Archive: August, 2022

A QA person I am not

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 28, 2022, 10:29 PM | comments: 0

I'm getting closer to a forum release, and I'm at the point of calling it feature complete. The last item is a big refactoring thing that I'm not sure I will do yet, because it doesn't serve end users at all. I'm at the point now where I need to do a solid pass at regression testing as much as I can stand. What this usually entails is starting with a new database, going through the setup steps and then testing all of the things. I don't have a formal plan that I can do the same way each time, so that's the first problem. The other problem is that my unit test coverage still isn't very great, and there's an awful lot of stuff at the controller level that is untested (or shouldn't need to be tested, but there's stuff that has leaked in there). And I have good reason for concern, because I tried a clean start today and found that there were all kinds of problems around the new features. Yikes. I've also got a mess of front-end stuff that is less-spaghetti than it was, but I'm sure a seasoned Javascript developer would laugh at me.

I've had the fortunate experience of working with some very passionate QA people. They're really good at it, and many are really good at building QA teams, too. In cases where I've hired these folks, I've mostly given them autonomy to figure things out because I'm not passionate or good at QA. The ironic thing is they've saved my ass countless times, so you would think I would take greater interest in the sub-profession. Maybe it's the ADHD, but I can't plug in the way they do.

That's what makes being the maintainer of an open source project tough, because even if you have a number of active contributors, no one wants to QA the stuff. My QA staff is CoasterBuzz, when I deploy code there and people let me know when it doesn't work. That's not ideal, since it's hardy a systematic review of things, including non-happy-path outcomes.

So here's to my quality quality friends and colleagues over the years. Y'all are the best.

Cleveland pros

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 28, 2022, 10:05 AM | comments: 0

It was about 11 years ago today that we shared with the world our pending departure from Seattle to move back to Cleveland. I remember being tentative about it, and it didn't take long for it to feel like a mistake. We corrected that in less than two years by moving to Orlando. But while some people seem to consistently believe that I "hate" Cleveland, that's not the case. Seeing Cleveland for its good qualities while not wanting to live there and being very done with it are not mutually exclusive conditions.

Cleveland has a lot of things going for it, and has for a long time. Obviously Cedar Point was a big part of it for me in adulthood. It also has some of the best museums in the world, chief among them the art museum and the rock hall. The metroparks system and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park are unique among metros. Blossom Music Center is awesome. There is a robust food scene not just with celebrity chefs, but institutions like Tommy's in Coventry. The lakefront is a great asset when it's not dumping snow inland. There are so many concert venues and everyone stops there. Playhouse Square is second only to Broadway. The zoo is one of the best. Cleveland has the Browns. Ha ha ha, OK, I couldn't say that with a straight face. I would add that Cleveland's proximity to Columbus is a big plus too, which is another major metro with lots to do.

I will strongly endorse Cleveland as a pretty cool place... but it just isn't for me anymore. Certainly the weather is a huge part of it for me, and that became obvious after just one winter in Seattle. Fun fact, Cleveland gets slightly more annual rain than Seattle, and then add on 54 inches of snow. The real issue though isn't the precipitation, it's the long months of gray "deadness," where there is no green and the sky is a flat, featureless gray for weeks on end. Now that I know I get seasonal affective disorder, it causes me to reframe my entire life. Those days in college that I couldn't get out of bed weren't entirely about feeling lonely, there were environmental features at play. Seattle has its misty rain days throughout winter, but you still get a crack of sun periodically.

But the real background is that Cleveland has a lot of baggage for me. I hated school, career changes and setbacks derailed me, I got divorced... there's just a lot of pain that I associate with the locale. That's not Cleveland's fault, but it is what it is. By the time I left, I wasn't attached to anything there. I thought that maybe I was when we moved back, but really it was just that damn house that I couldn't sell.

And sure, a part of it is living somewhere new and drastically different, 2,500 miles away. Seattle, to me, was "better" in many ways, which again doesn't mean that Cleveland was "worse." There was this feeling of, "Wow, I spent three and a half decades in one place and living somewhere else makes it feel small." I don't know if I consider Orlando "better" as much as I think it's "different," but it has been mostly good to us, for sure. Even after nine years it seems weird to say I live here.

I'm not kicking Cleveland in the nuts. I acknowledge there are a lot of pros to it. It's just not a place where I want to live anymore.

You're doing it wrong!

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 23, 2022, 11:40 PM | comments: 0

I don't recognize it often, but when Simon sees something that isn't working right, or someone is doing something the wrong way, I see him quickly become passionate about the "right" way. One might misinterpret this as arrogance or an overcompensating sense of superiority, but I know better. It's nothing of the sort.

I know this because it's one of the many ways I've struggled in interacting with other people. It was probably made worse by my stepfather, who never allowed me to be right about anything, but there's little doubt that it's another dimension of an autistic brain.

This started early in life. Other kids washed the chalkboard wrong. My brother didn't play right in the sandbox, and other kids in the neighborhood were ten times worse. In my first retail job in high school, cashiers were inefficient in the way they keyed items in to the register and I had to explain why (no scanners back then).

It got worse in college. One of my radio/TV instructors was feeding nonsense to alumni about improvements in the academic program, allegedly at the expense of practical work, and the alumni threatened to withhold networking opportunities. Then the radio station I worked for picked up the story (one side of it). I was pissed, so I wrote the faculty a memo. You can guess how that went. The "who does he think he is" phrase was tossed about quite a bit in meetings (and I know this because certain faculty thought I was right and they told me as much). But I wasn't claiming to know better, I only described my dissatisfaction about the situation and how it was coming at the expense of students.

