Archive: October, 2020

National Cat Day at Puzzoni HQ

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 28, 2020, 9:18 PM | comments: 0

It's kind of comical to recognize National Cat Day at our house (tomorrow, Thursday), because that's pretty much every day. As a couple, Diana and I have had at most four cats, three cats most of the time, just two for about two years, and one for only a few days. I've been hesitant to post about our cat pride in fear that I would jinx Oliver, who wasn't doing very well, but months have passed and he seems to be relatively stable.

Oliver, now about 14-years-old, very suddenly dropped a lot of weight starting in late August. It came with a bit of lethargy and he just didn't seem like himself. He wasn't eating much either. It felt like we just watched this movie with Emma a few months ago. In addition to the thyroid problems he already had, the doctor (and second opinion remote friend/vet/former-girlfriend) was that he was likely battling lymphoma or inflammatory bowel disease. While you could do expensive tests to confirm the cancer and potentially do all the cancer things, it wouldn't likely give him a lot of extra time. Putting him through chemo at his age doesn't seem like a good idea. A more immediate treatment was steroids in either case, so we went with that.

After a month, he's still skinny, around ten pounds, but he's generally back to himself in terms of personality. He's eating a ton. He'll climb all the way up in the cat tree and sleeps on the bed with us. He even gets salty with the kittens when he's not reluctantly being spooned by one of them in bed. So for now, Oliver is still Oliver. He's not as playful as he used to be, but he's about a year shy of the average cat lifespan of 15, and I chalk that up to old age. It's good to see him every night at bedtime.

The kittens turn six months next week, and in just the short three months they've been with us, they've grown into enormous beasts. Finn in particular is huge. Poe is stocky, but still very robust. The breeder suggested that in her experience, Finn will likely top out as one of the more enormous house cats one could have, which is great, because that's what we were hoping for with this breed. They're both very pretty, too.

I can't really understate how wonderful these furballs have been, in a time where we all need a little more love and joy. Honestly I thought that breed characteristics around personality were likely bullshit. All I know is that my brother-in-law has a ragdoll and that charmingly chubby cat is one of my favorite animals anywhere. But as it turns out, they're not stereotypes, they're real. They are kind of dog-like in the way that they follow us around, when you pick them up they just kind of go limp and take the love, they love to play hard and sleep hard, and above all, they really love their humans. They're not aloof at all. You couldn't ask for sweeter cats. It's also hilarious to see them all asses-and-elbows when they run around on the wood floors, because with those furry paws, they slide all over the place.

Finn is our favorite, even though we shouldn't pick favorites. He's a lover in every way. Every night, he jumps up on Diana in bed, buries his head in her hair and purrs and kneads. He purrs a lot when you touch him. His personality is to engage with you as much as possible, and he's happy to flop on his back for belly rubs. He likes to play pretty rough with me too, with all of the nibbling and rear-digs, but not usually enough to actually scratch me.

Poe is certainly charming as well. He's more driven by food, despite being the runt of the litter. He will happily clean the food bowls after every meal. He's softer than Finn, with lots of "bunny fur." He really enjoys the belly rubs as well, but also likes you to get in there and rub his back. He's obsessed with getting Oliver's approval, and despite the elder cat's resistance, will do his best to groom and cuddle. He'll simply walk up to Oliver and drop to the floor, looking up at him.

Like I said, these little guys couldn't have come at a better time. Losing Emma was tough on all of us, and I haven't had a kitten in almost two decades. And I'm really happy that Oliver has some little buddies for his golden years. Every day is cat day here, but we'll happily celebrate them anyway!

I used to talk about "pools and palm trees"

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 28, 2020, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

As far back as our Seattle time, I recall foreshadowing an eventual landing in Florida. I remember telling people that we might be "pools and palm trees" people, which is pretty weird when I think about staring at the Cascades while saying those words, and being so infatuated with the mountains. I still am. But we did in fact land in Central Florida, and I have a big old palm tree in front of my house.

We do not, however, have a pool. I used to think that this was just something you did if you owned a house in Florida. It seemed like a really good idea, but a number of things have changed my mind. First, every subdivision with an HOA has a pool, so it's kind of redundant. Sure, it's not as convenient, but I wouldn't call it inconvenient either. Second, pools are another expense. Some friends of mine here are annually putting money into pumps, heaters and the sheer energy cost of operating it. Maybe that's not a huge deal, but I tend to be energy conscious, and all of that energy used to keep the place cool in the summer is not trivial. Third, realtors will tell you that they don't really add to the value of the house, and sometimes they can even be a liability as people don't want to have the expense related to it. That part surprised me, but it seems reasonable to me.

So we don't have a pool. I guess we're just palm tree people. I wouldn't rule out a hot tub though, some day.

Forget critical thinking, let's start with trust

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 27, 2020, 8:42 PM | comments: 0

In what has been a brutal election year (yes, we've been in the process of electing a president for over a year), people have taken sides, drawn false moral equivalencies, and many simply don't care what is real and what is convenient to believe. Critical thinking has gone out the window in favor of protecting minds with what is comfortable. That's why people can back a fascist autocrat who lies everyday. Well, it's one reason, anyway.

When I think about what has made people successful in a broad sense, and I define that loosely as "contributing to a larger effort in a way that is moral and rewarding," one of the most consistent themes that I've seen is that the level of trust is extraordinarily high when it comes to the leadership in that situation. It's not the only attribute that contributes to success, but it is almost always there.

I can apply this to every situation in my life. My role as a father begins with trust. My best seasons as a volleyball coach came when I earned the trust of my kids. My highest performing work teams were led by trustworthy leaders. The best companies I've worked for instilled trust from the top down. The best local elected officials I've worked with could be trusted. I have to trust doctors, electricians and food servers. I have to trust in scientists and the scientific method. I even have to trust other drivers on the road, even though they rarely deserve that trust (especially in Florida).

That's a lot of people to trust, and it's true that sometimes people don't get it right. I think that for the most part though, people try. Maybe that sounds naively optimistic in this year in particular. My therapist would likely tell you that I give trust too freely.

Trust should be the fundamental issue in this election. Trump lies so much, out loud, that the sheer volume and density of the lies makes it almost impossible to track. This isn't my opinion, this is objectively true, with verifiable information. His party affiliation has nothing to do with it. If you had someone like this on your payroll, you would fire them. And sure, you can make the assertion that "all politicians lie," but that's the kind of false moral equivalence that puts you well into the camp of anti-critical thinking. This too, can be objectively measured, in the same way that you can verify a sub sandwich is 12 inches long, or the depth of your pool is six feet. Just because someone doesn't play on your team doesn't make them untrustworthy.

I'll be the first to say that I'm incredibly disappointed that Joe Biden is the bar we've set for such an important job, because he's another ancient mediocre white guy (seriously, he's older than the current age of the last three presidents!). What I can say about him though is that he has a track record of surrounding himself with capable people and deferring to their expertise. In other words, he can trust others to do the things that he is not qualified to do, or can't make the time to do. That's the essence of leadership, regardless of policy.

Trust is the essence of successful leadership.

I'd have a (non-alcoholic) beer with George Bush

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 27, 2020, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

I've been reading George W. Bush's book on and off for awhile. It's fairly interesting, and more vulnerable than I expected, but I think it's because he's willing to admit mistakes while offering his perspective about why he made the decisions that he did. Like any previous president in my lifetime, except for Nixon, I would absolutely jump at the chance to talk to him about his experiences as president. I would certainly have a non-alcoholic beer with him. (While he doesn't self-identify as an alcoholic, even though what he describes sure sounds like alcoholism, he stopped drinking in the 80's.)

