The blog home of Jeff Putz

Supreme Beings of Leisure

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 17, 2020, 2:10 PM | comments: 0

As I've been messing around with my cloud music locker project, I stumbled upon the group that always puts me at ease... Supreme Beings of Leisure. They released only three albums in the aughts, and all three were great. It's hard to describe exactly what genre I would put them in. Certainly there's an electronic component, maybe the thing that they called trip hop back in the day, but I remember what little Internet presence they had at the time, they sold as "sexy." They were primarily made of singer Geri Soriano-Lightwood and composer/production guy Ramin Sakurai. Every album was richer than the previous one.

I found the self-titled debut in 2000 by accident. I was browsing in a Borders (remember browsing for books and music in a store?), and they had this listening station with staff recommendations (remember putting random headphones on your head?). There was the SBL album, and after skipping around the tracks, I quickly bought it. It's super chill, fairly basic in composition. It's the kind of music that you want to hear when you're sipping a drink and feeling generally good about yourself. The track "Strangelove Addiction" in particular is pretty great. It was a great example at the time of what you could do when you layered more classic sounds on top of electronic sounds.

2003's Divine Operating System was a little jarring at first, because some songs have a serious 70's vibe, "Give Up" and "Divine" in particular. It's all good, and it felt different. As more of a throwback to the moody trippy stuff of the first album, you had songs like "Calamity Jane." Like the first, this album has a cohesive feel to it.

I had to wait five years for their last album, 11i, which was released in 2008. It is by far the best of the three, and it is definitely best listened to as a whole. There is not a bad song on the album, and it's far more textured and layers than the first two albums. It's hard to pick a favorite from this one, but the one that made playlists was "Angelhead." Absolutely brilliant. In fact, from that song to the end of the album, it all just flows. Like I said, this is one to listen to in its entirety, and the kind of thing that I can relax, close my eyes and listen to uninterrupted.

I don't know what happened to the band after 2008, but I'm grateful for the gifts they created. If you're looking for something new that's getting older, check them out.


Drinking the bubbles

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 15, 2020, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

I've had a soda problem most of my adult life. In college I was pretty good about it, tried to drink milk at least for dinner when I was on the meal plan, but after that, I started to drink a lot of Coke. In 2005 I greatly reduced that when I was coaching and more active, but by 2009, I was drinking a few cans a day (thanks, Microsoft, for all the free drinks).

When I moved to Florida in 2013, I started drinking a lot more water, because, you know, it's f'ing hot in the summer. I also mostly stopped drinking any caffeinated soda and stuck to Sprite, just because it was without the caffeine. Then in 2018 I started working in a place with free soda, snacks and food, and I gained about a dozen pounds. When I started working from home again and the pandemic hit, there was definitely a new kind of problem to tackle, so I figured I needed to get more serious about cutting the useless sugar out as much as possible.

Barely flavored soda water is all the rage right now, and when I tried it, I thought it was pretty gross. So I made a compromise: I started mixing it with Sprite. At that point, I was down to 70 empty calories per drink, which was a step in the right direction. I started changing the ratio over the next month, and before I knew it, I could drink the stuff straight. I tend to prefer the Bubly flavors. Not a fan of the La Croix. I really dig Spindrift, but it's not as easy to come by and more expensive.

I still drink the Sprite, but generally limit it to about six ounces and a splash of fruit juice in the morning, because my doctor believes that's a reasonable compromise to the intermittent fasting strategy of not eating between 7pm and 11am. When I'm consistent about it, that alone helps keep my weight down. I lost about half of the weight I gained while at my previous job, and all things considered when I have urges to eat my feelings, that's a miracle. Now I need to figure out how to not have fruity tropical cocktails on weekends.

It's interesting that over the years I've made changes to behaviors and habits that have benefited my health, but I rarely stick to all of them at the same time. This has been a horrible year to try and get the mental health in place so I can give due attention to the physical health, but again, I made some progress this year, and that counts.


I resisted buying a NAS, finally relented

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 14, 2020, 9:35 PM | comments: 0

It's a cloud-based world these days, but my paranoia and giant video files finally got the best of me. Well, I should say that Prime Day got the best of me, too, because I finally bought a NAS device (network attached storage) for the home. This is essentially a little box that sits on your network that gives you a place to backup and share computer files on the network. Configured right, it even has two drives that mirror each other so you've got two copies locally.

Here's the thing, I've been using online backup services for a very long time, because having a backup copy in your house is OK but creating some distance between your copy and another copy is the only way to really feel that you're safe. If your house takes a serious lightning hit (has happened), it may nuke all your copies and then you're done. Fires and natural disasters are even worse. I have a ton of old documents that I most certainly will never look at again, but the big parts I want to keep are photos and music. I've got close to 8,000 songs and around 40,000 photos I'd like to outlive any kind of hardware failures. Right now I use a service called IDrive, and I'm just barely under the 1 terabyte limit for the plan I have that costs $60 a year.

What I don't have backed up is mostly the unedited video I have going back to 1999. Fortunately I transferred all of that early DV tape to files, but then in 2006 everything got bigger when I bought a pro HD camera. This year things are getting really big with a 4K camera, and I just don't have room for it all. Buying a NAS should cover that for awhile, and hopefully at some point upstream bandwidth will be large and cheap enough that I just upload that to the cloud too.

