What a difference a year makes. This one wasn't perfect, and probably no year is, but this one was certainly better than the last two. Granted, the bar was pretty low. I've been more thoughtful about everything this year, and while that might sound like too much time living in my head, it really has been quite the opposite.
I'm not even sure if I can keep calling this a business. The ad revenue pendulum swung the other way, hard, down 42%, despite a combined increase in traffic of about 5%. That's especially disappointing in an election year. On a CPM basis, CoasterBuzz was down more than PointBuzz, a reversal of the typical arrangement for the first time in years. I'm a hostage to algorithms and the Google-Facebook duopoly, and I guess there's little I can do other than complain about it. I'm barely covering cost this year, but hey, it's redundant as hell at least.
The CoasterBuzz membership revenue was flat, which I suppose is good since the only benefit now is having the site ad free. You don't need a membership for most events anymore. But I am transitioning to digital membership cards, which is neat. Once I run out of the card stock, that's it. The digital "cards" can be validated with a single-use QR code.
You know, I've decided again that I don't really want to talk about my career out loud anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this. What I will say is that I don't want to work forever. I definitely don't want to wait until I'm in my late 60's to quit. If I'm really being honest, I'd like to retire in 8 to 9 years, which is not impossible if the market swings the other way and I can max out my 401k and IRA contributions. It's hard to really see accurate math with this year's crappy market action, but it seems doable. The other big question is whether or not Social Security survives, because I would prefer to hold off hitting that until we can get as much as possible.
This year was a lot better than 2021 for maker me. I'm sure part of it is the switch that flipped in the mental health department (more later). I went into hyperfocus mode working on forum improvements, leading to a pretty huge release. I did so many of the things that I've been talking about for years, like image uploads, better quoting and a notification system. I even overhauled the private messaging to be more chat-like and real-time. I made 542 contributions to open source on GitHub this year, which is a new record for me. There is still a lot of smelly code in the forum, but I'm still proud of where it is now, regardless of how much it gets used.
I made a word game called Phrazy. The Wordle craze inspired me to do something, so I took a stab at what is essentially a variation on hangman, only you get to see how you did against other players the next day. It has a small but loyal following. What was super fun about it was trying to figure out what the rules were for competition, and I got there by opening it to a small group of people and getting their feedback. It's not at all what it started out to be, and that's cool.
My next coding project, I think, may be a drink-around-the-world app to track your consumption at Epcot. I doubt very much that it will get a ton of use, but it might be fun to make. When I say "app," I of course mean something that's web-based, since I'm all anti-platform.
I made more video this year, but not as much as I would have liked to. I made six LEGO review/time-lapses on the SillyNonsense channel, and one "education" video about gas prices, made entirely of stock video and some scribble graphics I did. I still haven't done any EV videos, as I intended. I've had a few ideas for documentaries but the subjects have been non-responsive. I wanted to start experimenting with drone video, but I live in Disney's no-fly zone. As I said a few weeks ago, the viewership of videos is totally random. I admire some of the folks making quality video for YouTube, but I would be crazy nervous about depending on it for income.
There have been some side endeavors too, this year. I have intermittently been trying to learn to play drums with a used electronic set that I acquired on an impulse buy. I think I could continue to learn and get somewhere if I had some specific direction, but I haven't really committed the brain cycles to it. I also became pretty obsessed with automated lighting, and I can't promise that I won't buy more lights in the future. They're really fun to mess with, and I want to flirt with some opportunity to apply the knowledge to a real scenario. We also became rum enthusiasts this year, and generally started collecting spirits. We don't really drink any of it but one day a week (a college student I'm not), but it's fun to make stuff. More on that in the travel bits.
My physical health is certainly better than it was a year ago. My hypothyroidism is well controlled, as is my cholesterol. My triglycerides are still high-ish, but still better. My weight is down a few pounds, though not as much as I'd like. Later in the year I got a little better about moving around more. The opportunity to make these adjustments, and make them stick, gets smaller as we get older, so now is as good a time as ever.
It hasn't been without its angst, though. To go from zero medications to three in one year is jarring. And not eating as much as I want leads to some level of unhappiness. That's getting better, but it was exhausting chasing the triglyceride number. I'm not showing any risk for pancreatitis yet, and my blood pressure is settling into a more normal place. My overall risk for heart disease is lower than it was.
The real breakthrough this year was in mental health. While last year's autism and ADHD diagnoses were a big deal, I think that opportunity to look constructively at my mental health, past and present, enabled me to see that I wasn't just in a temporary funk at the start of the year. I was dealing with depression. I'm not saying I was sad all of the time, but I definitely was not experiencing joy the way I used to. So my doctor put me on bupropion, and it was a game changer. I generally feel again. The hard parts are harder, but the good parts are better than ever. Along with that life reframing in the context of autism, being able to be moved by a musical or a movie, or even a hug from my darling partner, feels like living with intensity again.
I'm still figuring out how to deal with anxiety, but therapy is helping with that, as I see her once a month. I find that the physical manifestation of panic attacks come more rarely. There's a bigger picture around accepting my mortality and where I am in life, which reminds me not to let unimportant things affect me the way that I used to. It's not easy to remember that. But I'm realistically closing in on my third act, as I like to say, and I ain't got time for nonsense.
Diana's health was better in terms of being on the right combination of medicines for migraines, but her back pain has negatively affected her quality of life. She's moved on to a different doctor, and the treatment results seem more promising so far, but it's hard to say how things will go long term. Simon is a raging pre-teen now, and he's developed a habit of picking the skin on his arms to an extreme degree, while his ADHD meds are working marginally at best. He also was diagnosed with esophoria, a condition with his eyes where they don't quite focus in the same place. This will require home-based therapy that Diana has to learn to administer. We think it may be contributing to his slower reading speed (based on eye tracking tests), so this might be a big deal.
I can say for certain that parenting doesn't get easier. It feels like we are perpetually doomed to work on the same challenges, most of which revolve around nightly routines, homework and not following directions. Simon often feels that I'm not his advocate, because I don't bail him out on things that he asks for help on. He doesn't try very much, if at all, to accomplish simple things like opening a bottle. It's a long game, where I hope that a decade from now I feel validated because this forced him to be more independent. I have to remind myself that I am ever present in his life, and that's one of the most important parts of parenthood.