Now, make no mistake, I think Bush's foreign policy was an absolute disaster. Invading Iraq on a premise that was not true had enormous consequences, not the least of which was the rise of ISIS. He definitely should not have let himself be influenced by Cheney. Humoring the deregulation cause of his party had unintended negative effects, including the mortgage crisis. His environmental record was variable at best, while he was somewhat progressive about immigration, and his actions as a leader right after 9/11 were about what you wanted and needed from a president in such a terrible time.

So while I think on the whole he was not a particularly good president, what I do recognize is his intent and character. After serving in the National Guard and going to an Ivy League school, I do believe that his intent was good, and was rooted in service. I can separate the policy from the man. He clearly believed that there was a dignity to the office and understood its importance. That's why I could easily be in a room with him and ask him questions for as long as he would allow it.

I bring this up, as you might expect, because this is not what Donald Trump is. His actions show no respect for the office, the American people or the institutions he's entrusted with operating. His intent is only to satisfy his ego. He's not making any policy decisions. He's not governing or operating the government (ask people working in the various federal departments how it's going with a revolving door of "acting" directors). The US has lost the respect of our allies, and even our enemies have less respect for us. He's objectively an autocrat and a fascist who watches TV and worries more about popularity than anything else. You've been lied to repeatedly. He isn't looking out for you.

Yes, there are ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats. It was never about that with Trump. This isn't someone you would have a beer with.

Measuring free time productivity sure is weird

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 26, 2020, 5:45 PM | comments: 0

I woke up Sunday morning kind of energized by the amount of stuff I achieved in my free time the day before. I've taken a little grief from myself over the last few months about how many projects I've worked on, and haven't finished any of them, so delivering on one of them naturally feels pretty good.

Then I had a startling question: Why am I measuring the productivity about the things I do for fun in my free time? When I say that out loud, it feels gross and toxic. When we do things for fun, we're not bound to some metrics or made to be delivery focused. Doing the things is what makes for the fun. In fact, it should also be OK to do nothing, if we so choose. I realize some people can't physically do that, but I can, and I always feel better for it.

Since one can argue that we only have so many keystrokes left to bang out on the keyboard of life, we should make those count. Meh, maybe that's true, but I feel like sometimes I lose sight of the feelings that come with being present and doing something pleasurable. The last few weekends, and even a few evenings, I worked hard on that music player and really got excited about the outcome. It isn't "finished," but I brought it a long way and I'm using it every day. That's exciting.

I need to remember to be OK with it when other weeks aren't like that.

Why progressives can't progress

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 25, 2020, 7:57 PM | comments: 0

I was reading a thread in a science group about the falling cost of putting things in space and the peripheral effort to make humans an interplanetary species. Science in space has had immeasurable benefit to humanity, and not just Velcro®. In the context of today's industry, smaller, less rich companies are able to launch communications satellites, the US is able to put up better ways to measure climate change, and SpaceX is well into the process of making Internet access possible literally everywhere in an affordable manner. And we don't even have to throw away the rockets after one use!

What the conversation devolved into was deep and unfounded criticism toward rich people, which is non-constructive. I take issue with two things. First, I don't understand how we got to a place where we now villainize the successful. Success is not antithetical to being a moral contributor to society. I mean, one of the most successful, Bill Gates, has had a part in eliminating polio. Like, it's almost gone from earth. The second issue is that there is an assumption that success comes at the expense of others. While there are certainly "successful" people who got rich screwing the little guy, these are anecdotes, not the trend.

Progressive policymakers have a lot of important and ambitious goals, many of which I agree with. They're morally correct when they find it absurd that a wealthy nation like ours can't cover the healthcare of all its citizens, creating a gateway to poverty and sickness, and making people risk averse to start a business because of the lack of healthcare access that may come with it. I'm on the fence about some other issues, but hopefully things like equality along every line (which is not the same as giving shit away, so relax with the socialism paranoia) are not controversial. The problem is that the progressives tend to make the successful the face of the problem, which doesn't make any sense.

The rich are just as much of a boogie man as people of color are to the other side. In my profession, I know a lot of really well-off people, and I would guess that the majority align with a lot of progressive goals, especially the healthcare. (And speaking personally, not being able to afford it for my family is the single biggest reason I've never in earnest tried to start a business, because I can't afford their care without a day job working for someone else.) The truth is that they're not the ones you need to convince... it's the other more moderate successful people. You won't win any hearts and minds by suggesting they're the problem, but I suspect many of them would agree that the system needs changing.

If progressives intend to make any progress, they have to stop scapegoating the people and start addressing the problems with the system.

Organizing your music collection sure has changed

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 25, 2020, 4:14 PM | comments: 0

I spent nearly four hours trying to "clean up" my music collection. When it lived in Amazon's cloud, they did all kinds of things to "organize" songs, which is to say that they would modify the tags in the files I uploaded, or sometimes attempt to match them with copies of songs they already had, so as not to store duplicates. I "lost" the version of Death In Vegas' "Girls," for example, that was in the movie Lost In Translation, which I prefer to what I have now.

But the carnage was even more weird than that. The biggest problem was that some songs in an album would have their "album artist" tag empty, and others wouldn't, so many algorithms, including that of my player, recognize them as two separate albums. Google Music did this too, but I mostly fixed them in the service itself, not with the files I had at home. There were other problems where it didn't group soundtracks in particular in a consistent manner, with half the tracks attributed to individual artists or singers in the album artist field, instead of the conventional "various artists." Then you have things where one album is from Matt and Kim, and the next is from Matt & Kim. Or 30 Seconds To Mars and Thirty Seconds To Mars. Even more weird is the instances where they would leave off a disc number, which on most songs is just a 1 (a double album would have 1 or 2). Again, because of ordering, disc 0 track 12 will come before disc 1 track 1, making for messed up ordering. Some double albums even had a different album title, so Jesus Christ Superstar Broadway Cast Recording or Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness would be listed as two separate entries. Or worse, the latter had varying capitalization in the title, so there were four album groupings for that one. It was a mess.

iTunes back in the day was frankly just as bad, only it messed with your music on your local computer. Apple did a lot of things right to bring digitally distributed music into the world legally, but they destroyed a lot of trust when you bought the music from them, then when they lifted the DRM, asked you for more money to unlock what you already paid for. I still have a few albums sitting in folders somewhere that I can't listen to.

I know much of the world has moved on to streaming services, but none of them have everything that I want, or the obscure things or the B-sides or the bootlegs and rarities that one collects. I'm also tired of rebuilding all of my playlists every few years. With my own service, I don't have to do that anymore. We've also had a couple of weak years for music in a row, and even the songs I've bought total far less than what I would spend on a subscription service. I pay $7 per month already for SiriusXM to enjoy a curated experience, and that's enough.

Now that my OCD has largely been placated, the order brings me peace. I don't need a music service because I built one.

