn't do it in my 20's and early 30's, because I was an asshole. But I don't want to work forever, so now I find myself trying to put away 20% of my gross every year. I'm mostly only getting to 15%, but that's still feels pretty good.

There's one other thing that I decided to, for some reason, pursue. We do love our cruises, and pre-pandemic, Disney Cruise Line's loyalty club topped out at 10 cruises to reach Platinum. We knocked that out in our first three and a half years, and nine of those cruises were in the latter two and a half. But then, emerging from the pandemic, they introduced a new level, the Pearl status. That required 25 cruises. It kinda makes sense, because you couldn't throw a Mickey Bar without hitting a platinum member. When they introduced this, we were at 23. The Europe trip this summer would get us to 24. We had to schedule one more to get the credit. That was last weekend.

What do we get? Mostly epic bragging rights, I guess. We can book and check-in earlier, including get dibs on excursions and other things (well, after concierge, anyway). They're giving free photo packages that we're not interested in, too. But the reward isn't the point. I think that humans have a innate need to count things. I don't know why. It's just how we're wired. Everyone has a thing.

Now that the achievement is unlocked, I might need something new. I know that my Playbill collection has been a little stagnant since the Covid. Maybe we need to get back to Broadway. Or the West End.

But this rock-n-roll is so good

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 20, 2023, 8:35 PM | comments: 0

I have, I guess since college, been pretty passionate about music. That's funny because I couldn't carry a tune if it had a handle. And I can't really play anything, even if I've had a fleeting interest in drums. But as a Gen-Xer who came of age in the midst of a significant change in music, I'm all about the vitality and excitement that came in a period where everything felt new, and nothing fit neatly into a box. It was a great time for radio, when alt-rock stations could play Jewel and Nine Inch Nails, and it was OK. It was glorious.

The music industry has mostly been a shit show ever since. Taste makers shifted from radio program directors to streaming algorithms, and I can't say that we're better for it. Americans in particular seem obsessed with ephemeral, disposable pop music. Look, I acknowledge that Beyonce is a talented singer and performer. I don't want to take that from her. But she's cold product. A hundred people come together to give her something to sing with the intent of selling as many streams or downloads as possible. Is that art? It might take hundreds of people to make a movie, but some of the best music ever was written by a single person. In pop music, the closest thing we get to that is Taylor Swift, but she tends to stick with produce-songwriters like Jack Antonoff, who writes some pretty great songs himself with his many side-projects. I'm no Swiftie, but I respect that as something closer to art.

But the really infuriating thing is that the algorithm, especially in the US, largely ignores some great rock and roll. I've ranted about this before. I don't understand how Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend, a huge #1 in the UK, got nowhere in the US. Last year's Tears For Fears album The Tipping Point was #2 in the UK, and despite not getting any radio/streaming preference that I heard, at least hit #8 in the US. Grouplove has a consistent following and new albums every year, but no one is paying attention. Bands like The Regrettes get the attention of Lin-Manuel for a Hamilton cover, but no one notices their fantastic albums. If there's a sliver lining anywhere, at least Wet Leg has been too irresistible for anyone to not notice. They're an outlier. For whatever reason, Foo Fighters also continue to be recognized, and people are not afraid of those guitars.

This grinds my shit mostly because it's hard to discover the good stuff without it being embraced by radio, terrestrial or satellite, or the streaming service algorithms. I know it's out there, but I can't find it. Even ten years ago, it was easier. SiriusXM's AltNation used to find a ton of stuff. Yes, a lot of it ended up being one-hit-wonder stuff, but who cares? If you follow my blog, you know I publish yearly playlists of stuff that I love. My 2014 playlist had 55 songs. So far this year, I have only 14, and there isn't a lot of time left.

Last weekend, when we met the house band on our cruise, I enthusiastically (because alcohol) tried to sell them on some great stuff they might not know. I'm sure I appeared to be a drunken Gen-X guy looking to connect with people, and that's fine, but I asked them if they knew any Garbage songs, even "Stupid Girl" or "Only Happy When It Rains." Disappointed, I told them they needed to check out Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend, and even played "Smile" on my phone because I thought their bass player might appreciate the sweet bass line. I fully expect that I had zero impact on their musical influences, but I suppose my point is that in a just world of art, they should already know this stuff.

And so I'll keep writing about this junk, and hope one other person gets it the way that I do.

Routine absent routine

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 19, 2023, 10:24 PM | comments: 0

I recall reading somewhere that research indicated it takes about two months for the average human to develop a consistent habit. That's the average though, as the range was something like two weeks to almost a year, depending on the person. I really leaned into this idea as justification for Simon getting Invisalign instead of braces. I wanted to spare him the self-esteem consequences of braces, but at the same time, know and understand that he's not great about sticking to doing things regularly unless it's something that he's deeply interested in. I figured, a month or two of reminders, and he'd mostly care for the cleaning and rotation on his own. This (mostly) has worked out.

Following my mostly good lab results from this year's physical, I've wanted to maintain some of the things that I was doing to get there. The problem is that I've had massive variations in doing stuff in the time since. Obviously there was the two weeks in Europe, but that was followed up with a work trip after that, a holiday weekend, and then this recent cruise. The rhythm I had was disrupted and I can't get back to it. I've only done my morning walking three weekdays in the last month, I'm eating for sport and my sleep habits are absolute shit. I'm blaming the daily variations, sure, but mostly I'm wondering how to be better about positive routines when life is not routine.

And I say that in part because variation in life is something I'm valuing more and more with age. I'm kind of proud of the idea that while getting older I'm not getting set in my ways, with autism no less, but rather I crave the opposite. At the same time, there is value in certain habits that are good for you. And like anything else in life, I reject the "you just have to will it" trope that indicates you suck as a person if you don't do the thing. Human brains aren't that simple.

But the research about forming habits is good. It allows me to understand that it's mostly an issue of stringing many days together of doing the thing to form a habit. It seems attainable when you get that. Heck, on the subject of cruises, I may eat gratuitously, but after 108 nights of cruising, I firmly achieve step counts because I use the stairs as much as possible and look for excuses to traverse the length of the ship. I also go to T-Flats every Thursday because it's eight bucks for a burrito bowl and drink, and I desperately need a little outside lunch time.

I think I can find that routine, just need to put together those days.

Cruise vibes, just when we needed it (Disney Wish, September 2023)

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 19, 2023, 7:47 PM | comments: 0

I haven't written much of anything this month, and part of the reason might be that I just don't want to sound like I'm complaining, or ungrateful, or something. But we've had a difficult few weeks in a number of ways. Everyone has their things, I guess, and I kinda hate that there are still situations where we're culturally expected to "be strong" or some such nonsense. Regardless, the timing ended up being just about perfect for us to embark on our 25th cruise. We needed it.

Unlike the Europe trip, this is the turn-off-your-brain kind of vacation that we enjoy, cost be damned. I've described it before... show up, go to dinner where and when they tell you, let the youth counselors look after your kid. And that's exactly what it was for three glorious nights, with almost no serious issues or problems.

