Archive: April, 2022

I really, REALLY want to talk about the pills

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 29, 2022, 4:30 PM | comments: 0

Back in March I declared that I was taking an antidepressant called bupropion. I followed up a few weeks later to mention that it was definitely working, but I want to go deeper to tell you how crazy the change is.

Once my doctor upped the dosage from 150mg to 300mg, it was only a week or two before the change became even more obvious when comparing myself to December. It's very hard to articulate the difference in your fundamental existence. I was never suicidal or desiring to hurt myself, but I just didn't feel the kind of excitement and optimism that I do now. And let's be honest, the world doesn't exactly facilitate optimism.

As I mentioned in my follow up, the concerns and worry are also elevated to an extent. I'm concerned daily at the strange rise in anti-democratic and fascist tendencies masquerading as protective interests. I'm more aware than ever the challenges that Simon has, and will have going forward, and my frequent inability to respond to him in a more clinical, less emotional way. But music and movies get me charged up. The simple act of walking around Epcot and eating food and beverages with Diana is deeply satisfying. I desperately want to travel again. I'm extra cognizant about interpersonal relationships and where they fit into my life. My self-awareness about what my life to date, and going forward, means with regard to my autism diagnosis is growing daily. I'm trying to reconcile the hurt around being wronged in a big way, and letting go after so many years.

I also want to get back to the ADHD thing. Bupropion does sometimes have an off-label benefit because it makes dopamine more readily available, much in the way that amphetamines do (though over time, whereas amphetamines have a same-day effect). My observations on whether or not the drug works for that are at best mixed. Because I generally feel more driven and motivated to do stuff, I don't know if that's the thing that compensates and improves focus. But focus is improved in work, which is less intrinsically motivated than hobby stuff, so I speculate that there's at least some benefit there. But the hobby stuff is very telling, as I built a game on and off over a month, I've started a philanthropic effort, I'm trying to learn some new things, I want to make more video even if I have no idea what to do with that desire, and above all, I want to line up some meaningful travel next year.

The analogy that taking a medication can be like wearing glasses for the first time after your eye sight declines is I think a good way to illustrate the impact. And despite that acknowledgment, it still feels like taking the action to try a medication is some kind of failure due to the stigma associated with it. Our culture is so wired to look at mental health problems as a personality choice or weakness. Look at the fitness people who conclude that it just takes will and character to lose weight. Look at the people who peddle any equivalent of cheesy motivational posters. Look at the Type-A's who compulsively pursue success. The reality is that there's chemistry at play here, and it's possible that your brain's chemistry prohibits you from reaching your potential.

If I'm to leave any advice here, it's this: Talk to your doctor if you feel unhappy in a regular way. I'm not talking about periodic displeasure or sadness, because those situations are typical regardless. I mean if you have a durable pattern of something between indifference and despair, you might be enduring something that you don't need to endure. And if you start taking something and it doesn't get better, go back to your doctor and tell them, and try something else. If you're not living, it might not be your fault, let alone any kind of choice.


WET TENNIS

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 29, 2022, 3:11 PM | comments: 0

The new Sofi Tukker album is out, and they're excited that I'm excited. It's super fun.


I made a game I call Phrazy

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 28, 2022, 6:40 PM | comments: 0

I mentioned previously that I was building a simple word game, and I decided to call it Phrazy, like a cross between phrase and crazy. Or something cute because it ends with a Y. Whatever, it was the best I can do. I won't rehash the parts I already talked about, but now that you can see it, I'll be more specific. I started sharing it today more widely, because it seems good enough. I'm thinking about ways to visually tweak it, but I'm not a designer (though I'm proud of my whirly growing guess tokens).

Playing Wordle got me to thinking about making something myself because I was so thrilled that it was web based and not a native app. I always liked playing Hangman in school. Remember that? Now think about it in the context of your adulthood, or parenthood, and ask yourself why children were playing something that might result in the horrible death of a stick man. That's messed up, even if we never saw it that way as kids.

Anyway, I wanted something that you couldn't really lose, was simple enough to code and engaging enough that you'd try again the next day. I also wanted something that could vary a lot, and phrases come in a lot of forms and from many places. So yeah, it was a variation on Hangman from the start.

But if you can guess all the letters but one and still win, what's the incentive? My assumption was that there's some intrinsic motivation to discover stuff, and talking with friends, that seems plausible. Beyond that, some kind of timing and scoring seemed appropriate.

My first attempt was to have a countdown timer, and every guess subtracted time off the clock. I found quickly that this led to either very little time left with many guesses, or very little time with few guesses. There was no in between. But it also shortened the play time to an average of 20 seconds. My testing friends mostly thought that was fine, but I didn't care for it.

I doubled down on the discovery joy, and decided that maybe if you are competitive, I could tell you where you ranked the next day. The order is by fewest letters guessed, then time elapsed. So that's the whole game. One puzzle per day.

As I said previously, this was a chance to try new things. Coding for a game is way out of the norm for me, because it's all about changing state and reacting to it visually, where most of my career work has been to push data around as fast as possible. The other interesting thing was the play testing. I also haven't really gone the distance with modern CSS before, let alone little animations, so you'll notice some of those. I revisited Blazor, the webassembly tech I used for my private music service, and I really like it. I'll write a separate post about that eventually.

I don't know if it will catch on, and I guess it doesn't matter that much. I was just excited to branch out. Maybe I'll do another if the right idea comes along. Next, I want to revisit the forums and see if I can do some hard things this time around.