Virtual happy hours

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 24, 2020, 7:50 PM | comments: 0

If you've worked remotely prior to this year, or perhaps with an otherwise distributed team, then you may be familiar with the virtual happy hour. That's when it isn't practical to gather with your coworkers, so you get on yet another Zoom call, beverage at your side, to interact socially with your colleagues. Now it's fairly common for virtually anyone that has a desk job. We had one Friday with my management team. Locations varied, but covered much of the geography, from here in Orlando, to SoCal, to Portland, to a rooftop in Brooklyn.

The company I currently work for would typically have an engineering meetup once a year in person, but that was obviously cancelled and made virtual later in the year. It certainly wasn't the same, but it was definitely less expensive. At the end of the first day we even had an optional social gathering, with a bunch of "rooms" of various interests. I hosted one of the rooms, for "beverage enthusiasts." These kinds of events have been interesting, because I've met people I might not have otherwise, including a woman who literally lived in my current neighborhood and moved to Cleveland after leaving Disney. Small world, indeed.

But of all the things that the pandemic has put on hold, for me it's the travel problem that's most unfortunate. It's reasonably safe to travel on road trips in particular, especially if you can land in a place with minimal indoor interaction. Hopefully with the mounting outbreak that's still possible, but it sure looks like we're headed for a setback. Leaving the country, that's obviously going to be off the table for a long while, to say nothing of cruising.

Still, I'm happy to have the social interaction, virtual or not. It makes you appreciate that you're not the only one enduring a bit of a shitshow this year.

There is crying every day

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 22, 2020, 12:28 AM | comments: 0

One of the hardest things about working from home when there's school at home is that I hear the crying every day. Simon struggles a great deal with the remote learning situation. His teachers are doing their best, and Diana is reaching nothing short of miracles and fits of patience every day. The boy does laugh every day, too, but it seems largely over-shadowed by the misery.

The first problem is that the technology itself causes some of the anxiety and all-out meltdowns. If he can't get into a meeting, or a connection drops, the freak-out is immediate. I've seen it up close when I happen to be in the kitchen refilling a drink or making lunch. It's hard to say what the root cause of this reaction is, but it's a combination of fear of failure and fear of missing out. It's upsetting for us and hard to get him back in.

That leads to another challenge, that he believes everything is urgent, and everything is important, and in a remote context, it's harder to "raise your hand" and get clarity about something when the teacher goes too fast or even the video briefly glitches. Even electronic test taking gets worse, because of things like getting locked out when you tab-over to your teacher's call room, or not being able to skip questions and go back.

None of this is particularly surprising, I suppose, because as Simon would tell you, one of the things about autism is that it makes it hard to adjust and adapt, and that in turn activates the fight-or-flight mechanism that overwhelms him. Fortunately we're seeing his therapist again, and he seems to be connecting with him. And the best news is that she's going into private practice, so she's going to cost about half as much!

Tonight we had another bedtime meltdown, which is fortunately not as common as it used to be, but it mostly centers around the issues of independence. Simon isn't comfortable doing things on his own, even when they're as simple as brushing his teeth. I try to be careful not to invalidate his feelings, but at the same time, I can't hold his hand or help when he has to blow his nose. He's gotta learn self-care.

I have to remind myself that we do have laughs, but it's days like this where it's hard to see it. His grades are actually not terrible, but they come at the expense of daily drama and Diana having to be with him almost constantly. It's been hard to find the outlets for release that we all enjoyed as a family, like a concert at Epcot or a weekend visiting grandparents.

That time I got genuinely fired

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 21, 2020, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

Oh 2011, you were a strange year, especially the part when I landed back in the Cleveland. I had a Facebook memory that reminded me of such, when I vaguebooked, "The Cleveland adventure just keeps getting more weird." I knew exactly what it was, too. It was the day I got canned from my "job." Now that I think about it, maybe this was the root of the "what have we done" feeling of moving back there from Seattle.

If you back up two months, when we decided to move back to Cleveland, the math made sense. The annual bonuses were hitting at Microsoft, and I vested some of a stock award, so the risk was extremely low. I still wanted to get a job, and after two phone calls totaling maybe an hour with a company whose primary function was an ad agency, I landed one that seemed good enough. When I put feelers out there, I had a lot of choices. In retrospect, I was slipping into the less-deliberate mode that I promised myself I wouldn't do anymore when it came to career. But whatever, pile of cash, one place to pay for to live in, it was all good.

I know I've written about it before, but when I got to this job, there was nothing to do. It was cosmically weird. I remember thinking, "I was at Microsoft, surrounded by Amazon, Google, Facebook, Expedia, Zillow and countless other tech companies... what have I done?" But me being me, I spent about two weeks getting to know the business and meeting its principals, and sensed some opportunities. They had no real digital service strategy, or a plan to develop one, so I outlined some options.

At the start of my third week, I was getting pretty bored, but being downtown, lined up some interviews at other companies. That Tuesday, my boss called me in to talk about my "hours." Basically she said that I had to be there from 9 to 5:30, and that doing 8 to 4:30 as I was doing wasn't OK. Like any sensible person, I explained that putting myself in the middle of rush hour was a pretty terrible idea, and as adults I'm sure we could compromise on that. I figured it was a settled issue.

On Thursday of that week, I had some "real" work where I had to upload some files for some client, with the passwords sent via email in clear text, of course. It was the first real work I had, and it came in the middle of some morale event they were doing with beer and casino tables. The next day, I interviewed at another place a few blocks away (which was equally bad). When I got back, I was called into the owner's office, with my boss and the head of HR. I certainly recognized that ambush.

To that point, I had a few conversations with the owner, and I found him to be an arrogant alpha male right out of Mad Men (which I had not seen yet). Talking about my move, he suggested I never should have left Cleveland in 2009 because it was so great and up and coming, which was of little consequence to people in my line of work who were largely unemployed and fleeing to the coasts. That afternoon, he just wanted to tell me that it was unacceptable that I would not comply with the official hours, so good luck with my life. I bit my tongue, but I did tell the boss that I was disappointed about the way she misrepresented the company. I remember specifically asking her about whether or not there was a grownup enabling culture. This sort of thing was not that.

I was a terrible fit for the place. Having worked remotely on and off, particularly with a lot of consulting hours, butts-in-seats culture was, to say the least, foreign to me. I mean, I worked for a west coast technology giant. Any place that didn't respect its people as adults is not a place you want to work. I didn't have any work to do in the first place!

The timing of this was all actually really great. I had about four weeks where I was able to attack all of the relatively minor updates I wanted to make to the old/new house, and spend time with my tiny human. I had a ton of interviews, local and remote, and we went to Ikea in Pittsburgh. I spent about eight weeks working for a company in an interesting market that meant well, but there was just no chance of me being happy there, and Humana came calling with a pile of money to work remotely, which I happily accepted for a year.

I've been laid-off a total of six times in my career, all but one for monetary reasons (and the one that wasn't might have been about money, but maybe about personalities, but I'll never really know), but this was the one time that I was genuinely pointed to the door. I didn't feel the least bit bad about it.


posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 20, 2020, 8:57 PM | comments: 0

About four years ago, I started watching the site FiveThrityEight on a consistent basis, because it offers a fascinating look into the world of polling and statistics. They also cover sports odds, having been acquired by ESPN in 2013, which is in some ways a fairly terrible metaphor for the thing that politics has become for a lot of people (a sports rivalry). Founder Nate Silver generally had a pretty good track record for predicting outcomes of elections, and before the results starting coming in on that November, 2016 evening, their prediction models basically said that Trump had a 1 in 4 chance of winning the election.

