Archive: October, 2023

I spent a grand fixing cars (over eight years)

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 31, 2023, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

I was pretty salty about the car problems Friday. Eventually Tesla got back to me and found that the pyrotechnic disconnect, the thing that blows up when you crash to basically sever the high voltage battery from everything else in the car, went bad. I looked it up in the service manual, and it's this thing that literally sits on two bus bar ends, so, not something a non-expert should really be messing with. In addition to the $378 tow, it cost another $657 for the repair. Even though the $15 part is literally sitting on the battery hardware, apparently it's not part of the 8-year/120k mile warranty. And mind you, that's after I complained about their $430 diagnostic fee (2 hours labor), seeing as how I sent them the photo of the car's own diagnostic in my garage indicating that the thing failed. They took off another $90 with tax, but that was still super lame. So all in, at 5.5 years and 55k miles, I had to shell out a grand for the repair and tow.

A friend of mine pointed out that I could really look at this in a different way. We've been all-electric for more than eight years now, across five different cars. The Model 3 is the oldest yet. In that time, not counting tires, washer fluid and an air cabin filter, we've spent exactly zero dollars on maintenance. Amortized across that time, that's about $117 per year. If we had gas cars, that would not have covered the oil changes, let alone the increased cost in fuel, brakes and whatever mechanical problems might have surfaced. It wouldn't even be close. The Model 3 still has essentially new brakes. I'm not convinced that they'll ever need to be replaced, by me or a future owner.

I didn't really realize that we had this car as long as we did, until just now. After five and a half years, I can confirm that, at least for this car, the promise of low maintenance is real. Battery degradation of course happens, but we already know from the early Model S cars that going 150k miles still doesn't necessarily require a replacement. Our car is at 280 for a full charge, down from about 305 I think when we first got it. There's no universe where that's not perfectly adequate.

So my saltiness can certainly be moderated with perspective. I'm not sure if being annoyed with Tesla is valid either, though having just the one service center when every tenth car around here is one of theirs, is annoying and 40 minutes away. (A new one opens closer in Clermont next month.) I'm excited about all of the new options coming up from all of the other manufacturers. Really like the idea of VW's ID.Buzz, the electric version of the classic hippy bus. EV sales are going to be up more than 30% over last year, despite some stupid "articles" that say demand is soft. Demand is fine, it's just that everyone is providing supply now.

When things break

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 27, 2023, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend our problematic air conditioner broke again. This is the one that we've already put a few grand into in the last six years. The outside unit just wouldn't start, and my first thought was that it just needed a new capacitor. Cheap part, I tried it, it still didn't work. Tech came out two days later, first found that the control wire inside had come loose, but also that the control board outside was apparently fried. He was able to bypass it (it controls the reversal for heat, and enforces a delay when restarting it), and a few days later replaced the corroded part.

Then on Wednesday, Diana's car starts throwing up all kinds of errors. Yesterday I observed that the 12V battery (which drives the computer, contactors and stuff) is only putting out 11V, so I assume that maybe that's the problem, which has happened before. I run out to Tesla early this morning to pick up a new battery. The car is totally dead by the time I get back, so I have to use the cables in the bumper to pop the frunk, and the new battery brings it back to life. Only the high voltage system won't engage to drive, charge or run the AC. So I had to have it towed to the Tesla service center. Looks like whatever is broken is still a warranty repair, as the "battery and drive unit" must include the high voltage system. That's 8 years/120k miles.

I'm surprised at how much these things breaking brings me down. It's the cost, partly. The AC repairs cost over $300, and the car battery was $90 plus a $378 tow. I've become a very good saver, so it's not that I can't cover it, it's just that I hate having to spend saved money on stuff like this. It reminds me of when I was younger and this sort of thing would just set me further back on repaying credit cards. Those negative feelings are still there despite being older and further along in my career, and by extension not financially hosed when something like this happens. Money doesn't make it better.

What a strange process that is, too. We spend years wishing that we made just a little bit more money, because things would be easier. Then you reach that point where you think it should be easier, but some things just aren't. I can't buy my way into being a better parent, or eliminating my anxiety.

I know, poor me, right? But as my therapist says, your lived experience is not less real to you just because you're "better off" than someone else.