These things are pretty cool because they're essentially little servers that do all kinds of stuff. In fact, they can even act as music servers that will work over the Internet, so you can access a library of music anywhere, but it's really kind of slow and clunky compared to what I'm working on. The useful app that I'm looking into is that it will upload some portion of its contents automatically to Azure storage. That's a little more expensive than IDrive, but I'd like to see what it comes out to in practice.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with the binder full of photo negatives that don't exist digitally.


Blazor may turn my distaste for front-end development

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 14, 2020, 12:51 AM | comments: 0

Less than a month ago I started messing with Blazor, the WASM front-end framework bits shipping with ASP.NET, and after going a little deeper, I was cautiously impressed. Now I'm closer to genuinely impressed.

Here's the thing about front-end development in the general sense: It's largely built on Javascript, and then TypeScript bolted on top of it, and fed by a number of frameworks that have enjoyed varying levels of popularity in cycles, starting with Angular, then React and now Vue.js. Collectively, this has been fed by an insane network of package management fed through npm and various build-transpile-optimize-packing technologies like webpack that do work, except when they don't.

Back in the day of course, we used server-side technology for everything and liked it. Then we got sassy and did more stuff in the browser itself with jQuery. Then we all had so much bandwidth that server-side tech was plenty fast enough, but we went down the single-page-app route anyway. (Oh, somewhere in there, Flash and Silverlight died, too.) Before you knew it, we started using command line tools to seed a project and it pulled literally hundreds of packages down as dependencies. POP Forums, which is pretty light in terms of front-end tech (it uses Vue.js for the admin, SignalR for websockets, TinyMCE for text editing, and then dev dependencies for relatively simple minifying and transpiling of what little script there is), pulls about 433 packages down from npm, about 44MB, to build what results in about 38K of scripts and 7K of CSS.

I don't understand why everyone is still OK with this. It's like a house of cards when some random "package" that's actually 10 lines of code goes dark.

Anyway, I sucked it up and did a little Angular for a job like four years ago. I did some "hello world" in React. I really embraced Vue.js for the forum app in the relatively simple admin, and it requires no packages, just the library. So it is in fact possible to strip it down and not have all the dependencies to an extent. I've still not been crazy about the development environments for it all, though VS Code made life a lot better for sure. As a manager, I've seen how misuse of these frameworks can easily cause performance problems, and if you have to manage a lot of state, they can get sluggish.

To be clear, I've never been a big fan of any UI technology. Sure, I've been getting along with HTML and CSS for 20-something years, but the various technologies like Windows Forms, Java UI's, all of the XAML-based stuff, etc., have not been great.

So Blazor comes along, and it builds on top of the familiar HTML and CSS with C#, and compiles it to WebAssembly (WASM), a standard supported by all the browsers but officially not even a standard until last December. The ideas are familiar enough from the big three Javascript frameworks, where you can bind data across various UI elements and components and share state. Where it starts to get wild is that there is all this code out there built to run on servers that you can now run in the browser (image manipulation and reading tags out of files are examples I've already tried). The depth is crazy compared to what you can do with npm libraries. There are already a ton of component libraries. It's crazy.

I've been using Blazor on my music locker project, and I'm trying to iterate from "make it work" to "do it right," or my best understanding of what "right" is. I have some observations here and there about the way it works, pros and cons, but so far I'm finding it surprisingly easy to build things in a solid and component-based way that feels familiar to Vue, at least. The difference is that everything goes faster, because C# is less easy to get wrong and it's in the tooling I already use for all of the back-end foo. I've become productive fast enough that I even answered a question on StackOverflow (ironically about Javascript interop).

Is it going to catch on? Well, no tech lasts forever, but this one isn't really inventing something new. C# and HTML have been around for decades, and this marries them to run on a the fourth big W3C standard, WASM (the other three are HTML, CSS and Javascript). If developers start having an experience like the one I'm having, I think it will catch on. It's not a binary thing where it's this or the traditional frameworks, there's room for both.


Acknowledging history is not rewriting it

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 12, 2020, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Here we are, another federal holiday for Christopher Columbus, and again we're reminded that he was a huge dick who didn't discover anything. The history about this is fairly non-ambiguous, in part due to Columbus' own writings. But the feds decided in 1968 to make his arrival (it sure wasn't discovery) in the Bahamas a national holiday. That's the odd part about it, that this mistake is not even rooted in centuries of tradition.

These are weird times for a lot of reasons, but among them is an obsession with celebrating the parts of American history that should not be points of pride. The thing making the headline the last few year is the desire to remove statues of confederate military figures. I'm not entirely sure why that would be controversial, as the confederacy existed to preserve slavery, which is not something we should take pride in. These were dudes on the wrong side of history.

This brings up a lot of discomfort when you go further back, too. Some of the most revered figures in American history were complicit in the persistence of slavery. What do you do with George Washington? He led the revolution and became the first president, all the while he was a slave owner. Historians believe that he would ultimately fall on the right side of the issue, but on the issue of abolition, he kicked the can down the road as president, and did not free his own slaves until he died. Thomas Jefferson also owned hundreds of slaves and spent more time skirting the issue, and ultimately did little to move toward abolishment. I'm not sure what we do with this. Can our founders be simultaneously recognized for their achievement and held accountable for their role in our greatest sin?

