I had a really long bedtime with Simon tonight. He expressed feelings of loneliness, which I am deeply familiar with at his age and beyond. I'm just not sure what to tell him, other than, "I've been there." I imagine it's even harder since he's an only child.
My childhood, in the general sense, was pretty lonely. No one really "got" me, my parents didn't engage, and honestly I feel like very few people tried to. If it weren't for a couple of adults in high school, specifically the athletic director and the guy who hired me to do TV stuff from the city, I'm not sure how things might have turned out.
I tried my best to explain to Simon that close relationships were difficult to come by for me, but it didn't mean that they didn't exist, and it didn't mean that I was not valuable. I understand this to be a spectrum for most people, where they fall somewhere between few close relationships and many trivial relationships, or somewhere in between. I definitely fell in the "few deep" category. In high school, there were a few people that I gravitated toward even if I didn't have a lot of frequent interaction with them outside of school. In college, the same pattern persisted, with a few close friends each year (including a number of women that I wished were more than just friends). By the time I got to adulthood, I had my eventual wife, and after we split, a few others that were younger but still intensely interested in me as a person. It felt like I met a lot of people when I moved to Seattle of various depths of friendship, and I still can't entirely explain why that happened. (For real, in those two years, I met people that I felt I deeply understood, even if I didn't see them much after we moved again.)
What do you do with all of that when describing it to your offspring? I'm not even sure other than being honest about it. I get his feelings, because they're similar to what I've experienced my entire life. Feeling lonely sucks, but some people get you, but most people don't. What can you suggest other than patience? Eventually, someone will sit next to you and hold your hand, or if it's not romantic, they'll say, "Yeah, I feel what you're going through."
I just hope that I can figure out how to help him feel less lonely. Being a teenager sucks, but it can be a means to an end. Adulthood can be a time when you're comfortable in your skin, if you learn to value yourself first in your earlier years.
In my first "real" full-time job, as the first ever cable TV coordinator for the City of Medina, Ohio, I had the excellent experience of getting to buy a cargo van. I needed it to transport all of the video stuff associated with the gig. It was a pretty standard 1997 Ford Econoline van sourced via a state-wide bid contract.
Those vehicles don't really have the typical "new car smell" that you might associate with your average consumer vehicle. The inside of the thing doesn't have a lot to it. The two seats are some kind of fake leather-plastic, and the flooring is one big piece of rubber. There's still a smell though, and it didn't go away for the next two years that I got to drive it.
I'm obviously an EV enthusiast these days, but there was something remarkably... shitty about those things. I had previously worked part-time for the neighboring city, Brunswick, for my counterpart there, which might be part of the reason that I got the job. They had a similar van, only theirs was blue instead of white. These things had not changed very much in many years, and on average inside the city they rarely would accumulate more than a few thousand miles a year. So when I took delivery of mine, it was certainly familiar. I remember in particular the tactile feel of shifting it into gear, with the big lever on the steering column. Despite the huge engine, it wasn't particularly robust, and I recall getting stuck in snow. The radio had a simple four-digit LCD display. When I would load up my equipment in road cases with my part-timer, Allison, I would use straps to clamp it down to the holes in the framing on the side of the van, pushed against the wheel wells.
I drove it to Columbus twice, once to do a documentary trip around various suburban high schools to see how they were handling the growth that Medina was experiencing. The superintendent and board members, along with some city council members and other "important" people, were on the trip. I remember how awkward and out of place I felt that night at the dinner they had arranged (at taxpayer expense), and the odd resentment that I felt toward some of them. The next time I drove it to Columbus, it was to record the girls' Division 1 state soccer final. That time, at least, my part-timer was the assistant coach, and I had a nice time at the bar the night before with them (and was hungover for the game, which they won).
What triggered these memories? I'm watching Oceans 11 for the millionth time, and the vans they buy in the movie are about the same. Isn't that weird? How something like that can trigger such rich memories?
I did something twice this week that I had not done in a few years: Go see a movie in a theater. On Saturday we saw Don't Worry Darling, the movie that Olivia Wilde directed with Florence Pugh (two of my favorites). It was essentially a private showing, as we were the only two people there. Then today we caught the first matinee of Ticket to Paradise, the rom-com with Clooney, Roberts and the very charming Kaitlyn Dever. This one was sold-out, and we were neck deep in retirees.
With literally the two most opposite outcomes, I have to wonder how things are going in the movie theater business. I don't mean movie business, because quite frankly I don't remember a time that so many movies were getting made since the capacity is more or less infinite. The industry is not constrained by the number of screens and need not strictly compete on any given weekend for eyes. That's pretty great, and as TV is in the same boat, I've seen so many great things in the last year or two that might not have been made just a few years before.
Where does that leave the theater business? Even before the pandemic, it seemed like the only way people packed in there was if you had a big blockbuster. Not only that, but the theaters have tried hard to differentiate themselves by offering food, amazing seats and bar service. That all makes a lot of sense, since the cut of ticket revenue isn't going to pay for the amenities. But there's still the question of whether or not this experience is "better."
There are some very vocal filmmakers (many of which overlap with the people who insist they should shoot on film) that believe movies should be seen on the big screen, where people can share this common experience of seeing the thing. I get that to an extent, but there really have only been a handful of movies that really get there, either by massive laughs or applause or whatever. The only movies I can remember well that had that response were the later Harry Potter films and Star Wars. Also Saving Mr. Banks, if you can believe it. The point is, "shared experience" is a rare thing that enhances the movie.
It's worth mentioning also that the technology has changed dramatically. Watching a movie on a 65-inch 4K TV with the various color standards and surround sound at home is a pretty robust experience. And those standards that trick the TV into having color settings that don't suck (hopefully with frame interpolation off) mean you're seeing it as intended. I don't have to go anywhere, it just streams into my house from the Internets. I recently watched the original Top Gun at home, which was remastered a couple of years ago. This is the movie that started the priced-to-own VHS business, and I really had never seen it any other way. Even with the film noise, it was like seeing it for the first time.
And again, many movies won't see theaters anyway, or they're released in both places. I'll always choose the home viewing in those cases, where it will cost maybe $20 to buy, instead of $25+ for a pair of tickets and another $50 for food with tip. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy that from time to time, but it's pretty rare.
