Archive: December, 2023

2023 Review

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 31, 2023, 7:44 AM | comments: 0

It feels like we've had two good year in a row, which seems unusual after the shitshow of the pandemic. But the sheer volume of stuff that we did was epic, and that is super satisfying.

The hobby business

This is becoming the same story year after year, but the swings were much worse when they should have been better. CoasterBuzz was up an extraordinary 35% in terms of users and page views, which I can't really explain other than some tweak to the Google algorithm must have really helped. PointBuzz is harder to measure because of the change in Google Analytics that I put off updating, but my own data around forum sessions shows that the increase is about the same, maybe a little more. But ad revenue was down 30%, and that's after being down 42% last year.

The outcome is that, despite a significant resurgence in traffic, I actually had to fork over my own money several months to cover the hosting costs. Those costs didn't change much compared to last year, despite improving some of the performance behind the hosting. Ironically, this could be part of the reason for the increase in traffic. Google weights fast sites over slow sites.

When I've looked around the Internets to see if other indie publishers are in the same boat, they all tend to talk about solutions involving all of the really intrusive crap that dominates most sites. I'm talking about the video slide-ins from the top and bottom, mostly, and some sites seem to have two or three of them layered. I'm being an ideologue, but I just can't resort to subjecting users to that. If these things have survived for two decades, and are attracting more attention, that didn't happen by bludgeoning visitors with the worst kinds of ads.

Google says that they're switching to an all-CPM model "early next year," meaning I get paid for every ad shown, not just the ones that are clicked on. I'm not sure how this will affect earnings, but it can't get much worse.


As I said last year, I don't talk about this much anymore. That said, I had pretty good year with a great team that delivered so much good stuff. I finally got to meet many coworkers in real-life, with the first work travel that I've had since before the pandemic. It seems like the longer I'm in any job, the weirder things get, but so far that's not true with this one. It's a nice change of pace.

Making stuff

It seems like a silly realization to have, given how obvious it is, but I decided this year that I may try to do some new things, without commitment. For some reason I had it in my mind that anything you attempted to do you had to commit to for life, or you were a shitty person. Yes, I'm still working through all of the silly tropes that if you don't do certain things, you're less of a person or flawed in some way. For example, I bought some electronic drums, used, and decided to give that a shot. I figured out how to do some basic things, but I found that keeping metronomic time was hard, and I wanted to play like that guy from Wolf Alice without practice. This was obviously not going to be a thing, so I packed them up, and they're sitting in the garage (where I should really unload them).

On the other hand, I did actually decide to make a documentary film, and I've got a bunch of footage "in the can" and a narrative that I haven't figure out yet how to edit. It's about rum, sort of, but mostly about how small businesses help each other out through things like pandemics and hurricanes. I spent a non-trivial amount on gear, travel and even an animation sequence. I arbitrarily time boxed it to a year, but that's mostly a guideline. The mental block, more than the edit, is trying to figure out if it can be feature length. Many things that I wanted to shoot ended up not happening because of all of the times that I was blown off. If it ends up being a short, that'll be OK.

The movie stuff only included about five days of shooting, and I do mean days, but there was a lot of preparation. I needed to learn how to properly use the new gear, and I did a ton of experimentation with lighting, because that to me is what separates good from bad. I still got it wrong when I was shooting by myself. The first time out, I had Diana and Simon with me, and it made a world of difference. They would see things that I didn't, or when I was running-and-gunning, they could carry around lights, or get a microphone on someone. It's a lot of work to do it "right," so despite a small shooting schedule, the cognitive load was high during the first half of the year. Then we went to Europe and I just got into other things.

I made my annual release of POP Forums, up to version 20 this year, but the improvements this year were smaller in scope than last year's super update. More interesting was that I decided to see if I could make my moving lights, uh, move, by way of code that I wrote. As it turns out, yes, I figured it out. My ADHD hyperfocus kicked in, and over the course of a few weeks, I wrote enough code to create an underlying engine of stuff to make the lights go. I'm not sure what I can do with that. I could keep going, and make a user interface and figure out how to do effects and stuff. What would be super easy is to do basic cue lists and such, and I even write code for cross-fades. All of this kind of lacks intent though. I'm not sure what the outcome is because it's all tinkering, not really something coming from requirements in the classic sense. At the very least, I'm doing a live demo and talk at Orlando Code Camp about it in the spring.

Of course, I also spent time trying to learn as much as I can about actual lighting for events, concerts and theater, which is largely academic when I don't have much of anything to apply it to. I started to explore both the ETC and MA Lighting platforms, and the latter seems to be more widely used for touring, events and concerts, while ETC seems to be more common in theaters (I think it stands for "electronic theater control"). I think I can learn how to program both, but I'm going to focus on MA and get their entry-level console, a PC-based system that's more control surface than anything, so I can push actual buttons and faders and stuff. Unfortunately, I have to wait until at least March to get one.

In the mean time, the software for both platforms runs on any computer, free, but you can't actually control real lights without hardware. MA had a less featured product that has been discontinued that does have real output, so I've used that a bit to run my lights for Halloween and other experiments. It does have 3D virtual visualizations, so I can build an entire stage and make a show that way, too. It's just really cumbersome without physical buttons and faders.


Overall, this was a mostly good year. All of my numbers are where they should be, except my triglycerides, as usual. This bothers my doctor more than me, but as long as my pancreas isn't pissed, I'm not going to obsess about it. Top of "normal" range is 150 mg/dL, and I tend to be around 200. A few years ago it was 350. Apparently for really problematic people it can be over a thousand. I already take prescription supplements, Vascepa, and I do not tolerate fenofibrate. Long term, regular activity would likely make it better, but another year passes and it has been difficult.

