Archive: April, 2021

The symbolic opportunity of vaccination and my health

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 19, 2021, 11:14 PM | comments: 0

Today I was two weeks after my second Covid vaccine, which means I'm officially at full theoretical efficacy. As the running jokes go in one of my communities, it's now safe to dry-hump strangers in Florida bars, lick doorknobs party on South Beach. While I don't intend to do any of those things, it does feel kind of like a super power. You don't appreciate that as a kid, because no one is saying, "Yay, no polio or measles for you!" (Unfortunately, mumps and chicken pox were not something we were vaccinated for, so yeah, I'm that old.)

While it's not a free pass, especially given the fact that the vaccine trials aren't complete for kids, and I have one, it's still a personal milestone that I've been looking forward to for a year, and it causes me to be reflective about my own health. I don't feel physically good, in a non-specific way, but it's a familiar feeling I've had in previous years. At the end of 2019, I started to correct for it by paying better attention to what I was eating and when, and I dropped a few pounds. When the pandemic started, I successfully pushed soda out of my diet, or at least 90% of it. It wasn't until the holidays last year that I really slipped and began emotional eating, mostly crap late in the evening, and unchecked amount of carb sides with meals.

My two biggest successes with behavior modification came in the midst of divorce, and then again when I moved to Central Florida. These were both enormously symbolic times that represented new beginnings, for obvious reasons. Where I got sloppy in both cases was happy comfort, oddly enough. Things like getting married or getting used to eternal summer, as it turns out, for me feel like reasons to pile on the happy with poor eating and less activity, both of which feel good in the short term.

I'm not in some place of despair where I can't understand what I have to do. The math for eating right and relative fitness is wholly uncomplicated. Choosing to commit is the challenging part, because fuck you,, I like tater tots and sprawling out in comfort to do nothing. Those are not evil or bad things. They make me happy. They just have to share the stage with restraint and getting off the couch, which are decidedly less fun. I envy the people who get a runner's high, but I'm just not wired for it. I don't run unless something is chasing me. The only time exercise feels good is if I'm playing volleyball or tennis, and those aren't easy to make time for.

Fortunately, I don't need to be one of those people who think that others want to watch them exercise (that's a form of narcissism I'll never understand), but I do need to stick to the basics. I've learned that not eating between 7 p.m. and 11 a.m. is a rhythm I settle into easily. I live in Florida, so doing a lap around the neighborhood is possible really at almost any time. If I do those two things alone, I'm more than half way there. The rest is portion control and breaking up the day with movement. Weight comes off and I feel physically better. It's just habit.

I finally bought a standing desk, after contemplating it for years. I like it so far, probably up 40% of the time, and not all at once. What I need to get better about is blocking time, not just for physical health, but mental health. I was shuttling Simon to school the last three weeks since Diana couldn't drive, and I was surprised at how refreshed I felt just getting out for 30 to 40 minutes.

So with my new immunity, it seems like a good time for a general health reset. What I know works for me is not a heavy lift (or any lift, to use exercise parlance). The challenge is largely psychological, because this has to compete with everything else, including parenting and work. It's not always easy to prioritize me.


Do I miss working in radio/TV? Not really

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 19, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

There was a post on an Ashland University radio/TV alumni group asking about how many people were still in the business, and where all they worked. Few of my classmates, give or take a few years, are still in the business, but those who stayed with it now have more than two decades behind them, which is crazy. The guy who started the thread has more than 40 years!

I wanted to be a radio DJ from the time that I was 10-years-old, and then working for the city's government access channel in high school, I wanted to make television, too (nothing more gripping than televising city council meetings and high school basketball!). I started doing the DJ thing in my second week of my freshman year (poorly), and in my junior year, started working part-time at a commercial station, where I was informed that I was doing it wrong. Shortly after graduation, I landed at a "large market" station in Cleveland to do it full-time, making almost $16,000 a year (about $28k in today's dollars). That lasted a year and change, before a ratings shakeup moved the midday guy to my overnight slot since he had a contract and I did not.