Hollywood is hardly a thing that readily adapts to changing times, so I'm not sure what happens next. Then you have innovators like Kevin Smith who actually tour a movie while releasing it everywhere, and making money that way on movies that would get lost with traditional marketing. That's super interesting to me.
I don't know what's next, but I would imagine that as long as it continues to function, my TV will last at least a decade. The last one did, and it's still in service in our bedroom ("only" standard HD). The theater experience isn't really "better" to me, it's just different, something to do to get out now and then.
I've read a number of different articles and viewed news stories about the desire to be heard, and not feeling heard, as one of the contributors to the general divisiveness in the US. I definitely get that, and certainly it's probably one of the primary reasons for the result of the 2016 election, and the reason it was somewhat close in 2020. If I put my amateur therapist hat on though, what I think I've been seeing for years is that there's a lot of scorekeeping going on. We know who the teams are, generally among racial and economic lines. I'll be quick to point out though that there isn't always moral equivalence in the scorekeeping. There's a big difference between "I don't want anyone to have what's mine" and "I just want to be treated fairly even though I'm a minority."
Keeping score may often be motivated by fear. I can't tell you how many people believe that anyone standing for equality is a socialist, and they want to take your money and your freedom. Certainly at the national level, neither of those things have happened despite the alleged "radical socialists" occupying the White House and Congress. But often at the local level, you can't get women's healthcare, it's harder to vote, there's censorship in schools and libraries, and it's not at the hands of socialists. The score, as it turns out, isn't simple.
But the bigger problem is that it is not a zero-sum game to score. My success does not need to come at the expense of others, and certainly their success does not need to come at the expense of mine. The inability to believe this is also, unsurprisingly, rooted in perspective. If you're a "have," you want to keep it that way, but if you're a "have not," you may believe that it isn't possible to ever cross the tracks. The world has become transactional to many people, and social discourse gives no reason to expect that to change.
There's a lot of scapegoating to go around, too. The right is steeped in racism and demagoguery, blaming anyone not like them for society's problems, while the left is convinced that any rich person or successful company is the problem. No wonder there's no agreement... these are both bullshit propositions fed by an impossible scoreboard. And while these two sides are also not morally equivalent, the left makes no friends by judging the rich (or for that matter, judging how much they may contribute to philanthropic causes). There is no reason we can't have rich people and not leave people behind. It doesn't have to be a choice.
People have become too transactional. For example, people will believe by this very statement that I must be dismissing the existence of racism and misogyny deeply ingrained in our culture. But if you know me at all, or even read this dumb blog, you know that's not the case. I can believe that people have become too transactional and those things, because I'm trying to not be so transactional. Our problems are hard and nuanced, and keeping score doesn't advance the conversation because it's off-putting. That doesn't mean pretending that the -isms aren't really bad right now, or perpetrated largely by a vocal minority. But as repugnant as those folks might be to you, comparing scores will not change their minds, and worse, they will not make a case for the moderates sitting on the fence. I imagine that they're the tipping point toward sanity. They mean well, but don't get involved, and we need them.
If you need a more personal example, I'm sure at some point (probably in your 20's) you've had that friend who drinks your beer and asks you to help them move, but the reverse is never true. You probably don't think about it, but they probably do. Your friendship is valuable to them because you give them free beer and help them move, that's the winning score. Only decades later do you think, "Wow, why was I friends with that guy?" Well, don't be that guy, and don't be the later-hater, no matter where you stand on issues. You don't have to be winning with whatever moral points you think you have, because you certainly won't advance the conversation that way. (This always reminds me of Obama's criticism of call-out culture and confusing that with activism.)
It may seem quaint or naïve, the idea that we can all be winners, but other nations are a lot closer to it than we are. They also don't treat politics like a sports rivalry.
I've been messing around with some ideas for another app to build, ranging from extra stupid easy to more ambitious. I even looked at the prototyping that I did for my very own social network a couple of years ago. Regardless of what I do, I've decided that I'm not that crazy about REST API's. I mean, they're basically the thing since the dawn of time for connecting clients to things on the Internets, but they're so clumsy and labor intensive.
And really, this is the annoying thing as data crosses all boundaries, whether it be API to client, or over a message bus, or from a database to a web app, or whatever. The data always ends up needing a different shape, and at some borders you have to decide contextually if the user or service asking for the data is even allowed to see it in the first place. Then you need to make sure that one end of the pipe understands what the other end is sending, which you can generally cover with integration testing. (Or worse, I had a team that insisted on using a common package at both ends, which meant having to rebuild and deploy all the things, even after I explicitly said "don't do that.")
"Duh," you might be saying, "Why don't you just use GraphQL?" Legit question, and the answer is that you just end up moving around the projection and the permissions checking, and add in a bunch of annotation, or at least, that's the case in the .Net world. A quick look at JS/TS appears to not be much better. The only problem it's really solving is having a single endpoint, moving the projections to the client by way of query, but you still need to know if you're allowed to get or send things contextually.
It does look like using SignalR, the .Net websockets abstraction, might be a good alternative. Sockets are definitely faster anyway, and I've got some experience with that in POP Forums. It's pretty easy to call things at both ends of the pipe in both directions. And deserialization works even if stuff is missing or there are extra fields, which is fantastic because the two ends need not share models. Granted, you have to code defensively, but it won't break because you added
FavoriteColor to one end. I can also create a single connection and use partial classes on the server end to break up the methods by domain.
This is where I rant that we wouldn't even be thinking about some of these issues if we could just use the web and not need an app for every flipping thing.
It's funny how, again this year, I ended up talking to my intern a bit about how they shouldn't be too precious about their career choices in college. It sure seems at the time like you're planning for a long-term outcome that is inflexible, though anyone in their 30's will tell you that's silly. What really gets me about this though is that potential outcomes seem nearly impossible to imagine until they happen.
This happened for me only a few years out of college, as a radio/TV major. While I was brooding my senior year about being so done with school, ready to work for real, I could not have predicted what would happen next. I got to a full-time radio gig within a few months, and at that point it was like, "This is it?" What a horrible business. After bailing on that, I ended up in local government TV, which was definitely better, but I felt unappreciated and underpaid (relative to my peers in other cities). Four years after graduation, I was working with that Internet, and I became a software developer. College senior me could have never predicted that.
