The blog home of Jeff Putz

Smart home, dumb cloud

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 19, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

About six and a half years ago, we bought a Neato robot vacuum. Relative to Roomba, at the time, this other company had better reviews and probably a better product. At the very least, having the brush out in a square front meant it did corners right. And it was pretty cool. It mapped out your house, and then you could draw lines on the map for places it shouldn't go. This was especially useful for us, because upstairs we have railings that look down into the living room, and the machine sees through them. Without the lines, it would have to interrogate (read: run into) all of that iron, which isn't ideal. It even stored upstairs and downstairs floor plans.

In more recent years, we kind of stopped using it. We mostly bought it for downstairs, because that's where the dust kitties (mostly Poe's fur balls) get pretty bad across the hardwood floor. But in practice, it was a pain in the ass, because you have to pick up all of the chairs, of which there are 12 (kitchen, counter, dining room). We end up mostly spot cleaning with a battery operated Dyson. But it's still pretty useful upstairs, on carpet. We weren't using it there either, but it started beeping all of the time, because the battery was toast. I bought an inexpensive (and larger capacity) replacement.

But you know what else is toast? Neato. They went out of business last year. I put in the new battery, and it seemed like nothing I did would make it work. It just blinked lights at me in a non-productive fashion, with the app telling me there was a non-descript problem. Neato, indeed. I eventually learned that a certain button/bumper combination would restore it to some backup firmware, so I did that. It worked again, but it was an older version that didn't use the map and the "no go" lines. It also meant re-pairing it to our account, which doesn't work on newer versions of Android, but fortunately does on iOS. I found a guy online who figured out how to put a new non-expired certificate into a firmware package, and then you could use a USB drive to update it. Of course, to do this, I needed to get an obscure adapter to push USB-A to an old micro USB or whatever it was called, because it's old. Finally, I got it to its previous state, only with the new battery.

The problem is, the vacuum doesn't really work without its cloud counterpart. That's where the account lives that bridges a phone app to the machine, and where it stores your floor plans. The parent company says it will support that infrastructure for at least five years, but at that point, it will become a door stop. Consider that other household machines can last indefinitely. That Dyson vacuum I bought in 2005 is still with me, and aside from replacing the brush, works like a champ.

This is a wider issue with all kinds of gadgets now. The light switches and plugs in my house depend on a service run by TP-Link. They're based in Singapore, but global and huge, so that one is probably safe. The smart speakers are from Amazon and Google, and the former complains about the unprofitable nature of it, and the latter is known to just turn products off. The video doorbell is also now Amazon. It could all go away.

In most cases, loss of connectivity is inconvenient, but not the end of the world. However, the vacuum will absolutely be useless at some point, and that's a bummer. If there were better standards (emphasizing "better," because it's not that there aren't any), I could imagine that you could do all of these kinds of things with a cheap box you put on your network at home, but that's not a thing.

Grand MA3 learning log 4

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 16, 2024, 9:27 PM | comments: 0

I don't know the actual reason, but today the lighting learning just clicked. As I mentioned previously, the process of creating cues and sequences was pretty obvious, and I'd be comfortable building out a static theatrical show. But I came for the party, and the movement and the effects. The Grand MA3 UI is kinda clunky, and I felt like it was getting in the way. I still think that to a degree, but when I started thinking like an object-oriented programmer (as in code, not lights), things all of a sudden kind of made sense. The platform in the broad sense is all about layering objects and composing them, much in the way you would in Java or C# or whatever.

Where I was hurting was that I couldn't map those concepts to the UI. Well, also, I wasn't satisfied with virtual lights, so now I have six of my own, and that seems to unlock that mapping. What's crazy about it is that it clicked without me looking at the documentation. My laptop was in the other room. I don't know all the things, and I'm still surprised at the sheer number of icons in certain windows (which have no mouse hover to help, which is annoying). But now I can start to think about a look, and how I build it. Transitioning between them I think is straight forward, because I mostly get tracking, which is the process of maintaining state across cues.

Now I just need to figure out how to fog up the room without setting off smoke detectors. I imagine I'll have to figure out some way to do it in my office, because that doesn't get warm enough already in the summer.

The gift of your impending demise

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 16, 2024, 8:51 PM | comments: 0

I was listening the other day to actor Jeremy Renner on the Smartless podcast, and he spoke at length about the accident that nearly killed him. You may recall that he was run over by a snowplow on New Year's Day of last year, while saving his nephew from being run over. In the show, he describes the whole affair as the greatest gift he could have, because it gave him perspective. It caused him to necessarily come to terms with his inevitable end, and that in turn has completely changed his outlook and how all the things affect him.

He's only a few years older than me, so this is something that I think about too. I haven't had the potentially life altering brush with death, and I don't really want to, but I do want to get where he is. I'm comfortable with the idea that I won't live forever, that none of us will, but that realization has not caused me to keep the perspective to just let all the things roll off. I feel like I'm carrying weight at all times, from work, parenting, setting up my later years for success, and lately, deep concern for the state of my country. I feel at times like that's all crushing me.

