Archive: August, 2022

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.