Archive: October, 2021

Our Covid story

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 18, 2021, 8:00 PM | comments: 0

Just when we thought we were going to make it through the pandemic without infection, Simon got it a couple of weeks ago. He had a serious fever for about 48 hours, but beyond that, his symptoms were pretty mild. That he caught it wasn't great, but it was the circumstances that had us firmly in the anger zone.

Let me back up though. In early 2020, initially I thought, well, we're all going to get this sooner or later. Then we started to understand the risk factors. With Diana's history of bronchitis, allergies, small sinuses (that's really a thing) and other respiratory things, that scared the shit out of me. Simon has already had pneumonia twice, plus frequent allergies, so that made me uncomfortable as well. As time went on, mitigation was awkward, but straight-forward, and it became clear that kids were fairly resilient to the disease. He went back to in-person school in January without issue. In April, with Diana and I vaccinated, we resumed theme park visits, since they're mostly outside and they require masks indoors. We tended to keep some space in front of and behind Simon in the queues, but again, the risk was understood to be pretty low, because science.

Where we weren't looking was in a small private group setting with another kid and parent, and that's where he got it. I won't go into the details, but beyond the implicit trust we would expect from other adults, there were indications made about safety. Yes, we should have asked a direct question in this circumstance, but the circumstance felt a lot like we didn't have to. To say that this has created trust issues doesn't quite describe it, but we've been careful to make sure that it does not affect Simon's friendships.

We all got tested, and wouldn't you know it, vaccines work. If you can live with a kid shedding the virus and not get sick, that's a pretty good indication that it's working. Friday his doctor cleared him to return to school in-person.

The problem though is the same as it has been since early in the year: Adults are fucking up what should have been a slam dunk in public health achievement. The feds bought everyone a shot. The third wave here in Florida was worse than the previous two, as was the case in a number of states. Why? Because of some ideological bullshit about freedom that doesn't actually work without cooperation. Then throw in moronic governors who actively tried to sabotage the public health experts of people on the ground in local municipalities. All of that desire to open America for business without mitigation has extended the pandemic by months, when it could have effectively been over already. And then my kid got it.

I wonder if Americans will remember that the pandemic showed just how much of a shit show our healthcare system is, especially given its connection to employment, when we experienced record unemployment. We can't keep operating this way. It isn't moral.


Don't let your software dependencies and pipelines get crusty

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 18, 2021, 12:33 PM | comments: 0

After about two straight years of making at least weekly contributions to my open source projects, I backed off this year. Parenting, self-care, life in general took priority. But with the imminent major release of .NET 6, and a lot of change in all of the other dependencies, I wanted to get POP Forums updated, both the open source project and the commercially hosted forum versions.

Going quite the distance between releases, a lot had changed for the open source code. The first part was the Bootstrap, used for the basic style and UI stuff, had released a major version. A big part of that is that they eliminated the dependency on jQuery, the front-end DOM manipulation library that has been used for a bazillion years. It's not a bad library, but Javascript does most of the same things itself now, and old browsers in the wild are finally becoming an endangered species, so there's little reason to worry about compatibility. If 0.07% of users are still using Internet Explorer, I think it's time to stop supporting it. So I wiggled all of the jQuery out, and it wasn't as time consuming as I thought.

Beyond that, I had to update Vue.js for the admin area, which was trivial. The next heavy lift was to replace all of the client libraries for Azure. Most have changed to new packages, sometimes different API's, and lots of change around Azure Functions in particular. The last part was a little challenging because all the new bits aren't entirely final, and neither is documentation. Mercifully, there was not a new version of ElasticSearch, so that didn't require updates.

I also had to update all of the build and release automation, which for the first time ever, wasn't that big of a deal. I was getting some warnings about one of the build agents running on a deprecated version of Ubuntu (two behind), and I had some access tokens that had expired for the commercial build. Getting that all resolved wasn't hard, but it did take time.