There was nothing special or gamed out about this one. We booked fairly recently, so we couldn't get our "free" Palo brunch, and there were no mixology openings (until the night before). We weren't celebrating any real occasion, other than it being our 25th, which gives us "Pearl" status in Disney's loyalty club. No upgrading to concierge. And for this being our third run on the year-old ship, we were still kind of looking for a rhythm, the way we do on the other ships. Simon seems to have his, which on any ship is a combination of frequenting Edge or Vibe, doing pool/water stuff and eating like a teenager. For us, we like to meet people in the evenings, and that's easiest when you can sit down in a bar somewhere. By extension, this usually means getting to know bartenders as well. Finding the "best" spots has been different on the Wish because it's laid out so differently, but we did OK this time.

We were seated for dinner with another family, and from experience you've got a 50% chance of getting awesome people or assholes. In the latter category, we had a woman start with a story of having to stop on the Beachline freeway on the way to the port to squat in the bushes and pee. I wish I were making that up. Sometimes we just get our own table, but not this time. A nice family from the northern part of England, a grandmother, mom and son trio, were seated with us. The boy was 12, and he and Simon did spend some time doing things outside of dinner, especially on the first night. The eldest of the family was full of stories, having run a proper English pub before recently retiring. The mom told us a little about her work, and she was interesting to talk to as well. It was a relief to know we would enjoy our dinner times.

Having seen the shows previously, we skip those, but we do enjoy live music. The first one was saw was a swing band playing in Luna. After their second set, we spent a little time talking to DCL's creative director, as we recognized her from a Q&A she did in Europe. That was a fun conversation, though we couldn't get her to spill the beans on the new show that they'll do for the Treasure. The next night, we discovered that the swing band was actually the house band playing with specific singers. Said band was doing Gen-X friendly tunes in one of the lounges, and they were really good. Like any good nerds, we took excessive amounts of time talking to them as well. Turns out that they were also the band to play in the big Pirates deck show, the one where they play the movie theme to fireworks. We watched their soundcheck, but avoided the mass of people for the actual show. We talked to them again the next night, and suggested some bands that they might have overlooked. Hopefully they weren't annoyed, but I get excited about certain music, especially after a few drinks.

The bar situation is still weird, since there is no adult "district" the way the other shops do it, but we did meet some nice people in the Hyperspace Lounge (Star Wars). That's a weird spot, because they're mostly about the themed drinks, and show no conventional "earth" bottles, which also means that if you ask for a certain thing that isn't in the bar, the bartenders will go out and get the ingredients they need from the bar just outside. And one of our favorite bartenders, that we've ordered from on three cruises, happened to be working there. He's the adventurous type that loves the challenge of making something interesting for you, off-menu. Nightingale's, the piano bar, is right next door, and also right on the atrium, so it gets intermittently crowded. They have the "good stuff" there, but it's hard to get a seat at all, let alone at the bar. Then there's the Rose, which is where people pre-game for the up-charge adult restaurants. It's fancy, where you can buy the $2,500 shots of whiskey, if that's your thing, but they can make anything and have all the good stuff. Great bartender there as well.

We did just sneak into a mixology class that only had like eight seats to begin with. There were cancellations, and so we ended up doing it with four people. Talk about exclusivity! Had everything from the classic Jamaican rum punch to a wild variation on mojitos using whiskey.

We had a solid beach day at Castaway Cay, getting out there kind of late because we slept in a bit. I love going there, and we calculated that this was our 26th time (subtracting non-tropics itineraries, but adding a few for the two-stop itineraries). I just hate the food options on the island, though we learned that if we ask ahead of time, our dinner service team can arrange for alternatives. That's a game changer for me, since the only thing they typically have that I'll eat is some dry-ass chicken, and it's always terrible. But the weather was close to perfect, in the mid-80's, partly cloudy, and most importantly, the water was warm. Simon spent some time doing teenager stuff (no idea what), but Diana and I kind of just floated about for the better part of the afternoon, and I thought it was incredibly therapeutic. We're doing the first run to the new, second island next summer, and my expectations are high.

I will say that the food game on the Wish is definitely elevated, and there are a number of reasons for that. For their counter service stuff, they have several stands beyond just the pizza, burgers and sandwiches found on the other ships. Here they also have the cantina with Tex-Mex and a genuine smoked meat barbecue. The smells are every bit as amazing as the taste of things. The buffet, by design, is not a help-yourself affair, which is different from the other ships, and likely more staff intensive. But the upside of this is that the presentation of everything is elevated, and there are more sophisticated options. It's not uncommon to find tikka masala, wok-fried Asian choices and even little charcuterie boards. It feels like there's not enough seating during an at-sea day, but the food is definitely better. The evening sit-down restaurants have variations on the usual menus, and it's usually pretty good.

The thing that I sill have a hard time getting over is the lack of a proper, full-circle, promenade deck. Knowing how busy those are on the other ships, I can't imagine I'm the only one who believes this. Instead, there are shorter promenades on both sides, with stairs at one end to an uncovered stretch of deck, and stairs at the other end that you can't even ascend. We sat out there on the at-sea day and almost no one goes out there, not even for the shuffleboard. Word is that they designed the ship this way so they could have a big window on the back for the Arendelle restaurant, which of course no one is looking out because there's a show there, or the blinds are down because the sun is coming in. Looks like the Treasure will be the same way, though with a Coco theme. I hope they can change it for the third ship.

Overall though, a much needed reprieve from real life, if not a little too short. Nothing on the books until next June, but I'm sure we'll sneak in another one before then.

Sleep habit changes

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 8, 2023, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

Early in the pandemic, my sleep habits changed. The short version of that story is that I just wasn't sleeping through the night anymore. That's weird because for my entire life I've been a pretty good sleeper. I could fall asleep easily, and not wake up until I had an alarm, or otherwise my body just had enough, often nine or ten hours. Obviously, everyone endured a fair amount of anxiety during those weird times. What's frustrating about it is that it never went back to normal.

I've had to roll with anxiety much of my life, but sleep was my reprieve. But since 2020, I find it difficult to turn my brain off and just let myself sleep, unless I'm really, really tired. What I settle into is a repetitive cycle of some arbitrary problem situation, often not something possible in real life, meaning I'm actually close to sleep but not quite there. For example, I might have been trying to solve a software coding problem earlier in the day. In that almost-there state, my brain turns it into some abstract variation of the problem, and my brain tries to solve it over and over again, but it's not possible because it's not real. The only thing that I find that works to break the cycle is to, at the very least, sit up on the edge of the bed for a bit. Worse, because it's there, I might look at my phone and play a few games. Or I'll get out of bed and walk around. And just for something to do I'll often go to the bathroom, and I wonder if that's now sometimes the reason I get up. I can go 12 hours without evacuating (confirmed on our recent travel to Europe), so I don't think that's it.