It doesn't help that American standard culture says that the dream is to think of something clever to do for the rest of your life, and with hard work you can make it happen. Anything less is failure or a personality flaw. If only things were that simple in a very chaotic world. It seems like we're still telling kids that this is how it should go.
I realized today that this phenomenon of unknown outcomes doesn't really have a time limit. Even this late in my career, what if I could be doing something else? I can't imagine what it would be, and that grates on me. I mean, sure, I could become a podcaster (done that), write a book (done that) or become a professional body piercer (not really, people are gross). But what's the thing that I've never thought of?
Here's the irritating truth: A lot of what happens and where we end up is dumb luck. The birth lottery is only the start of it. While I'd like to think that I have to some extent made my present, there have been hundreds of little events that were just right place/time occurrences. I think the best way to respond to that is embrace the chaos and look for the opportunity as you go. Uncertainty is hard. (And I'm not even a Type-A!)
I've had this post in my head for awhile now, and I've wondered how exactly to approach the subject. Maybe it's easiest to start with a personal story. Like a lot of people, I've been alarmed by the way a minority of people seem to be hell bent on hate and discrimination toward people not like them. It's not a new phenomenon, but I thought we mostly chased those folks off to the fringes of society. Now some have cable TV shows. I've described how this causes stress for me, and my therapist believes that this desire to be an ally to those who are marginalized comes natural to me because I also feel that I've never quite belonged. She's probably right, even if that's a hard thing to realize, let alone accept.
Indeed, I'm a white, heterosexual male, of no particular ethnic identity, raised (though not practicing) Christian who is very firmly at the high end of the middle class. Whatever difficulties I've had in life, none of them were really fundamentally tied to who I was, and I've not faced the obstacles of any of the groups that I'm not a part of. But then last year a psychologist confirms that I have autism spectrum disorder, and everything about my life to date is seen through a different lens. Immediately I sense that this will become an identity issue for me in some way, depending on how much I accept it and am willing to talk about it. And through that new lens, I feel like some of the difficulty I've had in adult relationships of all kinds, personal, romantic and professional, stems from this thing that I always was.
I'm not at all suggesting that having ASD on your chart is the same as, say, being Black in America, for example. No one has ever deliberately discriminated against me for it because they most likely don't know I have it. Making it an issue of identity then is an imperfect arrangement because while it was something I was born into and can't change, I can hide with it in plain sight. And yet, if you go down the rabbit hole of advocacy and awareness, there are people who very much get offended if you don't see it their way. I once had a conversation with a coworker about the way "we" might approach certain problems, and she told me that "we" prefer to be referred to as "autistic." Weird, because I didn't get to vote on that measure. It's certainly easier from a word economy angle, compared to "autism spectrum disorder" or "on the spectrum," but shit, I'm not in a place to be offended regardless. There's no escaping that it is an identity issue, as imperfect as it might be.
And yet, the words do matter, whether I like it or not, as the goofy YouTuber from the Holderness Family points out, ADHD has the words "deficit" and "disorder" right in the name. I have that, too. So I have two things with "disorder" in the name? Am I broken in two ways? Think about how we talk about this sort of thing. ADHD is usually referred to as something one "has," which is somewhat reasonable because you might be able to manage it with medication. But autism isn't something you can cure, it's what you are. You are on the spectrum or you are autistic. It's not like a medical condition. We don't say that people are cancer.
This eventually leads to the topic of disability. This one is also a can of worms, since ASD has an incredibly broad definition. It is clinically described as a developmental disorder that affects learning and social development. But as we know, the outcomes associated with this are insanely broad, to the extent that most of the people that have radically changed the world would likely fit in that spectrum, but so would people who can't care for themselves or function in society on their own. What do you do with that? History's greatest scientists and artists certainly weren't "disabled." Where I land on this topic, especially since I see Simon going through some of the same things that I did in childhood, is that we learn in different ways, not deficient ways. The challenge for the neurotypical is to try and understand what those different ways are, which is at best an uphill battle.
To be self-aware, sure, we may make that distinction around learning differences in part because we don't want to be labeled with a defect. But there is also a threshold where the differences may be so difficult to understand that they may be insurmountable for parents, educators and a society at large who wants to help. Referring to an individual as some level of "normal" is frankly offensive and like nails on a chalkboard, but "high functioning" isn't really any better, since it implies an opposite of "low functioning."
The challenging parts of this condition can manifest themselves in a million different ways. One way, for me, is that I have to be early for anything related to travel, unreasonably so. Whether it's getting in the car by the time I've determined is optimal, or early to the airport, or among the first on a cruise ship, it's an impulse that I find difficult to control. I need that structure and predictability, because without it I imagine a cascading series of events that will cause me to miss out on something. As an adult, I've learned to cope with deviation from travel plans, but I can't put into words what it does to my sense of being in the moment. I know I've lashed out at people in these situations, and even when I haven't, not being on schedule feels like being trapped in a box, unsure when I can get out. That shit is real for me. Am I disabled? Not really... I'm still going to get to my destination.
More controversial is something like the "disability access service" at theme parks. We enroll Simon in this, because queueing can be difficult in unexpected ways. Even with that access (you tag in on the app and they give you a time to return, like old FastPass), we had an issue as recently as last month where he had to bail on a ride because even the shorter wait was long enough for the thought to develop that he might lose his souvenir popcorn bucket on the ride. He was almost in full meltdown. As frustrating as that is for me as a parent, I get it, because it's not that different from my travel stress. He's just wired differently, and with time, hopefully he learns to cope with stuff like this. It doesn't go away, we just figure out how to mitigate it and function in the world. Is that being disabled?
It's hard to generalize about the way autism affects people, which means that neurotypical people probably find it even harder to identify autism or how to roll with someone exhibiting behaviors associated with it. I do think that there are two things that we can get better at. The first is that we have to stop looking at autism as a defect by default. I understand that some portion of people on this spectrum will not be able to cope to the point of self-reliance, but again, for many it's a difference and not a deficiency. Einstein wasn't stupid, he was different. If we accept and accommodate the differences, it then makes it possible for people living with the condition to practice self-awareness and attempt to find their developmental and learning lanes. Being wired differently shouldn't be exclusionary.