Hot for Metric

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 26, 2023, 6:57 PM | comments: 0

There are a small handful of albums that came out when we moved to Seattle that are precious to me. It's hard to describe, but that year, 2009, felt little bit like the big music transition I experienced starting in 1993-ish. That was the year that we moved beyond a few mainstream grunge records, and got to a place where the "alternative rock" movement was really happening.

Whether or not that occurred on a broader scale is not clear to me. All I know is that I moved to Seattle, where I listened to the local alt rock radio station, and then a few months later, when Simon was born, I started listening to AltNation on SiriusXM. I got into Thirty Seconds to Mars, Phoenix, The Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Muse, MGMT, Passion Pit, and a bunch of others, but essential to that period was the album Fantasies from Metric. That album was SO f'ing good.

Their next album didn't come until we were back in Cleveland. In 2012 they released Synthetica, and I loved it. Before that, they also had a couple of great singles that appeared in the Twilight and Scott Pilgrim movies (and then Brie Larson covered "Black Sheep!"). Pagans in Vegas came out in 2015 and I didn't care much for it. They leaned into their electronic side, and not in a good way. I skipped Art of Doubt in 2018, maybe because it didn't even get airplay on SiriusXM. But then, last year, Formentera came out, and while they exercised their electronic ability, they also leaned back into guitars. The album opens with this epic, ten-minute song called "Doomscroller." It's pretty great.

Earlier this year, they announced, "Hey, that was technically gonna be a double album," meaning that Formentera II would be out this month. And what do you know, it's fucking brilliant. It really does complement the first part. There's a song called "Suckers" in particular that I absolutely adore.

It's funny how all of my enduring favorites seem to be rock bands with female singers and some level of satisfying noise (see also, Garbage and Wolf Alice). I should probably go back to that Metric album that I missed.

So much death

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 26, 2023, 6:20 PM | comments: 0

Last night while we were consuming some relatively innocuous (read: boring) musical theater, a gunman started shooting up a bowling alley in Maine. It sounded bad, and I immediately started to think about the Pulse massacre, which happened a number of blocks from the very theater we were in. It was happening again, as it has several times since Pulse.

All I could think about was the fact that this is the only country in the world where this routinely happens. Meanwhile, people not serious about governing or public service hold our legislative body hostage in Washington.

This is on top of the bloody war in Israel and Gaza. I have a whole post written about this, but decided against publishing it, when I learned that reputable universities had students being "outed" for expressing opinions about the war, and then today another university is facing backlash from donors (and one with a particularly shitty private equity firm) and alumni for allowing diversity in opinions.

And even then, I've watched Americans try to rationalize both sides of that conflict. Here's the thing, whether you're Jewish or Muslim, of actual Israeli or Arab descent, innocent people dying in a conflict that they did not initiate is not OK. I don't want to be accountable for Trump's nonsense, so why would I hold regular people accountable for the actions of their leaders? Whether you're critical of Hamas or Netanyahu, this does not make you an Islamophobe or an Antisemite. Have we lost our minds?

I don't know what to do with any of it other than stop reading the news and just try to be a parent and get my job done.

I think I figured out my anxiety

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 24, 2023, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

In a somewhat random series of thoughts, seemingly unrelated at the time, I think I figured out where my anxiety comes from. Not sure what to do with it, but I think I get it.

Anxiety is worry and fear about things that haven't happened yet. For some people that's about the random things that could happen, and for others it's about the things on their plate that they need to do, like some work task, parenting action, or maybe even mundane things that they think they must do around the house. I know that a fair amount of mine used to be sourced from concern over a lot of things out of my control, like environmental issues, racism, fascism, you know, the big societal things. I've learned to manage a lot of that by agreeing to myself to acknowledge the things that I do about those things as adequate in scope. But for doing "stuff," that's where my anxiety is coming from.

It's hardly surprising that this is another symptom of midlife. Time, relative to my inevitable demise, is finite. That brings a certain sense of general urgency, to make the time "count." So when I'm idle, my feeling is that I'm not using that time adequately. I imagine this might even be one of the reasons that sleep is not as easy as it was for me.

The funny thing is that with age, I've also gained the wisdom to understand that life engagement is not a linear phenomenon. Throw in the variability of ADHD and ASD, and I know in certain terms that I can't be "on" at all times. All-of-the-things can cause fatigue, and it isn't just sleep that helps with that. Low engagement in the form of slacking, daydreaming, passively being entertained and such is OK as a means of recovery from the effort required to do life the rest of the time.

