Archive: July, 2018

Lego sets, after the build

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 29, 2018, 4:52 PM | comments: 0

As an adult, I've been able to periodically buy gigantic and expensive Lego sets, which I started doing just before Simon was born. The joy in those is the construction process. I would never be interested in building one of these sets and sticking it on a shelf somewhere. I'm not that "Lord Business" from The Lego Movie.

Well, not exactly. I am careful in that I want to maintain the integrity of the sets. I also want it to be reasonably easy to build them again. Someone asked what I do when it's time to disassemble them. Basically, I take them apart by following the instructions in reverse, to numbered bags, as they were when I opened the box. The time varies a lot, but it's usually not more than 25% of the original build time. Some sets go a little slower if the division between bags isn't clear, but some go faster. The Disney Castle, for example, is completely sectional, and the 4,000 pieces come down pretty quickly outside some of the detail work. Probably less than two hours. The new roller coaster (pictured below), took a little longer because it's not obvious where the bags split, and there's a lot of detail work with small pieces in the scenery.

Yeah, it's extra work, but it's worth it. The kits that are particularly mechanical in nature are really fun, and engage my brain in a pleasing way. The Ferris wheel in really cool. The castle ins't mechanical, but it's architecturally neat. You can't roll with too much chaos for 4,000 or more pieces.

Review: Our 2017-2018 Broadway season

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 29, 2018, 4:16 PM | comments: 0

The absence of recent shows made me realize that our season has been over now for a bit, and I didn't do a retrospective of mini-reviews. This was the best season yet at our beloved Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts and the Walt Disney Theater. I love our date nights and going to that building. Theater is cool like that, because it starts to be this familiar place where you actually have difference experiences in, as every show is different.

The King And I

This is one of those things I knew because my mom loved the movie. It's a classic, for sure because, you know, Rodgers and Hammerstein. It was staged in a very classic way, with wonderful choreography and not a lot of complex scenery. The biggest surprise for me was how funny it played on stage. It wasn't a super memorable show outside of the fact that you've heard all of the songs before, but it was definitely entertaining.

On Your Feet!

As long-time friends know, I worked in commercial radio, hot AC then top 40, from 1994 to 1996. Gloria Estefan was still a big deal then, and having to suffer through playing back Rick Dees and Kasey Kasem at various points (we didn't have comprooders to do it yet), I knew her story all too well about the bus accident and the rehab and the come back and such. The show, not surprisingly, is about just that, and it's a pretty thin plot to hang a show on. However, as jukebox shows go, it's super entertaining, and watching a lot of beautiful people sing and dance is not a bad way to spend an evening. Heck, I think "Gloria" was better than Gloria. It was kind of neat having the band on stage, too.

There was apparently a lot of drama in the start of that tour, which kicked off in Orlando. The lighting rig was enormous, and it took four stage managers to run the show every night. They apparently didn't do a lot of load-in rehearsing, because the first night of the show was actually delayed almost an hour. It was big and complicated, though it wasn't apparent why when you saw it. I suppose that's very inside baseball, but it's fun to hear about stuff like that.

Love Never Dies

OK, this one I did write a review of, because it was so bad. The original Phantom was something I loved in my teenage years (even though I didn't see it until I was 32), so I was borderline offended at that this "sequel." I'll stop now. You can read the hate if you want.

Book of Mormon

This is already the second time it has stopped at Dr. Phillips Center, and it's every bit as funny as it was the first time. Brought along my best friend and her husband this time. The show was an add-on this season.

School of Rock

I have a love-hate thing with Jack Black movies, but the film was a classic because those kids were so damn talented. Until the season was announced, I forgot that they made it into a musical. I think it's almost like Andrew Lloyd Webber had to do a make-good for unleashing Love Never Dies on the world. There isn't a lot that's new about the show compared to the movie, though they do explore the principal's character a little more. I was surprised that they reused the song that the band performs in the movie.

The strength of the show though is that the kids actually play the music (and there's a cheesy announcement before the show by Webber indicating as much). They're so good. What a crazy opportunity and lifestyle for those kids, to tour the nation and perform in front of thousands of people. And the lead was frankly better than Jack Black, while still taking inspiration from him.