Elon Musk is naïve about Twitter

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 28, 2022, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

One could generally argue that trying to grow a new car company in the late aughts, building electric cars no less, was a pretty bad business idea. Trying to build a private space exploration company seems like a worse idea, since at the time only governments had ever put people in space. It requires a fair amount of hubris, maybe arrogance, to think that you can do such things. As much as I think both are necessary and important for the future of humanity, I wouldn't put my money into those things. But Elon Musk did, and today I drive two electric cars and watch private rockets carry humans into space from my front yard. As controversial as he can be, he deserves credit for doing what bordered on impossible for a non-government entity. It's a big deal.

But with the increasing success of these endeavors, Musk has looked at every problem as something he can solve. The problem is that the two really big things he helped solve took many years, many people and a whole lot of knowledge and experience to be gained to get to where he is now.

Twitter is a dumpster fire. I've played along and use it to shamelessly promote my sites, but the quality of "conversation" there is terrible. The limited nature of it, the short messages, are inherently poorly suited for nuanced conversation, but optimized for nonsense, sharing bullshit and insults. Yes, some people get a lot of utility out of it, and that's fine. It's just not for me. I don't see the value in anything that I can say to a random audience in 280 characters, and it may take a little narcissism to believe otherwise. That's why I don't even write here as much, because who cares?

What I can say is that I have been directly involved in online communities long before anyone ever said "social media" aloud. I put my first forum online in 1999, and after 23 years, I've seen the full range of what happens when people communicate over the Internet. It's nice to have a small niche as we do in the roller coaster nerd area, and it's mostly free from noise (admittedly in part because people have gone to Facebook and, wait for it, Twitter). But think about what happened in that time frame: COPPA, the testing of Section 230 in the courts, GDPR and just last week, the Digital Services Act in the EU. We have hard data on election interference, privacy scandals and the harm of engagement algorithms. The online world is far from a utopia, and it brings new problems we don't have in the in-person world.

I'm not going to try and psychoanalyze Musk (though I have my opinions and theories), but for whatever reason, he believes that he can make Twitter better on the basis of his free speech ideals. And when you have billions of dollars and the aforementioned hubris, you can buy a Twitter. But the problem with his free speech ideals is that they ignore the reality of online community. First of all free speech as a concept is a government concept. The First Amendment exists to prevent the government from telling you what to say. A business can do whatever it wants in that regard, especially in the backward world where you're the product, and not the customer. Regulating what happens on your platform is necessary because your actual customers do not want to be associated with something that's icky. Furthermore, if you don't moderate it, regulators will, and that's where the EU is already going. Indeed, these large platforms are businesses, and ideals don't pay for servers.

Beyond that, I think there's a moral responsibility. Twitter banned Trump because he incited an insurrection. Facebook deleted thousands of fake accounts set up by Russian operatives who were using the platform to influence elections toward candidates sympathetic to them. In the midst of a global pandemic where lives were at stake, most platforms labeled Covid content with a warning about its authenticity. These are all responsible actions by people running a business. Again, you can't remain neutral, nor should you. And by the way, First Amendment as applied to online platforms is the right to censor them, which is kind of ironic and funny.

I bounced some users spreading Covid falsehoods on my sites, because I'm not going to pay for that or be a part of its distribution. I've also dropped racists, homophobes and other people wielding hate. I don't need that in the online extension of my community.

What's really disappointing about Musk and his sudden Twitter obsession is that his allegations about what's wrong with it are not based on actual data and research that tells a fairly complete story. That story is that there is no bias against "conservatives" and that the engagement algorithms actually favor their version of "reality." For a guy who puts people in space, you'd think he would approach it a more data driven way. But then, he's the guy who thought he could fish those kids out of that cave in Thailand and then called the real hero diver a "pedo guy." Like I said, success in one area doesn't make you an expert elsewhere.

At least he's leading an important part of moving toward sustainable energy. Unless of course he's too busy fucking around with the Twitter.


Free to be you and the responsibility that comes with it

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

I absolutely loved season 2 of Bridgerton, and not just because I'm totally infatuated with the actress that played Kate Sharma. (I mean, how many people can make a period costume top hat look good?) The entire season was about being locked into roles and expectations that society has placed on you, most of which are arbitrary and a matter of circumstance around gender, wealth and other attributes that you did not choose. It probably seems a little weird to feel sorry for British aristocrats in whatever time period this sort of takes place in, sort of because they've eliminated racism if not misogyny, but the restrictions on women in particular are just as tight as those corsets.

The flip side of this is a number of story arcs that focus on the responsibilities one has with certain power or freedom to mostly conduct themselves as they please. There are always consequences to this, and a number of characters feel the pain of the choices they make.

These two phenomena are tightly coupled and obviously very topical today. People desperately want to be who they are, with a range of identity issues involving race, gender, sexual identity and neurodiversity. There's also a reckoning in progress about what people do with their power in the universe. You don't have to stretch your brain to figure out what demographics fit into these groups, certainly, but the moral implications should be obvious. I say "should be" because they're clearly not for some folks.

The ability to be your true authentic self is deeply fundamental to your happiness. There has been a strong effort in the last few years to deny people the ability to be who they are, in part by legislating ways that deny them basic human dignity and empower the hateful to discriminate against them. Ultimately, the thing that must be consistent about being yourself and exercising your power is that these must not harm others.