American history is an extraordinary contradiction. The nation's founding was based on the principles of freedom from tyranny but built its foundation on the backs of people who were owned. More than 250 years later, we still have a system that does not treat people fairly. We rightfully focus on race, but it's true for gender, sexual orientation and identity, religion and ethnicity.

What we see happening right now is not the desire to erase or rewrite history. It's literally the opposite: Most people want it acknowledged so we can accept that it's problematic and change how we behave as a society. American history has largely been white-washed and wrapped in this odd sense of patriotism. I'm all for celebrating the achievement of the great democratic experiment, but only if we're willing to acknowledge its shortcomings and missteps. Improvement is rooted in self-awareness.


I think I really can build a music locker

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 12, 2020, 12:50 AM | comments: 0

After forgetting about it for awhile, I realized that the imminent end to Google Music, replaced with YouTube Music which is not friendly to those who have their own collections, pushed the idea of my own music locker service back to the forefront of my mind. The previous two weekends, I experimented a little, then this weekend I went deeper, spending much of the day on Sunday on it.

After many commits and messing around, I have so far and in an unpolished fashion found a way to upload music, read the metadata, persist it all, yank out the album cover images, play it back in the browser and sort out the albums. Like I said, not the cleanest thing in the world, but it works, and it's all up on the open source project. It's all a rough prototype, but whatever, it actually works!

I haven't sat behind a keyboard and tried to solve new-to-me problems for a long time, but it's really satisfying. This particular project has been on my mind for awhile, and most of the problems aren't really hard beyond using new tools that I haven't used before. I think I can legitimately make this work, and if it does, maybe I'll look into spinning up a mobile app for it too, since the code is sharable.

You know that whole thing where people are like, "I need a hobby, so I'm going to take up woodworking or restoring old furniture?" This is usually accompanied by romantic notions of working with your hands or whatever. Well, those are absolutely noble and reasonable pursuits, but I'm starting to realize that I'm already have a fair amount of expertise with something that I don't directly do for a living. And I do in fact use my hands to make stuff, via a keyboard and mouse.

While I sure need to get out of my chair more, especially with the weather changing, at least doing this stuff keeps my hands and mind busy so I'm not eating or passively consuming TV or something. There's a lot of winning in that. It helps with anxiety, too, because when you're deep in thought trying to solve a problem, it's a bit of a reprieve from everything else.


Because she's a woman

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 10, 2020, 11:22 AM | comments: 0

Systemic racism is a thing, whether you see it or not, but let's talk about misogyny. After the vice presidential debate this week, the only thing likely getting more attention than the fly that landed on Mike Pence's head was the expressions of disapproval by Kamala Harris toward his nonsense. The only reason she faces this scrutiny is because she's a woman. The commentary, especially on Fox News, has stopped just short of accusing her of being "bitchy." Dudes don't have to endure that.

Sound familiar? It should. Hillary Clinton was not fundamentally ideologically different from Joe Biden, but Biden is crushing it in the polls. Why is that? Do you see pundits talking about how likeable Biden is? Of course not. I mean, there's nothing likeable about Trump, but no one ever talked about that. Clinton had the added scrutiny of being female, and our culture just played along.

Harris is seeing the same thing, and it's absurd. If you did this in the workplace, you would inevitably get sued. Let's stop pandering to testicular advantage and put women at the same level as men. It's yet another thing we've been getting wrong for 250 years and we can't wait another generation.


What do you want?

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 9, 2020, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

The pandemic may have prompted you to reevaluate your life. I think one of the most fundamental questions people never ask is, what do you want? It seems like there's a cultural rule that suggests it's not OK to ask that.

We tend to make a lot of plans when we're younger about what we think we want, which is a really terrible time to do so. When you're 40 and you look back at 20, you can probably admit that your inexperience did not serve as bedrock to figure out what you want. Very little really happened to you at that point.

Worse than the inexperience is the reality that we all endure a domestication process that tells us what we should want, and I don't think most of us question it. Go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, get the house and the car... it's what most of us probably do whether we wanted to or not. In essence, you didn't really decide what you wanted. (Fun sidebar: this is generally true when it comes to religion, too.)

So you wake up one day in a pandemic and think, "How did I get here?"

I bet that sounds a little midlife crisis, and maybe it is a little. When you're faced with constraints, you know, you start asking yourself what you can do. I think the good news is that your domestication outcome is probably not the worst thing. The existential crisis is more in the details of understanding that you probably didn't choose it, it was just what you were "supposed to do."

What do I want? I don't really have a detailed answer. I accept that to exist in society, I have to work, so I'm certain that I want to do work that is interesting and gives me some purpose. And working can give you comfort, so I want to understand how much comfort I need. I want to love and be loved, and for all of us to be safe. It's not very specific.

The domestic plan given to us doesn't necessarily make any of those things happen, or at least, they're not the only way to make those happen. When it comes to what I want, I can be abstract and high-level, but not get in the weeds. I wonder if I should.


Movie theaters at risk

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 7, 2020, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

There was news this week that the parent company of Regal Cinemas was planning to shut down the entire chain. It's the latest swing in an industry that has been on a strange ride for decades at this point. Domestic box office growth has been more or less continuous for four decades, with some bumps here and there. The crazy thing about it though is that it's rooted mostly in the sheer number of movies made. The average gross by movie has actually been going down.