I do know that folks often spend less time in the deeper parts of sleep as they get older, even though their sleep needs have not decreased. Folks often nap more often but for shorter duration with age. Recovery from jet lag also takes way longer, which I can attest to. Even with my recent trip to Denver, where I tried to stay on Eastern time, I couldn't get back into a normal rhythm. Regardless, I hope age doesn't prevent me from proper rest.

Last night I had some of the best sleep I've had in weeks. Granted, I was up until 1 watching the US Open, so that helped. I know I'm getting quality sleep when I have long dreams and wake up ready to do stuff (usually looking forward to lunch). I had a dream that some dude at a bar where I was doing a light show led me to Sara Bareilles' house, where I met her fiancee and she showed me a VW Bus that she was having restored. I thanked her for her Instagram post about antidepressants that she made last year. (For real, that was the thing that pushed me over the edge to acknowledge the problem.) It was so real, and it seemed to go on forever. And I remember being slightly jealous that she was engaged, because she's on my short list of celebrity crushes still, and we get a pass for those since they're not realistic anyway.

I still theorize that the problem is more psychological than physiological, but I don't have any real data to support that. The start of the challenges coincided with the pandemic, and frankly got worse during a mostly shitty 2021. It was like a switch, and I would think that age-related changes would be more gradual. For now, I need to get back on a slightly earlier waking time, which hasn't been possible these last two weeks up late watching tennis. The earlier rise gives me treadmill time and I generally feel better, even if the sleep still varies.

So much good tennis to watch

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 5, 2023, 8:11 PM | comments: 0

Once again this year, I bought a discount month of Sling for access to ESPN, so we could watch the US Open. I'm not generally a big sportsball fan, but I'll make time for volleyball and tennis. Diana got me into the sport pretty early in our relationship. We even went to see the tournament in Cincinnati in 2008. When we moved back to the Cleveland, I joined the tennis club nearby and took lessons while playing beginner USTA (poorly). I've only played like twice, with Diana, since moving to Florida, but it's just intolerable to play in the heat here. Incredibly, indoor clubs aren't really a thing here.

Watching professional tennis has been intermittently interesting over the years. For a long time, it felt like it was the same people in the finals of every major. But much of that group has either retired, been injured all of the time, or otherwise become less competitive. There is an entire group of young, and it's not exaggerating to say "kids," coming up that are exciting to watch, insanely talented and athletic. And it's men and women, so even in the earlier rounds, there were exciting matches to watch. I can't remember it being this fun to watch in prior years. And we're only to the quarter finals... the finals are still four days away.

I suppose it's even more exciting because so many of the noobs are Americans. This Ben Shelton kid is ridiculous, and it's his first touring season. Coco Gauff is not new, but she is young, and her ability is also insane. They so much fun to watch. Carlos Alcaraz, from Spain, is also surprising for his age. Seeing these players grow and develop will be fun for years to come.

My number one resume tip

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 3, 2023, 5:52 PM | comments: 0

This week I had the pleasure of giving a friend some resume feedback. By pleasure I mean ability to help, because it sucks that they got laid-off. They have a strong employment history, but there was one thing that I see a lot that people overlook.

I'll keep it brief: Don't let your resume read like a job description.

Let's say that you were a plumber. If you write, "Joe's Plumbing, Lead Plumber, 2015-2023," your bullet points below that should definitely not be things like, "Roughed in bathrooms for new construction," or, "Diagnosed problems for clogged toilets." Those are literally things that just describe the job. What did you do? The right things are quantifiable or qualifiable accomplishments. Things that make you stand out would be, "Roughed in 20 homes in the new Dreamhomes development," or, "Mentored apprentices for the company."

I've hired dozens of people over the years, read hundreds and hundreds of resumes. If I get one that reads like a job description, I pass immediately. There's nothing there to make the candidate stand out. Celebrate what you've accomplished, not what the job is. It's the one time in life where you need to brag. If you can do it with humility, cool, but brag away.

A guide to following the National Hurricane Center

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 28, 2023, 8:30 PM | comments: 0

Having grownup in the Midwest, I vividly recall the obnoxious weather coverage by local weather dudes (it was always dudes) whenever the summer weather would get severe. At some point, having a crawl on the screen showing which counties had watches and warnings was not enough. With even the most subtle hint of a possible tornado on radar, they would break into programming and talk about it for hours. Keep in mind, tornadoes are ephemeral, lasting only a few minutes. Sometimes a line of storms will generate multiple tornadoes, and that's something to keep tabs on, but most of the time they do not.

Then I moved to Florida and saw what the local TV folks did for hurricanes, and I realized that weather coverage could reach an entirely new level. It wasn't just the idiots from The Weather Channel standing outside, this was like the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup and NBA Finals all at once to these so-called "meteorologists." Fortunately, there is a way to cut through all of the bullshit. Hurricanes are serious, and potentially dangerous, but you don't need drama.

The National Hurricane Center maintains a web site that does a pretty good job of forecasting and preparing people for a storm, depending on where the science takes them. It's fairly matter-of-fact, and not made dramatic. It is updated every six hours, at 5 and 11 Eastern, day and night, as a storm progresses. Once you get to know the products that they publish, you don't need the local TV idiots. Here's my guide.

To be clear, I am not an expert. However, I do find that the data, as presented and considered in aggregate, is useful for understanding what's going on. I would also editorialize that the time to prepare is not when a storm looks likely, it's early in the summer.

Watching the world

The home page of the NHC has a big old map that shows all of the current storms or potential storms. It's divided into three tabs, splitting the Pacific and one for the Atlantic. This is where you can see things forming early on, though admittedly, for your daily life, this isn't super useful. For us here on the Atlantic, systems pop up closer to Africa, and they come apart before they get even close. This happens in the Gulf of Mexico as well. These disturbances are marked with an "X," and clicking on them shows text about the system with the probability of them becoming legit storms in two and seven days.

Eventually, a system may be given a number, meaning it's organized enough to be a real storm, but still only a tropical depression. Once it reaches sustained winds of 38mph, it is considered a tropical storm, and it gets a name. At this point, all of the more interesting products are published. Again, this information is updated at least every six hours, at 5 and 11.

Now you have a named storm

There are a few things to look at, and some of it is more valuable than other parts. The forecast discussion is a wall of text that describes what the meteorologists have observed, and what their prediction models, uh, predict. That context is helpful because it tends to summarize what may happen, and also has a ton of nerdy science stuff. It always ends with the approximate position of the storm every 12 hours for the first three days, then the two after that, paired with wind speeds.

The cone of shame

The TV weather porn loves to show the cone, but often TV people explain it wrong, and the average person by extension doesn't understand what it means. There is actually text on the page that explains it, but it's small, and it obviously isn't shown on the tele.

