The blog home of Jeff Putz

The back to school dream

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 18, 2021, 2:59 PM | comments: 0

Two years ago I mentioned the recurring moving into a dorm dream that I frequently had, but I want to expand that into something bigger. While the moving in and dorm scene is often part of these dreams, they have since evolved into a series of dreams involving the start of school. Sometimes it's high school, with me having to go back for one last semester or something, but more often it's college. The locations vary a lot, infrequently something that seems like a college campus, but otherwise ranging from something like the Microsoft main campus (which feels like a university) to a cruise ship or combinations thereof.

What happens in these dreams? I generally encounter people from my entire life history, ranging from friends today to people I knew in college. I don't think Diana has ever been in one, but Simon was once because I was late picking him up for some reason. There is usually some concern about completing something on time. The security issues I mentioned in that previous post often come back, but not always. In last night's version, I did return to the street to find my car missing. There is always a lot of walking around looking for someplace that I'm supposed to be, and worry that I'm going to miss something.

Still absent from these dreams is any sense of social anxiety, which is good, but the new themes of missing something, these time based anxieties, are not welcome. I suppose that they're not exactly surprising either. Between the pandemic conditions of the last year and a half and my own reckoning with midlife, it isn't hard to see where the anxiety comes from.

My doctor has suggested it might be worth exploring active anxiety management, but I feel like we need to get this hypothyroidism thing under control first before we start throwing more medications into the mix. I also believe that therapy in the last year has also helped with a ton of the anxiety. The minor panic attacks I use the lorazepam for have become less frequent, maybe three to four weeks apart, so none of this anxiety is creating a quality of life problem at the moment.


Pandemic Friday nights

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 8:38 PM | comments: 0

Early in the pandemic last year, when it wasn't clear that we could really do much of anything, we settled into a kind of rhythm. It usually involved me pouring a drink around 4 in the afternoon, as work was winding down. We would fire up a live stream from Suzy and Alex, a duo we met on our New Year's cruise at the end of 2018 on the Disney Fantasy. They're wonderfully charming, from the UK, and played covers of stuff. If they weren't playing, then we would run some playlists, and get our drink on.

Tonight, as work winded down, we did something kind of similar, but without any specific dinner plans, it was a "fend for yourself" kind of night where we would pick over leftovers or frozen food. I fired up some playlists from my own streaming music service, and we tried to set some new high scores on Ms. Pac-Man (machine review forthcoming).

A lot of our weekend activity lately has been going to Epcot, sadly without friends since they're not really visiting Orlando again yet. Between that and Diana's return to work, we haven't had an evening at home at the same time in awhile. I don't want to go back to a year ago, but I guess I want to point out that it wasn't all bad. We tried our best to make it work, roll with what was going on.

We're so close to getting beyond this. Fuck, I wish people would just get vaccinated so we could move on. Then we get the kids approved, and we put it all behind us. I don't understand why the people who last summer were all, "But the economy!" are all now avoiding the vaccine, which costs them nothing. America seems extra stupid, and that's frustrating.

On the plus side, there has been some really good music this year.


Too many old comprooders

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I have a lot of computers that I'm not using. When it comes to laptops, my upgrade cycle has been about every three years. The improvements from one to another are often marginal, though battery degradation is usually an issue. My desktop cycle is much longer. My late 2009 iMac I used until late 2015, so that was six years. It became Simon's computer. I replaced it with another iMac, and I used that until early 2019, so about four years, and that went to Simon while the old one I gave to one of his former teachers. At that point I built a Windows desktop, and I suspect that will last me at least another three or four years.

But most of the laptops are still hanging out. I have my 2012 MacBook Air still, which is sitting in my cabinet. It can still act as a build agent for iOS apps, which I admittedly don't make unless it's out of experimentation. That one had its battery replaced at some point after moving to Florida. I have a Surface Pro 3 that I bought in 2014, which was never my daily laptop, but I used it when traveling and going to clients for work because it was nice and small. The same year I bought a 13" MacBook Pro, and that was my daily driver until early 2018. That is currently Diana's laptop, so she's using a 7-year-old machine. That was the year I switched to Windows, and I bought the HP Spectre. I used that one until last spring, when the battery life got particularly terrible, and I was always annoyed at how warm it would typically get. I replaced it with the Surface Laptop 4, which I adore because of the goofy Alcantara fabric. It never gets warm, and even with a big developer load I can get 6 or 7 hours of battery life out of it, more with benign web browsing.

Note I still have all of those laptops. The Air I'll hang on to. The Surface Pro 3 I almost never use except to drive the lasers when we have raves at home. (Or a New Year's Eve party, which last happened December 31, 2019.) Like I said, Diana is still using the MacBook Pro. Yesterday, I bought a $45 battery to replace the failing one in the HP, and now it works like a champ again, though it gets a little warm still. Not sure what to do with that one. I could give it to Diana, but at this point I think she prefers Macs, and she really deserves a new computer. She says she might be content with a ChromeBook.

I think I might donate the HP, because someone can easily get another three or four years out of that thing. The rest, I'm not sure.

The funny thing is, I remember that laptops were really shitty back in the day unless you spent a ton. The Sony VAIO I bought in 2000 I remember paying at least $2,500 for (with 64 megabytes, not gigs, or RAM). Then in 2005-ish I bought an HP to tote around for consulting, and it was shit. The power connector came loose, and I had to solder it back into place. I only had that one for like two years, when Apple flipped to Intel.


I had to break up with AltNation and SiriusXM

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

Way back when I lived in Seattle and bought my first Prius (man, the jokes really write themselves there), in 2010, I was introduced to the world of satellite radio from SiriusXM. Immediately I latched on to Lithium, their channel with all of the 90's/aughts alternative rock I grew up with, and AltNation, their current alt rock channel. It really brought back those feelings of listening to 107.9 The End in Cleveland back in the day, because it was a fairly broad spectrum of music. In those days, you could hear something weird and obscure one minute, but then hear something that was popular across genres. I don't think people really remember that you could hear Jewel on alt rock stations around the turn of the century, right along side Nine Inch Nails or Garbage.

