Cynicism is a cop out

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 12, 2019, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

I think there's reason enough to be cynical about, well, everything, given the current political climate. We have a president who asks a foreign government to influence the election and people who defend it, people treat science as if it were something to believe in and seemingly everyone who aligns with a faction is a victim. It's exhausting.

But I think that cynicism is the easy way out. It requires no commitment, no action, no accountability, no further conversation. It's a cop out.

Professionally, I've seen this more times than I can count. One gig in particular, I remember a guy who was cynical about everything we asked him to do, as a means to improve the quality of his work and the team's as a whole. He didn't try it, had no alternative suggestions. It's easy to write something off when you don't participate. It's like people who believe that voting doesn't matter. When enough people are apathetic, assholes get elected.

Or look at the completely bizarre backlash by full grown adults against the 16-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg. Even if for a moment you think that judging a teenage girl on the autism spectrum is constructive or OK, it's fairly insane to write her off as a self-serving attention whore. I don't even know how you get to be that cynical, let alone forget how everything is a high alert emotional issue when you're 16.

There aren't many personality traits that really put me off, but cynics are the worst. Mind you, there's a difference between cynicism and healthy skepticism. The latter likely means that you're willing to at least consider a scenario, not blow it off and refuse to engage.

I think it's reasonable with age to become more pragmatic, but also self-aware enough to see that everything is subject to nuance. Most people, it seems, instead get more ingrained in their thinking and shut off themselves to new input. Cynicism is where your open mind goes to die.

My job is hard, but it ain't show business

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 10, 2019, 6:25 PM | comments: 0

There are definitely days and weeks where I feel like my job is difficult to the point of mental exhaustion. But as I've gotten to know some of Diana's friends still working in theater, and indeed social media stalking (figuratively) various performers from shows we've seen, it's clear to me that my job is a piece of cake by comparison. The fundamental difference is that I don't have to continually convince others of my worth just to work.

I'm talking about auditioning. Few jobs, if any, are really permanent in show business. Even if you land a gig in a long-running Broadway show, you have a contract that will not last forever. Maybe you get in early on a show, and you get to workshop it and do an out-of-town preview, and then the show runs nine months and ends because it's not making enough money. And as Diana will tell you, that's not just the on-stage performers, that's everyone, including those Equity stage managers and IATSE guys back stage.

As each gig ends, you have to then fight for the next. Yeah, the technical jobs are hard enough, but performers need to stand in front of people, look their best, convey a personality, potentially sing and/or dance, and hope to be "better" than a hundred other people that they see. And some of it might be on totally superficial attributes, like your weight, your abs or how pretty you are. Most of the time you don't get the job, which probably hurts more than usual, especially if you imagine it had something to do with your appearance.

I admire the people who can do it and stick with it, because constantly feeling kicked in the balls, seeing a therapist and trying not to take it all personally would be exhausting. On the flip side, as difficult as it is, I'm always taken by the way the folks in that industry express all of the feels that come with collaborating with people and doing something that can deeply move others. Heck, sometimes that feeling is at its most intense around the time that it ends. You don't get that in most jobs, and it sounds amazing.

I deeply appreciate the people in performing arts who are able to share their gifts with others. I just hope that the constant rejection is worth the eventual pay off for those who make it and are a part of something amazing.

Building out a new product

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 8, 2019, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

About two months ago I wrote that I was working on a hosted version of my forum app, for fun and profit. Naturally I hate on myself a little because I haven't made huge progress on moving it forward, but when I look at the commit history, I've actually done quite a bit. The recurring charge stuff is working, and it's sending email about purchases, too. I got an email last night for a test forum that I "bought" a month ago, and the test charge was logged with the payment processor. Neat!

As I've written a hundred times, my hobby business happened by accident, and ad-sponsored content doesn't pay anymore. Heck, PointBuzz has slightly more users than last year, but they look at less stuff and what they do look at is mostly on mobile devices, which doesn't pay. But I like having a side hustle, I just liked it better when it could pay my mortgage with it! So I've dusted off the experience from a number of different jobs over the last two decades and started applying it. The product side of any business has always been something that I've kind of half-assed in terms of my role, with varying degrees of success. Even in my current job, there were some obvious structural things I could see that needed to change when I started, but I was relieved when there were people dedicated to the cause of product development. The fun part for me is still nerding on technology and building teams.

This hosted forum app has gone largely as I expected. The 80/20 rule is as present as ever, where 80% of the work goes toward 20% of the value, and vice versa. Indeed, that first fifth of work lit up most of what I needed to make the project a product. Now I'm trying to be ruthless in deciding what parts are really necessary to ship, and what can wait. As I look at my backlog, there is a ton of stuff that definitely adds polish and shine, but I don't need it. I can already take money and automate the provisioning for customers. I can even prove they'll get charged monthly.

The rules are different for where you are in the lifecycle of the product, too. Seeing as how I currently have zero customers, I'm a long way from even proving that anyone wants this. Later on, when I have a few and they can tell me what they need, I can respond to that and have a great deal more focus. If I can score 75 customers, I can bring on help. At that point, I can also generate large data sets to really understand how people use it, and be even more focused on what is working and what isn't.

For now though, I'm starting from nothing, and that's kind of fun. It's also simple, which makes it ideal for a hobby. There are plenty of hard things to tackle in my day job.

Next up on my agenda, I need to cancel recurring payments, allow users to update credit card info, and allow the customers to choose a theme or insert their own style. None of these are terribly hard, they just require time. It feels like a legitimate thing though that I can bring to market. I don't have expectations for it, which might be a mistake, but if a dozen customers sign up, at least I can cover the car payments. That's not a bad hustle.

Our energy consumption in the last year

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 5, 2019, 11:15 PM | comments: 0

I think about energy a lot. In most of the world, energy consumption is connected to carbon emission, which is causing climate change at a frightening rate. Science gives no fucks about whether or not you believe this. Facts are still facts. If you trust politicians over scientists, I question your judgment. We've been on something of a quest to see if we could change our own contribution to this mess, and unintentionally have done so in the context of not significantly changing our lifestyle.