The theater experience itself has been a mixed bag. Theaters were gross before the turn of the century, but they gradually became more comfortable and cleaner. They also got crazy expensive, so you were going to spend at least $20 for one person at a matinee with popcorn and a soda. Depending on the quality of the movie, this makes the value of the endeavor feel potentially not worth it. Some chains have implemented to-the-seat food service to varying degrees of success. Projection and viewing experience has generally gotten better everywhere as digital projection has improved and been widely deployed.

I've loved going to movies as a little thing just for me. Whether it was periods of unemployment or just the need to get out one Saturday morning to make time for myself, I've enjoyed going to movies alone. The cost and value of that certainly has varied though. When you do get a dud of a movie, you don't feel as great about dropping that cash. To me, this is the dangerous thing that the industry set up: So many movies are made and movie houses have so many screens that they've made this gigantic inelastic machine that needs to be fed, with content and cash. That means that there is a lot of crap made, and you have movies that make a few million or more than a billion.

I think this inelastic machine is part of what puts the industry at risk, but also now you have unprecedented convenience to watch things at home. Home theater set ups are inexpensive, and the newer wave of OLED TV's in particular make amazing pictures. Having a movie-like experience at home, instantly streamed, is possible. The only thing you lose is the shared experience of viewing with others (which probably doesn't matter to extreme introverts).

When the pandemic has subsided some time next year, I wonder where this will leave the theater business. On one hand, some may not survive, but for those that do, will the value and experience still be worth it the same way? It's a reckoning that the business will have to deal with, much in the way that commercial real estate for white collar work seems shaky when people are successfully working in a distributed manner.


Laughs and meltdowns

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 6, 2020, 10:09 PM | comments: 0

We've committed to a regular (remote) therapy routine for Simon after many months off, because it was starting to feel like he never had a good day, and he was the first to tell you that. He honestly asked if we could starting seeing his therapist again. Seeing any kind of self-awareness like that was a pleasant surprise despite the context.

The bedtime routine was going horribly wrong night after night, so Diana figured we should change it. Basically we would nag Simon to do all the basics, pajamas, brush teeth, and he would stomp around flip out about it, and one time he even hit me, which led to a long term suspension of computer game privileges. Then we would lie down with him, alternating between me and Diana, and he would have meltdowns if we left pretty much any time before he fell asleep. It was hard for me after being plugged in all day at work, but I can only imagine Diana's level of exhaustion after sitting next to him "at" school.

Diana restructured bedtime: Now we would spend a little time with him either reading or writing things down, often about what he wanted to do either in one of his computer games, or plans for playing, or whatever was in his head. After that, we would tuck him in and be on our way. Frankly that felt more appropriate anyway because he's 10. To our surprise, this has worked exceptionally well, with only one night that reached the level of uneasy, but not a meltdown, in the last two weeks. There are a lot of reasons this seems to work better that we could unpack, but I never expected that us committing less time would be it. We had some good laughs tonight.

For school, we've identified a number of things. The first is that the technology causes him all kinds of anxiety. If he doesn't hear something or a kid doesn't have a muted mic or he's not in the designated Teams room early, he quickly gets into the danger zone. Something about this scenario also prevents him from asking questions too, so if he misses something or doesn't understand, it compounds the problem. We've also noticed that multiple choice questions leave him in a state where he won't commit to an answer he's unsure of, and he can't just make a best guess. Even with math problems, he'll get the right answer and be so non-confident as to not move on. His IEP requires some extra help outside of class, but this builds insane FOMO feelings, and most of the time he's not getting these services anyway. I want to give the school a little grace, since it's a different world when remote, but they're not meeting the conditions of the IEP.

His therapist recommended getting up and moving around more frequently, which frankly applies to remote desk work, too. Simon doesn't want to, again in part because he doesn't want to miss anything. He's also socially starved, which is tough for a kid who already has a hard time socializing. Fortunately we've started a rhythm of computer game play dates with his cousin in Seattle and some kids from our previous neighborhood, which helps. We're both already horribly anxious about the social angle going to middle school next year, to say nothing of the academic responsibility.

These are the gutters and strikes of our lives. I see a happy boy everyday, but a lot of the time it feels like he's miserable, without joy, most of the time. I felt that way most of my teenage years, and I desperately want him to have a better go of it than I did. I hope we can figure it out.


Trump and the virus

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 6, 2020, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

Talking about Trump is exhausting, so I don't do it as much as I used to. Every single day seems like a new travesty. His supporters have only two things left in their playbook, which are grievance politics and an endless string of moral equivalence arguments ("butter emails..."). We glossed over all kinds of scary things just in the last week like active voter suppression, the refusal to condemn white supremacy, almost no taxes paid due to catastrophic business losses (and maybe cheating), the first lady's "F' Christmas and immigrants" rant... none of it was unimportant.