I don't know why this is so difficult to accept, because I know that I felt this way even 15 years ago, before middle-age. I know some of it is cultural, that American dream nonsense that we all should hustle to achieve some arbitrary definition of success. (Which, by the way, helps obscure the systemic issues that make it harder to get by for some people.) Some of it is certainly self-imposed as well, as I've always wondered if what I do has the scope to matter. As I said, I'm at peace with the limitations of that in a global scope, but it doesn't mean that I don't think about it in a more localized manner.

This is something that I have to work on. Younger me enjoyed passive entertainment, but now I have trouble committing to a two-hour movie without feeling like I could be doing something "more." It used to be easier to just be horizontal with headphones on and lose myself in that experience. I need to get back to that.

My HVAC exhaustion

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 23, 2023, 7:00 PM | comments: 0

Friday night, it was clear that our upstairs air conditioning wasn't cooling. First I looked at the air handler, and as best I could tell it was fine. I went outside to the other half of the system, and sure enough, it wasn't doing anything. I've seen that before, at a previous house, and I knew that sometimes the compressor and fan would fail to start up due to a dead capacitor. So cool, local hardware store charged $29 for one of those, and I replace it. No good. But what I did noticed this time was hearing the contactor, the thing that uses low voltage to close a high voltage switch, freaked out and clicked a bunch, and wouldn't stay closed. Alas, high voltage scares me, so I decided to defer to a pro. Unfortunately, they couldn't come until Monday, so that meant three nights of no AC upstairs. On the upside, it was cool enough to open all of the windows, but it gets pretty humid overnight so that's not ideal.

The tech rolled up, and it was they guy, along with another last year, that fixed stuff in May. That time, we had no refrigerant, because a wire that was vibrating against one of the pipes from the compressor and rubbed a hole in it. That was a good catch, because they were ready to replace the entire coil. That's why I was OK with waiting for them to have time, because I trust them. This time, after poking around, he found that the control voltage from the inside unit was low. There inside he found that said wire was not exactly connected to the screw terminal, it was just sort of touching it.

Back outside, he could confirm good control voltage, but when the control board's lights went solid as if it should be running, nothing happened. Sure enough, there was no output voltage on the board to the contactor, so with that switch open, no running. On the plus side, you can bypass the controller and have the signal from inside keep the switch closed. However, to reverse the system to heat, or even to institute the "pause" between cycles (to keep wear on the capacitor and compressor down), you need the controller. Sigh. It's probably gonna be a $30 part, plus another service call cost, but servicing this piece of shit is an annual ritual. That last May it was having to fix that hole and then get all new refrigerant, which was expensive. About a year ago I managed to suck all kinds of gross things out of the drip line, which is not Lennox's fault, it was the landscaper. There were two other leak and refrigerant fixes before that, plus the entire condenser coil inside had to be replaced once.

That these Lennox units suck is not a secret. They've been the subject of a class action. Pulte, our shitty builder, provisioned these things all over Central Florida, and many of them have already been replaced. The question now is, do I even bother getting the part, or do I replace some part of the system? That's not an entirely straight forward question. The cost ranges between $4,000 and $15,000 or more. As you may already know, the system has two parts, the outdoor part, which is taking the warm refrigerant outside and blowing air around it to cool it, and the indoor part blows air through it and transfers heat into the refrigerant to send outside. For heat, it just reverses the process (and that works especially well here where it doesn't get that cold).

The rub is that there are three varieties of systems, and it depends on whether or not they can work together. A one-cycle system works at one speed, on or off, while a two-cycle system has a lower power mode that runs slower, for when you need less cooling (or heating) action. Beyond that, there are variable speed systems that can run almost silently when the demand to keep things cool is lower. And just as driving slower is more efficient, so goes HVAC. The variable speed bits are not usually interchangeable though, so you need the matching parts at both ends, and they're more expensive. On the other hand, I could slap another one-cycle part on either end very cheaply.

It's just a math problem, despite my general green hippy sustainable energy ethos. Would an expensive variable speed system save me money in the long run? Obviously it depends on how long we intend to stay here. The general consensus of the Internets says to expect a 15 to 25% savings in HVAC cost. That's like $300 to $500 per year if we knocked that percentage off of our entire electric bill (about $2k a year, because EV's and not enough roof for more solar), so significantly less if it's just the HVAC portion. In other words, if I replace anything, it's probably gonna be just the outdoor unit for upstairs.