I'm just one dude who does this as a side hustle, so I can give myself a break for not being more proactive. I feel entitled to brag a little that I'll be on the latest bits on release day in a few weeks. But as any engineer knows, that latest/greatest thing doesn't happen in a lot of companies. In the old days, there was some reluctance because "wait for the service release." These days, this stuff is so thoroughly vetted, because of an enthusiastic open source community, and I don't think you should wait. You're almost always competing with feature work that product and sales folks want yesterday. If you don't make time, things get years out of date. It's always less expensive to make the smaller, incremental updates as they happen. Make it a priority.


Best .NET migration ever

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 15, 2021, 11:48 PM | comments: 0

I've specialized on a lot of Microsoft's technologies most of my career. I started to work with .NET when they were applying that name to anything that was a developer product. Now the term just refers to the stack of runtimes and frameworks that let you build stuff with a variety of languages, but mostly C#. When they went open source and multi-platform a few years ago, that transition was painful, especially in the pre-release cycle because things kept changing.

But last night I decided to start transitioning POP Forums to .NET 6, the release candidate bits, updating from 5, and I was done in about an hour. Everything compiled and ran locally, even with all of the peripheral stuff made by other companies (Redis, ElasticSearch). Even better, the Azure stuff all worked too, which means no weirdness with the storage emulator, and Azure Functions worked like a champ.

Surely this will break in Azure DevOps when I try to build and deploy, right? I added a step to my CI build to use the newest SDK, and the build completed. Surely the actual Azure service would not be ready! It has been easy to deploy app services with new framework versions, but Azure Functions have been harder because of some fundamental changes they made. They were months behind on the v5 release. But no, they're up to date, and I was able to deploy the build without incident. I just had to run a few commands to configure it right.

The .NET Core transition was hard, it hurt, and I know a lot of people were turned off by it all, but the results these days are fantastic. If you would have told me then that all of my stuff would be running in Linux containers with exponential performance improvements, I would say that's nutty. But here we are. And with this release, they've managed to get all of the parts, from the code to the SDK's to the cloud products in Azure, all ready to go at about the same time, with little friction to update.

I had an email exchange today in which I declared that I'm an Azure fanboy, and it's more true now than ever. The developer story is pretty great.


Open source software joy

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 14, 2021, 7:24 PM | comments: 0

The Algorithm of Doom kept suggesting that I watch this mini-doc about Vue.js, a software framework that does front-end stuff. I finally watched it last night, and it's a pretty neat story. I use it on the admin side of POP Forums, largely for the reason one of the dudes in the video said he did, because it doesn't require a lot of knowledge to get started.

What Evan You found is pretty unusual. He worked on something that deeply interested him, and others found value in what he was doing. He figured out how to turn that into a way to make a living. That might be more unusual than hitting the dotcom cash-out lottery. It's not for everyone, because I know a lot of software developers enjoy getting projects and solving problems, but others want to drive that thing that intrinsically makes them want to plug in and make great things. I think that's fundamentally what drives most open source projects. As I've been in this game for a couple of decades now, I've seen stuff come and go.

I first open-sourced the forums with v7 in 2003. I had only sold a few licenses the year before, so it felt like it was time. I got laid-off again right after that, but with solid revenue from my sites, and some very lucrative contracting, I eventually took time off to write my book. It languished for a few years, but when I got to Microsoft and worked on the team that included CodePlex (an open source site that predated GitHub), I kind of got the bug to really keep up with it, and I've mostly done a release or two every year since. It has a modest number of stars and forks, and every now and then I get a few pull requests for it. A few dozen people get the source code every week. I love that someone gets some use out of it.

It's that time of year again, where I'll update the app to all of the latest things and try to get it released out into the world. Not a lot of features this time, mostly just updating to current things so it doesn't get too hard to maintain. I'm always surprised to see how many downloads the packages have. I'm not making Vue.js, but I'm so happy that some people enjoy using it.


Those who would take things from me

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 10, 2021, 10:38 AM | comments: 0

Dreams often manifest fears or worries, as well as joy and happiness (not enough of the latter). In addition to variations on the dead air radio dream and the school dream, I also frequently have dreams about losing stuff, or more specifically having stuff stolen from me. Let me take a stab at interpreting this one.