While the world is generally satisfied with streaming services that allow you to pick and choose specific things, and most have "channels," they're largely algorithmic. The thing I always liked about AltNation is that it was curated the way radio was back in the day. You could argue that there's some taste-making going on there, and you're probably right, but that's OK because some humans are better than others at identifying "good" art, whereas group think is not, and that's why there's so much "reality" TV.

In any case, AltNation has been my go-to for a long time. However, in the last year or two, they seem to have gotten into a rut. It's not just that the playlists are repetitive, but they've become more homogenized than ever. Hearing the same crappy imitations of already crappy emo bands gets old pretty fast. How many fucking bands feature Travis Barker? And then they get a stiffy for The Killers, who haven't had a good record in years.

But the real problem is what they seem to avoid entirely, despite having committed before to certain bands. I first heard of Wolf Alice on AltNation, and now that they have arguably the best indie rock album of the year, and they're tearing up the UK scene, they haven't featured even a single song. Last year's The Naked And Famous album had no action, even though songs like "Punching In A Dream" were a staple of the channel. And they've completely ignored the last two Garbage albums. Even slam dunks, like this year's Foo Fighters album, definitely one of their best, get little play.

When our Nissan Leaf got totaled in an accident late last year, that was the end of our SiriusXM radios. I held on to their cheapest streaming plan, just for AltNation, but I finally let it go because listening just wasn't doing it for me. It makes me sad that the channel just degraded so much. Our current cars stream LiveXLive, formerly Slacker Radio, and their Alternative Hits channel isn't bad. They play all kinds of stuff you'll never hear on AltNation. Right now, I'm listening with ads, but $4 a month might be OK (it's already included with the cars). It doesn't have the "live" DJ's (what can I say, having done that job, I value it), but it may work out. We'll see what kind of things I discover going forward.


Finding his people

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 14, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

The remote school last year, and the fairly isolated nature of on-site school in the spring, left Simon in a very awkward and weird place socially, at a time when he was already struggling. This year, for grade 6, we moved him into a school that caters to kids with what you can broadly call "learning differences." Simon is pretty intelligent, and his ability to grok things often comes down to how interested he is in them. Layer in ASD and ADHD, and sometimes the issue in education is that you just need to find the right path to reach him. The odds of that happening in a building with 2,000 other middle schoolers did not seem high. Fortunately, the state covers most of the tuition.

This has a useful side effect: His classmates share similar challenges, socially and academically. These kids aren't going to judge him or perceive that he's different the way the larger body of kids would. They're his people. So this weekend, one of them had a birthday party, and he was able to stay overnight for the first time. It sounds like he had the kind of carefree time you expect kids to have, and it was awesome. The truth is, we've never really seen him this happy socially. He still pushes back on some of the school work, but even that's better than it was before.

We kind of saw it coming in the first few days of school. He immediately bonded with a specific classmate over Roblox, and we've allowed them to play together online a little more than we probably would have otherwise. It's interesting to hear them play, to cooperate, mostly be kind to each other and laugh and have a good time. It's also a relief.

I often hang on to something that one of Simon's doctors said around the time of his autism diagnosis, that kids tend to figure out coping strategies in their middle and high school years to exist in a neurotypical world, to the point where they're able to operate successfully. It doesn't mean that they're not proud of who they are, or that they can't leverage their alternate wiring to their advantage, they're just able to meet the world where it is, since it seems generally unwilling to do the reverse. I want that for him in part because I didn't have that in my school years, and it made me miserable. As if identity issues aren't hard enough in your teenage years.

It was also something of a relief for us to trade stories with parents who know exactly what we go through. We're not alone.


Covid hysteria among the wrong people

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 12, 2021, 10:46 PM | comments: 0

I was talking to a coworker last week in Oregon where indoor coffee shop dwelling is not allowed, and in fact outdoor masking on the streer is required in certain places. This was shocking to me because these protocols do not align with the known science of Covid transmission. Not only that, but it's in a place where daily case counts come in at about 24 per 100,000 people, and 78% of people 12 and over are vaccinated. Meanwhile, many rural locales, far less densely populated areas, plus most of Tennessee and Kentucky, see per capita infection rates that are 6 or 7 times as bad, with lower vaccination rates, and they're not doing much of anything.

Now, good on Portland from the standpoint that their hospitals aren't being crushed, but it still seems like an extreme reaction not rooted in the science. Granted, things are pretty bad here in Orange County, as I've described previously. Being treated on a random counter in the ER is not ideal, to say the least. I suppose the West Coast desire to do the right thing is frankly better than doing nothing, or worse, having your own governor attempt to prevent you from doing anything. This kind of thing is not what healthcare workers signed up for.

On one hand we would understand that your odds of a breakthrough infection are pretty slim, maybe 1 in 5,000 per day. I think we're all at most a degree or two away from someone who experienced this, and in almost every case it wasn't a big deal. My own anecdote is that we've been vaccinated and circulating around theme parks now for four months, among tourists from all over, no less, without incident. (Well, I did have something for a couple of days, but it didn't fit the Covid bill.) We even had that stretch where we didn't have to use masks indoors.

But let's be real, vaccinated people are having to wear masks because the unvaccinated wouldn't do it otherwise. It feels like the whole class is losing recess because of those few misbehaving kids. And if they would have been adults and had the shots earlier in the summer, we would be like, "Delta what?" by now. Those are the folks who should be hysterical about this, but they're not.