There was a learning moment there, because I did run it by the department chair. My tone was manipulative and personal, which after years of therapy I understand as something I observed at home and among family members. That's where you start to learn about interpersonal relationships. The department chair showed me how I was using tone to hurt, which would not help, so I sterilized it quite a bit, and stuck to the facts.

Sometimes, even when I was right, it would get me into trouble. At my first real job, working for a city and school district, spinning up their cable TV channels, I had to constantly remind the committee that I reported to about the ethics and election laws about using me and my office's resources for things that could be construed as campaigning. This pissed off the city council president in particular. Obviously they put me in a tight spot, but I eventually had to subtly remind them of my obligation to the law and that the press was watching the development of my office closely. It was a non-subtle way of saying, "I'll go to the press if you don't get off of my shit." I'm fairly certain that made life hard for me in the rest of my tenure in that job, and again my allies let me know there was "who does he think he is" sentiment.

As is the case with any number of adulting things, I learned over time to deliver "you're doing it wrong" in more constructive ways. Compensating for a neurotypical world is what you do to survive. I admit that I'm not always patient about it. But as a leader for about half of my career (and oddly, in that first job), I know that you can't just go around telling people they're doing it wrong, regardless of whether or not you're right. Still, it's frustrating that others will interpret your action as being arrogant, and it's just one of the many ways you may misread people with ASD.

One of the strange twists on this is that I am, for some things, an excellent teacher. I speak at conferences, wrote a book on programming and was really good at teaching kids volleyball skills. For reasons I can't explain, there are things that I coldly attempt to correct, and other things that I patiently work to instruct. When I think about this, I believe it further illustrates that my intent has always been noble, even if my delivery in the earlier stages of life was suboptimal.

Drums? Why not?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 23, 2022, 4:30 PM | comments: 0

The other day, someone posted a for-sale of some electronic drums. I thought, "Cool, that would be fun to try," and then I forgot about it. Then after watching YouTube videos of live music and a mojito, I remembered the ad, contacted the seller, and talked them down to $300 (the kit is about $400 new with tax). Yay for ridiculous spontaneous purchases!

Really though, I've been thinking about this for awhile. I've tried unsuccessfully many times in my life to try and learn a string instrument (guitar, ukulele), and given up quickly because I just find the fingering to be intolerably difficult. Pianos might have a fighting chance, but I don't feel like you can do that well without learning to read music, which I found difficult even in my junior high trumpet days. Drums seemed like a good idea for a number of reasons. It's very physical and super tactile, and I like that. There is music to read, and the timing still confuses me, but I can figure it out. An acoustic kit is costly, but this electronic stuff isn't terrible. I know going in that I will struggle with two things: Learning to be a human metronome, and incorporating a third limb to play. But it's repetitive and structured, and my brain can usually grok that sort of thing. I am not naive, I know it's not going to come to me instantly.

The YouTube is full of people trying to teach you to play, so there's no shortage of material. They all suggest the same first fundamental beat, and on day two, I can settle into a groove and do it, but it's not even remotely natural. If I try to switch it up, like hit the crash on the first note, I can't go into the pattern. To be fair to myself, I've probably only spent a combined hour in the seat, so I might get somewhere when it's four hours, or ten.

What's funny is that in just two days I hear drums in music in a way I never did before. It's wild. I don't make the leap to, "Hey, I could play that," but I do hear the structure.

I hope that I can stick with it. Diana of course has a weird sense of music and picks things up quickly, so she'll likely learn faster than me. Simon I'm not sure about. He's interested, but I don't know if he'll watch any of the lessons and try to follow them.

The dangers of "emotional intelligence"

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 23, 2022, 12:45 PM | comments: 0

I've been trying to figure out how to write this post for a long time. I am deeply interested in psychology, because it's so core to understanding myself and others. Apply 10x since my ASD and ADHD diagnoses.

The term "emotional intelligence" first appeared in the 60's, then became more common with a book of the same name by Daniel Goleman, a guy who got his PhD at Harvard and wrote for The New York Times. He's written a lot of books about the subject. But here's the rub... I've been seeing therapists now since college, almost 30 years, and the subject has never come up, even once. However, it has come up in various forms of corporate leadership training at least four times in the last ten years. Weird, right?

There are two reasons it smelled bad to me, and I have more specific thoughts about it now. There are really two angles to it. The first is in the broader field of psychology, but the more icky part is its appearance in corporate culture.

First, the academics. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM, is the standard that psychologists use in defining what the title implies. Absent from this text is any mention of "emotional intelligence." If this were a thing that was broadly identified as legitimate in psychology circles, especially if people were deficient in it, wouldn't it be defined there? But the most important distinction to me is Goleman's suggestion that it's a type of "intelligence" at all. We can't choose to be more intelligent, but we can choose to practice behaviors. To that end:

"[Goleman] exemplifies more clearly than most the fundamental absurdity of the tendency to class almost any type of behavior as an 'intelligence...' If these five 'abilities' define 'emotional intelligence,' we would expect some evidence that they are highly correlated; Goleman admits that they might be quite uncorrelated, and in any case, if we cannot measure them, how do we know they are related? So the whole theory is built on quicksand: there is no sound scientific basis."