We ended up swapping tickets for the sixth row for this one, which was a little close, but you could confirm that the little girl playing the bass was adorable. I'm a sucker for shows with talented kids.

The Lion King

I saw this show in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay in 2011 before it ended its run. This was one of the add-ons for this season, which made it convenient to buy three tickets and include Simon in a matinee. As I said when I first saw it, the opening of the show, and the start of the second act, are worth the price of admission alone. Disney gets a lot of shit because of its commercial success, and for some reason people put this at odds with the quality of its art. The animated film was beautiful, and the adaptation to a stage musical improved it in almost every way. It's darker, it's more dramatic and the music leans more into the African stuff that was not in the film.


This was the surprise hit of the season, and I'm going to gush about it, because I really liked it. In fact, I could have seen it a second time (not for free or anything), and I regret that I didn't. I find most shows entertaining, but not that many really move me. This one did.

I don't remember much about the film version, but the plot is about a waitress who makes epic pies while married to an abusive jackass that she won't leave. She and the other characters make a lot of fairly terrible decisions about their personal lives, but the show is ultimately about finding the people who really value you, and seeing that change is possible if you're open to it. It's a fairly straight forward journey, starting with the daily routine of sameness, and realizing a better life. We've all made that journey in some way, I'm sure.

The music is what makes it special, of course, and it's amazing that Sara Bareilles could write such a strikingly good series of songs, lyrically and musically. Her own music has always been good, and she's a storyteller for sure, I just can't believe how well those skills translated to an entire musical. The touring cast that we saw, led by Desi Oakley, was really outstanding. I remember sitting there during "She Used To Be Mine," struck by how sad it was, how trapped she felt.

This was easily my favorite show in the Orlando series this year. I would absolutely see it again.

New York City trip

In April we made our way to New York, and there we saw Hamilton, Kinky Boots and Frozen. I wrote about those here and here.

Something Rotten

Diana was excited to see this one, and while I found it entertaining, it didn't really land with me. The idea is that these brothers are trying to produce great theater while competing with William Shakespeare, who is essentially a rock star. To compete, they event the musical. The show is filled with a ton of theatrical references, which are frankly not that clever (the ones that I get at least). This is another one that was reasonably entertaining and funny, but I was fairly indifferent about it.


I'm sure I've heard the music enough, and I saw the movie, but nothing about the show has ever grabbed me. I wanted to reserve judgment until I actually saw it. It was not an Equity show, but I don't think it would have mattered. I think the story is kind of dumb and I can't really bring myself to care about any of the characters other than the one that dies. I'm thinking it's because decades later, the things that made it remarkable at the time are not today. If you strip away the 90's boldness of including characters with HIV, gay people and a drag queen, there just isn't much there. It's just a bunch of whiny Gen-X'ers who want to fight the system and complain about it but not really do anything. At best, there are two good songs. I was so bored.

Social media: truthful not neutral

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 24, 2018, 2:00 PM | comments: 0

Two years ago, I wrote about my fascination with the notion that the press, the actual journalistic institution of reporting news, had to necessarily abandon the fascination with being "neutral" and instead be truthful as the context requires. The short version of this is that if you're covering a story about genocide, you don't need to present the other side of the story, from the perspective of the people doing the killing. Killing is bad, and that's truth. You don't have to, and should not, be concerned with being neutral when there is a clear truth to the situation. This is of course a hot topic because it isn't really necessary to offer the perspective of a politician who is lying. The truth is the truth.

Social media is not a journalistic endeavor, despite the fact that countless people suggest otherwise. Social media is intended to socialize thoughts and ideas, and to that end, we've seen it tend to reinforce beliefs more than anything. There isn't a lot of challenging going on. However, it doesn't mean that truth doesn't exist. Reality still has an objective basis in fact. So imagine my surprise at some of the recent headlines. Mark Zuckerberg, who runs Facebook, apparently believes that Holocaust deniers are just making a mistake, and will continue to offer Facebook as a platform for this false position. Similarly, Twitter's Jack Dorsey seems to be indifferent about providing a platform for racists, though I'm certain no one well acclimated to society thinks racism is OK. Truth doesn't seem ambiguous there.

