Archive: May, 2022

Responding to terrible things

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 25, 2022, 7:20 PM | comments: 0

Another senseless tragedy happened yesterday, on the heels of another one that happened a couple of weeks ago. I don't know that I can add much to that discussion, and truthfully I don't even know what to do with it. Whenever I think about it I kind of mentally retreat and start thinking about the song "Rivers of Mercy," which describes where I've been a lot in the last few years.

So what do you do in response to something as horrible as children dying in a hail of gunfire? There's obviously no rationalizing it. You don't need to have kids to feel the seriousness and sickness of it, and wonder why this is the only country where this sort of thing happens, and we don't do anything about it. You wonder how the same people who want to force a woman to give birth, saying they're so committed to life, do nothing to limit the death of humans already born. The people who think that gun safety laws get in the way of "law abiding citizens" want to restrict the voting rights of, yes, law abiding citizens. And the worst conclusion of all is that you can only conclude that this minority of people are prescribing a society for a majority, and that implies that democracy itself doesn't work. It's all pretty fucking dark.

A fair amount of therapy in recent years has been devoted to looking for purpose and trying to reconcile my impact (or lack thereof) in the world. It's such a big subject that I wouldn't know where to start. I understand myself that it's likely I've had greater, more important impact as a volleyball coach than I'll ever have advocating for equality and social justice. In fact, what kind of hubris does it take to believe you can influence the change we need? There's a fine line between hubris and courage. Much of the time, that leaves me in a place where I make donations to my favorite acronym organizations and hope that it helps.

Then you settle into that mode of, well, it's mostly my birth lottery that I don't have to deeply worry about things if I don't want to, because they don't deeply affect me. But you've got these idiots who are like, "I shouldn't feel bad for being a heterosexual, white, male Christian!" Well no shit, no one is asking you to do that, they just want you to exercise a little basic fucking human respect and stand up against hate, discrimination and marginalization of people not like you. That's not really a heavy lift. Not being an asshole to others is not a heavy lift.

And don't even get me started with social media and what that does. Some people get deep into performative advocacy, where you say something weighty and get likes and you're "doing something." Worse yet, there are people on the other side of that equation who will judge you if you're not at least doing that performative advocacy. These "woke monsters" want nothing more to call you out. I hate that word, "woke," since it has been co-opted by fascists to imply that exercising human empathy is somehow a moral shortcoming, but I'm talking about the thing that Obama said a few years ago, where people mistake judging others as agency of change. I've certainly been guilty of it.

I also don't think we should give other people shit for disengaging, at least temporarily. Yeah, that's a privilege to, but looking out for your mental health and being a part of solutions are not mutually exclusive things. That binary thinking is the reason things are such a shit show in the first place.

Stream of consciousness here, I know. It's all I can do to reconcile the news, which I've avoided quite a bit.

Garbage and Tears For Fears and the most epic concert

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 24, 2022, 8:05 PM | comments: 0

I completely missed seeing Garbage when they toured a few years ago for Strange Little Birds, which in my opinion is every bit as good as their first two albums. They came to Orlando, but I didn't have anyone to go with and I just missed it. I was determined then to see them with Alanis in 2020, and since they weren't coming here, I would go up to DC and see them with my friend Ken, who lives there. Obviously that didn't happen. Garbage did tour with Alanis last year, but I didn't make that happen.

Then, Tears For Fears came out of nowhere with their first album in 17 years, and it turned out to be impossibly good. Then they announced a tour with Garbage. They were coming to Tampa, but we planned to be on a cruise then (it was later delayed), so I figured I'd go to the Cleveland and meet Ken there to see them in the place I saw my first show 34 years ago, Blossom Music Center.

The scene was pretty weird at first. We got the paid parking because I remember how crappy the grass lots are, and the odds of rain were high. Everywhere around me it seemed like there were... old people. And they were mostly driving expensive cars. Then I realized, holy shit, I'm old people. I'm at that stage of adulthood where I have a fair amount of discretionary income and retirement is closer than college graduation. I was also surprised by the number of people bringing their kids, and the kids didn't seem to hate it.

There was a weather delay letting people in, which I think had the opposite of the intended effect. We were among the first in, and we just barely made it into the pavilion before the sky opened up Florida-style. A lot of folks got very wet. I think a lot of people with lawn tickets also got to swap them for the pavilion, because there were almost no people out there by the time the show started (30 minutes late).

