Archive: September, 2021

The back to school dream

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 18, 2021, 2:59 PM | comments: 0

Two years ago I mentioned the recurring moving into a dorm dream that I frequently had, but I want to expand that into something bigger. While the moving in and dorm scene is often part of these dreams, they have since evolved into a series of dreams involving the start of school. Sometimes it's high school, with me having to go back for one last semester or something, but more often it's college. The locations vary a lot, infrequently something that seems like a college campus, but otherwise ranging from something like the Microsoft main campus (which feels like a university) to a cruise ship or combinations thereof.

What happens in these dreams? I generally encounter people from my entire life history, ranging from friends today to people I knew in college. I don't think Diana has ever been in one, but Simon was once because I was late picking him up for some reason. There is usually some concern about completing something on time. The security issues I mentioned in that previous post often come back, but not always. In last night's version, I did return to the street to find my car missing. There is always a lot of walking around looking for someplace that I'm supposed to be, and worry that I'm going to miss something.

Still absent from these dreams is any sense of social anxiety, which is good, but the new themes of missing something, these time based anxieties, are not welcome. I suppose that they're not exactly surprising either. Between the pandemic conditions of the last year and a half and my own reckoning with midlife, it isn't hard to see where the anxiety comes from.

My doctor has suggested it might be worth exploring active anxiety management, but I feel like we need to get this hypothyroidism thing under control first before we start throwing more medications into the mix. I also believe that therapy in the last year has also helped with a ton of the anxiety. The minor panic attacks I use the lorazepam for have become less frequent, maybe three to four weeks apart, so none of this anxiety is creating a quality of life problem at the moment.


Pandemic Friday nights

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 8:38 PM | comments: 0

Early in the pandemic last year, when it wasn't clear that we could really do much of anything, we settled into a kind of rhythm. It usually involved me pouring a drink around 4 in the afternoon, as work was winding down. We would fire up a live stream from Suzy and Alex, a duo we met on our New Year's cruise at the end of 2018 on the Disney Fantasy. They're wonderfully charming, from the UK, and played covers of stuff. If they weren't playing, then we would run some playlists, and get our drink on.

Tonight, as work winded down, we did something kind of similar, but without any specific dinner plans, it was a "fend for yourself" kind of night where we would pick over leftovers or frozen food. I fired up some playlists from my own streaming music service, and we tried to set some new high scores on Ms. Pac-Man (machine review forthcoming).

A lot of our weekend activity lately has been going to Epcot, sadly without friends since they're not really visiting Orlando again yet. Between that and Diana's return to work, we haven't had an evening at home at the same time in awhile. I don't want to go back to a year ago, but I guess I want to point out that it wasn't all bad. We tried our best to make it work, roll with what was going on.

We're so close to getting beyond this. Fuck, I wish people would just get vaccinated so we could move on. Then we get the kids approved, and we put it all behind us. I don't understand why the people who last summer were all, "But the economy!" are all now avoiding the vaccine, which costs them nothing. America seems extra stupid, and that's frustrating.

On the plus side, there has been some really good music this year.


Too many old comprooders

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I have a lot of computers that I'm not using. When it comes to laptops, my upgrade cycle has been about every three years. The improvements from one to another are often marginal, though battery degradation is usually an issue. My desktop cycle is much longer. My late 2009 iMac I used until late 2015, so that was six years. It became Simon's computer. I replaced it with another iMac, and I used that until early 2019, so about four years, and that went to Simon while the old one I gave to one of his former teachers. At that point I built a Windows desktop, and I suspect that will last me at least another three or four years.