Last year's time in a private school ended up being counterproductive. The school was a joke, as it did not even attempt to balance accommodation with accountability, so he was mostly credited with showing up. It was clear before the end of the year that we had to get him out of there. It was somewhat validating to see that almost the entire staff at the school turned over. It was a joke.
Fortunately, with the reassignment of Simon's elementary principal to the now-relieved middle school, we were able to petition to get him there instead of the relief school, which would not be able to provide the same level of services or elective options. Half-way through the year, I won't say it's been an easy adjustment for him, but I expected much worse. He's doing OK, he's awkward and he's navigating the social jungle of being a tween. He's not happy all of the time, but it's not always easy to get a read on what he's feeling. We have to dig a lot.
I think my biggest concern hasn't changed much in the last few years. I want him to grow up to be a self-sufficient adult, and make it through adolescence without being too miserable. That might be a low bar given my own experience. He's an emotional kid, a lot like me, only he hasn't developed all of the skills to regulate that emotion.
This was a somewhat epic year for travel. It's not so much the volume of travel as it is the quality of travel. Our first trip was for our anniversary. We dropped Simon off with my in-laws in Punta Gorda, and then we headed down to the hotel on Sanibel Harbor where we got married 13 years prior. It was only two nights, and we had no specific plans at all other than to not be parents for a little while. The hotel was a bit of a mixed bag under Marriott operation (it was independent back in the day), but it was comfortable. It was also kind of boring. For dinner that night we walked down the street to a tiki bar/restaurant called Bimini Bait Shack, and despite being crowded it had a fantastic vibe, live music, and good food and drink.
The restaurant in turn led us to the Wicked Dolphin rum distillery, where we became completely enamored with the product. I like the idea of buying stuff from local businesses, and here was a place making good rum with Florida ingredients. We left with a case, and have since ordered more from a local shop. We've tried all kinds of new combinations of drinks and I think officially became rum enthusiasts. We've even had the opportunity to make drinks for other people, and that's fantastic. We appreciate aged sipping rum, too. It's an expensive hobby to have a variety of spirits on hand, but I suppose it's no different than people who collect wine.
In May, I met up with one of my friends in Cleveland to see the Garbage/Tears For Fears show. This was a make-good on 2020 plans, where we initially thought we would see Garbage with Alanis in DC, but you know how that year went. I didn't even know that Tears For Fears was coming out with a new album, but it turned out to be insanely good. So we went all-in and got seats in the fourth or fifth row at Blossom Music Center. It was possibly one of the best shows I've ever seen. We made it a long weekend by spending a few nights at Cedar Point before the show. The park operations were suboptimal, but we had a great time eating and drinking there, and meeting up with people I had not seen in a few years. I even met my old roommate Jen prior to the concert.
I initially thought I could see the tour in Tampa, but it coincided with what was supposed to be the maiden voyage of the Disney Wish. That ended up getting pushed out into July because the ship wasn't done, but we got half of our money back for our "trouble." While there were some cancellations, they didn't rebook the rooms, presumably because of some lingering concern around Covid, and partly because the ship wasn't really ready. Still, we did the first paid public voyage on the Wish, and it was mostly awesome. The issues with the ship I'm sure will be worked out, but because they booked in order of most previous sailings, everyone had at least 15 and there was a lot of entitlement. There also weren't very many kids, so adult stuff was uncharacteristically busy in the evening for a Disney ship. It's a beautiful ship, and we're looking forward to seeing it again next year.
The fall left us in the typical travel dry spell, but we did visit Epcot quite a bit for the Food & Wine Festival. It's still hard to travel in the fall because of school. It wasn't long before I was feeling it and very much looking for a brain-off cruise. The week before Christmas was surprisingly not overly expensive, so we booked it. We had a great week spending most of our time on the ship.
We saw so many good shows this year. The opening of Steinmetz Hall at our beloved performing arts center was a great way to start the year. There were quite a few social events in the hall, but we also saw several performances of the Orlando Philharmonic, including one for Carmina Burana. I finally got to see Joss Stone after 15 years. Frozen finally made it here, and with its new song was actually an improvement over the Broadway version we saw. Six exceeded expectations, and I got to see Hamilton three times on this pass. It doesn't get old, there's something new to see every time. Hadestown was the big surprise just a few weeks ago, as I managed to avoid learning too much about it since its Tony hype before the pandemic. I also finally got to see a professional production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is probably one of the few things from the 70's I actually like. It was so good.
We're still in a pretty stable place, as we have been more or less since arriving in Florida. Our regular day to day flow hasn't changed much, although we definitely spent more on travel this year because we could actually go places. Our retirement accounts all took a beating, but fortunately we don't need to retire yet.
Our alleged home value seems to have leveled off finally. It was hurtling toward an insane estimate but reversed to a place that's still almost double what we paid at $114/sq. ft., though I'm convinced there will be more normalization downward. But it's hard to say. Two neighbors just sold in the last two weeks, and one settled for 20% less than asking at $193/sq. ft., the other 7% less in what is essentially our house twin, getting $218/sq. ft. after sitting four months. I guess none of it matters, because you don't make anything until you sell, and even then, you gotta buy something else.
When we first moved to Florida, almost ten years ago, I assumed that hurricanes were an annual ritual. That turns out not to be the case. I always knew that they were less of an issue here in the center of the state, but even in new construction, I find the whole thing fairly unnerving because of the constant pounding of wind and rain on the house. Ian made a mess of much of Florida, and it ended up crossing just south of us. We're not in a flood zone, so as long as all the things could roll with the wind, we'd be fine. Nicole fortunately fizzled out by landfall, and was mostly a non-event for us, but it did serious surge damage on the Atlantic coast.
So that's our second and third hurricanes (the first was Irma). Some might count Matthew, but it stayed mostly off-shore and we weren't here for it anyway.
I find myself in a similar place as last year. I keep seeing glimmers of hope that we're turning a corner toward some kind of normalcy, but the world wasn't having it. The war in Ukraine is a total disaster. A vocal minority has managed to continue the restriction of freedoms in the US. Covid is largely a treatable and fairly preventable disease, but we're still swimming in misinformation.