In June and July I got into a fairly regular habit of walking a couple of miles on the treadmill every morning, while I worked at my desk. I lost quite a bit of weight this way as well. But after I got back from Europe, it broke the cycle. I did it once or twice a week, then once, then not at all. There is a reason though, and I think it has to do with anxiety.

My mental health overall has been much better after starting on bupropion XL, about two years ago this February. I am still surprised by how much more I feel, and how infrequent I experience what I think is depression. It still happens sometimes, like when we get streaks of cloudy days, but mostly I'm good. What I am dealing with though is anxiety, and I think that it's connected to the insomnia I also experience. This has been a thing since the pandemic, and I thought that maybe it would dissipate. It hasn't, and my brain races sometimes for hours after I get into bed. I have a small number of doses of lorazepam prescribed to help with panic attacks, and that allows me to sleep, but I'm already paranoid about using that because it's habit forming. My doctor has suggested that medical marijuana often helps people with anxiety and insomnia, so I may try that if she thinks it's a good idea. What little science there is on it suggests that in small doses it can really help.

The anxiety and lack of sleep makes it harder to get up early enough to do the walking. If I'm awake until 2, getting up at 7, or even 8, is exceptionally difficult.

Aside from the slightly high tri's, I generally feel relatively healthy, though I know feel better if I'm regularly moving. I remember a point in my 20's where I would get winded walking up stairs, and I haven't felt that at any point since moving down here. Heck, when we cruise, I'll do the deck 3 to 11 climb if I really have to (and admittedly I get a little winded by deck 10). I don't feel good about having to take two medications indefinitely, rosuvastatin for cholesterol, and levothyroxine for hypothyroidism, but I got pretty far into life without taking anything. My poor kid is already on several meds for ADHD and anxiety. I'm not sure I'd want to back off of the antidepressant, because it seems to work really well. I also voluntarily take OTC famotidine (Pepcid) because it seems to keep the swallowing problem I had away, as well as cetirizine (Zyrtec) for allergies and IBS.

My mental health journey is very much a work in progress still. Again, the autism and ADHD diagnoses have allowed me to reframe much of my life, in mostly good ways. I'm far more self-aware. I recognize when I can't stay on task. I ask myself often, in work and social situations, am I reading the room right? I also recognize the coping strategies that I organically developed over the course of my life so far, and recognize when they don't work. I will unapologetically step out of a room when all of the interaction becomes too much. This awareness is empowering.

Diana continues to struggle with back pain, and she continues to fight Aetna for appropriate, doctor-prescribed treatment. She has had some medicinal treatments that help, but longer-term stuff is more difficult to get. On the plus side, her migraines have generally been well controlled.


I'm not sure where to go with this, other than to say it's still hard. I'm also less inclined to talk about the daily stuff involved because he's a teenager now, and he deserves some level of privacy. The craziest part is that in one year he grew several inches, and he's almost taller than me now. And there's the voice change. He's more than two-thirds to legal adulthood. And for a kid that doesn't like very many foods, he sure can eat like it's his job.

School continues to be challenging, and it's hard to nail down the why's. His ADHD clearly makes everything that he's not that interested in harder. Education has mostly been navigating developmental delays, or what is sometimes uneven development. I remember a point in grade school where he was well ahead in one area, and behind in another. Writing is hard for him to start, and blank pages freak him out. We've got him outside help for math, which is making a pretty big difference.

Mostly we struggle with the same issues that we did a year ago, keeping him responsible for all of the things that someone his age should be responsible for. Homework is always a struggle to start, but not always difficult to do. He wants shortcuts for everything, and doesn't really get that learning requires work. I think it's a little better than last year, but not by much. My biggest concern is still his long-term ability to be self-sufficient. It's not a question of "if," more to what extent. Right now, I have a hard time seeing him go to college, which is a harder road unless he takes deep interest in a trade.

On the bright side, he's often independent when it matters the most for us. We can leave him alone when we go out, and in the cruise setting he's basically autonomous. He's also developing his own personality, though it's somewhat influenced by obnoxious middle school boy stuff, which I suppose is just something we have to endure. While we've caught him in some minor lies, he's otherwise not a kid who gets in trouble or does really stupid things, though he doesn't really have the social framework for those opportunities either. Like I was, he's kind of a lonely kid. But he's often happy and expresses appreciation in ways that he didn't used to. He's growing up.

About the cats

It's worth mentioning that we fostered a ton of cats this year. Diana volunteers for a local shelter called Candy's Cats, and they adopt out of a Petsmart store. We already have the three of our own, and I am not at all interested in more (I'm not crazy about the third, because he's a dick to Finn, our favorite). But it is fun to have kittens around now and then. We had an elderly old girl stay with us that kind of limped around (arthritis), and for some reason she got really attached to me. Followed me everywhere, would not leave me alone. She landed a good home with another volunteer.

A lot of them have some issue, like they need medicine, or they need vaccination and quarantine. But for the long haulers, like the three kittens we had the last few weeks, they're able to roam free around the house, play grab ass and posture themselves as bigger than our gigantic cats. It sure beats them being stuck in cages.

Travel and entertainment

It was so good to be back in the theater, a lot, this year. The first part of the year continued to catch-up after the pandemic. We started the year with the return of Wicked, then the "meh" Pretty Woman, the extraordinary Sorkin version of To Kill A MockingbirdChicagoMy Fair Lady (which was better than I expected), Into The WoodsBeetlejuice (which was impossibly good) and Funny Girl. The 23/24 season is a little "meh," but the next will be better.