But his response to his own infection by the coronavirus has been a little more horrifying than usual. It starts with the fact that the White House was so lax about mitigation protocols in the first place. So far, there have been 16 people infected including the person who needs to be protected the most, the president. Preventing this is wholly uncomplicated. Literally Mickey Mouse is doing a better job preventing the spread of the disease. That photo of all those people in the Rose Garden packed in there, no masks, is wholly irresponsible. Think about that: If the US fatality rate is 1%, and half of the 250 people at that event were infected, at least one would statistically be likely to die. If you don't think that's possible, ask Herman Cain's family about how he died a few weeks after attending a Trump rally.

Then the president was checked into the hospital, where doctors painted an optimistic picture, but outside experts and doctors suggested there was real risk at play. Bored and missing his fans (and for the record, presidents, of any party, should not have fans), he then put several Secret Service officers at risk by having them drive him around the block so he could wave at people, while he was contagious. Those men will likely have to quarantine for two weeks.

It didn't stop there, he then put a bunch of people at risk on a helicopter as he flew back to the White House. There, he dramatically climbed the stairs to the balcony, removed his mask, and out of breath, posed for a photo op. Then he walked into the building without a mask, where you could see others were, still contagious. Have you see the way medical professionals dress around people who are still contagious, even when the infected people have masks?

Then he posted several videos suggesting he's an expert, but no need to fear, and don't let it affect your lives. Imagine if you're the family of any of the 210,000+ Americans who died, what a comfort that is, knowing you and your family doesn't have access to the best doctors in the world. What kind of protective gear was the videographer wearing? If working in the White House was scary before, imagine it now with a guy who is spreading an infectious disease around.

All the while, the administration is trying to prevent the FDA from publishing the guidelines for vaccine approval, and effectively censoring the CDC's guidance for virtually everything that can help mitigate the spread. All of this behavior is intended to stroke the ego of an authoritarian who is losing badly in the polls, and is antithetical to protecting Americans and enabling the safe operation of the broader economy.

Trump will be Trump ("it is what it is"), the guy who throws fire on a dumpster fire in a train wreck in an oil spill during a hurricane right after an earthquake. But how much cognitive dissonance do you have to exercise in order to defend this? Get out and vote, y'all, and not for Trump. He doesn't care about you.


The weird and wonderful world of the NBA bubble

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 5, 2020, 12:25 AM | comments: 0

Just a few miles from my house, the National Basketball Association created what has become to be known as "the NBA bubble." In short, the league created a detailed protocol that allowed them to finish the season, fulfill their media contracts and keep athletes safe during this time. It has been wildly successful.

The NBA is of course a private organization that has a fair amount of money to throw around. It was able to rent out a substantial portion of Walt Disney World and its hotel rooms and competition space. It could afford to test everyone involved on a frequent basis. It could provide the necessary protective gear for everyone involved. It could even fine the millionaire players who did not comply with the protocol.

One could reasonably argue that the NBA's playoff season was not a necessary thing, and one would be correct in that assessment. But it did what government and private individuals could not do. It looked at the science, designed a system, stuck to it, and did the work. It didn't look at it as a political problem or one of personal freedom. It worked with the player's union to find a way to mutually benefit everyone and play a game, even though it really didn't matter much in the overall scope of things.

And then, in the middle of it all, the civil rights crisis got serious again, and with a player staff that leans heavily toward people of color, the NBA stood with its players and amplified the protest, painting "black lives matter" on the floor of the courts.

Many weeks later, these sweaty guys are playing together (in a sport hilariously considered "non contact") in the finals. There were no outbreaks, and Lebron can keep flopping all over looking for the fouls he didn't get, just as usual.

This is why the pandemic is so infuriating. It's not that we as a society can't figure out how to live with this virus until we can eradicate it, it's that we choose not to. It's easier to put people at risk and let another hundred thousand people die even though we know at this point how to minimize the risk and death. Yesterday I went for takeout, and it was like a stopping at a place a in January (mind you, the restaurant staff was properly masked), with everyone talking about as if everything was totally OK.

What a strange world when professional sports leads the way.


The weird consequence of interest rates

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 4, 2020, 7:57 PM | comments: 0

I think capitalism is generally pretty cool, but I'm not one of these naive ideologues who believe that it can just do its thing without regulation and not cause harm to society. I'm also not someone who believes that there is a hard line between capitalism and socialism, as many choose to believe. (Retiree: "Down with socialism!" Someone else: "No more Medicare for you." Retiree: "Medicare is OK though!") There are so many inequities about the way our society works that I can't simply declare straight up capitalism as a winning faction, but I'd be lying if I said it hasn't worked really, really well for me.

Today, when balancing my savings account (which takes a hot minute since it consists of two deposits and interest), I was sad to see that the interest rate has dropped again, now to 0.399%. When I opened it a few years ago, it was 2%. That's sad, since right now I feel like with so much uncertainty, the only thing appropriate to do is hoard cash if you can afford to. But as interest rates go, there's a flip side.

The rates to borrow money are insanely low as well. The rates are low because The Fed has dropped the rates from the central bank down to insanely low rates, I think 0.25% at the moment. A friend of mine just got a new mortgage with a rate of 2.75%. The rates are so low that I'm considering refinancing my house, because my rate is 3.99%, and I can save about $300 a month with relatively low closing costs. That's insane.

Now let's look at that from a holistic point of view: Our system currently encourages you to borrow money more than save it. Mind you, world events certainly encourage you to save anyway if you can, given all the uncertainty, but that's still kind of messed up.