The first thing is that the cone is showing where the center of the storm is most likely to go in the next five days, with 60-70% certainty. The further away from its current position, the less precise one can be, so the cone is larger. What it does not show is the size of the storm or the areas likely be affected. This is just the area where the center of the storm might cross. A narrow cone only means the forecasters are more certain about where it's going. Storms can be hundreds of miles across, and in the case of Florida, potentially cover the entire state. Just because the cone isn't near where you live doesn't mean that you're in the clear. As the key on the graphic shows, the wind speed range is indicated by the letter at the center of the storm, but that can extend hundreds of miles in every direction, especially to the right front of the storm (more on that in a minute).

What time is it?

I really like the graphic that shows the arrival time for "tropical storm force" winds. This one is more interesting because it takes into account the size of the storm.

This product shows you when it's gonna start getting breezy, meaning that the time shows when wind that's at least 39 mph will blow through your hair. This doesn't really tell you anything about the severity of the storm, but it gives you scope. So combined with the cone, you can get a sense of when the storm will arrive, and how serious it will be.

Looking at the raw numbers

I understand numbers, and at least basic probability. For that you can turn to the windspeed probability chart to get a more fine-grained look at what you might expect. Here's an example:

               FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM 
  TIME       18Z MON 06Z TUE 18Z TUE 06Z WED 18Z WED 18Z THU 18Z FRI
PERIODS         TO      TO      TO      TO      TO      TO      TO  
             06Z TUE 18Z TUE 06Z WED 18Z WED 18Z THU 18Z FRI 18Z SAT

FORECAST HOUR    (12)   (24)    (36)    (48)    (72)    (96)   (120)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
TALLAHASSEE FL 34  X   X( X)   9( 9)  43(52)   1(53)   X(53)   X(53)
TALLAHASSEE FL 50  X   X( X)   1( 1)  24(25)   2(27)   X(27)   X(27)
TALLAHASSEE FL 64  X   X( X)   X( X)   9( 9)   X( 9)   X( 9)   X( 9)

First you need to find your closest city. There will be one to three lines, each one describing the probability of certain wind speeds over time. I don't know why they use knots here, and not mph, or even km/h, but for 'Merica, the three speeds they're looking at is 39, 58 and 74 mph. These bands correspond to a tropical storm, a more serious tropical storm and a hurricane. The sets of numbers then are a number of hours into the future, as described at the top with the number of hours, and the UTC time above that (again, why not use local time?).

The two numbers describe the onset probability, and the cumulative probability. Onset is at the time that you hit the hour described, while cumulative it the overall odds between now and then. I tend to look more at the cumulative, because the timing is less important in terms of preparation. An "X" means there's less than a 1% chance. So in the example above, 48 hours from that time, there's a 43% chance that Tallahassee will see tropical storm winds (39 mph or more), and a 52% chance overall. Similarly, the chance is 24% and 25% cumulative for 58 mph or more winds, which is a mid-range tropical storm. Hurricane force winds, 74 mph or more, only have a 9% chance at that point.

So there's a 1 in 4 chance that it's going to be awfully windy in Tallahassee in 48 hours, which to me at least seems pretty serious. Our chances here in Orlando are only 7% to reach that middle tier, so at this point, I'll wait and see if we really need to bring anything inside. Sustained wind is so weird to experience. I don't know if I'll ever get used to it.


One of the more annoying things about the TV people is the emphasis for where the eye of the storm is. When the storm is over water, and the eye is well formed, the strongest winds are in fact in the thunderstorms circulating around the eye wall. When it comes ashore, that relative location is certainly important. But as more and more buildings are built to withstand hurricane winds, as modern building codes require, the emphasis on the eye is a distraction from the danger of the water. On the coast, it's the storm surge problem, where the water can get sucked away from the coast, and then pushed back inland and causing massive flooding.

But that eye emphasis is even worse when the storm is moving inland. The eye tends to fall apart pretty quickly over land, but TV idiots keep drawing a line over your neighborhood and tell you to "hunker down" because it's coming for you. The center of the storm at that point isn't really the thing to worry most about, and again, it's the water. The rain and flooding that you may endure is not confined to the center. In fact, the most dangerous areas are in the right front quadrant of the storm (in the northern hemisphere). This is true when it's coming ashore, in terms of surge and wind, and it's still true inland. That's where you're mostly likely to find tornadoes and the most serious storm cells. So for inland folks like me, I'm more interested in where I am relative to the storm's center, and how much the winds are persisting. We were on the right side of Irma, and there were far more trees down and roofs damaged compared to Ian, when we were left of the path. (I understand this is an anecdote, and all storms are not alike, but Ian was technically the stronger storm by a good margin, with less time weakening over land before it got to us compared to Irma.)

So that's how I look at the storms, and react accordingly. Amazingly, we've only had three "serious" storms here in Orlando in the last decade, and that's including Matthew in 2016, which stayed off-shore most of the way up the east coast (we were in North Carolina). Irma was the worst in terms of local wind damage, while Ian last year was "easier" for us, despite a lot of flooding in different areas around town. With the 5 pm update tonight, it looks like Idalia will be mostly a non-event for us, but pretty serious up in the panhandle and coastal cities.

Americas biggest, real cultural problem

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 28, 2023, 6:15 PM | comments: 0

Something got me to thinking about science fiction, as it existed back in the fifties and sixties. Everyone has seen this, and knows what it looks like. Everything is clean, there are flying cars, technology enables an easier life. Sometimes it was even diverse, as in the case of the original Star Trek. It is wholly optimistic. People had a great imagination about how what could be, and many people saw the world with wonder and curiosity.

We don't do that anymore. Our science fiction tends to be pretty dark, dystopian or apocalyptic. (Which is great art, for sure, but there isn't anything at the other end of the spectrum.) There is a whole subset of the American population that doesn't know optimism, and isn't interested in it. Many want to cling to a past that wasn't better, really for anyone. "Make America great again" implies that there was a better time, but better time for whom? Obviously that's a dog whistle, code for, "Let's go back to when the people of color and LGBTQ people were marginalized and the white people ran all of the things." So many of those people believe that their way of life is threatened by diversity and people that aren't like them. Unfortunately we can't just write it off as lazy thinkers or the willfully ignorant, because their actions have real consequences.

We've known for decades that there is unlimited energy coming from the sun, and it stirs up wind that can also be turned to energy. The technology to use this has been around for decades, and it's cheaper than ever. It doesn't pollute stuff the way burning dead dinosaurs do. It doesn't warm the planet. And our cars may not fly yet, but they can run on clean electricity. How can you not be excited by all of that? Who can in an honest, intellectual way, say that they want pollution that warms the planet and harms our health, when the alternatives exist today, and are cheaper?

Scientists pulled off nothing short of what would be considered a miracle even 50 years ago, when they were able to create a vaccine to battle a virus that had killed millions of people. In the process, they also figured out new ways to monitor disease (wastewater, gross), manufacture the delivery mechanism of medicines more efficiently, and the concept of custom drugs to treat specific patients no longer seems impossible. Meanwhile, regular people have found new ways to work, cash is becoming unnecessary and it's more efficient than ever to obtain goods by way of delivery.