This experiment is largely attached to the bigger things in our immediate control. For example, I can control decisions about having solar and electric cars, but I can't control the carbon impact of the supply chain that gets groceries to Publix. I'm not convinced that it's possible for individuals to have massive impact in this way, and that it takes a wider effort with a carbon tax or other disincentive to do things in a non-sustainable way. (If you don't believe that would be effective, tell me about how tobacco use has gone the last half-century.)

Our first change began more than five years ago when we leased our first EV. We fully committed nine months after that, and we bought our last gallon of gas about four and a half years ago. The price of electric vehicles has decreased continually in this time. Looking at it strictly from a range perspective, our first Nissan Leaf in 2014 cost about $642 per mile (if you were buying outright and there was no tax incentive). In 2018, the Tesla Model 3 cost about $161 per mile. That's fairly radical change in a short period of time. Economy of scale will keep forcing that down. I've written elsewhere about why driving an EV is something we can all do if cost was not a factor.

In the summer of 2018, we installed solar on our roof. We felt this was pretty necessary because it's an unnecessarily large house for three people. Mind you, it's very lived in, I work from home some percentage of the time, Diana has her quilting studio and Simon spreads out because he's 9. But still, we could live in less. All that space requires a lot of air conditioning, and we use as much as 2,500 kWh during the hottest months (about 400 of that is for the cars). It's a 10kW system, which isn't enough to cover our usage over the course of a year, factoring in net metering. (What that means is that the excess we generate during the day feeds back into the grid, and we're charged for what we pull minus what we push.) We have a good snapshot now of what our yearly cycle looks like. The red is net pull from the grid, the blue is the solar part.

This works out to about 57% solar. If you removed the car component, which is about 5,000 kWh per year, we would cover 75% of our usage per year. Realistically, we could have spent more on a 12 or 14 kW system, but our roof angles aren't ideal enough for that. Buying a smaller house would have been the better play! Still, given current electric rates, our return-on-investment period, basically the time required to recoup the cost of the solar system itself by the power it generates, is about 9 years and 4 months, after which the power is "free."

It's a little tricky to figure out the impact of driving the EV's relative to the electric generation, but consider this. An EV already reduces the yearly carbon output by 3 or 4 metric tons per car, and we have two of them. Now, a little less than half of the electrons going into the cars comes from the electric utility, which is at least 85% powered by fossil fuels. However, as I've written previously, economy of scale for that electricity generation results in at least two-thirds less carbon emissions per mile, so accounting for our solar generation in that, we're looking at a reduction of emission by at minimum 85% by driving EV's that get more than half of their power from the sun. That's huge.

The biggest takeaway from all of this is that the technology exists today to live our lives on sustainable energy, and the cost difference to do so is closing so fast that the only thing preventing us from getting to 100% is the utility and fossil fuel lobby. Our next door neighbor, Walt Disney World, is now 50% powered by solar. Kauai gets 90% of its daytime power from utility scale and individual solar, and with battery power and more installations, improves every year. The change will happen, it's just a question of whether it will happen fast enough to change the path of climate change that will put Miami under water and Europe into longer winters.

Distributed generation is such an obvious future. I wish states would incentivize developers to do solar and battery plots in each new subdivision. Can you imagine how robust power could be if it didn't require thousands of miles of wires to get power to you? We've got the transportation thing figured out, even if it isn't widely adopted yet, so widespread renewable generation is next. Costa Rica gets nearly all of its electricity from renewables, but unfortunately hasn't cracked the oil consumption from transportation.

Cameras haven't changed much in two years

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 1, 2019, 11:35 PM | comments: 0

I spent a good portion of the holiday weekend working on my hosted forum project. With my recent anxiety issues, it was nice to dive into something that I enjoy, and something that felt like a new chapter in my hobby business instead of the same thing I've been messing with for 20 years. It made me realize though that I haven't done much of anything with my old video hobby in a really long time. The last time I really geared up my camera was more than two years ago. One of the big problems is that my lens mount adapter stopped working (a Redrock Micro thing that was never that reliable), so I'm limited to just one lens.

Earlier in the year I was looking at the gear out there, and circling back, I'm surprised to find that nothing much has really changed. The cameras I liked are cheaper now, but they've been around for two years now and nothing has replaced them. There are some expensive 6K and 8K cameras available, but right now there's no realistic reason someone like me would ever need that many pixels. I'm still pretty in love with the Canon C200, which I got to touch and play with at B&H when we were in New York in April. I just don't see any opportunity to buy one. It seems like there are always big expenses we're incurring the last few years, or I'm intent on saving.

My old Panasonic AF100 is over seven-years-old now. I think it can make pretty pictures, but a new lens adapter would cost $650 and I don't think I want to sink money into something that old. I think they stopped making it four or five years ago. Maybe we'll see another price drop in the near future.

The anxiety is serious

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 1, 2019, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

One of the great realizations of my life came to me after my divorce, when I realized that my career, and really life in general, had generally just happened to me without much in the way of deliberate action on my part. The reason that this felt problematic at the time seemed pretty obvious. I had not accounted for any future financially, I bought a house and got married because it seemed like the next things to do, I wandered into a career somewhat accidentally, and I certainly had not taken very good care of myself physically.

Over the next few years, I could see how the passive approach to life was not ideal. I worked in a job that had limited opportunity for growth, impulsive spending in my 20's put me in a fragile position and I dated ambitious women who had goals. I was limited only by myself, and that wasn't a good feeling. It was a turning point where I tried to be more intentional about things. There were definitely some mistakes here and there, but none of them were permanent.