I just find it odd. It's yet another reason that, as I said, there are no clear lines that embolden the ideologues of fiscal opinion.


Creativity is hard

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 3, 2020, 3:10 PM | comments: 0

I think I wrote months ago that I wanted to start producing a series of short videos about whatever kind of silly nonsense I felt like talking about, and get the family involved. There were already some obvious things to cover, like Lego building and drink making, and hopefully there are other things I haven't thought of yet. And given my general disdain for Google, you would rightly expect that I'll use my box of tools to build my own thing around it, depending on Google mostly for ad serving and discovery, but owning everything else. I can spin up a web site to embed videos on in a few minutes, and even create a forum just as fast. The other part is whipping up a logo and doing some simple animation just to give it all a little polish.

It's amazing how hard that last part is. That's true for virtually everything that's a truly creative endeavor. I've been trying to write another screenplay for more than a decade, and all I have to show for it are incongruent fragments written down in several places. For that reason, I have the greatest respect for people who do it for a living. I haven't cracked the code for a way to make this easier.

Well, maybe there's one thing. I've been forcing myself to write here more, at least once a day on average, and that does help. I'm not sure if it helps because I'm exercising those muscles, or because it's like a brain enema that forces me to clear my brain of shit. Maybe it's a little of both. It comes in bursts. Last weekend, I turned the kitchen into a TV studio and shot the standup (sitdown?) for one of those Lego videos, so once I edit and have a place for it, I'm basically there and I have the template for others.

Boy is my After Effects knowledge rusty though. I'm using it for the really basic logo animation I'm doing. Crazy how creating a simple mask is a skill that I lost. Fortunately, there are countless videos on the Internets about it (for which Google is keeping most of the ad revenue for).


White supremacists

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 2, 2020, 11:15 AM | comments: 0

I'll let the kittens do the talking.


When you just aren't sure what you can do anymore

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 1, 2020, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

The list of things that make life exhausting right now is fairly long. There is such an enormous range of things varying in terms of scope and control, and I can't remember any time in my life where it felt like so many of the things were beyond my control. Accepting the limitations of control is really difficult.

It's not all bad though, so let me start there. I realized I've been at my job now for over six months, emerging from the honeymoon phase. Not only have I not become less enthusiastic or cynical, but things have moved in the other direction. I was in a meeting today with some of my peers and all I could think about was how it was getting even better. I even felt it when talking about one of my team members moving to another team, because ultimately it's great for him and the company. Just to make sure this was real, I went through my entire resume, and I've only maintained that enthusiasm six months in twice before (Insurance.com and Microsoft, of course).

From there, things get more serious though. Diana is obviously out of work because live theater is a distant thing. Her new job is essentially teacher, because remote learning is ineffective for a kid with ASD and ADHD. She is left largely to her own experimentation to figure it out, regardless of the IEP in place. I guess you could say that things are "better" eight weeks in, only because total meltdowns only happen three times a week, and the other two days are just minor panics. It's not easy for me either because sometimes I'll be in a meeting, hearing what's going on, and want to intervene. And when I do, it rarely helps. The intensity of these bouts is unlike anything I've seen at any age previously. It's heartbreaking and exhausting for all of us.

Then there's the pandemic. The first problem is that there's no plan on how to emerge from it. Everyone from the federal government on down seems to believe that one day we'll have a vaccine, and the next day we'll all start licking doorknobs. Here in Florida, the governor has lifted most restrictions, even though we're still producing three times as many cases and deaths as we were in May. And all of that aside, we know way more than we did then, that shutting things down isn't necessary as long as we follow the simple mitigation protocols. People don't, and so we can't consistently climb out of 1.0+ infection rates. 32 states on the rise. Look, I want people to live their lives, and they can, but only if we build the social contracts around masks and social distancing as a normal expectation, including around family. Then when vaccines are proven effective and widely distributed, we move toward sanity faster. Not being able to do anything about this is probably the most frustrating thing, and non-team players are particularly irritating.

We also have a fascist, racist in the white house who is trying very hard to undermine democracy and suggests maybe he should be president for another dozen years. That by itself wouldn't be the worst thing, except there are people in power who agree with him, and a cult-like legion of followers who believe crazy shit like the existence of a Democratic cabal of pedophiles who drink blood. Countless white people are complicit in believing that systemic racism is a myth. Sure, the orange one only has a one-in-five chance of winning, but he hit the one-in-four chance last time.

I can't feel good about raising a child in a world where people dispute observable facts and are so hell bent on hating and oppressing other people. But it's exhausting to think about it constantly, and figure out what you can do to change it. I've never donated as much as I have this year, and it's mostly been to human and civil rights organizations. It doesn't feel like I can do anything else that has any measurable impact. That's probably because I foolishly believe that I can talk people out of the cult, and you know how that ends every time.

And then this week we got a pretty solid view of how the attractions industry is doing, and it's not good. Cedar Fair saw attendance down 90% in the quarter compared to last year. Disney let go of 28,000 people in the US parks, and the cuts went deep into people with decades of time at the company. This is all while the supporting hospitality industry in the area is similarly in free fall, and people are living in abandoned hotels without power in Osceola County. Tens of thousands of people in the metro can't find work, because the jobs they had don't exist.