We also spent a great deal of time in the amazing Steinmetz Hall. That includes staff and donor events, which are just insane to have in that space. We saw our local community orchestra and choir do a fantastic show of Disney music. My favorite shows were with the Royal Philharmonic's residency. We saw one show with Beck, which was pretty mind-blowing, and another with Broadway royalty Sutton Foster and this dude whose name I can never remember.

For our anniversary this year, we decided to do a three-night Wish cruise in concierge. That's not something that we normally do, because it's kind of stupid expensive, but we also turned an important corner. Simon is essentially self-sufficient onboard, and since he can't get off the ship without us, we let him do his thing in the teen clubs. The Wish has a superior concierge experience compared to the other ships, and the amenities are pretty great with smaller numbers of people. The open bar doesn't hurt either (though you certainly can't drink the value of the increased cost). We had an exceptionally good time, and we were well taken care of.

We did a Segway tour in Mt. Dora with Simon in the spring. I feel like those are getting harder to find, but I always have a great time doing them. Simon caught on pretty quickly, and Diana and I are veterans with a lot of miles (Epcot, Seattle, Port Canaveral). It's a bummer that they're so expensive to buy, even used. I'm not sure why, but they seem "better" than the electric scooters that are popular right now, that I've somehow resisted buying.

We did a staycation for my birthday, given its proximity to our Europe trip. About every other year we do this, where we find a cheap rate at a Disney resort, check-in, and act like tourists riding the busses and getting reservations and stuff. It's surprising how different the entire experience feels compared to a typical visit from home. We stayed at Coronado Springs, because it was cheapest, but also because Simon loves the pyramid pool, and we love the Three Bridges tapas/sangria place. Diana conspired with my friend Ken to surprise me there, since we're both big Living Colour fans, and they were playing the Flower & Garden festival. We had a few issues, but otherwise it was a solid mini-getaway.

The big deal this year was that we finally made it to Europe. We've had this itch for awhile, but traveling with Simon always felt like a non-starter. But at some point, it seemed obvious that doing a long cruise to many countries was the perfect idea. For one, we'd get to "sample" a bunch of places without spending a ton of waking hours in airports. The other big part is that we knew Simon would have food that he'd eat, guaranteed. The flying part overnight with him was certifiably awful, and the resulting fatigue in London made it less fun.

But despite a lot of unusually cold weather, even for Iceland, the trip was mostly everything that I hoped for. It wasn't without its challenges, but none of them were related to food. We saw amazing things, met amazing people, and I think most importantly, have a good idea about the places we'd like to go back to. London and the UK in general were already on the list, in part because of Diana's semester in school there, but we also developed strong feelings for Copenhagen, and Norway by way of our stop in Ålesund. I like the idea of seeing more of Denmark, Norway, and since Sweden is in between, that too. I wrote a lot about flying out, UK and France, Iceland, Norway, the ending in Copenhagen and the cruise itself. I would be down for something like this through the Mediterranean.

We did one more cruise in September on the Wish, which felt too short. Part of our motivation there was to get our 25th cruise, putting us in the "Pearl" status that gives us dibs on booking, checking-in and boarding first for the rest of our lives. That's important because we're doing the inaugural sailing to their new, second island/beach facility this summer, and we want dibs.

I rediscovered gaming this year. For most of my parental-era days I kind of landed on games at random, mostly Lego or Halo. It's so weird to think back to my 20's when I had to spend $40 on a game that might suck, whether it was for a console or a computer game (though at least many PC games had demos back then). So it's no small surprise that I rediscovered some of those old games, like Dungeon Keeper. Then I bought the handheld machine and finally caved for an Xbox Series X. Having the Game Pass Ultimate subscription has given me the no-risk opportunity to try a bunch of stuff, and find things that I really like. GOG ("good old games") started as a nostalgia play, but even current titles come without DRM, so I can try to make Windows games run on the Mac, with mixed success. Most recently, I've got 20+ hours on Against The Storm already, which makes a lot of top 10 lists. I found the spiritual successors to Dungeon Keeper, which are mixed in terms of quality. Still, I find that when I disappear into a game for a few hours, I come out more interested in doing other things.

Fiscal condition

Things are still going pretty well this year. For the first time ever, I contributed as much as I legally could to my 401K at work and my Roth IRA. It wasn't easy, because at any given point, my brain is like, "Well, I don't have to do this, it's optional." Had I been more responsible in my 20's and 30's, maybe I wouldn't feel like I had to do it now.

I tried to game out the year as much as possible, knowing that our trip to Europe would be expensive, though it was mostly paid for in March. It meant we more or less had a savings reset. Simon getting Invisalign wasn't as expensive as I expected, but we exhausted our medical co-pay again this year. (Sidebar: I don't know how people can afford to get the care they need without great insurance and high wages, and that's pretty broken.) We had some other big hits, like the HVAC repair (again), and costs related to the crowbar incident. There are always things, I guess.

I was kind of concerned about how much it costs just to live in this house right now, but I also looked up the numbers for a reality check. My property tax on a per square-foot basis here is $1.71. If I still owned my house in Brunswick, Ohio, the tax on that property is $2.25 per square-foot. So that's actually solid, and one of the reasons we moved down here. It probably makes more sense to measure by home value, but in that case, it's radically higher in the old neighborhood, like 3x, but values are much lower there.

Insurance has effectively doubled in the last two years, but relative to value, it's not that much worse. Mind you, I'm in the middle of the state, and that's not the case on the coasts or in flood prone areas.

World outlook

I suspect that this is the source of much of my anxiety. I thought in 2021 that maybe we were going to turn a corner, get back to something more "normal" post-Trump, but in many ways things got worse. Most of the important data post-pandemic has been moving in the right direction, with dramatic decreases in crime, higher wages, historically low unemployment, stabilizing inflation, reasonable stock market recovery. But now it seems like racism, transphobia, antisemitism, xenophobia and the like are all having a pretty big moment. And so much of it is happening under flag waving, as the antithesis of what that flag is supposed to stand for. Some folks actually want the guy back who thinks we should get rid of the Constitution. And this is just the stuff happening here in the US!