Yes, there is still concern about kids under 12, I know, because I have one. He masks like a pro, and does it at school. This weekend, he did an overnight with one of his classmates (great story about that to tell), for the first time ever, and it was a pretty big deal. Like anything, you assess the risk, and with a work-from-home parent, it seemed pretty low risk. Kids are lower risk to begin with, though I still worry a little because of his allergies and bout with pneumonia some years ago. But then I look at the window of critical development that he's entering, and how he's lost 18 months already for social engagement. The risk of him not having those opportunities seems higher.

The situation is endlessly frustrating. It's tempting to shrug it off, since 99% of the people dying in hospitals now are unvaccinated, and they made their choice. It's completely preventable. But as I've been saying for some time, our individual actions have widespread impact. Those people in the hospital are costing billions of dollars, and we'll all pay for that with higher insurance premiums. Healthcare workers are completely overworked. They're compelling extreme mask usage and business interruption in certain areas. They're keeping the labor market for service jobs hesitant. The irony is that they often appear to be the same people who vocally insisted that the economy reopen before the vaccine rollout.

Now there are waves of mandates coming from private employers, and the noise against that is reaching a fever pitch. Again, this is the least hard thing that has ever been asked of Americans. You just need to get a shot. No one is asking you to ration food or fuel. This isn't a draft where we're requiring military service where you have to risk your life. It's just a shot, like those you had to get before you started school. Seriously, you might even get a lolly.


Infuriating car rattle

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 12, 2021, 9:44 PM | comments: 0

Tesla has a pretty bad reputation since the introduction of the Model 3 for fit and finish problems. With the 3 and the Y, they've not done a very good job of getting body panels lined up. Our 3 was actually mostly OK, with the exception of the trunk not always grabbing the latch on the first try. That was easy enough to fix once I was motivated enough to get a couple of Torx bits to loosen and realign the latch. Our Y had a really poorly aligned front right fender, and it drove me nuts because the crease that went from the camera and into the door didn't line up, and it was the first thing that I would see every time I entered the garage.

I took it in and got that fixed, but what eluded me is a rattle that I can't find. I found countless forum posts and videos showing resolution for various rattles, but none of them address the one that I have. It seems like it's somewhere in the back, and has a slightly metallic noise to it. In the process, I've found some other things. The back of one of the rear seats wasn't seated at all. The side of the center console was also not seated. The rear seatbelt buckles are really loosely connected to the frame, and just in case it was one of those I added a little adhesive foam, but I don't think it's those (the volume of the rattle doesn't change with the seat top removed). I've discovered that the rear left window isn't aligned right in the door, and I'm pretty sure that I'll take that in because I can't un-see it.

Still, the rattle eludes me. If I shake any of the individual rear seat sections, none of them make a noise, so I don't think it's the seats. It could be something with the trunk, but shaking that doesn't reveal anything obvious. If it's something loose in the trunk sides, I'm not sure how to get in and look. Cavernous as that trunk is, there are two long plastic liners on both sides, and I can't find anything online to see how they're attached.

It could conceivably be on the outside of the car, maybe in the rear suspension, but it's so hard to see any of it. The underside of the car is all battery, and in between the wheels is the pit inside of the trunk and the rear motor. That's the thing, there aren't actually that many parts!

The success ratio of service calls to fixed rattles isn't good, which is why I feel like I need to find it myself. You also never know if they're going to send mobile service to you, which is awesome, or if they want you to bring it in, which is not awesome. That's super inconvenient in Orlando, as the store is too small, and way up north. My hope is that they will come to me to get that window aligned right.

I love the car... It's comfortable to road trip in, the cargo space is absurd, and yeah, 0-60 in 4.8 seconds. But this rattle is all I hear on any road that isn't perfectly smooth, even with the radio on. I mean, a Nissan Versa or a Toyota Corolla won't ship with these problems, and they're less than half the cost.


Thoughts on another 9/11 anniversary

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 10, 2021, 6:07 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe that this marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That means an entire generation has come of age since then. For that reason, the desire to reflect on that day seems reasonable, but I also think it's time to evolve in the way that we think about that day. Everyone is different, but for me, I've chosen to avoid all of the retrospectives and TV specials, because it's still deeply troubling, and there isn't a lot of new ground left to cover. I will watch the filmed version of the musical Come From Away, which I believe focuses on human potential, instead of its worst capabilities. As they say in the show, "We honor what was lost, but we also commemorate, what we found."

I wanted to write about what led to that day, what happened after, how it changed things, but I just don't have it in me. I think there is a lot of important historical context that is missing from our general consciousness, in the way that few people have an understanding about the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the end of the Soviet Union, etc. But it isn't my job to solve that problem, and I'm barely qualified to have opinions about it.

There was a brief period of unity in the world, at least for a few weeks, and I hang on to that as an example of what humans are capable of. President George W. Bush reminded us of the true teachings of Islam, the press was largely sticking to facts and reporting the truth (and people understood what reality was), no one falsely connected Iraq to terrorism, charitable contributions to everything hit records, and people generally gave each other a little grace to roll with life.

It's hard not to fall into a downward spiral of cynicism in a year when we can't do the most basic things to prevent disease and watched a lawless mob attempt a violent insurrection. But in response to something terrible, we got to see just how good people can be. That's what I want to hang on to.


The randomness and chaos of your career

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 9, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Twelve years ago today, I learned that I would be flying to Seattle to interview at Microsoft, for a job that I ended up getting. What I haven't thought about much since then is that I was actually talking to a few different groups out there, and even in the group where I landed, there were some questions about whether or not I might take on some kind of leadership role. It ended up not being that, which I later found frustrating given my career trajectory at the time. Even then, I think I understood that I didn't want to be heads down coding all of the time. That's why I sought an internal transfer after a year, to get back on that track.

But that wasn't the only "almost" even in that company. A year in, I almost landed a position managing a dev team that built testing tools for the various studios making games to integrate with Xbox Live. It came down to me and another guy, and the hiring manager took the other one only because he had been at the company longer. He wanted to build a second team for me, but didn't get the budget. That was frustrating. I imagine things may have turned out differently had I got that job.