But culturally, we keep looking backward. We're not celebrating the diversity of our neighbors, and a future where we all live together, peacefully. We have solutions to our environmental and energy challenges right in front of us, but we irrationally cling to the legacy. Experts in every field create and discover things, and instead of reveling in that, we reject their expertise as elitism.

The bright and shiny future is right in front of us, and we stubbornly refuse to move toward it.

Could I have taken an artist path?

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 26, 2023, 9:58 PM | comments: 0

I was doing a little bit of editing for the documentary today. I need more material overall, but there are two minutes of produced bits that I could work on, so I did. It's fun doing creative stuff, even if it does tend to remind me about my limitations as compared to other humans with which I would collaborate, if I actually had a budget that wasn't out-of-pocket for this thing.

It's things like this that often have me wondering if I could have taken a more artistic route in my life. Just to get it out of the way, I'm not saying anything about what I should have been, because I'm firmly in the camp of people who think that "everything happens for a reason" is the worst kind of bullshit used by people who can't reconcile life events that make them uncomfortable. What I'm saying is that if I had made different decisions, would I be capable of having an artistic career that I could live off of?

When I flipped careers in a few years after college, the nature of what I did changed pretty dramatically. Working even in a 2.5-person government TV operation, I got to do all of the things. I was shooting and cutting video, doing motion graphics, designing video systems... it was all of the creative things. When I flipped to the Internet and software, it was technical and logical. I'm not saying that creativity isn't necessary in my line of work, but no one is going to be deeply inspired, laugh or cry at your work.

It seems like most people who endeavor to work in creative fields suffer a bit. Some are able to carve out a niche and be comfortable, doing deeply satisfying creative work. A lot of people though find it unsustainable. That was kind of my story. I didn't feel like I could ever have a comfortable lifestyle doing what I did. Diana hung in there in theater for a long time, but it wasn't conducive to having a social life. Mind you, we both do a ton of stuff outside of our day jobs that helps satisfy the creative itch. I think it's fair to say that we're artists, it's just not what we write on our tax returns.

This curiosity comes at an... expected time of life for me. Of course you think about your choices, and what else you might do, in midlife. What I did not expect is that the curiosity doesn't come at the expense of some negative situation. Sure, the sheer volatility and chaos of trying to build a career in tech startups, SaaS companies and such, has been ridiculous, but I think I've earned the wisdom and experience to say that I'm pretty good at what I do. I still learn everyday, there are things I don't know, but I think "success" is an earned qualification. I am confident, hopefully with humility, in my job.

What I'm thinking now is something that is akin to becoming a parent. I don't think becoming a parent changes you, it's just that you become that as well. So if I decide to lean into artistic things, it's not in spite of or to replace what I already do. I can be both.

Exploring this aspect of me also comes because of the post-pandemic, antidepressant, ASD-diagnosed awareness that I didn't have before. My years in my late 20's and mid 30's were weird, and I didn't know myself as well as I thought I did. The picture started to become clearer when I met Diana, but that has been a whirlwind with having a child and moving all over the place and constantly changing jobs. Something about 2020 allowed me to come up for air, then 2021 dished out a pile of shit. Last year, everything seemed so in focus (other than my actual eyesight, which doesn't like to see anything closer than 14 inches).

In that awareness, I can look back and say that I've always been a deeply emotional person. I know now that my brain hasn't been ideally wired to express or process those emotions, or something made me feel as though I shouldn't. But the way that art makes me feel... music, film, theater... it's deep and intense. It has always been that way. It's a gift. I've always wanted to be a party to the process of making art. Art is feeling.

I don't know what this means, exactly, but I feel like the things that I'm most into definitely go a long way toward being an artist. And yes, in my rejection of the "content creator" nonsense, I can say that I have been a bona fide writer, author, photographer, videographer, amateur lighting designer. I'm working on adding filmmaker and pro LD to that list.

Next steps in my lighting endeavour

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 26, 2023, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

I have my head in a number of different things, rotating around between them, but still engaged in all of them. The lighting bit has been getting more of a share of that mind lately, and now I have some clarity about what to do with it.

Most importantly, I think that I understand my intent. As I've written before, teenage me always fancied myself a lighting designer, and I don't see why that would be off the table now. I had quite a bit of experience with theatrical lighting in college and community theater, and believe that I'm a student of all of the touring stuff I've seen. What I lacked was the understanding of how the modern gear works, and even in the last few months I've come a long way. I'm constantly watching tutorial videos, and often following along on my laptop.

The way I see it, this could lead to a few scenarios. The first is that I would be qualified to get part-time work as an operator or designer, and there are a ton of opportunities to do that around here. Between the theme parks and the constant supply of conference "business theater," there's a lot to do. The secondary potential is to essentially rent out myself with gear, specifically the controlling hardware.

In either case, I want to root this pursuit in the joy that I have for it, first and foremost. Over the years, I have problematically started all kinds of coding projects thinking, "This could make me money!" When that was the motivation, it didn't last, and I wouldn't finish those projects. Like the documentary I'm working on, the intention is not to make a buck, though I would be happy to sell it, I just want to enjoy the process of making it.

I recently negotiated a less-than-retail price for a couple of Intimidator 260X fixtures, the successor model to those I bought last fall. So now I have four that are essentially the same. As a kit to stuff, I imagine that I'd like to have two more, six total, and a couple of cheap Chinese knock-off wash fixtures. The closer I look at the latter, the more I see that they're very similar to machines that cost five times as much (also likely made in China), but likely lack the quality control. My thinking is that, if they break, even buying three replacements, however unlikely, is still cheaper. You can design entire shows virtually in the control software, sure, but it's not the same as seeing light manifest in front of your eyes. That's the thrill, and I've experienced that even with the first two fixtures I bought last year.

The control part is a little more complicated. It's clear now that the industry has settled on MA Lighting as the gold standard. Well, sort of. It seems like theatrical production on big shows is split between the MA products and ETC. I've messed with the software-only versions of both, and MA seems better suited for concerts and big light shows, but is still perfectly capable of doing theater. To that end, if I'm going to commit to learning something in a non-trivial way, the product that can do more seems like the right choice. The MA 3 line, after years of software updates, seems to have turned a corner as the "best" product, being favored over the MA 2 stuff which a lot of folks apparently still prefer.

Software-only is fine for programming, but it would be hard to use when actually running a show. Physical buttons and faders are necessary, especially for "busking," which, as it implies, is "performing" with lighting. To get physical buttons, you have to spend somewhere between $6,800 and $80,000, which seems like a lot until I think about what some of the video gear I've bought over the years costs. The entry level involves using your computer as the actual computing power, plus a few touch screens, and the control surface is just that, connected by way of USB. Full consoles have all of that self-contained, obviously, but getting in to this for the price of a car is not an option. The more you spend, the more you can control. So those big EDM shows? Those probably require the $80K arrangements.

The good news it that committing to that road means waiting until at least March before the equipment is even available. That's plenty of time to save many, many pennies. The bad news is that I have to wait until March. But I really want to do it.