I know that I have no intention of being quiet about it. I wish I would have endured the diagnostic sooner, because the math of the non-belonging my therapist and I talked about at least makes sense. I'm not looking for pity or a hug, I just want to be real. I want you to know that I intend to use this self-awareness to evolve, and advocate for broader understanding around the many things that autism is, or may be, for the people around you.
While I've been going kind of nutty learning about modern stage lighting technology, it kind of hit me that you can do so many cool things with lights now. You don't have to be technically inclined, you really just need to be able to use your phone.
When we last moved, about five years ago, I put a bunch of Hue lights outside in front of the garage and over the porch, so we could change them to whatever color felt right. Red and green for Christmas, red white and blue for the 4th of July, orange and purple for Halloween, etc. I have them in our living room, too, but don't generally mix those up outside of Christmas. Those also include a strip of lights above the over-TV shelf, which throw light up on the wall.
And then there are the WiFi switches and outlets, so you can turns stuff on remotely or on timers. We use one in the bedroom so my lazy ass doesn't need to get out of bed to turn off the lights. And for the holidays, we just tell the speaker, "Merry Christmas," and the trees, lighted garland and Hue lights all come on at the same time. The one in the front window is also on a timer.
Speaking of Christmas, have you seen these Twinkly lights that you phone can map out and animate on the tree? That's insane. A hundred bucks isn't cheap, but to do what it does is pretty incredible.
I thought about getting those permanent roof trim lights, but I wouldn't use them all that often. If I were going to spend money on permanent lighting, I would probably want ground level washes pointing upward, and on the front roof parts. Now that the house is white, I think that would look pretty cool.
It's also worth mentioning that all of this stuff uses a fraction of the power that they used to, because of LED's.
Simon had his open house today, and as is customary, teachers gave lists of things they needed to, you know, teach. Exotic equipment like pencils and dry erase markers. It's worse this year because now that he's in middle school, he has more than one teacher.
I know I'm not the only person who finds this ludicrously fucking insane, but why is it that, culturally, there is no civic engagement to do something about it? If I actually had to go into an office, I'd take a box of dry erase markers and give it to a teacher, because no one would care if I did. That's how trivial the objects are in the normal world. But the average school district can't carve out $29 for a box of 52 markers per teacher. And I'm not exactly blaming the school district, as mine does manage to at least provision basic laptops for students, but the way we fund schools and pay teachers only indicates that we do not prioritize education.
Here in Florida, instead, our asshat elected people at the state level are more worried that talking about gay people will make you gay, or learning that slavery was terrible will hurt your feelings and make you uncomfortable. This is as cosmically stupid as suggesting that studying Einstein will make you a genius with autism. But this is the "problem" that they choose to prioritize instead of getting teachers a goddamn marker.
The problem has so many layers to it. The politicians are part of it, as are the people who vote for these stupid things that aren't actually issues. Voters routinely vote against tax levies even when they can see in plain sight what it costs, and how little they operate on. It's the way we blindly accept that the federal government spends $847 per capita on education but $3,356 on defense. We run teachers out of the profession with low pay and curriculum requirements composed by non-experts. The queer ones can't even acknowledge who they are. With over 9,000 vacancies in the state, can we afford to chase out more teachers? (And if that money isn't spent on teachers, you know, buy the others supplies.)
And putting the duh in Flori-duh, we rank 48th among states for teacher pay at an average of $49,583.
I strongly believe that education is the foundation of a functional society, and I especially appreciate that public education is available to everyone. But we're doing the bare minimum. As they say, we get what we pay for.
I'm ready to unplug with my first full-week off, concerned with burnout, but I'm not going anywhere. My passport renewal finally came back, and I wish I knew it ahead of time because I would have happily knocked out a little weekend cruise. Instead, I'm mapping out a list of things to do that qualify as self-care and relaxation.
First thing on the list is going to see a movie. I haven't done that since before the pandemic. The reason isn't even Covid-related, there just haven't been a ton of movies I wanted to see in the theater. We have no less than three different brands of dine-in theaters near us, of varying degrees of quality and cost. I miss that. I even used to go by myself from time to time. Next thing is an Epcot lunch and maybe even a return for dinner. We haven't been to the parks much in the summer months, because it's too damn hot, but I miss dropping in, doing a lap on something, getting a beverage or whatever. A massage and/or pedicure is probably in the cards. Maybe miniature golf on the course that Simon doesn't care for (Fantasia Gardens Fairways).
The funny thing is, I'm not planning to do anything exotic, but there are all of these things that I enjoy that I just haven't done much of for whatever reason.
Tonight I was trying to read through some technical documentation that I'm recreationally interested in, and try as I might, I couldn't get through more than a few lines at a time. After an hour of not really learning anything, I realized what was going on and I was deeply frustrated. It's also disappointing that the bupropion XL I started taking near the beginning of the year, built to treat depression but having an off-label use for treating ADHD, is definitely not doing much for the latter.
While I feel like I've made some great progress in reframing difficult situations in my life under the light of ASD and ADHD, I am starting to wonder if either of those things constrain or limit me in some way. (Sidebar: There's also a huge can of worms about identity and disability, which is another post.) I won't go as far as suggesting that there are things that I can't do, in part because that's the go-to word my child uses when he doesn't want to do certain things, but if I'm being honest and self-aware, I should deeply consider what might be really difficult to do.
Let's take my desire to write a screenplay as a prime example. It's almost embarrassing how often I've written about wanting to do it, but haven't written a page in years. To be fair, I did actually write one twenty-ish years ago, but it was just fucking terrible and based on my experiences in a sad and pathetic kind of way. Now, every time I see a movie that I really like, that moves me in some non-trivial way, I think, yep, that's what I aspire to. But I don't do the thing that most screenwriters suggest you do, which is... write. You have to write a lot of shit before you can write something great, they argue. The first problem might be that I feel like I have to write the epic thing that I think will be great. But if all I've been able to do is write some one-off scenes every few years, that not going to get me anywhere. Is it the ADHD? I realize everyone is different, but I've observed people talking about it who have written novels and plays and screenplays. I can't even get through a few paragraphs reading something I'm interested in tonight.