Logically, I think there are really only two places that you can arrive when you face your impending demise. The dark and not good place is that you don't see any point to life. The other place is to accept that you will have the impact that you do, measurable in a million ways, and that's the point. The really crazy part of it is that both of those conclusions are fed by the same facts. Given the Law of the Conservation of Mass, we're literally made of cosmic dust, and when we're done, we'll be that again. In between, against all odds, we gain consciousness and autonomy. Again, this makes life either pointless or impactful, depending on how you look at things. As a species that reproduces, my thinking is that the impact is important because it affects your offspring, and generations beyond. But either way, our importance is overstated in our heads. As unlikely and incredible as our consciousness is, it is quite temporary and insignificant relative to the history of time.

That, perhaps, is where the gift lies. If we are relatively inconsequential, and you take up the positive, it creates a moral framework that should be obvious. Be kind to others, make art, help out, leave things better than you found them. I don't think that you need religion to adhere to or identify those values. They seem obvious to me. To be the kind of person who wants to hurt, oppress or reduce the humanity of others, implies that you don't really understand how temporary you are. Whatever you gain by it is wholly momentary, and your legacy will be forgotten or remembered for its horribleness.

With all of that in mind, to really get it, I would think that it'd be easier to let go of the things that wind you up. How do I do that? I enjoy challenging work, but why can't I just compartmentalize it? And for parenting, ultimately I will do the best I can, and hopefully not mess him up too much, but he will be his own human. How do I roll with that? And don't get me started on the little things that grind on me that logically I know don't matter.

How strange that our inevitable death could create purpose and joy in the time we have.

Saturday stasis

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 13, 2024, 2:23 PM | comments: 0

Why is it so hard for me to do stuff on Saturday? The day just drifts by and I have nothing to show for it.

Grand MA3 learning log 3

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 12, 2024, 10:13 PM | comments: 0

It's been awhile since I made my last post about this, which troubles me because my intention after getting the console was to ramp up as fast as possible. I chalk it up to my creativity drought. But tonight I got some quality time behind the buttons, and feel like I made some progress.

One of the things I was struggling with last time was getting the UI into the right context to make adjustments on effects (phasers), and after some online help, I think I figured that out. The challenge for me is that I have to keep doing it if I'm gonna retain any of it. That pattern applies to all kinds of skills. It's why I'm not proficient editing in DaVinci Resolve, or setting up builds and deployments in Azure DevOps. I learn by doing, which in some ways feels like a curse.

The other thing that I struggle with is that it's so non-satisfying to design with a fake virtual rig. Seeing lights move around on the screen is not as great as real life. And on top of that, in real life, without some fog in the room, it's hard to see. But fog sets off the fire alarms. Also, I only have four moving heads of my own. Well, I'm gonna have six, because the eBay listing I keep following keeps reducing the price on pairs with a case and cables and such.

With that in mind, I have some ideas in mind about how I move forward in a practical way. I should probably hit up the local community theater troupes to offer lighting services, with my gear, for free. Also, do the same for local bars that have bands. This may sound a little small time, but whatever. I have the relatively unusual circumstance of having the "stuff" because I can afford it as a "hobby," and can do it purely for the enjoyment. I couldn't have done that at 23 even if the gear was cheaper then.

It'll be hard to make good on these ideas, I imagine, because regular life gets in the way. I've been struggling lately with having the brain left to do stuff after work, because of a particular project (and countless distractions) that is important and high impact and stressful. The next couple of weeks should reduce some of that, but we'll see.

Interesting sidebar, I read a story on a FB group about a guy who started out much as I'm doing, and today he has a huge business and a warehouse full of gear that he rents out for local shows and small tours. He just kept reinvesting everything into more gear. I don't think that's necessarily the direction that I want to go (though I literally could make money today renting my console), because I want to create stuff, not rent stuff. But it's something to think about.

Electricity still scares me

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 9, 2024, 11:11 PM | comments: 0

As much as I feel like I usually suck at DIY stuff around the house, I usually will try stuff that I think I can do. I surprise myself sometimes. I can't believe that I actually drilled through quartz and installed that glass cleaner on the bar sink. Then I installed those shelves. I've fixed our KitchenAid mixer, twice. And if I'm really being honest, back in my 20's when me and my friends all had shitty cars, I replaced among them two starters, a radiator, one set of brakes and rotors, a transmission pan gasket and a whole lot of spark plugs. Can't believe I never got hurt doing any of that. So yeah, I guess I can fix stuff, sometimes.

But electricity, that scares the shit out of me. The fear only got worse after I watched the install of our solar plant, and later the battery, which required rewiring our load centers entirely. Then we had the cover off all of that stuff when techs had to fix a lightning hit, twice. I even saw the guy from the utility poking around under the meter with the covers off, and those huge bus bars feeding 300+ amps into my house. Oh, and the conduits to the car chargers are warm to the touch when charging. It all frightens me, which is also kinda funny because we've had electric cars for almost 10 years now. It's just that there's something there that I can't see that could kill me.