A few months after that, I landed in a suburban city as their first Cable TV Coordinator, charged with building out government and public access. It was everything a know-it-all 20-something could want, with a chance to do the engineering, production, talent, management, all of it. Getting to be a department head, even if it was ultimately only 2.5 people and a budget around $150k annually, was something that I didn't realize would set me up for a lot of leadership roles later, especially when consulting. I ultimately left that gig not because dealing with politicians was hard, but because they weren't interested in legislating me into a pay schedule similar to those of my peers in surrounding cities. That, and it was hard to resist the promise of the Internet, where I was already dabbling in software development and felt like I could go the distance. It was a really good choice.

Leaving the business was only partially a financial consideration, though I can assure you I was not content to live at home on a starter radio salary. I remember my first week as a full-timer thinking, "Wow, so here I am. That was fast. Now what?" It really appealed to my ego, sure, but the job is largely sitting alone in a room answering the phone from 14-year-olds who wanna hear "Macarena" again. My mom had even built up radio personalities as "famous," but if there was any fame, it sure didn't come with fortune.

The TV gig, as I said, was ideal because I could do everything. I didn't have to worry about union rules that prohibited me from doing certain things, and there was no daily news grind. On any given day, I could be soldering some wires on to a connector, doing a stand-up or cutting video (first on tape, then on a computer). This job had a similar problem as the radio thing, where it wasn't clear how I could level up quickly in terms of responsibility and skills. In the job itself, it literally took an act of legislation for a raise, but in the industry in general, most of the jobs were news or freelance, both of which are very lifestyle driven. I usually enjoyed the work, but I couldn't see long-term outcomes.

Fortunately, the intense desire to "play" with computers as a kid, which seemed to be treated as an annoyance to most of the adults in my life, started to resurface after college, in part probably because my "in between" job was working retail at a CompUSA for a few months. Aside from becoming an expert at reinstalling Windows95, there were some basic things like composing HTML markup and writing little Perl scripts to do stuff on the World Wide Web that were exciting to me. By 1999, four years after graduation, I was confident that I could write code for a living.

Do I regret my course of study? No, but it's clearer than ever that college is really not job training. The radio/TV program fancied itself as just that, while my other major, journalism, was more academic. I didn't have particular good grades in any of it because I was bored and felt like I was checking boxes so I could work in the "real world." I could have learned everything specific to the broadcast work from other people, blue collar style. Because of the transition to digital technologies, the shelf life of the technical education was very short. The most valuable thing I got out of college was learning how to live and work with people, and in a few classes, learn how to learn. College was valuable, but in none of the ways it had been sold to me and my generation. It was absolutely not job training.

My general attitude about the value of college is not what it was, and I'll write about that at some other point. Software is surprisingly blue collar in nature as well, as far as experience and knowledge transfer, and for the most part, no one cares if you went to college at all.

The funny thing is that I revisited "radio" for years doing our old podcast, before podcasts were cool. Last year I figured out how to do music radio shows via PRX, and had fun doing that. On the video side, I've messed around doing mini-docs or just video of my kid doing kid things. We've even made some YouTube videos for fun. The deeper appeal to the work was always the act of creation, and especially in the Internet age, you don't need to have a broadcast signal to make stuff and share it. And when you work in my field, you can afford to buy the toys, too, which can be dangerous if you have a gadget fetish.

I don't miss working in those fields. I like what I do now. I can still make things, even if I don't get paid for them.


Freedom isn't free, right?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 15, 2021, 8:40 PM | comments: 0

Americans have for a long time had a cultural contract intended to remind you that our way of life was made possible in part because because of the service of others. Specifically, it has referred to military service, and the cost of that service is sometimes the life of our citizens. The deeper intention, I hope, is for people to understand that keeping the machine working does in fact require sacrifice and some degree of selflessness on the part of its people.

Personally, I embrace a wider view of this American history. Revolutionaries fought for independence, others fought to abolish slavery, women fought for equal rights, the civil rights fight is ongoing, healthcare workers and teachers have been putting their lives at risk for the last year, as have most people working in service industries... you could go on forever with examples like this. The freedom that we enjoy, imperfect as it is, comes on the back of a great deal of sacrifice.