Yikes. But what's worse, there are no agreed upon diagnostics to measure "EI" and by extension no way to correlate that the presence or absence of it is indicative of success or failure as a member of society. But what really grabbed me was an essay by Adam Grant (whom I respect greatly) about a year or two after I first heard the term. I don't like that he seems to legitimize the term, but regardless, he said:

New evidence shows that when people hone their emotional skills, they become better at manipulating others. When you’re good at controlling your own emotions, you can disguise your true feelings. When you know what others are feeling, you can tug at their heartstrings and motivate them to act against their own best interests.

That's super gross. And in practice, what Grant describes is what I've seen in corporate environments first hand. It's not even intentional, necessarily, but it always has unintended consequences.

The worst part about it from an academic stance is that there is no agreed upon diagnostic to measure "EI." Every time I'm "tested" for it, the exercise amounts to a 20-question online quiz, which I often "pass." To measure my IQ and likely autism and ADHD qualities, I had to go through hundreds of questions and be profiled for hours by a bona fide psychologist. Now you want to measure my ability with a Facebook quiz?

Before I get into why this pisses me off, let me at least throw some folks a bone. Business leaders buy-in to this in part because of books on leadership and hoards of consultants who sell this stuff as the key to building better leadership teams. The intent is right, but the outcomes are toxic. What everyone really wants out of their leaders is empathy. That's a lot more straightforward. Understand how others might feel, and how your behavior and words may affect others, always in the context of the work you have to do. It is wholly uncomplicated, and it's what we want of our leaders, and frankly everyone we interact with. But "emotional intelligence" wants to be something more. It wants to be something measurable and quantifiable, and a benchmark with which you can hold people accountable. And that's where it turns into bullshit based on pseudoscience.

It is important to understand the people around you, what their intentions are and how they'll react to you. But Grant's position is only half of it. Not only can you use this acknowledgment of empathy (what it really is), but you can weaponize it in one of two ways. On one end, yes, you can manipulate people to buy-in to self-serving and toxic outcomes. On the other end, you can let the feelings of others trump important decisions that you have to make for the success of the business because you put their feelings above bigger outcomes. Some folks might argue that emotional intelligence is in fact understanding how to balance the two, but I would argue that in practice, leaders are not measured that way. They're measured in the ability to work at either end of that spectrum, usually the business-benefitting outcomes, and that's the problem.

In my time as a middle-management leader, I've often found that the interests of senior leaders are often opposed with those of the workers. The leaders consistently want you not to find the balance, to, you know, manage the people, but instead cave to their entitlement or manipulate them into seeing things their way. You can't win that way. But they'll still write a check to consultants and executive coaches to sell the skill of empathy wrapped up as EI. EI is like a cheap brand for naked emperors.

And just as the study that Grant referenced showed, whatever arbitrary measures of "success" and "emotional intelligence" (really empathy) were, the results were inversely proportional relative to the type of work. Of course a real estate agent has to manage emotions to achieve success. But engineers and scientists? Not so much, because you want emotion removed from the process. But again, it's used as a blunt object to beat leaders over the head that this is the key to everything. And I can't be more blunt myself: Exercising empathy is really just a function of not being an asshole to others and being honest about what you need to achieve.

If you were wondering if there's an autism angle, yes, of course there is. If there's any myth that sucks the most about autism, it's the suggestion that autistic people lack empathy. That is utter nonsense. The more research there is, the more we understand that autistic people don't necessarily have more or less empathy compared to neurotypical people, they just have varying degrees of ability to express it or process it. Watch my kid meltdown into tears over movies, and know that I experience the same emotions even if I don't outwardly express them. We're empathetic as fuck, but we might not always feel it's appropriate to express that. The other dimension of that is the manipulators, the ones who can both regulate their emotions and instigate reactions that are not self-serving, may be frustrated that what they're doing doesn't work on an autistic person. That's because stimulating empathy doesn't mean it will be expressed outwardly. Now that person may be suboptimal in the eyes of the self-described "emotionally intelligent."

There's a serious liability problem on the horizon, too. If your organization routinely engages in this "emotional intelligence" stuff, and you penalize an autistic person for not measuring up to whatever it is, then you're potentially discriminating against them as far as the American with Disabilities Act goes. It's reasonable to dismiss someone who can't or won't do a job, but it's another to do so when they aren't wired to exhibit an arbitrary behavior that you're after. Don't make them jump through hoops, just describe the outcomes that you want in plain language. Manipulative carrots and sticks won't work.

Clever Internet ideas aren't what they used to be

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 20, 2022, 10:48 PM | comments: 0

I'm getting closer to finishing the next forum version, and I'm excited to get it out to the user and open source folks. This really is the most that I've visibly improved it in years by adding user-facing features. I still ask myself why I'm still maintaining that thing, but I imagine it's some combination of inertia and wanting to be an expert in at least one thing. As I get closer to getting it out there, I'm already thinking, now what?

I often think about how I want to work on something that satisfies me by being technically interesting and financially rewarding. I suppose I'm describing tech entrepreneurship, but really what I'm thinking of is repeating what started around the turn of the century. Things were much different then. Because the Internet was still kind of the wild west, you could get away with doing almost anything and make a little coin, and have fun doing it. CoasterBuzz started as a fun follow up to PointBuzz (then called Guide to The Point), but I knew I could ramp it up and make money with it. I bought ads the first year on a search result service called GoTo, which was renamed to Overture. I was bidding on the term "roller coaster" for a few cents, and just one cent for all of the most popular coasters. Meanwhile, the advertising from a number of ad companies were making $50 a day on my $5 ad spend. I was up to thousands of visits a day in just a few months.