Naturally, he took a lot of heat for that, but a 1 in 4 chance is not no chance. Given the room for polling error in a tight election, the outcome was always on the table. Basically, they take polling data, weight it for reputation and quality, adjust and compensate for other factors that they observe, and then run 40,000 simulations to see what could happen. Their current prediction model shows Trump winning 13 out of 100 times, which isn't great, but still wholly terrifying.

If you haven't figured it out, there are 538 electoral votes, and you need half plus one to win the election. The site does a pretty good job of explaining poll science, and this year how it has changed. The industry has changed dramatically over the years, in part because the old days when it relied entirely on random phone sampling are gone. They've also had to figure out how to account for layers of mistrust toward pollsters and dishonesty among those being polled. And then if that weren't enough, they have to account for the fact that people are voting over the course of almost a month, so if there are changes in the numbers, they have to account for that. I'm not a math geek, but I find it all very fascinating. Changes in culture and technology have vastly changed an entire industry.

On election night, they will update the model as results come in. According to the current forecast, the only way it starts moving in Trump's favor is if there are surprises in Nevada, Michigan and Minnesota, which are close enough to the margin of error that they could swing things. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida are even more questionable, but the same could be said about Georgia, Texas and Ohio from the other side.

So the feds are suing the Google

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 20, 2020, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but the US Justice Department filed a monopoly lawsuit against Google today. This has been a long time coming, and parallels a lot of the concern expressed by the EU (though it certainly leans more on privacy issues).

My frustration with Google is something I've written about before, and it's almost entirely centered with their dominance in the advertising market. The DoubleClick acquisition was definitely an inflection point. In the old days, there were many ad providers, and as a publisher, you would embed the tags for one in your site, then set other providers as backups in a chain. We made money, and if one ad provider tanked, there was always another. But because Google turned their ad platform into a mega-profiler via search, no one could measure the clicks and target specific people the way they can, so most ad providers disappeared. There's no way to compete with that. If you're going to pitch a VC, what is it with? "Oh hey, I'm gonna convince a bunch of publishers to embed my tags to serve advertising I haven't yet sold, then on the strength of that, convince advertisers to spend money with me." That would totally work!

With that said, I don't think Google is a 100% monopolistic Satan worshiping shit show. Technically, yes, they have the dominant operating system on mobile, but remember that you aren't locked into their app stores or anything (I'm looking at you, Apple). Their email and "office" apps are top notch and compete with Microsoft. They haven't made any significant inroads to getting a piece of retail. So the government's case may be broad, but I think their actual sin is a lot narrower than they're making it. I'm not in favor of breaking up the company or anything, but I also don't know what the resolution is to breaking their ad dominance. I doubt the government knows either.

It reminds me a lot of when the feds were suing Microsoft, mostly about bundling Internet Explorer in Windows. We know how that all turned out. The company got off with a consent decree that promised not to be naughty. Bundling the browser never helped the Bing search engine. But IE held on to half the market share through 2013, and it plummeted after that, because Google's Chrome was so much better. And you know what's hilarious? IE was tossed out in favor of Edge, which is essentially 98% the same as Chrome, literally deriving from the same open source project. What will happen with Chrome and the lawsuit? At worst I imagine they'll have to promise to ask which search engine you want to default to, and I think they might already have to do that in the EU.

Bottom line, if anything can come out of the next several years of this, if it goes to court at all, I hope they figure out how to make other players in the ad market possible.

Supreme Beings of Leisure

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 17, 2020, 2:10 PM | comments: 0

As I've been messing around with my cloud music locker project, I stumbled upon the group that always puts me at ease... Supreme Beings of Leisure. They released only three albums in the aughts, and all three were great. It's hard to describe exactly what genre I would put them in. Certainly there's an electronic component, maybe the thing that they called trip hop back in the day, but I remember what little Internet presence they had at the time, they sold as "sexy." They were primarily made of singer Geri Soriano-Lightwood and composer/production guy Ramin Sakurai. Every album was richer than the previous one.

I found the self-titled debut in 2000 by accident. I was browsing in a Borders (remember browsing for books and music in a store?), and they had this listening station with staff recommendations (remember putting random headphones on your head?). There was the SBL album, and after skipping around the tracks, I quickly bought it. It's super chill, fairly basic in composition. It's the kind of music that you want to hear when you're sipping a drink and feeling generally good about yourself. The track "Strangelove Addiction" in particular is pretty great. It was a great example at the time of what you could do when you layered more classic sounds on top of electronic sounds.

2003's Divine Operating System was a little jarring at first, because some songs have a serious 70's vibe, "Give Up" and "Divine" in particular. It's all good, and it felt different. As more of a throwback to the moody trippy stuff of the first album, you had songs like "Calamity Jane." Like the first, this album has a cohesive feel to it.

I had to wait five years for their last album, 11i, which was released in 2008. It is by far the best of the three, and it is definitely best listened to as a whole. There is not a bad song on the album, and it's far more textured and layers than the first two albums. It's hard to pick a favorite from this one, but the one that made playlists was "Angelhead." Absolutely brilliant. In fact, from that song to the end of the album, it all just flows. Like I said, this is one to listen to in its entirety, and the kind of thing that I can relax, close my eyes and listen to uninterrupted.

I don't know what happened to the band after 2008, but I'm grateful for the gifts they created. If you're looking for something new that's getting older, check them out.

Drinking the bubbles

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 15, 2020, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

I've had a soda problem most of my adult life. In college I was pretty good about it, tried to drink milk at least for dinner when I was on the meal plan, but after that, I started to drink a lot of Coke. In 2005 I greatly reduced that when I was coaching and more active, but by 2009, I was drinking a few cans a day (thanks, Microsoft, for all the free drinks).

When I moved to Florida in 2013, I started drinking a lot more water, because, you know, it's f'ing hot in the summer. I also mostly stopped drinking any caffeinated soda and stuck to Sprite, just because it was without the caffeine. Then in 2018 I started working in a place with free soda, snacks and food, and I gained about a dozen pounds. When I started working from home again and the pandemic hit, there was definitely a new kind of problem to tackle, so I figured I needed to get more serious about cutting the useless sugar out as much as possible.

Barely flavored soda water is all the rage right now, and when I tried it, I thought it was pretty gross. So I made a compromise: I started mixing it with Sprite. At that point, I was down to 70 empty calories per drink, which was a step in the right direction. I started changing the ratio over the next month, and before I knew it, I could drink the stuff straight. I tend to prefer the Bubly flavors. Not a fan of the La Croix. I really dig Spindrift, but it's not as easy to come by and more expensive.

I still drink the Sprite, but generally limit it to about six ounces and a splash of fruit juice in the morning, because my doctor believes that's a reasonable compromise to the intermittent fasting strategy of not eating between 7pm and 11am. When I'm consistent about it, that alone helps keep my weight down. I lost about half of the weight I gained while at my previous job, and all things considered when I have urges to eat my feelings, that's a miracle. Now I need to figure out how to not have fruity tropical cocktails on weekends.

It's interesting that over the years I've made changes to behaviors and habits that have benefited my health, but I rarely stick to all of them at the same time. This has been a horrible year to try and get the mental health in place so I can give due attention to the physical health, but again, I made some progress this year, and that counts.