It's not all bad. It appears that Trump may actually be held accountable for potentially breaking the law, which I never thought I would see. There have been serious convictions following the insurrection. The courts have mostly maintained their integrity if you don't count the overturning of Roe (something that could eventually be resolved by law). Sustainable energy and transportation made huge leaps this year, more than anyone expected. Progress is slow, but it does exist.
I've learned to roll with things in a more healthy way this year. I realize that I don't have to be engaged 24/7, and that sentiment doesn't reflect how much I care.
I am enduring a lot of reflection, with the combination of the aforementioned ASD business and the place I'm at in life. Nothing has really gone according to convention in my life, which is probably more common than I realize, but it's also affirmation of my belief that much of what you're sold in childhood is bullshit. There is no ideal path, or boxes to check, to do life "right." I won't be far from retirement age when my kid graduates from high school, when many of my peers are already empty nesters now. I accept that the day that I stop breathing isn't all that far away, I just don't know if it will come next year or in 40 years (or maybe even 50, who knows?). So with that in mind, I don't want to spend my time doing too many things that are not satisfying to me. I'm not saying I need to be busy with things at all times, because doing "nothing" is actually quite satisfying as well.
The only really immediate implication of this is setting some kind of retirement target. Because I saved almost nothing in my 20's and early 30's, I'm behind. I've had several "equity events" in recent years that might help, but only if those stocks make real gains in the next decade or less. This year I'm eligible for catch-up contributions, and I'll do that, but bailing early is still going to require some luck.
I'm also at a point where I just don't want to wait to do things I've talked about for a long time. I see friends 20 years younger moving around the globe constantly, and I have yet to see those places. I'll start by sampling Northern Europe next year, and I'd like to get back to Hawaii the next year. And you bet we'll continue our weekenders in the Bahamas.
Finally, the answer is mostly yes. Maintaining that sentiment is an ongoing process. I have never been more focused on, and more confident that I can find, a way to exist in the world where I feel safe, valued and free to just be my best self without apology. Just being able to define that, I think, is the biggest win. But after several years of turmoil and ridiculousness, I feel better about occupying space on this planet, however temporary it might be.
I'm not even going to attempt to make any predictions about the next year. The trajectory looks solid at the moment, but things change. Accepting some amount of chaos allows for a proportional amount of peace.
Last year's playlist was sadly very small, and with the strong start this year, I expected something longer this year. It didn't really materialize though, as the second half of the year didn't really generate a lot of gee-whiz music for me.
What did work out was that this was another very strong year for albums worth listening to, end-to-end. I say this every year, but I really enjoy listening to one thing for 40+ minutes, as a cohesive work. I still listen to Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend from last year at least once a week.
The albums were a mix of meh and wow. I picked up Halsey's previous album because I loved last year's. Chvrches made a half-good album, with a surprising guest vocal from Robert Smith of The Cure. Metric and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs released new albums, and I was hoping for a revival of their 2009 works. Both are mixed bags, and not as strong as those previous albums. Not in this list is Metric's song "Doomscroller," which is pretty ambitious.
But the big story of course was Tears For Fears' The Tipping Point. I didn't even know it was in the pipe, and I got it free because I bought tickets to see them and Garbage. By the second pass, I was completely enamored with it. It's so good. If you take out the solo Roland albums in between, this album, with the first three, constitute an amazing body of work. The new one is very much them, but older and wiser. It's fantastic, maybe the best of their career.
But the year really belonged to female bands, with so many great albums. Out of nowhere comes Wet Leg with their debut, and it's full of catchy not-too-serious song with noisy guitars, some literal screaming and constant joy. It's a little short, but still great.
The Regrettes' Further Joy took a bit of a pop turn for them, but it's their best so far. Maggie Rogers, who was little more than a name I heard, made an amazing work in Surrender. My favorite party duo, Sofi Tukker, released the super fun Wet Tennis.
Rounding out the list, I added some tracks from two musicals that were new to us this year. Six is more performance art project concept album of pop music than a musical, but it's a lot of fun to see live, and a solid listen as well. Hadestown we just saw a few weeks ago, and I'm completely enamored with it. It's based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a tragedy, and it's one of those long running projects conceived by one person, Anaïs Mitchell, that impossibly made it to the stage.
There are a handful of interesting singles sprinkled in the list as well. I think part of the problem still might be discovery, as far as the size of my list. I'm just not listening in the right places to regularly hear new things.
The religious implications of Christmas haven't been important to me for a very long time. That said, I believe that Christmas has an underlying spirit and purpose regardless of the religion it's associated with, and I want Simon to understand what that is. Try to explain Jesus to an autistic kid (or an autistic adult who has over time come to feel the story makes no sense), and experience an exercise in futility. But this thing about good will toward others, charity, caring, looking out for people, that's an admirable sentiment, and we should do our best to emphasize that.
Simon is already not about gifts, and never really has been. He enjoys receiving gifts, but he's never expected a ton of stuff under the tree. He also understands what it means to go on a family vacation as a substitution for gifts. I feel like we're lucky, because I don't think there's any specific decision we ever made to get him to see things this way, it's just what he does. But again, I want him to understand that not everyone gets to do a week-long cruise before Christmas, and while we can't take the world with us on a trip, we can do other things.
The obvious opportunity was to do some volunteering on Christmas day. Give Kids The World Village is, as you might expect, not at the top of minds on the day, so they really needed some help. We decided to jump in for the dinner seating in the cafe, which was understaffed. I've volunteered many times for things outside of the village, especially when we did the big fundraising events back in the day at amusement parks, and a little helping with friends who used to work there, but oddly enough I haven't done a regular shift until this day. Simon isn't old enough to do all of the things (he desperately wants to be a ride operator), but he can do most things. The dinner rush wasn't huge, so my assumption is that the 125 or so families were mostly at the parks, hopefully with coats because it went under 40 degrees that night.
He does like helping, so I think this is good for him, even if he does tend to take long breaks. He's volunteered before with Diana in the summer when I'm working, so it's not his first rodeo. I think it's a great way to spend the holiday, and I hope it becomes a new annual tradition.