The World Wide Web was a tiny fraction of what it is today, so being an early adopter made all of this easy. You didn't have to game search engines or be "viral," you just needed to make something useful and humans would spread the word. That ride lasted a surprisingly long time. When 9/11 hit, I made enough to make up for getting laid-off. The same was true in the 2008 implosion. In between, in my divorce era, I was able to comfortably coach high school volleyball and do my thing. This simple business that I accidentally fell into started to crash in 2015, as Google stamped out the last of any meaningful ad competition. These days, I don't have a lot left over after paying for the hosting, my Adobe subscription and a few other related expenses. I didn't start any of it for the money, but it sure was nice to have it as a safety net.

I have a number of ideas about what I could do next, and some of them are kind of neat. The technical side would be relatively easy, but more difficult is the reality that I would need to spend money to market them, and I don't know how much or where to spend those dollars. Actually, for as long as I've been working professionally, I've been able to understand most of these concepts, and the real fear is having to spend money to make money. I do not subscribe to the dotcom theory that you need to burn through insane amounts of cash to launch a business, but you do have to spend something. This is why I've only had one customer for my hosted forums, because I've done nothing to market the product. (And I was admittedly not comfortable doing so given the missing features that I'm finishing up on now.)

But if I'm really, really being honest with myself, I just don't think that I could go deep with anything that I wasn't really into. My private music cloud didn't get done because I thought I could sell it, it got done because I really wanted to use it. And while I'm being self-aware, the only reason I want to bank something extra is so I'm not behind on retirement.

While I'm slightly nostalgic for how easy it was to win back in the day, I'm just as excited about today because you can get anything that you build on the air with relative ease and little expense. I mean, the two big sites run on multiple nodes and communicate across a cache layer and queues and serverless instances and databases and Elasticsearch and it's all ridiculously fast. You sure couldn't do all of that for cheap in 2000!

Limited progress should not preclude us from some progress

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 19, 2022, 6:44 PM | comments: 0

I've noticed a pattern in political debate that I find troubling. Sometimes it isn't even political, it's just emotional response. It usually goes something like this:

"We should do that, because it will help us get to an outcome."

"Yeah, but that barely makes a dent in the problem!"

You know exactly where I'm going with this. I've engaged in these debates on a variety of topics. For example, the first response from some folks about the adoption of electric vehicles is, "Yeah, but not everyone has access to home charging, and the range isn't good enough, and they're too expensive, and my car is still working fine!" All of these may be true to various extents, but it does not preclude us from moving forward in some way. I've been gas-free for seven years, and probably had more fun driving than most people. Is everyone me? No, but the people who could make it work are, I suspect, at least a third of the US population, maybe more. Climate change isn't getting better, so it would seem to me that any win we can get is a step in the right direction. We don't need to crush it and be at the full conversion destination tomorrow for it to matter.

Apply the same thing to any number of issues. Some gun regulation reform can have some impact without eliminating gun violence. Some measure of better access to healthcare can improve some outcomes. You can feed some people without solving homelessness. You can accept some refugees without ending a humanitarian crisis. I could go on all day.

I don't understand why some people approach problems with an all-or-nothing view.

I was totally wrong about home ownership

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 18, 2022, 11:52 PM | comments: 0

Sometimes I see old blog posts of mine from the time that I lived in Seattle, where I talk about how home ownership is a lifestyle choice more than an investment. And if you consider the time frame and our situation, that makes a lot of sense. We landed there in 2009, as we were emerging from the recession. We moved there still owning my house in Brunswick, Ohio, and Diana's in Cleveland. We did eventually unload Diana's via short sale, but I couldn't get rid of mine without a loss in the $40,000 range, and that's after having made payments on it for almost ten years and paying out half the equity in my divorce at its peak value. If that weren't bad enough, I caught myself saying things like, "$400,000 for a 2,000 square-foot house is insane." Yes, it was a little steep, but that's suburban Seattle for you, even then.

I could not have been more wrong. We were renting for around $1,400, which was easily affordable on a tech salary, but I wasn't building any equity. I could have taken the loss on the house with savings and stock vesting, and then start over and maybe scrape enough together for a down payment for that "small" house in a year or two. You might think I was wrong because those 2,000 square-foot houses are now worth $800,000, but that's not it. I'm going to come back to the rent thing in a minute.

My distaste for home ownership at the time was obviously emotional, and not at all logical. While the drop in home values in the 2008 crash was historic and unusual, it was temporary. In 2011 we moved back to Cleveland, and lasted about a year and a half before we were determined to get out and not mess with winter. Seattle and Orlando were on the table, but Orlando won, and the move was expedited when I almost accidentally found a job there. The house I couldn't sell those previous years was under contract within 48 hours, about "break even" compared to the price I paid, but with only $10k in equity after a dozen years. We rented a fairly nice house in unincorporated Orange County for about $1,800, way more than my Cleveland mortgage, and that felt insane because a mortgage on a new house might be less than that.

