At Simon's last regular eye exam, the doctor made a good catch that was probably missed the last few years. The doctor saw what appeared to be esophoria, which is a condition where the eyes tend to naturally look further inward than they should. A deeper diagnostic with a referred doctor confirmed it, using a number of eye-tracking mechanisms and tests. One of the most telling was one that tracked his eye movement while reading. You could see that he would often back up and rescan words, presumably because his brain didn't process what it saw the first time.
There's good and bad news with this. The good news is that this could be the source of a number of issues that he has with learning, and his aversion to it. It's probably exhausint for him. The testing included comprehension, which was fine, but from a developmental standpoint, he falls in the bottom 1% for eye movement for his age. It can also explain headaches, his lack of concentration (beyond ADHD) and certainly his slow reading speed. If this assessment is correct, it confirms what I observe (in a biased fashion) about his robust intelligence, but the ADHD is only one problem.
The bad news is that this requires therapy over the course of nine months. It's not clear that it will be covered by insurance. It also comes in two flavors, which is professionally conducted on-site, 45 minutes each way. If he started this week he'd basically miss a day of school a week, or he could start in March, by which time most of the school year is over. The alternative, which costs less but requires a great deal of Diana's time and some training (as well as software), is to do it at home. None of these options are great, but it's probably going to be the latter.
This news is difficult, because the kid can't seem to catch a break. This is on top of the adjustment of middle school, the onset of puberty, social awkwardness, a serious problem with him compulsively picking his arms, and the constant battle to get him to take responsibility for school work. Adolescence can suck in the best of conditions, but I worry that he's going to be miserable all of the time. I can only take solace in the fact that he has great people looking out for him at school. I'm also hanging on the ideal that this therapy could unlock a brilliant kid trying to break out.
I know that there are definitely worse things a kid could go through in terms of health, but knowing that doesn't make it easier for him. I just want him to win at something (other than killing me in Halo). It's hard to find ways to reward him when he's so negative about school work, or even taking a shower without being told.
I really like talking to people about how work fits into their lives. I enjoy the debate involved, too. But one of the things that I find are core to the conversation, is figuring out where on this spectrum we put work relative to the definition of what we do, and how it differs from who you are.
The origins of this topic are somewhat rooted in the various American myths of work, not the least of which include the "bootstrap" myth. The worst one though is the bit about, "If you enjoy your job, you'll never work a day in your life." Like the bootstrap myth, it is implied that if you can't reach this euphoria of career bliss, it's a problem with you or your personality. I think that's all completely naïve, but actually there's something else at play. As I suggested, it's simply that who you are and what you do are not necessarily the same thing. They can be, but they don't have to be.
Not surprisingly, it was an artist that helped me really see the difference. This artist was a gifted pianist and actor at a young age, but felt the former was something they could do, but the latter was who they are. What a beautiful realization to have at such a young age. Most of us, however, are not artists, so a more practical arrangement may be necessary. There are a great many really crappy jobs, and someone has to do them. These jobs can be performed with dignity and respect, but we shouldn't expect them to define the people doing them.
I've had a lot of different jobs, and I've written about this concept in a slightly different context, where there is a spectrum of how much you care about your work. I think that spectrum runs parallel to identity to some extent, but not always. For example, when I worked in radio, it was absolutely who I was (and in retrospect, I didn't like who I was very much). When I took a half-year off to coach volleyball, that was about as deeply rooted in my identity as it gets. But for most of the technology jobs, the overlap was subtle or even non-existent. Any consulting gig was going to be transient by definition. You bill the dollars and you move on. Microsoft was kind of an identity thing, at least when I thought it was the coolest company ever. But there were also challenging jobs where I had a lot of responsibility and I cared very much about the work, but probably wouldn't dwell on it if a stranger asked me what I did for a living.
All of this to say, who you are and what you do don't have to be the same thing. Sure, it's cool if you can align the two, but let's end the cultural expectation that it has to be that way. We can't all be artists.
For as long as I can remember, therapists and self-help types have talked about this concept of having "emotional batteries." Sometimes you just don't have it in you to be social, or you need to step away. This sentiment has been around since long before I considered ASD a factor. And indeed, sometimes if I'm at a family gathering or party or some public thing among people, and I need to step away.
But the pandemic seems to have changed some of my behaviors in negative ways. I used to look forward to some social action, but now, even when it's planned, I find myself slightly dreading it as the date approaches. It's all good once I'm there. I don't want to be in crowds, which isn't about spreading disease, it's more of a subconscious mistrust for, well, everyone. That sounds like paranoia. I just don't feel like... engaging.
And yet, I'm always happy about the experience after the fact. A few weeks ago I spent time with friends from Seattle early in the day, then met up with former coworkers from New York and Puerto Rico that evening. I have random interactions with interesting people all of the time at shows. I've by sheer chance met people for lunch. I've made drinks for neighbors. I want that interaction, but in the last year or two it feels like exercise. I dread it, but then I'm happy I did it after.
I don't get wrapped up in identifying as introverted or extraverted (I like ambiverted), but whatever I am, the desire to be social is like a hard switch, and I rarely fall in between. That trait seems more well defined than it was three years ago.
It's no secret that I love electronic gadgets. Devices of all kinds have a reputation for being particularly disposable though, in no small part because folks replace their phones ever year or two. In the late 90's and the aughts, I was constantly buying stuff, especially computer parts, in a continuous cycle of upgrading. Things have changed though, because I expect stuff to last longer. My electronic toaster lasted almost 12 years, and I just replaced that. One of my still cameras is 14-years-old, and one of my lenses is 17! My desktop computer has had the same parts since I built it over three years ago. I was pissed that I had to "recycle" a perfectly functional iPad because it was no longer supported by Apple. And quite honestly, I've become especially conscious of electronic waste. I'm careful to drop off exhausted lithium-ion batteries at the recycling bin at my local Lowes.