In other words, we're really talking about basic human respect. Being gay (or trans, or Black or any of the groups being marginalized) does not harm others. The only agenda any of these groups has is to be themselves and be equal. No harm comes from that. Being wealthy and having power is also not inherently bad unless those people wield that power in a way that is harmful to others. (Sidebar: That's why I don't care for the tirade against the rich, despite my otherwise socially liberal views.)

So if I'm to distill all of this into a few words, it's simply, "Be yourself, and do no harm to others." A world where we can all live by that sentiment is the one that I want.


The Reedy Creek Improvement District fiasco

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 23, 2022, 5:25 PM | comments: 0

If you're wondering why #floridaman trends so much on social media, it's because we have a whole lot of stupid here. It seems we're constantly competing with Texas in that regard. In the latest round, you probably heard that Disney was criticized for not speaking out against the "Don't Say Gay" law that was passed. Given the number of LGBTQ+ folks that work for Disney, especially here in Central Florida, and the fact that Disney spreads a lot of money around toward candidates of both parties, it's not surprising. So CEO Bob Chapek eventually came around, and said, you know what, this isn't cool. Governor DeSantis, a bottom-feeder panderer to Trump's base if I ever saw one, decided that he would be petty and go after Disney for their special planning district, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which essentially allows them to govern themselves and create the necessary infrastructure that local government ordinarily would not. While it's often perceived as a sweetheart deal, the real benefit isn't self-rule, it's that they don't have to rely on the counties to build the infrastructure that they need. They still pay all the normal property taxes to the counties, but they also pay to taxes to their own government to build all of that stuff. If you've ever seen the road improvements recently, routine bridge replacements and utility work, you can see why that's so great. Living next door to them, it's convenient to cut-through when going certain places.

But DeSantis convinced the legislature to repeal the district, effective next summer, which means the property would fall under the financial obligations of Orange and Osceola Counties. They will have to service their fire departments, utilities and roads, all of it. Keep in mind, Disney currently pays $136 million annually to their own government for this, and when it goes away, all of that cost is shifted to the county residents at large, meaning significant increases in property taxes to cover for it. Again, Disney already pays county property taxes. They'll lose all of that autonomy to fund road construction with bonds, but they'll actually pay less in overall taxes since that burden will be distributed to the counties.

This will result in higher property taxes in our counties, as they'll be responsible for more services, and servicing the debt of the planning district, but the counties will not be able to levy additional taxes on Disney. Governor Dipshit doesn't care if we see 20% increases in property tax, because for the most part it tends to be a fairly blue county. He also doesn't seem to understand that Disney is the largest single-site employer in the country, and has 80,000+ people on payroll here, with more coming as they relocate a number of divisions from California to here. Since corporations are people, thanks to the Citizen United decision some years ago, the company can throw a lot of money into politics, and also enjoys free speech protection.

A number of interesting legal theories then emerge. First, the governor and members of the legislature have very openly declared that this is retribution against Disney for their position against Don't Say Gay. They've gone on record as saying they will try to get back at Disney for expressing their opinion, which is most certainly a violation of the First Amendment. There is also language in the original special district statutes that require dissolution of such districts to be approved by their governing bodies, and it's not clear if they can simply change the law to no longer require those. But in general, the courts are not fond of government singling out a business for any kind of legislative actions, let alone one that is punitive (remember when Republicans were pro-business?). So it's hard to say where this will eventually land, but they've got 14 months to figure it out. Disney is obviously not going to just sit back and take it.

Let's remember that this is all over a law that essentially seeks to pretend that gay and trans people don't exist. They can't exist in the classroom, even if the teachers are gay, the kids have same-sex parents, or a child realizes they may be trans. It makes the world more dangerous for all of these folks by dignifying discrimination and violence against them. The governor keeps using the term "woke" to describe Disney's position, but I think he confuses that with simply exercising basic human respect and inclusion for the people in our communities.


I don't hate Apple, they just really let me down

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 22, 2022, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

In 2003, I bought the third-generation iPod. This was about the time that Apple ported iTunes to Windows as well. It was a total game changer for me, and I remember bringing it to the family Christmas gathering to say, "Look at this! It's all of my music! In my pocket!" A third party made an FM transmitter for it, and I used that it in my car until about 2009. When the video iPod came out in late 2005, I got one immediately. That was also the year that they switched to Intel processors, and I bought the first Intel-based MacBook Pro. It was an amazing an elegant mix of power and design. I bought a Mac Pro desktop at about the same time. The next year I bought the first version of AppleTV, which had a hard drive, so it was like a video iPod connected to my TV, which was in turn connected to my stereo, so I could sync all of my music there. iPhone came into my life at launch in 2007, and it was the most amazing device I had ever seen. I updated to the 3G model in 2009. I was all-in.

Things started to get weird in 2009. They finally dropped DRM from their music, which meant that I could listen to stuff without an iThing registered to my account. But the catch was that they wanted extra money to unlock the hundreds of songs I had purchased, which did not sit well with me. Worse yet, there were some albums that I couldn't even "upgrade." By this time, I was already buying most of my music from Amazon, which started selling DRM-free MP3 music in 2007. I started dating Diana that year, and I bought her an iPod as an early gift, so it meant I could give her music without her needing my own Apple login. This was the first crack in the Apple ecosystem.