These are just a few examples of the randomness and chaos that you can't control, even when you think you're actively managing your career. 2009 was a tough year, and honestly any job I didn't hate would have been an improvement, but one that relocated me to Seattle and a company that I admired was a pretty big deal. It was the year that I wanted to stop letting career happen to me though, to actively move toward the things that I wanted to do. There's still an element of chance to it all, which I can accept since I'm not Type-A. I figure if you just keep at it long enough, eventually you'll hit the chance that gets you where you want.

I was talking with a friend the other day about how at a certain point you stop caring about equity in employment offers, because you almost never hit that lottery. I still take pride in asking for salary over equity in a gig years ago, which worked out since the company eventually tanked, but I didn't really know it would. Another gig, I couldn't get equity when I felt that I should since I was basically starting the engineering team from scratch. And now I have a job where the company actually went public, after years of not caring about equity. So much chaos and chance.

Even when I hit the chances, I've made mistakes, and that's OK. The last 12 years did get me to the general place I wanted to be. The truth is I'm not even sure where I want the next 12 to go. It's hard to get caught up in titles, and I tend to think more in terms of responsibilities. Am I an operator? A visionary? A team builder? A little of everything? Do I want to lead leaders or lead makers? I know which things I'm better at, but nothing is really off the table. It helps to be at a company that's big enough to have those growth opportunities.

All things considered, you can't just wait for things to happen, you still need to be deliberate. For my first decade in software, I was not deliberate, and I think I wasted a lot of time not growing. But when you do take control, to the extent that you can, there is still some randomness to endure.


The new Garbage album sure is something

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 8, 2021, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

I desperately wanted to see Garbage and Alanis before the pandemic. That tour ended up happening this year (sadly without Liz Phair opening), but I ended up passing on going to the Tampa show. An outdoor show in August in Florida, and with the Covid situation being worse in Orlando, it just didn't seem like something I wanted to do. (Also, I hate that drive and I'm not even sure who I would go with.) I stupidly missed them last time they came to Orlando. I've seen them six times, and they're always fantastic. In fact, I like to be a hipster and mention that I saw them at their 11th show ever, in late 1995 in Cleveland.

They released No Gods No Masters in June, and it seems conspicuous that I haven't talked much about it. It's their third post-hiatus album, and it's just... different. It still sounds like a Garbage album, and there are a few songs I like, but I can't deeply get into it. I love that it's political as ever, but it's almost too literal in its approach. I agree with where Shirley is coming from, but some songs sound more like an angry Internet rant than art. When I talk myself through that complaint, I still end up in a place of, well, maybe this isn't a time for subtlety.

To be clear, I don't hate the album, and I adore the title track. There are a lot of fantastic sounds there, and creativity that I love the band for. I even got some Nine Inch Nails vibes the first time I listened. The deluxe version has some great bonuses I already had, like "No Horses" and their "Because The Night" cover with the Screaming Females. I especially love the "Starman" Bowie cover.

I might be less enthusiastic because Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend came out around the same time, and that's one of the best albums from anyone period that I've heard in years. Also, and this might be controversial, but I think that Garbage's previous album, Strange Little Birds, is easily their second best after their debut. Every song is great. "So We Can Stay Alive" just makes me lose my shit, and "Amends" is full of epic noise. These are six minute plus masterpieces, genuine album rock, which I miss hearing on the radio.

I'm fairly certain that I need to give No Gods No Masters more time, for sure. This has been a good year for albums, with winners from Foo Fighters, Grouplove, Lorde and others. And yeah, that Wolf Alice album.


Empathy... and now self-awareness?

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 3, 2021, 9:23 PM | comments: 0

In my last post I talked about the great win we had with an empathetic connection during a meltdown, and this week brings another meltdown, but a shocking instance of self-awareness.

Less surprising is that the problem was rooted in the inability to follow directions. Simon recently acquired some new tablet game, and he wouldn't disengage from it despite several directives to do so. So after the third time, I dropped the bomb: No TV for you tomorrow. I'll be honest, we rarely follow through on consequences, which I'm sure is one of the reasons that he still doesn't get the cause and effect. As any parent will tell you, it's often easier to just avoid the drama. But stopping and doing what he's asked, that's been a challenge lately.

He did some yelling and stomping, then slammed his bedroom door, so we made it two days. The rage crying and meltdown was in full effect. As much as I wanted to give him five minutes, then help him calm down, we decided to let him work through it. As he started to calm down, we had the parts where he told us that he hates us, and we're the worst parents, and other kids have it better, and we just ignored all of that. At first it was just directed at me, but eventually it was to both of us.

Over time, his posture changed to wanting to tell us something. I was sitting on the chair in our bedroom, and he tried to sit on my lap, which doesn't work well given his size. We moved to his room, and he wanted to talk. He seemed to get past what he did and his desire to negotiate a lesser sentence, and declared that he has trouble understanding when he is crossing a line, and asked for help. He wanted some warning to know he was about to suffer some kind of punishment.

This sounds like a pretty basic thing, but self-awareness is hard for him. We've learned with his therapy that it is in fact a key to unlocking solutions to a lot of the situations that he finds challenging. If he can identify why a situation causes him difficulty, there's a great chance that he can develop the coping skills to adjust.

When Simon had his ASD diagnosis, one of his doctors explained that, provided he didn't have any long-term comorbid disabilities, he would likely develop the coping mechanisms in his middle and high school years to deal with those. That's why a lot of autistic adults are roaming around the planet and you have no idea that they're there (my therapists have said I'm likely one of them). One can have "typical" behavior if they've learned to adapt the different brain wiring to work in a typical world.

Again, this gives me hope. The rest of his school years are going to be tough, but I just hope that they're not completely miserable. I hated grades 7 to 12 so much, and I want him to have a better experience than I did. Seeing him understand his own emotions could be huge for him.