I resisted buying a NAS, finally relented

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 14, 2020, 9:35 PM | comments: 0

It's a cloud-based world these days, but my paranoia and giant video files finally got the best of me. Well, I should say that Prime Day got the best of me, too, because I finally bought a NAS device (network attached storage) for the home. This is essentially a little box that sits on your network that gives you a place to backup and share computer files on the network. Configured right, it even has two drives that mirror each other so you've got two copies locally.

Here's the thing, I've been using online backup services for a very long time, because having a backup copy in your house is OK but creating some distance between your copy and another copy is the only way to really feel that you're safe. If your house takes a serious lightning hit (has happened), it may nuke all your copies and then you're done. Fires and natural disasters are even worse. I have a ton of old documents that I most certainly will never look at again, but the big parts I want to keep are photos and music. I've got close to 8,000 songs and around 40,000 photos I'd like to outlive any kind of hardware failures. Right now I use a service called IDrive, and I'm just barely under the 1 terabyte limit for the plan I have that costs $60 a year.

What I don't have backed up is mostly the unedited video I have going back to 1999. Fortunately I transferred all of that early DV tape to files, but then in 2006 everything got bigger when I bought a pro HD camera. This year things are getting really big with a 4K camera, and I just don't have room for it all. Buying a NAS should cover that for awhile, and hopefully at some point upstream bandwidth will be large and cheap enough that I just upload that to the cloud too.

These things are pretty cool because they're essentially little servers that do all kinds of stuff. In fact, they can even act as music servers that will work over the Internet, so you can access a library of music anywhere, but it's really kind of slow and clunky compared to what I'm working on. The useful app that I'm looking into is that it will upload some portion of its contents automatically to Azure storage. That's a little more expensive than IDrive, but I'd like to see what it comes out to in practice.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with the binder full of photo negatives that don't exist digitally.

Blazor may turn my distaste for front-end development

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 14, 2020, 12:51 AM | comments: 0

Less than a month ago I started messing with Blazor, the WASM front-end framework bits shipping with ASP.NET, and after going a little deeper, I was cautiously impressed. Now I'm closer to genuinely impressed.

Here's the thing about front-end development in the general sense: It's largely built on Javascript, and then TypeScript bolted on top of it, and fed by a number of frameworks that have enjoyed varying levels of popularity in cycles, starting with Angular, then React and now Vue.js. Collectively, this has been fed by an insane network of package management fed through npm and various build-transpile-optimize-packing technologies like webpack that do work, except when they don't.

Back in the day of course, we used server-side technology for everything and liked it. Then we got sassy and did more stuff in the browser itself with jQuery. Then we all had so much bandwidth that server-side tech was plenty fast enough, but we went down the single-page-app route anyway. (Oh, somewhere in there, Flash and Silverlight died, too.) Before you knew it, we started using command line tools to seed a project and it pulled literally hundreds of packages down as dependencies. POP Forums, which is pretty light in terms of front-end tech (it uses Vue.js for the admin, SignalR for websockets, TinyMCE for text editing, and then dev dependencies for relatively simple minifying and transpiling of what little script there is), pulls about 433 packages down from npm, about 44MB, to build what results in about 38K of scripts and 7K of CSS.

I don't understand why everyone is still OK with this. It's like a house of cards when some random "package" that's actually 10 lines of code goes dark.

Anyway, I sucked it up and did a little Angular for a job like four years ago. I did some "hello world" in React. I really embraced Vue.js for the forum app in the relatively simple admin, and it requires no packages, just the library. So it is in fact possible to strip it down and not have all the dependencies to an extent. I've still not been crazy about the development environments for it all, though VS Code made life a lot better for sure. As a manager, I've seen how misuse of these frameworks can easily cause performance problems, and if you have to manage a lot of state, they can get sluggish.

To be clear, I've never been a big fan of any UI technology. Sure, I've been getting along with HTML and CSS for 20-something years, but the various technologies like Windows Forms, Java UI's, all of the XAML-based stuff, etc., have not been great.

So Blazor comes along, and it builds on top of the familiar HTML and CSS with C#, and compiles it to WebAssembly (WASM), a standard supported by all the browsers but officially not even a standard until last December. The ideas are familiar enough from the big three Javascript frameworks, where you can bind data across various UI elements and components and share state. Where it starts to get wild is that there is all this code out there built to run on servers that you can now run in the browser (image manipulation and reading tags out of files are examples I've already tried). The depth is crazy compared to what you can do with npm libraries. There are already a ton of component libraries. It's crazy.

I've been using Blazor on my music locker project, and I'm trying to iterate from "make it work" to "do it right," or my best understanding of what "right" is. I have some observations here and there about the way it works, pros and cons, but so far I'm finding it surprisingly easy to build things in a solid and component-based way that feels familiar to Vue, at least. The difference is that everything goes faster, because C# is less easy to get wrong and it's in the tooling I already use for all of the back-end foo. I've become productive fast enough that I even answered a question on StackOverflow (ironically about Javascript interop).

Is it going to catch on? Well, no tech lasts forever, but this one isn't really inventing something new. C# and HTML have been around for decades, and this marries them to run on a the fourth big W3C standard, WASM (the other three are HTML, CSS and Javascript). If developers start having an experience like the one I'm having, I think it will catch on. It's not a binary thing where it's this or the traditional frameworks, there's room for both.

Acknowledging history is not rewriting it

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 12, 2020, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Here we are, another federal holiday for Christopher Columbus, and again we're reminded that he was a huge dick who didn't discover anything. The history about this is fairly non-ambiguous, in part due to Columbus' own writings. But the feds decided in 1968 to make his arrival (it sure wasn't discovery) in the Bahamas a national holiday. That's the odd part about it, that this mistake is not even rooted in centuries of tradition.

These are weird times for a lot of reasons, but among them is an obsession with celebrating the parts of American history that should not be points of pride. The thing making the headline the last few year is the desire to remove statues of confederate military figures. I'm not entirely sure why that would be controversial, as the confederacy existed to preserve slavery, which is not something we should take pride in. These were dudes on the wrong side of history.

This brings up a lot of discomfort when you go further back, too. Some of the most revered figures in American history were complicit in the persistence of slavery. What do you do with George Washington? He led the revolution and became the first president, all the while he was a slave owner. Historians believe that he would ultimately fall on the right side of the issue, but on the issue of abolition, he kicked the can down the road as president, and did not free his own slaves until he died. Thomas Jefferson also owned hundreds of slaves and spent more time skirting the issue, and ultimately did little to move toward abolishment. I'm not sure what we do with this. Can our founders be simultaneously recognized for their achievement and held accountable for their role in our greatest sin?

American history is an extraordinary contradiction. The nation's founding was based on the principles of freedom from tyranny but built its foundation on the backs of people who were owned. More than 250 years later, we still have a system that does not treat people fairly. We rightfully focus on race, but it's true for gender, sexual orientation and identity, religion and ethnicity.

What we see happening right now is not the desire to erase or rewrite history. It's literally the opposite: Most people want it acknowledged so we can accept that it's problematic and change how we behave as a society. American history has largely been white-washed and wrapped in this odd sense of patriotism. I'm all for celebrating the achievement of the great democratic experiment, but only if we're willing to acknowledge its shortcomings and missteps. Improvement is rooted in self-awareness.