It's a pretty dark time for a lot of people. You want to help, but you have days where you don't feel like you can help yourself. Even when work is good it takes a lot out of me, and then when I follow that up with parenting struggles that are unlike anything I expected, I get to the weekend and don't want to even get out of bed. And I'm tired of people trying to rank everyone else's struggle. We'd all be better off if we gave each other a little grace right now.


Debate survivors

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 1, 2020, 12:01 AM | comments: 0

I had a number of encounters and observations after the "presidential" debate last night. I think they're illustrative of a lot of things that require little commentary.

A friend of mine and former coworker, who is from Ukraine but now a permanent resident working on US citizenship, asked, "My first debate, is it supposed to be like this?" Certainly I responded that this was not normal or OK. "I can't vote yet, but I'm really worried about the outcome of the election." Friends from Ireland, India and Canada have generally been saying on average, "What the hell are you doing over there?"

Another friend observed that a class assignment was to observe the debate and report on it. Imagine seeing this one as the first you've ever seen, as you start the advance toward adulthood and civic engagement. Imagine that first impression does. I generally allow my 10-year-old to see the news and have a conversation about what he sees, but it says volumes that a kid with autism identifies the president as "mean" and "terrible" without any social media influence.

I watched a news clip from NBC, where the reporter spoke to some farmers in Ohio about their support for Trump. They universally believed that the trade war was necessary, and liked getting subsidies for it. They were also convinced that the pandemic was a result of deliberate attack by China. They could not cite evidence of this.

We saw a hair stylist that we respected on Facebook declare her undying loyalty to the president, declaring that she didn't want to keep silent anymore. A customer of hers, who I infer was a gay, married woman, expressed hurt and disappointment to her given the president's record on LGBTQ issues. The next day, the stylist doubled down on her commitment, insisting it was OK largely because she had black friends.

One of the Broadway actors that I follow posted a really long video rant asking how anyone can be shocked by what they saw. "You white people should know, we've been warning you about this for years... this is what minorities have been up against every day of our lives."

We can't keep pretending that bigotry perpetrated by a politician is a "difference in opinion." It deeply and negatively affects real people.


Bored with the pandemic

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 29, 2020, 5:36 PM | comments: 0

After six months or so of dealing with a world avoiding infection, I can empathize with the general exhaustion that everyone is enduring. I miss cruising and traveling and eating out (indoors) and meeting friends for drinks and having parties. I'm done with it all.

But the pandemic is not over just because we're bored with it.

The good news is that we at least better understand the disease, and we're a lot better at mitigating the spread of it. Hospitals are marginally better at treating it, too, though we're still about 50% over the death rate that bottomed out at the start of July. The bottom line is that we can still live our lives, even if it means wearing our goofy masks. We can still have family gatherings if we isolate two weeks prior. We don't need lockdowns if we mitigate. But it ain't over.

I hate citing anecdotes, but if what I saw outside of a restaurant yesterday, and in front of Target, are any indication, a non-trivial portion of the population here in Orange County believe that because the governor lifted restrictions, the pandemic is over and mitigation protocols are no longer necessary. In reality, the infection rate here is back over 1.0, which one may recall is where we were in May before it topped out in mid-July. In fact, 38 states are now at 1.0 or higher, meaning that the disease is spreading, not shrinking. Case counts nationally are up 15% in the last two weeks, which is not the direction we want to go.

Usually when you bring this up to non-data-driven observers of the world (i.e., politically driven, as if science cared), they try to rationalize why it's OK and it's not that big of a deal. That's puzzling, and maybe they just don't know any of the 200,000 people in the US who have died, or the one in three who "recovered" but are still sick. It's pretty weird that we account for 4% of the world's population and 20% of the cases. This illness does kill people, and spreads quickly without mitigation. Is it really that big of a deal to continue the protocol?

I could see in June that we were headed for a scary place in our area, and sure enough, by July we were seeing 500+ new cases a day in OC, and our ICU's were saturated over 50%. And that's when people were, relatively speaking, taking it seriously. I'm not optimistic about where it's headed.

We can do this, y'all. We don't have to put each other at risk. If we get it right now, the return to normal is faster when vaccines become widely available early next year. Let's not prolong this nonsense.


I finally let go of the SEA->CLE regret

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 28, 2020, 10:44 PM | comments: 0

Nine years ago today, I was in a car with four cats and no humans, somewhere between Billings, Montana and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was moving back from Seattle to Cleveland, to the house I couldn't sell, leaving Microsoft for who knows what. I was doing in four days solo what I did with Diana in reverse in five just two years earlier.

I regretted that move before it even started.

The decision was based on two things: social perceptions and financial realities. As I've written countless times, the social nostalgia was frankly overrated and never really materialized. We were building a solid social circle in Seattle. The financial shift was very real, and very fast. I ultimately took a minor pay cut but reduced my total housing expense, since I still had the Cleveland house, by about $25k a year. When I got tired of working for a health insurance company, I took contract work that was worth almost twice as much as the salaried job. In just 18 months from the time I got on I-90, we had no debt and enough money in the bank to move anywhere, job or not. And the housing market finally stopped sucking, so I could finally sell my house.