But most of the laptops are still hanging out. I have my 2012 MacBook Air still, which is sitting in my cabinet. It can still act as a build agent for iOS apps, which I admittedly don't make unless it's out of experimentation. That one had its battery replaced at some point after moving to Florida. I have a Surface Pro 3 that I bought in 2014, which was never my daily laptop, but I used it when traveling and going to clients for work because it was nice and small. The same year I bought a 13" MacBook Pro, and that was my daily driver until early 2018. That is currently Diana's laptop, so she's using a 7-year-old machine. That was the year I switched to Windows, and I bought the HP Spectre. I used that one until last spring, when the battery life got particularly terrible, and I was always annoyed at how warm it would typically get. I replaced it with the Surface Laptop 4, which I adore because of the goofy Alcantara fabric. It never gets warm, and even with a big developer load I can get 6 or 7 hours of battery life out of it, more with benign web browsing.

Note I still have all of those laptops. The Air I'll hang on to. The Surface Pro 3 I almost never use except to drive the lasers when we have raves at home. (Or a New Year's Eve party, which last happened December 31, 2019.) Like I said, Diana is still using the MacBook Pro. Yesterday, I bought a $45 battery to replace the failing one in the HP, and now it works like a champ again, though it gets a little warm still. Not sure what to do with that one. I could give it to Diana, but at this point I think she prefers Macs, and she really deserves a new computer. She says she might be content with a ChromeBook.

I think I might donate the HP, because someone can easily get another three or four years out of that thing. The rest, I'm not sure.

The funny thing is, I remember that laptops were really shitty back in the day unless you spent a ton. The Sony VAIO I bought in 2000 I remember paying at least $2,500 for (with 64 megabytes, not gigs, or RAM). Then in 2005-ish I bought an HP to tote around for consulting, and it was shit. The power connector came loose, and I had to solder it back into place. I only had that one for like two years, when Apple flipped to Intel.


I had to break up with AltNation and SiriusXM

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

Way back when I lived in Seattle and bought my first Prius (man, the jokes really write themselves there), in 2010, I was introduced to the world of satellite radio from SiriusXM. Immediately I latched on to Lithium, their channel with all of the 90's/aughts alternative rock I grew up with, and AltNation, their current alt rock channel. It really brought back those feelings of listening to 107.9 The End in Cleveland back in the day, because it was a fairly broad spectrum of music. In those days, you could hear something weird and obscure one minute, but then hear something that was popular across genres. I don't think people really remember that you could hear Jewel on alt rock stations around the turn of the century, right along side Nine Inch Nails or Garbage.

While the world is generally satisfied with streaming services that allow you to pick and choose specific things, and most have "channels," they're largely algorithmic. The thing I always liked about AltNation is that it was curated the way radio was back in the day. You could argue that there's some taste-making going on there, and you're probably right, but that's OK because some humans are better than others at identifying "good" art, whereas group think is not, and that's why there's so much "reality" TV.

In any case, AltNation has been my go-to for a long time. However, in the last year or two, they seem to have gotten into a rut. It's not just that the playlists are repetitive, but they've become more homogenized than ever. Hearing the same crappy imitations of already crappy emo bands gets old pretty fast. How many fucking bands feature Travis Barker? And then they get a stiffy for The Killers, who haven't had a good record in years.

But the real problem is what they seem to avoid entirely, despite having committed before to certain bands. I first heard of Wolf Alice on AltNation, and now that they have arguably the best indie rock album of the year, and they're tearing up the UK scene, they haven't featured even a single song. Last year's The Naked And Famous album had no action, even though songs like "Punching In A Dream" were a staple of the channel. And they've completely ignored the last two Garbage albums. Even slam dunks, like this year's Foo Fighters album, definitely one of their best, get little play.

When our Nissan Leaf got totaled in an accident late last year, that was the end of our SiriusXM radios. I held on to their cheapest streaming plan, just for AltNation, but I finally let it go because listening just wasn't doing it for me. It makes me sad that the channel just degraded so much. Our current cars stream LiveXLive, formerly Slacker Radio, and their Alternative Hits channel isn't bad. They play all kinds of stuff you'll never hear on AltNation. Right now, I'm listening with ads, but $4 a month might be OK (it's already included with the cars). It doesn't have the "live" DJ's (what can I say, having done that job, I value it), but it may work out. We'll see what kind of things I discover going forward.