When we did a New Year's cruise at the end of 2018, I thought that might be the one and only time that we sail on the Disney Fantasy unless they change the itineraries around. It has mostly been doing Eastern and Western week-long Caribbean runs since it went into service in 2012, and we've not typically been super interested in those. But after the pandemic "break" and having only one other cruise this year, I was looking for some meaningful detachment and relaxation, so we decided a good family Christmas gift was to do another week-long itinerary. With Simon's relative indifference to gifts and our general preference for experiences over stuff, and a relatively OK price give the proximity to Christmas (like $4k less than that NYE cruise we did), we went for it. This time it was the Western Caribbean, which stops at Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Falmouth, Jamaica, with the obligatory day at Castaway Cay.
We feel like the Fantasy has a slight edge over its sister, the Dream, because of differences in the atrium decor mostly, and a few other positive changes. It was cool to see it again, and it's familiar like the Dream, which we have sailed on so many times.
This was Simon's most independent cruise yet. When he was 9, we gave him a cheap Android phone (no cellular), so he could use the onboard chat app, and we trusted him to check himself into the kids clubs. On the first two post-pandemic cruises, 11-years-old by then, he was all-pro at navigating the ship and doing his own thing. On the inaugural Wish sailing in July, which had very few kids overall, he spent much of his time in Edge, the tween club, and on the Aqua Mouse, the themed water coaster. This cruise went similarly, where he would spend time in Edge or the pools or getting ice cream or whatever. He mostly checked in with us from time to time. There were a few times he wanted us to be with him, like the Edge send-off party (there were only three other sets of parents there), and we did get to see him interact with others. Hard to tell if kids are just being kids or being real dicks to him, but either way I'm happy to see him engaging and figuring it out. The youth counselors were amazing with him, as usual. We had some challenges getting him to make sure he had lunch, but otherwise, we didn't see him that much, leaving us to do grown-up things. Another perk of cruising... it's not like he can leave the ship.
We didn't do much in the various ports. The sanctioned port activities were all pretty expensive for what they were, and the general travel advice is to not do stuff on your own in certain ports. In Cozumel, we were greeted by a Hooters and a Starbucks, and police in full tactical gear carrying automatic rifles. Yikes. Grand Cayman required tendering, and Diana and Simon did it just to ride the boat. I find all of the tropical ports to largely be the same, full of diamond sellers and duty free shops. The only historical opportunity on any of the stops was to see the Mayan ruins, which unfortunately involves a boat ride to the Mexico mainland followed by an hour plus on a bus, leaving little time to actually see the ruins. Not cheap either, and with mixed reviews regarding the transportation.
Simon stayed aboard in Jamaica, while Diana and I explored the shopping district there in Falmouth. It was one of the nicer setups, but our servers (native to Jamaica) suggested not straying too far out of the area, and more hilariously, suggested Margaritaville. We couldn't in good conscience go there, even if they did have proper Jamaican rum and food. It was literally in the shadow of the other ship in port (RCL's Harmony of The Seas), and we have Margaritaville in Orlando. But there was one shop where they were actively selling you, a turn-off had it not been for them allowing us to sample all the rums. So we overpaid for three bottles of rum and a pound and a half of jerk spice, but I guess I don't mind because I'm pretty sure I had about three drinks worth of rum just by tasting, including a sip of a 50-year. To be honest, I was not impressed with the straight non-aged or not-very-aged rums. They were not even remotely smooth. Your basic Bacardi white rum is easier to drink straight. But we really liked two of their cream varieties, one of which has coffee. Think Bailey's, but richer. We also got a bottle of vanilla which was really strong, in a good way.
Our Castaway Cay day was a total bust. The forecast was never good, but the 77 degrees it actually was ended up being the best we had. It started in the low 60's! The bigger problem was the thunderstorms. A few bands of nasty weather were rolling in ahead of the front that made the rest of the US cold. We watched the radar, and Diana and I decided to do a loop before lunch. It was weird. The umbrellas were all down, there were a few kids in the water, but winds were over 15 mph so it felt cold by Floridian standards. We walked down the family beach to the half-way point, then walked back via the sidewalk and returned to the ship, seeing the first cell getting closer. By the time we got upstairs for some lunch, the sky had opened up. It looked like people had mostly crowded into the lunch shelters on the island. The deafening thunder started and for the first time we've ever seen, they closed the open parts of the pool decks. This was, I believe our 25th trip to that island, since we've had some "double tap" itineraries. You go that often, you're bound to have a bad day. I was surprised we could even dock given how windy it was.
The rest of the cruise was pretty much the same as any other Disney cruise, which was kind of the point. There was a lot of relaxing, reading, napping and this time more than any other, bar socializing. As is the case with the Dream, the martini bar, Skyline, never gets really busy aside from the pre-dinner second seating rush. We met a great many interesting people there. We also did two alcohol seminars, our usual mixology as well as one for mojitos and caipirinhas. The bar team in Skyline, Amit, Wilson and Chika, were absolutely amazing. Being from India, Dominican Republic and Japan, respectively, meant we had a lot of great discussions about food, drink and culture. It's the one thing we all have in common, even though we may consume different things. Wilson asked what our "traditional" foods were, and he was surprised that we didn't really have an answer. It depends on where your family may have originated and where you live now. It's so strange that xenophobia runs so rampant in America when so many of us are barely a generation or two from immigrants in the first place. I don't know if we'll ever encounter those folks again, but I hope we do.
Overall, the week was the thing our dining room servers kept calling out... no pressure, no pain. It was an enormous reprieve from having to thing about, honestly all of life. I got up in the morning, did some walking (10k+ steps every day!), had breakfast, had a pedicure, enjoyed the beverages eventually landed at dinner, and spent a fair amount of time sitting around in between just hearing the sound of the water around me. That sound dulls all of the worry and sharpens the moment for me. I can't wait to do it again.
My friend an our only-half-joking adopted European daughter Kairi, posted an Instagram story about how she never really goes anywhere without her camera. For the record, it's a solid Canon, I think an older DSLR. I adore her for so many reasons, not the least of which is her fascination and love for the world without borders and all of the beauty it offers. Her trust to spend time with us, after meeting her on two Disney cruises, on her way to South America, probably helps as well.