Then I remember, hey, I did write a technical book a long time ago. I am, in fact, an author, and it says so on my resume. How did I get 300 pages done? There were a number of factors there, not the least of which included having an editor asking for pages. But I also quit a contracting job to do it and there was little else competing for my attention. If I could do that, what's stopping me from knocking out 120 pages of dialogue?
Sure, the context of the moment matters, so it's hard to sort out which constraints are ADHD and which ones are the hundred other things competing for my attention. I like to tell people that ADHD makes me a better manager, because it forces me to make decisions and move on to the next thing, context switching like a boss (see what I did there?). But maybe ADHD is just one constraint, and there are others that I could mitigate. Or, am I just wired this way, and short of medication, have to roll with it?
"Know your limitations" seems like something the self-aware can handle, but our "if you just put your mind to it" culture nonsense makes that smell like failure.
Tonight I made chicken tikka masala for the third time in the last month and a half. And naan. Food is difficult for me because I've never been particularly willing to try a lot of stuff (because autism, I suppose), and I very much get into routines that I don't like to deviate from. If I'm to give myself a little credit though, me eating Indian food is a crazy thing that me from 20 years ago would never do. So progress, right? But when I try to make something myself, I'm usually in pursuit of trying to recreate something I had in a restaurant. I get fixated on trying to recreate that taste.
Remember my Vaguely Asian Noodles? That obsession started after a visit to Kona Cafe in the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World. That took years to get right, before I landed on the recipe in that blog post, edited many times over. The result still isn't quite what I had the restaurant, which had a little more citrus to it, but I do like where I arrived. The tikka masala is challenging for a couple of reasons. For one, I know they're not using already-made tandoori seasoning like I am, and they're probably using way more of everything fragrant than any recipe I find. My third try needed more salt, and heat (tried a new chili powder this time), but it's not bad. I need to go back to my favorite restaurant and get it there again, see if I can decipher what's in it. Honestly, I think part of what's missing is the just the smell associated with a typical Indian restaurant.
I've also been messing around with making naan, which failed hard the first two tries because the yeast I had was clearly dead. Bought some today that doesn't expire until some time next year, and it got foamy and it did rise. The result still wasn't quite as light as what I'd expect in a restaurant, so I think I need to roll it thin and reduce the heat a bit. I'll figure it out.
If I'm really interested in exploring cooking though, I'll need to not get stuck on one thing for so long. Because at this rate, I'll get through five or six more dishes before I'm dead. 🙂
I have trust issues. It wasn't always this way, and really I think I've been overly trusting, naïve even, for most of my life. But with age and experience comes a lot of realization about how many people have let me down, taken advantage of me or otherwise done me wrong. It doesn't feel good to think about that. It's hard not to take every slight personally, even when it's not personal.
But if you peel back the top layer, I think what it's really about is control. Not being able to trust is really accepting that there are a lot of things that you don't have control of. Embracing a lack of control is really hard, and I suspect it's one of the biggest reasons that people suffer from anxiety, or worse, develop paranoia and, to be cyclical, an inability to trust. I can think of specific instances in my life whether it be in college, personal relationships or work, where that spiral has caused me to feel pretty low.
Perspective hasn't helped me, though it probably should. Long-term outcomes generally are OK, and especially in midlife, it's not useful to spend time on things that do not serve your remaining time on the planet. I often wonder where that threshold is, where one's natural reaction to the lack of control is, "Ain't nobody got time for that." It's slightly related to my previously disclosed need to not have to make any decisions. Accounting for a lack of control and trust means that you have to make more decisions.
I've seen it suggested that the sort of thing I'm trying to avoid or mitigate here is an attempt at opting out of adulting. I can assure you though that I'm not one of those entitled types looking for shortcuts. Adulting is fine, if a little exhausting at times. But there is a mental health cost, a cognitive load, associated with chaos. (Sidebar: I don't know how Type-A's can even live their lives, because they've gotta know how much is out of their control.) If the pandemic did anything for us, it made us realize how important mental health is, especially in chaotic and scary times. Wanting to get better at maintaining it is hardly wanton subversion of adulthood.
The optimist in me, which has taken a beating in recent years, might embrace chaos as an opportunity, but it's hard when you're tired. I'm a little tired. I haven't come out of the pandemic fog completely yet, despite some leaps forward this year. I feel like I need contingencies. Backup plans for missed expectations, instead of lower expectations. If nothing else, I should be able to trust myself.
It was a year and eight months ago that I drove our Model Y home. On that drive home, I immediately noticed that there was a rattle somewhere. At the time, I figured it was just something minor, but I spent the better part of the next month trying to figure out what it was. It was hard to figure out where it was coming from, and I had seen some anecdotal evidence that it was in the backseat headrest or the back belt buckles. So I added some felt pads and rubber pieces to minimize potential noise, since they were easy to get to. Unfortunately, it was not those things.
Tesla has had a lot of issues with fit and finish problems. By the time we got our Model S in 2015, they seemed to have worked all of that out. Even if they hadn't, in those days, they weren't doing the kind of volume that would get in the way of getting adjustments. When we replaced it with the Model 3 in 2018, there were no big issues on that one either. Again, maybe they had time to work it out. The Model Y in February 2021, replacing the totaled Nissan Leaf, had a really badly aligned front fender, and I got that fixed. The rattle, I never had them look at. And I'm not gonna lie, it was disappointing and I wasn't enjoying the car the way I did the other ones.
Eventually I just tried to make sure the music drowned out the rattle, but I kind of enjoy the silence and quiet of driving an EV at times. That whine that the motors make is fun. It reminds me of a launched roller coaster. And here's the worst part of it: In that first month, I found a couple of videos from a guy who fixed a rattle in the seatbelt buckle in his Model 3, then later fixed one in the plastic pieces in the same spot on his Model Y. I even bought felt tape then. It has been sitting on my desk ever since then.
The other day, we were all going somewhere and it started to rattle louder than ever. I realized how much time has passed, and I was pretty annoyed with myself that I didn't try to remedy it.
Today was the day.