An empathetic connection

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 31, 2021, 9:54 PM | comments: 0

The strangest observation that I could make about humans is that intelligence is often disconnected from all of the other things we do. I was talking with my therapist today about the fact that I can't easily apply my professional skills to my personal life. Similarly, I'm pretty good at counseling others in certain situations, while often incapable of seeing my own situations for what they are. When it comes to Simon, as smart as he can be about things that interest him, he doesn't connect the dots between other things.

We've always struggled with getting Simon to follow directions. I'm guilty of the same thing, and it's easy for others to conclude that I think I'm simply smarter than the directives. But the real underlying thing is that we simply can't reconcile the desired outcomes as necessary. That's not a function of ego or arrogance, it just doesn't add up. What I know as an adult is that this situational context that we seek may be irrelevant, but for an 11-year-old kid with ASD, the lack of context simply makes understanding the directive less likely. Unfortunately, as a parent this is concerning because often the directive could be a safety issue, and there's no time for negotiation.

The other night, Simon was smothering one of the cats on the table behind the couch. You know how this goes... the cat eventually starts to squirm away. In this case, we asked him to stop also because there's a lamp on that table, that he and the cat were pushing against. If you guessed that the lamp got pushed off the table, broke in several places and left a dent in the floor, you'd be correct.

My initial response was anger, and I declared TV time over, and it was time to get ready for bed. He cried, ran up to his room and slammed the door. We've been through situations like this before, and I knew where his head was. The cause and effect of not following directions was not on his mind, but you can bet he was stuck on the broken lamp and losing TV time. The frustration as a parent of not getting to the underlying problem is exhausting, but for whatever reason, I was unusually calm about trying to get there.

When I went in to talk to him, it was immediately, "I'll buy a new lamp!" in between the tears. I calmly explained that I didn't care about the lamp, and came up with some arbitrary example of why not following directions has consequences. His response was pretty intense yelling about not talking to him and leaving his room. Honestly, I didn't have the energy. Work was difficult that day, and I was spent. I just told him I was done, good night and we'll talk another time.

That's when something unexpected happened. He tried to physically stop me from leaving, not with pushing, but hugging. He desperately said, "No, Daddy, I want you to talk to me." I had seen this movie over and over again, and this is not how it ended. I asked him to look at me and listen, and I explained to him, "I'm very worried about your safety, that one of these days you won't follow directions and get seriously hurt." He just looked at me, said, "OK," and leaned in for more hugging.

Here's why this was a big deal. What I observed was that, maybe for the first time, despite his own difficulty in managing his emotions, he seemed to see and understand where my emotions were. Usually at this point, he's just looking for one of us to help him calm down, but his body language and eye contact seemed to imply that, at least for a moment, he made it about me.

To Simon's credit, I've seen him act this way a bit more in the last year when he wasn't under stress. Between Diana's back pain problems and my mental fatigue around a number of challenging things, he has checked in at times. What gives me hope is that we're starting to see the thing that I recall one of his doctors talking about early on, that kids often build the coping skills to compensate for different wiring in their middle school and high school years.

Is this a solved problem? Nah, we will go through this again. But it feels like a victory, like forward momentum. I'm very thankful for that moment.


All of that stuff about bravery isn't bravery

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 29, 2021, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

Self-help and cheerleading is an enormous business, but it's also something a great many people commit to as a means of self-improvement. That makes a lot of sense, because at the end of the day, only you can really improve you. However, I think we view it in a way that seems kind of silly once you get a little older.

If I look at 20- and 30-something me, I often looked up to people who seemed "brave" and willing to take risks to do stuff and better their situations. I'm sure I encouraged myself to engage in this sort of bravery, too. I'm sure I can find instances of myself opening up with the greatest vulnerability about my perceived weaknesses, and boldly declaring that I was going to be brave and take a chance to make myself better. (For real, this was Live Journal and MySpace in the early aughts!)

What I really didn't get back then is that the stakes weren't really that high. I think that there are slightly embarrassing elements of narcissism, hyperbole and self-righteousness there to believe that you're really being brave for that big change or that bold move you were going to take. (I mean, unless you're actually doing something that puts your life at risk.) I'm not trivializing the act of making important decisions, or overcoming the discomfort often required for such acts, I'm just saying there wasn't that much at stake.

Now, over 40, you would think that I would take things even more seriously, with a wife and a (sometimes challenging) child, but no, there's still not a lot at stake. In the last 12 years or so, I've made all kinds of "brave" moves, but as I'm often fond of saying, nothing is permanent. The big thing we seem to ignore is that few doors are one-way. We can reverse most decisions. Sure, there are consequences, but that's part of the calculus of any decision.

I remember how I felt when I decided to pursue a technology career and abandon the broadcast world. It was a big deal, and it worked out for me, but there was nothing really at stake there. Moving all over the damn place in a span of a few years wasn't really the big risk it may have felt like. I mean, I did get fired once, which didn't matter.

So to my younger self, or all the people who are younger now, you may feel like you're taking great risks, but honestly, they're probably not. All of that stress and anxiety that you're feeling over the big decisions is probably not serving you. What doesn't work out will probably lead to something else.


What will you do about the hardest problems?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 29, 2021, 9:54 PM | comments: 0

As terrible as the last year has been, I think we have seen a lot of examples of people at their absolute best. It's certainly disheartening that we've also seen the opposite, but overall it inspires me to see what people are capable of when they're seriously challenged. It makes me want to be a better person.

Indeed, we have many serious challenges ahead, and I don't think that solving them is optional. Again, it can be hard to see a world where we succeed, especially as we try to get beyond this pandemic. Science offered us some reasonable solutions to control the spread of Covid, even if they were a little awkward, and then it led to a long-term solution in the vaccines. I don't think the ask for masks and social distancing or vaccination were a very hard lift. The latter is probably the easiest thing I have ever done that would positively affect countless other people. But a significant portion of Americans failed to do that easy thing, and here in Florida, we're worse off than we were before.

