First burn

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 23, 2019, 11:32 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I were comparing notes today, and discovered that we both took the remarkably stupid action as young children of putting our hands on hot electric stoves. I don't know why kids would do something like that, and by the way, I remember it vividly. That's not a memory I have ever been able to forget.

Simon had his first burn today, which I'm campaigning for parent of the year on, because I probably should have seen this coming. Generally speaking, we want the kid to learn how to do stuff and be self-sufficient, so today we helped him load a pan in the oven with some french fries. All went well getting them in. All went well getting them out, too. Then I encouraged him to dump the fries on to a plate, and that's where things went horribly wrong.

First, a little background. Simon has horrible situational awareness. Try as we might, it doesn't seem like a skill that we can teach him. It's part of the reason that he spent the better part of his first six or seven years finding new and inventive ways of hitting me in the balls. He often does things that cause spills, things to break or other things that hurt one of us. He immediately follows the event with, "It was an accident," but he's just not good at accident prevention.

Anyway, he lifts the hot tray, with oven mitts, and tilts it away from him. I'm behind him, so I don't entirely see what he's doing, but he tags the underside of his chin with the tray. He quickly puts down the tray, looks at me with the most panicked eyes possible, and bursts into screams and tears. I look, and I can see the skin peeled back where he hit it. The screams are not good. Eventually we get him calmed down enough that I can hold a bag of ice under his chin. Diana uses the video call doctor thing we get through our insurance ($10 beats an urgent care visit), and the doctor is able to basically see the damage and prescribe a cream to put on it. With some instruction about care, we're off in 15 minutes and the prescription is available within an hour or so.

We went on with our day after that, but of course I feel terrible. He didn't do the ridiculous thing we did as kids, he's just kind of clumsy. How he can have such poor situational awareness but master Portal is beyond me.


Red curry chicken

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 18, 2019, 7:13 PM | comments: 0

I do enjoy curry in various forms. I love the smells of Thai-style curry, and you can get about the same thing everywhere that serves Thai food. Indian curries don't smell as good, but they're often a little thicker, depending on what they're made with, and most importantly, they're hot. It's my understanding that Indian restaurants often use the powders made elsewhere, but some do make their own.

So here's the recipe I've been refining. Like everything I've tried to recreate at home, it doesn't quite taste like anything I've had in restaurants, but I like where this landed. I think it's a combination of what I like about Thai and Indian curries put together, which makes sense since I'm using Thai paste and Indian style powder together. It has the great smell along with the sweet richness of Thai curry with the kick of Indian curry. (I know you can make Thai curry hot by request, but the base doesn't seem to start there.)

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tsp Penzey's hot curry powder
  • 1/2 jar of Thai Kitchen red curry paste
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 cups of rice
  • rice vinegar
  • salt

Bring everything to a slight simmer in a frying pan except the chicken. Gently stir it until it's a smooth consistency. Taste it to see if it's seasoned to taste. Cut the chicken into small pieces, add to the sauce. Increase heat, bring to a slightly higher simmer and keep stirring until the chicken is cooked through. Make 2 cups of rice (preferably in a rice cooker), when finished, add a pinch of salt and some rice vinegar. Serve the chicken and sauce over rice. Serves two people.


The unrealistic expectations of theme park workers

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 17, 2019, 3:46 PM | comments: 0

The realization that I could buy a season pass to Cedar Point, because I was a grown up, came to me about 20 years ago now. Starting PointBuzz (then Guide to The Point) came shortly thereafter. The thing that I recognized almost immediately when entering that community was that a lot of people looked at a job in the theme park business as the ultimate gig. However, the expectations about that arrangement tend to be, on the whole, fairly unrealistic. Now that I live next to Walt Disney World, I see it even more.

The first unacknowledged reality is that supply and demand tends to drive wages down significantly. Seasonal jobs at regional parks are getting a little more competitive in some markets, but if you're a college kid wanting to dispatch roller coasters, there are 30 people lined up behind you to take that job if you don't want it. The front line jobs in particular are not high skill jobs, so they aren't going to pay a ton, even if you stay in them for a long time.

That leads to the fact that there isn't a ton of upward mobility in your average park organization. Managers that did come from within tend to stay there for a very long time, and aren't likely to give up those jobs if they like them. They don't pay particularly well either, but again, there are a bunch of people who would love to have those jobs. Paying your dues isn't a path to advancement, because there isn't much opportunity to advance.