The first lightning strike caused a short that we eventually needed an electrician to figure out, and I think it was behind a plug in the kitchen. But there was also a breaker that kept tripping for no apparent reason, other than it got fried. It was one of the standard, cheap breakers, which was not intimidating. So I watched a lot of videos, and then turned off the entire load (including the solar and battery), because I watched the installers and understood how to completely disconnect power to the backed up load center. I still put my meter on the bus inside to make sure, and then I got it done.

Then last weekend, we noticed the bar fridge and dining room plugs were not on. The breaker tripped, and while you could reset it, it would eventually trip again. It was different though, because this was an AFCI breaker, and I didn't even know what that meant. The short story is that it's a breaker that can "sense" an arc fault on the line, which is a short that could start a fire, which is bad. Most of the breakers in my panel are this type, except for the ones that have ground fault interruptor outlets at the other end. Unfortunately, these things are more than $60 at Lowes, and I forgot that we had a locally owned ACE franchise closer. Ugh.

The only way that these are different is that, at least for the box type I have, is that they require the hot and neutral wires from the line, instead of the neutral going to the screw terminals. The way I understand it, this is how they can detect an arc fault. So once again, I shut off all of the things, and replaced the expensive breaker.

I have a basic understanding of DC electricity, but AC is never as clear to me, so I always worry that I'm overlooking something. In this case, it's just a matter of exactly replacing what was there, but I still spent a lot of time worrying about it.

Maybe next time I'll talk about how much saws scare me.

Skin devoid of texture

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 8, 2024, 8:32 PM | comments: 0

In a world of 4K video and giant screens, I've noticed in recent years that, unless the filmmakers decide otherwise, that you can see people in a very real way. It's all the little details in a person's skin and hair. It made me think of a talk I saw by film director Robert Rodriguez some years ago, where he calls actor Danny Trejo on stage, and talks about how lighting could show the texture of his skin, scarred by acne and boxing in prison.

But technology of the Internet has mostly erased the authenticity of humans in this sense. Even Zoom, by default, has a "skin smoothing" algorithm turned on. The weird performative nature of social media (which isn't social anymore) means that people seem more interested in showing an inauthentic, literally filtered view of their lives. I'm glad that I'm not dating, because I doubt that any photo is "as is" on the average profile. And it's not just women, it's men too.

This got me to thinking about the intimacy of in-person human contact. There's no hiding when you're sitting across the table from someone. The first time you touch someone, you can feel the texture of the skin, fine hairs, scars and other imperfections. As things go, you'll notice freckles, lines around the eyes or forehead. Humans do not appear plastic in real life. They are organic and beautiful and perfectly imperfect.

Why are people so anxious to hide all of this? I'm not talking about the use of makeup, because aside from some extreme cases, I think that's more about augmentation than it is concealment. (And yes, I know concealer is a thing... work with me here.) The online plasticity of human photos only makes the inauthenticity of it more obvious, disconnecting the scene from reality. I don't care for it.

This is another way that the Internet shows its duality, as both a source of truth and source of complete fantasy.

My creativity is missing

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 6, 2024, 1:55 PM | comments: 0

I'm in a pretty weird place right now. My usual bouts of desire to make things are not there. Actually, it's not the desire that's missing, it's the action. The desire is still there, but it's not translating to any output. And yes, I know that creativity can't really be forced, and that's something that I've grown to accept. But right now, for the past few months, nothing happens. Usually I hit that end of the year retrospective, and I marvel at all of the things that I've done. I don't have much to show for so far this year.

My analytical line of thinking suggests that perhaps it's just competing with other things. Work has included a pretty high cognitive load lately, and I'll be the first to admit that a lot of days land with me having nothing left. I also find that my anxiety lately causes me to just linger in a state of general stillness, as if I'm trapped in a continuous stream of what-if. These are just theories, mind you. I can't really prove that this is the reason for my lack of creative output. I believe that I can rule out depression, because I remember what that was like pre-bupropion, and I did not experience joy. There is still joy, any time I consume art or hang out near the ocean or ride a roller coaster.

Part of my midlife reframe, likely an indefinite process following my ASD diagnosis, has included the pursuit of some kind of identity. Some people find identity and community in their work, profession, race or ethnicity, religion, sexuality, etc. I... don't. It's kind of a lonely feeling. But lately, I look at my ability to make things over the years, and that does feel good. I feel like I have purpose, and sometimes that provides a level of connectivity to others. If I'm hanging on to creativity as identity, and it's not happening, you can understand why I'm concerned.

I think this is just a phase, and that it's not permanent. I hope that's the case. I just want to get back to my creative self, because it feels so good to make things.

Founding fathers without mothers

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 4, 2024, 5:05 PM | comments: 0

This is a complicated time to be an American. A significant portion of the population, though not a clear majority, appears to be OK with the prospect of a wannabe dictator, who shows contempt for the Constitution, and being the most qualified to lead the nation. The dog whistle about being "great again" says that we were better off when women couldn't vote, and minorities in general were not part of our society.

