Archive: February, 2019

The problem with Trump has never really been about policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie cameras

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't make it so complicated

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

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

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

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

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

Self-care, you should do that

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying to frame change as exciting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fame shouldn't be the goal

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken curry and other failures

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

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

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

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

Leveling up in adulting

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

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

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

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

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

Review and more love for Hamilton in Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two lonely boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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