Finally, a win against platforms

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 25, 2023, 9:46 AM | comments: 0

The podcast Armchair Expert recently returned to the open web after a two-year exclusive deal with Spotify. Prior to that deal, we listened to that show pretty frequently in the car, but I couldn't do it when it went exclusive. I have two reasons, the first and more obvious one that I don't like things moving into closed platforms instead of being agnostic around the Internets. The other thing is that Spotify has broken making a living as a musician. You can't really make a buck easily without being at Taylor's level.

The end to a bunch of exclusivity deals apparently has had varying results. But in the end, I think it's the right thing. Platform consolidation generally hasn't been good for the Internet, or the people who put stuff on it. I know it's kind of a hippie-utopian sentiment to want everything to be generally democratized and starting from an equal place, but I think pre-platform it made for a more interesting place with far more opportunity. The barrier to entry is lower when you can start a YouTube channel or a Facebook page, but with the latter you can't even make a dollar, and it takes a long time to do so with the former. All of the advertising consolidation controlled by the Google-Facebook duopoly is bad for advertisers who have few choices, and worse for small publishers because they can't stack ad providers to fill their inventory.

Naive and optimistic me feels like the best things will rise to the top, but the silly app ecosystem, most of which replicates what could be regular web pages, has put gatekeeping and algorithms above human promotion. Surely there has to be a future that's more than 30 seconds of dance choreography and cat videos. Maybe the independent podcast will show people that's the case.

Remotely in-person

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 24, 2023, 6:55 PM | comments: 0

I just got back from Denver, where I spent a few days meeting up with my peers and our corresponding product, design and analyst folks. These 25 people were largely two-dimensional Zoom tiles with obvious talents for what they did, but now many of them are more than that. They have back stories and lives.

I generally do not align with the folks who feel like butts-in-seats are the one true way to work. I have always been at my best and most efficient when I've worked remotely, as have the teams that I have led. Taking a commute out of the equation is literally getting days of your life back every year, and I've been surprised by how much of that time I instead use for work. It ebbs and flows, and it took a lot of practice to find boundaries. You can't be answering email and messages 24/7, because that does not actually result in more or better outcomes. And I can say with certainty that, especially in the world of software, open rooms full of desks are not better for getting work done, and collaboration as a percentage of work is not large. Headphone sales I'm sure are what they are because of this office arrangement.

What we missed though, because of the pandemic, was the periodic in-person meet-ups. I've read some compelling math that saving on square footage makes it possible for remote workers to gather in person several times a year, paying for flights and rooms. What we did the last few days was awesome, not for any work that we did, but because humans, even software engineers, are social animals. It feels good to get to know people. Having not done this since before the pandemic, I was almost surprised that, yes, people share personal stories and experiences in ways that they don't do remotely. I think a few days of this per year is generally enough to feel more connected to your job.

I will also say that, for me, the cognitive and emotional load of something like this, where you spend all day (and evening) with folks, is high. Even today, I feel pretty spent. I'm grateful for the opportunity, but it's a lot. I'll look at folks a little differently now, having had the opportunity to work with them in a room all day, and interact socially in the evening.

Again, I don't think that these interactions are some kind of proof that "together is better," only that it makes the remote work that more meaningful. I hope that we're able to do it two or three times a year.

Gaming out the end of your life

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 18, 2023, 10:02 PM | comments: 0

Ah, the things you think about when you reach an arbitrary number of decades in your life. I was reading an article today about the potential lack of preparedness on the part of my generation for retirement. The short story is that Gen-X'ers on the whole have been only marginally good at preparing for their retirement years. A great many (though not as many as Millennials) are in the student loan debt situation because they borrowed to go back to grad school. But more common is that we just weren't thinking ahead much, and spent our money on stupid shit in our 20's. I can closely identify with that. If it weren't for the industry that I work in, and trying to put away the maximum allowable amount into retirement accounts, I'd be in the same boat. (And I would be in the clear of even having to do that if I would have sold all of my equity post-IPO on my last job, when it was worth five times as much. All I can do is cross fingers and hope it's in a better place ten years from now. I was waiting for "fuck you money" instead of "reduce lifetime risk money.")

Conceptually though, considering my overall generation or not, it's pretty weird to be literally gaming out the rest of your life, until you die. I personally don't look at this as a morbid fascination, because I'm at peace with the transient nature of our existence. It doesn't mean that I don't want to make the most of my time, I'm just not troubled by the fact that there is an end that I can't avoid.

You know the dumb cliches, that youth is wasted on the young. The problem in our 20's is not that we don't appreciate the benefit of early saving and investing, however small it might be, it's that we don't appreciate that time is finite. I just couldn't be convinced of it at the time. I know my dad tried to on a number of occasions, but I ignored him (sorry, Dad). And it really hits home because I do a bunch of interviews almost every week, often three or more, and often (but not always) with people younger than me. When I hear them talk about their career intentions, it makes me hyperaware of the opportunity to do at least some basic planning.

It also reminds me how much we don't know. There are not shortcuts for wisdom and experience. My dad wasn't wrong, I just didn't care because I lacked the wisdom and experience. It's the fascinating anthropological process that I keep coming back to, that we as humans continually take in more information, but we either continue to evolve our world view, or we double down on the one we had. Either way, we don't have a lot to go on early in the process.

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about all the things. How will it go when my son reaches adulthood? How can I or will I support him in that transition? When can I realistically stop working? Do I stop working, or just decide to do something that's purely fun and inconsequential? (Guardians of the Galaxy ride op at Epcot? Bartender at Epcot? LD at the American Gardens Theater at Epcot?) Should I start a business doing something outside of my current expertise? Do any of those things make it more or less possible to travel to the places that I haven't been? Do I need to get life insurance outside of work for the long term? (Another thing I should have listened to my father for.) What should the remaining vehicles in my life be? At what point do we down-size to a smaller house? Is there even the most remote chance of owning property near the ocean? Do we keep up donations to the non-profits we care about? How do you consider all of this while still enjoying life?

I am quite literally thinking about a "retirement career." I've been thinking about that quite a bit. I was already thinking about it by making my documentary, but I'm not sure if that's a career or a one-off thing that I will be able to say that I did, like writing a book. I always wanted to be a rock star, but I don't play anything or write songs. International Man of Mystery is also not actually a thing.

The starting point for a successful partner relationship

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 18, 2023, 8:18 PM | comments: 0

I was listening to the public Internet return of Armchair Expert, with the first episode featuring Kristen Bell. If you're unfamiliar, the podcast is hosted by Kristen's husband, Dax Shepard and their friend Monica Padman. They've always been pretty open about their relationship dynamic, parenting and such, but in this show, Monica brings up questions that some writer believes can accelerate connections between people. This leads to Kristen declaring that the best relationships work when people decide what they want to be for the other person, which is the exact opposite of convention, which suggests that you need to find someone who is what you want. Instead of looking for someone who checks all of the boxes, look for someone who will allow you to be who you want to be in the relationship.