On Independence Day, we contemplate the founding of the United States. The start of the great democratic experiment. We're only two years off of the 250-year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. I saw the actual document, along with the Constitution, for the first time earlier this year at the National Archives. Along with a visit to the White House, it was a deeply moving experience. There was a staggering amount of sacrifice that occurred to make the United States real.

Looking back on those days, during the founding of our nation, it's hard not to recognize the dichotomy of intent as it concerns the founding fathers. Women were not involved, which is hard to believe. Furthermore, so many of the men at the time understood the evil of slavery. Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson... they all knew it was wrong, but let it continue to happen. But I think that despite the shortcoming, you can't trivialize the roles that they played in history. The reason for that is intent.

We can reasonably question their character for allowing slavery to persist (and disallow women from voting), but we can at least use the context of the time to understand the impact that would have had on the economy and cultural intent. The best parallel I can draw to modern times is Clinton's position on "don't ask don't tell." Whatever he truly believed is hard to ascertain, were it not for his statements since. But he made the compromise in order to continue to govern. It doesn't make it right, it just offers context.

When looking at history, there was a line. The leaders of the confederacy were traitors. They fought to maintain the status quo around slavery. The intent was different. They were not heroes. That's why they should not be celebrated, particularly as our population has become ever so diverse.

I remember an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who described his work Hamilton as being filled with people who could not be simply categorized as good or bad. He's not wrong. Somehow, we have to reconcile the good and bad of the otherwise honorable men who founded our nation. I believe that this is the ongoing legacy of our nation. It has gotten it wrong on so many levels, but it has also made progress, maybe slower than its contemporaries, to make it right. Its promise is the potential to be better.

We're at an extra weird place in that history. There's potential to un-do all that we've achieved. This Independence Day, we should remember the journey so far, and the work that remains to make true freedom, for all, to be real. It does not come with banning books, limiting access to health care and making it harder to vote.

How immigration hurts America

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 3, 2024, 9:06 PM | comments: 0

Immigration is always such a hot issue in politics. To hear some people tell it, the end of days get closer with every person that crosses the border. Now, I'll be the first to say that the way things are going isn't great, but not for the reasons many may think. Legal immigration moves too slowly, and illegal immigration is handled chaotically, to the disadvantage of refugees in particular. If there's a crisis, I think that's why.

But the truth is that most of what is generally said about immigration is completely wrong. History and data objectively make the case that immigration has been great for the United States' economic well being. The CBO says that immigration will generate $7 trillion (yes, with a "t") toward the GDP over the next decade. Some research even shows that immigration patterns lead to better economic outcomes in areas where people settled generations later. Even the George W. Bush Institute, obviously with a Republican bias, says that the net effect of immigration is positive. This shouldn't be that surprising, because more people require more economic activity, which benefits the nation as a whole. Why do you think China is so intent on their citizens having more children?

Immigrants aren't taking jobs from native-born people either. If this were true, given the current volume of legal and illegal immigration, then unemployment would be very high. However, it has been historically low for several years. The labor participation rate of US-born men is the highest it's been since 2002. Immigrants are more likely to start businesses, which in turn hire more people born here. Sometimes they even start things like Google or Tesla, which employ hundreds of thousands of people.

The economic benefits of immigrants are clear and objectively a net positive. But what about other concerns, like crime and poverty benefits?

In terms of crime, the research here is very clear. Immigrants are 60% less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. That is staggering, and an inconvenient fact for people who want to stop all immigration, legal or not. There isn't really any nuance to be had.

What about the use of welfare and entitlements? It turns out that immigrants use 28% less benefits than native-born Americans. And if you think about it, taxes paid by immigrants working in the US contribute to government income used to pay for said benefits.

So how is immigration hurting America? It's not. The facts do not support this position at all. The question we should be asking is how do we handle immigration in a way that is efficient, humane and just. I am not a policy expert, so I don't know what that would look like, I just know that what we have now isn't it. If we are to place limitations on it, then it should be rooted in data that justifies it, not feelings.

If it is hurting us in any way, it's the feelings of xenophobia and hate that are associated with it. It's not a good look.

Hurricane prep

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 2, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

As unlikely as it sounds, we've lived in Orange County now for 11 years, and we've never had a significant power outage. It went for an hour or two for Irma in 2017, and that was it. And that makes sense, because we've had a backup battery for the house since 2019, and nothing more than a brown-out since. Power outages are the biggest risk for us in a hurricane. Damage is fairly unlikely because of the new construction, and storms generally weaken a ton by the time they get to us.

I'm paying a little more attention this year, because of Beryl and its insane and historic strength at the end of June. It's extremely unusual, and also validates the various academics who have warned about a rough year. The only thing that concerns me is the solar panels, since they're bolted to the roof. They're also the key to having some power in the event of an outage. With the battery, the solar can keep generating power for us and it disconnects from the grid (because you don't want to backfeed electricity to the utility in the event people are working on it). Our backup load only includes the non-high-voltage stuff, so lights, fans refrigerators are all good. We know from the time it got zapped and stuck in the disconnected mode that it'll keep up indefinitely, as long as there's some sun. What we lose is air conditioning, water heating, oven and stove. We have propane as a backup for the cooking. Beyond that, we can stock up on water, fill the tubs (for toilet flushing), and we should be good for a fair amount of time.