But among the oldest devices I have, which are not purely electronic, but partially mechanical, are my speakers. About 25 years ago, I bought a pair of Bose 301 bookshelf speakers, and they've been with me ever since. They sound as fantastic as they did the day I bought them (subjectively, of course), and they're not obnoxious like the giant ones that stereo enthusiast bought back in the day. A year later, I bought a center channel Bose speaker, so that's almost as old. I had some inexpensive Sony speakers for surround sound, and they're still in my garage somewhere, but my homes for the last eight years have had built-ins in the ceiling. About 20 years ago, I bought a powered Sony subwoofer. It was 50W, and 6" in diameter, but did a pretty good job for the most part. It seemed to work even better in these Florida houses with the concrete outer walls.
That old Sony had been getting noisy for a number of years. It was especially obvious in movies, many of which do that low rumble sound to imply seriousness and pressure to a scene. I didn't hear at as much in music, but it wasn't clean sound, and I knew this. But I let it kind of sit, and I kept telling myself I would replace it. I shopped replacements at least a half-dozen times over those years. On Thanksgiving, I had enough. We were watching a movie and it just grated on me. I couldn't understand how me, gadget nerd and lover of Sofi Tukker and Armin van Buuren, allowed this to stand.
I bought a nice Klipsch subwoofer, and decided to go big. The replacement is 400W, and a 12" speaker. I've always felt their stuff was a little overpriced, but at half-price, decided to just go for it. Overkill is a good idea with subwoofers, you just need to dial them in to not be overkill. Our living room, with its 25-foot ceiling, benefits from a bigger driver, I think. (It's also great for my moving head DJ lights.) It took some experimentation with different kinds of music to figure out where to set its level and its high-pass filter. You want a bass guitar line to sound rich, but not dominate the sound. I also don't want the low-pass filter to go too high, because those old Bose bookshelf speakers deliver a surprising amount of bass even by themselves. They were the cool units that had the bass port on the side and rear-firing-at-an-angle mid-range speakers to make the stereo separation better.
I speculate that what killed the old Sony was things like Billie Eilish and Marvel movies, which have a lot of bass that did not exist back in 2002-ish. But the new speaker, set at about 30% volume and the low-pass somewhere near the lower end, sounds completely amazing. The bass is thumpy without being muddy. And it isn't noisy at all, obvs. Even older music, which was certainly not mixed as "loud," i.e., compressed, as current music, sounds richer and more complete. I don't know why I waited so long to replace that thing.
I'm a picky eater. I was even worse when I was a kid, and Simon is too. Now I understand this to be an autism thing, and a range of smells, tastes, textures and appearances can turn a person off, not for any logical reason. Being made to feel like a terrible kid for this isn't constructive, nor is trying to make them gag down things they don't want to eat. This is another one of those things that I felt bad about for a lot of years, but I'm over it because I now understand I wasn't wired to deviate from what I liked. I try to be patient with Simon, and for the most part, he eats what he eats, even though it makes it hard to go out.
Thanksgiving growing up was almost always held at my grandparents' house. They had a small house on the west side of Cleveland, with I-71 literally in their back yard. The freeway was built after they moved in. I remember the distinct sound of it when I would stay there overnight. But as small as the house was, they managed to get my mom and her three sisters, the husbands and all the cousins in the basement, sitting around the ping pong table. They had a classic 60's rumpus room with a little bar, and my grandfather's drawing table, as he spent most of his post-war career working in a machine shop, drafting. I remember it was always cold, even though they had a little electric heater. It was always a relief to go back upstairs after, where us kids would be relegated to the shag carper floor while there was a football game on the gigantic console TV.
Being a picky eater, my grandmother always made me a hot dog, which I very much appreciated. My entire range consisted of cereal at breakfast (Fruit Loops were my favorite), PB&J and chips at lunch (I always hated the Fritos in the variety packs), and dinner ideally was Kraft dinner, hot dogs or hamburgers. I could go out anywhere that I could get a burger and fries. My mom did make a great many other things, and I hated them all. So to arrive at Thanksgiving dinner, with a table full of sides that I did not eat, other than mashed potatoes, I was grateful for the hot dog. I remember the canned cranberry sauce, too, in all of its can-shaped glory, even though I didn't eat it.
There was one problem though. By my memory, at least, I don't know that I ever objected to turkey. For all the things that I was forced to try, I don't think that was among them. So one year, in a rare instance of culinary courage, I ate it and I liked it. I never had a hot dog for Thanksgiving again. The even weirder thing is that I would eat pumpkin pie, but at some point in my teenage years, I couldn't even deal with the smell of it, and I avoid it to this day.
About 18 years ago I stopped eating red meat, largely because my cholesterol was out of control, so poultry has played an even bigger part in my still limited diet ever since. I love a good turkey burger, and Diana is a master at seasoning them from ground meat. I enjoy it in the form of deli meat, best with a slice of Swiss cheese and wrapped in foil and put in the oven on sourdough. Carved turkey really only comes two or three times at best, on the average year, and that's unfortunate but understandable, given that it's labor intensive.
I'm still a picky eater, though I eat more things. I very much get into food routines, also an autism thing as I understand it, but with a broader range of things. Just recently I started making chicken tikka masala and naan, and I think I might have the right idea to do it again and get it right. I get the same burrito bowl at the local Tex-Mex place, without all of the "good" things most people get, at least once a week. I get the same two dishes at the Epcot festivals all of the time. I'll get the same soup on cruises three nights in a row if they'll let me. It's just how I'm built.
But no hot dogs at Thanksgiving for me. Unfortunately, that isn't true for Simon, but every year we invite him to try the turkey. Just in case.
Last weekend, a hateful man entered an LGBTQ club and killed five people before he was stopped by others in the club. While "only" five people died, it still reminds me a lot of the Pulse massacre here in Orlando. You look for words or ideas to make sense of it, but they will never come, because it's senseless.
The thing that immediately comes to mind though is that there are larger cultural forces that make this sort of thing possible. People are quick to blame mental illness, or a lone wolf, or guns, but the enabler is words. A great many people have made it clear that they believe the people of this community are less than human, and somehow a threat to everyone else. It's basic hate.
I am all for conversation and understanding, and not a fan of woke call-outs. But what I'm not fond of is people who dismiss the importance of words. So much of what we know and what we believe to be true is learned. We should stop teaching people to hate.