AppleTV morphed into a dumb streaming box with no real local storage, but I held on to my original one for a long time. Something awesome happened in 2011 though, when Amazon, where I was already buying music, offered a music locker service. I could upload the thousands of MP3's I ripped from my CD collection, and listen to them anywhere. This was fantastic at work, because I wasn't dependent on a device, I could just use my desktop computer. At about the same time, I switched to Windows Phone (I worked at Microsoft, so it was free), which had a crude way to sync music to the phone, so at this point, I was completely free of the iTunes ecosystem. My music was platform agnostic. I also got off of iPhone, more because of the free phone than anything, but I didn't really miss it.

On the computer side, I bought one of the early 27" iMacs in 2009 to replace my Mac Pro, because a screen that big was worth the cost even without a computer. I bought Diana her first MacBook Pro right before Simon was born in 2010. I was still using the 17" model I bought in early 2009, and I upgraded it with an SSD. Apple was still making the best comprooders.

I held out on the iPad for a little while, but ended up buying the second generation in 2011. This is where I started to get frustrated even more. In 2016, they stopped updating it, even though it worked perfectly well for everything we needed it to do, especially given the use by a 3-year-old. Some apps wouldn't run on the old operating system. By chance, I won a new iPad Air for responding to a survey, first generation, in early 2014. I still have that one, and it's really capable, but they've stopped updating it. Certain software, again, won't run on it. To Apple's credit, these devices last way longer than your typical 90's or aughts computer, but it's super shitty that they stop updating them.

My 17" MBP was replaced with a MacBook Air in 2012, and that was replaced with a 13" MBP in 2014, which Diana is still using today. (I still have the Air, too, for some reason). I came around to wanting a laptop with more memory in 2018, in large part because a lot of development tasks were being relegated to running containers in the background, and that required more memory. The laptops Apple was producing were expensive for what they were, easily comparable to Windows machines since they used Intel CPU's, and I couldn't justify the cost. Not only that, but they had those awful keyboards and useless touch bars instead of actual function keys that us developers need. They also had no useful ports. So I flipped back to Windows laptops, and the two that I've had have been awesome. Not long after, I built my first desktop Windows PC in like 14 years.

Windows Phone had died and I switched to the "pure" Android phones that Google was making, first the Nexus line, then Pixel, and I've not gone back to Apple for anything. During the pandemic I bought an iPod touch with a credit from recycling the first iPad I had, but it's only used for testing stuff on mobile Safari, and for Simon to use onboard Disney cruises to chat with us. Apple soured on me because of the whole music situation, the tablet support and the crappy overpriced computers. I was all-in on Apple for the better part of 13 years.

During that time, there were some real issues I had as a software professional, too. Steve Jobs famously said "the Web is the app" with the first generation iPhone, insisting that we didn't need native applications to phones. I still think he was largely right, but Apple itself made that harder. They saw a new revenue stream in app stores, sure, but they also were constantly averse to existing standards. Remember Adobe (before that Macromedia) Flash? Someone had figured out a way to wrap Flash and make it run as an app on iPhone, which would have been huge because of the sheer volume of talented developers who knew Flash so well. But Apple prohibited that. They also fought being able to run .NET-based code or Javascript-based code on the platform, until they eventually relented. They crapped on so many standards over and over again, and that sucked. Even now, Safari is a mess that doesn't adhere to Web standards, so my cloud-based music player won't work because media elements can't automatically play without human interaction. It's infuriating.

The point of all of this is that I'm not an Apple hater, I used to be an enormous fan. I used to religiously watch every product announcement. But they haven't been doing it right. Even with that iPod I bought, I can't believe what a mess that iOS is, from the convoluted settings to the mess that is the start/launch experience. I never thought Android of all things would do it better.

There is hope, though. The M1 series of home-grown CPU's are the kind of innovation that they were into a decade ago. They have energy sipping silicon that blows away the Intel stuff without all the heat and battery drain. The new laptops and the new Mac Studio actually have a bunch of ports on them! The new laptop keyboards are not a squishy mess, and have actual, full-height function keys! I have a 16" MacBook Pro M1 Pro for work, and it's total overkill for a manager, but probably extraordinary for a software developer.


The worry is worrisome

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

The change in my general mental well-being following my start on bupropion has been a great thing. As I said before, I was anxious to have "the feels" and sense of joy that went missing. But there's a downside to this, in that I feel a fair amount of worry about larger things that are mostly out of my control. Oddly enough, it's another way that I know the drug is working, because in January I was largely indifferent to troubling things.

I can't tell yet how this fits into my anxiety or the infrequent panic attack, because the latter is very infrequent. Without a ton of data, I think the physical manifestation comes at most every four or five weeks, but definitely not every two or three like it used to be. Again, the data sample is not statistically significant yet.

It feels like there's a lot to worry about. An autocratic fascist that has access to nuclear weapons has invaded Ukraine. For some reason, a minority of people are supporting laws that involve banning books, discriminating against people not like them and restricting access to voting, which are all very antithetical to what America stands for. The same folks are also doing their best to undermine democracy as a whole, and for some reason no one is really paying attention. Oh, and the world is still in for some serious climate change that will certainly destabilize an already fragile society, to say nothing of the cost in human lives and destruction of property.

Certainly, if I didn't have the joy to balance it out, I'd be in a bad spot. But hey, the antidepressant is working!


48 non-parenting hours

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 18, 2022, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

In 2018 we thought we would start a new custom of going to New York for a few days around our anniversary. We did it again in 2019, and then, I think you know how things went from there. This year, our anniversary snuck up on us, but we still wanted to get out at least for a little while. We were late even looking for something, and it had to be something on the gulf coast relatively close to my in-laws, who were watching Simon. We had the clever idea of returning to Sanibel Harbor, where we had our wedding. Funny how then it was a destination wedding, with most of us living in Ohio, and now it's just a few hours driving.