Usually, my first instinct when I hear things like this, especially from a celebrity, is to immediately believe the opposite is true. But this hit me as something completely obvious that I've never articulated or considered. It's so profound to me that it would have completely changed the way that I see dating back to the start.

Some background... Since my autism diagnosis, that journey of reframing my life has a repetitive theme. Countless situations in my past, I felt as if there was something broken about me, because I didn't conform to the expectations of others or some arbitrary, blanket societal expectation. It also applies to relationships going all the way back to high school, whether they be friendships or romantic in nature. I was too weird, oblivious to an inferred social contract, or, to the earlier point, didn't check some boxes for what the other person wanted. I'm not saying that authenticity is inherently ideal, because if your authenticity is that you're a racist or nazi or something, you know, exhibiting that doesn't make you authentic, it makes you an asshole. But for the rest of us, we're probably being cast into a box.

Kristen Bell's perspective is not actually new, because I've seen it before. I recall talking to someone, long after she married and had children, who told me that her husband, on paper, did not check the boxes one would typically look for. But she rattled off some things that she liked to be for him, and he liked to be certain things for her. Again, this is the complete opposite of the conventional wisdom, where almost anyone will tell you, "Don't settle, make sure they are all the things that you want them to be."

But people are autonomous human beings. They all have their wants and needs, and none of us necessarily fit into boxes. People also change over time. So it seems to me that having expectations for what a partner has to be is a recipe for failure. When that partner does not meet those expectations, it's a recipe for resentment. That's a toxic situation.

This naturally causes me to reflect on my relationship with Diana. I was thinking about this a bit while we were in Europe (and enjoying a lot of beverages in Skyline). She has never, at any time, set any kind of expectations for what she expected me to be. I can't think of a single instance where she declared an expectation. But I think if you were to distill our intentions of what to be for the other, we have only decided to be supportive for each other in the pursuit of the things that we wanted to do, and who we wanted to be. I think it's really that simple. I think it works because we never set expectations for each other, but we actively try to be what we hope to be for the other.

And while she's just on the edge of the range, I claim Kristen Bell as one from our generation. She is wise.

We finally got Hygge back

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 17, 2023, 8:25 PM | comments: 0

After nearly six weeks, we finally got our Model 3 ("Hygge") back from the shop. What an ordeal that was. To recap, Diana was lucky enough to run over a crow bar in just such a way that it embedded itself into the back left tire, tore up the inside of the wheel well and bumper as it turned, and caused what was ultimately over $15k in damage.

The fix required replacing all kinds of stamped body parts connected to the frame, which is a bummer because the exterior of the car was fine. When I first saw it, I figured they'd replace the stuff lining the wheel well, snap the bumper back on, get a new tire and be done with it. It definitely was not that simple.

So we finally experienced what happens differently when it's a Tesla. While not the nightmarish situation one would have five or six years ago, it was still slow and annoying. It started even with the towing, because some trucks won't tow a Tesla. Many tire shops won't replace tires on a Tesla. And body work is limited to shops that have gone the distance to understand how to work with aluminum bits and high voltage wires. It's a serious pain in the ass. Despite the Model 3 now being one of the most popular cars in America, getting body parts is still slow.

Non-collisions may or may not affect your insurance, since it's nobody's fault (except the moron who either left the crow bar or let it fall off of their truck). But we just renewed at a rate that was 20% higher than it was six months ago, for the same cars that are less new, because Florida. Insurance is a shit show here. Homeowners is even worse. I can't wait to see how much that goes up. Neighbors are reporting 50% increases in just one year.

On the plus side, the minor panel alignment issues on Hygge are gone since they had to take much of the car apart. It wasn't so much the doors as much as it was the trunk, which is perfect now.

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I feel silently judged

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 15, 2023, 8:40 PM | comments: 0

I was running out of multivitamins, so the other day I went to the Amazon to order some more. The first result was the "men 50+" variety, and it took a second, when I realized, fuck, that's me. It didn't feel good when they arrived either. But the other thing that came into focus is that there are, I think a lot of expectations about how you're supposed to be as you go through life, and midlife in particular seems to come with particular arbitrary expectations.

The pandemic really woke me up. I think it was the monotony of the day to day that forced me to do more with my time. I got into all kinds of new things, or revisited old things. The next year had few redeeming qualities, but I started paying way more attention to myself. I got my hypothyroidism and cholesterol under control, got a couple of tattoos, formally sought an autism and ADHD diagnosis, and ramped up therapy. Then last year, as normalcy seemed to be back, I addressed depression, made more things, thought more about the places I wanted to go. This year has been even crazier. I started making a movie, I went to Europe, I think my lighting obsession is getting serious, and I feel less constrained by the world than ever.

In other words, me, the guy that used to retreat to the comfort of safe routine, has been very busy the last few years trying new things.

It's true that in a larger sense, I've had few shits to give about how I am perceived. But there's a part of me that feels silently judged for who I am and what I'm doing with myself these days. This could be rooted in my desire to be included in things and be appreciated, which is something I've rarely felt, and might cause the indifference to how I am perceived. There's also a thing though where our culture puts people in boxes for, among other things, our age.

I have a T-shirt that says, "It's weird being the same age as old people." It's kind of a funny joke, yes, but it genuinely reflects how I feel. When I was younger, people my current age seemed dull, beat down by the world and just kind of... gave up. Some people currently my age I suppose fall into that group, but most of the people I know well in that demographic are wise, quietly dominating whatever they're into, and often pivoting to do new awesome things. I'm not sure that I can reconcile my friends and the half-century club of thirty years ago.

I still feel that sometimes the things that I do or that interest me might be perceived as immature, or a realization of and reaction to my own aging. If it's the former, you can imagine how much I care about that. Maybe it's the autism, but whatever social contracts involve constrained behavior for arbitrary reasons are not useful to me. If it's the latter, well of course I'm going to react to where I am in my life stage. How can you not seek a sense of purpose? My world view is continually expanding, and if yours is contracting as you get older, I'm gonna just call it out and say that you're doing it wrong.

So while it may be just made up in my head, I'm kinda tired of the peripheral worry that someone, somewhere, imaginary as they might be, finds me silly or immature because of the things I want to pursue. I'm delightful and interesting. I'm not gonna feel bad about that. If I'm not your cup of tea, that's fine too (because I might be filled with rum).

The strange world of rock and roll lighting design

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 13, 2023, 9:44 PM | comments: 0

While I don't have a ton of happy memories from my high school years, I very distinctly remember some of my rock and roll lighting fantasies. In the 1988 to 1989 time frame, there were these awesome videos from Def Leppard and Pink Floyd on MTV  The former went all out with an arena tour in-the-round, while the latter brought automated lighting in a way that had not been seen before. A year or two later, I sat behind the lighting guy at the Ohio State Fair for a Mike + The Mechanics show. When Depeche Mode's Violator came out, I had not yet seen them, but walking to school, listening to the album on my cassette Walkman, I would imagine light shows, especially for the song "Clean," which I routinely approximate after showering, to the embarrassment of my son.