I couldn't tell for sure what was rattling in the column, but wiggling it definitely made some noise. When I got the panel off, there were already bits of felt tape in the plastic, so they knew this was a problem. But the bits of tape weren't in the places that knocked against each other. So I added quite a bit in the plastic where I could see potential for noise. It's not structural, it's all decoration. I also put a few little pieces around the buckle, which necessarily has a little play around a screw. As I put the panel back in place, I noticed the one below wasn't seated that well, so the truth is that pushing that one on and putting the other one back on might have bee the thing that fixed it.
Twenty months, and I had the solution.
My child is headed at high speed toward puberty, has a cell phone, is gaining some autonomy, and frankly I can't shelter him from the icky parts of the world for much longer. Navigating the social world is hard enough, but I expected that. What I did not anticipate is having to teach him about critical thinking and understanding what's real and what isn't. People used to say, "Not everything you see on TV is real," and that was fine, because there wasn't that much TV to watch (get off my lawn!). The Internet has dramatically changed that. On one hand, the sheer volume of knowledge is a gift, but it often feels secondary to the mountains of bullshit. Remember, a non-trivial number of Americans actually believe, without evidence, that the last election was stolen. From whom or how doesn't matter, let alone the fact that it's the same election that installed many of the asshats who insist it was illegitimate. Climate change has objective data to show it's a thing, and some make it political. People rise against cultural phenomena that do not affect them beyond discomfort of its existence.
You encounter a weird problem when you point out to someone that they're overlooking the critical thinking that would lead them to a reality-based conclusion. They believe that you're accusing them of being stupid. The difference is more subtle than that though, and I'm sure this is my autism brain making the difference more important than it is, because it isn't stupidity, it's willful ignorance. The person could arrive at a carefully considered outcome, but chooses not to. This itself is a well understood psychological arrangement that's fed by personal bias, conscious or not. Cognitive dissonance is jumping through mental hoops to arrive somewhere because not doing so would be very uncomfortable.
Of course, no one wants to be called ignorant either. But putting the emotional response aside, there's also a growing sentiment that critical thinking, instead of going along with the crowd or whatever, is a form of elitism. What does it say for our society if we don't expect the baseline of "common" people to engage in critical thinking? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as we've seen in the last decade or so a tendency to forcefully reject expertise. We used to respect scientists, doctors, lawyers and academics. If you reject the experts and reject a baseline for critical thinking among the population, we're headed for a pretty bad place. It's the movie Idiocracy in real life. Stock up on your Gatorade, folks!
I'm not that pessimistic. I don't believe that the willfully ignorant constitute a majority, but they're very loud and hold positions of power, which isn't great. The solution is getting back to the basics of citizenship, including critical thinking, civic engagement and encouraging expertise.
Today I released v19 of POP Forums, which is one of the biggest releases I've ever done. For years I've largely been updating it with maybe one feature and an update to the latest framework version, but I don't know that I was really making it better and more useful. I focused a lot on performance, which most people probably don't appreciate, but it's the reason that I can get away with spending as little as possible to make it run in a redundant and resilient environment.
I also think that some of it may have had to do with starting on the anti-depressant. It really started to have obvious effects later into March, which is when my coding tear really started (see contribution graph below). I also got unblocked on the direction that I wanted to take with the front-end code, honestly making a lot of it up as I went. But it went, and I was into it almost every day. I was deploying it with regularity to CoasterBuzz and letting those folks be my involuntary beta testers. In July I felt pretty good about where it was and let things marinate. Then last month there were a number of smaller things that I further wanted to improve, and took on the bigger task of rewriting the private messaging to be real-time chat. That wasn't even on my radar, it was just something in the back of my mind that I always wanted to do. Once that was done, I let it rest some more, and today I cut the release.
As happy as I am with this release, and as fun as the last six months were improving it, I don't think that it's ever really going to be a business. When I launched the commercial hosted version, I didn't really have any expectations, but I figured I might make a little from it. I've had one customer that wasn't me, for a couple of months. What I see out there that isn't some cheap ad-supported thing is a few over-engineered products that clearly have a sales force, which I do not have. Forums also are still somewhat out of fashion, though I expect that will change as people become more skeptical of platforms and social media. Independently run niche communities are still better, I think. I'm waiting for millennials to rediscover the medium, like vinyl. Of course, I recently landed on a blog post by some young guy who was pissed that there weren't more apps for things, believing that it's better than having to go to a dot-com, so there's that.
I think I'll let this rest for awhile. I want a new coding project, but I'm not sure what it will be. Maybe it's time to do that drink-around-the-world web app.
Every now and then I notice that we don't do stuff that other people typically do. And I don't mean this to imply that doing those things is stupid or wrong or whatever, and I'm not trying to claim a hipster card. I am curious to know why we don't do said things though.
For example, we got Simon's school picture proof, and I realized that we almost never buy school pictures. It was certainly a thing when I was a kid, and I see other people do it, but we for some reason never really got into that rhythm. I would speculate that it's because in a world of mobile photos, we capture photos almost every day, and those are good enough. I have, largely on impulse, done photo books periodically, mostly because of an ad or discount or something.
We don't decorate our house in the durable sense of the word. Diana loves holiday deco, but we have a lot of empty walls, unpainted. For the amount of home improvement TV we watch, that's pretty weird. You'd think we would strive for living in a Pottery Barn catalog. For this I might speculate that it's because we've been transient most of our time together, never living in one place for very long, but this one we've been in for five years. My thing is I hate our shitty builder carpet and bathroom, so it seems like improving the decor is like dressing up a hairless cat.
We don't do family dinner that often, although that's easier to explain because Simon and I are picky eaters and Diana often works nights. But also, as a family of three, spending time together is hardly a rarity.
I dunno, I can't explain why we're atypical, but I have to avoid thinking we're abnormal. I hate the "N word." These are just random observations.
I'm feeling it again. I get to the weekend and on Saturday, I just feel spent and want to be passively entertained. There are a hundred things that I would be excited to do, but I feel a little zapped. This happens every year at this time, because I tend to find it difficult to take time off. I make it a point to do a week every quarter, but it's been three months. It's always the same thing, where we can't really travel as a family because of school, work ramps up for Diana and I make excuses about why I can't just do a staycation.