There's also a gross misunderstanding about the difference between front-end line jobs and professional office jobs. Things like finance, IT, communications, engineering and the like require experience in those areas, just as they do at any other company. Experience selling churros doesn't count. Having worked in the corporate office of a theme park company, there tend to be a lot of professional managers from different industries, and professionals from all walks of life. (There were a fair amount of B-players from another theme park company, but that's another story.)

Salaries for professional gigs tend to vary a lot by company as well. I encountered one job here in Orlando that was at least $50,000 below the market rate, and they eventually hired someone willing to take it (with matching skills and experience for that salary). On the other hand, another company pays market rate, and another pays above it.

One of my best friends was a total park nerd in high school, went to college, and within a year of graduating reached the job that she thought she wanted on the marketing side of the business. She was underwhelmed by the job (and probably the pay), and eventually found something else with greater purpose. I worked in a corporate headquarters here in Orlando and made solid money as a contractor, but even if they could have converted it to full-time, it wouldn't have been enough to keep me there. That's just the nature of the business.

I say all of this not to discourage anyone. I get the allure of snorting pixie dust and being in the business of fun. But it's important to be realistic about what that means in terms of career and salary outlook. I see young people on Twitter frustrated that they only make $10 an hour herding kids on to Dumbo, with a strange sense of entitlement that implies they deserve more. Maybe they do deserve more, but they'll never get it in that job.

I know some people who have been in the business for a long time, many of them among the best at what they do... general managers, vice presidents, directors... all-around top notch professionals in every case. They work a ton of hours and in many cases don't make as much as counterparts in other industries, but they love it. If you don't have that love, or it doesn't counter the shortcomings, it's not the business for you. If you're expecting to make a good living in a line job, I can't urge you enough to pursue a skilled career in anything else.


Software development really is getting easier

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 16, 2019, 9:12 PM | comments: 0

I've been on something of a streak committing stuff to my open source project, POP Forums. This app has been OSS for 15 years now, through several rewrites, countless improvements and deployments to CoasterBuzz and (less frequently) PointBuzz. Now that I'm back to a job where I'm not writing code, permanently I assume, it's important to me to stay in it, if not for street cred, then to simply engage in a creative endeavour that's relevant to my job.

In the years of neglect, one of the things that bothered me about the app is that I never really made it into something that could scale out. For non-nerds, scale out means making it so it runs on many "servers" (in quotes because it's all virtualized these days), so when your browser talks to it, it can be a different server every time. This is good to handle load, certainly, but it's also nice just to have that redundancy.

That gets to the point of this post: It's so flipping easy to do this these days. Logically, the app has to do a few things. It has to response to requests from web browsers, it has to do stuff in the background (like index a thread for searching) and it has to persist data somewhere, like a database. To make it faster, I've been storing data in memory when it doesn't have to change often. No point in going to a database for that. The problem is that if you're running it on a multi-node arrangement, you can't refer to stuff in memory because there are a bunch of servers, and they don't all know what's current. So you have to use a separate thing, a cache, to keep that stuff, and every server uses that instead of its own memory.

You'll also want to use some kind of third-party entity to index and search all of your stuff. There are lots of choices for that in a cloud world, like ElasticSearch running on all kinds of stuff (like AWS), or Azure Search. Then you'll need something to run all of that background stuff outside of your web serving, because you don't want multiple copies of that running. This is that "serverless" thing that's all the rage, like Azure Functions or AWS Lambdas. 

If it weren't enough that you can provision all of this stuff with a few clicks (and automate the provisioning), you can also run it all locally with emulators and Docker containers. Specifically, I'm able to run locally with the web server associated with .Net Core, docker containers for Redis caching and ElasticSearch, and the Azure emulators for Functions and storage (for queues). It's like magic, and it all just runs and works together. When I commit code, there are free mechanisms to make it all build and deploy into the cloud and be running a few minutes later.

This is not a recent revelation, mind you, but when I think about how hard and expensive it was to do this back in the day, it's crazy. If you're starting something up, you can run all of this for less than $200 per month, when you used to have to spend thousands, before you even had a single customer. And more to the point, you can run it all on a single laptop by running a few command line entries to spin up the stuff virtually. You don't even need to install stuff anymore.