ADHD hyperfocus

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 19, 2023, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

There's a lot of value in self-awareness, and that too was an intended outcome of seeking an ASD/ADHD diagnosis. If it's real, and you acknowledge it, you can do something with it. ADHD is different from ASD though, because you can at least treat it. Autism you can only learn to adapt. I'm on bupropion XL for depression, but as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), it's sometimes used off-label for ADHD. Both conditions are often treated with drugs that increase the level of neurotransmitting chemicals in the brain, though the results of increasing serotonin for ADHD by itself is mixed at best. I'm not convinced it helps me for that. Heck, I've noticed that if I don't get a lot of water with the bupropion and levothyroxine in the morning (for hypothyroidism), I drag all day and don't feel emotionally great. Meds are weird.

All of that is context just to say that I feel the ADHD, and some days it's worse than others. It used to be that I thought my constant attention drifting was procrastination, now I better understand that it's not. I'm the guy who keeps my inbox at zero because I read the thing and either respond or delete it. But I can do that because it only requires a short window of engagement. Context switching is actually easy for really short tasks. It's the longer things that are harder to get into. For that reason, you can understand why the concept of hyperfocus is interesting to me.

Hyperfocus seems like an oddly contradictory thing that people with ADHD can do, but actually it makes perfect sense. Not being able to focus on stuff happens because of the low levels of neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine. So boring crap that you're not that interested in, it's hard to connect with it and get it done. But hey, jokes about dopamine hits are cultural these days, so you can't understand why doing stuff you like helps with dopamine production, and why you would find it easier to focus on things that make you feel good.

The question then becomes whether or not you can train yourself to embrace this phenomenon. It's not really that simple though, because not everything you do, especially long-running tasks, is something that you like. I find it easy to get lost in a video game that I'm into for hours, or a programming project (if it doesn't present roadblocks I can't get over). In fact, those are even cases where hyperfocus is actually bad, because I might forget to interact with my family, eat or go to bed. It happens.

Today I was plugged in for nearly six straight hours on a work project that I deeply hope is successful and delivers on time. This involved a lot of documentation creation with meetings about the same topic in the middle, and I ate while working. Normally, I wouldn't do this, because I know that I'll get Jell-O brain and feel spent. Well, I feel spent, but I also feel good about the outcomes. As a manager, much of the work is actually manifest by others, which is also gratifying, but it feels good to get more in the weeds from time to time.

Phone replacement cycles

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 17, 2023, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

After two years with my amazing Pixel 6 Pro, I traded it in for a Pixel 8 Pro. There was nothing actually deficient about the other phone. The battery was maybe not quite as robust as it used to be, but even with heavy use (because of crossword puzzles), I was typically ending the day with 40%. But once again the incentives to upgrade were too good to pass up. This time it involved a $400 credit for the old phone, which will not last given its age, and a free Pixel Watch 2, which I knew Diana would get a lot of benefit from, as she works on her feet. So in that sense, it was kind of like the phone only cost $250, and that means a fresh battery, updated processor, brighter screen, better cameras and all of the computational photo magic.

The upgrades in phones are mostly incremental. There are no "big bangs" to make. The longest I've had any phone was about three and a half years, but my typical cycle is two. On this cycle, I was actually confident that it would be fine for another year or two, and I think part of the thing now is that they use dynamic charging. Basically they charge slow overnight, leading up to your alarm time. Slow charging is better for batteries, which are really the only limiting factor of phones, short of dropping them and breaking them. The weird thing is that Google is promising seven years of updates this time around, which seems meaningless because I can't imagine anyone would keep one that long. But I'd like to go three this time.

I don't like the seemingly disposable nature of these devices, because electronic waste is particularly bad for the environment, and there's a lot of stuff in them that is valuable to recycle. The EPA says that less than 20% of phones are recycled, which seems like a pretty terrible ratio, especially since so many carriers and manufacturers have trades programs. Samsung, Apple and Google all have these programs, and I believe all of the carriers with physical stores do as well. I've recycled my previous five phones, all sent back to Google.

I can't believe how much my teenager eats

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 16, 2023, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

It's funny how that small, adorable creature you make starts out by saying words funny, laughs at everything and is a messy eater. They inevitably become a teenager, at which point they mostly seem to eat.