This year I finally bought a propane burner, to compliment the grill. I can't think of anything else that we lack, though if I were really a survivalist, I'd probably have a ham radio license. I don't think I'd last long in a zombie apocalypse, because I don't really make things or grow things, and I don't think I could stomach making animals into food.

It's frustrating that more people don't take the climate issues seriously. Because it's a slow burn, it's easy to ignore, but with the increase in extreme weather, something that is objectively observed and measured, you'd think folks would see it. It's another factor in the bizarre anti-intellectualism wave that I can't explain.

People don't know how to be bored (see also, the incurious)

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 1, 2024, 11:42 PM | comments: 0

A few days ago, I wrote about the incurious, and the danger that a lack of curiosity causes. But something else has been coming into focus lately. I've been frustrated for years with the direction that music has gone, or more specifically, the curation and discovery of music. Everyone knows how annoyed that I am by the devaluing of all kinds of creative work, including Internet community and journalism. The quality bar for literally everything, including politicians, apparently, has reached a serious low. Both sides of the equation are the problem. A lot of makers and artists are not willing to learn crafts, like music, or journalism. The people who consume works are so overwhelmed and overloaded by continuous scrolling that they never have an opportunity to be bored.

I started to really notice the problem with Simon. On a longer car ride, he doesn't see any of the drive. If we're informally having an ad hoc meal, the first question from him is whether or not he can take the food to his computer or watch TV (most of the time, no). While he isn't allowed to have social media yet, like many kids, he grew up with an iPad. Sure, we emphasized educational and developmentally appropriate apps, but I'm not sure if that did him any favors.

But go literally anywhere in public where people have a still moment, and they're heads down. On the train, waiting for airplanes, queueing for theme park attractions, etc., people tend to be mindlessly scrolling or swiping games at worst, unwilling to unplug at best. This behavior isn't hurting anyone, but it does suck when it continues while someone is trying to interact with them, at Chipotle or the ticket counter or whatever.

I'm trying not to come off as a hater, because I think a lot of this is just environmental. What I wonder is whether or not it will change. I've reached a point now where the algorithms offer very little to me. The "social" part of social media is largely dead, and on Facebook I'm seeing at best a dozen friends (out of 500) showing up. Instagram shows more friends, but it's still an awful lot of cats. YouTube will recommend something now and then, but mostly I'm seeing subscriptions to science stuff and late night TV.

So I'm actually bored with all of that. Honestly, I think that I need that boredom, because for all of the making and creative things I've done the last few years, I can't seem to engage with it this year. I haven't cut my movie, I'm not writing any significant amount of code and I'm not spending much time learning the lighting stuff. I tell myself that it's because work uses a lot of my brain capacity, but I don't think that's it. Diana beats herself up over spending little time in her sewing room, so maybe together we're just not getting the opportunity to be bored.

My advice to others is the advice I'm giving myself. Look at what is occupying your time, and if much of it is low quality, ephemeral time wasting, maybe you need to cut back on that. See what the resulting boredom will yield.

It's weird being the same age as old people

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 28, 2024, 9:22 PM | comments: 0

I have this T-shirt that I love, that was pretty cheap and is already not in great shape. It says, "It's weird being the same age as old people." It gets a lot of LOL's.

Jokes aside, there's a lot of truth in it. "Old" is admittedly kind of subjective (unless you're talking about the dinosaurs running for president). Last year, at the big five-oh, I had a great week around my birthday, with a little local resort stay, a good friend surprising me in town and Living Colour playing Epcot. I figured that power-drinking sangria and watching a very loud rock-n-roll band probably made me less old. At the very least, I can confirm that it's not something that I recall my parents doing when they reached 50. In fact, I look around at many, but not all, of my peers, and none of us really seem old the way that Boomers did. While open to the fact that this may be because of perspective, there may be some reality to the difference. Later child rearing, different attitudes toward work and career, less emphasis on gender roles, etc., do make us objectively different.

Still, there was something psychological about the milestone last year, because this year my birthday snuck up on me. I have made zero plans. For much of my adult life, it's been the one week where I have made it a priority to say, fuck it, this is my week. I'm the priority. This year, I feel like I've been kind of avoiding thinking about it. That's lame.

For the last few months, I've been taking a hard look at my anxiety, and other feelings that generally make me uncomfortable. I'm getting closer and closer to figuring it all out. Age is a component of it, but it's not all of it. I'm realizing more and more that my age is an asset. I've objectively done a lot of shit, and know many things. The ongoing challenge is to figure out how to leverage all of that to my advantage, without being an arrogant dick about it. I also have to come to terms with the limitations of my scope of impact, as these are not flaws as much as they are reality.

I don't have any specific plans for Jeff Putz Week this year. Tonight, I'm just going to enjoy the companionship of my darling Diana, and sip a drink known as a "porn star."