This theme usually happens in the context of something else going on. Last night's occurrence happened in conjunction with moving, or maybe trying to get home with a bunch of my video equipment after shooting with it. Some of my stuff was in a car, apparently not mine, that I couldn't drive home. So I go to check on it and some of my things are missing from it. The weird thing is that despite the anxiety feelings, I logically know that most things can be replaced.

If I go a little deeper, it's not the end state of not having the material thing that bothers me. The thing is that I feel as though I have been personally violated. When my first major purchase, a bike, was stolen, it felt personal. When someone stole money from me in college while I was in the shower, it felt personal. Honestly, when I came home to a robbed house that was missing the TV and microwave, in sixth grade, it felt personal. It was never really about the things. Heck, a few years ago someone took my two lawn chairs from our campsite while we were out doing things, and it felt personal.

I suspect this anxiety is related to the belonging desire, since it's more about how I'm treated than anything else. It's also weird to think that this isn't the same thing as worrying about what people think of me. I stopped caring about that a long time ago, but I still care about being disrespected, which might seem like a subtle difference, but it's not.

My hope is that this anxiety over respect improves my own behavior toward others, but I know that it doesn't all of the time. As much as I try to start the baseline interaction with any human from a place of respect, I know that I'm terrible at it. Certain things just immediately put me off. I want to be better about that.

On the bright side, if I'm having dreams, it means that I'm sleeping better, and the last year hasn't been especially great for sleeping. I have a new appreciation for mental health and wellness, and talking stuff out really helps.


Playing the classic video games

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 9, 2021, 1:26 PM | comments: 0

A couple of weeks ago, I acquired a Bandai-Namco Pac-Man's Pixel Bash machine. It has about 30 Namco games, some of them more classic than others, but all officially licensed and packaged in a real plywood cabinet. It isn't a bootlegged knock-off. This one is the "chill" model, because it has a little beverage fridge in the front of it, which is pretty cool. I first saw this at IAAPA a few years ago and I've wanted one ever since. As it was time to celebrate some recent victories, I felt like it was time to spend some saved pennies and plus up the home office.

I remember discovering quite early in my time with Diana that she used to dump quarters into Galaga machines as a kid, much in the way that I did with Ms. Pac-Man. Namco has been making a full-sized arcade machine (and cocktail model) with those two games for years, and this machine has that and all of the Pac-Man variants (except for the rare Baby Pac-Man, which was a hybrid video game and pinball machine that Bally made). I like Dig Dug and Rally-X as well, but this was mostly for the big two.

So far, it has seen a lot of use. Of course Diana and I have the high scores on our respective favorites, but I'm surprised to see Simon really enjoying these as well. This is a kid practically born with touch screens in his hands, who doesn't appreciate that there was a time when you could only play video games either by crude home game system or in these stand-up cabinets that required quarters. But he's really into it, and that makes me really happy.

I'm going to do a video review of the machine, I think, so watch for that.


Wanting to belong

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 8, 2021, 6:23 PM | comments: 0

I've never really felt that I belonged. I mean that in the broadest sense, as applied to social circles, family, places, work, relationships, school, etc. That probably sounds very sad, and maybe it is, but not fitting in is something that I'm so used to that I mostly don't allow it to affect my overall happiness. This might even be one of the reasons that I'm not very nostalgic about, well, anything.

I was working today on my annual self-evaluation at work, when this came to mind. I know that in more informal situations, I try to make it known that I'm part of the gang, which likely comes off as weird as it sounds. I've got a pretty good track record of delivery, but I find myself wanting to augment it as something more, to be one of the cool kids among my peers, if you will. The truth is that for as much as I've come to expect being a bit of a square peg, I don't choose that. I've definitely had a life where I've tried to fit into those round holes.

That reflection, which is already a large component of what I do at midlife, often leads to an inventory of very lonely and difficult situations. I recall many situations in high school and college where I felt bad about myself for having such a difficult time with interpersonal relationships. In college in particular, I had a lot of very deep connections with women that ended in benign friendship or outright "no thanks." Was it me?