Her photos are the kind of real-life documentary material that I love. She's seen so much more of the world than I have, and much of it with her tongue out. We've talked about photo stuff and gear in conversations via Zoom or chat, and while she understands the gear in a non-trivial way, she definitely appreciates the process of capturing images above the equipment. That's how art is made.
I've had gear for a long time. And I've made do with gear that wasn't necessarily the best. I took some photos of Schuyler Fisk performing (Sissy Spacek's daughter, if you didn't know) around early 2009, and one of my relatives said, "You take photographs," and that has always stuck with me. There's an art to capturing images, regardless of equipment. But the equipment still matters and enables better art.
I have nice cameras. I always have. During the pandemic, I made the leap into Canon's mirrorless RF lens mount, after being in the EF mount world for about two decades, back to film days. The big change is that when you remove the mirror from the camera body, which used to work like the film cameras (you could see through the lens via the mirror, and the mirror flipped up to expose the film), you just see a tiny screen in the camera that sees the electronic sensor directly. The benefit is that lenses now have to project the image closer to the end of the lens, since there is no mirror in the mix, making them smaller. That's a big change, because my almost 20-year-old lenses work just fine. When I bought my first RF camera (an R6), I also bought an adapter so I could use my old EF lenses, including my super wide-angle. But I also bought the platform standard f/2.8 L 24-70mm IS lens, the EF equivalent thing I could never afford in the early EF days. It is the ultimate piece of glass.
Here's the thing though. Since the pandemic ended, I don't take this amazing equipment with me anywhere. That's insane, because no matter what the latest Pixel or iPhone can do, it's not nearly as good as the good cameras or lenses of semi-pro or pro gear. It just isn't the same. I brought the good camera on our cruise in July, it never came out of my bag.
I still want to get the f/2.8 L 70-200m IS, which is the long zoom equivalent of the above, but I can't make good photographs if I don't take the existing camera out with me.
I looked up to Elon Musk mostly for two reasons. First he was (is?) totally committed to the idea of sustainable energy and transportation, which is a key issue in solving the climate crisis. Second, he wanted to revolutionize space travel through the use of reusable spacecraft, in the face of a more than a half-century of disposable vehicles and no real progress toward making humanity an interplanetary species. These are lofty and important goals, even if they're not politically convenient in light of our often science-averse politics.
But then he bought Twitter.
At the time, his bizarre stance on free speech absolutism, which isn't even logical since the concept of free speech is one of government regulation and not of private platforms like Twitter, clearly had no regard to the impact of random dissemination of bullshit. I mean, I could see on the surface how that would be important logically, but an introspective and thoughtful person would also see how that doesn't really work when your platform's survival depends on advertising.
As a fellow autistic person, I want to see Elon succeed. I do think that "my people" often have perspectives that rise above the partisan and illogical nonsense of our time. And while I believe that it's hard for him to really screw up the sustainable energy and transportation story, he's endangering that legacy with his bizarre behavior over Twitter. Today he permanently suspended Twitter accounts on the part of bona fide journalists who have been critical of him, without explanation. His free speech absolutism, as it turns out, has limits, and they're not OK.
The fact that I can make this statement on a platform that I wholly own should be reason enough to understand why this anti-free speech wrapped in a fake pro-free speech approach is doomed to fail. Elon's world view at the moment is predicated on the idea that Twitter is essential and he's the arbiter of truth. He/it is not. And as a business, it is destined to fail if advertisers continue to bail.
My bigger fear though is that all of the good things that he's managed to accomplish via SpaceX and Tesla are now at risk because of this nonsense. Those companies employ thousands of people who are legitimately changing the world. The auto industry incumbents who are all-in on EV's will eat his lunch. As long as he continues to lead his companies while exhibiting this behavior, that legacy is at risk.
I had another follow-up visit with my doctor yesterday. It's the second one since my annual physical in July. In August of last year we started addressing my hypothyroidism, which was a pretty easy fix. In September she put me on a statin to get my cholesterol down. By January, I finally got my HDL up and my LDL down to normal, but my triglycerides were still too high. She put me on icosapent ethyl, which is the omega-3 fatty acid that's good for you and doesn't raise your LDL, as "fish oil" typically might.
In July, my triglycerides were still high at 250, and they need to be below 150. What I've changed the most since my September follow-up is that I'm moving around about twice as much, dropping a few pounds in the process. I'm also trying to be a little more sensitive to my sodium intake, which is high in the many convenience foods that I tend to eat. My cholesterol numbers are now the best I've had in my adult life, with HDL at 49 (normal is >39) and LDL at 69 (normal is <100). I can't even tell you how thrilling that is. My triglycerides are still at 200, but I've learned more about how volatile that test can be based on hydration, and I was definitely dehydrated that day. In fact, the blood work showed that my kidney function was just a little out of range, probably for that reason, so she wants to do another test in a few weeks to make sure it was a one-off. And I should drink a lot of water.
I'm still half-concerned about my blood pressure readings in the doctor's office, which are always crazy high. I compare my home unit readings to those I get from the machine at Publix, and they're pretty close. Generally averaging a little high, like 120's/80's (normal is <120/<80), but not like 140/108 like I had in the office. Today I took three readings at home averaging 117/78, which seems crazy good.
So how did I get here? Well, the problem has never really been about my physical health. The math here and remedy has always been pretty obvious, even if I did need some statin help. The hypothyroidism may have factored into all kinds of things, including the big progress point, which is in mental health. Starting bupropion this year dramatically changed the way I feel after two or three months. I remember a year ago how hard it was to get off the couch. But I eventually started feeling again, and this year has been about refreshing everything about the way I see myself and the world that I operate in. Eventually I got to a place where I felt mentally good enough to address my physical health. I've tried to avoid stress, watch less news, I don't doomscroll anymore. It's still not easy to get moving all of the time, but I give myself a little room to do whatever I'm up to.
It'll be interesting to see how long I can persist the slow weight loss, because I've often plateaued hard, but I would be content to drop just six or seven pounds between now and my next physical in July. For now, I'm gonna celebrate my cholesterol win.