I don't think that's something to shame people into believing, I think it's something that we should celebrate. And whether it's a Veteran's Day parade or people all over New York City clapping for first responders and healthcare workers, we do that.

Unfortunately, it seems there is a subset of people who do not practice what they preach. With the pandemic, we have essentially had to go to war against a faceless pathogen, and winning that war requires sacrifice. It previously meant that we had to temporarily cease business to keep it from breaking our healthcare system, and later it broke regionally anyway. It meant limits to in-person social interaction. It still means wearing masks to protect ourselves and each other. It means getting vaccinated.

And yet, an extraordinary number of people have made this a political issue where they believe that their freedom is threatened. Where is that core belief that freedom isn't free, that sometimes it requires some sacrifice? Some of what has been asked of people has had devastating results. We've lost more than a half-million people. There has been extraordinary sacrifice. But is wearing a mask, or being asked to avoid crowds, really something that has interfered with your freedom? I certainly don't care for the mitigation protocols, but they're one of the few things that I'm qualified to do to help get the world beyond this. It's not a heavy lift, and honestly, I wouldn't even qualify it as a sacrifice.

The last year has made me more aware than ever about the role that individuals play in improving our communities and the world. I have been trying to be more deliberate about charitable giving (mainly not just doing it in reaction to a need), looking for ways to improve inclusivity and equality in anything I'm involved with, and getting involved when I think my talents or time can help. We have a lot of work to do to keep that freedom flowing, or get it where it needs to be for those that don't yet truly have it.


Looking for clarity emerging from the pandemic

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 12, 2021, 8:20 PM | comments: 0

A week ago I had my second vaccine dose, and what I didn't know then is that I would be largely knocked on my ass for two nights. As is the case with a lot of people who got the Moderna shots, that second one put me deep into that sick funk, with some intermittent fever even. I tell myself that maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought, because I haven't been actually sick since late 2019 (turns out that avoiding Covid means avoiding everything). While this was not convenient, in the middle of my time off from work, I'm still thankful to have it done.

While I still technically have another week for full efficacy, the difference between 90 and 95%, probably, and likely 100% against hospitalization, I tend to view nearly every situation differently. I don't walk into a restaurant thinking about table density, or into Home Depot wondering if that contractor hacking up a lung is spreading disease. At the grocery store, I look at the old folks as the first line of enhanced humans, while I wonder how long it will be before the teenage baggers get their shot. We can make plans to see grandparents. We're talking with other parents about getting the kids together. We're even wondering when it will be time to return to the theme parks, not out of concern of Covid safety, but wondering when they'll be able to service a reasonable capacity.

But what to do with the kids? There is growing concern that youth sports and kid parties are causing a lot of community spread, and obviously the more kids get infected, the more you see some percentage of them get exceptionally ill or have long-term effects. (The lack of testing in club sports in particular seems pretty dumb.) It turns out that pediatric Covid death is also significantly more common than flu death, in part because it's more contagious. The crappy reality is that, best case scenario, the trials for kids won't be done until September.

While vaccinated adults will certainly help to slow down the pandemic, it seems like we need guidance about the kids. I think the schools have it figured out (at least, they do in my district), but their efforts assume some portion of kids are remote learning, which no one wants because it's fucking terrible and ineffective. Adult gatherings that may include kids also need some guidelines.

Vacation travel has to be figured out, too, which absolutely will include families with children. The CDC isn't getting anything right with the cruise industry, which has started to figure that their only way forward is to vaccinate crews themselves and require it of passengers. That's probably fine for most of them, but not Disney Cruise Line. The theme parks need a long-term plan as well, to understand when they can appropriately increase capacity, do standing room night spectaculars, allow queue density, with children, and probably above all, set mask expectations. For a significant time forward, there really are two populations: vaccinated adults and everyone else.

And then, what do we do about the holdouts? If herd immunity is not effectively achieved without 70-90% of people getting the shots, then what? We don't reach that level without children. We might not get there if these goofy anti-vax people don't get on board. We need to start getting the vaccine to all the places in the world that haven't started yet, too.

It's a weird time... you can see something awesome on the horizon, and it feels good. Just need to push it across the finish line. One more week and I'm licking doorknobs with reckless abandon!