The funny thing about being intentional about your life is that, unlike letting it happen to you, anxiety comes easier. Keep in mind, I'm about as far from a Type-A over-achiever as possible. I'm not a box checker or obsessed with winning or even the appearance of winning. But becoming a parent in particular changes your priorities, since it isn't just you that you have to look out for. Then age creeps up on you, and you have to consider how much time you have left. The age also changes you physically, starting with annoying ear hair and then messing with your cholesterol and blood pressure. Oh, and staying healthy isn't just for you, it's for your family. Work gets interesting if you've gone from maker to manager, because then you're responsible for others. I add an additional layer to it all by wanting to create things in my spare time that have value.

In the last two years, I've found that the anxiety that I've been experience is taking a toll. I don't recognize myself sometimes. I don't allow myself to indulge in many things strictly for me, and I worry about a hundred things that are not in my immediate sphere of influence. The worst thing is that I will beat myself up over taking a nap on the weekend, that most glorious 30 (or 40) minutes where I actually can turn my brain off and relax, because I'm not doing something more "productive."

I've had enough therapy over the years to know that the best way to combat this is to be present in the moment (there's a whole future post about that). Heck, that's even the focus of Simon's therapy right now. This used to come so easy to me, where I could just sit somewhere and tune out. Now I have to pull myself out of the usual environment to make that happen (cruises are good for this), or enter one so over-stimulating that I have to pay attention (theme parks, especially with friends). All I know is that I'm often in the midst of a non-remarkable day and my body and brain is on high alert, and that's exhausting.

The long Thanksgiving weekend has given me a little perspective that was sorely needed. Mental health is a product of environment, chemistry, genetics and choices. Some of those are easier to change than others, but importantly, you have to know that you can act on them. I resolve to spend more time being present, which by sheer math leaves less time to be anxious about things.

Let's talk about Frozen

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 27, 2019, 4:30 PM | comments: 0

I was a fan of 90's-ish Disney movies in college, because they were the right brand of sappy and teenage ideals, and also because I went to school in said 90's. Beauty and The BeastAladdin and The Lion King were quite a run for them, especially since everything after that was kind of forgettable. Lion King became especially impressive though after we got to hear all of the stuff that wasn't in the film, when they issued Rhythm of The Pridelands as a secondary soundtrack. It was all of the African stuff that for whatever reason was cut, and much of it was integrated into the stage musical, which was, I believe, ten times what the movie was (and definitely more than the dog-shit photo-realistic remake).

You can probably see where I'm going with this... the musical films are not stage shows, as there are different things that work for each medium. The Disney musical films are not musicals either in the way that La La Land is. This is all OK, but maybe I'm suggesting that Disney could push harder if it wanted to. I think Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the songwriters for all that is Frozen, know this.

The original Frozen seemed like a nearly flawless movie to me. I couldn't really find any fault with it at first, until the rumors about it becoming a stage musical started swirling about. That's when I realized, there's basically no singing in the second act. It also occurred to me that the songs were all pretty good, but not really a cohesive work. Again, not being critical as much as I'm comparing to the musicals that I love. When I started to think in that context, I started to believe that Tangled was probably the better musical. When they staged it as an abbreviated musical on the Disney Magic cruise ship, I wanted it to be longer!

Frozen opened on Broadway, following previews and a lot of workshopping and an out-of-town try-out, about two weeks before Diana and I were visiting New York, and while it seemed like a safe choice to see it, I really wanted to see something with the original cast. Like Lion King, it eclipsed the film in every way. It musically filled in the gaps, it was darker, and it carried those coherent themes throughout the show. Of course, it was critically neglected, because art snobs seem to diss anything with Disney's name on it, but it was really an achievement in performance and stagecraft. I loved it. I'm disappointed that the film isn't that.

My expectations then for Frozen 2 were not high beyond having a chance to see a movie as a family. The first review I read called it out for not having a "Let It Go," and it doesn't have one. That's a good thing, because my desire to hear those coherent themes carried throughout the movie were there. It even has those big "Broadway as fuck" ensemble moments, like "Some Things Never Change." There are only eight proper songs, which I do think is still appropriate for the film format. It has the basics for a great stage show.

As it turns out, Team Lopez wrote more than you'll find in the movie, or the non-deluxe version of the soundtrack for that matter. There's almost enough there for another show. One of them, "I Seek the Truth," is really, really good, and it's just Anderson-Lopez singing Elsa's part, and Patti Murin ("Anna" on Broadway) singing the part of Anna/Elsa's mom. That the outtakes are so good is not surprising. If you've heard "Hygge" from the Broadway show, with its naked kick line at Oaken's Trading Post (And Sauna), you know these are really talented writers. They did the short Finding Nemo: The Musical, still running at Animal Kingdom, too. I would love to see them do an original show. Pair them up with a good book writer, and I think you've got musical gold.

I guess where I'm going with this is that the music, the full body of music, is bigger than the films. What's neat this time is that instead of having some disposable pop star do a cover of one of the songs, they had Panic! At The Disco and Weezer do a couple of them, and they're really good.

Technology and storytelling

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 27, 2019, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

There's an obnoxious story on Ars Technica (which I generally adore) with obnoxious comments about the immoral, technical and marketing failings about The Mandalorian on Disney+ and how it's not really HDR (high dynamic range) and the false advertising will lead to the end of days and people should be fired and all sorts of nonsense. These are undoubtedly the same people who felt that 720p on a 26" TV wasn't high definitiony enough, even though your eyes can't really tell unless you get close.

HDR is basically the ability to show a wide range of contrast, from really dark details to bright details. Digital cameras have gotten to a place where they're about as good as film, and about the range of your eyes when they're in good health. Displays are getting there, too, especially the beautiful OLED screens on most phones and better TV's that are dropping quickly in price.

But just because this technology exists doesn't mean that it has to be used. If you've been around computer-based video for any length of time, you know how easy it is to tweak video by either teasing out details or eliminating them, often to serve some arbitrary aesthetic that you're after. That's not right or wrong, it's just a choice you might want to make as a maker of things. I would even argue that the look of a good film is best not grounded in something that looks like real life because it interferes with the fantasy of it all. Something shot at 60 frames per second with high dynamic range might be great for a nature documentary, but I wouldn't apply it to a Star Wars story.