I could be a real Debbie Downer about the whole thing, and reasonably so given the context. I can't remember seeing as much selfishness and willful ignorance at any other time in my life. How can we expect people to do the things that are actually hard? But underneath all of that nonsense, I see a quiet persistence by many people, a part of me hopes it's most people, to take on the hard problems. The question is, what role will we play?

Climate change

Climate change feels like the hardest thing to take on, in part because the effects of it vary in severity depending on where you are. They can also be seasonal. The math is not encouraging, as we keep breaking records for hottest year, and new regional daily temperature records at both extremes. Six of the top 10 years for named storms are in the last 20 years, with a clear trend line going up. The ocean is coming up through the ground in Miami. Even the US Department of Defense has named climate change a credible threat to world stability, as it forces migration and destabilizes economies. Oh, and air pollution kills more than 3 million people per year.

Trying to have an impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases isn't straight forward, because you can't entirely control where your energy is coming from. We're all in with solar on the roof, and we've been driving electric vehicles exclusively since 2015. However, solar is a somewhat large investment up front, and EV's aren't quite where they need to be in terms of price to increase the rate of adoption. The market itself though is starting to turn things at the utility scale in the right direction. The actual cost of renewables is now generally less than fossil fuels, so utilities will certainly start leaning in that direction.

The problems is that the US, EU and China all pour trillions of dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. In the US, much of this includes insane tax advantages that encourage capital investment in drilling and mining. As taxpayers, we can remind our elected officials that this is not sustainable, and encourage them to redirect these subsidies to renewables (or eliminate them entirely). We can not vote for those who are themselves propped up by these industries.

Racism

I think if the last year has taught us anything, it's that it isn't enough to not be racist, which is neutral, we all have to take a role in being anti-racist. That means that we don't simply sit on the sidelines, we have to get involved and speak out against things that are racist. That isn't some function of "wokeness" or whatever, it's accepting that racism is not simply white people acting out against people of color. Our societal systems have engrained racism in ways that we either overlook or simple forgot about. We have to understand our history, which doesn't mean taking responsibility for it, but rather to change its outcomes today. I wasn't there for redlining, but I know what it is. I wasn't there for Jim Crow, but I know what it is, and I see it happening again with voter suppression. I know what it means when people pass over the resumes of people with "not white sounding" names. There are so many subtle things. If we listen, and we learn about them, we can be anti-racist in our actions.

A huge portion of this is teaching your kids to be anti-racist. You must instill in them the courage to speak out against discriminatory acts. Teach them about our history, because I can promise you they'll never get to it in school. Be what you want them to be, because they're watching you.

Healthcare

I have arguably the best healthcare insurance. I don't have to pay for any of it, and then there's a reimbursement account to catch all of the deductibles and co-pays. Despite this, we routinely have to spend time on the phone resolving billing problems with insurance. Recently, we even had the insurance company deny an MRI ordered by Diana's neurologist, which means that the doctor is not in charge of her care, some arbitrary schmuck is. This is what the "best" looks like in America. Tell me more about the "freedom" this system gives you! Because without a job, you don't have insurance, and if you don't have insurance, you don't have healthcare.

We're in the best of circumstances, so it's safe to assume that the scene is significantly worse for everyone. Part-time or gig workers are lucky to have access to a plan at all, even through the feds, and you can be sure that the co-pays mean a choice between getting care and paying rent or buying food, so they go without the care. We've seen this play out in countless negative ways, especially for children. The entire system is immoral and unfair, despite having the science to preserve and improve life. It's also a thing that my friends in the UK and Norway say they have never had to worry about in their home countries.

I tend to be fairly practical in my politics, but this is one area where the idealist progressives are the only ones with the right idea. There should be a single-payer system. If you need healthcare, you get it, and that's the whole process. No more skipping because you can't afford it, or being denied for something by bureaucrats. Will it end the insurance industry and put people out of work? Yes, and I don't care. I spent a year in that machine, and that was too long. We're the last developed nation in the world to not adopt a system like this, and our outcomes, in life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity and chronic illness rank at the bottom of the list. We have to do better.

Bonus hard thing: Less work to do

I'm not sure how to define this, let alone solve for it, but the reality that we've been kind of ignoring for decades is that as technology continues to evolve, there is less for humans to do. Yes, it's the Wall-E scenario, where everyone gets fat and floats around on hover chairs because there's nothing for them to do. I'm not sure it looks like a preachy Pixar movie, exactly, but we seem to be ignoring that it's already headed in that direction. It takes fewer humans than ever to make physical things. As I've been saying for years, jobs where a human has to drive a vehicle will completely go away when the trucks drive themselves.

The reason this is so hard to address is because the only thing we know is the myth of meritocracy, the idea that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything. We know that this is bullshit, because not all people are equal, but people still use this as the intellectual basis for the way we treat work and its place in our society. I know people who have killed themselves for work just to get by, and others who haven't done much of anything and thrived.

I don't know how we solve this one, on a planet where we already allow poverty to occur, but it's going to get slowly get worse. I mean, much of my career has been spent building things that optimize things that were once a manual human process. The good old days of landing at a company and working there for 40 years are long gone, and they're not coming back.

Scope

I've said this a lot the last few years, and I'll say it again: The scope of your involvement and contribution is not something to get hung up on. You can help solve these problems with the smallest of gestures and actions. You can also allow them to get worse by not acting at all. Please help. We should leave this joint in better shape than we found it.


He made a thing. This is what happened next.

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 26, 2021, 11:22 PM | comments: 0

I've always enjoyed making stuff one would generally call "content," which I would call "media" before that Internet took off. Writing, video, audio, photographs and such. I've told the story before about how this enjoyment is what led to the creation of Guide to The Point then CoasterBuzz. In those early Internet days, or even when my programming book was released in 2005, stuff that was useful or of a certain quality would generally bubble up to the top.