I'm strongly disappointed in the people who run the social media companies. They were founded with the lofty goal of connecting people, but at this point they're willing to overlook the worst of humanity for the sake of engaged users. They have in fact made it easier for people to be divisive. It's not a binary condition, don't get me wrong, because certainly social media has connected people in ways that weren't otherwise possible. But here's the thing... these are companies, not government, and as such they have no such obligation to be neutral in the context of free expression. They can draw a line in the sand and require civility, they just choose not to.

I've been running online communities now for 20 years, which in Internet years, might as well be a century. There's never been any illusion of "free speech" on those sites, but for decades now we've managed to have great conversations. They weren't all respectful, but generally we've been able to have conversations with opposing viewpoints. We've never bounced anyone for having the "wrong" opinion, but we absolutely did for people who threatened violence against others, engaged in name calling or certainly any kind of hate speech. I've never felt like that line wasn't obvious. Why can't Twitter and Facebook figure this out? You aren't enabling a conversation... people who cross those lines are not interested in having one.

I may have been depressed

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 20, 2018, 11:12 PM | comments: 0

I spent a little time tonight copying playlists from Amazon to Google, because Amazon will no longer host your MP3 stash in a few months. I've been doing yearly playlists now since the early oughts, when I got my first iPod, and I back-filled the years to 1992 using old mix tapes and popularity charts as a reference (I really need to find a good source for the 80's). As I've written a hundred times before, music quite literally supplies a soundtrack to my life.

Because those songs bring floods of memories back to me, the things I was feeling at the time also come right back. What I find alarming is how many of those feelings seem to be sadness or depression. It's not just a few songs, but entire blocks of songs and the years they came from. The biggest trouble spots were college, and the first half of the oughts. Granted, the post-9/11 economy and the unemployment that came with it, and then divorce after that, were hardly reasons to be happy, but I didn't think at the time that I was depressed.

Depression runs in my family, though my family doesn't think so. Quite a few of them are or were depressed a lot of the time, though I didn't know what that looked like when I was a kid. They say that depression is likely around 40% hereditary and 60% environmental, though one has to assume that if your environment has depressed people it's worse. Regardless, I think it's important that I watch myself carefully.

In taking inventory, I try to see when I was happy, by contrast. The first few years after college were happy if somewhat chaotic. When I started dating again, those were happy times, despite periodic loneliness. 2012, the full year back in Cleveland, was not very happy, but I don't think I was depressed as much as I was unsure about what we did. Moving to Florida kind of blew the doors off of the happy meter. I feel like depression hasn't been a thing for more than a decade for me, and I'm thankful for it.

This year I've been trying to figure out if I'm depressed or just stressed. The joy I felt in April when we were in New York, as well as the time on our last cruise in June, implies that I just wasn't managing stress very well. Why does it matter? Because stress I know how to manage once I realize I'm having it. It's mostly just deliberately taking time to be present and relax. Depression is way more complicated, and rarely fixed by "choosing" to be happy. I've never medicated for it, but what I did learn was that there was a lot of underlying emotional cause for it, and you have to unpack all of that and practice feeling right.

It's all weird to think about, how often I felt that way but didn't see it.

Gecko: Tiny dinosaur

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 20, 2018, 7:45 PM | comments: 0

This may seem marginally silly to write about, but one of the daily things that amuse while living in Florida is the geckos. They're everywhere. Sometimes, one gets in the house, or is dragged in from the patio by one of the cats, and that's sad. Mostly though, they're on the sidewalks and on the side of the house. When we go to the mailboxes, the path leading up to them often has a dozen, and they scatter as you approach.

Also, they eat bugs, and that's a good thing, because we definitely have too many bugs. I love you, tiny dinosaurs.