There is a minority contingent of haters that continue to wield influence. And let's be clear that there aren't just "two sides." As much as I'm willing to explore nuance, if you wish to hate people, discriminate against them or oppress them in any way, you're not right. Caring for the welfare and prosperity of other people isn't "woke," it's just not being an asshole. The white, straight, often-Christians who believe that they're being targeted or discriminated against aren't being targeted for being white, straight or Christian, they're being targeted for their hateful behavior toward people who aren't like them. There's a difference.

So this year will be interesting. A former president is on trial for dozens of felony indictments, and some of his co-conspirators have already put in guilty pleas. If all of the racism, misogyny and bigotry weren't already disqualifiers before he got elected, how do people even consider him now? You don't give the keys to someone who tried to steal your car while you were watching. Meanwhile, Congress passed only 27 bills this year, a record few laws. They're not working. I don't understand why people apparently want this.

It's not all bad, mind you. Science is winning a lot. Renewable energy and sustainable transportation are very much becoming real. Medicine is finding virtual miracles. (Does anyone remember how fast an effective vaccine was developed for Covid?) Hard to say what AI will do for us, but my limited experience with it is positive, when it isn't ripping off content. Technologically, there's never been a better time to be alive, even if some of that tech has had negative influence.

Am I content?

For the second year in a row, I can honestly say, mostly yes. It's not all puppies and rainbows, and I don't expect that it should be. But we're all mostly healthy and functional and have not had to endure a lot of chaos. I expect a lot of things to change over the next five or six years, and I feel like I'm getting ready for it. The psychological weight of my birthday this year was heavy, but if I'm feeling grief over that, I'm oscillating between bargaining and acceptance. In the moment, as I turn the calendar page, things are mostly solid.

2023 Playlist

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 30, 2023, 4:55 PM | comments: 0

This is going to be a short post, because it's a short list. In fact, it's the shortest in my "modern era," which is to say the last two decades. This makes me sad, not just because music is my life soundtrack, but I'm still not much of a nostalgia guy for music. High school classmates might still be listening to Def Leppard and Poison, but I was mostly done with that by the time I left college.

There are two problems, the way I see it. The first is that discovery of music is really hard, because there are few good curated sources to do it. I don't care what others think about the "machine" that the music industry used to be, because at least at the broadcast end of that, there were taste makers looking for the good things. There's still a machine, but it seems to prefer the most ephemeral crap, and despite my guilty pleasure for stuff that is barely art, I don't understand this world where 100 people are credited with making an album for one person. That's nuts.

I used to lean on AltNation on SiriusXM pretty hard, and while I have a cheap subscription, I feel like they've been in a rut for the last two years, and it's a big homogenous mess of stuff that does not interest me. I'm starting to lean on LiveOne again (formerly Slacker Radio), which is what comes with Tesla cars. They might have the opposite problem, where they're not focused at all, but they play almost entirely different things on their alt rock station.

The other problem is that the music world in the US seems to be rock averse. Sure, call it "alternative" or whatever, but part of that is the noisy guitar-bass-drums thing. Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend in 2021 was one of those, and it was fabulous. Now if it isn't Foo Fighters, it doesn't get played here.

Anyway, my musical savior this year was Metric. Formentera technically came out toward the end of last year, but I didn't really get into it until this year. It includes the epic, 10-minute-plus "Doomscroller." Then they decided that this was supposed to be a double album, and Formentera II was released this year, and frankly I think it was even better. Metric's Fantasies was the background of my move to Seattle in 2009, and their work since had ranged from "good" to "meh," but never topping that album. Both of these are better, and it's great to see a band continue to peak more than a decade later.

Grouplove delivered another solid album this year. beabadoobee actually toned things down for her album this year, but it's a good chill listen. Depeche Mode's thing is OK. The Foo's are just OK this time as well, but I don't know how you beat Medicine At Midnight, which was fantastic. It was kind of weird to get a Linkin Park song from the grave. I think Paramore is going in a better direction that's more their own, instead of leaning into the tired emo/pop/punk thing that they used to do.

Here's a YouTube playlist, if you're into that sort of thing.

Computer hand-me-downs

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 23, 2023, 6:21 PM | comments: 0

Today we replaced Simon's late-2015 iMac with... my previous 4-year-old PC that I built. Yeah, we get a lot of mileage out of stuff around here.

Getting eight years out of a computer seems crazy by aught standards, but here we are. It's still usable, and I hope to find it a good home. With tax, that thing cost $2,800, which is nuts. It only had 8 gigs of RAM, but that's when you could still upgrade, so I added another 16, for 24 total. Up until today, Simon was mostly playing B-list games on it, and a ton of Roblox, for which it was fine. It could even run the Mac version of Planet Coaster, kind of OK. The big attraction when I bought that machine was that it had a "5K" screen, back when stand-alone monitors were not usually high resolution. I made a lot of software on that machine, and even got laid-off once through it. Apple has stopped supporting it, so while it gets a security update now and then, it does not update to the newest version of MacOS.

The PC is actually really robust still. The CPU is a 9th-generation i7-9700K, and I overclocked the shit out of it. The video card is an RTX 2070, which I spent $460 on at the time, a total splurge. The crazy thing is that it's on par with cards that cost $300 now, so it's no slouch. The aforementioned Planet Coaster plays well with all graphic settings on high. I put 32 gigs of RAM in it, and added a very fast SSD. It's a huge upgrade for the kid. I intentionally bought him a cheap $150 IPS monitor that's limited to 2560x1440, instead of 4K, because that card will perform really well at that resolution.