Let me keep some perspective here. This is me largely looking back, but occasionally checking in on how I behave today. Right now, I have arguably the best partner in life I could possibly have, who does not judge me or rate me, and maybe even excuses some of my eccentricities. Diana is an extraordinary match for me. Having been married before, and knowing how that didn't go that well, I can own a lot of that. (Just to be clear, Stephanie and I are still friends, and she'll always be one of the great loves of my life... we get each other even if we weren't an ideal couple.) I'm doing my best as a parent, I have a career that is uneven but certainly successful, and there are a few people who really seem to enjoy hanging out with me. That's good enough to call life so far a win.

The winning doesn't mean that there isn't hurt. Not fitting in doesn't feel good. One thing that I've done outside of therapy is schedule a full diagnostic to determine if I have autism spectrum disorder. I talk to the psychologist next month. If Simon can teach me anything, it's that I recognize much of what he deals with because I've been there. Whether it's not wanting to walk in the sand on the beach as a toddler or struggling to find close friends, I get him. I'm not always good at working with him, but I definitely get him. My last two therapists have suggested that ASD has always been a part of my life, but they're not the right kind of professional to diagnose it. If it's real, it explains a great many things about my life. If not, well, more therapy.

When I go back to Singles, one of the greatest movies of the 90's, I'm always reminded that Janet said, "People need people, Steve." It's true. That's why we need to belong.


All the new softwares

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 2, 2021, 3:32 PM | comments: 0

It seems like the fall is the time for all kinds of new software to come out. That's fun since you mostly don't need new devices to run all of the software. Some of it is still coming, some of it I have.

First, Windows 11 is out. I wouldn't call this a revolutionary release, but there are some objectives that make it a stronger operating system. From a pure user perspective, they've done a great job of cleaning up the UI so it's more consistent. The settings app is the best and most organized that it has ever been, and you won't need to go into any of the old dialogs unless you're a power user or developer. Windows Explorer looks cleaner, and they somehow managed to make dark mode work in most modern apps, and for some reason it even extends to Google web pages. They've also drawn a line in the sand for hardware requirements, so supporting less will allegedly mean greater stability, though I haven't had a blue screen in a long time anyway. What I'm most excited about is the forthcoming Android support, because it makes the hybrid and tablet models of Windows computers more useful in that form factor.

The new version of iOS doesn't seem immediately different to me, but I didn't see any of the videos that describe the changes. I did see that they've made some computational photography improvements that I believe require the new iPhone, so those aren't relevant to us and our iPod and iPad. The settings app is still a confusing mess, so no visible iteration there. And they still think borderless text buttons are OK, so I'll never understand that.

New Android coming next month, and the big UI improvement is the Material You API, which figures out the best contrasting colors and schemes based on your wallpaper. That's a neat science project, but what I'm more excited about is the more consistent use of fonts, particularly Google Sans, across the OS and the various apps. We're already seeing it in Calendar and Gmail. It sounds like you'll be able to use most anything in Google Fonts, which would be great.

Visual Studio 2022 is out in November, and after three years of minor releases, this one is a big deal because they've finally made it a bona fide 64-bit application, so it can effectively use all that memory that my computers have. I've been using the preview version and it's noticeably faster in all of the places it wasn't, specifically Intellisense auto-complete when you've got a massive graph of packages and projects loaded all at once.

.NET 6 will ship about the same time, which wouldn't really be that interesting except that the performance improvements are insane, for a framework where it was already insanely good. Compiler tweaks shorten time and reduce code size, multithreading is more efficient (moving stuff to async is worth it now more than ever), string and collection manipulation is faster.

I'm finally getting somewhere in my backlog of updating all the things on POP Forums. The update to Bootstrap 5 is done, and as hesitant as I always was about adopting a CSS framework, I have no regrets about this one. They've finally relented and allow links to be underlined by default, as they should be, and they purged the aging jQuery library from their Javascript, so that's one less piece of the payload to worry about. I also updated Vue.js in the admin, which was relatively painless. Earlier this year I updated all of the extra cloud bits to use the latest SDK's. Everything left is fairly minor, so once .NET 6 is released, I'll update that and everything will be current, even though I haven't really added any features.