Finding his people

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 14, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

The remote school last year, and the fairly isolated nature of on-site school in the spring, left Simon in a very awkward and weird place socially, at a time when he was already struggling. This year, for grade 6, we moved him into a school that caters to kids with what you can broadly call "learning differences." Simon is pretty intelligent, and his ability to grok things often comes down to how interested he is in them. Layer in ASD and ADHD, and sometimes the issue in education is that you just need to find the right path to reach him. The odds of that happening in a building with 2,000 other middle schoolers did not seem high. Fortunately, the state covers most of the tuition.

This has a useful side effect: His classmates share similar challenges, socially and academically. These kids aren't going to judge him or perceive that he's different the way the larger body of kids would. They're his people. So this weekend, one of them had a birthday party, and he was able to stay overnight for the first time. It sounds like he had the kind of carefree time you expect kids to have, and it was awesome. The truth is, we've never really seen him this happy socially. He still pushes back on some of the school work, but even that's better than it was before.

We kind of saw it coming in the first few days of school. He immediately bonded with a specific classmate over Roblox, and we've allowed them to play together online a little more than we probably would have otherwise. It's interesting to hear them play, to cooperate, mostly be kind to each other and laugh and have a good time. It's also a relief.

I often hang on to something that one of Simon's doctors said around the time of his autism diagnosis, that kids tend to figure out coping strategies in their middle and high school years to exist in a neurotypical world, to the point where they're able to operate successfully. It doesn't mean that they're not proud of who they are, or that they can't leverage their alternate wiring to their advantage, they're just able to meet the world where it is, since it seems generally unwilling to do the reverse. I want that for him in part because I didn't have that in my school years, and it made me miserable. As if identity issues aren't hard enough in your teenage years.

It was also something of a relief for us to trade stories with parents who know exactly what we go through. We're not alone.


Covid hysteria among the wrong people

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 12, 2021, 10:46 PM | comments: 0

I was talking to a coworker last week in Oregon where indoor coffee shop dwelling is not allowed, and in fact outdoor masking on the streer is required in certain places. This was shocking to me because these protocols do not align with the known science of Covid transmission. Not only that, but it's in a place where daily case counts come in at about 24 per 100,000 people, and 78% of people 12 and over are vaccinated. Meanwhile, many rural locales, far less densely populated areas, plus most of Tennessee and Kentucky, see per capita infection rates that are 6 or 7 times as bad, with lower vaccination rates, and they're not doing much of anything.

Now, good on Portland from the standpoint that their hospitals aren't being crushed, but it still seems like an extreme reaction not rooted in the science. Granted, things are pretty bad here in Orange County, as I've described previously. Being treated on a random counter in the ER is not ideal, to say the least. I suppose the West Coast desire to do the right thing is frankly better than doing nothing, or worse, having your own governor attempt to prevent you from doing anything. This kind of thing is not what healthcare workers signed up for.

On one hand we would understand that your odds of a breakthrough infection are pretty slim, maybe 1 in 5,000 per day. I think we're all at most a degree or two away from someone who experienced this, and in almost every case it wasn't a big deal. My own anecdote is that we've been vaccinated and circulating around theme parks now for four months, among tourists from all over, no less, without incident. (Well, I did have something for a couple of days, but it didn't fit the Covid bill.) We even had that stretch where we didn't have to use masks indoors.

But let's be real, vaccinated people are having to wear masks because the unvaccinated wouldn't do it otherwise. It feels like the whole class is losing recess because of those few misbehaving kids. And if they would have been adults and had the shots earlier in the summer, we would be like, "Delta what?" by now. Those are the folks who should be hysterical about this, but they're not.