The two bands seem distant, except they're not. Obviously the fandom of the two overlaps, or I wouldn't have made seeing them a priority. Tears For Fears is generally labeled as an "80's band," as their first three albums came in 1983, 1985 and 1989. Songs from the Big Chair often makes various lists as one of the most important records ever, and it stands to this day. I saw them on the Seeds of Love tour with Oleta Adams singing and playing piano, and they were fantastic. Roland went on without Curt and made two albums after that, and they reunited for an album that had a little success in 2004, but went unnoticed by me. Then they come roaring back with The Tipping Point, which is one of the best albums released in my lifetime. I'm not even exaggerating. These guys have seen some shit, and the music is even better for it.

Garbage has made just as many albums, with their debut in 1995. That's only six years after TFF released Seeds of Love, though it feels like more. Garbage went dark between their fourth album, Bleed Like Me, and their next, Not Your Kind of People. They too, have seen some shit. Garbage came along at a time when new music was exciting and varied a ton, in some ways the way one-hit-wonders did in the 80's, only it felt more rock-n-roll. I got to see them at their 12th show ever in late 1995, where a very uncertain Shirley Manson paced around on stage with a band that was conceived as a studio project. Of course, the patronizing music press was skeptical of bands with women, but it wouldn't stop them.

As best I can remember, I've seen Garbage a total of eight times now, twice after the debut, and twice in 2012. They had really found their voice and on-stage style by that second show, opening for Smashing Pumpkins in arena shows (and frankly being better than them). You could tell they weren't having as much fun by Bleed Like Me, but they were professional and still put on a great show. When they rolled in on this, the second night of their tour with TFF, I was confident in their ability but not sure how the crowd would react.

They played for an hour and squeezed in 12 songs. They did their mashup of "Wicked Ways" with Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," which was kind of neat since I had seen that band on that very stage doing that very song. They did their James Bond theme, "The World Is Not Enough," which I've only heard one other time. At the start, I think there were legitimately some people in the crowd who were not aware of them, but by the end of the show, they were fans. At one point Shirley even said they weren't sure how they would be seen by these crowds, and the noise was so intense that she seemed to struggle to keep it together. It was clearly an emotional moment for her. They ended on "You Look So Fine," which they seem to alternate with "Vow" as their last song (it didn't make the playlist this time). The crowd noise lasted well after they left the stage.

It's a weird arrangement, because they've certainly headlined arenas, especially overseas, and I think they're more co-headliners than openers. They barely made a dent in their catalog after an hour.

The main event was on just 20 minutes later. For an hour and 40 minutes they played an incredible 19 songs spanning most of the catalog (only one song from the non-Curt albums). They were accompanied by Carina Round, an incredibly strong singer-songwriter that has worked with them before. The rest of the band was absolutely solid and clearly among the best at what they do.

What's really amazing is that Roland and Curt sound as good as they ever have, now age 60. Roland in particular shows the miles, channeling Gandalf a bit with that long white hair. And he is a wizard of sorts, when it comes to songwriting. But what's clear is that these two are better when together. They've said in a lot of recent interviews that they started this journey working with a lot of outsider help, at the encouragement of agents and the label, but didn't like what they were making. They said they eventually just sat down together with guitars and that led to a lot of what came out.

So confident in the new album, they played 7 of the 10 songs from it, more than any other album. And it absolutely worked out, because they're amazing live. The harmonies on "Rivers Of Mercy" were just stunning. "My Demons" was more intense live than I expected (and the lighting design was epic). "Long, Long, Long Time" was similarly wonderful with Carina's vocal. They also gave her a stripped down arrangement of "Suffer The Children" that was superior to the original on The Hurting. Of course, I was most thrilled to hear "Bad Man's Song," which was 10 minutes of fantastic changes, improvs and solos. If you don't believe me, check out this video shot by the person behind me that includes the back of my head. There were just so many great moments, ending, natch, with "Shout," as one does when you're Tears For Fears.

There are a lot of bands touring on nostalgia lately, and that's fine. As Ken put it, these are the "401K" tours of aging musicians. But what's different about Garbage and Tears For Fears is that they've been at it for a "Long, Long, Long Time" (see what I did there?), and they're still making music that's every bit as good as what they did two decades ago or more. I know, what you call "art" varies from person to person, but continuing to evolve your craft and creating exceptional new things, to me, makes you the best kind of artist.