Of course, it's worth noting too that my team at work is shipping all kinds of great stuff on a regular cadence. I mean, it's not stuff I use directly every day, but it certainly impacts a whole lot of people. I really enjoy working with those folks.

Enjoying all of the new bits this fall.


Walt Disney World is 50

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 1, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

The Walt Disney World Resort is celebrating 50 years, starting today, a celebration that will last for about a year and a half. There is a ton of stuff going on, with new attractions and shows and such.

I didn't grow up with the parks, and other than a day spent park hopping three of them for the coasters on a comp ticket around 1998 or so, I didn't really visit the place as an adult until 2006 or so. I was dating Cath at the time, and we did several days around the resort before doing a few days at Universal after that (where I had been a passholder for a couple of years, despite living in Cleveland). We stayed at Pop Century, and we did the whole dining plan and magical express from the airport, and it was a lot of fun. It was too much damn food, but still a lot of fun. Having grown up with Cedar Point, this was a different experience, one that seemed to revolve more around food, but I wasn't complaining.

A couple of years after that, Diana and I would visit a couple of times, and after Simon was born, we moved to Orlando for a number of reasons. It was mostly weather, cost of living and job opportunities, but it didn't hurt to have theme parks, obviously. After scoping out the area, I really liked the area west and north of Disney, which just eight years ago was barely developed, compared to now. We ended up building two houses there.

I arrived here a week earlier to start a job, but within 24 hours of Simon and Diana arriving, we made our first trip to Magic Kingdom. It's not that I didn't appreciate the park pre-parenthood, but it was something different with a 3-year-old. To see his joy on the carousel and the train, and then meeting characters, those are really vivid memories. My inner theme park nerd also was pleased to see him so interested, even at that age, in how things worked. He would come home and arrange blocks on the floor to create "rides" with his cars, and use Lego wheels to pretend they advanced the cars.

Because we're so close, and our friends from around the country tend to all visit here eventually, having annual passes seems like a required cost of living. While we love a lot of Disney's IP, particularly the Star Wars and Marvel stuff, I'm not sure that I would consider any of us Disney "nuts." But when your backyard playground is WDW, well, that's where you go. The various Epcot festivals, especially Food & Wine, are annual happy times for us, filled with food, music (well, most years) and friends. We literally go there for lunch now and then.

It's really amazing how much the parks have changed since we moved here in 2013. Back then, Seven Dwarfs wasn't even done yet at Magic Kingdom. They're still working on Tron over there. Animal Kingdom added the entire Avatar area. Hollywood Studios added all of the Toy Story and Star Wars Galaxy's Edge lands, plus Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway. Epcot was mostly stagnant other than adding another Soarin' theater, but then they blew away the entire center of the former Future World, added Remy's Ratatouille Adventure in France, and we're waiting for the Guardians of the Galaxy ride and the new areas in the middle. It seems like the "fans" hate all of the change, but I love it.

There's a lot of debate out there right now about the cost of what Disney offers, and whether or not they're outpricing some segment of the population. People have strong emotional feelings about the rat, and while I wouldn't broadly call it entitlement, a visit to Disney World does seem like an American rite of passage. It's a capital intensive business to be in, and the product seems to be good enough that people are finding a way to pay whatever it costs, because the parks aren't getting less popular (pandemic aside). I think we may take it for granted a bit, to see epic fireworks, get Dolewhip or ride Space Mountain, for little reason other than it's Tuesday. But pricing is relative. Compare the cost of a day at Disney to things like concerts, stage shows, sporting events, etc., and I think a day at the park is priced about right relative to those things.

Lots of exciting things right now, with the new night time shows at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and the holidays aren't far off. Given the warm weather, it's hard for outside to "feel" like the holidays here without a theme park visit. I'm really looking forward to that. I also can't wait to see Spaceship Earth with its new lighting package, while under-glow monorails drive around it.

Happy anniversary, Walt Disney World. It's a bummer your namesake never got to see it open, let alone what it has become today.