Mini-review: Canon R6

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 7, 2021, 8:34 PM | comments: 0

Within a few weeks of writing about unloading some of my older camera gear, I pulled the trigger on buying a Canon R6 mirrorless camera. I expressed my concern earlier about the apparent deprecation of the classic EF lens mount, and sure enough, it looks like that's happening as they discontinue lenses. The new RF mount, which the R6 has, is obviously the new hotness. (I also swapped video cameras, but that's a different post.)

I think it has been obvious for awhile now that ditching the mirrors in DSLR's while keeping mechanical shutters was going to be the new normal in photography. Several years ago I had a great time with the tiny Panasonic and its micro-4/3 lens on vacation in Alaska, and while there are compromises in using a small sensor like that, optically the results were pretty great. A little over two years ago, Canon announced the RF lens mount, which decreased the distance between the lens and the sensor by more than half, and without the mirrors, the cameras could physically be smaller. Having four "old" EF lenses, three of which are the mid-level "L" lenses (the more capable, and more expensive, lenses), I was in no hurry to jump into the new system, but understood it was the future.

My first full-frame Canon was the original 5D, back in 2008. It was the first time I ever had the good tools, and it made me remember just how much I loved photography (my first outing with it was at WDW). The next year, I bought the 7D, which was not full-frame, but I wanted it for the video capability. The 5D came with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS, easily the most versatile lens I've ever had. I previously bought the EF 70-200mm f/4 (non-IS) to use with an older cropped sensor body. I also scored the 50mm f/1.4 for dreamy portrait photos. Those three lenses covered almost everything, and I shot babies and 5K's and engagement photos and weddings. Later I would add the EF 17-40mm f/4, which makes some amazing wide angle images. In any case, I was really invested in the Canon system, and I've had most of that gear for more than a decade.

Despite the nomenclature, the R6 is the spiritual successor to the 5D. The body by itself is priced similarly to the various 5D versions (when each of the four was new). The R5 is much more expensive, and much higher resolution, but I compare that to the 1D X, though not as expensive. For video, the R5 in theory can shoot 8K video when it isn't melting and shutting down, but its 4K down-sampling is actually terrible and not as good as the R6. All this to say, maybe a pro would be satisfied to have an R6, but it's likely more targeted to the high-end amateur and hobbyist like me. Adjusting for inflation, I paid about the same amount as I did for the 5D in 2008.

Getting the camera in your hand, it's strange because the body is smaller, by a lot, compared even to my original 5D. Part of that is the much smaller flange depth and lack of mirrors that I mentioned. The battery is about the same size as those they've been making forever, and there are two slots for SD cards. There is no LCD on top for your shooting parameters, which is fine because you can see them on the touch screen on the back or in the viewfinder. The controls have not fundamentally changed in more than a decade, but you have two more dials than you did back then. One dial is on top, by your right thumb, which I've used mostly for menu navigation and zooming when reviewing photos. The other new dial, and it's an interesting choice, is on every new RF lens, on the end of the barrel. I think the default is for under/over exposing or something, but I honestly haven't thought of a reason to use it. You can dial in the ISO on the touch screen, and that's the only thing I might change from one scene to the next, but just once.

From a capability perspective, the thing blowing my mind is the auto-focus. I can't even put into words how amazing it is, that it has come so far in 13 years. If you set your focus to AI servo and turn on face tracking (which can be set to humans or animals), it nails the focus so crazy fast and continuously. Note the photo of Finn below, with his eyes in sharp focus at f/2.8, while he's jumping in the air. That took no special skill to get that photo. Where 1600 ISO used to be pushing it for "good" image quality, you can safely go to 3200 and still feel pretty good about the results, while 800 seems almost indistinguishable from 100.

It can also shoot video in 4K, up to 60 fps, and it looks pretty great. I have a "real" video camera for shooting video, but what this can do is basically the most cinematic vacation video you've ever made, with dreamy blurred backgrounds. The exposure setup is a little weird, but the win is that you can set the ISO to auto. You still don't have neutral density filters built-in, obviously, which is the most annoying thing about trying to shoot video on these cameras (meaning mirrorless or DSLR photo bodies). You change your shutter speed above 1/50 to compensate for over-exposure, and the video looks like a shitty Michael Bay movie.