We finally booked a trip to Norther Europe, which we originally expected to do in the summer of 2021. We'll start in England, then France, then three days in Iceland, then Norway and ending in Denmark, specifically the very sunny, very beautiful, Copenhagen! (#pitchperfect) We're doing it by way of cruise, partly because I feel like I need to make up for lost time and see as many countries as possible on a single trip, but also because I know that Simon will eat something every night on the ship. I'm picky, but he's picky like I was as a kid.
This is a long time coming. I had not crossed the Mississippi until I was 24, visiting Portland, then I think Las Vegas when I was 26-ish. Hawaii came when I was 27. I didn't set foot in a new place out west until I was 34, which was Seattle, which I unknowingly would move to when I was 36. By this time, I was thinking, shit, I haven't seen much of the world at all, but then in the recession that was happening, I had a child right after that. I've felt "stuck" ever since because it's hard to unload a kid on someone for more than a week, especially one that is challenging. I finally visited a non-Canada country on our first cruise when I was 39. Meanwhile I see friends going to all of the places and I'm jealous. We at least expected a half-victory in 2020 to go to Alaska without Simon, because we could leave him with my brother-in-law on the way, in Seattle, but you know how 2020 went down. But cruising, especially with Disney, offered an out. We know from experience that he can roll because even in various ports the late afternoon and evening are predictable and there's food he'll eat. It's funny how your whole world revolves around your child eating.
But if I'm going to dump it on autism, I have to include myself. As I've acknowledged since my own diagnosis and therapy, travel anxiety is very real for me. It's not that I don't want to see all the things, it's that I'm constantly consumed with being late or not being able to eat what I like or relax. That's one of the reasons I've loved doing weekend cruises out of Port Canaveral, because for a few nights I just drive to Canaveral and turn off my brain. So I relate to what Simon goes through when we travel. I would actually like to spend some extended time in England and Norway, but I think we need to see how this goes. He's old enough too that I don't want to leave him at home anymore, I want him to make memories with us.
The original itinerary for this cruise had two nights in Reykjavik and an additional day at sea, but now it includes three nights in Icelandic ports, all different. That's amazing because no fewer than four different people that I know have been to Iceland in the last year or so and described it as life changing. That resonates with me. I guess it's my closet rock star and non-conformist, but everyone goes to the Mediterranean and Italy and whatever. Who goes to Iceland? The cool kids do. Already I'm looking at shore excursions for this trip and wondering how we'll choose.
We are planning to shoulder it with a day in London to be total American tourists... Big Ben, Tower Bridge, London Eye and whatever, while we're up until 4 a.m. because of the time change. Then at the end, since we disembark early in Copenhagen, drop our bags in a hotel, and maybe enjoy Tivoli Gardens or something and ride that 1914 coaster with the dude pulling the handbrake the whole time to avoid flying off the tracks. And they have a B&M too, small and compact. This is all unless I find something else more compelling to do in town, which is certainly possible. I don't think Tivoli will take much time anyway. Also, I was relieved to see there's a McDonald's next to it, and I know Simon will eat that.
There are also days at sea, which means the usual things like mixology classes and pedicures. And probably the strangest thing about it will be that the ship is the Disney Dream, the primary ship we've been on more than any other, as the Wish has replaced it for the 3, 4 and 5-night Bahamian cruises out of Canaveral. I can't imagine anything more strange than seeing the ship we've boarded countless times at Castaway Cay in European ports. So weird that things that big can move around the world.
There are so many stories in the news lately about epic failures in leadership. A friend shared another one about their company, and I've certainly been around for them at various times. What it mostly amounts to is that the best leaders tend to set tone, vision and expected outcomes. Their job then is to help the experts that they hire to figure out the tactics to reach the outcomes. The leader can and should coach, and absolutely help where necessary, but what they should never do is get in the weeds and make deep tactical decisions without any regard to people down the line or the context that they bring.
Today's epic example of that is apparently with Bob Chapek, the now ex-CEO of Disney. The board was so desperate that they brought back hero CEO Bob Iger. Chapek had made a bunch of allegedly unpopular changes at Disney over the last year that were very unpopular, without any regard to the how the changes would affect the people involved. (Bad quarterly results that he insisted were OK did not help.) The stories are all over the press, but understand none of the changes were in service to any particular goal or outcome that was understood by anyone. Tactical moves without consultation of the people who make them are bad news.
Of course, that's nothing compared to the total shit show of a meltdown that is Twitter after being bought by Elon Musk. What I find most puzzling about this one is that he is not stupid. Seriously, listen to him talk about rocket engine physics. But first he made an unsolicited and overpriced bid to buy Twitter, then he got stuck having to follow through with it, then he blew away half the staff without any understanding at all about what they did. Days later he said get ready to work insane hours just because or take a buy-out. And that was after throwing a bunch of silly things at the wall to see if any of them would stick. Advertisers are bailing, people in the know say uptime is going to suffer, and morale couldn't get worse. These impulsive decisions (and $40 billion purchases) sure look like autism at work, I get that, but this is hardly his first company solving problems. He may understand SpaceX rocket engines, but he learned that from experts who did the in-the-weeds engineering. Physicists and chemists figured out how to make better batteries for Tesla. Don't even get me started on his insane remote work anti-policy.
But it doesn't just happen at that scale, it happens at small companies with a few hundred employees. A friend told me recently how senior leaders at their company made changes to processes in one department that had made it difficult for that department to do their job. There was no advanced socialization around the changes or a request for more context. Worse yet, there were ripple effects that even made things difficult for the leader's peers leading other departments, potentially affecting revenue.
I've seen this movie before, a bunch of times, in my own work. It's frustrating, but it's also a lesson in how to lead that I take very seriously. I haven't always gotten it right, but I find myself falling back on fundamentals of servant leadership and knowing when to listen and when to make hard decisions. You're nothing without your people.