It's somewhat fitting that this is where I saw my first show in 1988, Def Leppard with special guest Europe. I stood there all the way at the top of the lawn, in the rain, for three hours, with my first date ever just at the end of grade nine. This time, I was six rows from the stage, not in the rain. I've never spent that much on concert tickets ($330 each with all of the fees and taxes), and it seemed like a momentary lapse of reason to do so. I can't rationalize it, but it's been so long since I've been to a show that I figured why not. Experiences not stuff. I don't regret it, and the show exceeded my expectations in every way.

Now the question is, since our cruise got delayed a month, do we go see them in Tampa?

Cedar Point trip, May 2022

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 24, 2022, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

Considering that I've had PointBuzz in my life for two decades, it's almost embarrassing that I haven't been to Cedar Point in years. 2016, I think. So a series of things lined up that made it time. My friend Ken from DC and I were planning pre-Covid to see Garbage on their tour with Alanis in DC, which of course didn't happen. Then, unexpectedly, Tears For Fears came out with a new album and announced a tour with Garbage, and obviously I couldn't miss that. They had a Tampa date, but we were supposed to cruise that week. That cruise got moved, but by then we figured out that the Cleveland date would be workable. And while we're there, why not go to the just-opened Cedar Pont? I haven't done a trip like that without my little family in a long time.

I wanted to have a full day at the park, so that meant arriving on a travel day before, and having the show after. I priced Lighthouse Point cottages, and they had a ticket deal that made it cheap to get 3-day tickets. I would break down the cost to be $250/night plus $100 each for the three day tickets, which is pretty reasonable. I used to stay in those cottages every year for closing weekend. I was pleased to discover that ours was exceptionally clean and in good shape, with mattresses that weren't very old. My last stay there they were pretty tired. And for extra fun, there was a family of five water snakes living under the sidewalk.

Appearances were even better when we got into the park. It's just immaculate, with fresh landscaping and paint. The appearance of the park has benefitted over the years from a real focus on design, and the company has some of the best. New midways, ride stations, restaurants, they all look so good. I never really noticed how cheap everything looked back in the Kinzel era. It wasn't unclean, it just didn't have the aesthetic at the time. I did not observe any spot that appeared tired or in disrepair, whether it was in the park or the hotel, where we ended up spending a lot of time.

The most impressive improvement though is that the park has completely changed how it thinks about food. Kinzel famously said on an investor call once that "people gotta eat" with regard to pricing, but you knew he meant quality didn't matter either. Crappy hot dogs and burgers were what you got. I never understood this, because eating good food makes for a better experience that you remember, and you can't make up for that just because you have great rides. So the park has added a number of new restaurants in the last few years, and every one of them serves real food made by humans and directed by chefs. It's a totally different scene. The highlight for me was at the new Farmhouse restaurant, on the site of the old cars in Frontier Town. I had hand-breaded chicken tenders and fried smashed red potatoes, and they were amazing. Ken had flank stake and some kind of corn thing. Really great food and a long way from cheap death dogs.

Their beverage game is better, too. There are a number of places where you can get actual liquor. The pours are a little stingy for the cost, but it varies a lot by location. The self-service soda and all-day drink offering is pretty popular, and worth it if you'll get three in a day. We had it with our ticket package, and honestly there's no universe where I would drink 36+ ounces of soda in a day, so I wouldn't buy it.

The general vibe among the seasonal staff is fairly positive and professional in all departments, which is great to see. It's also a relief to see there are no issues with culturally diverse hair, or tattoos and body piercing. I noticed it right away checking in, as one of the women there had a septum ring. (Take note, Disney, you need to get over this.)

I wanted to front-load the positives, because I'm going to get super negative. A lot has changed since the last time I was there, and mostly I've read about it on PointBuzz. Having that site for 23 years, I've seen plenty of silly complaining and entitlement, so I was skeptical about what's going on there. Unfortunately, a lot of what I experienced was pretty well aligned with what people have been complaining about lately. Ride operations are, at best, a disaster.

I started out pretty optimistic on Thursday, when we arrived. It was weird being there that afternoon, having driven through Walt Disney World in the dark that morning on the way to the airport. We headed to the front since I assumed early arrivals had made their way back. First up was Gatekeeper, and I was pretty optimistic. The crew was doing a great job, and that's a hard ride to run quickly because of the loading arrangement on each side. But dwell time in the brakes, with three trains, was not long. I've seen trains on the lift as one crossed through the mid-course, but that's tough to hit consistently. And as I said earlier, really impressed with the overall friendliness of the operators. Waited about 20 minutes.