As a technologist that nerds hard and finds creative endeavors deeply satisfying, I'm often struck by how few people can nerd and think like an artist. That someone would actually take the time to measure the brightness of a TV show to "prove" that it isn't HDR shows that they don't understand the intent of the tool. And if you don't get that, please, look at all of the crappy filters people still put on Instagram photos, or worse, what an average wedding photographer does to every shot.

We bought a 4K HDR TV last year for the playroom, and some of the content that takes advantage of the format from Netflix and Disney+ is really quite stunning. And that TV isn't even an OLED display, which would result in more true shadows and even lighting. At the end of the day, we still have a 9-year-old conventional backlit LED TV in the living room that looks OK most of the time, save for some spots that got dinged through 4 moves. I look forward to replacing it, even though it's not a priority.

HDR is like another crayon in the box, and it doesn't have to be used to make the storytelling great. Maybe the nerds will eventually figure that out.

About Christmas in Florida

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 24, 2019, 8:52 PM | comments: 0

Summer lingered a bit this year in Central Florida, judging by the fact that my October electric bill was 50% higher than the year before. The high on Halloween was 90, when we should be seeing highs in the low 80's and overnight lows in the mid 60's. But things finally came around and now we're experiencing what you might call fall in the north. Today was beautiful... sunny, a high around 70 and a nice breeze all day.

And for all those years in Cleveland, where the summers are frankly about as hot as they are in Orlando, fall is a welcome relief. We get that change later here, and then it kind of stays there for a few months, which is glorious. It's not a bona fide season change, but it's fantastic. The other thing that happens at about the same time, is the theme parks start dressing up for Christmas. Say what you will about the retail push starting "too early," but for the parks, you can't expect them to pull in tourists from all over into a period of three weeks. That, and the parks suck during the holiday weeks proper, because they're so crowded.

So we've adopted the habit of starting our Christmas season early. Diana goes next level for decorating (we have four trees), and nerd me likes building Lego trains to go around the trees, and automating all of the lighting. Yes, you can say, "Hey Google, Merry Christmas" at my house, and two trees, three strings of lighted garland, Hue lights turned red and green, all turn on. That's how we roll.

That this occurs before Thanksgiving is by design. Obviously, with all of that decorating, it's nice to enjoy it for a little longer. We don't get snow to set the mood, so the decor helps with that, too. Also, 19-year-old me remembers stringing Christmas lights up in my dorm room all year, and that was awesome. And I start listening to Venus Hum's Switched On Christmas, with what I consider a brilliant version of "Silent Night." We've been to the beach the week of Christmas, and it's fantastic.

I look at the season completely differently as a Central Floridian. I like it better.

My health is not good

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 24, 2019, 3:50 PM | comments: 0

I had been putting off my annual physical, not for any particular reason other than I kept forgetting to do so, and suddenly it was three months overdue. But I wanted to see my doctor because I've been feeling pretty terrible lately. My IBS has been a mess, and then I had what I assume was a virus without respiratory symptoms that gave me diarrhea for a week and a sort of temporary arthritis. The IBS flare up is hardly a surprise, because it always comes with stress and poor food choices. I've been stressed a lot lately, more with parenting than anything, and work to a lesser degree (compared to a year ago). I classically find refuge in eating, and with little restraint. And of course, when you're feeling like that, you don't want to get off the couch, so you can imagine how my exercise profile looks (non-existent). It's kind of a vicious cycle of self-loathing.

There's an algorithm that takes your age, gender, race, blood pressure and cholesterol numbers to calculate your risk of heart attack or stroke, and my 10-year risk went from 3.1% to 5.1%. Anything over 5% is reason for serious concern, as you would expect since 1-in-20 not the kind of odds anyone wants. Lifetime risk is up to 46%, and 1-in-2 is definitely not the kind of odds anyone wants. Moving the numbers is pretty straight forward. I've been able to get my blood pressure down to normal even in a few weeks time, though it's still largely a function of weight. The cholesterol has weight and exercise association as well. None of the math is hard.

My doctor suggested intermittent fasting, which is really just not eating for 16 hours out of the day. I've already started down that road, with 7pm as my cut-off, and resuming at 11am. It's torture not to eat breakfast, but it's getting easier. For exercise, I'm easing into it, concentrating at first just on the necessary movement of high daily step counts. I'll likely add in time on the bike trainer, and see if I can turn that into a habit. One week in, I'm already down almost two pounds.

If I can get the numbers down a little, I can likely get the 10-year down to 2%, and the lifetime to 35% or less. The latter sounds bad, but remember, we all get old, and 1-in-3 sounds pretty good when you get up there.

The psychological impact of this is pretty strong. Eating my feelings feels good, and I can't do that anymore, so I need to find healthier ways to process stress. I think the deeper issue is that I have to admit that I'm adulting wrong, and I'm accountable to the basic considerations of physics and chemistry. I've made some pretty strong changes in the past, usually in times of other extreme discomfort, which is why this situation is new territory for me. I'm not working through the end of a relationship or a big move or the birth of a child. The big change is my body is tired of being disrespected.

So I'll go back for the follow-up doctor visit so he can help me determine a plan, because I need someone of authority with years of education to tell me to get my shit together. Getting older is hard.

Can you not look at your phone?

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 18, 2019, 10:16 PM | comments: 0

I managed to work in a really solid walk today after lunch around Lake Eola, the big lake with the fountain in the middle of downtown Orlando. The weather was perfect. There's this little bar and grill down there (where I've never had lunch, oddly enough), and as I walked by, I noticed that half the people there were staring at their phones, including people who were there with other people. On a perfectly lovely day.

What has happened to us? I've got a whole post I intend to write about being present, as it has come up for me and my family in a number of contexts recently, but it's nuts. I see it everywhere. When people are in line for food, walking around between meetings, standing at a urinal, and worst of all, driving... can't anyone just be alone with their thoughts for a few minutes?