Yes, there is still concern about kids under 12, I know, because I have one. He masks like a pro, and does it at school. This weekend, he did an overnight with one of his classmates (great story about that to tell), for the first time ever, and it was a pretty big deal. Like anything, you assess the risk, and with a work-from-home parent, it seemed pretty low risk. Kids are lower risk to begin with, though I still worry a little because of his allergies and bout with pneumonia some years ago. But then I look at the window of critical development that he's entering, and how he's lost 18 months already for social engagement. The risk of him not having those opportunities seems higher.

The situation is endlessly frustrating. It's tempting to shrug it off, since 99% of the people dying in hospitals now are unvaccinated, and they made their choice. It's completely preventable. But as I've been saying for some time, our individual actions have widespread impact. Those people in the hospital are costing billions of dollars, and we'll all pay for that with higher insurance premiums. Healthcare workers are completely overworked. They're compelling extreme mask usage and business interruption in certain areas. They're keeping the labor market for service jobs hesitant. The irony is that they often appear to be the same people who vocally insisted that the economy reopen before the vaccine rollout.

Now there are waves of mandates coming from private employers, and the noise against that is reaching a fever pitch. Again, this is the least hard thing that has ever been asked of Americans. You just need to get a shot. No one is asking you to ration food or fuel. This isn't a draft where we're requiring military service where you have to risk your life. It's just a shot, like those you had to get before you started school. Seriously, you might even get a lolly.


Infuriating car rattle

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 12, 2021, 9:44 PM | comments: 0

Tesla has a pretty bad reputation since the introduction of the Model 3 for fit and finish problems. With the 3 and the Y, they've not done a very good job of getting body panels lined up. Our 3 was actually mostly OK, with the exception of the trunk not always grabbing the latch on the first try. That was easy enough to fix once I was motivated enough to get a couple of Torx bits to loosen and realign the latch. Our Y had a really poorly aligned front right fender, and it drove me nuts because the crease that went from the camera and into the door didn't line up, and it was the first thing that I would see every time I entered the garage.

I took it in and got that fixed, but what eluded me is a rattle that I can't find. I found countless forum posts and videos showing resolution for various rattles, but none of them address the one that I have. It seems like it's somewhere in the back, and has a slightly metallic noise to it. In the process, I've found some other things. The back of one of the rear seats wasn't seated at all. The side of the center console was also not seated. The rear seatbelt buckles are really loosely connected to the frame, and just in case it was one of those I added a little adhesive foam, but I don't think it's those (the volume of the rattle doesn't change with the seat top removed). I've discovered that the rear left window isn't aligned right in the door, and I'm pretty sure that I'll take that in because I can't un-see it.

Still, the rattle eludes me. If I shake any of the individual rear seat sections, none of them make a noise, so I don't think it's the seats. It could be something with the trunk, but shaking that doesn't reveal anything obvious. If it's something loose in the trunk sides, I'm not sure how to get in and look. Cavernous as that trunk is, there are two long plastic liners on both sides, and I can't find anything online to see how they're attached.

It could conceivably be on the outside of the car, maybe in the rear suspension, but it's so hard to see any of it. The underside of the car is all battery, and in between the wheels is the pit inside of the trunk and the rear motor. That's the thing, there aren't actually that many parts!

The success ratio of service calls to fixed rattles isn't good, which is why I feel like I need to find it myself. You also never know if they're going to send mobile service to you, which is awesome, or if they want you to bring it in, which is not awesome. That's super inconvenient in Orlando, as the store is too small, and way up north. My hope is that they will come to me to get that window aligned right.

I love the car... It's comfortable to road trip in, the cargo space is absurd, and yeah, 0-60 in 4.8 seconds. But this rattle is all I hear on any road that isn't perfectly smooth, even with the radio on. I mean, a Nissan Versa or a Toyota Corolla won't ship with these problems, and they're less than half the cost.


Thoughts on another 9/11 anniversary

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 10, 2021, 6:07 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe that this marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That means an entire generation has come of age since then. For that reason, the desire to reflect on that day seems reasonable, but I also think it's time to evolve in the way that we think about that day. Everyone is different, but for me, I've chosen to avoid all of the retrospectives and TV specials, because it's still deeply troubling, and there isn't a lot of new ground left to cover. I will watch the filmed version of the musical Come From Away, which I believe focuses on human potential, instead of its worst capabilities. As they say in the show, "We honor what was lost, but we also commemorate, what we found."