Next we went to Raptor, and that's where I started to notice that things were not as they once were. The queue implied a wait time of around 20 minutes, but we waited just short of 40. There were two trains in the brake run most of the time. When we got up to the platform, I watched a few cycles, and it was never one thing that was causing delays. The crew wasn't really hustling, but most of the problems were related to guests. People too big to ride weren't identified to wait for the "big" seats, empty seat restraints weren't popped on arrival (also, empty seats), guests were dumping massive amounts of junk in the bins, etc. It's the same Raptor it was 20 years ago, so I don't understand what changed. I'm sure you could find someone from those days and ask them how they did it.

Blue Streak was a little slow-loading, mostly because buckling your own seatbelt is insanely difficult, in those cramped PTC's, and it isn't any easier for the operator to check the belt, which buckles on the inside. Wow does the ride need some track work, by the way. Those poor trains flex and twist visibly in ways that are unsettling.

Valraven had about a 45 minute wait, so we passed on it, and we would later regret that. Headed to Melt and had some delicious grilled cheese. Not too many compromises on the menu, but that location was using non-fresh-cut fries. On the plus side, they had Blake's Triple Jam cider, a favorite I found in the current Epcot Flower & Garden festival.

Had to walk-off that grilled cheese and cider after that, so we didn't rush to ride anything. Millennium Force was down, so that was a bummer. Got on Rougarou in about 20 minutes. Again, they were running three trains, but there were two in the brakes most of the time. They don't have crap bins, but they have show cubbies, which I've never seen before on a floorless ride. I remember back in the day I would just sit in my slip-on shoes for Dominator at Geauga Lake. This scene was a lot like Raptor, there was no one thing slowing them down, it was a lot of things.

We worked around to see Magnum was not running, and Gemini wasn't either. The mechanics were going to Gemini, because they were walking behind us, at the same leisurely pace. We went back to Steel Vengeance, but the wait was two hours, so no thanks. Maverick was down and evacuating on the brake run. At this point, given my 5 a.m. wake time, and having walked 7 miles by that point, I was kind of done around 7. There would be time to ride tomorrow. Or so I thought.

Slow start to Friday, as the travel caught up with us. Got up late, and by the time we were moving it was just before 11. Decided to introduce Ken to Chet & Matt's Pizza, including the crazy delicious dessert pizza. He was not disappointed. We were in an out of there inside a half-hour. We were disappointed to see that Millennium Force was not yet running on the way out, but it was when we got back.

We picked up our Fastlane bands and headed to Valraven. It was down mechanical. We saw some mechanics go in, so I thought we would just hang out with a beverage for a bit. We saw the guests on the stairs stand up and clap, and thought they were close to opening. However, as far as I know, they never did. Raptor was down, and I assumed it was because the wind, then measuring 12-20 mph, was coming off of the bay, the one scenario where it can prevent the ride from reaching the mid-course. But the next six hours would prove very disappointing.

For a few hours, we wandered around looking to ride the things we missed, and every single one was either down mechanical or closed for "weather." Raptor, I understood, because I've seen the train sitting between the cobra roll and mid-course. But Steel Vengeance? In what universe does wind stop that ride? There's no point at which it's ever moving slowly, and certainly doesn't have the air drag of an inverted ride. Maverick, Millennium Force, Magnum, Gatekeeper were also DOA. This went on until 5, when we relented and met up with friends at Farmhouse. The food there is delicious.

We got up from dinner around 6, and looking around, none of the things were running. At this point, I'm pretty annoyed. We headed down the trail to the little tavern in the old wood shop for some drinks. It turns out that they too were going to close an hour early, contrary to the sign, despite a steady stream of customers. We finished our last drinks there around 7:20, and the only thing we could see running was Rougarou. So we used Fastlane and it still took nearly a half-hour before we boarded. By the time we got off, it was 5 minutes to closing, but it didn't matter. A quick scan of the skyline showed nothing was running anyway.

So ended the single most disappointing day I've ever had at the park, and I traveled a thousand miles to have it.

That night, we had drinks at the Surf Lounge in Breakers, where the nice bartender kept it together while training a new guy. She never missed a beat. We needed some snacks, so we headed over to Friday's where the poor bartenders were completely slammed, and they were understaffed. That was the only miss for food-and-beverage for the time we were there. We closed it, and hung out at the fire pits for a while before heading back to the cottage.