I am notoriously critical of how much crap is on YouTube, but one of the excellent science guys recently explained why click bait works, though making some differentiation on what is legit, and what isn't. Now add in the algorithms of social media platforms, which we know are all about driving "engagement," and not so much leading you to the "best" or highest quality things. What's so crazy about this is that the Internet was supposed to level the playing field because fundamentally, anyone can put something online, all on the same Internet, but because we've become so reliant on these platforms, that's not actually what happens. None of this works quite as well as human curation does.

When I first started to publish stuff online, the only advantage that I really had was a first mover advantage. That probably doesn't matter as much in a niche content area, but it helped. I have stuff that endures while countless things have come and gone in 20 years. But trying to start something new is a daunting and unpleasant task. You have to play that click bait game, and worse, you have to "build a brand" in the social ecosystem, which again is intended to drive engagement, which to me smells like inauthenticity. As Derek, the Veritasium guy said, this is literally half of the work involved to run a popular YouTube channel. And the thing that I find even more distressing is that all of the people who have found traction are fully reliant on platforms that could disappear tomorrow, or decide that they're not going to distribute their content. That's horrifying.

I want to make things and put them on the Internet, but I have no interest in all of the above. I think it all sounds exhausting. That's a tough spot, because I could completely disregard all of that nonsense, but I do want someone to see what I've done. I made some videos at the beginning of the year, but I'm pretty sure only my friends have seen them. I don't care if they're good or not, it's just something I wanted to try. I want to try and do some others too, but I am uninterested in all of the bullshit to game the system to get clicks. I mean, I'm not posting these on YouTube because I think I can get to the subscriber and hour counts, I post them there because it's where the people are. Otherwise, I'd be happy to pay Vimeo to put them on their service.

At this point, I have to resolve that I'll put new things online mostly for my own amusement. If I reach a certain bar of quality, that will be nice, but I can't expect the quality to result in clicks. The rest just doesn't seem fun.


The "right thing" for creative fulfillment is a false choice

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 22, 2021, 9:34 PM | comments: 0

Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame, recently talked about how his hobby as work exercised the creative muscles that satisfied him personally and in his career. That led to something of an epiphany for me.

I have long admired the folks that work in theater or film, for the satisfaction that they have that their work has led to deeply satisfying results for the people that they serve. We were watching the latest episode of Ted Lasso this weekend, for example, and I though, what a gift to be a part of something like that. It's why I buy video equipment and hate myself for not writing something that would result in filmmaking.

But I'm starting to realize that the absence of my participation in such endeavors does not mean that I'm failing. I'm coming off of a particularly difficult week at work, where some things went down that were less than ideal. But the thing that I overlook in this case is that I'm still part of a larger team that enables some pretty amazing results in a growing business that benefits millions of people. It's not the same as being a part of an Emmy-nominated TV show, but that doesn't mean that it isn't important.

The reality is that the thing that I do get to do doesn't mean that I have somehow failed for not being able to do the thing that I recreationally dream about doing. This is the false choice often forced by the "pursuit of happiness" that we're supposed to chase. I could still do the thing that I believe will give me a higher level of satisfaction in life, but it doesn't mean that the thing I'm already doing isn't already pretty awesome.

There is definitely a separate issue of where things rank when the years have gone by and you're taking inventory. For me, some jobs were more meaningful than others, and certainly some things even from my spare time will mean more than others. I'm still not sure anything other than parenting itself will outrank coaching for me. But as far as our contentment goes in daily life, there is certainly a continuum, and I'm starting to see that the status quo is already pretty good even if it isn't the thing you might dream of. It's not a compromise to believe that, it's just the truth.


I want to have a (small) party

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 22, 2021, 6:54 PM | comments: 0

One of my big self-exploring conclusions in these strange times has been that I really like people, sort of. My therapist recently asked me if I would consider myself an introvert or extrovert, and I responded that I'm very much an ambivert, which is to say, it depends. I am good getting in the mix when it serves me, which I would say includes hosting a party, speaking at a conference, interviewing for a job, etc. What isn't obvious in those situations is how spent I am after it's over. I legitimately enjoy it in the moment, but it really takes a lot out of me. And I have to come back to the part about it serving me. If it's a situation that does not serve me, say, going to some random club or party where I don't know people, that's not my thing.

As vaccination started to ramp up in the spring, Diana and I were thinking, we need to have a serious get-together when the time is appropriate. We were thinking, let's do it right, catered party, maybe with entertainment. Maybe it's our holiday party. The bottom line is that we need to celebrate life with the humans that we appreciate.

Now, I'm not sure if we even can, because fucking Florida. Simon is not vaccinated. While I appreciate the relative risk to my son, both in terms of likely Covid infection and severity, that's not the kind of risk I'm crazy about. With Governor Fuckwit basically banning self-rule when it comes to public health, we're in a literal hot zone of stupidity and disease. If you invite 20 vaccinated people, there's a good chance that one could be infected even if they're all vaccinated. Does that seem impossible? No, because one of the people we would invite did not vaccinate, and he's fighting for his life right now in the hospital. His odds aren't good.

I'm endlessly frustrated with this situation. We have a solution, as one of the richest nations in the world, and we've completely fucked it up while poor nations are being beat up with Covid. It's hard to have faith in your own nation when it can't do the simplest of things, provided to them, to get a shot. As fucked up and inefficient as our system of healthcare is, we had something straight forward and relatively easy, and we can't even get it done. Can you imagine having something genuinely hard to deal with, like a war on our own soil, or shortages of resources? We would without question descend into chaos, because we can't even do the simple thing. The loudest voices against Covid mitigation are ironically against all of the things that make moving past it possible.

Maybe this will start to burn itself out, and a holiday party will be possible. Maybe we'll get youth vaccinations approved before then. I want to have a party.