I think I really can build a music locker

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 12, 2020, 12:50 AM | comments: 0

After forgetting about it for awhile, I realized that the imminent end to Google Music, replaced with YouTube Music which is not friendly to those who have their own collections, pushed the idea of my own music locker service back to the forefront of my mind. The previous two weekends, I experimented a little, then this weekend I went deeper, spending much of the day on Sunday on it.

After many commits and messing around, I have so far and in an unpolished fashion found a way to upload music, read the metadata, persist it all, yank out the album cover images, play it back in the browser and sort out the albums. Like I said, not the cleanest thing in the world, but it works, and it's all up on the open source project. It's all a rough prototype, but whatever, it actually works!

I haven't sat behind a keyboard and tried to solve new-to-me problems for a long time, but it's really satisfying. This particular project has been on my mind for awhile, and most of the problems aren't really hard beyond using new tools that I haven't used before. I think I can legitimately make this work, and if it does, maybe I'll look into spinning up a mobile app for it too, since the code is sharable.

You know that whole thing where people are like, "I need a hobby, so I'm going to take up woodworking or restoring old furniture?" This is usually accompanied by romantic notions of working with your hands or whatever. Well, those are absolutely noble and reasonable pursuits, but I'm starting to realize that I'm already have a fair amount of expertise with something that I don't directly do for a living. And I do in fact use my hands to make stuff, via a keyboard and mouse.

While I sure need to get out of my chair more, especially with the weather changing, at least doing this stuff keeps my hands and mind busy so I'm not eating or passively consuming TV or something. There's a lot of winning in that. It helps with anxiety, too, because when you're deep in thought trying to solve a problem, it's a bit of a reprieve from everything else.

Because she's a woman

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 10, 2020, 11:22 AM | comments: 0

Systemic racism is a thing, whether you see it or not, but let's talk about misogyny. After the vice presidential debate this week, the only thing likely getting more attention than the fly that landed on Mike Pence's head was the expressions of disapproval by Kamala Harris toward his nonsense. The only reason she faces this scrutiny is because she's a woman. The commentary, especially on Fox News, has stopped just short of accusing her of being "bitchy." Dudes don't have to endure that.

Sound familiar? It should. Hillary Clinton was not fundamentally ideologically different from Joe Biden, but Biden is crushing it in the polls. Why is that? Do you see pundits talking about how likeable Biden is? Of course not. I mean, there's nothing likeable about Trump, but no one ever talked about that. Clinton had the added scrutiny of being female, and our culture just played along.

Harris is seeing the same thing, and it's absurd. If you did this in the workplace, you would inevitably get sued. Let's stop pandering to testicular advantage and put women at the same level as men. It's yet another thing we've been getting wrong for 250 years and we can't wait another generation.

What do you want?

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 9, 2020, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

The pandemic may have prompted you to reevaluate your life. I think one of the most fundamental questions people never ask is, what do you want? It seems like there's a cultural rule that suggests it's not OK to ask that.

We tend to make a lot of plans when we're younger about what we think we want, which is a really terrible time to do so. When you're 40 and you look back at 20, you can probably admit that your inexperience did not serve as bedrock to figure out what you want. Very little really happened to you at that point.

Worse than the inexperience is the reality that we all endure a domestication process that tells us what we should want, and I don't think most of us question it. Go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, get the house and the car... it's what most of us probably do whether we wanted to or not. In essence, you didn't really decide what you wanted. (Fun sidebar: this is generally true when it comes to religion, too.)

So you wake up one day in a pandemic and think, "How did I get here?"

I bet that sounds a little midlife crisis, and maybe it is a little. When you're faced with constraints, you know, you start asking yourself what you can do. I think the good news is that your domestication outcome is probably not the worst thing. The existential crisis is more in the details of understanding that you probably didn't choose it, it was just what you were "supposed to do."

What do I want? I don't really have a detailed answer. I accept that to exist in society, I have to work, so I'm certain that I want to do work that is interesting and gives me some purpose. And working can give you comfort, so I want to understand how much comfort I need. I want to love and be loved, and for all of us to be safe. It's not very specific.

The domestic plan given to us doesn't necessarily make any of those things happen, or at least, they're not the only way to make those happen. When it comes to what I want, I can be abstract and high-level, but not get in the weeds. I wonder if I should.

Movie theaters at risk

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 7, 2020, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

There was news this week that the parent company of Regal Cinemas was planning to shut down the entire chain. It's the latest swing in an industry that has been on a strange ride for decades at this point. Domestic box office growth has been more or less continuous for four decades, with some bumps here and there. The crazy thing about it though is that it's rooted mostly in the sheer number of movies made. The average gross by movie has actually been going down.

The theater experience itself has been a mixed bag. Theaters were gross before the turn of the century, but they gradually became more comfortable and cleaner. They also got crazy expensive, so you were going to spend at least $20 for one person at a matinee with popcorn and a soda. Depending on the quality of the movie, this makes the value of the endeavor feel potentially not worth it. Some chains have implemented to-the-seat food service to varying degrees of success. Projection and viewing experience has generally gotten better everywhere as digital projection has improved and been widely deployed.

I've loved going to movies as a little thing just for me. Whether it was periods of unemployment or just the need to get out one Saturday morning to make time for myself, I've enjoyed going to movies alone. The cost and value of that certainly has varied though. When you do get a dud of a movie, you don't feel as great about dropping that cash. To me, this is the dangerous thing that the industry set up: So many movies are made and movie houses have so many screens that they've made this gigantic inelastic machine that needs to be fed, with content and cash. That means that there is a lot of crap made, and you have movies that make a few million or more than a billion.

I think this inelastic machine is part of what puts the industry at risk, but also now you have unprecedented convenience to watch things at home. Home theater set ups are inexpensive, and the newer wave of OLED TV's in particular make amazing pictures. Having a movie-like experience at home, instantly streamed, is possible. The only thing you lose is the shared experience of viewing with others (which probably doesn't matter to extreme introverts).

When the pandemic has subsided some time next year, I wonder where this will leave the theater business. On one hand, some may not survive, but for those that do, will the value and experience still be worth it the same way? It's a reckoning that the business will have to deal with, much in the way that commercial real estate for white collar work seems shaky when people are successfully working in a distributed manner.

Laughs and meltdowns

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 6, 2020, 10:09 PM | comments: 0

We've committed to a regular (remote) therapy routine for Simon after many months off, because it was starting to feel like he never had a good day, and he was the first to tell you that. He honestly asked if we could starting seeing his therapist again. Seeing any kind of self-awareness like that was a pleasant surprise despite the context.

The bedtime routine was going horribly wrong night after night, so Diana figured we should change it. Basically we would nag Simon to do all the basics, pajamas, brush teeth, and he would stomp around flip out about it, and one time he even hit me, which led to a long term suspension of computer game privileges. Then we would lie down with him, alternating between me and Diana, and he would have meltdowns if we left pretty much any time before he fell asleep. It was hard for me after being plugged in all day at work, but I can only imagine Diana's level of exhaustion after sitting next to him "at" school.

Diana restructured bedtime: Now we would spend a little time with him either reading or writing things down, often about what he wanted to do either in one of his computer games, or plans for playing, or whatever was in his head. After that, we would tuck him in and be on our way. Frankly that felt more appropriate anyway because he's 10. To our surprise, this has worked exceptionally well, with only one night that reached the level of uneasy, but not a meltdown, in the last two weeks. There are a lot of reasons this seems to work better that we could unpack, but I never expected that us committing less time would be it. We had some good laughs tonight.