The evolution of software development in recent years reinforces my m.o. about what the job is really about for most people: composition. We'll always need people who are really good at writing algorithms and managing memory, but I suspect that the overwhelming majority of the work these days involves composing solutions. The best people in most jobs are those who write the best glue.


My historic allergies

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 14, 2019, 6:58 PM | comments: 0

My allergies got so bad yesterday that I stayed home from work. The night before was a perfect storm of congestion and mouth breathing, leading to a sore throat, and then taking Benadryl so as to completely knock me out. It felt like someone had poured concrete into my sinuses. I can't really remember feeling this bad over allergies, and in almost six years living in Florida, they've barely been an issue. I sucked it up and went to work today since I felt "better," but it took caffeine a bunch of snot rags.

From puberty to my mid-20's, allergies in the Cleveland area meant I would endure about one miserable month, typically the last two weeks of May and first two weeks of June. Since that time, the misery period has been more like two weeks. When I moved to Seattle, I had no allergy problem at all, or if I did, it was minor and short-lived. Moving here to Florida, I noticed some minor and short-lived reactions early in spring (i.e., right now), but nothing serious enough to cause discomfort. I think I may have taken a Claritin once. The worst part is that even the "non-drowsy" medications knock me out. I seriously won't drive after a single Benadryl.

Anyway, I'm over this. I'm hoping that we'll finally get some rain this weekend and washout the air. It's so dry that we're seeing brush fires on the freeway because of the fuckwits that flick cigarettes out their windows.


Nostalgia gaming

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 9, 2019, 10:46 AM | comments: 0

Last week, I busted out the old Portal 2 and the Orange Box, which has the original Portal. I remembered seeing somewhere that they were now compatible on the Xbox One, so while they're 8 to 11-years-old, I have fond memories of them. I played them through to the finish, staying up way later than I should have. I can't even tell you how satisfying those games are, and they were just the right amount of challenging to me.

Those games aren't that old, but they're definitely not new. There's a huge market for old games, as evidenced by Nintendo's reissue of their NES Classic and SNES Classic. Of course I bought both of them, even if I don't really spend that much time playing them. Just holding the old controllers evokes a satisfying feeling. Those old 8-bit and 16-bit games don't really capture my imagination all that much, in most cases, but they're fun to mess with for a bit. The old Xbox games are a lot of fun, too, and I'm glad I didn't purge those over the years.

Gaming as an industry hasn't gone away, certainly, but I'm so much less likely to buy games. I'll typically buy the Lego smash-and-collect games whenever they're released, but that's about it. The Tomb Raider reboot grabbed me too. Beyond that, I'm not sure why I generally don't seek new games, given how much I used to enjoy playing them. I'm not even plugged into what's out most of the time. Maybe it's just a change in life priorities, and I should readjust them.


Simon, 9

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 5, 2019, 10:14 PM | comments: 0

The last two years I did a "year in pictures" post with Simon, but after going through the stack for the last year, I didn't really take a ton of photos of him that were particularly interesting. That, and it was hard to get candids of him, thus I'm left with a lot of "my two big front adult teeth" smiles.

This year has had its ups and downs, for sure. We've watched him academically catch up even while we struggle to get the right balance of ADHD meds in him. His mechanical understanding of things, and curiosity about them, is stronger than ever, which is usually a good thing (though he doesn't just accept the "magic" of theater and theme park attractions). He's tried new rides and found that he enjoys them. He struggles socially more than ever. He's becoming an extraordinary swimmer. The kid who doesn't understand sarcasm can be intentionally funny. He's all of these things.

Nine means he's half-way to legal adulthood. That scares the shit out of me because I feel like there isn't enough time to really prepare him for the world and give him a happy childhood at the same time. And puberty is only a few years away, so it won't be long before he doesn't want to cuddle up to you on the couch for a movie. It feels like it was just last year that I could football-hold him, and now he has opinions and complex emotions. I can't believe how fast time has gone.

But Simon still does the things that has made parenthood amazing. I'll never get tired of his greetings when I get home from work or he gets home from school. We like to do some of the same things, like build giant Lego sets, but he loves board games and I... don't. Thankfully Diana can tag in. His empathy skills are slowly coming around, and he sees the value he brings when he helps with chores. At the most fundamental level, Simon creates something few things other than a child can: lots of love.