Slow start to Saturday, because of the drinking, and knowing we had to drive back to Cleveland and be up late for the show. We were in the park by 11, and knew we had to get out by 2 to make a dinner date. First attempt was Steel Vengeance, where the line was already two hours. Really regretted blowing the Fastlane the day before. Maverick was, wait for it, down. Down the trail we made to see that Millennium Force was fortunately running. The side said it was between 20 and 45 minutes, so we went for it. The actual wait was closer to an hour. Only two trains were running, and once again, I couldn't explain the slow loading, with dispatches averaging every 4 to 5 minutes. I'm sure part of it is that the operators have to eyeball the amount of slack on the belts at an inch, which is a horrible practice because it's subjective and difficult to see without bending over weird. I'm not sure why the belt and bar tugs of yesteryear are now obsolete. I felt bad for the operators, because that's gotta be tough on the back.

We were off the ride around 12:30. Valraven was running, with an hour wait, but given the optimistic expectations, our need to get back to the car by 2, and my general annoyance with the last 24 hours, we skipped it. Got another "free" soda and took it to the Breakers patio where we hung out.

The show that night was one of the most epic I've ever seen, but that's a different blog post.

I'm not sure what to do with our experience. Cedar Point certainly holds a nostalgic place in my heart, but it's a strange mix of massive improvement in terms of food, design and upkeep, but ride operations and maintenance are the poorest I've ever seen. I'm not sure what to do with that. I mean, for the last 9 years I've been taking my kid on a Vekoma roller-skater with two trains that rarely stack, and that's with children riding. I did a new roller coaster a few weeks ago at Epcot that is moving well in excess of 2,000 people per hour, and by the way, they don't have seatbelts and you check your own restraint. And it's not just that, because there was a time when ride crews at Cedar Point were trying to break throughput records, safely and professionally. Five minute dispatches on Millennium Force would never stand (that's fewer than 500 riders per hour, if you're counting).

I love you, Cedar Point, and champion the fact that you finally take culinary efforts seriously and empower your designers and planners to make the park more beautiful than ever. But you need to get your ride shit together.

If no one quotes you, you haven't said a thing worth saying

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 16, 2022, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

For as long as I've maintained POP Forums, more than two decades, one of the things that has been impossible to train users on is when and how to quote a previous post. To this day, people will click "quote" on the last post, so you see it twice. This mattered even more when people had dial-up modems because extra text meant slower loading. Bandwidth was also expensive. It's the online equivalent of repeating back everything someone said to them before you respond. I mean, at worst, it's annoying, but you just want people to follow conventions.

After two years of not having much in the way of direction for modernizing the front-end of the forum, I started to get more motivated to do... something. I probably have a half-dozen blog posts about this, but the challenge has always been about what newer libraries and frameworks to use, and if they made sense. Most of these tools are intended to facilitate a very interactive application with lots of forms. But forums aren't that, they're mostly static text that sometimes people add to. The tools are also kind of all-or-nothing and not really well-suited for just little sections of pages. I did re-do the admin side with Vue.js, and I really like it, but it doesn't make sense on the public side. The win is that all of my inaction has given time for all of the browsers to catch up and support more basic standards around custom "native" web components. These are little chunks of user interface and code bundled into reusable components. And if you're really clever, you figure out how to make them talk to each other and react to changes in data.

To be clear, I could have done this ten years ago, but it was a lot harder. With the components, the Typescript language (a superset of Javascript), and use of some familiar design patterns, I had kind of a moment of clarity about what to do. I think that building Phrazy and MLocker, which use different technologies, but a similar structural approach, helped me out quite a bit. The other day I started figuring out what use cases to build out, and at the top of that list was trying to think of some better way to handle quotes.

The old way was sort of backward. You pushed "quote" and the editor opened with the entire post in a quote box and the author's name above it. The expectation was that you would trim it down to just the part you were responding to. Many people didn't trim, and so the context of the response was basically hidden. Not a great way to do it. Some years ago, I though, if I could just select the text I want and use that to populate the editor, that would be ideal. If I can do it on multiple posts, even better.

I looked around to see if anyone else was doing this, but there aren't many actively developed forums anymore. One I did find sort of does what I was after, but it uses plain text boxes and old school "forum code" with a live preview next to it to see what it will look like. One of the founders of the company making that still thinks that regular people want to learn and use markdown to format text. Not great. I just wanted it to be simple: Select, click, type your response. I prototyped it in an hour, and I started to wonder why I didn't do it years ago. It's super simple, and I could have pulled it off. The novel part for me was that the pieces are not tightly connected. Right now, the button just activates the old code to load up the box, and the box "listens" for quote text to load in. It's the sort of thing that people generally lean on the libraries for.