The hotel hasn't changed much, though it's now owned by Marriott instead of an independent. There are some pros and cons to that. While the whole resort is certainly clean, a lot of it needs quite a bit of updating. The bathrooms are recently renovated, in a fairly awesome way, and the entry, lobby and inside bar are all quite nice and updated. A lot of other areas in the halls and around the pool are pretty tired. Again, not unclean, but worn out. The dock out to the yacht, where we had our reception, is in dire need of replacement, and the fishing pier is completely gone. Fortunately, the service and food is mostly top notch, though both are a little expensive even for that great location.

We had a surprisingly great time at a big tiki bar on stilts just down the road before you hit the Sanibel causeway. Bimini Bait Shack is everything you want in that kind of location... inexpensive drinks, good bar food, seafood, live music and as much outdoors as possible. They were featuring a lot of drinks with Wicked Dolphin rum, so Diana looked it up and found that the distillery was about 40 minutes away with free tours. We ended up there and took home many bottles of the stuff. The chemistry is super interesting, too, and a part of me wants to try to make my own.

There was no agenda for this trip, other than spending about 48 hours without having to think about parenting. We obviously haven't had a lot of opportunities to do this in the last two years. Our theater date nights are back, fortunately, but overnights are hard to arrange. My in-laws saw how badly we needed a break last time we visited them, so they were willing to entertain Simon for the weekend. I love the kid to death, but considering that he was born 11 months after we got married, our "us time" has been historically pretty limited. This late start parenting thing has never been ideal, but we're doing our best to make it work, even with the challenges he presents. It's clear though that we need to be more deliberate about finding time like this, which in some ways gets easier as he gets older.


"If you just work hard enough" is a myth

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 11, 2022, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

I read with some amusement that a "company" has ambitions to fly a person to Mars by 2024, or maybe 2026. The best part of this is that one of the founders said, "You have to work hard, but you do not have to be very smart." In a less get-blown-up-in-a-cloud-of-toxic-chemicals social media post, I saw a "viral" post of some parent who told her 7th grade daughter that got cut from the volleyball team to "suck it up" and "work harder" if you want it bad enough.

These myths, that if you "work hard enough," or "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," or other similar flavors, are utter bullshit.

If you want to approach this purely from an observable angle, then look at anyone working their ass off doing physical labor, and tell me if after years of doing it that they're succeeding at making their lives better by working hard. You can't work much harder if you're digging in a mine, loading things into trucks or running around an Amazon warehouse while you take a minute to pee in a bottle. In more practical terms, with regard to the above examples, putting things in space is hard, and some kids just don't have any athletic ability. Working hard does not change the calculus.

This is one of the worst myths that Americans adhere to. I'm not at all suggesting that dedication and commitment to something isn't rewarding, but to be realistic, we have to acknowledge how much luck has to do with success. Let's start with the birth lottery. If you're born into poverty in some remote part of the world, working hard isn't going to lift you out of poverty, at least, not without a lot of luck. You can apply the same standard domestically, because the income of your parents, your race and where you live have a lot to do with how likely you can rise above it all. Hard work alone does not guarantee success.

The nasty cultural side effect of this is that we tend to write off people who can't achieve in the traditional sense to have personality defects. This is the basis of the opinion of people who believe we're already past racism, and it's just cultural differences (which is, ironically, itself a racist assertion). Some folks working in low-wage jobs get trapped in a cycle of childcare negating income. These goofy rocket people won't get off the ground because hard work isn't enough. (OK, so this one might be a personality defect for different reasons.) The early teenager may never develop volleyball skills despite hard work. Don't even get me started about how this applies to fitness and mental health.

I've worked pretty hard on and off for much of my life, with varying degrees of success. Luck and circumstances had a lot to do with the outcome. So yes, definitely commit and dedicate yourself to things, but stop putting this crap on motivational posters.


Automate your software build and release pipelines, even if it's a hobby

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 8, 2022, 7:45 PM | comments: 0

One thing that I really appreciate about the core CoasterBuzz community is that they're not afraid to tell me when my shit is broken. For the better part of a decade and a half, I used my own search algorithm on the sites. Basically, it looked at all of the words you had in a thread, deleted the "junk words" like "the" or "and," then gave them a score based on frequency, and whether or not they appeared in the topic title or first post. Believe it or not, this was actually a really good strategy that yielded decent results. The problem of course is that it doesn't take into account plural versions of words, misspellings, and other contextual outliers that I'm not aware of. When I moved all of this stuff to the cloud, there was an obvious opportunity to leverage something better, and Elastic's product was based on Lucerne, which I've messed with previously and it's pretty good. They also run their service in the Azure cloud where my stuff runs. The price isn't terrible either, because at the level I need it, it's only costing about $40 a month.

Anyway, I eventually moved the PointBuzz forums to the hosted version of POP Forums, which means there is so little I have to do to update or maintain it, and all of that is automated in terms of building it and deploying it. CoasterBuzz uses all of the user identification to do club members and track records, so I can't easily use the hosted forums for that. It means that CoasterBuzz has to rely more directly on the latest packages from the forum app. Here's the thing about the way the forum app is coded: As it stands on Github, it has no functionality to define a tenant, just a placeholder that says the tenant is nothing. On the hosted version, there's a replacement piece of code that determines what the tenant is, and that persists all the way into ElasticSearch to associate a "tenantID" with the search records. All of the sites use the same index with different tenant ID's. I'm pretty proud of how clever that is.