Also, my doctor is the best I've ever had. She doesn't bullshit me, but still responds sensitively. She's always on time or early. Every. Time. She always listens. I do find her slightly intimidating, because even though she's not very tall, she's a cancer survivor, mother, business owner and an f'ing doctor. That's pretty great.
Another Christmas approaches and we're more stuck than ever when it comes to gift giving to Simon. He kind of takes after adult me, as I generally don't want anything or expect anything from others. (In fact, I'd rather you make a donation to GKTW, Human Rights Campaign or your local animal shelter.) I'm not sure if this is personality or environment, or both.
When I was a young child, I remember the printed department store catalogs that came late in the year. There were three: JCPenney, Sears and Best. Remember Best? They had the best toy sections and a generally superior layout. Even the non-toy sections were interesting. I paged through, cover to cover, and remembered it in detail. Every year, I would make a prioritized list of things that I wanted for Christmas, and I usually got the second tier item, since I went knowingly high on the first (except the year we got the Atari 2600). I think the last year that I did this was probably 12 or 13, which is Simon's age now. Every year since, I liked the gift exchange routine less, feeling like it was incredibly transactional. Steph's family used it as a measure of how much you cared, which was extra icky, and I felt bad that she had to endure that. I'm not really that interested in participating in the exchange process at all, and admittedly maybe that's autism related. It's another social contract that seems exhausting and unnecessary.
Simon's world is so different. Obviously he doesn't get catalogs, but he also doesn't have TV the way we did. He watches some stuff on the YouTube, but the ads are not for toys or kid things at all, since he's too young to legally track or target anyway. He doesn't physically go to stores very often either, so he doesn't know what's in the toy aisles at Target. He literally has no clue what the universe can offer.
Of course, we've tried stuff over the years, as any parent would. Once he finally started riding a bike (he started with a used one), we gave him one of those. He's acquired all kinds of LEGO, but many of the smaller sets he's received are still unopened. He bought a toy tow truck once from a neighbor at a garage sale. When he was really little he played a lot with cars and blocks, where we saw the first hint of autism as he lined up cars instead of playing with them. He latches on to things in unpredictable ways. I bought Diana a Transformers Bumblebee before Simon was born (from the movie, an early date for us), and it was always kind of crappy and the limbs fell off. He will still pick it up, whichever parts are lying around, and kind of fiddle with it.
These days, he mostly cares about video and computer games. He's been obsessed lately with... wait for it... Farming Simulator on the Xbox. That comes "free" with our Game Pass subscription, so he just kind of found it. Sometimes he'll ask for add-on downloadable content for games, and I suppose that's about right for his age.
Tonight, he asked me when we were going to take another hotel vacation, or stay a few nights in a local theme park hotel. He often asks about cruises, too. This is delightful to me, because maybe he's adopting our experiences over things m.o. I'm not yet sure if he'll fully appreciate getting off of the continent next year, to a non-tropics destination, but I'm trying to think of ways to spark his curiosity.
You don't get to unwrap a vacation, but I think we're all pretty happy to take one instead of get more stuff.
I was really excited to see that DJI released a new sub-250g drone yesterday, a less expensive variation of their Mini 3 Pro. I've been thinking a lot about the hobby for the last three years or so, but mostly in the context of shooting video in new and interesting ways. This new one does pretty clean 4K given its size, so I spontaneously decided to order one. I have a DJI camera gimbal, and it's one of the most awesomely engineered things I've ever owned.
Before I ordered, I downloaded an app and checked to see if my airspace was OK. It showed that I was close to a hospital, which I expected, so I would be restricted to 400 feet, which is totally fine. I just wanted to fly it around in a field the next street over, or inspect my solar panels on the roof.
What the app did not show is that I am within Disney's restricted no-fly zone. I don't know how the app wouldn't show that, but it didn't. It literally would not take off here, because it's defined as "national defense airspace." How insane is that? At first I thought, that's cool, I only have to go a mile or so to fly it. But I'd like to be able to fly it near home, too, to fly over the lake or the pond and spot critters. I want to walk down to the field a block away. Then I thought about where else I might go, and I have learned that I'm in one of the most terrible places ever to recreationally fly a drone. Out on the Atlantic coast, obviously the entire Space Force (ugh) station and Kennedy Space Center are out, and that includes the entire length of the Canaveral National Seashore. Going south, you have Patrick Airforce Base, then the airport in Melbourne. You can fly in some of those areas, some of them below 200 feet, but you need to file notifications to do so (relatively easy, but still). Finally you're clear to Vero Beach, where you again have controlled areas where you need to file. The Everglades are out, too.
So reluctantly, I'm returning it. The restrictions nearby are bad enough, but a lot of places I would go recreationally are out too. That's a bummer.
If you know us more closely, you know that Diana is my very own "crazy cat lady," and that she volunteers for a local non-profit called Candy's Cats. That's where Remy came from, almost a year ago. Prior to that, we briefly fostered another black cat that did not at all get along with ragdolls Finn and Poe. This year, for Thanksgiving, we brought Boots into our house for a couple of weeks.
Boots is under a year and a half, but I guess no one knows for sure by how much. He's still a kitten, but he's large and very robust. I mean, you pet him, and you can feel that he's solidly built. We didn't have anyone over for the holiday, so he got to live in the garden view suite (the spare room and bathroom). Because the bathroom is a Jack-n-Jill between the bedroom and Diana's sewing room, there's a big runway, probably 30 feet, that he could run back and forth across when he wanted to play. He sounded like an elephant charging from downstairs!
He has a very warm personality, too. At least, he did toward us. He loved to play with all the cat toys, and he would play hard until he was panting. He was actually checked out by a vet for this, because apparently he did this for a previous foster parent. When he was ready to chill, he didn't hesitate to come up on the bed with you and cuddle, with the understanding that you should not keep a hand on him too long, and don't touch his rear back. If you violated his policies, he wouldn't bite you, just nip at you. He parked next to me the second time I went in to visit him and just purred away. He's a very sweet cat.
I hate to think that he's all cooped up in a cage again, given how much he enjoys stretching his legs. Diana hasn't been at the store recently to advocate for him either. The hard thing about the shelter is that people gravitate toward small kittens, which I totally understand. We can't really adopt him, because Remy is already a handful, up on things he shouldn't be on and chasing Finn around when he's not interested (big as he is, Finn is a lover, not a fighter). The boys did meet Boots, with mixed results.