The importance of time off

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 17, 2018, 8:30 PM | comments: 0

I got into a weird place in the last year where I was working ridiculous hours and not really taking off very much time. I took off a week for Christmas only because I had to use some time or lose it. Then in the first quarter I didn't take any time off. Finally we did a New York trip in April for our anniversary, and I'm not sure I would have done it if I didn't already have it scheduled. In between jobs, I realized just how tweaked out I was, and it was because I didn't take enough time for myself.

This time, I'm trying to really pay attention. I have unlimited PTO, which sounds awesome right? I think that in some ways it will be more challenging, because without an accrual number of days or hours, relative to your time worked, it might not be obvious that you aren't taking time off. In fact, we have a vacation bonus, paying out $500 once a year for taking five consecutive days off.

I'm not sure how I got like this, because my first real job out of college involved comp time, where I got time and a half off for any overtime, even though it was salary. I took maximum advantage of that. In the poor economy and layoff years, I simply viewed work as an unimportant exchange of money for value. It changed when we moved to Florida, so it's partially a symptom of living where everyone else vacations, but also because I started to find meaning in work and responsibility. While admirable, work is still work, and even when it's fun, there's some kind of mental cost that comes with it.

My newer mode of consciousness includes the acknowledgment that we only have so many keystrokes in life, and it's important that I spend enough of them with my little guy and my darling wife. I know I let that slide earlier this year.

So I'm trying to make some plans for the rest of the year, because other than a long weekend in November, we don't have anything specific planned. It's also harder now that Simon is at the school age where we can't just arbitrarily pull him out. Also, the holidays are fine for "staycations" but kind of suck for travel because of crowds and more expensive rooms/fares. It's funny how I'm confident I can lead large groups of people but can't figure out how to take a vacation.

Video stores and instant gratification

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 13, 2018, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Remember Blockbuster, and before that, your locally owned video rental store? I guess I won't go as far as saying do you remember VHS rentals (a phenomenon caused by the fact that movies were not priced to own at first), but that was a thing, too. Blockbuster was apparently sold to a holding company, and the two last stores in Alaska are shutting down. It makes sense that these were holdouts, since high speed Internet access ain't cheap up there, so streaming hasn't had as much of an impact. That leaves one in Bend, Oregon.

There was something kind of neat about going to the video store, and coming home with tapes or discs to watch that night. By my senior year of college, I bought a VCR with Dolby Pro Logic, meaning it could derive surround sound out of the audio, so I was pretty serious about recreating a theatrical experience, even if it was with a 20" NTSC tube TV. Doing rentals in college was a regular occurrence, since an extreme portion of my lame classmates went home on weekends. Eventually this transitioned to Netflix shipping physical discs to me in the late oughts, and we didn't really start streaming regularly until 2014, when the FireTV came out. Before that, we had only engaged in some semi-broken experiences through the Xbox, mostly for tennis and the Olympics. Now, everything comes over the wire, including rentals.

I'm not nostalgic for going to video stores. Not much, anyway. The convenience to not do that is amazing. But is the act of obtaining a movie and watching it as "special?" I mean, a lot of them I don't even have to buy, they're just on Amazon Prime or Netflix. (I suppose this is like them being on HBO or Showtime back in the day, but I've never subscribed to those.) It seems like since we can come to so many things with minimal effort that the joy associated with them has been somewhat reduced. It's not just the convenience of video on demand or instant Google results to answer a question, it's also things like delivered food, same-day delivery from Amazon, etc.

Maybe all of that instant gratification will lead people to find joy in more important things, like other people and experiences.

Five years Floridian

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 12, 2018, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

Five years ago today, I rolled into Orlando after surviving a wrath-of-God thunderstorm closer to Daytona. It was hot, humid, and I collapsed on the bed of an extended stay place with the cats, exhausted after two long days of driving. It was a Friday, and I was thankful that my dear friend Kara was here to welcome me with dinner before I slept for 12 hours. It was the start of a week without my little family unit, and was exceptionally weird.

There was a lot of anxiety that week, even though I nailed down a rental pretty quickly. The new job, new town, me and three cats in a little room. When Diana and Simon made it down the next week, with a few more days in a hotel until our stuff made it down from Cleveland, I was excited to see them but the three of us in a tiny room was stressful. Being transient just isn't a ton of fun. The very next day we used the house lease as proof of residency and got annual passes to WDW and had a wonderful (and wet) time at Magic Kingdom. It felt amazing to be able to provide for my little boy in that way. It felt so right that we signed to build a house within two weeks.