In the new world of magical RF lenses, the broad advantage is that they're all a little shorter than their EF counterparts, and slightly less heavy. Lenses are still where the money matters the most, and you get the most out of your investment. While I love my EF lenses, I always had a little regret that I couldn't justify buying the more expensive versions that opened to f/2.8. In the case of the long zoom, not getting the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS, with the image stabilization being the most important part, was always a slight regret. Sports and animal photography would have been much better with that lens, but it was the difference between paying just under a grand and paying $2,600, and 35-year-old me made a good choice. This time around, I don't want to make those compromises, which is why I started with the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS. When it's time to get the long zoom, I'll save my pennies for the better one. These lenses will be with me literally to retirement.

The RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS is universally reviewed as great, as its EF predecessor was. If you photograph things that aren't moving, you can be blown away at how sharp and beautiful everything is, even when you freehand shoot wide at 1/30. But combine it with the insane auto-focus ability of the camera and the speed of the motors, and again, you can get crazy cats with sharp eyes without a lot of trying. I am really floored. I put the lens on my C70 cinema camera (review forthcoming) and on a gimbal, and while the AF is slightly slower, the results are still pretty stunning.

Now, I still want to use my 50mm and the 17-40mm, so I have to buy the $100 EF to RF adapter. I mean, I can't, because they've been out of stock forever, but someday I'll be able to do that. I still have my 5D body, because it isn't really worth anything, so I can dual-wield if I so desire. I sold my 7D to a friend who is getting great use out of it.

Overall, the R6 is outstanding, in the same way that the 5D was amazing 13 years ago. I know the gains in image quality, noise reduction and auto-focus have been happening for years, it's just surprising at how dramatic it is. I'm also kind of proud of myself in that my gadget problem is not that serious when I go so long between upgrades of big ticket items (cameras, TV's, game consoles, computers).

Samples below using Canon R6 with RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS


Fully vaccinated

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 5, 2021, 9:00 PM | comments: 0

I got my second Covid shot today, about a year and three weeks after the pandemic was officially serious in the US. Obviously my first feeling is one of relief. I don't have to go to public places and wonder if there's something around in the air that could put me in the hospital, potentially carried by someone who doesn't know it (or doesn't care).

I'm absolutely astonished at the scientific process that led to a half-dozen effective vaccines in under a year. Like the miracle of smart phones, I think people completely take for granted how amazing this is. Mind you, the approaches to these vaccines were based on existing work for preventing other diseases, but creating the substance and then organizing huge trials all over the world so quickly is a big deal. Granted, the financial incentives were a big deal as well, but they needed mountains of data because the scrutiny by regulating agencies was going to be enormous. This just doesn't happen under normal circumstances.

The stats say that I'm in the first 14% fully vaccinated in Orange County, the first 17% in Florida, 19% in the US, 1% globally. Lots of privilege here, which makes me particularly grateful. Diana gets next her second next week. Simon is 11, so unfortunately he's not eligible at all yet, and they're just starting the trials for kids. As someone who lives in an international tourist destination, getting kids and the world vaccinated will have a lot to do with how "normal" things get here.

Thrilled to be part of the progress! After two more weeks, I can safely lick doorknobs again. I'm excited just to have people over for small gatherings.


How to vacation without leaving

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 2, 2021, 11:35 PM | comments: 0

I am off work for a week, starting this evening. Unfortunately, I'm not going anywhere. I can't really blame this on Covid, either. It has more to do with the fact that I have a school-age child.

Certainly I'll have to get creative and figure out how to do leisure in a non-travel way. In the fall of 2019, we actually stayed at the Disney resort closest to Simon's school, Coronado Springs, exactly five miles away as the crow flies. We dropped him off in the morning, did stuff, then fetched him for the evenings. While not ideal, it meant pool time at a cool hotel, meals we didn't have to cook, and then that weekend, solid family theme park time in a way that you ordinarily don't do as a local. It was a fun week.