I admit that it's kind of easy to look at all of the talk of frames-per-second and such and want to build another computer, but honestly, I don't want to play games at my desk, where I work. Maybe it's different if you leave the house for work, but for me, no thanks. I've been fortunate to make some stuff run on my MacBook Pro. But it begs the question, if the machine can use its excess resources to translate Windows x86 to Mac ARM, imagine what it could do if publishers were porting to the Mac. One of the few AAA games released for Mac, Baldur's Gate 3 apparently runs insanely well on the Mac.

A year of many, many gadgets

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 22, 2023, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

It's hardly a secret that I have a gadget problem, but in my defense, it tends to be mostly outcome based. Like, I buy certain things to fulfill certain actual needs. This isn't always the case, and sometimes it's just "because," but usually there's intent.

Making the documentary was a big instigator for this. Unfortunately I feel like it's going to be a short and not feature length, but I will edit it and see how it goes. The biggest part of that endeavor was upping my lighting game. I finally bought a serious key light, a dome, some tube lights, C-stands and stuff. Diana made a black flag/blanket for a few bucks with fabric she sewed, which was also awesome. I bought an EasyRig, which suspends the camera from an arm overhead strapped to your back, and that was a game changer. It fixes the problem of cameras not being shoulder-mounted in an elegant way that makes it possible to shoot comfortably for hours. I bought a camera slider, which makes some really cool looks, especially for product shots. There was a drone. I bought the DJI wireless mics, too, and they're pretty great. The core camera and lenses that I already had worked great, so no new investment there. Oh, I also bought this amazing Black Magic Design edit controller.

I replaced both my laptop and desktop computer this year. I couldn't resist the return of a non-sucky MacBook Pro using the new Apple silicon. All of the performance hype is real. I can write code with Rider and no dependence on Windows. I switched to a Mac Mini on my desktop, so both computers have the same CPU. Editing 4K video works much better. I could have gone with new PC hardware for the desktop for about the same amount, but at the expense of using far more power. And yes, this agitates the gaming situation, but I solved that in other ways.

My lighting design interest got a little more serious in terms of learning about the two major platforms (MA and ETC), but I didn't buy a console. I did commit to getting an onPC MA3 console, but the earliest I can see one is March. In the mean time, I did buy two more Chauvet Intimidator Spot 260's (well, 260x's), so now I have four. That already is more fun. I think next year I might buy two more, and some cheap Chinese brand washes. You can design shows virtually, but there's something about the tactile feel of actual light in the room. Plus, I like the idea of being constrained with physical lights. Virtually, there's no limit, so you don't need to be as creative.

More recently, I bought the handheld PC for gaming, the Lenovo Legion Go, and an Xbox Series X. Those have unlocked all kinds of gaming possibilities, and I feel like that has balanced my interests by giving me more energy for the other things. And using Whisky, and Apple's Game Porting Toolkit, I've been able to run a lot of Windows games on the Mac. They aren't kind to the battery, but they do work.

There were some non-electronic projects too! I installed a glass washer next to my bar sink. I didn't strictly need this, but when there are people over to make drinks for, it takes just seconds to get the shaker to clean. I also installed floating shelves. I decided to let someone make those for me, and because the wood is so beautiful, I decided not to try and put lighting in them.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what to do with the video stuff, so it's piled up mostly in my office. I could probably put the non-electronic stuff in the garage (EasyRig, tripods, light stands, etc.), and maybe that'll be my plan. The lights have rubber belts in them, in addition to the electronics, so I probably don't want them baking out there.

Being a measurement geek

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 13, 2023, 10:16 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that is often strange about making software is that the thing you make isn't really something that you can see directly, if it isn't something on the front end. So much of what we build is on the back end, some kind of service or thing that has no user interface. And heck, as a manager, I'm not building anything myself at all, it's the excellent team that I get to work with. Maybe it's a little bit that, but I like to be able to see in real time how it's behaving because I love to think about performance and throughput and numbers that measure what it does. This is especially true with things that run at scale.

The team built a new thing in record time, and now we're learning about how it could fail, slow down or otherwise not live up to its purpose. The only way that you can make informed decisions about how to firm up the software is to measure all of the things that it does. I'm not sure why, but I love to geek out on this sort of thing. And as I was speculating, I think part of the reason is that there aren't any buttons to click on, so this offers some validation that the thing is useful. There are a ton of things that you can measure that are pretty typical technical stuff, like how much memory you use or how long requests take, but I like getting into the behavioral stuff, too. What does it actually do and how much? If it does three things, in what proportions do they happen? Is there some kind of logical funnel of events to follow? How much money does it make? How much money does it cost? Sometimes interruptions or changes in behavior can mean that something is wrong as well. When it's not, it gives you the feels about how it's providing value.

Fortunately, while I'm not writing the code to generate all of this data, I can mess around with dashboarding it. It's so satisfying. That's the kind of weird that I will proudly own.

The nebulousness of "financial freedom"

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 12, 2023, 11:29 PM | comments: 0

The other day I was reading some random opinion column that suggested the American aspiration of "financial freedom" is dumb. There were some distractions about how if we all had healthcare maybe maybe this wouldn't be the goal, and while I tend to agree that might be true, the real problem is that people who do have "financial freedom" are not really any happier, or really all that free. Obviously, exclude celebrities and dotcom unicorns, as he wasn't talking about them.

The argument was that if people were more specific about moving toward the specific things that they wanted to do, instead of building wealth to have the option to do whatever they wanted, they would lead a more fulfilled and happy life.

Not gonna lie, this hit me like a ton of bricks. Because I think it's true.