So if you're in the Orlando area, and looking for a furry buddy, check out Boots. I'm sure he would love to get to know you.
Fourteen years ago today, I wrote a blog post asking, "How much connection do you need?" Context is important here... the iPhone was barely a year and a half old, Blackberry and Palm were still a thing, and Android was just starting to make a splash while the old Windows Mobile was in its last run. Or more to the point, ten times as many "smart phones" are sold now compared to then. But with social media starting to gain traction via desktop computers and connectivity becoming more ubiquitous, there were definitely people looking down at devices constantly, and it was weird to see.
How quaint, right? Look in any direction in public and see people mostly glued to their phones. Young people don't know a time before this. That blog post, and the comments on it, make some really interesting points though. My friend Mike, one of my podcast buddies at the time (yeah, in 2008, get off my lawn!), I think made the great observation that we are culturally consumption addicts. It was more about acquiring things then, but we've filled much of that need now with information.
Carrie made the point in a comment that a steady diet of information is not itself harmful, that it really depends on what you do with it. I agree with this, because the same arguments have been made about rock music, video games, and if you go back far enough, books. The danger we observe today has more to do with how people apply (or ignore) critical thinking with regard to what they consume. It seems bigger now because of the aforementioned ubiquity.
I admit that I'm judgy about this topic. Part of it is because of the general bad behavior of people, like the people who talk on their phones while trying to conduct a transaction with a cashier, for example. And this too is about the person, not the technology. But it's also because of where I am in life. I find myself getting less out of what's on my phone, and I know that for however much time I have left, memories are not made there. I'm no longer doom scrolling, but I find myself sometimes sitting on a Wordle clone for a half-hour and ask where the time went. I enjoy it, sure, but it feels like I could be doing something better.
There are boundaries that I'm happy to say I adhere to. I've never turned on notifications for any social media. I don't get work email on my phone. I can, but it's not automatic. Slack is there, but turned off in non-work hours. People often talk about flexible work, when they really mean work without limits that a conventional day would otherwise require. People can't accept that the email you get at 5 on Friday can be answered Monday. There might be exceptional circumstances, but anything else is a cultural problem.
There are other problematic scenarios. I saw a plea from a musician that complained that all of their time was spent on self-promotion online, leaving little time to actually create art. Consultants seem to agree that it's the only way that they can grow their business. And then there are other people who talk about their "brand," and maintaining that, despite having no particular skills or abilities (i.e., "influencers"). I can't be the only one who thinks that's broken. The tool is using you, wagging the dog, in the parlance of our time.
I probably sound like I'm making an "I played in the dirt" argument, but I'm a technologist and gadget freak, so I don't think it's that. It's telling that so many of the people that I used to enjoy interacting with from around the country via the Internets are no longer there. They're over it. Maybe I'm heading that way. And that's weird to say, because those connections were/are real, just far less frequent.
With all of the colossal stupidity going on at Elon Musk's Twitter, and all of the debate about how it should operate, what free speech is and the wider implications of the non-business model it's heading toward, there's a pretty obvious thing being overlooked.
The world can get by without Twitter.
I guess I'm kind of surprised that anyone values it as much as they do (it's definitely not worth $44 billion). When it first launched, forums, blogs and blog comments that could close the link loop were the center of the universe. Everyone was like, "What am I gonna do with 140 characters?" iPhones weren't a thing yet. People sat down at their desk during the day, with AOL Instant Messenger open, and would spontaneously ping someone to talk about nothing in particular. If you break this down to the fundamental social models involved, this isn't really that different from the world we're in now, with its platforms, save for one important difference.
Twitter I would argue was the start of a transition to performative social media. Everything that came before it, including Facebook in its university-only years, involved a more closed loop. The people that you reached were generally only people that you knew, or people of a smaller community with common interests. When you have a practically infinite audience, everything changes. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has said in many interviews that Twitter is addcitive for performers. The thing is, you don't have to be a professional performer for public social media. So that dopamine hit for likes is strong. These days, people put "influencer" on their resume. These are very weird times.
But Twitter is not the center of the universe. If it disappeared, something else could take its place. Furthermore, issues of "free speech" are grossly misunderstood, in that the only right that you have to it is from government. Businesses can moderate their platforms anyway they'd like, ironically enough because that moderation itself is protected free speech. The platforms don't really matter anyway, because if you have access to the Internet, you can put anything you'd like on it, provided it's legal. Obviously, that right is paired with responsibility, but that's true of everything you might choose to say.
My bigger point is probably that we've become so accustomed to huge Internet platforms that we don't remember what it was like before them. In a lot of ways, it was better, because you weren't held to every whim of an algorithm that isn't really tuned to your interest as much as it is tuned to engagement. You're the product. We also forget that if the format of Twitter is really all that valuable, something can take its place. That's how the Internet operates. If Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all went away, there would be other things.
I think we'd all be better off with less performative Internet media. It seemed like people were finally getting tired of doom scrolling, but now we have TikTok. It seems like we need a phone to do things out in the world now, which makes me want to engage socially that way even less.
My favorite veterinarian, Catherine, was back in town again this weekend, and after having a great time with her family doing the VIP thing at Disney early this year, I was happy to join them for a half-day at Universal. I was able to work the network and score some comps, fortunately, as we don't have passes, for reasons I'll explain.
I really only had one goal, and that was to ride Velocicoaster. I expected the parks to be busy, because it's like there's no real off-season anymore in Orlando. This appeared to be true. We parked at Royal Pacific Resort, where Cath's family was staying, and met up there around 8:30 and headed in to Islands of Adventure first. We met up with the rest of her gang back in Jurassic Park, via the shortcut in Lost Continent. The wait time just before 10 was only 35 minutes, which was excellent.