This year of rediscovery, especially with the antidepressant recalibrating my emotional brain, has made me think a lot more about creating art. I've certainly been consuming more art than ever, in the form of music, theater, movies, TV and documentaries, which I strongly believe is among the purest forms of storytelling art. For years I've expressed my desire to create art, without ever knowing where to start or how to act on that. It's a decades-long desire. The desire gets particularly intense when I see making-of features for movies or musicals. I often wonder if the desire is to have that summer camp feel of collaboration with artists, or maybe it's my desire to "manage" something that impact others in a non-trivial way. The closest thing I've ever had to that was perhaps coaching volleyball teams or little bits of TV production circa 1997 for a suburban city.
But of the things that I've created, one of the things I always really felt good about was my walk-and-talk interview with the then-CEO of Cedar Fair, Matt Ouimet. I only had a few hours, but I felt like, maybe for the first time, I got the things out of my subject that I really wanted, and it almost told a story. At the very least, it captured who the person was. I know this because I would talk to him many times after that, sometimes about personal and career related things, and the guy in that interview is the real thing. I even had another chance to tell the story of building a roller coaster with him. A few years later, I was able to tell a somewhat deeper story, with a few hours of shooting, about a roller coaster that a family built, with backstory of the parent who had passed years before. The thing that I come back to with these pieces is that, with little preparation or time, I was able to piece together something resembling a story, and that felt good. Am I a documentarian who just needs a bigger and deeper subject?
I lean on other things that I've done as art as well, because as far as I'm concerned, even my published technical book had a fair amount of art involved. Code that I've written is art. Engagement and wedding photos I've shot are art. Shitty web site designs I've designed are (shitty) art. The idea for the tattoo on my leg is art, even if I didn't ink it myself. Maybe, even this blog could be art. I'm just not sure when I can decide that I'm an artist.
Again, the thing I lean into the most though are those video pieces. When I was in that government TV gig a lifetime ago, I put out a show every week that was four or five "packages" that told stories, and all of that came so easy to me. So for all of my bitching an moaning for two decades about not being able to write a screenplay, maybe the real opportunity is to be a documentarian.
This week I was thinking about two businesses that I greatly admire. What if I approached them about making a documentary about their businesses? Could I make something out of it? What would it cost? Could I recover the cost somehow?
A lot to think about.
I saw my last of three Hamilton performances last night during its run here in Orlando. That makes for seven total, one on Broadway, the three others here in 2019. I absolutely love that show.
At a higher level, post-pandemic, I'm just anxious to see as many shows as I can. The Dr. Phillips Center is my happy place. It feels more familiar to me even than the theme parks. I've been there for stuff about 70 times now. Art on the stage is something that I find deeply emotional compared to other things. The last year in particular it has felt so essential to see live performances. I feel alive to see it live.
The fun thing about this show though is that you see something new every single time. Part of that is the density of the material, but it's also because different cast members bring different things to the performance. It's never the same twice. Some actors are better than others, but they're working with something that's pretty great in a fundamental way.
This time I also got to see it in three very different ways. The first time I went with Diana in our usual subscription seats, which I think are something like row U in the orchestra. Most of the time we trade up to better seats when they're available, but for whatever reason, we didn't this time. The second time I went with Simon, and we were in the third row on the aisle, stage left. Expensive, but worth it to see how intense the actors are. Last night, all three of us saw it from the second row of the mezzanine, which offers a completely different perspective that allows you to better appreciate the lighting and the choreography.
Given my recent obsession with lighting, and the technology we didn't have in my college days, I appreciated more than ever how this show runs, what fixtures they're using and how they likely set it up and align everything after load-in. But even more than that, I appreciate the choices made at various points in the show. The lighting is dynamic but serves the story and action on stage. Lovely as the set is, it's really just a catwalk with a lot of chairs, tables and boxes coming on and off the stage, so the lighting compliments the action. The fixtures they use are crazy expensive, like $8k to $12k each. The lighting design won a Tony for Howell Binkley, who sadly died of lung cancer a couple of years ago. He won for Come From Away (more chairs!) and Ain't Too Proud as well, among others.
There have been some subtle changes in choreography and blocking over the years, compared to the first time we saw it in 2018 on Broadway. The movie on Disney+ reinforces that. I don't think that's necessarily bad though. And the changes around Jefferson's interactions with Sally and the other slaves at the top of act 2 is different (though I never understood the ensemble to be slaves, it does make sense). We noticed that the choreography in this otherwise great company seemed a little sloppy, or at least not tight, especially during "Yorktown." But that's just picking. I appreciate how hard this show has to be night after night. It's three hours with a 20 minute break in the middle.
One of the reasons I wanted to see it a few times is also that I don't know when or even if I'll ever see it again. That's one of the things about live theater... it is completely ephemeral. Even Phantom is finally coming to an end on Broadway. Hamilton has three tours doing long runs, which appears to be too much, as they plan to slim down to one when these run out. They're selling most of the seats over the almost-four week run (with one reschedule due to Hurricane Nicole, but there were a lot of seats going cheap. I imagine the demand has softened because most people who wanted to see it have already.
And I learned this time around that the hand claps in "Wait For It" are indeed programmed.
When I started taking levothyroxine in 2021, it was certainly a necessary thing that the lab results said I needed. It messed with me at first, making me irritable, always hungry and just not feeling like myself, but my body adjusted, and I noticed how I was less tired. Come to think of it, I don't sleep as well either, but that might be other things.
Those numbers aren't the only thing though, because we're also looking constantly at our weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. When these are out of whack, we're at greater risk for heart disease and other conditions that are not conducive to survival. There's a commonly used calculator about risk for heart disease, and for me it says that my 10-year risk is low, only 2.7%, and lifetime risk is 47%, which is slightly below average from a study I read. Obviously, we can move those needles to some extent depending on how we eat and exercise, but genetics play a big factor as well. My risk was 4.2% a year ago, and that changed mostly because my cholesterol is under control with rosuvastatin.