The problem I didn't account for was discovery. How do you teach people to use it? That ended up being simple as well. If you push the quote button and haven't selected any text, a little message pops up to say "select text." Hopefully Google Translate got the other five languages I support correctly for "select text!"

I've still got a lot of refactoring to do. The plumbing is pretty ugly and spaghetti-like. But I'm super happy with the simplicity of the feature. I'll roll it out to the sites after I complete more refactoring. There's effectively 150 lines of code, and I deleted around 20 of the old code. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed anything more UI oriented on this app.

Simon's education, v7.0

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 16, 2022, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

This is Simon's last week of school. A year ago, we were wondering what this year would look like, not crazy about the idea of him landing in the over-crowded public middle school. As I wrote last year, we decided to put him in a growing private school that generally caters to kids with learning differences. Again, the concern was that he'd get lost in such a huge school at a time when we're trying to figure out what the best way for him to learn is. We didn't feel good about taking him out of public schools, because I really believe in them as an institution, but we didn't feel like we had much of a choice.

A year later, the results are mixed, at best. On the positive side, this was an enormous social opportunity for him. Autism tends to cause you to overlook some differences in people, and I think that made it a lot easier for him to make friends. He had a "BFF" within the first week. On the negative side, the academics were, uh, not ideal. Their intention is to meet kids "where they are," but the problem in this case is that they didn't really have an objectively serious way of evaluating where he was. They said they evaluated him early on, but if they did, there was no transparency. If that weren't enough, grades were arbitrary, and more or less all A's. If we observed him struggling with homework, how is he doing work perfectly in school? They spent like two weeks messing with Rubik's Cubes as "math." The material he was learning was a lot of repeat stuff from fifth grade, and so we're concerned that he's a year behind.

It became apparent to us by the holidays that the school emphasized accommodation over accountability. The goal seemed to be to keep the kids happy, and by extension their parents. Our struggle at home was already trying to balance accommodation with accountability, and frankly they were making that even harder. If I could generalize about Simon's greatest challenge, it's that anything that makes him uncomfortable causes struggle. Whether it's preparing some food item for the first time, or learning a new math concept, or having to understand a word problem, he goes from zero to freak out pretty quickly. I'm sure we're responsible for reinforcing that pattern to some degree, but school seemed to make it worse.

This was causing a fair amount of despair for us. It was a little of "what have we done" and a little "what do we do now" despair. Over the course of the last four months, some things started to come into focus that brought us clarity. The first is that a new middle school is opening up near us, which will relieve pressure on the old one. The down side is that new buildings tend to lack the fun electives and organizations that kids can get involved in, and no matter what they say, we know from three different elementary schools that new buildings never have enough in the way of ESE support. Then his previous elementary principal got transferred to the old middle school, and we saw an opportunity there. We talked with her and went through the process of getting him assigned to the old school, and despite a denial of our request, made the case on appeal and got it done with the endorsement of both principals. So he'll have a familiar face there, and it happens to be one that understands what he needs.

The IEP process is still somewhat challenging, but at the very least we'll have autism and anxiety called out on it, which will entitle him to certain kinds of services. And for all of my concerns about school crowding, at least I know that the public schools have specific curriculum targets and will measure his progress appropriately. I think this is a critical time for him to either like or hate school. I know it will be hard socially (trying not to project my own experience there), but getting to take a video production class or something technology oriented will be a big deal for him. He will have those opportunities. I am convinced through non-academic activity that he's a smart kid, and it's my hope that we can unlock that with the right approach for learning. To help him catch up, Diana is going to work with him over the summer using online resources.

Also, he's half way to graduation, which is unreal.

How I became a rum enthusiast

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 14, 2022, 5:50 PM | comments: 0

I have a weird relationship with alcohol. In my teen and early college years, I avoided it because of the history of alcoholism and addiction in my family. Like, I militantly avoided it in college at first. In the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I had an opportunity to enjoy it safely, and I was fairly amused at the sensation I had after two beers. When I was legal during my senior year, of course I went to the bar every other weekend, and when I say "the bar," I mean there was only one near the campus. After graduating, mostly I would have a few with friends at home, and sometimes at the wing joint when I met up with friends. The Molson brand Canadian was my go-to, Corona was my backup.