That assessment ended up being almost spot on. We ordered new construction only a week after arriving, and it was totally the right decision. We nailed down a rate of 4.375% and our mortgage, taxes and insurance ended up being $1,700 for a new, 2.700 square-foot house, significantly larger than the rental. I wouldn't even call it instinct, to pull that trigger. It was just obvious math, that rents in the area were out of control because of rapid migration into the area. It would stand to reason that the demand would affect house prices too. At first it wasn't crazy. When we decided we desperately wanted more room, given my remote work and Diana's giant quilting machine, again, it was a no-brainer. We sold that house after four years for a 15% profit. Four years after that, today, a house similar to ours on the next street is asking for twice what we paid for ours. Meanwhile, our previous house went up for rent at a staggering $3,100 per month, nearly double the mortgage we had for the same house. That's even more than our mortgage for our current, much larger house!

Which brings me back to the rent problem. The rates around here were already getting out of control, and now they're unreasonable. The demand is so high that people are paying more than they would if they were to buy the house outright. Apartments are just as bad. I read today that it's even worse in Tampa. So if you don't have enough to put down on a house, where from a cash flow perspective you would be better off with a mortgage, you're stuck. And you can't save enough toward that down payment because the rent is too damn high. Meanwhile, the people who are already in houses are at least on paper building equity at rates of 15% per year. Homeowners build wealth while renters struggle to survive.

The reasons for all of this are not complicated, or nefarious. It's basic supply and demand at work. But it's making life really hard for a lot of people, and considering how much service jobs in our tourist industry drive our economy, even paying better wages than three years ago, it's not enough.

But it's a fundamental truth that home ownership is really key to wealth building in America. I don't know that it's moral or immoral, it just is. Renters account for a third of US households, and they're severely disadvantaged in the long and short term. What can we do about that?

Being a radio DJ made autistic sense

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 18, 2022, 9:33 AM | comments: 0

I had yet another revelation about my life in the context of autism. My childhood obsession with radio and being a DJ, in retrospect, was just about the perfect thing for me.

Not feeling a sense of belonging, really anywhere, can be a lonely thing. The unlikely recurring theme of my life often involves feeling happiest when alone, despite wanting to be a part of something. But the magical voice coming out of the speakers was in a room somewhere entertaining others, millions at a time, the way I understood it. It was being at the center of everything, alone, and without the judging eyes of others.

High school was rough, especially after moving to the suburbs of Cleveland from the inner city. I went from being the goofy, likable white kid to the kid from the "ghetto." Even the nerds picked on me in grade nine. But just before I moved, my old high school did a field trip to Kent State, and I saw their radio and TV facilities. I wanted to do that. Through a series of fortunate events, I started announcing lineups at volleyball games the next year. It was oddly comfortable, because even though people could see me, I was hiding behind amplification, and everyone was looking at the players.

My first week of college, at Ashland University, I found myself in the WRDL studio. Filled with adrenaline, I introduced my first song on the air, and I never felt more comfortable. Before too long, I was doing two shifts a week and covering for anyone I could. I couldn't wait for the next time I did it.

With practice, it started to become easy for me. I could wing it with minimal preparation, and because I loved music and instinctively understood its patterns, I could mix top-40 style, which is to say never stop the music and talk over the out and in of the songs, and "hit the post" every time. When my bit ended, the singing started.

My senior year, I started working at a commercial station, and my program director, Matt Anthony, was my first legitimate professional mentor. He was a radio and voiceover guy to the core, and he was good. He taught me a lot about how facial expressions were audible, and the listener in your mind could influence your conversational tone. I often imagined people sitting in their room listening, and looking at their radios.

So if the pattern recognition wasn't enough, and the button pushing and tech, I was essentially able to interact socially, but one-sided. It felt like I was having all the socialness without the anxiety of wanting to belong. Of course, when I started to do it full-time, working overnights, it was incredibly lonely. On one hand, here I was, right out of college, fulfilling my childhood ambitions, but I was alone in a small room talking to no one and still living at home. It felt great at first, but when the book came out and the midday ratings sucked, they decided to put the midday guy overnight because he had a contract and they had to pay him anyway, and I was back to part-time weekends. (The midday guy was pretty terrible.) I did it for one more week, and then didn't see the inside of a radio station for 13 years, when I went back to visit my college station.

This is another thing in my life that I find makes more sense in the context of a middle-aged guy getting an ASD diagnosis. People with autism are everywhere, most adults don't know they fall on that spectrum, and frankly we need to think through whether or not it's a "disorder" in all forms.

Unlimited data economics

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 15, 2022, 5:20 PM | comments: 0

We've been using Google Fi for cell phone service now for a bunch of years. It's a virtual provider of sorts, because the phones will connect to T-Mobile, Sprint or US Cellular, whatever the best connection available is. We've had no issue using it anywhere, and it mostly "just works" when we're in the Bahamas too, except for one time that it didn't. Since the start, we've used their flexible plan, which had a flat rate for calls and text, plus another $10 for every gigabyte of data that you used. Because there's WiFi practically everywhere that we go, this made a lot of sense. Even when traveling, it was unusual for us to use more than 2 gigs of data, so our cost was $35 plus $20 at worst (plus tax and fees). That's not bad for two lines. The unlimited plans, which dropped in price in April, would have been $80 for two of us, so the economics didn't make sense.

But then we added Simon to the plan. In the flexible plan, it was $50 for three lines, plus the data, and in our first partial month, we came close to 2.5 gigs, or $25. The unlimited plan for three is $75, so there's a pretty obvious choice to make there. If we had another person in the family, it would only be $80! There are a couple of things we give up though on this plan. Data tethering, which I've really only used in the event of a cable outage, is limited to 5 gigs per person. We also don't get the international data, which is definitely a problem when we cruise and upload photos of us holding tropical beverages. They have another plan, $60 more total, that would enable this international use, which we can allegedly change to and back at will.