In 2019, actually, around this time, we managed to find a nice compromise by staying at Coronado Springs, a few miles from home, and Simon's school at the time, meaning we dropped him off at school and we did tourist things. We spent a lot of time at the pool and their cool Three Bridges bar. It was a surprisingly fun vacation, because despite the proximity to home, we did stuff that we would not ordinarily. And Simon missed no school. In other years we've also snuck out for a weekend cruise, dropping Simon off at school on Monday morning, but that's currently off the table because I'm waiting on my passport renewal.
I'm gonna pick some days to take off soon, and I guess I'll wing it. I don't understand why I'm not good at turning my brain off and unplugging.
It's hard to believe that it has already been over eight years since I migrated all of my goodies from a dedicated server to Azure. For the most part, I'm thankful for this arrangement because maintaining your own hardware isn't something I ever enjoyed or wanted to do. Having a single box was always asking for failure, too, even though I had an extra drive in the thing (which did fail once) as a backup. I couldn't respond to scale needs if I had to either, and there was one point where it would have helped. Meanwhile, Azure has improved in a lot of ways since then as far as pricing structures go. The SQL database pools were a real game changer for me, because it works with the same flexibility as app services, which all live on the same "plan" with whatever memory and CPU constraints you're paying for. The database uses some goofy units, but whatever they are, I rarely average more than 5% of them.
While Azure Functions and Redis and some other bits are awesome to have at your disposal, the App Service is still the most important thing, since it hosts most of the running code to make an app or site. It became easier and cheaper to run multiple instances with that when the Linux flavor became available, and all of the dotnet hotness could run on it. I don't have anything running on Windows anymore. For the most part, this has been great, except when things break and you can't explain it. I'm in the middle of one of those situations now.
The first thing I noticed about running these on Linux is that there's an abstraction underneath that containerizes your app, even though I'm using the old school zip deploy out of Azure DevOps. You can see it when you watch the log stream. At first, the diagnostic tools were terrible, which is to say there weren't any that were useful, but the log streaming and the various graphs and charts available in the troubleshooting section of the portal definitely help. Where things have not worked before, it had something to do with the load balancing bits, which are totally abstract and you can't do much to figure out what's going on outside of some docs that tell you about 502's (gateway timeouts) but none of which work.
On previous occasions where I had the 502's, some combination of scale up or scale out, or redeployment, cleared the problem. A few weeks ago, I encountered the problem again, but couldn't resolve it. In fact, the scaling and deployments probably just created more noise. The app in question uses subdomains to set customer tenant context (there's a wildcard set, with a wildcard cert), or alternatively, it can use a totally custom domain. In this case, the custom domain, the one people knew, returned 502's, but using the subdomain worked fine. I didn't even realize it until I checked that other tenants were working. Knowing that one possible condition of 502's is not having a proper certificate bound, I removed and then rebound the cert, and soon after, it started working. After some digging, that turned out to just be coincidence, and support still doesn't know what caused the problem.
One of the things support did was point me at an aging blog post that's hosted on Github, which was troubling for a few reasons. One, it's hard or impossible to find, and two it shows what a leaky abstraction app services really are. Health check, self-healing, local cache are all things that feel like they should be automatic. And even then, there are undocumented things, like health check considers 301's as "failures," so if you point it at the root path, and you use a redirect to force the canonical domain name, those are failures. Self-healing seems like it should be automatic, since that's the point of having multiple instances. And local cache is such an in-the-weeds implementation detail, that App Service starts to feel less like a PaaS offering and throws you back to running IIS yourself. The average support rep will also throw graphs at you of various things that may not be available to you otherwise. And you can bet I'm not going to use Application Insights, which easily would cost more than the stuff already in use to keep the site on the air.
App Service has grown in a very organic way over the years, central to the usefulness of Azure, and to their credit, they basically rebuilt all of the plumbing without anyone noticing, which is a quality that indicates a solid abstraction. But the above bits lean toward leaky abstraction, and I think they can and will do better.
You can't put a price on a good therapist. Well, actually you can, they're hard to find, they're expensive because there's not likely insurance... but I can't even tell you how happy I am with the one I have. I had an extended break with her while she was on leave for her baby, but resumed with her today. As is often the case, talking through things with her leads to important realizations near the end of the hour.
The thing that I probably struggle most with is the ability to live in the moment without a lot of things mentally interfering. I'm typically using brain cycles to think about the usual things, like parenting or work, and sometimes more long-term things, like retirement, my health and such. This is why, I think, I find myself mentally exhausted more often than not, and that's not a great way to exist. So my therapist asked me, when are you in the moment. I told here there are lots of shorter moments, like when I'm hyperfocused on things that I'm interested in, or at a show. And there are longer moments when I'm on a cruise, for example. She wanted to unpack that a bit. It's easy to shortcut the reasoning for cruise lust as the result of familiarity or routine, but it's not that at all. It's one of the only times where I am truly free from making any decisions. At all. I don't need to figure out how I'm going to eat, or what my kid is going to eat. There are no financial decisions because it's already paid for (well, aside from beverages). I'm given entertainment. I don't have to decide anything, I can just be there, in the moment.
That seems like escapism, which for some reason in American culture is considered bad, or a personality flaw or something. I don't think it's escapism in this case, as much as it is the right environment to not be concerned with all the things (for me at least). I'm at my most content and enjoying the moment if I stop having to make decisions. If I distill it down to that, it's kind of a breakthrough for me. I understand the conditions under which I can be more present, even if I'm not sure how to create those conditions. That's a big deal to me. I feel like, for the last five or six years, I've been on high alert most of the time, and I'm exhausted. The reasons are well understood, most of which I'm not going to get into here, but if I can't entirely eliminate those, perhaps I can create conditions that get me to more regular relief, free of decision making.
It's progress. I don't know how I ended up in a place where I always felt so spent and rarely able to enjoy the moment. I can't be on a cruise or at a show 24/7, so I have to figure out what else I can do to put the decision stream aside when I don't need it.
When I rambled on last week about my desire to jump into the world of lighting design, specifically with automated lighting, I wasn't entirely sure what I was getting into. It actually came back to me more subtly some months ago when Shirley Manson gave a shout-out to their lighting director. That seemed like a golden opportunity to ask a simple question about what the pros were using to design shows. She pointed me at the German company MA Lighting, which appears to be the gold standard for consoles and software. And I say "gold" because their hardware is crazy expensive. But looking into it has opened a whole new universe (that's a lighting joke you won't get) to me.