For Simon, it all seemed to happen so fast. It's like one day he woke up and his voice changed and he needed deodorant. And now, all he wants to do is eat constantly. That's challenging in some ways because for actual meals, he still doesn't eat very many things. And look, I'm not going to pretend that I can meaningfully change that, because it's not out of stubbornness or a personality flaw, it's just an ASD thing and I'm like that to this day. I'm a little scarred by being nearly force-fed foods that, from a texture standpoint, caused me to gag.

Fortunately, he does eat a lot of peripheral snack things. In addition to all of the crappy high-calorie processed foods, he does like to eat certain fruit and vegetables, which means he's got a one-up on me in that sense. I mean, he wants to dunk apple slices in peanut butter, sure, but I suspect that's fine for his age. His dinner rotation though tends to be mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese and hot dogs. Very similar to my "safe" foods at that age. He's recently adopted cheeseburgers, so that's at least a thing he can get anywhere. Still doesn't care for chicken tenders and he's picky about pizza. The newest thing is that he apparently likes scrambled eggs, which is great because we're not above having breakfast for dinner around here.

I just can't get over the volume of food he wants. He'll suck down two cheeseburgers (from McDonald's, gross), a bunch of fries, and he could repeat all of it if we allowed it. Maybe it's just the time passage of having a child later than most people, because I don't remember eating like this. But then I think harder, and yeah, I guess I do remember it. I remember being able to put away entire pizzas myself. I guess the problem is that it's not obvious to transition into more reasonable habits as an adult, and I suspect that's part of the reason we have an obesity problem in this country. We can load up on crap to some extent as teens because our bodies are going crazy. But then you turn 18 and your metabolism starts slowing down. Then in your early 20's it seems like, for some, it stops.

So I sit thinking about making dinner for the boy, and wonder if I can proactively make enough to satisfy him first try. Probably not.

My ongoing Europe vibes

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 16, 2023, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

I've been thinking about our trip to Europe. I remember thinking about how there will be a time when it's a memory, and now it is, and I wish the time there could have lasted longer. A lot of folks suggested that going there would change my perspective about "things," but really it just confirmed a lot of things that I already felt.

It has been a troubling few years to be an American. Granted, you still have in many ways won the birth lottery to be born here, relative to some other places. But a lot of what you were brought up to believe and understand as fundamental to the American experience has been challenged. I used to believe that democracy over all things is a core value, but we've seen a former president, a front runner for his party, suggest "suspending" the Constitution. I once marveled at the way that America led the way in the advancement of technology, but now we protect old ways of doing things and let China dominate those new opportunities (I'm looking at you, renewable energy industry). We have problems like gun violence that don't happen in any other developed democracy. And unbelievably, we spend the most on healthcare per capita with terrible results.

Going to Europe, or even reading about it, shows you all of the ways that we aren't nearly as great as we thought. I say this not to be "down" on the United States, but rather to hope that we can be more self-aware. I saw an interview recently with Bono from U2 where he said something that I loved. He said that the US might not be the greatest nation in the world right now, but it can be, and that he was optimistic that Americans could get it there. I think that he's right about that, even though I have little reason to be optimistic. I think that things have become so absurd now that the only place to go is to correct course.

Europe reminds you how relatively short our history is. You can, in a short amount of time, go country to country, and see differences in culture, in language, in art and architecture. There's something wonderful about encountering these differences. I'm not entirely sure why this diversity is so appealing to me (autism tends to cause an appetite for routine), but it's fascinating how different circumstances and lived experience can make the world so different. I remember on one of the bus tours in Iceland, seeing that there were obviously houses where people lived, but there was something different about them that was subtle and hard to describe. There were electrical plugs outside of garages, and sometimes plugged into cars in the street. There were busy swimming pools with giant water slides. There were all kinds of store fronts that seemed imagined. The weather was cold, but the people were warm and inviting.

The biggest takeaway is that we just didn't have as much time there as any of us would have liked. At the same time, part of the reason to do it by cruise was to see a bunch of countries without the burden and lost time of travel in between them. When you wake up and your "hotel" is elsewhere, that's pretty amazing. We especially liked our shoulder cities, London and Copenhagen, but we were also very enamored with Alesund. I hope that we can return to some of those places, but at the same time, I feel like we need to see the other side, from Portugal to Turkey, not to mention the places we didn't get to, like Ireland, Germany, Sweden and such.

Oh, and there are four other entire continents still to explore.