CoasterBuzz has no automated build process, which means that I can't rollback to a previous build if I deploy it and it's broken. I deploy from my computer at home. At some point, I decided that the functions, the background processes that do a number of things like send email, but importantly handle the search indexing, were the same as the forum's unmodified code, and I deployed that to the CoasterBuzz functions app. Naked, that code calls the tenant ID "-" by itself, not "coasterbuzz," but the web site itself searches on a tenant ID of "coasterbuzz." You can see why that's broken... the indexer was using "-" but the site was looking for "coasterbuzz," meaning any post made since I deployed the wrong thing wasn't going to be seen. Whoops.

Part of this happened because the functions back in the day didn't work as a package because the library didn't "see" the functions in an external package, and that may have changed by now. Still, this lack of automation broke the search, or at least, made it so most of it wasn't visible. About 300 topics did not appear in the index. Once I found the error, step one was to automate deployments, and step two was to reindex all of the topics. The latter step was kind of interesting because it demonstrated that it could index about 1,100 topics per minute without breaking a sweat.

This reinforces the fact that you should not leave it to chance and make mistakes. Automation is good even for hobby projects that only serve a few thousand visitors per day.


"Radical extremist left" is the latest in a long line of bogeymen

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 7, 2022, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

The confirmation of new Supreme Court justice Ketanji Brown Jackson today was met with more of the same criticism that we've seen the last few weeks. Senator Mitch McConnel of course said that the "radicals run the show" in the Biden administration, when referring to her selection. Mind you, three Republicans did vote for her confirmation, but it was still largely a partisan affair where one side of the aisle attempted to paint Jackson as "radical," despite being well-qualified for the job, and a Constitutional scholar. Radical or extreme leftists are the latest in a very long line of bogeymen for the people who wish to retain power and appeal to the fears of people who are not actually at risk of, well, anything that everyone else isn't at risk of.

The radical and extremist labels are a more all-encompassing kind of fear mongering, maybe because it's all they have left. I mean, what does it mean, exactly? Apparently, it means a lot of things...

Socialism and communism. The amusing thing about this accusation is that the two ideologies are not actually compatible. Communism means the state runs and owns everything and that there is no democratic process. Not even the most radical mainstream lefties want that. Socialism has a lot of variations, but in the modern historical sense, it means that the government provides certain things to maintain some degree of equity without interfering with democracy or liberty. Here in the US, socialism was embraced a long time ago by having a common system of government-maintained infrastructure, schools, safety services, the military, Social Security, Medicare, etc. The only thing the "radical left" would like to add to that list is universal healthcare, like the rest of the democracies in the world. This bogeyman is often painted as a slippery slope argument that's easily refuted by the rest of the world's democracies.

Healthcare access. Speaking of which, the closest thing we have to universal healthcare is the Affordable Care Act, and it doesn't nearly go that far. It forces people to get health insurance, and then subsidizes the insurance for low-income folks. While the cost structures didn't change much, it did make access better for people in low-income segments. But the bogeyman here was fantastic. Remember "death panels?" That was the big reason the ACA was so bad, that there would be people there to decide whether grandma would live or die. Of course that was never true, and it didn't come to pass. The biggest problem with the ACA was that increasing the risk pool didn't reduce cost, and that problem is attributable to other conditions the law didn't address. But for the most part, our system is still shitty, and the US ranks in the high teens for health outcomes.

Healthcare rights. This bogeyman surfaced in the pandemic around vaccination. The people screaming "my body, my choice," are the same people who oppose women's health issues.

Immigrants and foreigners. The nation built by immigrants apparently should fear them now. This has been a popular bogeyman for years, but the truth is that immigrants, even the illegal ones, do not take jobs away from native citizens. The total number of jobs in the US is an elastic number, always changing, and generally more people mean there are more jobs and more commerce. There's also the myth that immigrants cause crime, but those statistics always show native citizens have higher rates of crime involvement. Remember when Trump declared a Biden victory would result in the suburbs being overrun by immigrant gangs? Still hasn't happened, and most crime statistics are still trending down (adjusting for the pandemic).

Election integrity. I can't believe this even has to be said, but there is virtually no election fraud, and none of the new laws around elections address any actual problems. The data is very clear on this. The presidential election couldn't be stolen when the same physical ballots elected countless Republicans. There's no evidence. This bogeyman and lie doesn't deserve the air it gets. And remember, the party that opposes gun regulation because it would interfere with law-abiding citizens supports voting regulation that interferes with law-abiding citizens. It's the same as the "my body, my choice" argument.

LGBTQ+ people. This bogeyman has been around for a long time. It was about same-sex marriage, which bathroom trans people use, what pronouns people prefer, sex and gender identity (which are not the same thing, by the way)... it's a long list of things. There's a nebulous call to "protect the children," but no one can really answer what they're being protected from. Often the answer resorts to pedophilia, which has nothing to do with any LGBTQ+ issues at all. Love is love, and the many people who make up this community have not negatively impacted me or anyone else. The "gay agenda" is just equality, not special treatment. That won't come at anyone's expense.

White grievance. This one has become particularly well-formed in recent years, but it's a bogeyman that has been around for hundreds of years. What's disturbing about it is that it's not even a dog whistle anymore, it's people on cable news defending white supremacy. This is also an effort for equality. Look, life is hard, even for white, straight males, but we haven't had all of the additional things on top of that to make life harder. Acknowledging that society was made for white males will not make life harder for white males, but it will go a long way toward fixing the institutional inequities that proliferate our culture.