I'll get to MA in a moment, but back in the day, theatrical lights would have a bunch of analog dimmers that would dim lights hung around the theater. In college, these were tucked into the scene shop, and they produced a lot of heat and gave off a scarry hum (maybe it was the sawdust). Later, digital dimmers would fill a small rack. Eventually, we got to a point where there were no glass-and-filament lamps, and instead there were a bunch of LED's with dimming electronics right in the fixture. Moving head lights came about somewhere in the middle, invented primarily by Vari-Lite in the 80's, as best I can tell (which was partially owned by the band Genesis, believe it or not). All the while, there was a standard that emerged called DMX that let you control stuff with some kind of control console, or even computers. Or computerized consoles. That's pretty cool, because now countless manufacturers make stuff that can be controlled with any number of devices, and they can even be connected via standard XLR cables, like those used for microphones.
I've known about DMX for a long time, because I've encountered it in TV studio scenarios. Basically, you get 512 channels to control stuff, and a device can use a bunch of those channels depending on what it does. One channel, giving a range of 0 to 255, would be good enough to dim a light. If you need a bigger range, you can use two channels for more precise control, giving you a range of 0 to 65535 (8 versus 16 bits). That would be useful if you needed to be more precise with the tilting or panning of a moving light, for example. Those lights that I bought use a total of 14 channels, to dim, position the color wheel, the gobos, pan and tilt, focus, etc. I've learned that there are some that can use hundreds of channels because they do a ton of stuff. Groups of 512 channels are called a "universe" (see the joke now?), and so you can have multiple universes by having a bunch of those DMX groups going over regular IP networks and breaking out to the XLR cables where it makes sense. Yeah, you can see why a nerd like me finds all of that fascinating.
As much as I understood the technical underpinnings, control of it all was largely a mystery to me, because no obvious user interface came to mind that would make programming make sense. Looking at the free software out there, starting at the bottom, I found some pretty crappy stuff. Then I found some better options, where the software was free, but you had to buy their DMX interfaces. MA gives all of their software out for free to run on a computer, and it works the same as the things with hard buttons and faders that they sell.
My starting point was a cheap, $20, made-in-China dongle that plugs into a USB port on a computer and has an XLR connector on the other end. Frustratingly, only the worst free thing I could find would recognize that, but then I found that there's a way to use it with a discontinued version of MA called dot2. That version, which apparently came between 2 and 3, allows you to program against one DMX universe for free, and lacks many of the features of MA2. And that was totally fine, because I just wanted a starting point with which to learn, and that was perfect!
MA has an interesting business model. They give away the software to run on your computer, but they sell a flagship console that costs a staggering $80,000. At the other end of the spectrum, they have an "on PC" version, and you can buy a (relatively) inexpensive DMX interface for $1,500. They limit what you can do depending on the hardware that you buy, using a count of "parameters" as the governing unit. A parameter is some aspect of control for a fixture, so in my example about using two DMX channels to control panning, that counts as one parameter. The computer with the cheapest option then can do 2,048 parameters, and if you add one of their hardware options you can max it out to 4,096. But the $80k console starts at 12,288, and with more hardware can do up to 250,000, which is insane.
Here's what I can tell you from messing around with my two fixtures: Programming would definitely be easier with physical buttons and wheels (rotary encoders, as they call them), so I totally get where the value is for professionals. MA is not the only game in town, but again, it seems like it's the standard. There are some other free software solutions that I want to mess with, but even with the allegedly limited dot2, I see why MA is popular.
I'm also not sold that the paradigm that they've come up with is the "right" one. It uses concepts of fixtures, groups, presets and cues at its base, and a series of key sequences to manipulate them. Then you can apply effects on top of those, which are somewhat limited in dot2 compared to MA2 or 3. Ultimately it's just an abstraction over setting a bunch of values between 0 and 255, because that's how the fixtures work. And the hardest thing to get used to is that you can create a preset that describes fixture state, but not necessarily all of it. So you can set a preset to move something to point straight up, but that won't change the color of it unless you specify that as well. This is certainly by design, because you can then layer these things on top of each other, but it's not entirely intuitive. I tend to think of this motion and these changes in the way that Adobe After Effects works, where you set state of certain attributes on a timeline relative to each other. This isn't that.
My first mission is to create a series of cues that endlessly rotate after certain times, and put them out on Halloween. Hard to say if my two foggers will be enough, but we'll see. Basically my design idea is to have a steady, slowly moving and rotating set of beams, through a gobo and prism, interspersed with obnoxious moments of movement and color.
Beyond that, I'm willing to try the MA3 version and its built-in visualizer to design a show against a song. I can only see it in the visualizer, but that's OK. I just want to see if I can do it. I'm not sure what I do with all of this knowledge. I don't think I could turn pro, but I could be quite the hobbyist working with community groups or something. Maybe that's something I can even do at the arts center with their outside local groups. I dunno. Right now, I'm just having a lot of fun learning about it.
I keep hearing the word "indoctrination" coming out of the mouths of people who are afraid of one thing or another, in hopes that if we just stop talking about certain things, they'll go away. Long before social media, I remember hearing the word used to criticize ABC for airing the episode where Ellen comes out as gay. Oddly enough, I don't recall anyone in my social circles who decided that day that they were gay, so even then, the long theorized gay recruitment agenda was not a thing.
People who fear things, even the things that aren't real, tend to buy-in to these fearful stories of indoctrination, especially from people who stand to benefit or attain power by perpetuating these things. In politics, the go-to play is to declare that there's something to fear, and that person wants to protect you from it. It's everything from the economy, to terrorism, to anyone not like you, or more often than not, people from the other party. When you really get down to it, the things that they can't control should disqualify them from any notion of advocating for you, and the people, while different, likely aren't people who can or want to hurt you. But what really gets me is the suggestion that any of us actually had some real choice in how we got here and accepted the social contracts, and fears, that we hold today.
In other words, you've been indoctrinated since the day you were born, and I can say without question that you did not choose these things. Among the examples:
That all of this happens accompanied by flag-waving is pretty gross. If you are truly patriotic and love this country, it seems to me that you would value a number of things:
If we were all "indoctrinated" into those things, imagine what we would be capable of.