Moving in and out of college in dreams

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 12, 2023, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

I feel like sleep keeps getting harder, or at least, sleeping consistently. It's been that way since the start of the pandemic. I know when I'm getting good sleep because I have more dreams. Unfortunately that good sleep sometimes only comes if I can sleep in. Maybe for this reason, dreams are more vivid and easier to remember.

Dreams are already a strange phenomenon, because they're real feeling constructs of you interacting with others and in places that you can describe. Time doesn't always make sense, because people are different ages, as are you, or you're in a place in a time that you weren't actually. In the last decade or so, I've also felt like I could change the outcome of the dreams, or actions of people in them, but I'm not sure if I know in the moment that it's a dream. I've definitely had some of the typical dreams, like being naked when I shouldn't be, or can't get the brakes to stop the car I'm driving. I haven't had the teeth falling out or being chased dreams probably since my 20's though.

Then there are the things that are more unique to me. I've written a hundred times about being on the radio and having dead air because I couldn't find the next song to play (they weren't on computers back then!). I've often wondered why that one was recurring. I've theorized that it's because I left that career early into it, but I'm not sure that was ever a regret. I had a lot of rapid success, and when I realized what it really was, I bailed by choice. Maybe it's more about the performance aspect of the scenario, and I have broader concerns about failure to perform... something.

The dream scenario that keeps popping up though in the last year or two is the moving in or out of a dorm scenario, to go back to, or resume school. The context varies a lot, where sometimes I just didn't finish school, or I did but I didn't at the same time, which makes no sense. Sometimes I'm a resident assistant, and sometimes I'm not. That part actually makes sense to real life, because I suppose it's a little like being a manger of people. I never have a roommate. Often I'm looking for friends to meet up with for dinner, and I can't find them. There have been romantic encounters as well, and these range from completely fictional people to celebrities (most recently Florence Pugh, because why not?). But it's never in the middle of an academic year, it's always at the start or end, or both. I'm either getting settled or packing up, or both. Last night's "episode" involved me moving out, and I was telling someone that I had barely been in the room all year. I had a ton of stuff though, and I was willing to throw most of it away instead of moving it.

If dreams reflect things that are on your subconscious, I struggle to understand what this is about. Sometimes dreams are based on unimportant shit that you're thinking about, much as when you're awake and thinking about random stuff. But when something repeats, that's something different. I think much of my college experience was marginally suboptimal, and I appreciate more than ever how challenging it was socially, because ASD. But I also remember how it was at times energizing. Coming back in the fall, early for RA training, or to the house rental, that was exciting. I might still be wishing that I did things differently, but I also know that I didn't see or understand myself and the world the way that I do now.

My disconnect with autism and identity

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 9, 2023, 3:30 PM | comments: 0

The documentary series Welcome to Wrexham had a new episode about one of the players' struggle with having a young autistic son, and a teenage fan and her ability to belong. It was exceptionally hard for me to watch. It also creates a wave of contradictory feelings and frustrations. It's hard to unpack, but I'll give it a shot.

I first have to acknowledge that, being a spectrum disorder, no two people are the same. Clearly I'm not non-verbal or incapable of taking care of myself, and neither is Simon. When I see stories like those in the TV doc, I simultaneously think, that's not me, but it is, and I get it. How ironic, because if you can find one common thing among us, it's often (and still not always) that situational reconciliation is sometimes impossible. In other words, something clearly exists in a certain state, but it shouldn't. My bike couldn't have been stolen, because I bought it, and it isn't right to steal. Simon can't accept being grounded because he can't connect the consequence to a negative behavior. A man who mocks the disabled can't be president. I can't have autism if that's what autism looks like, but I do.

I obviously advocate for awareness of the condition, battle its misconceptions, encourage people to see those who seem different as valuable. But I go back to the fact that I'm not like, really anyone. I'm not Rainman, I'm not a genius like Einstein, I don't flap or obviously stim, I suck at math, I'm verbal and can engage in self-care, I'm not funny like Dan Aykroyd (who really was the first SNL host with what was previously called Asperger's), I don't associate with the behavior of Elon Musk (though people really don't get his intent behind the negative behavior). There's all of this autism out there, but I don't relate to it.