The areas of concern are still my triglycerides and to a lesser extent my blood pressure. The blood pressure always reads crazy high in the doctor's office, but at home or at Publix, it's pretty routinely around 125/88, which borders between elevated and stage 1 hypertension. It definitely varies on activity and stress. I really don't want to medicate for that. The triglycerides are the real problem, and they've been high for a long time. I remember once they were around 400 in 2006. In the last few years, they've ranged from 350 down to 190, and anything between 150 and 200 is considered "borderline high." High tri's can cause pancreatitis and thickening of your artery walls, and those are bad. The culprit is largely a combination of too many carbs (including alcohol, which I typically limit to a few drinks one night a week) and non-activity. The latter should be pretty easy to fix if I just get out of my chair more by walking and using my standing desk. The carbs are a little harder, because I sure love potatoes and rice and tortillas. Those few fruity rum drinks probably don't help at all. Losing a little weight would like help with the tri's and the blood pressure.
Weight as a proxy to health is also a pretty terrible thing to be constantly worrying about. Even at my physical best, I've been technically "overweight," but the doctor I had in those days suggested that high bone density and muscle (in my legs, at least) probably have more to do with that than anything. I still would probably be healthier 20 pounds lighter, but mostly I look for other warning signs. I remember 20 years ago getting winded going up stairs when I lived in a third floor walk-up. I felt that a little when I moved here, after a crappy winter in Cleveland, and I definitely felt my best when I shed a little weight. What I don't worry about is appearance. I don't mind being a little doughy. I feel like I've earned that.
I spend a lot of time trying to rationalize the numbers. I tell myself that since I don't eat red meat and the numbers aren't that far out of range, that I'm "OK." But as a fan of science and quantifiable data, I know that's bullshit. I do think that the hypothyroidism for sure, and probably the cholesterol, are genetic, likely from my mom's side, so medicating makes sense. But the triglycerides and blood pressure seem like things I could better mitigate by way of behavior. The pandemic at first made activity feel essential, but in the long run, I feel like it just normalized sedentary sluggishness. But also, giving in to more movement (notice I don't call it exercise, which I don't care for) sort of feels like I'm admitting that I do life wrong. The fuckwits selling "fitness products" and spouting motivational poster nonsense don't help.
I go back for another round of labs in a few weeks, and I can't stand the idea of not having better results. I'm already getting into a mode of thinking I will eat less, move more, just to try and game a better score. And the thing is, I am down four or five pounds in the last two months, so something is different. But I don't want to be a servant to numbers. It's exhausting.
I visited my... sixteenth-ish +/-2... IAAPA Expo today. For the uninitiated, this is the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions big annual trade show, which has been in Orlando now for a decade or so. I went to my first show in 2000, when it was in Atlanta and CoasterBuzz was not even a year old. I went completely nuts, lined up a ton of interviews, wrote features... it was epic. I did the same thing the next year, which also felt necessarily therapeutic after 9/11. And consider that I was only a few years removed from college graduation, journalism degree in hand and the Internet barely mainstream and without ubiquitous mobile access. Times were different then. I was different. Since moving to Orlando, I've dropped in every year for at least a few hours, not so much to cover the show, but to meet up with folks from around the industry that I've gotten to know over the years. Today's visit involved an insane crowd, and I kept running into people nonstop that I had not seen or talked to, in some cases for more than a decade. My head is filled with feelings and thoughts about the experience. I have to figure out what I'll write about.
To start with though, I can't help but notice that while I worked really hard on finally adding features to my forum app, my interest in the hobby is awfully far from what it used to be. And that's certainly not unreasonable. Since I started it, I've been divorced, married, had a child, moved 6,000 miles, had an embarrassing number of jobs, and dabbled in a great many other hobbies. As Indian Jones once said, "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage." Because of that, the number of contacts that I still actively maintain isn't what it used to be, and I'm sometimes caught off guard not paying attention. Somehow I missed, for example, that SeaWorld San Diego was building a new coaster.
There's also the fact that for so many years I was an outsider, but looking in and playing the relationship game so I had access to all the things. Even now, I could probably take advantage of relationships to get tickets for parks. But my network is smaller, largely by professional attrition, but also lack of upkeep. Then I did my year at SeaWorld corporate, and it was, not so much eye opening, but exactly what I expected it to be looking in from the outside, which is to say it's not exactly a business that's great for career opportunities. Ten times that for software and tech people like me.
The other thing though is that back in 2000, I had all of the first-mover advantages. No one had really built a community around industry news, and what was essentially a directory to the bazillion fan sites that every kid with a college Internet account was building at the time. Those fan sites looked awful (not that mine was great), but they were passion projects and valuable. Around the same time, two or three tried to make them sprawling businesses, and of course they're all long defunct. I was able to pay my mortgage through the recession with the sites, but that was, at best, a lifestyle business on top of a passion project. Then we did the podcast before podcasts were cool (and everyone in Covid decided to start one). So much change.
The weird thing now is that there are all these kids with Facebook pages and YouTube channels and they all make the same stuff, but few really get the business end of it all. Worse yet, they've built their content on top of platforms that will, one day, go away. They don't own anything. Like, even today, a bunch of people posted the same photos on Twitter from the show, but what do you win for Twitter likes? I posted on Twitter, "Photos on the site," and saw a healthy traffic spike of about 5k extra views so far that had ads on them. Again, if these cats are doing it for the "engagement," and not the passion, that's fine I guess, but I'm so not into that world. That's social media... it's not in service to the audience, it's in service to popularity and engagement.
That all sounds like "old man angry at cloud," I'm sure, but it's not that. I've said before how amazing it is that people like Mark Rober or Smarter Everyday have risen above the noise because of platforms. I love that. But me the classically trained media guy and writer, feels like all the things out there are ephemeral and trivial. A marketing director I talked to today expressed the same frustration. There used to be value in working with passionate fan media, but when they started calling themselves "influencer," nope, the attractions don't need that to win. (Sidebar: I'm told by cruise industry knowledgeable people that they experience similar phenomena.) Maybe they never did.
But it was conversations like that, and many others, that I deeply value. One guy I talked to today I first met at that first show in 2000, and he's a co-owner of a company that is radically innovating with amazing products. They're in a certain niche, but they're owning it. I love stories like that. I miss telling stories like that. I'm just not sure I have the time to ever commit to stuff like that again.
So it was a good time, and I wasn't even sure if I would commit to going when I went to bed last night. I'm glad I did. It was so great to see all of the people.