The lines move really fast, even with a brief interruption. The queue is surprisingly not long. You'll pass the launch track with the raptors following across the superimposed screens, then meet the restrained raptors, which are really cool. They're very convincing. Once you get to the lockers, it isn't clear that there are more further around, but they're there. A staff member is there to give you a paper ticket to scan in the event you have your ticket on your phone, which needs to go in the locker. It's reasonably efficient, and you get your stuff on the other side from the exit. After you stash, you cross the metal detectors, which I always set off because of my belt buckle. Up the stairs, you enter a room with big screens where you see Bryce Dallas Howard (❤️) and Chris Pratt talking about what a bad idea it is to have a roller coaster in the raptor paddock.
The station is well laid-out and bright since one side of it is all windows. The trains are the latest refinement in Intamin's overhead lap bar arrangement, and the seats are quite snug, with the ball-buster on the front and your feet off the floor. The crew is very efficient and they're constantly knocking trains out. I don't know how many were running, but the pause on the uptrack standby brakes for us was very short. Universal's ride operations seem to get progressively better over time.
The ride starts with a pretty quick roll out of the station and into a turn down, where you stop at the front of the launch. Clever use of a short block to keep trains moving. When the block is clear, off you go into the first two inversions, back to back. From there you'll do five or six-ish turns and wacky direction changes in and out of rock work. I recall seeing video of dinosaurs somewhere in that, but I didn't notice them. There is no slow part, and the next step is to hit the full 70 mph to climb the tophat. After that, you'll go through the longest inversion that I can think of, which definitely causes some inverted hang time in your seat. You'll go around a bowl twice before heading back in front of the visitor center, inverted, and finally into the brakes. Much as it starts, it only bleeds off enough speed to get you closer to the station faster, so even the end is well paced. It's 4,700 feet of track, with no slow parts.
Veolcicoaster is obviously the best roller coaster in Orlando, and in the running for best anywhere. Yeah, I think it's that good.
The rest of our half-day in the park is relatively unimportant, but I do want to again draw attention to how horrible the food situation is. The quality is generally poor at most places outside of the Harry Potter locations (Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron), but even then, the way they run is awful. So we roll up to Broomsticks around 11, and there are people queued in front for no obvious reason. We ordered online, so I just walked in. There's no one ordering in person at all, no registers open. Uh, OK. I just clicked "I'm here" on the app, and it's asking for a table number, so now what happens? Three people are running around inside the door, but it's not clear what they're doing. I ask what the queue is for, and they say it's for mobile ordering. But there is a formal queue, and another line of people, and half of that line goes in with the dude. There is no signage anywhere, the humans are not helpful.
One member of our party went around to the back patio, where maybe a third of the tables are occupied. So we go around and sit there, and I put the number in the app. Fifteen minutes later, food appears, and while tasty, it's not particularly hot. I couldn't tell you operationally what was going on, given the lack of signage or helpful staff. Maybe we cut the line, but there were empty tables everywhere. This is another thing where they could learn from Disney. You can implement technology, but you still need humans there to facilitate and answer questions and show clear intent.
So why don't we have passes? Cost is certainly one, because I feel like to get value out of it, you need the best level with the Express after 4 access. The constant food quality and service problems are also high on the list. But the biggest reason is that the hours are still as terrible as ever. This became obvious when we did have passes pre-pandemic. When the parks close at 7 for much of the year, weekday visits are virtually impossible. Simon gets out of school at 4, I'm not going to wrap work until 5 or 5:30, and then driving during rush hour means we could get there in the absolute best case scenario at 6. Then subtract 15 minutes for the walk from the garage to one of the parks. It just doesn't work.
I do love Universal, and have great memories from my single, pre-parent days. The funny thing is, back then, there was no Harry Potter and the parks were never particularly busy. You could get reservations in City Walk the same day. I was a passholder living in Cleveland. These days, their attraction lineup is pretty great, and includes one of the best coasters in the world, but the hang ups above, especially the hours, make it hard to buy-in.
It was about two years ago that I decided I wanted to make some videos and put them on the Internets. That was my pandemic move since I already had a podcast before it was cool. It took me almost six months to do it, first thinking about it in July of 2020 and not getting anything up until the very end of the year. In my defense, I was making a lot of things at the time, including a radio show, my own cloud music service, a rewrite of my blog app, and other things.
I didn't have a lot of rules about what I wanted to make, but I figured at the very least I would slug it with my ancient SillyNonsense name. I'd put it on YouTube, even though I despise their revenue sharing model and its minimum requirements (because I used to make a few hundred bucks a year on the very small number of CoasterBuzz videos I have). I wasn't going to worry too much about quality. I was going to make whatever I felt like, which is definitely a way to not have a specific audience, but that's fine. It started out with some videos on cocktails and LEGO build time lapses. Eventually I even did a stock video clip piece on gas prices. But it has been uneven at best, because I'm all over the place.
So once I started the SillyNonsense channel, I kind of watched to see what happened. I've always understood that the biggest problem with putting anything on the YouTube is people finding what you have. Quality doesn't necessarily garner attention. If you want to build an audience, obviously you should focus on something specific, which I haven't done. But over the last two years, the dozen or so people publishing really good stuff that interests me have all talked about how exhausting it is to get the right title and thumbnail to attract viewers. It's like the usual social media attention whoring stuff that I have absolutely no interest in, which is why I will probably never develop this into anything popular, and that's OK.
The algorithm makes no sense at all. My most watched video is of the Lego Titanic, which I posted pretty late after the Lego-preferred folks already posted their videos in advance of the release. But that very quickly reached over 10,000 views in a couple of days, and has more than 13k now. Why? There's nothing unique about the content, the title or the thumbnail. Next largest was the Lego Loop Roller Coaster, which quickly scored a thousand views and then kind of stopped. The rest range from 33 to 200.
Even with this relatively small amount of action, based on my experience before they changed the rules, I probably would have made around $200, on video that they're showing ads on and keeping all of the revenue. To make money, you need 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time. I have 68 and 400, respectively. It's clear that over time if you just keep posting stuff, you'll hit the time threshold, but the subscribe thing is totally annoying. I think to get anywhere there, you have to also maintain a presence on the social media, which as I said, I couldn't be less interested in.
I'll keep making these silly things (see what I did there?), but it grinds me that someone else makes money from what I create and I get nothing. The platforms have made it difficult for low volume creators to make anything, and it isn't free to make things. It has changed so much from the days when there were dozens of ad providers for web-based content and you could at least make burrito money.