But I know that what's different is the traits that I and others exhibit. You don't use the term "symptom" because that implies an illness, and I don't feel ill, nor would I accept anyone ever telling me that I have an illness. I think that's my starting point. There are more universal traits that can be applied to a majority of ASD folks, but still not all. Relationship development has always been difficult, though now I consider it easier and understood, but exhausting to put that knowledge into practice. Thank God I never have to date again. I do get intensely focused on certain things, and it's hard to pull me away when I'm in that zone. I do have my routines, but they're narrower in scope than they used to be, mostly with food. And I'm definitely one who craves certain sensory stimulation (loud music, touching textured surfaces) and physically retract from other things (cold, the smell of bacon and fabric softener, screaming kids).

Sometimes I find there are random people on the Internets that I can identify with, fitting in similar boxes as those above. I bring that up because, since the range of traits is endlessly vast, identity is rarely something that I share with others. It's simultaneously not like being in a marginalized demographic, yet it still requires advocacy. It's so weird.

I can tell you that I now recognize a certain aspect of my personality better. I don't think I've ever actually cared about what people thought about me, at least not in my post-high school life, but I do seem to care when people simply think that I'm something that I'm not. That's an important distinction. I don't need to be liked or admired, but it grinds on me if I'm misread. The intent of my behavior and actions may be completely different from what one would expect. I guess that's a long way of saying that I don't like being misunderstood.

What do I do with all of this? I don't know. Obviously I'm willing to talk about it and not pretend I'm neurotypical. I serve on the DEI council at work, for all the usual reasons, but also to represent the people with autism traits. I'm not broken or ill, but I am wired differently. I often hear people say that certain people with ASD make them uncomfortable. Imagine how we feel.

Some jobs are about outcomes, not hours

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 8, 2023, 11:46 AM | comments: 0

Some years ago Simon had a school principal that was obsessed with test scores, to a toxic degree that was certainly counterproductive to actual education. Wondering how far she went with this, I did a FOIA request with the district to get all of her email that referenced testing. The worst part of it wasn't just the testing, it was a single slide in her intro deck to her teachers. It said, in all caps, red, underlined:


Teaching is already a stressful, underpaid job that people are fleeing in great numbers. Can you imagine having this as well?

Micromanagement is already terrible, but I think the same group of people who think that it's necessary are the same ones that believe butts-in-seats in-office work with required hours are necessary for salaried people. I saw an interview a few weeks ago with Michael Bloomberg who insisted, "We pay people for 40 hours a week, so we should make sure we get those." There are other executives who have made similar statements in the press in the last year or so, and I think that they've become fundamentally disconnected with what typical white collar work entails. (They also, with no data to support the assertion, insist that people "collaborate better" when together every day, which sounds exactly like the kind of thing that Type-A extraverts who are executives say.)

I worked for a CEO at one point who asked me why there were so few people physically in the room one day where my staff worked. Quite a few were remote that day. He said, "How do you know that they're doing the work?" I asked, "How do you know your outside sales people are doing the work?" Naturally he said because they brought money in, and I told him that my people delivered working software. He asked if I knew if they could be doing more, and I said the same thing about sales people. He was clearly frustrated with this exchange, and my respect for this particular leader continued to dwindle. And keep in mind, this was not long after I let go of someone who was usually in office but not delivering a lot of quality work.

And if you really insist that the hours matter, then why is it that no salary job anywhere acknowledges working more hours, or pays more for it? Yeah, you can't have it both ways.

Salaried work does not pay for a number of hours doing work. Humans in their capacity to do these kinds of jobs generally are moving toward outcomes, not some arbitrary number of hours worked. We've all worked in jobs where people who came into an office every single day appeared to deliver almost nothing. It does not materially matter if someone is physically there or not. (Some research indicates that "productivity" is actually higher when remote.) There is often an ebb and flow, variation, in the intensity and volume of work necessary to deliver outcomes, and it is further influenced by the human's ability to do the work in the moment. Trust me, as someone with ADHD, I can assure you that sometimes I'm doing all the things at light speed, and other times it's hard to finish writing an email. Some weeks don't require 40 hours, but most do, and I have to actively watch to make sure that I'm not working a ton of extra time at the expense of my family and other interests. People are not inherently capable of linear execution rates.

What if your art sucks compared to existing art?