About two years ago, late into pandemic 2020, when I built my own cloud music player, I started to prototype a social network app. Basically, I was thinking about how I just wanted something like Facebook, only without the ads or the algorithms. And I didn't want to do it for free in the long run either. I mostly let that sit on the shelf, but I started thinking about it again recently. Facebook has become nearly useless, especially the mobile version, which shows almost nothing from people I know. And of course we have the whole Elon-Twitter mess going on too. Watching him throw shit at the wall to see what sticks makes me think that social platforms need to be something different, though I'm not sure what. It makes me want to dust off my old product manager hat and think about the personas of people who use the existing things, and where I fit in that universe. If I'm going to build anything, I'm going to build it for me first, as I have all of my projects.
Facebook in its original form made a lot of sense, as its name comes from the old printed booklets they handed out in college with photos of your classmates. Putting that online and letting people interact with each other in that closed network was a mashup of old school forums, photos and really short messages. The photo part was the best thing early on, to me, because we didn't have photos on our phones, but most people had digital cameras. They would take a few dozen photos and upload them, and while you could certainly edit them to appear a certain way, those albums were far more "real" to me than your average filtered selfie showing how awesome your life is. It evolved in a shitty way. Add in the engagement algorithms and ads, and it's really nothing like it used to be.
Twitter, I never really understood, even in the beginning. I didn't set up an account until almost two years in. The post size restriction was a function of the fact that people early on would text to the service from their phones (using T9 on the dial pad!), before smart phones. People called it "microblogging" at the time, which I found to be weird. You can't really say anything meaningful in 140 (now 280) characters. It was a lot of, "My sandwich is delicious," posts. It quickly morphed into a lot of link sharing, and it seems to do that a lot now. My hang up is, is there any real reason anything I have to say in short form is of any value to anyone? Isn't that extremely narcissistic? Sure, I write a million paragraphs sharing my experiences on a blog, but that involves some vulnerability and honesty. Tweets do not. TikTok feels like video Twitter, where teenage sisters get famous for coordinated dancing. That feels like a fad to me, and now that there are no first-mover advantages to fame for doing nothing, I can't imagine it lasts, if the feds don't ban it first because of its Chinese ownership.
Instagram came around, and it started as a phone-photographer's place to post quasi art. I think it has fared the best of the social platforms, but it can get too suggestion heavy as well. It's saving grace is that it still has an option to only view, chronologically, the things you follow.
I'm not including any of the ephemeral stuff like Snapchat, or even the "stories" in Facebook or Instagram. If what you post is completely disposable, it doesn't seem valuable to me. It seems to me like a means for teens to communicate without a paper trail.
So where does that leave things? There are a set of core ideas that I think have been largely forgotten in the name of engagement:
The funny thing is that I kind of built this, crudely, back in the day with CampusFish, and I even had a dozen people paying for it at one point. It was public, but really only the people using it interacted. It was private in the open, if you will. This was before Facebook was a glimmer in Zuck's eye, and before MySpace. It had a good run, even if it wasn't really a business.
Would anyone pay for something like this today? That's the real problem. Everyone hates being the product, but expects it to be free. That might be changing to some degree, since streaming music and video is a legitimate business now. But the flip side is mobile gaming, which is "free" until you pile on micro-transactions or ads. But I am certain that you can't create something ideal without charging for it. The Internet is not free.
With the two hurricanes this year, I did exactly what I did five years ago for Irma: I kept up with the National Hurricane Center. For Irma, I admit that I watched the local weather jockeys for awhile, but I found their banter to be alarmist, scientifically incorrect and generally annoying. As it turns out the feds are pretty good at laying down the facts.
The NHC updates their forecast every six hours, at 4 and 10, day and night. Each update has a text narrative that explains what they have observed, what the various prediction models are showing and a summary of what to expect. They cover wind, storm surge and flooding. At the end of that, they have list of coordinates paired with wind speeds, which is used to label the cone that everyone looks at (and the TV people misuse). They also have a map that shows the approximate arrival of winds, and another map that shows the likely wind field, which was pretty enormous if not super powerful for Nicole. Then, if you just want to play the numbers, they have a windspeed probability chart that shows how likely it is that a location will get wind in one of the three tiers. For example, as Monday and Tuesday wore on, the percentage change for 39+ mph winds got to 99% pretty quickly, while the 58 mph tier topped out at about 15%. My only real complaint is that they still tend to issue watches and warnings by county, and while the edge of Orange County is 5 miles from the Indian River, and another few to the coast, the county is a thousand square miles. We're over 60 miles from the coast!
Those basic bits of information, along with some general basic science about the storms, is really all you need. Add in a weather radar app, and you're good. You learn that the front right of the storm, relative to its direction, is where the strongest winds are, and sometimes it includes tornadoes. You learn that the eyewall of the storm has the strongest winds, but only while it's structurally sound, which is generally only over water. Over land, the center of circulation becomes so disorganized that a "direct hit" doesn't mean anything more than the center crossing 50 miles away from you. This is one of the reasons I can't stand the TV people, because the way they present it, they make it seem like a storm right up the middle of Florida is fine if you're not close to the center. Ian and Nicole had their centers come within 30 miles of us (Irma was probably around the same), and I assure you the wind was quite adequate!
Regardless, here in the middle of the state, in post-1992 construction, if you're not in a flood zone, it's mostly just a lot of scary wind. As I told someone earlier today, it's a lot like airplane turbulence, where you know the plane will be fine, but you'd rather just not be in it. It's not to say that we couldn't have some freakish perfect storm of epic proportions that could do real damage, it's just that it isn't very likely. Unless you watch TV.
It's funny how I've seen Facebook memories for the last week from various elections, and how different I looked at them. In 2012, for example, I made the remark that Obama and Romney really weren't all that different. Sure, I wanted Obama to win, more for his temperament than anything else, but had Romney won, I'd probably shrug and be indifferent. It's crazy that things have changed so much in just ten years.