In those early years, I didn't differentiate between "drinking" and "drunk," and given that beer was never really what I would describe as "good," it did seem like you might as well get drunk. I always saw a million bottles behind the bar, but never thought much about what you could make with them. But for my 30th birthday party I made my first mixed drink, in a 30-liter athletic cooler, a classic mai tai that I first had on my first honeymoon a few years prior. I found this rum drink to be delicious.

By the time I got remarried, I rarely drank anything, but hilariously found it convenient to have a box of Franzia in the fridge. I didn't know any better, until my brother- and sister-in-law set me straight. Beer seemed to also disagree with me and aggravate my IBS. Strongbow, the original version of English cider without the tons of extra sugar, started to show up here, and I really started to enjoy it. Then we started cruising, where fruity rum drinks were standard, and we did a mixology class and rum tasting, and everything changed.

I discovered that there were many drinks I enjoyed with white rum, dark rum and spiced rum, usually the common varieties of Bacardi or Captain Morgan. I also learned about sipping rum and the rum old fashioned. Kahlua and Bailey's are a little heavy, but also go well with a lot of things (and each other). Even Malibu, which I had long laughed off as cheap and crappy, was delicious when it was mixed with the right things. I was all about the rum. I think I had avoided liquor in the larger sense for a long time because I associated it primarily with vodka, which I totally don't like.

By the time the pandemic started, the cabinet under our butler pantry sink was full of bottles. In addition to the stuff above, there were the usual bottles of Jack, various liqueurs, the excellent Casamigos tequila, Solerno (which is better than Cointreau) and Pimm's, which Diana introduced me to while in the UK section of Epcot. Indeed, I had built quite a collection of bottles! We do have a bottle of Citron Absolut, because Diana likes the lemon drop martini, and the other stuff I do have sometimes, but I'm mostly about the rum.

We had a little weekend getaway down in Sanibel a few weeks ago, where we got married, and found this amazing tiki bar called Bimini Bait Shack. They had a ton of classic rum drinks on their menu, and most of them were made with a rum called Wicked Dolphin. Diana looked it up on her phone and found that it was distilled in nearby Cape Coral, so we went for a tour and tasting. Left with 12 bottles. After blowing through the vanilla bean variety, which is impossibly good, I ordered more along with a few bottles of the mango flavor. They also make varieties that are better analogs of the above flavors, so I still have a bottle of white, coconut, coffee, aged and likely something else I'm forgetting. It's really great stuff.

Every weekend, I make a drink or two, and enjoy it in the spring Florida breezes. I like rum.

Another air conditioning fail

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 11:05 PM | comments: 0

On Friday morning, it was pretty clear that our upstairs air conditioner stopped working. We had a guy out to look at it, and it was free of fluid or pressure. He saw fluid pooled in the bottom of the heat pump and was fairly certain that the coil had at least one hole. It was going to cost $1,800 to fix. When he arrived today to fix it, with the new coil, he was there with one of his other techs, who noticed a wire rubbing against one of the pipes between the coil and some other part. He pumped the system full of nitrogen, and immediately found that the wire had rubbed a hole in the pipe over time from normal vibration. The coil didn't need to be replaced, and the labor, small part and fluid replacement instead cost around $800. Still not great, but a grand is a lot of money.

The quality of these Lennox systems equates to dogshit. There was a class action suit some years ago because of the copper coils they were using, which don't age well in Florida. But Pulte, the world's shittiest builder (and also being sued constantly), for some reason kept using Lennox even after the class action settlement. The efficiency of the systems is reasonable when it works, but we've had to replace the inside coil on one already, and said unit outside had a hole blown in it from the first lightning strike a few years ago. In between, of course it has leaked out enough to warrant much recharging.

So it's at the point now where you wonder what the gamble is. If we stay in the place for another 10 years, which is questionable, do we spend the $12k+ to replace both systems? It's unlikely that repairs would cost that much, but when you don't have AC, you don't have AC and it's hot.

The decline of this is timed with the fact that Tesla Energy still hasn't fixed my solar/battery plant, so the system is only generating a third of its normal capacity, and that means my most recent electric bill was $230. I haven't seen one that high in years. They have a service appointment for two weeks out, which is completely unacceptable. They're just so fucking terrible at what they do. I'll revisit that when it's resolved.

The last couple of nights were cool enough to get the windows open and sleep OK, but tonight it will be gloriously cool with low humidity. Overnight lows are plateauing around 70, and there are record highs in the forecast for next week.