Beware the incurious

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 28, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

In a fairly divided America, one of the things that I struggle with is not simply casting out the people that I disagree with. Granted, that category of people are generally those who hate or wish to oppress or punish people for no other reason than that they're different. And you can't make the circular argument that the same group of people are like the ones they're against, in terms of being targets. Those they oppose aren't against anyone as long as they can be who they are. With that in mind, I've tried to understand what the root of the difference is. A lot of people say it's environmental, the idea that if you grow up with a racist, you might be a racist. This has been going on for generations in the US, but also throughout history. My assumption is that as you get older and gain life experience, you break out of the assumptions and behaviors you may have learned early in life. We know that doesn't always happen. Why?

I'm starting to believe that it's because at some point, many, maybe most people, stop being curious. I can't explain why that happens. I do think that children are inherently curious, and it's why they learn. Up to a certain age, you can't separate an airplane from magic. Hopefully you cling to the curiosity long enough to understand the physics. But it's a head scratcher when people think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, or that the earth is flat.

There are anecdotal circumstances that I can look at in my own life, that exemplify the power of curiosity. Growing up in desegregation Cleveland, it's not hard to understand the environmental reason that I'd grow up anti-racist. But my grandfather and uncle routinely made racist jokes. My theory is that curiosity beat environment. I was curious about the island, Puerto Rico, where so many of the neighbor kids came from. I was curious about what it meant to be Black in the years near the end of the civil rights movement. Maybe most importantly, curiosity caused me to question why an authority figure like my grandfather would say such awful things about my classmates. (One time I questioned him, in middle school, and my stepfather assured me that I didn't know what I was talking about. That had a lasting impact on my relationship with him through the rest of my childhood.)

Maybe curiosity competes with fear. The latter is certainly a powerful motivator. The refrain from a lot of the haters is that "[marginalized group] is ruining the country," but they can never explain why, or how they're affected by them. There are two modes of incuriosity here. The first is that they're willing to believe someone with no particular credential is offering them truth about why you should hate on others. The second is that they won't bother to learn about the people that they loathe.

The pandemic showed us just how the incurious react to science. It seems like our culture has decided that expertise is no longer a thing. Here's a funny thing, where I'm wrong to an extent. The anti-science folks are actually curious enough to "research" things, but reject the critical thinking to validate or authenticate the information that they find. Maybe that's an inauthentic flavor or "curiosity." Regardless, it's the hardest thing for me to reconcile, because the universe is so vast and so fascinating that no one could ever have their curiosity satisfied. That indication of our place in the universe would also, you would think, lead people to spend less time on trying to punish people who aren't like them. Ain't nobody got time for that.

For now, I'm as curious as ever. There are so many things that I haven't learned, that I would like to. And engaging in those things slows time, compared to doing the daily routines. I think that's going to ultimately be my measure of life. When I stop being curious, it'll most likely be because I've ceased to exist.

The Last of Us was amazing

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 26, 2024, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

I don't often dedicate entire blog posts to TV shows. My gold standard remains The Newsroom, the best show I've ever watched (admitting that my bias involves the subject of journalism, and possibly Olivia Munn who is "delightful," as her character says). I vaguely understood that The Last of Us was a thing, and that is was based on a PlayStation game. When I saw that it was among the available things on Max, which had just come into our world when Discovery and HBO merged, I kind of blew it off. It's a variation on the zombie apocalypse genre, because it involves a frighteningly plausible fungus instead of a virus, so I was thinking Resident Evil. Those movies are fantastic, but mostly because the impossibly beautiful Milla Jovovich is an unlikely action star that kills many, many zombies, over many, many movies. Last, as it turns out, is in the genre, but is far less a zombie movie and more about the relationships. I didn't see that coming.

The Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal, playing Joel, is charged with getting a kid across the country, from Boston to somewhere in Colorado. Ellie is a kid who somehow is immune to the fungal infection that pumps hallucinogenic drugs into human brains while preserving their tissue, the thing that effectively makes people zombies. The rebels believe she's the key to a vaccine, which in turn is the key to defeating the fascist disaster response agency that is keeping some kind of "order" in quarantine zones. What I find particularly fascinating about this is that there technically are not really good or bad guys. Everyone has their motivation in impossible circumstances. Except for the cult leader. He's definitely fucked up.

So the series is less about monsters and more about how people behave when society is torn down. The central focus is the relationship of Joel and Ellie, but there are so many sidebars that include incredibly well drawn characters. I mean, Nick Offerman as a bear and conspiracy theorist survivalist? Didn't see that coming. The cult leader, Joel's brother and new wife, Joel and his daughter, a deaf kid and his brother, an anarchist leader... it just goes on and on.

Joel and Ellie in particular are just dragged through the ringer to the point of them questioning their own humanity in a world where the monsters aren't even the worst thing to worry about. But it's balanced against deeply emotional moments and circumstances that are emotionally exhausting. It ain't a zombie flick at all, despite there being zombie-like monsters.