Critical race theory. This one is the best, because it's a bogeyman that is also not a thing. CRT is a graduate level law study area. It is not taught in grade school. It's a scholarly look at the way law and culture have created inequitable systems that continue to discriminate against people of color. It doesn't indoctrinate anyone and it's not anti-patriotism. But you get these people screaming about it at school board meetings because history as taught includes slavery and the civil rights movement. If that history makes you uncomfortable, just imagine how it felt for the slaves or the protesters beaten to death.

History revisionism. Related, you have the PC bogeyman that wants to take down statues of bad people who were on the wrong side of history, especially as it relates to the Civil War. This, in their minds, means that by extension there is an effort to tear down the founding fathers and pretend they didn't exist, and isn't that sad for our heritage. What I find particularly odd about this is that I learned, for example, in 1984, age 11, from a white teacher, that George Washington not only owned slaves, but had the opportunities to end slavery but didn't have the courage to do it. Acknowledging this doesn't mean Washington was not critical to the founding of our nation, but it means we have to reconcile that he was both.

Inflation, the budget. The right makes a big stink about this constantly, but while the budget and spending keep going up, it's only an issue when the GOP doesn't control all the government. The truth is that all politicians want to spend money, just on different things. The federal deficit trended down under Obama, up under Trump. This is indisputable. This bogeyman is one of the easiest to invalidate, but it persists.

To be fair, yes, elements on the left certainly have their bogeymen as well, but it's not logical to draw moral equivalence here. The repeated concern about the GOP's general disregard for democracy is based entirely on observable behavior around voter suppression, gerrymandering, the ridiculous election fraud lie and getting people riled up enough to storm the Capitol. The infusion of money from corporations into the political system is measurable and traceable. These are not imagined things. Yeah, the constant complaining about billionaires is annoying, and should be about closing tax loopholes, but at least that's about actual policy and not conspiracies and uncomfortable feelings like the nonsense above.

The bogeymen tend to focus a lot on pushing back on diversity, I guess out of fear that diversity will somehow change their quality of life. Heck, one of my neighbors reported some old woman yelling the N-word at him, which is probably not shocking to him but it's deeply troubling regardless. The weirdest part of this is that, if you really are all about capitalism and a free market economy, diverse companies consistently out-perform those that are less diverse.

I don't understand why people are afraid of the bogeyman. It isn't real.


Collection video games

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 7, 2022, 3:15 PM | comments: 0

After many years of waiting, there's finally a new Lego video game from Travelers Tales. This one is based on the entire Star Wars Skywalker Saga, all nine movies. That seems appropriate considering their first game was a Star Wars title. They've covered a lot of IP since then, including the big movie franchises, both big comic book universes and even a one-off original. This title made headlines for a lot of negative reasons, namely the grind and poor treatment of workers and a generally toxic environment, but it's out, and after playing for two nights, it appears to be everything that I've loved about the other games.

First thing, these games are not difficult. They're the first titles that Diana and Simon played in a meaningful way. You might think that a lack of difficulty would be unsatisfying, but what these games do is make collection part of the game. They start with story levels, and when you get through them all, you slowly unlock things that help you find more things, until you've found all the things and can say you're at 100%. This activity is, to me, deeply satisfying, and there are a number of these games where I have done everything, all achievements unlocked.

I'm not sure what parts of my personality are so taken by this, but I absolutely love getting lost in it. I have to watch the clock so I finally stop at 1 a.m. In the first two nights, I played the stories for Star Wars Episodes 1 through 4, then went back to the open world of Coruscant to see how many of the secrets and side missions I could complete. I managed to set the groundwork, at least, by racking up enough studs (small round Lego pieces that are like "coins") to buy the 2x multiplier, which will make collecting these faster to get the other enhancements. I was also able to get all of the hidden object detection features, so I know where they are going forward, even if I don't necessarily have the characters and their abilities to get them.

The last game in 2019, with a tie-in to the Lego Movie 2, changed the formula and was largely panned by critics, so I skipped it. Before that, we had DC Super-Villains and The Incredibles in 2018, and those were a lot of fun, even if I didn't complete them. Before that, I know I completed a few in a row. This new one looks achievable, to get all the things.

I'm not sure what will happen next, because the exclusivity deal between Lego and TT is done, and they've already started announcing projects with other developers. Some other games have done a little bit of collection stuff, like the Tomb Raider games, and literally all of the driving games, but I haven't really gone the distance with those.


"Why don't you cover the Orlando theme parks?"

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 5, 2022, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

I had a question the other day asking why, in light of having CoasterBuzz and PointBuzz for two decades, I don't cover the Orlando theme parks on the Internets since moving here. That's not unreasonable, but the age of the existing sites, and the time that has passed since, may give you some ideas.

First off, 1998 to 2000 was like the wild west of the Internet. It was all on desktop computers, there were no smart phones, and frankly anything you did on the Internet was either for the first time or among a small number of people to do it. There were no platforms at the time, or social media. In other words, someone of average ability like me at the time could create something and have a pretty good chance to make it useful or successful. There were also a ton of companies selling advertising that desperately wanted to put ads on your site, and that was rewarding. I actually built my own ad serving software just to manage it all. Yeah, those were crazy times. Even in the recession that came after 9/11, I made enough to cover my mortgage while being laid-off, and that was while paying for a $1k Internet connection in my home, where I had my own web server.