I wanted to write about what led to that day, what happened after, how it changed things, but I just don't have it in me. I think there is a lot of important historical context that is missing from our general consciousness, in the way that few people have an understanding about the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the end of the Soviet Union, etc. But it isn't my job to solve that problem, and I'm barely qualified to have opinions about it.

There was a brief period of unity in the world, at least for a few weeks, and I hang on to that as an example of what humans are capable of. President George W. Bush reminded us of the true teachings of Islam, the press was largely sticking to facts and reporting the truth (and people understood what reality was), no one falsely connected Iraq to terrorism, charitable contributions to everything hit records, and people generally gave each other a little grace to roll with life.

It's hard not to fall into a downward spiral of cynicism in a year when we can't do the most basic things to prevent disease and watched a lawless mob attempt a violent insurrection. But in response to something terrible, we got to see just how good people can be. That's what I want to hang on to.


The randomness and chaos of your career

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 9, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Twelve years ago today, I learned that I would be flying to Seattle to interview at Microsoft, for a job that I ended up getting. What I haven't thought about much since then is that I was actually talking to a few different groups out there, and even in the group where I landed, there were some questions about whether or not I might take on some kind of leadership role. It ended up not being that, which I later found frustrating given my career trajectory at the time. Even then, I think I understood that I didn't want to be heads down coding all of the time. That's why I sought an internal transfer after a year, to get back on that track.

But that wasn't the only "almost" even in that company. A year in, I almost landed a position managing a dev team that built testing tools for the various studios making games to integrate with Xbox Live. It came down to me and another guy, and the hiring manager took the other one only because he had been at the company longer. He wanted to build a second team for me, but didn't get the budget. That was frustrating. I imagine things may have turned out differently had I got that job.

These are just a few examples of the randomness and chaos that you can't control, even when you think you're actively managing your career. 2009 was a tough year, and honestly any job I didn't hate would have been an improvement, but one that relocated me to Seattle and a company that I admired was a pretty big deal. It was the year that I wanted to stop letting career happen to me though, to actively move toward the things that I wanted to do. There's still an element of chance to it all, which I can accept since I'm not Type-A. I figure if you just keep at it long enough, eventually you'll hit the chance that gets you where you want.

I was talking with a friend the other day about how at a certain point you stop caring about equity in employment offers, because you almost never hit that lottery. I still take pride in asking for salary over equity in a gig years ago, which worked out since the company eventually tanked, but I didn't really know it would. Another gig, I couldn't get equity when I felt that I should since I was basically starting the engineering team from scratch. And now I have a job where the company actually went public, after years of not caring about equity. So much chaos and chance.

Even when I hit the chances, I've made mistakes, and that's OK. The last 12 years did get me to the general place I wanted to be. The truth is I'm not even sure where I want the next 12 to go. It's hard to get caught up in titles, and I tend to think more in terms of responsibilities. Am I an operator? A visionary? A team builder? A little of everything? Do I want to lead leaders or lead makers? I know which things I'm better at, but nothing is really off the table. It helps to be at a company that's big enough to have those growth opportunities.

All things considered, you can't just wait for things to happen, you still need to be deliberate. For my first decade in software, I was not deliberate, and I think I wasted a lot of time not growing. But when you do take control, to the extent that you can, there is still some randomness to endure.


The new Garbage album sure is something

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 8, 2021, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

I desperately wanted to see Garbage and Alanis before the pandemic. That tour ended up happening this year (sadly without Liz Phair opening), but I ended up passing on going to the Tampa show. An outdoor show in August in Florida, and with the Covid situation being worse in Orlando, it just didn't seem like something I wanted to do. (Also, I hate that drive and I'm not even sure who I would go with.) I stupidly missed them last time they came to Orlando. I've seen them six times, and they're always fantastic. In fact, I like to be a hipster and mention that I saw them at their 11th show ever, in late 1995 in Cleveland.