I'll be blocking one day off for Diana's surgery follow-up, and my second vaccine shot (Moderna, known for kicking your ass a little). Beyond that, there will be rum sipping, LEGO building, and hopefully I'll figure out some kind of short video project to do with the family, if I can talk them into acting. Hopefully we'll do some grownup lunches, too. I also give myself permission to take long walks and take naps, if I so choose.

I wonder how things will be in the summer, once significant numbers of people have been vaccinated. Not having kids in that pool is still a concern, but it will help a great deal if their parents are pricked. While being low risk for illness or long-term problems, they are potentially a vector for those who can't be vaccinated for whatever reason, which is a drag.

Selfishly, I just want to cruise again. We spent that money more than a year ago and Disney Cruise Line is still holding on to it (though we had it refunded for the planned Alaska sailing). For now though, I just have to figure out what I can do between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., which I've learned this week is surprisingly not a lot of time, as I've been acting school bus driver while Diana recovers.


Universal healthcare is the best thing that could happen to capitalism

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 2, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I was browsing about YouTube when a creator that covers an interest of mine posted a video indicating that she would commit full-time to making content, and quitting her day job. I thought, cool, it's great to see the Internet being a means for individuals to reach an audience and even make a living from it. I've been there myself, to a limited degree. But I realized in watching her that she also has an advantage in making this leap: She lives in the UK, and she will always have healthcare available to her from the NHS. She doesn't need a job to make sure she has healthcare.

If you're an American, like me, you have no idea what this is like. One of my friends from Norway half-jokingly said that maybe it's why we seem so unhappy (Norway is always a top 5 happiest country). I think most people generally acknowledge that healthcare being tied to insurance being tied to full-time employment is a chain that doesn't make sense, and we become particularly aware of it during recessions and global pandemics. We hate the thing where treatments aren't covered, there are massive deductibles and co-pays, billing almost never goes as planned.

I relate to that young YouTuber because I have been in positions before where I might have an opportunity to explore some side hustle or maybe develop a real business. But every single time, it comes down to the fact that there's no universe where I can risk financial ruin by way of an unexpected medical problem, and this is even more true now that I'm over 40 and have a family. Simon's ADHD medications alone would be impossible to cover. And thank God none of us are diabetic and need insulin to, you know, not die. Universal health care would be incredibly helpful to stimulate new opportunities among those who want to start a business or work indefinitely on gig jobs, whether it be professional consulting, performing in the arts or even driving for Uber.

Not only does universal healthcare benefit gig workers and entrepreneurs, but it so obviously gets employers out of the healthcare equation entirely, which would vastly change the equation in what they have to pay for. No employer likes paying for health insurance, and many only pay the bare minimum in the first place, leaving the bulk of the cost on the employee. This isn't just a problem for employers attracting and retaining unskilled labor, either. Even cash rich technology companies know that the insurance benefit is part of the overall compensation package and they have to be competitive.

Obviously this means another deduction line on your paycheck, but it would replace the one you probably already have. At a previous job, I was already paying about a grand of month right off the top for health insurance, and it wasn't even that good. Closing the loopholes that allow crazy profitable companies to not pay corporate income taxes would also help. At the end of the day, the important thing to accept is this: We pay more per capita for healthcare than any other country, and we don't have even close to the best outcomes. It gets worse every year. I don't understand the people who fear single-payer, expanded Medicare or even some transitional thing. Your cost sucks and outcomes suck today. You're paying for steak dinners and getting McDonald's food that will make you sicker.

Am I suggesting that it's OK to wipe out an entire system of a middle-man market, and all the jobs that go with it? Yes. That industry doubled in head count from 1970 to 2000, and in the last few years started rising again. For what? What value are we getting out of that? Health insurance pays for less and is less service oriented than ever. It's 2.5 million people, which seems like a lot, but for context, the economy added 900k jobs last month. There is larger economic opportunity ahead. And in real life, we know America doesn't have the nuts to make a bold change like that. Whatever we come up with, it will be incremental and gradual.

But let's stop with this nonsense that the free market is better at paying for healthcare. It clearly is not. The only one benefiting from the enormous per capita cost is the insurance companies.