We did move to a bigger house in this five years, but we've basically been in the same area for the whole time. We love it here. The theme parks are a nice perk, but they're not even close to the primary reasons for it being awesome. The weather is probably the biggest thing for me, and the three months of summer hotness isn't a big deal when 70 degrees is "jacket weather." The job market isn't bad here for what I do, even if I've spent half of that time working remotely for a Tampa company. The schools have been reasonably robust in helping us with Simon's challenges. Diana has found a wonderful place to work. There is a ton of great food here. We're an hour away from either coast, with super easy cruise access. We can see rocket launches from home. We sit in our street with neighbors and sip adult beverages.

Other than Cedar Point and some of the people there, we don't miss Cleveland at all. Seattle is more complicated, because we felt like we belonged there and should never have left. This is a slightly weird state, because we miss Seattle, but we'd miss it here too. I think we can feel both and by happy to stay put.

We made a good decision, and it all happened in a matter of weeks. This has been the most stable period of residency since we met, and it has been good.

In defense of Weezer

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 12, 2018, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

One of my friends recently tore into Weezer on the Facebook over their recent release of a faithful cover of Toto's "Africa." Others piled on, with a theme about how the band was trying to cash in on something trendy, or they don't make good music anymore, or whatever. As it turns out, the song came about mostly as a Twitter dare from a 14-year-old fan, which is to say, someone younger than the band itself. It snowballed, and then the keyboardist from Toto said they should definitely do it. So a band formed 10 years after that song was released covered the song 26 years into their career for a 14-year-old. (By the way, they also covered "Rosanna" just before that.)

I'll get back to that in a moment, about why that's cool, but allow me to aside (as a verb) that it's weird how so many bands I listened to in the 90's continue to tour, and many still make new music after two decades or more. By contrast, very few of the bands in the 90's had been making music since the 70's, with a few exceptions here and there.

Here's the thing... Weezer has been around a long time. Honestly, I've liked them from the start, but always found their albums to be a little hit or miss as a whole, but with great songs on each one. Their popularity to date is largely based on longevity in that sense. You make enough good music for long enough and you'll have a huge following. It's different than, say, someone like Def Leppard who made three great albums and then... didn't. They're still touring on the strength of those records.

Weezer's longevity also invokes a lot of hipsterism, and has from the start. You get a lot of, "I liked them when 'Buddy Holly' and 'El Scorcho' were out." Look, I identify with hipsters. They're kind of my people, but that kind of "ownership" over cultural stuff is stupid, in the way that wearing a knit cap in July in Orlando is hipster stupid.

My feeling is that Weezer has put out a ton of albums, even more singles, and has been doing so for two and a half decades. I think they've pretty much earned the right to do whatever they want, even if it's a note-for-note cover of a song from the 80's. It's not a reflection of their character or ability. Bands have their influences and likes, and it seems appropriate to pay tribute to those. I saw 10,000 Maniacs cover The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" last year and it was awesome. Do they suck too? Of course not.

Things are better than ever, but it feels like the backslide risk is high

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 6:54 PM | comments: 0

The world has generally been on a path of continuous improvement of my lifetime. Objectively, using data like the stuff found on Our World in Data, we can prove this. For example, fewer people over time are hungry  and extreme poverty is on the decline even while population continues to increase. Ozone depleting substances have been reduced in use while the hole slowly recovers. Homicide is down globally (though relatively high in the US).

The last two years have felt like we're on the path of a serious backslide, however. In the United States, we've seen an unprecedented return of racism (maybe an empowerment of racists more than a return). People engage in willful ignorance over science for a hundred illogical, and frankly stupid, reasons. In the UK they've voted to willingly leave a union that is in their best economic interest to remain a part of, all in the name of a misplaced sense of pride.