There are a few nice scenarios we enable on unlimited that we didn't have before, mostly around music. My private cloud music app does cache music on the device, but it still isn't designed to run totally disconnected. Now it doesn't matter. I can also stream SiriusXM on my phone in the car, which is pretty great (still wondering why Tesla doesn't have this as a built-in option). Of course, we can doom scroll on Instacrap now even though they're emphasizing videos because they want to be TikTok, without worrying about bandwidth used. It will be interesting to see how much data we actually use.

The people who should be your biggest advocates

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 15, 2022, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that stood out to me in the psychologist's write up of my ASD diagnosis last year was the suggestion that I was often bitter and hold on to grudges. I know which parts of our conversation would lead her to believe that, but I do feel that's an unfair generalization. Or at least, she couldn't conclude that in five hours.

Small things generally roll off of me. I mean, I can't tell you what the last thing was that Simon did that felt hurtful. There are some big things, or patterns of being wronged that still stick with me.

I often talk myself into believing that I don't care what people think, and that I don't need external validation. Today, that's probably mostly true, but where I harbor resentment is that I think I'm in that place because I never really got what I needed from the people who should have been my biggest advocates. Not needing it is a self-defense mechanism developed over time. That's kind of painful to think about. The big accomplishments in my life, as well as the most difficult failures, went unrecognized by those who, in traditional cultural expectations, should have been first to be there.

There's another side to that though. There have been people who have given me praise for the big things. I didn't really recognize that until recently, and that might have been the autism because it was extremely uncomfortable for me to acknowledge at the time. Many of those same people were there when I was at my lowest.

You can't let others have that power over you, I know this. I don't feel like a bitter victim, I'm just sad that others have had their champions where I have not. Carry that idea with you... it's important to recognize others for their highs and lows.

Imagine questioning the context of your entire life... that's where I am

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 12, 2022, 5:09 PM | comments: 0

I was talking with someone recently about the strangeness of Gen-X'ers finding out, in large quantities, that they have autism spectrum disorder or ADHD. That wasn't something on the radar when we were kids. It didn't just happen, they've been living with it their entire life. I don't think you have to know a ton about either condition to understand why this would shake you to your core. Every event, emotion, social interaction, relationship, job... everything... may have happened a certain way because of these conditions.

Since my diagnosis last year, that's where I am. It's overwhelming.

It's hard for me to put into words what this means. Every day, some random memory or feeling comes up, and I think, oh, I get that now, or maybe I should look at it differently. For example, I knew that weak grades in certain subjects in high school, and especially in college, were not because I couldn't understand the subject. I mean, I C-ed my way through chemistry and physics, but my ACT score in science was in the 98th percentile. I took and IQ test in college (and again in last year's diagnostic gauntlet), and I was just short of where I'd be labeled "genius." But at the time, especially in college, I had deep feelings of resentment toward myself. I vividly remember walking across the quad my senior year, not really getting it done for my last literature class, thinking that I had serious personality flaws for my lack of follow-through, and how was I going to survive the "real world." But now I understand how ADHD affects my ability to start work, especially if I'm not that interested in doing it.

There are good things too. I'm a self-taught software developer, and I had a book published in 2005. Do you know how hard it is to write a book, or a technical book? That's the secret blessing of ADHD, that it enables hyperfocus, but it tends to only come for things that you really care about. It has served me really well recently as I've started to push POP Forums into a really solid, full-featured app. Again, how many people make software? I got so annoyed with Amazon and Google's music services that I built my own. 24,035 song plays to date. (Since late 2020... I listen to a lot of music!) I should give myself a little grace to acknowledge that sort of accomplishment.

The ASD bit I imagine has influenced a lot of my social life in suboptimal ways. I was fairly lonely in high school and college, and were it not for my senior-year roommate whom I'd met the year before, it would have been pretty bad. Women always wanted to be friends, and I thought that's what they wanted as the basis for romantic involvement. I'm sure failure to read social cues contributed to my divorce. I've had very deep friendships, but only a few, and not many long-term trivial friendships. I got women wrong for a very long time, and I'm not sure how Stephanie or Diana overlooked those attributes enough to marry me, not to mention the very few girlfriends I had before and in between. People who know me are quick to point out that I am "very direct and tell it as I see it," but I know now that just means my filter isn't the same as that of a neurotypical person.

I'm sure the conditions have influenced work, too. My boss in one job, in the first round of layoffs (the company eventually died entirely), said he chose me in the first round because I didn't code as fast as others. (In retrospect, maybe he has ASD too... HR would not be cool with that, I suspect.) There was one job I had where, as a senior manager, I delivered and exceeded on every expectation set in my goals, awarded huge bonuses, but I did not buy-in to the touchy-feely entitled bro culture that my boss wanted to foster. He thought it would be best to just part ways, with a pile of cash for my troubles. But even in college, where the extracurricular work in radio and TV was treated very much as a "job," I did not see eye to eye with the instructors about their entire approach to education, and their roles in it. I was validated by their bosses, but the friction didn't help me, to say the least.

But again, there are up-sides as well. My teams have generally really liked and appreciated me, and I've appreciated them. I've got a stack of recommendations to demonstrate that. ADHD works surprisingly well when you have to constantly context switch as a manager. I'm very outcome driven and prefer to look at objective data to measure outcomes. I see patterns and gaps in teams that help me hire the right people and compliment personalities, while identifying those that aren't aligned with the wider goals. I've got a long list of things to point to there that objectively measure that success.