Look, I think it's a miracle that we can carry super computers in our pockets connected to all the world's knowledge, but let's be real. People are checking how many likes they have or playing Candy Crush. I'm not saying a little time wasting isn't worth it from time to time, but shit, put the damn thing down and look around. What does it say about you that you're so incapable of not reaching into your pocket and pulling out that phone when there's just the slightest moment that the world isn't stimulating you?

I've had most notifications turned off for a long time on my phone, and what I do see is time restricted. I ignore those Slack messages at work when I'm sitting in a 1-on-1 meeting, and you better believe I'm a little offended if you can't do the same for me. If I get a text in the car, it can wait. If I'm waiting to get a burrito, I look around and observe the fascinating rhythm of people around me (half of which are staring at their phones). Heck, even waiting in line at theme parks, look around, because the people watching opportunities are amazing.

Just try it. Try to not follow through on that impulse to look at your phone. Be present.

The comfort of a good doctor

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 15, 2019, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

Because of my digestive issues as a child, prescribed acne treatments that didn't work and a terrible orthodontist, I pretty much swore off doctors for the first 15 years of my adult life. After the divorce, I started going for my annual check-ups, but missed a couple of years after each move. I never had doctors that I liked, but now I've had a really good one for the last four or five years. Diana sees him, too.

What I like about him is that his office is not a factory. You don't have to wait forever, and he doesn't seem like he's trying to get out as fast as possible. He spends the time he has to, in order for you to feel that he's covered all of the bases. He's honest and not judgmental. I've been with Diana on visits to see him as well, when working through her challenges with migraines and vertigo, and he's thoughtful and ready to offer a referral when the limits of his expertise are reached. He's a really good doctor.

I don't feel good about my overall health right now. I've gained a little weight, and haven't been processing stress very well lately. I largely work with the latter part of that by seeing a therapist, but a good doctor explains the science between how the psychological challenges mess with the physiological problems. And that's good, because science isn't a belief system. It informs you to make better decisions. I feel like I have better information now to make better decisions.

Despite my damage about doctors, and previously "meh" doctors, I'm happy to have a good one.

Early impressions of Disney+

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 14, 2019, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

You might have heard, Disney launched a new streaming service on Tuesday called Disney+. The company has made a number of very important acquisitions over the years, including Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and most recently, the Fox studio businesses. Getting all of this under one roof was an important strategy for CEO Bob Iger, but he also saw a future that shifts watching habits to streaming. He's willing to take on some pain and even cannibalize the existing business instead of letting someone else do it. Apparently, 10 million people were signed up the first day.

I signed up in the morning, because they offered a bundle for Hulu subscribers, which we already have. Basically it's $14 to get Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, or $6 more if you want the ad-free version of Hulu (which we pay for). We already get Amazon Prime, so if you ignore the fact that it includes the shipping and same-day service, we basically pay $30 per month for a whole lot of streaming capability, which seems like a pretty good value to me.

While Hulu covers the network TV, and a number of minor cable networks as well, Disney+ includes almost everything they own, save for a few movies that other services have dibs on though next summer, and a few distribution deals that linger, like Sony's use of Spiderman and Paramount's distribution rights to Indiana Jones. It's nice to have access to all of that, and the big surprise for me is all of the stuff I've missed from National Geographic.

To me though, the real excitement is all of the new original stuff. I'm excited about The Mandalorian, a new Star Wars series about a bounty hunter, The World According to Jeff Goldblum, which is kind of a cross between How Things Work and Mythbusters or something, an extraordinary documentary series about Imagineering and a goofy reality show about high school musicals being made by casts a decade after graduation called Encore! There are a few others yet to start, but the original stuff is all pretty compelling so far.

There were a few problems the morning of launch for me, mostly around creating profiles, but I was at work anyway, so not a big deal. That night, I couldn't start the Imagineering doc, but that resolved itself in ten minutes or so. It's been pretty smooth since then, as Simon has watched most of the Mickey Mouse cartoons he loves already. The criticism has been pretty harsh about the tech problems, but honestly, no one has ever launched a streaming service picked up by 10 million people in the first day before. As someone who literally loses sleep over scalability problems for a living, I'm willing to cut them a little slack as long as it gets better soon.

For me, I look forward to the originals, and catching up on some of the Marvel movies, including Endgame, that I haven't seen. We're not really "Disney people" in the pin-trading super-nerd sense of things, but they own a lot of great content (and cruise ships), so they end up separating us from a lot of money that way. I think this service is a bold move, and nostalgia will certainly rope people in for a bit. The real challenge is good, original new stuff that will make the long-term argument. They need a Mrs. Maisel and a Jack Ryan or Fleabag to make it work in subsequent years.

I had a crush on Kim Fields

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 13, 2019, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

The other day I saw something totally random about the 80's show, The Facts of Life. Because it ran for so long, there were a ton of episodes that ran in syndication in the after-school time slots. These were the years where I started, uh, getting urges as I headed toward teenage hell. So naturally, I noticed girls on TV, and this was a show about girls, so I watched it pretty religiously. (Also, there was nothing to do in winter after school in those days. I watched a lot of TV.)

When I got to thinking about the show, I remember how obsessed I was with Tootie, played by Kim Fields. Even when she had braces. It was that weird time of life where, if girls are your thing, you stop chasing them on the playground and start wondering why it's so hard to talk to them. It's not a sexual thing, or at least, I don't think it is, but infatuation seems to come easy. So yeah, Kim Fields might have been one of my earliest celebrity crushes.

What stands out about those feelings is that I wanted to tell people I had a crush on a TV girl, in that way that you test for what constitutes as appropriate conversation at that age. I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone at that age, which is something I've unpacked quite a bit over the years talking to therapists, but in this case it was worse. I felt like I couldn't tell anyone because she was black.