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 6, 2023, 11:37 PM | comments: 0

Was watching the latest episode of Welcome To Rexham on Hulu tonight. If you're not familiar, it's the documentary series about the Welsh football club that Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny bought. I'm not a big sportsball fan, and football, er, soccer, continues to be a sport that I just don't get, more so than most. But shit, the stories that they find and incorporate into this series, whether it be about the player with an autistic kid and the autistic fan, or the struggle of the women's club they have, it's compelling and amazing to watch. I'm on edge waiting for the next episode.

Rexham is hardly the only documentary I've watched. I watch a lot of docs. I rarely read fiction books, but I'm a junkie for docs and bios. This extends to the visual medium. I get deeply into it. As you likely know, I'm trying to make a documentary film myself. Imagine the self-imposed pressure, and endless comparison that comes when I watch something awesome and inspiring as the stuff I'm watching. It's soul crushing.

The thing is, if I'm to follow the advice of Rebel Without a Crew hero Robert Rodriguez, or Clerks guy Kevin Smith, both of which admittedly were about making no-budget indie films, they say you just make the thing and see what happens. The advice of still others, many of whom have been interviewed on various podcasts, is that you just have to make a lot of stuff that will be shit, and the goal isn't making them non-shit, it's getting them made anyway. Judd Apatow said this frequently in his master class. This is super difficult for me to reconcile.

I've been talking about making a film based on a fictional screenplay, feature length or short, written by me or someone else, for the better part of a decade plus. But I haven't done it, because I'm sacred that it will suck, and everyone else will think it sucks. Also I can't find a script.

Early this year though, I thought, fuck it, I'm gonna make a documentary, and so began the rum thing. To date, I've spent about $6k on equipment and animation, and when I've sat down and tried to start editing in a non-trivial way, I immediately think, this isn't good. I don't have what I need. I don't know what the real narrative should be. Then I think I know, and I want to augment it with footage I don't own (about Hurricane Ian, which lacks context for you, but it's important), but people want $200 per second to use it. The doc is ostensibly about rum, but I know it's about small businesses and community. But I don't have what it means. And I still can't get anyone to even return a fucking email about growing sugar cane. I bought my drone mostly to get shots of cane fields.

I know this is partly just a self-esteem issue, sure, but it wears on me. Fortunately, I did recently hear back from a pretty amazing tiki bar that's here in suburban Orlando, and they're willing to be a part of this. It will help the rum story, for sure.

Art is hard. It's not because doing the things are difficult, it's because believing that it's worth anything is a huge challenge.

Regarding my generosity

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 4, 2023, 11:56 AM | comments: 0

I often feel that we can be judged for the extent of our generosity, or maybe we aren't judged enough for it. It's tricky either way, because generally people don't brag about being generous, since that's weird. I've had mine called into question before, and that kind of annoys me. I don't really want to keep score either because, as I said, it's a little weird.

I've been told that I "tell it the way I see it," which I now understand has more to do with an occasional lack of filtering likely associated with autism. I'm aware of this trait, and sometimes it's valuable, and other times it's not. But it's me either way. Unfortunately, this can be misinterpreted as a sense of self-importance or arrogance, which is not the case. Further, it might be seen as an indication that I'm not empathetic or I don't care about others. And by extension of that, perhaps some people think that I am not generous. This couldn't be further from the reality. In fact, the more I reflect on my life, the more that I feel that my generosity is often taken advantage of.

For the sake of this subject, I'm not talking about philanthropy. I think my record there speaks for itself, given the fundraising activities I've been involved with, or places where my name is engraved on a wall. What I am talking about is the little and big things that I do for others in close proximity. I don't really think twice about these acts, whether it be having people over for drinks, or giving someone a ride, or helping with some task, or volunteer coaching. Maybe I do it in the pursuit if inclusion and belonging, so it's not entirely unselfish, but it does seem like an automatic response.

This may go back to the formal ASD diagnosis, where the psychologist suggested that I have difficulty moving beyond the perception of being slighted by others, but when I'm taking stock over my whole life, I often feel that I've given more than I've taken. I don't like to go there, because I know how toxic it is to keep score in individual relationships. But in aggregate, yeah, I can think of so many instances where I now feel I was kind of used for my generosity. It's not a good feeling.

It begs the question, what do I get out of doing stuff for others? As human beings, it's just what we're supposed to do. But reflective me wonders if the equation is lopsided. So I'm trying to reconcile that, and what it comes down to is that I'd rather do things for others, and risk the inequality, over being a selfish dick. It isn't typical to feel good about being the latter.