Shortly after his last birthday, Simon finally took a chance and learned that he loves Space Mountain. I mean, we live 11,000 feet from Cinderella Castle, it would be a shame if that wasn't his thing. We've scored lots of excellent on-ride photos, but none as great as this one with this teen emo girl up front who clearly hated being here with her parents.

Simon once again managed to enjoy three cruises this year. The interesting thing is that in the last cruise, over the holidays, he was confident to start swimming without a life jacket.

Among the things we share interests in, we can now put pinball machines on the list. He went to a friend's birthday party where they had a couple of machines, and he really engaged. Screens aren't the only thing... this kid really loves the tactile experience of an actual thing moving around with physics.

In the fall, we made a weekend trip to Daytona Beach, where Diana had a quilt retreat. Daytona is a total dump, but the kid does love the ocean. We also toured the speedway.

I can't even tell you how important Lego has been in our lives. As a kid, I had three or four large sets, and the memory of those is among the best of my childhood. Today I'm able to buy the big grownup sets for me, but there's an entirely new set of classics that Simon has received as gifts. Whereas he would struggle to build them just a few years ago, he's now able to build things like the police and fire stations on his own.

It seems weird to post a photo of us in an elevator, but for better or worse, the kid loves elevators. It's carry over from his toddler days, when doors fascinated him, and now you add a mechanical component and a service component that he enjoys. He loves "helping" people get in and out, and holding the door for others. There's no shortage of opportunity to do this on a cruise ship.

Unfortunately this is the back of Simon, but the moment was sweet and I love that I at least captured it. On our New Year's cruise, there was a couple named Suzy & Alex that performed at various places on the ship, and Simon charmed this young Brit at every performance. Maybe it was the other way around. I dunno, either way, she sat down next to him to sing in the atrium, and it was a lovely moment.

Taking Simon to see Hamilton felt like a risk, because three hours is a long time for a kid to sit still and observe theater etiquette (many times over when ASD is at odds with such social contracts). But the kid loves the music, and no matter what the cost, I felt like he needed to see the show. He definitely struggled to hold his questions, but seeing him physically react to "Yorktown" was all the validation that I needed to know we made the right choice. At his age, who knows if he'll really remember it, but I hope he does.

When I was still regretting moving away from Seattle on a regular basis, one of the strongest reasons for that was that Simon didn't get to see his cousins very often. But his cousins have a house now on the gulf coast, and they visited us three times in the last year, including the better part of a week just recently. Naturally, they have passes to Walt Disney World, so that makes for some great cousin time, like the time they met Belle.


When you don't seek validation

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 4, 2019, 9:32 PM | comments: 0

I had an exceptional day, when I was able to observe some positive outcomes of some decisions I made. Then another person further validated those outcomes. I'm so not used to getting that kind of validation that it routinely surprises me. I'll unpack this in a moment, but I generally don't seek validation. I think people generally reach a point in their life where they just don't bother with looking for it if the absence of it causes you to question your value in the world. It's vaguely related to that thing where you stop caring about what others think of you.

Getting validation feels good though. That's reason enough to make sure you give it liberally to others. If you do seek it, I think you have to be careful about where you expect to get it from. There's so much about the world that you can't control, so whether or not you can get any meaningful validation from people, institutions, relationships, work... I'm not so sure you want to be fishing there.

I think the reason I don't seek validation is that there simply haven't been many times in my life where I've received it. I mean, this is total therapist material, but going back as far as I can remember, from childhood to college to adulthood, it just wasn't there. I'm sure my inner survivalist at some point decided that if I was going to derive some self-worth out of anything, it would be out of working toward outcomes that I wanted. Let the outcome be the validation. It sounds lonely when I put it that way, but it's probably not wrong.

Looking for validation isn't a terrible thing. I think it's one of the many things that make human connection different from the way animals interact. I imagine that it's appropriate to ask people for validation, to set that expectation that you need it from time to time. Without that, it's like that dysfunctional thing in relationships where people measure love by how much others do stuff for them.


Verizon sucks, and moving your service still isn't easy

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 3, 2019, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

A little over a month ago, I was visiting my mom up in The Villages, and we got to talking about her cell phone service because her crappy phone was misbehaving regularly. The phone screen wouldn't come on when it was on a call, no matter what you did. Of course she took her year-old phone to Verizon, where the solution they offered was for her to buy a new phone, of course. Oh, and she was paying almost $70/month for a single line, and generally used less than a half-gig of data. Yeah, those bastards were trying to take advantage of my 70-year-old widowed (twice) mom.