From what I've read, the plot is somewhat loyal to the first game, release a decade ago and remastered for the latest PlayStation and Windows. I haven't had a PlayStation since the second iteration, not because of any Xbox loyalty. I just haven't had a compelling reason to get one. I still don't. I have so much available on Xbox Series X and Windows via Game Pass that there isn't much incentive to give Sony money. I'd consider buying the Windows game, but it's $60, and performance and compatibility, according to reviews, is not great. If it were on GOG I might immediately try it given their very excellent refund policy, but I'm hesitant otherwise.

The good news is that the second season is shooting right now, and the creators of the game and show have mapped out a third, possibly fourth season. Kaitlyn Dever will be in S2, and I think she has high potential for being a next generation great actor. If it is well watched, and HBO is into it, they might get made. I sure hope so. The hype and Emmy wins were legit. The last two episodes just wrecked me, in a good way. I didn't want it to end.

The pandemic changed me, why not anyone else?

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 24, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Thanks to the Internet, music-association memory, and frequent reflection, the Covid pandemic is still very fresh in my mind. I think about it especially when I'm at the theater, or a theme park. I remember the masks and the weird feelings of emerging after vaccinations. I also remember the chaos of 2020, the protests, the election, January 6, the 1.2 million people who died (that's like the entire state of Montana dying)... it was a pretty weird time.

With that in mind, I'm often reminded about how the experience changed me. The passage of time and aging is certainly at the top of the list of things for me. You know, we emerged from the pandemic, and I got tattoos and planned to travel more. I legitimately figured out when I want to shift away from my current career (not sure I'd call it "retirement"). I became more acutely aware of the shortcomings in our healthcare system, especially around health insurance and how broken it is to be tied to full-time employment, not to mention the disparity in care quality and access along racial and economic lines. I was encouraged by neighbors helping each other out as best they could given the need to stay apart. We even saw a momentary drop in greenhouse gases as the efficiency of delivery services and remote work pulled cars off the road. The allure of authoritarianism has become a scary and real thing, and it sure feels like we need to take it seriously.

The experience, to me, introduce a fair number of critical action items that could make the world better. But I feel like I'm the only person who still feels that way. People of all political leanings are still spending a lot of time paying attention to the Trump shitshow, while ignoring issues. And I'm not talking about culture war nonsense either, because that's only about people who fear things they don't understand or like, despite them having absolutely no impact on their lives.

At the very least, what are we doing now to prepare for the next pandemic? It could happen next year, or a hundred years from now, but it's important either way. Congress can barely pass a bill these days, so I guess I'm not surprised.

I remember at the start of 2021, as the vaccines trickled out, it felt like we were on the verge of some kind of new enlightenment. The scientific achievement was largely taken for granted, despite the fact that it most certainly saved millions of lives and was the real driving factor behind restoring some kind of normalcy. If we could do that, what other hard problems could we solve?

What we have instead, at least in the US, is nearly half the population worried about immigrants that have no impact on their lives, which restroom people take a shit in and conspiracy theories unsupported by any evidence. Critical thinking and expertise are viewed as weaknesses. I don't even recognize this country half the time.

As a technologist, I think my default is to be optimistic. It's not that tech always makes things better, but it is possible that it could. I don't want to see more backsliding. No point in the past is objectively better than now, despite what it feels like sometimes. Forward.

My moldy shower and suboptimal DIY ability

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 23, 2024, 2:41 PM | comments: 0

Our shower was pretty gross. I mean, I give myself a little room, because we were pretty sure it would be demolished anyway. Now that we're questioning our own motivation on that, perhaps we're going to just live with it until we sell the house, let's say six years from now (we don't actually know). There's a part of me that recognizes that it would certainly add value to the house, but as erratic as the markets have been my entire adult life, I'm not sure that I want to go there. Better off putting that money aside. That'll let us prioritize replacing the shitty builder carpet.

One of the problems with the shower is that the grout work isn't great, and that honeycomb tiles on the floor is a nightmare to keep clean. On top of that, the caulk around the edges was cheap stuff, prone to growing things. Also, the guy who once replaced the caulk didn't do so around the glass wall, so water slowly got through and hosed the drywall just outside of the tile. It's all pretty bad.

The remedy starts with stripping off the old caulk, which isn't hard once you let some Goo-Gone caulk remover sit on it for awhile. With a little scraper tool, it comes off pretty easy. The problem is that it wasn't applied particularly cleanly, so there's a thin film of it in places that has to be scraped off. Part of what makes this challenging is the spots under the step on the outside of the shower, and under the edge of the bench. The only way you can really see if you're doing it is to get down there, which is a lot like standing on your head. I think I got 90% of it, but the bottom side of both surfaces is not smooth like the top, and there's a fair amount of black stuff I couldn't get off.

I also noticed that there were spots in the grout that I thought were mold, but were actually small holes. It was particularly bad around the drain, where they did a pretty bad job of cutting the tiles. That said, pre-mixed grout in a tube is really easy to apply, and you just have to wait two days for it to cure. Fortunately we have more than one shower.

My angst though is really toward my inability to cleanly re-caulk everything. You can't do a nice small bead, because the gaps in most corners are pretty large. According to The Internet, the places where the walls and floor meet are the places mostly likely to crack, which is why you need caulk at all. There's a garage door opener literally under the shower, so I guess the potential for problems is real. But on one side in particular, there's a good 3/8" of grout between the floor and the wall. The shorter story is that the caulk is kind of everywhere. I'm gonna need to scrape it off on the wall tile in places, because you can see the same filmy layer I removed in the first place, but worse.