Software at scale

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 21, 2021, 7:11 PM | comments: 0

As part of my parting words of advice to our interns a couple of weeks ago, I told them that the scale of what they do is all relative, and larger doesn't necessarily mean better. I do believe that, but it's interesting to find myself working with a bunch of engineers who make stuff to handle an enormous amount of commerce. In some ways, I'm happy to defer the actual code writing to them, although managing the process involves all kinds of different challenges. I though I would never see large scale again after working on the MSDN Forums back in the day, but here I am again in the middle of something even bigger.

Conversely, even with a nice 20% bump in traffic over last year (and more than three times the revenue), my sites are pretty small potatoes by comparison. Over the years, I've tweaked and tuned all of that stuff, and it's not likely to ever see traffic serious enough to test it. It's total overkill to apply all I've learned to a couple of goofy sites about amusement parks. Most of what I do these days is try to make sure that it all evolves with the technology so it doesn't become something old and crusty that can't be maintained.

The other night I actually made my first commit in months. I have been (very) slowly trying to get rid of all the old jQuery stuff, responsible for some of the dynamic junk in the forums. Javascript itself has made it not very necessary, and Bootstrap, the framework I use as the style base, no longer has a dependency on it. It's a lot of refactoring in the area that I'm weakest in, the front-end stuff.

But again, I think my point about the scale is legitimate. The output of it is important to someone regardless of the scale.


The Covid hospital crisis is real, and it's happening here

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 18, 2021, 10:26 PM | comments: 0

We've all seen the tents set up in parking lots and the refrigerated trucks being used as morgues at hospitals during the previous Covid case spikes. Those two periods of time were preceded by a general relaxing posture toward mitigating the disease, despite warnings. The outcomes were not unexpected. Once the vaccines started to reach general availability for adults, the relaxation started again, but this time, it felt justified. We had an out, and it was glorious and powerful.

But not everyone played along.

Here in Florida, only 51% of people are fully vaccinated, so when you're out in the world, half the people you encounter are not fully vaccinated, but everyone is acting as if the pandemic is over. You know what happened next. The state has 50% more cases than in the peak of last winter. The death count is about the same so far. The real issue though is that hospitalizations have doubled since the winter peak. There are 1,500 people in Orange County hospitalized with Covid, and zero ICU beds available.

A friend ended up going to the ER last weekend after a serious cut to her knee, as it clearly needed stitches. The lobby was full of people waiting. The receptionist asked her to wait behind the desk with her, to stay away from everyone else who was assumed to be infected with Covid. There were no treatment rooms available, so a nurse practitioner did her best to get her set up on a random counter, where she did the stitches. The nurse confirmed that the hospital was full, and about half of the patients were there for Covid, all of them unvaccinated.

The downstream effect of this is that there is a limit to the amount of care, and therefore the quality, and it doesn't just affect the Covid patients. If you come in there for a heart attack, you may not get the level of care you would ordinarily get. Diagnostic procedures may be delayed. We're having the meltdown we were trying to avoid, and it was totally preventable. I'm frustrated to no end that all of the people who were protesting over haircuts and bar visits could have done the work to make it safe and low risk for all of us, and empowering the economy in the process.

Anecdotally, it appears that vaccination rates are headed up, and I really hope that's the case. I never thought it would be a hospital in my own neighborhood that was in trouble.


A cat adoption story

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 18, 2021, 9:30 AM | comments: 0

The addition of Finn and Poe, our big furry ragdoll cats, was easily the highlight of a difficult year. They are very nearly perfect cats. We were very set on getting that breed in part because of my brother-in-law's wonderful cats. I don't entirely understand how genetics can make an animal predisposed to have certain personality traits, but they are the most chilled out, affectionate cats I've ever had. While there's certainly some amount of guilt from having "designer" cats instead of those from a shelter, I'm at that place in life where I don't know how many more cats I'm going to have, so I wanted what I wanted, and don't regret that decision.

When Diana and I started to cohabitate, she had three cats, and I was down to one. That foursome moved to Seattle and back with us in the car (solo with me, on the way back), and then the surviving three came down with me to Florida. We're used to having a large pride. After we unfortunately lost both Emma and Oliver last year, I was content to just have two. Diana had other plans.

She has been volunteering at a local pet store that hosts a cat adoption service. She's always had a thing for black cats, and I would say that our giant Gideon was one of our favorites. She learned about this 3-year-old, going by "Rummy" or something like that, close enough to "Remy," who was being fostered through this organization, and he was looking for a permanent home. Given the no-risk nature of this, we gave him a shot.

Starting in the guest room, he was a very nervous animal that mostly wanted to hide, but if you were still for a bit and just quietly hung out, he would come visit you. He was very affectionate, ready for the rubs where ever you were ready to give them. His nervousness seemed extreme, but he didn't hate me or the other humans in the house. That was a good sign.

Things didn't go as well with Finn and Poe. Finn immediately took to hissing at him, which was disturbing because we've never heard him make that sound. He's a lover, not a fighter, and often on the bottom of the wrestle pile with Poe, despite being the larger of the two. Eventually what we saw was Remy chasing the other two cats, who suddenly were taking cover under our bed in a way not characteristic of their typical behavior. The situation didn't get better over the course of a week. It turned out that Remy was very sweet to humans, but he was not meant to be a part of a multi-cat household.

Diana reluctantly brought him back to the store on one of her volunteer shifts. Fortunately, the story did not end there. A family with three kids and no cats came in looking for a special cat, and Remy warmed up to one of them almost instantly. Diana pitched him as a friendly little buddy, which he is, provided you don't get any additional cats. She went back to the store that evening to meet the family again, with the dad, and Remy had a new home.

I'm happy that the story had a happy ending. Simon was a little sad that he didn't get a chance to see him one more time, as he sometimes helps volunteer, but we're all glad that he has a home. Non-kittens are sometimes hard to place, but this little guy, nervous as he was, no doubt will make a great pet for the family.