Applied to my own life, I haven't until recent years really defined what it is that I want to do. Life can be funny that way, because we get into a career and parenthood and real estate, and we're suddenly in a box to make sure that we continue to have all of that tidy. I'm far from a Type-A box checker, but shit, I'm in that box.

But a funny thing happened when I started thinking more seriously about retirement in recent years. I've gradually come around to the idea that I don't necessarily want to stop "working," and that the thing that I'm really after is working on whatever I want. I mean, I see these "retirees" working at Walt Disney World all of the time, and at that age, I know they're not doing those often hard jobs because they need to. While I want to "retire" at a certain date, it doesn't mean that day I want to sit around scratching my ass and play Lego Star Wars for the hundredth time. So it's not that I want the freedom to do "whatever," it's to do something specific. I'm just not sure exactly what that is just yet.

Most of my life I've really approached the road to "freedom" as only acquiring some level of "F-you" money. That was pretty dumb. In recent years, I was already treating specific financial goals as a more fulfilling kind of freedom. Our trip to Europe this summer was fairly deluxe in nature, and we could do it because I was disciplined enough to know that it was an outcome that would make me happy. Budgeting for the film equipment is in the same category. Getting Diana into long-arm quilting a few years ago was also a happy outcome. This year I've found freedom and happiness by targeting specific outcomes today, not some point in the future. And right now, I'm saving for that lighting console, partly for the joy of learning and doing something new, but also because it could become what I do.

Could I have been doing this my entire life? The answer is obviously yes. I have in some ways been doing it ever since we left Seattle, and it's the reason we live where we do. And then we discovered all of this other stuff that was possible like going to and working at the theater, going on cruises, building a home bar for entertaining, becoming electric car enthusiasts (which is fortunately getting closer to just having a car). I think the big swings were the move, the Europe trip, and probably all of the cruises, but these are things that have definitely been happy outcomes.

Does this mean that you should piss away whatever you're putting away for later in life? Definitely not. But I think we should all have specific things in mind, because the goal isn't the dollars you have, it's the things that you'll do with them. You don't need to do your best to be a multi-millionaire for that (unless following your bliss means having a yacht, I guess). This is more about how you think about the life outcomes instead of actual financial outcomes. Sure, the more you have, the more you can enable specific things, but the goal itself shouldn't be having more. You can't take it with you.

POP Forums XX

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 11, 2023, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend, I released version 20 of POP Forums. I've been at it for 24 years, and I've got the version history to prove it. There are few things in my life that have been consistently there for that long. There have been a few minor contributions from others, plus the language translations, but it's otherwise been mostly me.

v20's biggest new feature is an OAuth-only mode, meaning that identity is completely delegated to an external system, for a private forum that has only people from your organization in it. Over the years, people have adapted it to do this, but I figured that since it was already doing it with Facebook and Google, this was the next logical step. Beyond that, it uses .NET 8, replaces Moq with NSubstitute (because of drama), and a ton of library and package upgrades.

Open source projects are kind of a mixed blessing. On one hand, you get to work on something that you care about, and probably fill a specific need that you have. On the other hand, it's often a thankless job. Sometimes I get an email or note thanking me for the work, but like anyone, I also get the, "Why doesn't it do this?" comments with no offer to help.

When I first started PointBuzz and CoasterBuzz around the turn of the century, I was pretty green in terms of any kind of development beyond HTML, which isn't really "development" in the sense of software. I added Ultimate Bulletin Board, a Perl-based app, to the sites, as the core of my community. It was written by Ted O'Neill, who answered the support emails himself, and I found that to be inspiring. UBB was, in my eyes, the first widely deployed web-based forum, and it invented paradigms still used today. I had no idea what I was doing in those days. I had a desktop app from Microsoft called FrontPage, that with certain extensions installed on the server, allowed you to live-edit files on the server, which was torturously slow over a modem. The idea that I should have source control and work locally was foreign to me.

At the time, I was working at Penton Media, which would eventually die under the Internet media revolution, and my job was to spin up new sites for the supply chain group in conjunction with the corporate development department. They did some really cool things with customization for content and directories (the primary product was B2B magazines and trade shows), and it was something that no one had really seen before. It was software online. With most people using modems at home and no such thing as smart phones, it was hard to envision ubiquitous connectivity, but this was all built on the idea that it would eventually be real. I started to think about how it would be cool to have a database full of news and roller coaster information, and ways to "favorite" it in your own portal, much as these B2B sites did. The third-party building the stuff was using Microsoft's Active Server Pages, so that's where I started, moving on to ASP.NET a few years later.

I wanted control of the forum app so I could do all of this integration across different site features, and that's why I originally built my own. At its most basic core, there are only four entities in a forum: users, forums, topics and posts. So I started down that road, and even sold the first few versions. They were filled with SQL injection vulnerabilities and what not, because I didn't know what I was doing. Over time it hardened, flipping to ASP.NET Webforms, then MVC, then Core, and today it's mostly running on Linux containers with ElasticSearch, Redis and blob storage optionally supporting. And it's crazy fast.

This web application pretty much follows my career as a software engineer, to the extent that it's the genesis of it as well as the result of its progress. I have certainly thought about identity in the professional sense, and it's kind of odd that I don't associate it with this, at all, despite being my only (and likely best) long-running achievement. I've paired my professional identity with various jobs instead, even though I'll only forget over time what I did in those roles. But this app, it will always be my thing, and like the book I wrote, something no one can take away. Maybe I should lean more into that.