They released No Gods No Masters in June, and it seems conspicuous that I haven't talked much about it. It's their third post-hiatus album, and it's just... different. It still sounds like a Garbage album, and there are a few songs I like, but I can't deeply get into it. I love that it's political as ever, but it's almost too literal in its approach. I agree with where Shirley is coming from, but some songs sound more like an angry Internet rant than art. When I talk myself through that complaint, I still end up in a place of, well, maybe this isn't a time for subtlety.

To be clear, I don't hate the album, and I adore the title track. There are a lot of fantastic sounds there, and creativity that I love the band for. I even got some Nine Inch Nails vibes the first time I listened. The deluxe version has some great bonuses I already had, like "No Horses" and their "Because The Night" cover with the Screaming Females. I especially love the "Starman" Bowie cover.

I might be less enthusiastic because Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend came out around the same time, and that's one of the best albums from anyone period that I've heard in years. Also, and this might be controversial, but I think that Garbage's previous album, Strange Little Birds, is easily their second best after their debut. Every song is great. "So We Can Stay Alive" just makes me lose my shit, and "Amends" is full of epic noise. These are six minute plus masterpieces, genuine album rock, which I miss hearing on the radio.

I'm fairly certain that I need to give No Gods No Masters more time, for sure. This has been a good year for albums, with winners from Foo Fighters, Grouplove, Lorde and others. And yeah, that Wolf Alice album.


Empathy... and now self-awareness?

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 3, 2021, 9:23 PM | comments: 0

In my last post I talked about the great win we had with an empathetic connection during a meltdown, and this week brings another meltdown, but a shocking instance of self-awareness.

Less surprising is that the problem was rooted in the inability to follow directions. Simon recently acquired some new tablet game, and he wouldn't disengage from it despite several directives to do so. So after the third time, I dropped the bomb: No TV for you tomorrow. I'll be honest, we rarely follow through on consequences, which I'm sure is one of the reasons that he still doesn't get the cause and effect. As any parent will tell you, it's often easier to just avoid the drama. But stopping and doing what he's asked, that's been a challenge lately.

He did some yelling and stomping, then slammed his bedroom door, so we made it two days. The rage crying and meltdown was in full effect. As much as I wanted to give him five minutes, then help him calm down, we decided to let him work through it. As he started to calm down, we had the parts where he told us that he hates us, and we're the worst parents, and other kids have it better, and we just ignored all of that. At first it was just directed at me, but eventually it was to both of us.

Over time, his posture changed to wanting to tell us something. I was sitting on the chair in our bedroom, and he tried to sit on my lap, which doesn't work well given his size. We moved to his room, and he wanted to talk. He seemed to get past what he did and his desire to negotiate a lesser sentence, and declared that he has trouble understanding when he is crossing a line, and asked for help. He wanted some warning to know he was about to suffer some kind of punishment.

This sounds like a pretty basic thing, but self-awareness is hard for him. We've learned with his therapy that it is in fact a key to unlocking solutions to a lot of the situations that he finds challenging. If he can identify why a situation causes him difficulty, there's a great chance that he can develop the coping skills to adjust.

When Simon had his ASD diagnosis, one of his doctors explained that, provided he didn't have any long-term comorbid disabilities, he would likely develop the coping mechanisms in his middle and high school years to deal with those. That's why a lot of autistic adults are roaming around the planet and you have no idea that they're there (my therapists have said I'm likely one of them). One can have "typical" behavior if they've learned to adapt the different brain wiring to work in a typical world.

Again, this gives me hope. The rest of his school years are going to be tough, but I just hope that they're not completely miserable. I hated grades 7 to 12 so much, and I want him to have a better experience than I did. Seeing him understand his own emotions could be huge for him.