Younger, naive me thought about how great it would be to be a rock show lighting designer. Realistic me also understood that probably a dozen people in the world were doing it at the scale of shows like Pink Floyd's Delicate Sound of Thunder tour.I don't have deep history on the profession in those days, but I know that Vari-Lite was basically the only game in town. They owned the whole ecosystem, making the light fixtures, which were apparently very failure prone, as well as the control consoles, and even the operators and techs. It was a package deal. Those Floyd shows, if you watch the video, had that big circle behind the stage, and they were flying clusters of the lights over the crowd,. It was totally epic. To see those big, chunky Vari-Lites moving around, that was cool.

I imagine it was pretty hard to get into the business in those days. And even for much of the next decade, lighting was usually a bunch of trusses packed with short parabolic mirror lights, with a color gel in front. Theatrical lighting was a little easier to get into, but schools and college venues often had a limited number of analog dimmers, and worse, analog controls. I remember my high school went digital shortly after I graduated, and the dimmers occupied a small rack. The board had about 40 faders, a tiny text LCD, and non-volatile memory that could hold like a hundred cues! I did the design for a few community theater shows on that gear. I vividly remember manilla folders full of Rosco gels, and I had their swatch book.

These days, there are relatively inexpensive lights intended for DJ's and such, like those I bought last fall, and there are even cheaper options. There's also a whole world of cheap knock-offs made in Asia, which is the same place that much of the US stuff is made, but with presumably wide differences in quality. Then there's the pro stuff that costs often thousands of dollars per unit. There are a number of European manufacturers making the bulk of the touring gear. As far as control goes, there is readily available cheap stuff that can run on tablets, and the big pro market share vendors have software-only solutions that do about the same as their physical consoles, only with limitations in how much you can control. I wrote about some of that last week. What I'm getting at is that you don't have to be in a secret club to start learning.

For example, I watched an interview with a guy who started as a pro lighting designer and programmer at the age of 50. That dude has a $60k console and hires himself and his gear out. On the cruise, I talked to one of the Disney creative execs about their gear, and he enthusiastically mentioned that they're always looking for people at all levels, even part-time and for contract work. You can probably see where I'm going with this. I have the means to learn all of this stuff because I could buy the tools.

And here's what I hate about getting older, is that it keeps getting harder to be an idealist and optimist. Grownups pretty easily get into their routines. I tell myself that's not me, because look at me, I still want to discover new music. But I also get a burrito every Thursday and get kind of annoyed when for some reason I can't.

I've taken on a lot this year. In addition to the base responsibilities of being a parent and having a day job, I'm making a movie, still writing software and I kinda want to do this too. Oh, and I'm taking on extras at work, too, like being asked to join the DEI council. But you know, maybe me and my laser enthusiast buddy can pitch Taylor Swift to design her next show.

Let's be real: Writing open source software is volunteering

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 11, 2023, 10:49 PM | comments: 0

I've spent a fair amount of time volunteering for things and raising money for causes that I care about. It's hard to nail down exactly why I do this, but I suppose like anyone, I see things that I feel should happen for the better of humanity and I want to help. In leading those kinds of efforts, I'm always taken aback, shocked even, to find people who expect something in return for what they're doing.

Sure, there are often perks for this sort of thing. We enjoy a quasi-private room to have drinks in before shows at our performing arts center, because we're donors. I would imagine though, that most well-adjusted human beings would contribute even without this perk. I don't think it's a stretch to believe that. The vast majority of things that I've contributed to or volunteered for resulted in little more than a "thank you," and that's fine. I do not seek recognition, I seek results in the cause that I'm contributing to.

There is all kinds of drama regarding a popular open source software library that I've used for years, called Moq. Nerds will appreciate that it's a library used for mocking dependencies in unit testing. This won't mean much to most, but the short version of the story is that it is very, very widely used. Mostly via automated build processes, it is downloaded hundreds of millions of times per year. The guy who maintains it decided to slip in what is essentially spyware for the purpose of making money, which as you can imagine sets off alarm bells everywhere and companies using it suddenly scrambling to replace it or revert to an earlier version. Then, the maintainer asks for feedback, and mostly unapologetically, insists he's just trying to make a buck for the thing he spends a lot of time on.

I am not at all one of those hippie types who thinks that software should all be free. I do think that it's OK to charge for software, and that people deserve to make a living making it. I live very comfortably for doing exactly that, even if it is via corporations. And if there are ways to make a buck with open source software, that's OK too. I mean, Red Hat is a publicly traded company supporting an entire open source operating system. But what this guy did with Moq violates trust and breaks the entire open source community, because of his project's relevance. And instead of admitting that he made a pretty terrible mistake, he doubles down and insists he needs to get paid.

That's shady. Maintaining an open source project is basically volunteering, though you may not even get a thank you for your work. That's the nature of the beast. Some folks do get to a place where it's just too much work or pressure or whatever, and in those cases, they usually shore it up to a final, stable place, or they hand it off to someone else who wants to carry the torch. That's perfectly reasonable. I've had a handful of contributions, and a number of heart felt thank you's over the years for my projects, and while appreciated, I mostly do it for myself.

The Moq guy is why we can't have nice things. And now I feel like I have to refactor 731 tests to use a new framework, and that pisses me off.

Your excluded child, and being an accomplice

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 11, 2023, 9:28 PM | comments: 0

If there's anything that I can be sympathetic about with regard to childhood, it's being excluded. I know that pain very well. To some extent, I know it in adulthood as well, but at least as an adult I know how to roll with it and understand where I derive my self-worth and value from. So you can imagine how much it hurts me to see my kid going through it.

Simon was more or less cast aside from the neighborhood kids years ago. It wasn't all of them, mostly one or two, but you know how kids work in packs. Going into his last year of middle school, I don't think that he's really found his tribe, and we know he's had to deal with specific bullies. Again, familiar territory to me. But the world today extends that sort of thing to the online world, where any thread of decency or decorum does not exist, not even for former US presidents.

Tonight his buddies were communicating via Discord, yet another platform. We have been unwilling to let him signup for the service, because he doesn't really understand online safety, or apply the right critical thinking to get what's real and what isn't. This is made worse by his intense desire to belong. We're not doing this to be dicks, we just don't think that he's ready. Last year he plugged his Roblox login to some random form on the service, which you should never have to do. Shortly thereafter we received a warning from someone logging in Thailand or something.

But the unkind tendencies of the real world are not better online. Tonight, he was being excluded from some kids, one of whom he knows in real life, because they were not connecting via the game or Zoom or whatever he was using. They were using Discourse. This eventually led to tears, with a cracking, deeper voice than I'm used to. At just that moment, the screen saver on my TV showed a photo of him when he was 5, and happy. The contrast was... upsetting.

It's a strange distress, to know that your child will be an adult in five years, and that your window for getting your part right is getting smaller and smaller. You don't get a do-over.