Carmina Burana in Steinmetz Hall

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 9, 2022, 10:31 PM | comments: 0

After all of the social events and tours, I finally saw a performance in Steinmetz Hall. The Orlando Philharmonic did Carmina Burana along with college and child choirs. You may not know the name, but you know the music composed by Carl Orff. I describe it as three and a half minutes of the most exciting music ever composed. There were more than 150 people in that room to make that music, and there's nothing like it.

And what an extraordinary room it is. The science that isolates that hall is incredible, and all of those sounds, unamplified, fill your head. What an experience.

Home interruption anxiety

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 7, 2022, 6:59 PM | comments: 0

Our upstairs AC went out again, and this time it's going to cost us quite a bit to fix. I believe these units have been serviced at least six times in less than five years. Having separate units for each floor is pretty common in Florida, so our downstairs is fine. However, that means we're camping out on couches and such instead of sleeping in our beds, and that's not fun. Also, after the second lightning strike that happened almost two months ago, I am still waiting for Tesla to fix the switch between the battery and solar, which means both are bypassed right now and I'm missing half the system during the two months with the highest amount of generated electricity.

This sort of thing causes me a great deal of anxiety. Also in this category are internet outages, builder contractors not fixing the shit they did wrong, movers breaking stuff, selling your house, not being able to sell your house... basically anything that disrupts the peace of home. I'm sure it's an unreasonable expectation, but I want everything to just work in this one place in the world. When it doesn't, I'm constantly on edge.

What I find strange about this is that there are certainly other aspects of life where I don't experience this. If my flight is late, I switch that part of my self off and roll with it to an extent. If there's setback at work, I compartmentalize it. I'm even getting better at managing world events, recognizing the importance of issues without them causing dread. But when home isn't working as home should, I am unpleasant and on edge.

I think this has become more true since first going remote for work a decade ago. When you get to a point where 90% of your time is at home, it's almost an extension of you. Then there was the pandemic.

In any case, another observation about my mental health. Anxiety is something I've been able to manage so far, with varying degrees of success, without drugs. For some reason, that still matters to me even though I've come to terms with the usefulness and appropriateness of using them to help with mental health.


posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 7, 2022, 2:59 PM | comments: 0

Birthday cats

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 4, 2022, 12:38 PM | comments: 0

The ragdolls Finn and Poe are now two years old, and they're probably about as big as they're going to get, which is to say fairly enormous. We were very lucky to get them when we did (at four months), not knowing that we were going to lose Emma and Oliver. They've been a daily joy, flopping down at our feet and demanding belly rubs.

After further review, my ADHD isn't really better

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 3, 2022, 11:45 PM | comments: 0

In my previous posts about taking buproprion for depression, I've indicated that I think it's helping with the ADHD as well. That's an off-label use, and while the chemistry makes sense, there isn't a lot of quality data about whether or not it works for that.

After further review, I don't think it's having a huge impact for me. I can't objectively measure it. On one hand, the treatment for depression is so obvious and dramatic (to me, at least), that comparing to any ADHD improvement is unfair. On the other hand, whatever I may have perceived could be a placebo effect. I want it to work, so I think it might.

The last few nights I've been reading various things about some coding tech I would like to use. It has been rough, to say the least, where I read one thing which spawns a question I need answered that instant. Before I know it, there are a dozen tabs open and I don't even remember the question.

There are some structural things I observe about these learning efforts. What I'm experiencing is the reason I was not a sophisticated programmer when I started around 25 years ago. I wanted to get to the results quickly, and there was no time for detail in a subject that is hardly simple. College and high school was like that, too. I see it in Simon constantly.

However, there is a point where the stereotypical hyper focus kicks in. Staying with software, let's not forget that I wrote an entire programming book myself, and it didn't even require a lot of copy editing. I could do that because by that point I had mastered the thing to an extent, and I could blitz through one chapter after another, driven by the outcome. In more recent years, that's why I have MLocker and my little game Phrazy.

I think it's a little better, but again, it's hard to measure. And as I've said before, it can be useful sometimes. The hyper focus in those certain situations is fantastic, I just can't choose what to use it on. It absolutely can make me more creative, because I iterate through so many possibilities that good things come from nowhere. It's also useful as a manager sometimes, because I can context switch quickly, and knowing I want to move on drives me to outcomes consistently.

At the moment, I just wish I could concentrate on this thing and learn it.