This gets us to the topic of critical thinking. There is enough information out there now that you can certainly accumulate it and shape it to fit any narrative that you'd like. However, as a responsible human being, it's your job to understand where the information comes from. Even with recorded history, you should always consider where the information comes from and what their motivation was for recording it. Apply this a hundred times over with anything that comes to you via electronic means.

So what do you do with this? First of all, I think it's reason enough to be optimistic, while cautious. Our trajectory in a broad sense is positive, but there are human forces that threaten it every day. In the US, this has been our history, repeating over and over again. The moral and just direction has always been on the radar, in terms of abolishing slavery, allowing women to vote, civil rights, etc., but there have always been incentives to keep the immoral status quo in place. We can't be a party to that.

Remembering Dick Feagler, the OG pundit

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 2, 2018, 11:33 PM | comments: 0

If you grew up in Cleveland, and read its newspapers, or watched local TV news, then you probably knew Dick Feagler. He died yesterday, just short of his 80th birthday. While he certainly had his place as a journalist, what he was best known for was his commentary and editorial. In the context of my life, he's the O.G. of television pundits, decades before cable "news" was a thing.

In my teen and college years, I knew Feagler as the grumpy old guy who got the last few minutes of the newscast to tell everyone what was on his mind. He occupied a space that I associated with Dorothy Fuldheim, a feisty woman who also offered commentary at the end of the news when I was very young (she in turn reminded me of a grumpy old version of my great grandmother). Even if you're in your 40's or older, you may not remember that this was a normal part of the local evening news. Newspaper and television journalism in those days was something of a public trust, and it was taken seriously by the people who served in that role. To that end, they'd always put up the commentator's name in the lower-third with "commentary" spelled out below their name. There was no question where the news stopped and the editorial started, and in fact these pieces generally aired after a commercial break and before the g'nights.

Feagler would certainly talk about national issues, but what stood out to me was his engagement in local politics. He knew the various mayors and city council members, along with business and community leaders. He was absolutely disgusted by failures in local government, and Cleveland had plenty of that to go around in the 70's and early 80's. He would also rant about relatively benign social or cultural observations, which is why I apply the "grumpy old guy" title.

In fact, in retrospect, I think he generally could be categorized as politically "conservative," but only as it applied to those earlier decades. Unlike much of his generation, he was not racist, and in the early oughts he was writing essays about the need for equal rights for gay people. He may have longed for the "good old days" before computers and the Internet in his writing, but those days weren't about being toxic toward other humans on the basis of their genetic and ethnic identity. But he was also too smart for his own good, because like a lot of people who exist in a diverse environment, he felt that any forced embrace of diversity was stupid because, in fact, the environment was diverse regardless. He had little use for things like affirmative action or hate crime laws. It wasn't that he didn't have empathy in his writing, it's that he had moved on as if the institutionalized cultural challenges had already been solved. He wasn't wrong, he just wan't right, if that makes sense. Today he'd likely just be another old white guy on TV, but he wouldn't be one painting himself as a victim. At the very least, he understood the advantages of being a white, hetero, Christian male.

I related to Dick Feagler in two ways. First, he graduated from the last Cleveland school I attended, John Adams, where I went for a half-year. (That school was eventually demolished and rebuilt.) Second, he spoke at Ashland University during my freshman year there, and he was particularly gracious with his time, talking with a number of students outside in the parking lot about the TV business we were eager to be a part of. During his talk he demonstrated his ability to tie stories together into a complete narrative, starting and ending with a joke about how to end a newscast (apparently by lowering the anchors into the floor behind the news desk).

What I most respected about Feagler wasn't his position, because despite literally leading a gay pride parade in 2004, he tended to intellectualize issues of race and identity almost to a fault, but it was his authenticity. He didn't pander to an audience, as some of the things he would write about probably pissed off everyone. But there was something he scratched the surface of that made sense, that our desire to recognize the inequality and injustice among subsets of Americans was necessary but would drive us further and further apart before it would bring us together.

Still, in the greater sense, it's important to remember him as a part of a time in journalism and news gathering where commentary was not news. It was a time when we respected the institution of the press, and it respected us. I believe that's still possible, but only if people will be willing to hear what they need instead of what they want.