When the advocate isn't advocating, and executive function

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 9, 2023, 11:07 AM | comments: 0

One of the things that gives me some level of comfort about Simon's education is that he's mostly well supported. At this stage, what we often see as his challenges are the ability to recognize information that he should have, which is more an ADHD problem than anything. It's difficult for him to be switched on long enough to learn what he's supposed to learn. I can deeply empathize with this. The drugs help a little, and he even takes a midday dose at school. But the one classic developmental delay that still nags him is around executive function. As a parent wanting what is best for their kid, this is the thing that scares the shit out of me more than anything. That's because if it is simply delayed development, cool, he'll get it in two or three years. If it's outright dysfunction, that's a different conversation. For all of the delays he's encountered, I assume that's what this is, but education isn't fundamentally built to accommodate this.

Where we see this the most is starting and finishing things. A blank page is just about the worst thing for him to encounter. It's difficult to discern what he does or doesn't know from school because of that starting barrier. This isn't something limited to school, because it can apply to virtually anything, like a pile of unfolded laundry or full dishwasher. My theory, supported by some stuff that I've read, is that when he encounters something that he's confident in or wants to do, a metaphorical blank page is not a big deal. I've seen him start to do math that he understands like a boss, or even power-wash the driveway. But write three or four sentences, let alone an essay, on something he's not familiar with, and it's a bad scene.

One of the worst kinds of blank pages for him is one that requires any kind of drawing. Drawing is a pretty abstract thing to do when applied to something like, say, history. So imagine our frustration when he keeps getting history assignments that require drawing things about historical events. Do you want to assess him for his knowledge of the history, or ability to draw it? We've been having this issue with this teacher, who also, according to Simon, has been unwilling to help him in certain situations that seem a bit off, if Simon is telling it like it is. That's deeply concerning. (And for the record, we've had to add no-drawing into his IEP.)

I am very easily frustrated with Simon, a lot, maybe even most of the time. It's a cruel irony when I apply "why can't you just do..." when the same expectation has been placed on me my entire life in situations where I'm just not wired to do the thing that way. My post-diagnosis journey has been to give myself a little grace about what I couldn't or wouldn't do well because of ADHD and ASD, because it wasn't a personality flaw. And yet, I find myself applying the same thing to Simon. When a teacher isn't advocating for him, which is bad enough, I certainly should be.

I often find myself wondering how we tap his true intelligence, because it's there when his curiosity breaks through the executive function delay. I try to think about how that worked for me, but I had some degree of natural curiosity toward just enough things to more than get by. It's why I got an A in broadcast law but D'ed my way through things like philosophy and American literature. I don't know how to help him, which is why I have to advocate.

I'm a little video game crazy, for now

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 6, 2023, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

I've written a few posts over this year about video games. Earlier in the year it was about how Mac gaming should be better, then how new games weren't supporting Xbox One anymore, old school games, etc. I have cyclically over the years realized that it feels good to just lose yourself in a game from time to time, and that I feel generally mentally refreshed when I spend time doing that.

Recently I bought a handheld gaming PC, which wasn't even a thing two years ago. I also relented and replaced the Xbox One with an Xbox Series X. That thing had a nine-year run, which has to be a record for any console I've had, and I waited three years to get the new one. But we've had a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which includes Xbox and PC, for several years now, and we've used it a ton. The quality of what's available, as well as some of the older back catalog, is pretty great.

As both of my readers probably know, I spend a lot of time feeling bad about not doing "impactful" or "meaningful" things. It occurs to me that I need to stop doing that. Playing games gives me a little more balance among things that I like to do, not to mention things I have to do. So this month, I decided to stop trying to force all of the other things and just let myself get lost in gaming for now. I'll organically get back to my movie, software projects and whatever when it feels right. In fact, I know that isn't even far away, because I've got the itch to publish the next forums release.

What got me started was rediscovering Dungeon Keeper 2, which holds up really well as super fun, and often challenging. On the handheld, I wanted to play through a few games before writing about it, so I went through Portal and Portal 2. I also replayed the first of the Tomb Raider reboot "Trinity" trilogy, which runs remarkably well on there. Then on the new Xbox I played through the second, and I'm now in the third (which looks really remarkable on that machine). I also scored the Jedi sequel for $30 the day after Thanksgiving, which is one of the games that does not run on the older one. If you can see a theme, there is one. I really like the stuff with a narrative and a decent story. That Tomb Raider trilogy is pretty great, and the funny thing is that I don't remember playing through them the first time. The art is stunning. The Jedi games are similarly great. Of course I've always loved the Halo series. I've knocked out other short games like JusantDungeons 4 has a lineage back to Dungeon Keeper, but so far I'm not as impressed. I've also been playing the enormous Starfield, but to be honest, combat is really hard, and getting the story to move forward is slow. Not sure if I'll stick with it.

Oh, and I play a lot of crosswords from the NYT.

Internet misogyny is really ridiculous

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 3, 2023, 2:08 PM | comments: 0

I remember early in my observation of online behavior that there were always some people who were next level horrible humans, but they were kind of a shocking exception. As was the case in polite society, for the most part those people were cast off into the shadows and you didn't really encounter them that often. Well, except in male-dominated gaming communities, and it's still bad there. But lately I've encountered it in really unexpected places around interesting women that make stuff and do things, and share that on the Internet.

This year, for example, I came across Xyla Foxlin, by way of Simone Giertz ("yetch," if you didn't know). Simone makes the most random things mostly to see if she can, and some of them, like her puzzle table, and "Truckla," are brilliant. These two are friends, and Simone appeared with Xyla in her very own plane, so that's how I discovered her. Xyla is also a maker of things and an engineer, but with big things like campers and bass guitars. More recently, she built a carbon fiber rocket, and I could not even believe the kinds of comments that people posted.

"Someone else built the rocket... Xyla. You just danced and watched.