So imagine having decades of memories, good and bad, and the way they played out wasn't entirely because of the reasons you might suspect. There was a huge contributing factor, or factors, that you simply didn't know about. I wasn't an academic asshole in school, I didn't ignore social cues in relationships because I couldn't see them, and there may be more pros than cons in terms of what I've contributed professionally. Regardless, my entire life, I have to reframe its outcomes and how they occurred. That's a lot to process.

And if that weren't enough, I'm trying to navigate what it means to have ASD. That landscape is changing quickly. For many, it's a core identity issue, and as is the case with some minorities, among racial or LGBTQ lines, there are a lot of opinions about how one self-identifies and the language used. You've got people who believe that you should say, "I have ASD," to "I'm autistic" or "neurodivergent." I mean, in a slightly amusing to me way, people get pissed about which words you use. Some, understandably, object completely to autism being classified as a "disorder." And I'm just sitting here thinking, "I saw myself in my kid who was diagnosed at age 3, and I figured it out at 48, I'm just happy to be here!" If that weren't enough, I'm a protected class that can't be discriminated against, but at the same time, an employer can't ask me about it. Weird, right? And oh shit, have I been discriminated against? Probably.

As you've probably guessed, my intention is to just be forthcoming and talk about it. Autism is classified as a spectrum, meaning it ranges from someone brilliant like Einstein to someone completely nonverbal and unable to care for themselves. My autism brain can't even reconcile how that's the same underlying condition. It's a brave new world, in that sense, but what I suspect will be more clear in the coming decades is that some of the "spectrum" involves not impairment in human interaction and problem solving, but different ways of doing so. That's muddy, but there will never be a clear line. If I try to be objective, my own "symptoms" have not kept me from some kind of material success or self sufficiency, but it has hurt my social and to some degree professional potential. The question is whether or not we as a society can identify these variances not as shortcomings, but differences in wiring.

Back to school means back to having lunch dates

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 11, 2022, 1:04 PM | comments: 0

The return to school means the return of the Epcot lunch!

First day of (legit) middle school

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 10, 2022, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

Simon had his first day of "legit" middle school today. He heard "legit" somewhere, so now it prefaces everything he talks about. But as I mentioned in the spring, he's back to public school, where we believe he'll be well supported now that the school isn't packing in some insane number of kids with a new building relieving the pressure there. Last weekend we picked up his laptop and walked his schedule.

He seemed mostly OK about the experience when he got home, which was kind of surprising. I asked him what it was like with everyone there and he said, in kind of a funny way, "It was chaos."

Some of the anxiety crept in at bed time of course, mostly about things that are important to him, but not of any significant consequence if the outcomes aren't ideal. These things range from being ready at a bell or having time to go to the bathroom. One of the best parts of his day is that he'll have a class that's specifically to help him with things like this, as well as academic things like note taking and getting things done. I don't remember ever learning how to take notes, which is probably why I sucked at it, even in college. I wonder why all kids don't get this. In his case, and I can relate, it's hard just to start things and not get overwhelmed. I'm really optimistic about this year in terms of academics and learning skills, but definitely concerned about the social aspect.

He has an A/V class, which I hope makes him see the potential for liking school. I wonder if he realized he's like a mini-me in that respect.

I suspect things will be challenging from time to time, especially given how little writing he did last year at the private school. On the flip side, Diana saw the math syllabus and suggested that he might be better positioned than we thought. I look forward in future years to see how he does with algebra compared to geometry, because he seems to get spatial things (I'm totally projecting my own experience).

Creativity waves

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 7, 2022, 10:10 PM | comments: 0

Marques Brownlee had an interview with Mark Rober on his podcast (they're pals, natch), and Rober talked all about the pipeline of things that he has in play for making his science influenced videos. I respect Rober because he's making really good stuff at 42 on a platform dominated by 20-somethings. (Brownlee is in fact 28, but I think he's making pretty great tech reviews, even if they are sometimes not grounded in every-Joe technology needs.) Rober is also selling STEM build kits with his new venture, Crunch Labs. But if I respect anything most about him, it's his creative persistence. It seems like he's all in making things all of the time.

I know that being creative is one of the most satisfying things I can do. It's like a warm blanket of contentment for me. In my post-Covid, post-depression, post-ASD-diagnosis year-in-progress, I was on a creative tear, making so much stuff. But then, right before the cruise, I just kind of hit a wall. I hard stopped and I've struggled to get back into that groove. I'm not depressed or anything, and there is drive, there just isn't anything to apply to the things I want to do. I used to think that creativity was an act of will, or maybe I wanted it to be. It's probably like that nonsense where people insist that getting rich is just an act of will. If that were really the case, then anyone could write a screenplay, or a song, or build furniture, or write complex software, at any time.

If there's anything that I could learn, it would be to figure out how to harness that ADHD hyperfocus. That's the thing where you get so into doing a thing that you can't stop, which is so weird considering ADHD mostly prevents you from doing anything for too long without distraction. But I know that zone, because it's where I was when I figured out the image uploads for my forum, or I was able to bang out videos about gas prices or the new LEGO roller coaster.

Creation, I suppose, requires inspiration, and you can't bottle that. But I really hope that tomorrow I can find it.