So why all the regret, lasting for years? I felt like leaving Seattle, the only place I ever lived that wasn't Cleveland, was somehow like admitting defeat. If I stayed there, I imagine I would have done what many of my friends did, which is leave Microsoft for awhile, then return at a higher salary. I would have likely shook off my house in another year or two, and the economic healing could have begun after that. Above all though, Seattle just felt "better" and Cleveland had little left to offer me. I can't overstate seeing mountains every single day. That's why leaving felt shitty even before the actual move.

Once we were back in Cleveland, certainly the baggage of it didn't help. My house in Brunswick was adequate, but all of my adult damage happened there, pre-Diana, and I was back in it with my new child. Throw winter on top of that and I spent a lot of time feeling depressed. I remember feeling out of place almost every single day, and wishing I could reverse it all.

In the last few years, I've been able to mostly let go of the regret. The reality that came out of the move-back has been good. We were in CLE for about 18 months when we decided to move somewhere else. I feel comfortable living in Central Florida. I can get to two coasts in relatively short order, take my kid to the best theme parks in the world (normally), afford a lot of space to live in and weather rarely causes depression. Working for local companies has been a mixed bag, but I finally landed a proper dotcom again, working remotely. The home ownership story would not likely be the same if we stayed in Seattle, but it would have been I think an equally lovely existence, just different.

If I learned anything from those years of moving around, it's that we are free to move again if we want. At this point, we don't have deep roots. I don't imagine we'll be in Orange County forever, but it's not a bad gig right now. We've almost been in this house for three years, and next spring, it will be the longest that Diana and I have lived anywhere together. I just keep asking myself when it's OK to live on the beach and why we should wait.


Curation and trust is the other Internet problem

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 28, 2020, 6:21 PM | comments: 0

As much as I loathe the duopoly of the Internet that limits the potential to earn for your work, those platforms have another problem: They lack curation and trust. Well, let me be more specific, there are algorithms that attempt to curate and people blindly trust them. The overall quality of what you can find suffers. I think the quality exists, but it isn't always discoverable.

An astute observer of things on CoasterBuzz pointed out that there seems to be an inverse relationship between engagement on the Internet and the resulting quality of the conversation. Surely if you've ever looked at YouTube comments, or frankly most of Twitter, you already know this. That's part of the reason I advocate on behalf of niche communities like those that I operate. My engagement ratio might be 100 to 1, but I'd like to think it means better conversation. I'm amused that some people find the cliquiness to be unwelcoming compared to the dumpster fire of YouTube comments, but that's cool.

Engagement as a whole is the incentive that drives the Internet content engine, but it incentivizes all the wrong things. Look at YouTube's model: To get paid for your work, you need to have a thousand subscribers and some number of hours of watching to be "in." For some creative and smart people, certainly this results in some great content and well deserved attention (see Simone and Mark). But it also results in a ton of people who just make the worst, ephemeral garbage where they shout "like and subscribe!" in every post. In fact they have to do that because that's the model. And when people do that, it algorithmically promotes the worst stuff, much in the way that Facebook creates an echo chamber of conspiracy theories for flat-earthers.

Mind you, Google's ads and search algorithm do the same thing, by incentivizing popularity. The machine can't measure how useful, interesting or even subjectively "good" something is.

Even in entertainment circles, this has created an interesting situation, and I'm not sure that it's "better." On one hand, yes, you can literally publish an album and potentially get some traction, without the help of a record label. On the other hand, because the taste-making power has moved from large corporations to algorithms, there is no human curation anymore. It's all gamed.

This in turn creates a trust issue. Was it better to have the taste-makers telling me what to think, or the machines being gamed by clever people (or abused by bottom feeder dick-and-fart joke proprietors)? This isn't limited entertainment, either. We see it every day in "news," and a willfully ignorant electorate that has resigned to not think critically or accept that which is objectively true.

Back in the day, we got our news from the local newspaper and one of three nightly network news programs. One could argue that there may be some bias in these, but there was reasonable care to report the facts and let you decide. That doesn't mean there weren't editorials. Newspapers still do this, as distinctly separate entities from their newsrooms, and TV did it back in the day too. People understood the difference between news and commentary, and it was clearly labeled as such. Now, cable "news" networks blur that line, or disregard it entirely, and people don't even care. Or worse, people get their news from the Internet algorithm, which is to say their own biases are willfully satisfied. The big three have been losing their audience for decades, which is unfortunate because they still, for the most part, attempt to exercise the same reasonable care.

Where does this leave us? If people are unwilling to engage in critical thinking, I think we're kind of fucked and headed toward the movie Idiocracy in real life. Maybe, if we're lucky, people will realize that not trusting smart people and experts, maybe even more enlightened artists, is not really working out. I think accepting facts should be the easy part. I mean, one shouldn't be able to be convinced that something red is actually blue unless they're color blind. Dare to dream?

For me, I don't think that it makes me elite that I can recognize the expert credentials of someone in a particular field to value what they have to say about that field. I can recognize that Dave Grohl is an exceptional artist, and Kanye is at best a strong self-promoter and collaborator. I can definitely see that the systemic oppression of women and minorities is an ongoing problem. On the flip side, yeah, I'm going to defer to the people at AltNation to tell me what the sweet new tracks are this week in the world of alt rock. I'll read reviews of movies and books before I invest the time in them. Curation is valuable to me when I don't have expertise or time.