For school, we've identified a number of things. The first is that the technology causes him all kinds of anxiety. If he doesn't hear something or a kid doesn't have a muted mic or he's not in the designated Teams room early, he quickly gets into the danger zone. Something about this scenario also prevents him from asking questions too, so if he misses something or doesn't understand, it compounds the problem. We've also noticed that multiple choice questions leave him in a state where he won't commit to an answer he's unsure of, and he can't just make a best guess. Even with math problems, he'll get the right answer and be so non-confident as to not move on. His IEP requires some extra help outside of class, but this builds insane FOMO feelings, and most of the time he's not getting these services anyway. I want to give the school a little grace, since it's a different world when remote, but they're not meeting the conditions of the IEP.

His therapist recommended getting up and moving around more frequently, which frankly applies to remote desk work, too. Simon doesn't want to, again in part because he doesn't want to miss anything. He's also socially starved, which is tough for a kid who already has a hard time socializing. Fortunately we've started a rhythm of computer game play dates with his cousin in Seattle and some kids from our previous neighborhood, which helps. We're both already horribly anxious about the social angle going to middle school next year, to say nothing of the academic responsibility.

These are the gutters and strikes of our lives. I see a happy boy everyday, but a lot of the time it feels like he's miserable, without joy, most of the time. I felt that way most of my teenage years, and I desperately want him to have a better go of it than I did. I hope we can figure it out.

Trump and the virus

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 6, 2020, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

Talking about Trump is exhausting, so I don't do it as much as I used to. Every single day seems like a new travesty. His supporters have only two things left in their playbook, which are grievance politics and an endless string of moral equivalence arguments ("butter emails..."). We glossed over all kinds of scary things just in the last week like active voter suppression, the refusal to condemn white supremacy, almost no taxes paid due to catastrophic business losses (and maybe cheating), the first lady's "F' Christmas and immigrants" rant... none of it was unimportant.

But his response to his own infection by the coronavirus has been a little more horrifying than usual. It starts with the fact that the White House was so lax about mitigation protocols in the first place. So far, there have been 16 people infected including the person who needs to be protected the most, the president. Preventing this is wholly uncomplicated. Literally Mickey Mouse is doing a better job preventing the spread of the disease. That photo of all those people in the Rose Garden packed in there, no masks, is wholly irresponsible. Think about that: If the US fatality rate is 1%, and half of the 250 people at that event were infected, at least one would statistically be likely to die. If you don't think that's possible, ask Herman Cain's family about how he died a few weeks after attending a Trump rally.

Then the president was checked into the hospital, where doctors painted an optimistic picture, but outside experts and doctors suggested there was real risk at play. Bored and missing his fans (and for the record, presidents, of any party, should not have fans), he then put several Secret Service officers at risk by having them drive him around the block so he could wave at people, while he was contagious. Those men will likely have to quarantine for two weeks.

It didn't stop there, he then put a bunch of people at risk on a helicopter as he flew back to the White House. There, he dramatically climbed the stairs to the balcony, removed his mask, and out of breath, posed for a photo op. Then he walked into the building without a mask, where you could see others were, still contagious. Have you see the way medical professionals dress around people who are still contagious, even when the infected people have masks?

Then he posted several videos suggesting he's an expert, but no need to fear, and don't let it affect your lives. Imagine if you're the family of any of the 210,000+ Americans who died, what a comfort that is, knowing you and your family doesn't have access to the best doctors in the world. What kind of protective gear was the videographer wearing? If working in the White House was scary before, imagine it now with a guy who is spreading an infectious disease around.

All the while, the administration is trying to prevent the FDA from publishing the guidelines for vaccine approval, and effectively censoring the CDC's guidance for virtually everything that can help mitigate the spread. All of this behavior is intended to stroke the ego of an authoritarian who is losing badly in the polls, and is antithetical to protecting Americans and enabling the safe operation of the broader economy.

Trump will be Trump ("it is what it is"), the guy who throws fire on a dumpster fire in a train wreck in an oil spill during a hurricane right after an earthquake. But how much cognitive dissonance do you have to exercise in order to defend this? Get out and vote, y'all, and not for Trump. He doesn't care about you.

The weird and wonderful world of the NBA bubble

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 5, 2020, 12:25 AM | comments: 0

Just a few miles from my house, the National Basketball Association created what has become to be known as "the NBA bubble." In short, the league created a detailed protocol that allowed them to finish the season, fulfill their media contracts and keep athletes safe during this time. It has been wildly successful.

The NBA is of course a private organization that has a fair amount of money to throw around. It was able to rent out a substantial portion of Walt Disney World and its hotel rooms and competition space. It could afford to test everyone involved on a frequent basis. It could provide the necessary protective gear for everyone involved. It could even fine the millionaire players who did not comply with the protocol.

One could reasonably argue that the NBA's playoff season was not a necessary thing, and one would be correct in that assessment. But it did what government and private individuals could not do. It looked at the science, designed a system, stuck to it, and did the work. It didn't look at it as a political problem or one of personal freedom. It worked with the player's union to find a way to mutually benefit everyone and play a game, even though it really didn't matter much in the overall scope of things.

And then, in the middle of it all, the civil rights crisis got serious again, and with a player staff that leans heavily toward people of color, the NBA stood with its players and amplified the protest, painting "black lives matter" on the floor of the courts.

Many weeks later, these sweaty guys are playing together (in a sport hilariously considered "non contact") in the finals. There were no outbreaks, and Lebron can keep flopping all over looking for the fouls he didn't get, just as usual.

This is why the pandemic is so infuriating. It's not that we as a society can't figure out how to live with this virus until we can eradicate it, it's that we choose not to. It's easier to put people at risk and let another hundred thousand people die even though we know at this point how to minimize the risk and death. Yesterday I went for takeout, and it was like a stopping at a place a in January (mind you, the restaurant staff was properly masked), with everyone talking about as if everything was totally OK.

What a strange world when professional sports leads the way.

The weird consequence of interest rates

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 4, 2020, 7:57 PM | comments: 0

I think capitalism is generally pretty cool, but I'm not one of these naive ideologues who believe that it can just do its thing without regulation and not cause harm to society. I'm also not someone who believes that there is a hard line between capitalism and socialism, as many choose to believe. (Retiree: "Down with socialism!" Someone else: "No more Medicare for you." Retiree: "Medicare is OK though!") There are so many inequities about the way our society works that I can't simply declare straight up capitalism as a winning faction, but I'd be lying if I said it hasn't worked really, really well for me.

Today, when balancing my savings account (which takes a hot minute since it consists of two deposits and interest), I was sad to see that the interest rate has dropped again, now to 0.399%. When I opened it a few years ago, it was 2%. That's sad, since right now I feel like with so much uncertainty, the only thing appropriate to do is hoard cash if you can afford to. But as interest rates go, there's a flip side.

The rates to borrow money are insanely low as well. The rates are low because The Fed has dropped the rates from the central bank down to insanely low rates, I think 0.25% at the moment. A friend of mine just got a new mortgage with a rate of 2.75%. The rates are so low that I'm considering refinancing my house, because my rate is 3.99%, and I can save about $300 a month with relatively low closing costs. That's insane.

Now let's look at that from a holistic point of view: Our system currently encourages you to borrow money more than save it. Mind you, world events certainly encourage you to save anyway if you can, given all the uncertainty, but that's still kind of messed up.