Removing yourself from bad places is not running from "real" life

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 6, 2022, 2:44 PM | comments: 0

One of the many toxic and uniquely American social norms is this idea that suffering is somehow a thing that makes you better. It doesn't make you better, it just makes you miserable. Many situations that cause suffering are things that you can remove yourself from, like shitty jobs, abusive relationships, suboptimal living places and such. When you get away from those situations, you're not "running" from "real life," you're making a good decision to stop the bleeding.

I sometimes hear this even in more trivial situations, like if you go to theme parks all of the time when you live next door to them. I'm here to tell you that life is not easier just because you can escape for a few hours at Epcot. But it's certainly a reprieve from the things that are hard, and it somewhat balances out the challenging parts. This is why we love to cruise frequently, because there's nothing quite like having other people take care of literally everything for a few days, including your kid. That's not running from life, that's giving myself a necessary reprieve.

But I want to go back to the cultural thing. I reject the idea that "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." No, the shit just makes you miserable, and enduring it doesn't build character, it reduces your humanity. Let's stop suggesting otherwise.

Forums are so close to where I want them

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 3, 2022, 6:42 PM | comments: 0

My do-all-the-thing-I-put-off project for the forum app is really coming together. I may still pull in a few things, but right now I'm reimagining the PM bits to be more chat-like instead of resembling email. It's the thing that I'm least interested in doing, but it's long overdue. It isn't technically difficult, I'm just not that into it. I think the one other thing I may bring in is the "update Q&A forum page in real-time" story.

I've been periodically updating CoasterBuzz with new builds, and the thing that makes me happy is that I notice the forum less. That is to say, it doesn't get in the way, there's just the conversation. The two biggest wins are the revised post quoting, and more importantly, the ability to upload images into the post. The latter has been a requested feature for well over a decade, and often the reason that people don't use the open source project, and probably pass on the hosted version. You could always embed images hosted elsewhere, but that's a crappy experience.

I got some validation from a guy who is using it and integrating it with some other stuff, and he's even using Azure AD to authenticate users, something I wasn't even sure could work. I have a generic OAuth provider there, but never really tried it. It would be a big deal to the corporate world if I set up an OAuth-only private option, and I know how I would do it, but I'm going to save that for the next version. I certainly don't need it, but I can see how others would value it.

With the image uploading, maybe it's time to market it a little on the hosted side. Lacking that feature, I was never comfortable to throw any money at selling it, but like I said, now I "see the forum" less. That brings me joy.

Anxiety superstorm around retirement, money and freedom

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 2, 2022, 5:34 PM | comments: 0

I enjoy talking to young people, especially the interns I've had over the years, because I have (hopefully) enabled them to think in terms of possibilities instead of plans. Possibilities are way more flexible than plans, and you've probably not considered them all. They are often enthusiastic about this slate of unknowns, seeing it as an opportunity, not a reason for fear.

As good as I am talking that game to others, my own mind isn't good at unlearning the customs. That's strange when you think about it, because I switched careers not long after college, got divorced and remarried, and moved six times in eight years. To say that things have not exactly gone to plan is a huge understatement. Counting all of that up though, you are correct if you assume that there has been a lot of struggle associated with all of that change. I often confuse the relative material success of my life, meaning I have a nice roof over my head, reliable transportation and physical comfort, with the relative volume of struggle. For a long time, I've used the comfort to dismiss any complaints about life as attributable to a character flaw. "Your life hasn't been so bad, suck it up!"

I think talking about the past struggle, that's another post, but right now there's a cascade of things causing anxiety about my future. It starts with retirement, for which I did not meaningfully start saving for until I was 35. That was cosmically stupid, and I can't make up for 10 plus years. And to complicate that, my financial awakening came in the midst of the recession, so I wasn't working half that time anyway. I'm maxing out contributions for tax-advantaged accounts, and trying to put away more on top of that, but not to the extent that we aren't having any fun in the present. But with economic uncertainty, which doesn't entirely seem warranted, that notches it all up a bit.

That leads to the next thing, which is wanting to retire early. Not sure how possible that is. Being a bit behind in saving makes that harder, obviously, but I'm also behind on the parenting cycle and we are not getting younger. Diana and I became parents ten months after marriage, at which point she was 40 and I was 36. We've not had a lot of purely adult time together. I love Simon dearly, and I'm grateful to be a parent regardless of its challenges, but we've had so little "us" time. I don't even know what I'd do with my time, but having endless possibilities sure is appealing.

I then trail off to concerns of freedom, which are of course intertwined with money and retirement. I think that's the thing that we're all really looking for in some way. There are varying degrees of freedom, and at the fundamental level we have reasons to be concerned about it because of the fascist and autocratic movements in the US. But we also associate money with freedom, and later in life, freedom not to work. All of that motivational poster bullshit about doing what you love is pretty silly. Even artists who get to do amazing things like live theater or work on movies still need to buy food and shelter. Some jobs pay better than others, some are more stable than others, some are more fun than others. "Follow your bliss" oversimplifies the way we have to participate in a functioning society. When we leave the nest, that freedom is hard to capture. See above concerns.

So these things suddenly weigh heavily on me, and it's hard to work my head away from them because I can't easily move any of those needles. They're so time dependent, and I can't do a significant number of things more to influence them. It is unlike me to be so future-oriented, especially compared to me at 35! But what I really need to be doing is looking at the possibilities and embracing that uncertainty. I've set the paths as best I can, but things have a way of changing. I have to get back to being OK with that.