Worse yet, she built that rocket, not her first, in part because, as she said on Twitter:

"Some asshat from NASA called me Joe’s “PR girl” at the rocket launch today, and I’ve spent the day trying to talk myself down from quitting rocketry forever. I’m 25, I’ve been dealing with this shit for over a decade in STEM, and it STILL gets to me sometimes."

What is wrong with people? Who actually says shit like that?

When I was trying to better understand the electricity in my house when my solar plant had an issue, the algorithm pointed me toward Lexi Abreu, an electrician who posts her work on social media. She does some commercial work, which is even more interesting because of how this big load stuff would feed theme park attractions. Even better, she points out stuff that was installed not to code. So a few days ago, she posts a reel on Instagram with some random comment superimposed that says:

"She would be so much happier just at home with a husband and kids but do you."

As ridiculous as that seemed, there were plenty of reactions exactly like it in the comments to that video. This gem, for example:

"you will be more happy at home with kids, that's a woman's unique role in life, but im not hating, shes actually putting in the work unlike the rest just saying they can do it. and it also brings issues too because she gonna need someone who makes double her money for it to work out. which is even harder to find now a days."

My initial urge is to make a comment about literacy, but for real, how does anyone in 2023 think this way, let alone (attempt to) verbalize it in public? 

No woman needs me to save them, that's for sure, so I bring this up mostly because I know that a lot of folks will just let this sort of thing stand, of any gender. Usually it's the racism and religious bigotry that I see the most, but this is a good reminder that old fashioned misogyny is alive and well. We can't let this stand. We know it's still a huge problem, sometimes just by way of math. That women make less money to do the same jobs as men is real. I was talking to a woman recently whose boss said to her, "You should just stop talking," in a meeting, in front of other people.

It's hard to believe, but technically things are the best they've ever been when it comes to discrimination and hate based on gender, race, sexuality, etc. What's most ridiculous about it is that the bad parts that remain are louder than ever, and society tolerates it. I like what David Letterman has said in a number of interviews recently. When asked if the desire for equality and just generally being nice to each other has gone too far, he suggests that it's probably OK to overcorrect, and then back off. I couldn't agree more.

The intense subjects of purpose and legacy

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 1, 2023, 9:45 PM | comments: 0

In today's episode of Middle Age Theater, I find myself contemplating purpose and legacy. I've written countless times about the unfortunate conflation of career with purpose. I don't dislike work or my career, or find that it's universally unsatisfying. But I don't think many jobs have really felt like a calling or purpose. My current job is objectively awesome, and I adore the people that I work with. But expanding on purpose, am I working toward any particular legacy? Probably not. Does it matter? I don't really know. Purpose and legacy are two things I've never really though about together much until, well, today. Maybe subconsciously I have, but this is I think the first deliberate association that I've made.

I am wholly uninterested in wanting to be remembered when I'm dead. For real. I'm just another thing made from cosmic dust who will eventually be cosmic dust again, and I don't overstate my existence beyond that. It's cool. Billions and billions of beings before me are in that category. But while I don't feel the need to be remembered, as if I could control that anyway, I feel like purpose comes in part from the idea that your legacy is tangible. It's indirect recognition without the ego, right? "I'm anonymous, but what I left made things better." I've written about scope of impact before, and I still don't have a good answer to whether or not that matter.

Tonight I was watching the documentary Adrienne, about the actor/writer/director of Waitress, the movie that preceded the musical that I adore. She was murdered at the age of 40, before that movie was picked up at Sundance, so while she had appeared to have a rising trajectory before that in various movies and an indie film she directed, her genius was not truly recognized until she was gone. This of course is profoundly sad, but I don't think you can understate the legacy she created. Not only did she make a movie that ended up introducing us to actors we all know well now, especially Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, but it led to the musical of the same name, which went on to do thousands of performances between Broadway and tours, and grossed tens of millions of dollars, elevating lyrics/music composed by Sara Bareilles to a make her a next level artist.

Adrienne Shelly was taken from us at only 40-years-old, but the legacy that she left, the impact, the jobs, industry and art that she left, is immeasurable. Now, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to measure myself, or anyone, against that benchmark. Again, scope is relative. I believe if you can change the lives of any people at all, that's a win. Some of my volleyball "kids" say I was that for them, and I'll take that to the grave. But for whatever reason, I can't help but think that I should do more. That I must do more. I don't know how that works.

The place that my brain keeps going back to is that artists are the people that makes life worth living, that make the world better. There's so much awfulness in the world... war, fascists, people who thrive on hate... but artists ground us in our humanity. I feel like that is a noble and just existence, and it's not what I am. So I wonder if it could be. When I was a kid, I believed that I was creative and could be, and it led me being a radio DJ, for however short a time that was. Then I started making television, again briefly, but I felt like it was art even if I was making it for local government. Today, I don't have that same sense of purpose. My ADHD and ASD brain meanwhile is trying a hundred things at the same time to see if it could serve an artistic purpose. I write most days, I've written fragments of a screenplay, I have at least one story to tell that I can't reconcile, I'm making a documentary, I want to be a lighting designer in some capacity... it's all potential and not real.

I feel like the clock is ticking to figure this out. If I got hit by a bus, I could objectively say that despite my perceived shortcomings of my life, largely not a product of my own doing, I could end feeling pretty good about what I had. But I can't shake this burden in the urgency of midlife to believe I need to do more. Again, I don't seek recognition, I seek the satisfaction of knowing that I left made a difference. What a weird place to be.

(Postscript: I reject the notion from the Type-A who believe they're critical business leaders or, worse, fitness "coaches," that it's just a simple notion of will and desire. That's the worst fucking nonsense. If there were any truth to that, we'd all be rich and/or famous.)