I was pretty pissed about all that, so I talked her into moving her service to Google Fi where we would both get some service credits (referral link) and she would likely end up spending less than $35 per month, given her data usage. On the down side, she had to buy a phone, but the Motorola she got for $200 is actually pretty nice, and definitely an upgrade. I think she'll really enjoy it for what little she uses it for. She has a fingerprint sensor on this one too, so she's not walking around with an unlocked phone anymore.

That said, transferring service was not straight forward, because my mom doesn't know her passwords and such. I tried to walk her through it over the phone, but couldn't do it. She couldn't find her WiFi password, so that was the first barrier. So I drove the hour to her house and helped her out. By the time I got there, she found the WiFi password, but the menu sequence was still not super obvious to get service transferred, and I think the Fi software is pretty good. At first it just didn't ask for her Google account, which is what the service order was tied to. And then it asked for her Verizon PIN along with her billing info, which may or may not have been right. Fortunately, it took what we gave it, and her number rolled over to the new phone in about five minutes and I could call and text her on it.

There were some other quirks too, including the fact that it installed the crappy Verizon apps that came with her old phone. But we got those cleaned up and the important stuff like her photos worked out. On the negative side, fucking Verizon had its own contact app instead of using the one from Android, and there was no straight forward way to get those out. She spent this evening manually copying those from the old phone.

This stuff is still too hard for non-techy people, and if you buy your phone at retail, those assholes aren't going to help. Still, initial friction aside, Mom has a nicer phone with a better camera and will pay half as much for service.


The problem with Trump has never really been about policy

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 27, 2019, 9:00 PM | comments: 0

Former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress today about a bunch of stuff that we mostly already know about, even if it was previously attributed to anonymous sources. Cohen is arguably one of the dirtiest people associated with the president, and a liar on top of that. But it's telling that the committee members attacked his credibility without even once trying to defend the man who has lied thousands of times, undisputedly, specifically the man in the White House.

Presidents in my lifetime have all faced a great deal of valid criticism over their policy. Obama's health care plan was always controversial. Bush's war in Iraq arguably hatched the next wave of terrorism. Clinton screwed himself by screwing around with an intern. The elder Bush promised no new taxes and passed them anyway. Reagan insisted that trickle-down economics were a thing (we still haven't been able to shake that one). I barely remember Carter, let alone Ford and Nixon, so I can't comment on those with first-hand knowledge, though I think we all know how Nixon went out.

So American presidents have all been unpopular for one reason or another, to varying percentages of the public. But even with those that I strongly disliked, and I can assure you I strongly disliked Bush, my disagreement with them was always about their policy, and never about the people themselves. I can't believe we had to endure eight years of Bush, but I can recognize that despite making terrible decisions, his intent was probably in the right place. Certainly he handled the days and weeks after 9/11 as well as anyone could.

Trump is something different. He's never really had any policy positions to speak of, only rhetoric that brown people (and Democrats) are ruining the country. "Make America Great Again" is inherently racist and a classic from the fascist playbook, that suggests the good old days were worth revisiting. The problem is that those days involved fewer civil rights for all minorities, including women, so I'm not aware of any greatness in that sense. Disenfranchised people have wholeheartedly bought into this, and they have nothing to show for it. Trump has not successfully done anything other than sign a bill with massive tax breaks for the wealthy in his first two years, despite having same-party control in both houses. No president in my lifetime has done so little.

Absent of real policy, the distaste for this president is rooted in his character. He's a pathological liar, in a way that no one can dispute. He is, again without dispute, lying more and more on a daily basis. There is strong evidence that he had affairs. By his own words he believes he can "move on women like a bitch" and "grab them by the pussy." He's an apologist for the Russian autocrat. He's on pace to take more vacation days in 2.5 years than Obama did in 8 (and he promised in the campaign that he wouldn't have time to golf). It has been proven that he did not build his own fortune. He's had countless failed businesses. He refuses to share his taxes, which we can only assume means they'd further show what a fraud he is. He has disparaged and disrespected veterans over and over again, including John McCain. But worst of all, he and his supporters attempt to overlook all of this on the basis of "but Hillary" or other people who oppose him. Think about that... justifying reprehensible behavior by comparing it to (allegedly) reprehensible behavior by others. Is that really how low the bar has become?