A lot has changed since then. The Internet is ubiquitous and everywhere. It has unfortunately relied on applications instead of the web itself. Platforms and algorithms rule, and they don't really surface the best things. Google and Facebook are an advertising duopoly. There aren't many new ideas. There is just so much... noise. Starting something now is an uphill battle, and probably a full-time job. What's worse is all of the peripheral things you have to do to self-promote, which is a job on top of the job. It's not enough anymore to just make great content and see it rise.

But for all the practical reasons I wouldn't want to start something right now, there's the reality that two decades have passed and I'm not the same person. In 2000, I was a 20-something driving and flying all over the place to ride roller coasters. By 2006, I was divorced and my priorities had changed. I still enjoyed the coasters, but I wasn't traveling as much to ride them, in part because I was traveling from Cleveland to Columbus most weekends to visit my vet school girlfriend at the time. Only three years after that, I got married again, moved to the nearly coaster-free Pacific Northwest and had a baby. Life had changed quite a bit. These days, I'm content to ride whatever my kid is willing to ride, and I'm fine with dark rides like Rise of the Resistance or Mickey and Minnie's Railway. I'm not "into it" like I was then, and going to the local theme parks is more a function of proximity than it is enthusiasm. Well, with the exception of the Epcot festivals, because of all the great food and drinks. It ain't for the rides!

The bigger part of this was that even in that transition period 15 years ago, I was tired of not just enjoying the moment and experience of visiting these places. I spent so many years where I was documenting stuff for the sites and it was exhausting. Especially with a little family, I'm not interested in doing that. I'll still go to a media event now and then, and I'm happy to tweet some photos or whatever, but I mostly want to live in that moment.

The better sites seem to also be underwritten by a travel agency, which makes a lot more sense and allows you to be comprehensive and have people to create stuff. I am generally of the opinion now that making content for the Internet is not a very enjoyable, let alone profitable, thing to do. If I were to endeavor to do anything now, it would involve asking for money in exchange for some service.

So that's why I'm content to not cover the mouse or the whale or the Comcastic parks.


What is "autism awareness?"

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 2, 2022, 11:07 PM | comments: 0

The United Nations some years ago designated April 2 as "autism awareness day." I never thought much about it until Simon got his diagnosis just before he turned 4. Then observing similarities in his life with my own childhood, and the suggestion of a therapist that I too was likely in the same neurological category, autism wasn't something to be aware of, it was something I lived. Then last year I sought a legitimate diagnosis, and things changed in ways that I still don't completely understand. As I've said before, I view my life differently looking back, and in the context of every day.

In recent months, I've gone down the rabbit holes of autism identity and activism, and to be totally honest, a lot of it is toxic and deep in grievance. There's disagreement about what it means to be autistic. This shouldn't be that surprising, I suppose, because as a "spectrum" disorder, it includes people who are non-verbal and unable to care for themselves, as well as complete geniuses. Some people object to it being called a "disorder." These sentiments aren't useful to me.

I don't want people to be "aware" of autism. What I want people to do is accept that some people are not wired the same way. They are different, not inferior. When we're kids, we're often picked on for being different. When we're adults, we may have largely adapted to a neurotypical world, but it can be exhausting to conform to it. Sometimes the social cues that are obvious to you are not to us, or maybe they are but we find them deeply illogical.

The calendar says today is autism awareness day, but at my house, it's Saturday.


The musicals that I don't care for

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 1, 2022, 6:46 PM | comments: 0

Let me start by saying that it makes me infinitely happy that live theater is back, both on Broadway and in the touring world. I'm happy that all of the people employed by this ecosystem are able to work again, sharing their creative gifts and hard work. On the list of things I missed during the worst parts of the pandemic, that was one of the highest things.

But Wednesday night, we finally saw Cats, and it was even more terrible than I expected. It doesn't really have a story, it's just exposition about a bunch of characters. This particular tour is anchored by a bounce-house set (it's literally inflated... you can hear the fans) and a lighting design that's like an 80's rock concert. We were so bored out of our minds that we didn't even stay for the second act. We hung out in the donor room for a bit, gleefully argued with one of the bartenders about the legitimacy of the show, and went home. I can't understand how this had such a long Broadway run, or why they made it into a movie or revived it now.

I've never left a show like that, but I didn't quite stay to the end of Les Miserables either. I'm no stranger to the music, certainly, so I knew what I was in for. I've seen the movie too. But I've never really understood why people were so into it. And this particular version of the show was literally too dark. You couldn't see the expressions on faces, and people were basically teeth and eyes. Rent is in a similar category, but I at least watched the whole thing. The characters in that show are mostly intolerable and entitled. I've written about these shows before, so I won't relitigate it here.

Mind you, nothing will ever be worse than Love Never Dies, which is so funny because Andrew Lloyd Webber did that, as well as Cats. Yet I mostly love the original Phantom, and we've got Jesus Christ Superstar coming up at the end of the season. Superstar is an extraordinary show, because he took something religious and applied what was "the devil's music" in the 70's, in a style that frankly he had no expertise in. Fifty years later, it still holds up.

There are pretty simple shows that I just adore though, even the slightly preachy ones like The Prom. There are others that I half-like. I think Dear Evan Hansen is brilliant... in the first act. The second needs a ton of work. I get why something like Hamilton is so highly praised, but I don't get the Cats. We all like what we like.