I just find it odd. It's yet another reason that, as I said, there are no clear lines that embolden the ideologues of fiscal opinion.

Creativity is hard

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 3, 2020, 3:10 PM | comments: 0

I think I wrote months ago that I wanted to start producing a series of short videos about whatever kind of silly nonsense I felt like talking about, and get the family involved. There were already some obvious things to cover, like Lego building and drink making, and hopefully there are other things I haven't thought of yet. And given my general disdain for Google, you would rightly expect that I'll use my box of tools to build my own thing around it, depending on Google mostly for ad serving and discovery, but owning everything else. I can spin up a web site to embed videos on in a few minutes, and even create a forum just as fast. The other part is whipping up a logo and doing some simple animation just to give it all a little polish.

It's amazing how hard that last part is. That's true for virtually everything that's a truly creative endeavor. I've been trying to write another screenplay for more than a decade, and all I have to show for it are incongruent fragments written down in several places. For that reason, I have the greatest respect for people who do it for a living. I haven't cracked the code for a way to make this easier.

Well, maybe there's one thing. I've been forcing myself to write here more, at least once a day on average, and that does help. I'm not sure if it helps because I'm exercising those muscles, or because it's like a brain enema that forces me to clear my brain of shit. Maybe it's a little of both. It comes in bursts. Last weekend, I turned the kitchen into a TV studio and shot the standup (sitdown?) for one of those Lego videos, so once I edit and have a place for it, I'm basically there and I have the template for others.

Boy is my After Effects knowledge rusty though. I'm using it for the really basic logo animation I'm doing. Crazy how creating a simple mask is a skill that I lost. Fortunately, there are countless videos on the Internets about it (for which Google is keeping most of the ad revenue for).

White supremacists

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 2, 2020, 11:15 AM | comments: 0

I'll let the kittens do the talking.

When you just aren't sure what you can do anymore

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 1, 2020, 11:55 PM | comments: 0

The list of things that make life exhausting right now is fairly long. There is such an enormous range of things varying in terms of scope and control, and I can't remember any time in my life where it felt like so many of the things were beyond my control. Accepting the limitations of control is really difficult.

It's not all bad though, so let me start there. I realized I've been at my job now for over six months, emerging from the honeymoon phase. Not only have I not become less enthusiastic or cynical, but things have moved in the other direction. I was in a meeting today with some of my peers and all I could think about was how it was getting even better. I even felt it when talking about one of my team members moving to another team, because ultimately it's great for him and the company. Just to make sure this was real, I went through my entire resume, and I've only maintained that enthusiasm six months in twice before ( and Microsoft, of course).

From there, things get more serious though. Diana is obviously out of work because live theater is a distant thing. Her new job is essentially teacher, because remote learning is ineffective for a kid with ASD and ADHD. She is left largely to her own experimentation to figure it out, regardless of the IEP in place. I guess you could say that things are "better" eight weeks in, only because total meltdowns only happen three times a week, and the other two days are just minor panics. It's not easy for me either because sometimes I'll be in a meeting, hearing what's going on, and want to intervene. And when I do, it rarely helps. The intensity of these bouts is unlike anything I've seen at any age previously. It's heartbreaking and exhausting for all of us.

Then there's the pandemic. The first problem is that there's no plan on how to emerge from it. Everyone from the federal government on down seems to believe that one day we'll have a vaccine, and the next day we'll all start licking doorknobs. Here in Florida, the governor has lifted most restrictions, even though we're still producing three times as many cases and deaths as we were in May. And all of that aside, we know way more than we did then, that shutting things down isn't necessary as long as we follow the simple mitigation protocols. People don't, and so we can't consistently climb out of 1.0+ infection rates. 32 states on the rise. Look, I want people to live their lives, and they can, but only if we build the social contracts around masks and social distancing as a normal expectation, including around family. Then when vaccines are proven effective and widely distributed, we move toward sanity faster. Not being able to do anything about this is probably the most frustrating thing, and non-team players are particularly irritating.

We also have a fascist, racist in the white house who is trying very hard to undermine democracy and suggests maybe he should be president for another dozen years. That by itself wouldn't be the worst thing, except there are people in power who agree with him, and a cult-like legion of followers who believe crazy shit like the existence of a Democratic cabal of pedophiles who drink blood. Countless white people are complicit in believing that systemic racism is a myth. Sure, the orange one only has a one-in-five chance of winning, but he hit the one-in-four chance last time.

I can't feel good about raising a child in a world where people dispute observable facts and are so hell bent on hating and oppressing other people. But it's exhausting to think about it constantly, and figure out what you can do to change it. I've never donated as much as I have this year, and it's mostly been to human and civil rights organizations. It doesn't feel like I can do anything else that has any measurable impact. That's probably because I foolishly believe that I can talk people out of the cult, and you know how that ends every time.

And then this week we got a pretty solid view of how the attractions industry is doing, and it's not good. Cedar Fair saw attendance down 90% in the quarter compared to last year. Disney let go of 28,000 people in the US parks, and the cuts went deep into people with decades of time at the company. This is all while the supporting hospitality industry in the area is similarly in free fall, and people are living in abandoned hotels without power in Osceola County. Tens of thousands of people in the metro can't find work, because the jobs they had don't exist.

It's a pretty dark time for a lot of people. You want to help, but you have days where you don't feel like you can help yourself. Even when work is good it takes a lot out of me, and then when I follow that up with parenting struggles that are unlike anything I expected, I get to the weekend and don't want to even get out of bed. And I'm tired of people trying to rank everyone else's struggle. We'd all be better off if we gave each other a little grace right now.

Debate survivors

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 1, 2020, 12:01 AM | comments: 0

I had a number of encounters and observations after the "presidential" debate last night. I think they're illustrative of a lot of things that require little commentary.

A friend of mine and former coworker, who is from Ukraine but now a permanent resident working on US citizenship, asked, "My first debate, is it supposed to be like this?" Certainly I responded that this was not normal or OK. "I can't vote yet, but I'm really worried about the outcome of the election." Friends from Ireland, India and Canada have generally been saying on average, "What the hell are you doing over there?"

Another friend observed that a class assignment was to observe the debate and report on it. Imagine seeing this one as the first you've ever seen, as you start the advance toward adulthood and civic engagement. Imagine that first impression does. I generally allow my 10-year-old to see the news and have a conversation about what he sees, but it says volumes that a kid with autism identifies the president as "mean" and "terrible" without any social media influence.

I watched a news clip from NBC, where the reporter spoke to some farmers in Ohio about their support for Trump. They universally believed that the trade war was necessary, and liked getting subsidies for it. They were also convinced that the pandemic was a result of deliberate attack by China. They could not cite evidence of this.

We saw a hair stylist that we respected on Facebook declare her undying loyalty to the president, declaring that she didn't want to keep silent anymore. A customer of hers, who I infer was a gay, married woman, expressed hurt and disappointment to her given the president's record on LGBTQ issues. The next day, the stylist doubled down on her commitment, insisting it was OK largely because she had black friends.

One of the Broadway actors that I follow posted a really long video rant asking how anyone can be shocked by what they saw. "You white people should know, we've been warning you about this for years... this is what minorities have been up against every day of our lives."

We can't keep pretending that bigotry perpetrated by a politician is a "difference in opinion." It deeply and negatively affects real people.