Culturally, we're so exhausted by this that we've allowed it to become normal. A significant, but minority, part of the population is willing to overlook the actions of an objectively immoral man only because he aligns himself with the "right" team. If he were a Democrat, I can't imagine that anyone with a functioning moral compass would feel any different about him. He might not be making any real policy, but the toxicity he's injected into our daily conversation has not been good for the country.

The problem with Donald Trump has never been his party affiliation. He's just an immoral person.


Movie cameras

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 25, 2019, 10:03 PM | comments: 0

It was a very satisfying thing, in 2006, to buy my very own HD semi-pro video camera. The HVX200 was amazing for recording to solid state cards (that were crazy expensive at the time), and it had a mini-DV tape recorder too. I spent about $8,000 on it with 8 gigs of storage, and then another $2k on audio gear, an extra battery, light, bag, etc. I was a newly single guy and this was a revolution in video I had to be a part of. I actually made about a third of the cost back on two freelance gigs, but mostly I bought it for making roller coaster and amusement park stuff. I told that story about two years ago.

A year and change ago, Panasonic and Canon both came out with 4K cameras that were something in the realm of affordable, which is to say they're under $8,000. They both have some compromises, but the big deal is that they use the Canon lenses that I already have, and those lenses have made more than a decade, thousands, of great photos for me. My video nerd self is amazed at the pictures these cameras can make.

But aside from gadget lust, I haven't really been serious about buying another camera. My old AF100 had a Canon lens adapter that stopped working, which sucks because that camera made some pretty things, too. I don't have any fantasy about using a new camera to make any money, and I don't even feel like I have to justify it, since we've invested quite a bit in Diana's quilting equipment. I do feel like I'm not allowed to spend money on anything that isn't a vacation or savings, and I don't know why I'm selectively stingy like that.

There's that chicken and egg thing I've been enduring for about a decade now, where I want to make a movie, and I can't decide if I need to write a thing first or have a camera to inspire the writing. I've got a notebook of writing ideas, scenes written from disparate ideas, just nothing cohesive that I'd call a "movie" or even a short. The general feeling that I can't write anything "good" doesn't help move any of that along.

I got to thinking about my old gear when I was alarmed that maybe I left batteries in the wireless audio stuff (which naturally would eventually swell and corrode, but they were not installed). And I thought, man, I used to spend a lot more time thinking about this stuff. Maybe I need to redirect some energy back to it.


Don't make it so complicated

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 25, 2019, 7:10 PM | comments: 0

I spent part of the weekend, and a solid hour at lunch today, just getting out and moving around. I went bowling by myself Saturday. I saw ducks and geese at Lake Eola today. Right now I'm sitting on my patio listening to that wonderful time of year where no air conditioners are running. There are times when life feels so uncomplicated.

So if I'm willing to concede that happiness is at least in part a choice, do we also choose to make life complicated? It's probably true that we often adopt routines and practices without really asking if there's a more simple way to do things. For example, I viewed hiring people as this big complicated thing because I only knew it as a job candidate, but once I started to hire people, I realized that what I knew was needlessly complicated. Heck, electric cars, vastly more simple than those with internal combustion engines, were a solved problem a hundred years ago for most use cases, and yet we ignored the tech for a century. In interpersonal relationships, especially the romantic variety, we put all kinds of work in try to make the partner into an ideal they are not, or do not want to be, instead of just moving on to someone who does fit the ideals (seems like we all need to learn that).

I'm generalizing about life, sure. But that goose, he admittedly has a tiny brain incapable of making or giving fucks about complexity, and his existence seems so much simpler. What kinds of things am I making more complicated?

As a sidebar, this is a common problem with writing software. We go through stages where we think the right thing to do is be clever instead of simple, so we deliver complicated stuff that could have easily been handled in a more simple way. I appreciate this more than ever as the author of the same software for 15 years or so, and I'm still finding lingering stuff that was like, "Why did I do that?"


Self-care, you should do that

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trying to frame change as exciting

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fame shouldn't be the goal

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

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

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

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

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


Chicken curry and other failures

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

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

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

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


Leveling up in adulting

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

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

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

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

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


Review and more love for Hamilton in Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Two lonely boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My art is better than your art

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

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

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

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