Archive: November, 2019

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.