That wasn't the last time I felt that. In grade 8, I was passing notes with a girl I had a crush on, who insisted we had to try and find a lesser used hallway between classes to make out. Weird thing about schools... those places usually don't exist! It never happened, but I remember the same feeling of guilt, wondering what certain family members would think if they knew my first kiss was with a girl from the east side of Cleveland.

I grew up around a lot of racism, which was pretty weird for a kid who was becoming a product of Cleveland's court-mandated school desegregation. I remember people talking about it more in the context of "busing" than anything else, and I didn't understand it was about racial equality, I mean really get it, until we moved out of Cleveland to an entirely white suburb.

I can't do anything about that past, but I can make sure that my own child never feels bad about who he likes. I think we've been fortunate that, especially in Orange County, diversity is his normal scene. We still need to be proactive though, as we've recently learned a couple of kids in the neighborhood have adopted racial slurs as their latest thing. As he's started to learn about slavery and civil rights in school, it's encouraging that he identifies these as illogical human issues, but I know we have work to do to teach him about how people feel when their physical attributes cause people to exclude them.

Also, Tootie grew up to be very pretty, but it's sad that she was on a Real Housewives show.

The GOP, the party of personal responsibility, is the new "Occupy" victim

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 9, 2019, 8:33 AM | comments: 0

Remember the whole "Occupy Wall Street" thing back in 2011? The short story is that a bunch of unorganized people camped out in a park in Manhattan's financial district to protest a vague set of concerns over wealth inequality, corruption in the financial system and other vaguely immortal behavior rooted in capitalism, but not capitalism itself. There is historical precedence that shows wealth inequality destabilizes or destroys societies, so that's a valid concern, but you have to consider at what point it's a problem, and how desperate the people at the bottom are. And certainly, as we began recovering out of the great recession, it was clear that greed and a lack of regulation and accountability made that happen.

But where the protest came from was a disorganized sense of entitlement and victimhood. It was composed largely of white, middle class college educated people with expectations that a degree meant they didn't need to work their way toward success. This still goes on today to an extent, where people who took out $300k in student loans will never get ahead because, well, they borrowed $300k for education. Like I said, there are bona fide issues to address about "the system," but if your reason for challenging it is that you feel like a victim and you're entitled to something, I have a really hard time getting behind that.

In the days of Ronald Reagan, he led the GOP with something often branded as "compassionate conservatism," which suggested that government would work with philanthropic organizations to alleviate poverty, and generally be sensitive to the plight of the poor, but not be solely responsible for lifting people up. It encouraged people to take responsibility for themselves to advance in life. Now, this is the same period that brought us "trickle down economics," the theory that investment and wealth building at the top raises all boats, but we've seen for the last 30+ years that doesn't work. And taking responsibility for yourself is also a nuanced problem, as environment and birth lottery still drastically affects outcomes. But the core tenant of the party, that you are responsible for you, is still a good value to adopt, even if there's a ton of nuance around its practice.

The GOP has since become the Occupy movement, entitled and claiming to be a victim. It supported a president that it knew was immoral from the start. Now that he has, in office, broken laws with mounting evidence, it believes that it has become a victim of the "Dems," the free press and phantom conspirators. Even if all of that were true, it doesn't change the fact that the president has acted illegally. You can't do things that are wrong and be the victim. If you get a speeding ticket, you can't blame the cop for speeding.

No one is trying to "overturn" the election. If the Senate would in fact remove the president, and I somehow doubt it will, Hillary doesn't become president, Mike Pence does, the other guy you voted for. The House is doing exactly what the Constitution outlines. All this nonsense about not being "fair" to Trump is not real. He gets to defend himself in a Senate trial. The House acts more as a grand jury investigation, and to that extent, has adopted the same rules the GOP outlined for Clinton's impeachment. The accused isn't entitled to anything in the investigation phase anyway. Read the Constitution.

The Mueller Report made an extensive case for obstruction of justice, which for some reason the House did not act on. Now their own investigation has mounting evidence that the sitting president attempted to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political rival in exchange for aid. It's not ambiguous. The president and his party are not victims here.

Nut up and face the music. Take responsibility. That's what Reagan would have wanted you to do.

Book review: Bob Iger's Ride of a Lifetime

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 8, 2019, 8:22 PM | comments: 0

Last week I finished Bob Iger's book The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. It might seem a little obvious that I would read his book given my general interest in theme parks, and by extension Disney, but I picked it up mostly because these executive memoirs mixed with business leadership advice are easy and interesting reading. It's probably not surprising that parts feel a lot like Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc., because running Pixar ultimately translated to running part of Disney.

Iger's story is unusual, and there's a degree to which you have to take his advice with a grain of salt. Few people work their way up from the bottom in what is ultimately the same company by way of acquisition, and even fewer are equipped to run a company of that size with such a huge degree of success. What I'm getting at here is that he is in fact a unicorn with exceptional instincts. You and I, if we're being honest, don't have that. It's a great story though, if somewhat sanitized. He dances around the fact that his predecessor, Michael Eisner, lacked the humility to know when it was time to move on, and some of the bosses he worked with were somewhat toxic in their approach. He does acknowledge that Steve Jobs, someone he had great love and respect for, was not the easiest person to work with. He also seems honest about the painful decision to have to let go of John Lasseter after allegations of sexual misconduct.

A common thread with Catmull's book is the desire to see what isn't obvious. It's interesting that both talk about the importance of this, but the closest thing that both offer to advice is that you have to rely on other people to some extent to see it. Certainly, that's another argument for surrounding yourself with the best people who are better than you. This is, ultimately, what makes Iger so successful. Even as a network TV guy, he saw from the start that for this media empire, you have to be willing to disrupt your own business before someone else does, in this case by making a big bet on streaming, and as a content creator, you still have to give people room to make the best possible art. There are people who believe that a huge company can't make great art, but disagree entirely. If anything, having the streaming outlet will give them even more room to take risks and tell great stories.