A decade ago, racism, misogyny and dishonesty would disqualify you from public office. When I say dishonesty, I'm not talking about political doublespeak, I'm talking about outright lying to your face. If you tried to declare an election illegitimate and promised to make sure only your candidates won if elected, that would be the end of it. But while a "red wave" failed to materialize, despite the typical pattern of the president's opposition taking control of Congress by a huge margin, it was still close enough, and there were enough outliers (out liars?), that I'm left feeling concerned as I did in 2020. Some percentage of Americans buy the lies and are willing to embrace an autocracy at the expense of democracy. That's messed up.
What I've come to realize is that not everyone values equality, civil rights and democracy itself as the top priority. While I'm slightly empathetic to that, it bothers me that the basics of civil engagement in the democratic process requires those values to come first. Without them, no other policy can be legitimate.
But the closeness of the electorate response could be interpreted the other way, too. It could be considered a rebuke of the shit show that shouldn't be. The continuous circus of candidates vilifying anyone not in their mold, asking you to fear them, is getting old outside of the minority that subscribes to that nonsense. The young voter turnout this year is hopefully a good sign of things to come.
Meanwhile, it seems that Fox News has finally figured out how elections work in their deep analysis (see video below):
"Why did Dr. Oz lose? Well, it looks like, according to the exit polling, because Fetterman won."
You can't make this shit up.
It's completely strange to see a second hurricane headed our way, especially this late in the season. This is our tenth hurricane season. Our first storm was Irma in 2017, which was a massive storm but did its worst over Puerto Rico and Cuba before getting to Florida. Locally, we had some missing roof shingles and such, some flooding, but it was generally not serious in our area.
Then we had Ian this year, six weeks ago. The worst part about waiting for the storm was that no one could really accurately predict what it was going to do. After it crossed Cuba, a change in heading of just ten degrees was the difference between landing at the tip of Florida or the panhandle. Of course we know it landed just north of Fort Myers and did unprecedented damage there and on the islands. My in-laws where pretty close if not in the middle of the storm in Venice, so that was not great. As it came inland, it retained a lot more of its strength than Irma did, and brought a lot more rain, but as we were on the left side of the path, didn't get the worst of it despite the approximate middle coming within the same distance. As expected, our house and neighborhood came out fine, and we're not in a spot that could easily flood. It was, however, a lot scarier because this house has bigger windows than the other one, and the entire storm was louder. I could feel the windows bow when the gusts hit. I was also worried about the solar panels, because they're not insured. I've had a hard time finding someone who would cover them. Florida property insurance is a shit show due in part to weather related risk, but also because the state uses a single rating agency that keeps downgrading insurers.
These storms are not a huge deal for us because we're so far away from the ocean and the gulf, and they should amount to a nervous day or two, and possible power outages. Some areas are also prone to flooding, but we are not. As I tell people, that's why they built the theme parks here and not on the coast. The folks evacuating come here.
This next one, Nicole, is mostly easy to predict in terms of path, because it will broadside the Atlantic coast. What's less certain is the intensity, because every six hours they increase it earlier, though it's still expected to weaken pretty quickly over land. I imagine this will feel more like a very long thunderstorm, but what sucks for us is that we'll be on the crappy side of the storm as it goes by. Typically the tornados and worst weather happen in the front right quadrant of the storm, which is where we'll be. But we're still only looking at sustained winds under 30 mph with gusts in the 40's. As long as we keep power and Internet, no problem.
All things considered, these storms are worth it to live here. I wouldn't be averse to living on the Atlantic coast either, provided I was in newer construction, on higher ground, where the dunes are 15 feet above sea level. I'll take this over winter any day.
I know I have a great therapist because, while I don't see her often, I consistently end every session with a revelation or better understanding of myself, or something that otherwise makes me feel a little better about whatever I'm dealing with. I have a longer running theme of not really understanding what my content state is like. In other words, when someone asks me, "If you could be doing anything right now, what would it be?" That's such a hard question, because the possible answers are infinite in number. There are no constraints. And the things that I do enjoy doing, I'm always battling some external or cultural expectation about why those things aren't what I should be doing. But what's interesting is that I can always tell you where I would be, if I could be anywhere.
That place is near the ocean. I'm not talking about a "beach day" or swimming, I mean within earshot of the sound of the waves. I often mentally go back to the VRBO we rented in January of last year. And of course, cruising is pretty great too.
My therapist said that I would be very surprised that so many of her clients can't tell you where they would be, and by extension, may not have a developed sense of what it means to feel at peace. That's profound to me. I realistically understand that we can't be in a calm, peaceful state at all times, because adulting, but not knowing what it feels like or how or where to appreciate it sounds like a pretty difficult way to live. I envy people that can do it anywhere. That's an amazing skill. I suppose there's a question of whether or not people need to feel that peacefulness, but I can't imagine life being so uneventful that you would ever not need it.
As not-a-person who likes baking in the sun, the ocean seems like a curious choice. I theorize it's just the sound of the waves, because the best nights of sleep I've ever had were within earshot of the beach. It's my go to white noise sound from smart speakers. And as I sit here on a particularly breezy evening, with the neighbor's palm trees pleasantly blowing around, I realize that it may generally be a constant, natural rhythm of sound. The ocean just happens to be the most intense. It literally drowns out the noise in my head.
This came up because I wonder how, and when, and if, I could make living in ocean proximity possible. I don't know the answers to those questions, which causes some degree of anxiety. I keep telling myself that I could not have predicted where I am now (in the metaphorical sense), which is generally a good thing, so I should be a little more at ease with the chaos and uncertainty.
When Elon Musk closed on Twitter last week, it was pretty clear even then that this acquisition was going to be a disaster. I recently mentioned an example about how self-awareness can help you rise above a hard problem to enable you to solve it, or generally be the source of hubris and failure. Musk's pursuit of Twitter, and his odd and idealistic obsession with "free speech" I think is an example of what a lack of self-awareness, with a healthy bit of autism can do.
Now, I know the rules, never assume you understand an autistic person even you are an autistic person, because we're all different. I get it. But it doesn't mean that there aren't similarities or identifiable patterns. One hard thing about autism is that you can be logically brilliant while lacking the social skills to work effectively among other people. Musk personifies this in so many ways, as he's led an EV company to enormous success as well as a private space company. If you think he's not a legitimately brilliant person, listen to him talk about rocket engines. He's not just the guy with the money.