I often find that I'm not good at DIY home improvement. In my own defense, it's not like I do it very often. I've installed some WiFi light switches, and even an in-drawer power strip, but that's about as clever as I get. Well, I did install the glass cleaner in the bar, and the shelves, but that was easy by comparison.

Renovation redirect

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 19, 2024, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

We were pretty excited about renovating our bathroom, particularly as we had a GC that was highly recommended. After working up his estimate, he came to a staggering cost of about $54k. If you watch home improvement TV shows, you know that's what they spend on high-end renovations with exotic materials. While we were considering expensive tile, that by itself would have only been $5k. The labor estimate I worked out to $100 an hour, which seems insane even with the trades being in short supply.

Logically, of course we should seek other estimates. I gamed out materials at retail cost around $16k, $10k less than what he did. But for now, we're gonna try and repair our shower a bit (grout and caulk issues, and also it's gross). We think we're gonna pivot and prioritize new carpet. The cheap shit just makes everything feel dumpy. And I'm not one of the "Florida people" who want everything to be tile, or vinyl plank (which still looks like vinyl to me). I like carpet. I like soft things under my feet.

The bathroom, kinda hard to say if we'll follow through ever. If we want to be out of here in six years, which is also not a hard target, do we really need a new bathroom?

The anxiety timeline

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 18, 2024, 5:10 PM | comments: 0

In my ongoing battle to understand why anxiety has become such a problem for me, I learned with my therapist that experience tends to form so much of our modus operandi in daily life. This isn't really new information, but it's interesting to take inventory of so many life events and show how they influence behavior today. My anxiety, I'm starting to learn, is rooted in the desire to ramp up defenses before something bad happens. Logically, you can understand that in a particular circumstance, a bad thing happened once in a hundred times. Unfortunately, the brain may take that one instance as reason enough to assume the worst.

This is an important thing to understand, because if the causes of my anxiety are things that already happened, I can't do anything about those. They can't un-happen. But what a crazy thing that the past can affect the now because of what could happen in the future. That's a real space-time mind-fuck if I ever did see one! It makes it harder to live in the moment and be content in it. Of the three places in the timeline, now is the only one that you can effectively manipulate.

I have to wonder then if all of the coaching and suggestion about letting things go is effective at all. (Suck it, Elsa!) This is how I went into the therapy sesh, thinking that I needed to talk through how to let go, because that will help reduce anxiety. But as she pointed out, and as I already know to a degree, life experiences can shape how you respond to things in the moment, and I've got a shit-ton of experiences that have programmed me to enter DEFCON 1. Knowing hasn't changed the battle parameters.

So I've switched the focus to how I deal with the anxiety, in the moment. This is not going to be easy. Some of it is the constant thought spiral that I have to endure. It is so, so hard to break out of that cycle. I do know of things that help bring contentment in the moment, but it's hard to think of them when the brain is full. I'm also very reactionary when anxious, especially when it comes to Simon, and that's not good for either one of us.

I don't have a lot of concrete solutions just yet, but I have self-awareness and frequency that hopefully will make it easier to break out in the moment and try to mitigate the anxiety.

Managing is a practice, not an outcome

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 18, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Someone recently asked me what I would tell new managers as far as advice goes. This was specifically in the context of software engineering, but I imagine it could be broadly applied. Honestly, I've though about codifying my "philosophy" for a long time, but often fail to write anything down, or even know where to start. So much of what I know is what not to do, which seems negative, but I think it's valuable. But there is one thing that occurred to me when I was recently asked about what my style is. I gave the usual answer, that servant leadership is important, but the more I think about it, the more I realize there's an underlying principle to consider.

Management is about reaching certain outcomes. It is not about managing. I think a lot of people enter these kinds of jobs believing that if they're not constantly making decisions and telling people what to do and creating policies and processes, they're not doing the job. But while those things are important, they're only valuable if they're serving outcomes. I would argue that a lot of managers spend time "managing" without serving outcomes. And if you're not serving outcomes, you're mostly wasting time.

If I go way back to my post-college retail job, I had a boss that was a first-time manager. Our work was straight-forward enough: Sell computers. Despite the desired outcome, selling more stuff, he came up with all kinds of things to do that served little purpose other than to show he was "managing." I remember that we had some kind of checklist for openers, for things you would naturally do in a retail job. The staff rebelled and never used the list, but the work was always done.

That situation really stuck with me. I guess I've always looked at management differently, in part because managers don't directly add value, they can only facilitate and influence it. That's all the more reason to be outcome oriented, because outcomes can be defined and measured. Everything you do should enable outcomes, and I can guarantee that creating processes and setting policy without being aware of its impact is just creating overhead.

So if you find yourself leading other humans, ask yourself if what you're doing is moving toward outcomes, or just doing things that you think you should do because that's what managers do. They're not the same thing.