At the end of the book, Iger gives a summary of advice, as it relates back to his experience. This is the usual fare you would expect, largely around mature and honest communication. What's interesting is that even when there are billions of dollars at stake, the fundamentals about decision making and relationship building aren't really that different. I think his position is that, if you can constantly be thoughtful about these aspects of leadership (something, again, I believe he's uniquely capable of), you can apply his advice at any scale.

Overall, it's an easy and quick read, and even if it can be a little touchy-feely, worth hearing about his story. Media consolidation isn't necessarily the best thing, I would generally say, but what's striking is that he seems intent on keeping the soul and creative culture of the company in tact. I think he's succeeding.

Mini-review: Pixel 4

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 7, 2019, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I posted a few weeks ago about ordering a Pixel 4, and how I justified it, so I won't rehash that here. Let me just talk about the phone.

The phone is the same size as the 2, or pretty close, but the screen is larger. It has a reasonable bezel at the top with a speaker and the various sensors, a thin bezel at the bottom, and rounder screen corners. I personally think all of the notch and bezel opinions are silly, and I don't care that there's technically more screen real estate. As long as it properly fills a 16:9 ratio when horizontal, it truly doesn't matter.

I think the back is actually glass now, but the white one at least has this really great textured feel that doesn't get finger printy. The sides are a nice black composite material, and the power button is orange. Mostly none of that matters, since I immediately put it in a rubber-like case, as I've been doing with phones since 2012-ish. It also helps protect the camera bump, which is now a square.

The biggest change is the switch to face unlocking instead of the fingerprint. It generally works, but sometimes it feels a half-second too slow, and I'm not sure what the criteria is for it to "look" at you. Is this an improvement? I think it's just a lateral move. The fingerprint was at least intentional, where sometimes you just want to look at the time on the phone or a notification without unlocking it. I'm on the fence, which is to say in the long run I probably won't care either way.

The phone initially defaulted to gesture navigation, which I think was available already in the newest Android on my previous phone, but I didn't know. Basically it means that side swipes acted as the back button, bottom swipes were like pressing home, and swiping up half-way and stopping was like the task switching button. I tried it for a few days, and it felt slower. With this elongated screen, I can say for sure that I definitely don't need that screen real estate for apps. I switched it back to the old school buttons.

From a capability standpoint, I do notice switching apps is slightly faster, and they're also more likely to maintain state, presumably because of the RAM availability. But also, if what I remember about Android is correct, this is more about how developers implement state when the app is closed, forcibly or otherwise, so I wouldn't blame that on Google either way. The crazy high 90Hz refresh rate is sometimes obvious in scrolling, but mostly in animations inside of apps, especially games. It's a subtle usability tweak.

The radar is pretty cool. It is one of the things that instigates the face scanning, which made unlocking a little awkward in the Bahamas last weekend, where the radar is not authorized for use (because it's radio frequency energy). It was slower to unlock in those cases. Where I suspect most people will dig it is that you can wave your hand over the phone to snooze an alarm. You can "air swipe" to the next song, but I haven't tried that. It's a neat hardware trick, but I think it's just another sensor to add to the suite of gyroscopes and such.

The camera is, as you would expect, extraordinary. It delivers on everything they talked about in the announcement. White balance is improved, low-light photos are impossibly good, and the portrait mode has definitely improved, especially with hair. The computational zoom is probably an improvement, but it isn't perfect, and I think some of the gain in image quality comes from having a second camera. Is it better than the Pixel 2? Yes, incrementally. Comparing photos of the two, I think the biggest thing is that the white balance is more accurate in a variety of light sources. It also manages to squeeze out a little more dynamic range in those difficult scenarios.

Is it worth $800? No, I don't think any camera is. If it weren't for the Fi credits and trade-in, I'd never pay that much when a $500 phone is almost as good. Heck, the $200 Motorola I got my mom is pretty great. I'm paying for the opportunity to be at the front of the camera technology, mostly, and if I was more budget conscious, I would likely be satisfied with a less expensive phone.

Of the sea and stress

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 5, 2019, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

My earliest memories of peace, that feeling of being truly in the moment, without being drawn into the past or future, are vivid and fresh in my mind. The first came from a great many naps taken in the pop-up camper we had growing up. My mom always wanted to chase us out of the camper to do stuff, but being there in the cool breezes with the forest noises, drifting in and out of sleep, was fantastic. Similarly, I remember being on my dad's sailboat on Lake Erie. Sometimes, you could catch it just right that you could lay on the bow in the shadow of the sails, without risk of sunburn, and hear nothing but the sound of the water moving around the hull as the wind moved you forward. It was wonderful.

I don't think I really experienced peacefulness like that again until my first marriage honeymoon, when we had a hotel room right on the ocean. Waterfront stays after that reinforced these happy places and sense of peace, and having the chance to spend more time on beaches after moving to Florida made me realize how good the sea makes me feel. Then the cruising started in 2013, and I'm certain that I'm addicted to all of the senses... the wind, the smell of the ocean, and more than anything, the sound of the water.

We squeezed in another voyage last weekend. It's not inexpensive, especially compared to a day at the beach, but not only is there the chance for that environment of peace, but there's no Internet to distract me, and if there's one place I know that there will be no fights to put food in my son, it's on a cruise ship. I'm taken care of, as is my family, and I can spend time taking care of me.

It's especially powerful to hear the sound of the water while feeling the motion of it. These are the best nights of sleep for me. I don't know how to meditate, but this is being present in a way that I haven't found elsewhere. The stress disappears, my brain shuts off, and I just hear the waves. I only feel peace.

My stress comes from the usual places. However, I'm not a Type-A personality, and I'm not a box-checker around the life ideal that culture generally prescribes. The stress isn't entirely self-inflicted. Sure, I feel like I do "have" the wife, the job and the house, but those aren't a product of some nebulous pursuit of happiness. They aren't the keys to happiness, they just enable some degree of comfort. The happiness I have to choose, and sometimes I allow life's challenges to interfere with happiness. Forget my Instagram feed, because my real life is that sometimes it's really hard to be me.