Unfortunately, he seems to greatly lack the situational awareness around things he says out loud, especially on Twitter. It's completely bizarre how a few years ago people pegged him for a lefty socialist because of his hippy electric car company, and now people are casting him as a right-wing fascist because he thinks it's OK if Kanye West says stupid antisemitic shit. I would argue that both sets of people are wrong. He pursues sustainable transportation because it's necessary for humanity to move forward and not kill the planet. This is a logical acknowledgement that's the opposite of political. He thinks Kanye should say what he says because of a logical belief that we can only move forward if all people can speak freely. This latter case is obviously very naïve, and free speech has nothing to do with the operation of a privately owned social platform. But his motivation is still not political in nature, because autism.
But here's the problem with all of that... he's a grown-ass man, who has developed enough coping mechanisms to be successful in life, and autism is not an excuse to be an asshole. The acquisition of Twitter was rooted in the hubris that he could make it profitable, and let anyone say anything, but the reaction from advertisers has been mostly negative. I saw one exchange where he seemed to not understand that his behavior, whether it be validating Kanye or decimating the employment of the company with little regard to the humans involved, was turning off advertisers and users en masse. And his response to this was that he was just trying to make it a viable business. More importantly, he didn't understand that now he is Twitter. He's the sole controlling person of the enterprise. What he tweets he does so now as the owner of the company, and that has consequences.
Elon doesn't understand that accommodating free speech doesn't mean that it isn't without responsibility. And while I still don't believe that he's right or left, it doesn't matter, because he's being perceived that way because of the stupid shit he posts.
And this isn't a new phenomenon. Long before he fancied buying the Twitter, he took a hardline stance against remote work for employees of Tesla and SpaceX. If you work on the front lines of a technology company, especially if you have to hire people, then you know how insanely stupid this is, because the job market simply isn't on your side. The pandemic accelerated what was already in progress, that the shortage of tech workers meant that remote work would force all tech companies to compete for talent. I'm sure that if he had a healthy work culture, that his underlings would have explained this to him, but as he has doubled down on it, I'm sure he hasn't heard that from anyone. The Twitter layoffs were essentially anonymous and without explanation, so in addition to not seeing the market for what it is, he's lost everyone's trust.
I don't know what will happen next. Twitter has never been a real business, as far as I'm concerned, and it's a dumpster fire of hate and toxicity. But I've always considered Tesla and SpaceX as great American success stories. The latter at least is run mostly by someone else. It's very sad that a brilliant person is so oblivious to his own behavior and the consequences of it.
Yesterday was a pretty great day. I met friends from Seattle and New York in the same day. This is one of the best perks of living in Orlando, because there's a good chance that no matter where you've met people in life, they may eventually cross through Orlando. There are definitely worse places to be.
There was a time when Elon Musk could be viewed from afar as that guy who cashed out big time on PayPal and went on to found SpaceX and make the investment that made Tesla possible. If you've read the deeper details, you would also learn that he is in fact a brilliant engineer that seems to pick up on a great many technical subjects with ease. If you've ever heard him talk about battery chemistry or the physics of squeezing more performance out of a rocket engine, he's far from just the money guy.
Lately, whatever visionary outcomes he has in mind or progress he's directly influenced for things like sustainable energy and transportation, has been overshadowed by impulsive behavior and something that, on the outside, looks an awful lot like arrogance. It's not just the cringeworthy things he's done around his arguably terrible decision to buy Twitter, but a whole series of pretty poor actions. Like when he thought he could cleverly build something to get those kids out of the flooded cave in Thailand, or call an actual diver "pedo guy" and lose a defamation lawsuit over it. The impulsivity is pretty easily explained by his declaration that he has Asperger's Syndrome (which more generally is just considered autism spectrum disorder), but it also may explain a general lack of self-awareness. Again, we may interpret this as arrogance, but I think it's more nuanced than that. But also, having autism doesn't make you an asshole, so there's that. He's making choices as a grownup, and they're not good choices.
There's a pattern of innovators who have walked that line in history's most influential scientists, artists and thinkers (many of which are presumed to have had ASD). Steve Jobs is another one that comes to mind. People loved that guy, and there's little question of his impact on the world, but even in his official biography it's clear that he wasn't the nicest guy to work with. Did he realize that he treated people like that? Do we have to tolerate the ugly parts from the people who ultimately move us forward?
Self-awareness, therefore, is not easy to practice, and most of us will never be genius world-changers. It means that there is more at stake for the individual, because we don't get the results that may create a tolerance for our shortcomings as humans. It's a precarious position to be in. We need self-awareness to understand where confidence is warranted, when to stick to your position based on experience and wisdom, when to acknowledge the limitations of your ability, when to defer to others.
I know the scope of my influence will never be like Jobs or Musk, and that's fine, so I suppose that I have a good baseline to start with on my own self-awareness. But you also have to wonder if self-awareness restricts you, or is the actual limitation in your potential. I mean, you probably have to not be self-aware to some degree to think that you can lead a company to build reusable orbital rockets when no one else could figure it out after a half-century. I don't know if that's arrogance, hubris, a lack of self-awareness or all of the above.
In my journey, I think that self-awareness has often been a crippling impediment to me. The unknown, about what my potential is, has often prevented me from even trying things. I'm not saying that I'm not good at anything, because I can point to a great many things that I am good at, but I often point to my not starting a real business myself as an example of self-limitation. I come back to that so often, and it's frustrating because I have a great deal of business experience at so many different stages. I can talk and walk it... just not around something I start. Why? Self-awareness? There are other times when I've certainly not had enough of it, and made poor decisions about my actions. There must be a sweet spot for self-awareness... not too much, not too little.
The other angle on self-awareness is that we may put an awful lot of energy into monitoring how well liked we are. That could easily throw things off balance too, because it's not healthy to base your actions entirely on how popular it makes you. Doing the right thing doesn't always align with people liking you, obvs.
A friend once made the metaphor that people are like pencils. Most of them are dull and not great to write with, but the sharp ones are self-aware and work the best. I strive to be a sharp pencil.