It's not hard to feel peace at or by the sea.

It will never get easier, and that's OK

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 30, 2019, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

I randomly bumped into a long-time friend today, having gone an unusually long time between crossing paths. We caught each other up, talked about life changes, new challenges, opportunities. That got me to thinking about another recent conversation about active career management, and another one about more adult problems, another about therapists forcing you to confront your damage, and yet another one about stress and leadership...

No matter where you are in life, it never gets easier.

On the surface, this sounds like a pretty horrible and terrible realization. The idea that no amount of money, experience, whatever, makes life easier, that seems sad. I'm here to explain why there's way more nuance to that than you think.

I'm often reminded as a parent that the meltdown my child is having over some issue that seems irrelevant and maybe even silly to us is in fact the worst thing that's ever happened to them. That's not being dramatic... it probably is the worst thing that's ever happened to them. As we go through life, we often define ourselves by all of the things we've survived, maybe not giving enough weight to the things we've succeeded in doing. We all endure a lot of bullshit, and sometimes it's just dumb luck when we don't. I'm not suggesting we're incapable of affecting our outcomes, just that the circumstances can be pretty random. So as we move through life, we keep piling on all of this scar tissue.

And it's true, being financially well off, or checking off some other arbitrary boxes (careers, spouses, houses, whatever), don't materially change this. It's because human interaction is really the source of the hurt. We confuse material comfort with emotional comfort, the latter of which is really hard to achieve under most any circumstances. Life is pain.

However, remember the worst thing that ever happened to you? Mom telling you "no TV" was probably superseded as the worst thing a long time ago. I can count off all kinds of things just in recent life that have been hard, like moving, losing a job, being the parent in that meltdown, there are no shortage of things. While the difficulty never really stops, your ability to process it should be on a path of continuous improvement. There's something strangely freeing that comes with the acknowledgment that the next difficulty isn't far away. This doesn't mean that you stop trying to change the things that suck, or mitigate the circumstances that cause pain, it just means having the confidence to say, "I've got this."

The reality is that nothing is permanent. You're caught between the fact that the challenge you have will soon be behind you, and the fact that you will eventually die. That's a pretty compelling argument to not dwell on either end of that spectrum. If you can accept this, you can be present and make the most of the time you have in between. The only alternative is to not do that, and I think everyone knows deep down that's not how you should roll.

So yeah, it never gets easier. What are you going to do about it?

Windows rot is still a thing

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 27, 2019, 12:54 AM | comments: 0

Early last year, I bought my first Windows laptop in almost 12 years. It was a big deal, because those Macs I bought were awesome. But other OEM's started building really nice hardware, and Apple was charging a premium while the others built really nice stuff with the same specs, and Apple was charging too much while delivering crappy keyboards and that annoying f'ing touch bar that I did not want. You don't have to be a math genius to know that spec for spec, spending $700 or more for the same hardware was dumb. So I bought this magnificent HP laptop. And dammit, it was beautiful. Seriously, as I type on it, I'm in awe of its clicky-enough keyboard and 4K screen with painted-on typography. It's wonderful.

But a few weeks ago, about 20 months into ownership of this beautiful hardware, the machine started crashing every time I closed it. I'd open it up, and it would have to reboot, losing whatever I was working on. It seemed like an anomaly at first, but it kept happening. I started looking at the event log, and from what I could tell, it was doing a "blue screen of death" (BSOD) while it was trying to transition into sleep. Crash dumps, read with some open source tool, confirmed this. All I could tell was that maybe this was happening because of the driver for the fingerprint reader, which I never use (because this laptop uses its magic infrared camera to identify me). I couldn't just disable the fingerprint reader, and there were no updated drivers for it, so I had no idea what to do about it.

It's been almost three weeks, and I've been pretty annoyed. On weekends in particular, I let my kid play Planet Coaster on my desktop, because I spent good cash on a great 3D card. Tactically, maybe this wasn't a good decision, but I bought a nice laptop so I could work on my software projects anywhere. So with my desktop off the table, I need the laptop, since I'm trying to build hosted POP Forums as something I can sell before the end of the year. That doesn't work very well when every time I close the thing it dies.

Back in the day, before 2006-ish when I bought the first Intel MacBook, I generally expected that I had to reinstall Windows desktop about once a year. This was not a huge investment of time, because I always had a secondary hard drive that had all of my data, and that's the stuff that mattered. Thinking back though, what did non-technology people do? Flattening your hard drive and starting over, without losing stuff, was not the domain of common folk. But in those days, I could reliably expect that stuff would just break, and the only real way to repair it was to format and start over. A decade prior to that, we used to joke, when I worked at CompUSA, that the classic Packard Bell support line (they made cheap PC's at the time), was "reinstall Windows." But it really was a thing.

In my various day jobs, including Microsoft (duh), I had a number of Windows computers, and they were all generally reliable. In fact, I bought a Surface Pro 3 about five years ago, and it's been a great, reliable backup for me ever since. I still travel with it when I don't intend to write code. Not a single problem or reinstall. I don't think this is HP's fault, but it's endlessly irritating.

I finally bit the bullet today, and did a full on, delete the partition and reinstall, reinstall. The crashing seems to have stopped, but of course I need to reinstall all of the peripheral stuff, like Visual Studio, SQL Server, Docker and such. It's not a huge inconvenience, but it's not without cost either. At the very least, it's like six hours watching it install stuff while I interact with my family or grill chicken or watch Back to The Future for the first time with my son.

I do think things are better. The reinstall only required that I add an updated sound driver, and the software for the touchpad so I could properly double-click and scroll. Windows understood everything else in the laptop without extra work. But still, there was no obvious path from the crashing, and that sucks. Windows rot, as I used to call it, is still a thing. Hopefully I don't need to reinstall next year.