Archive: March, 2023

Pre-conference... normalcy

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 24, 2023, 11:24 PM | comments: 0

I'm speaking at a conference tomorrow, the long-running Orlando Code Camp. I've done it every years since I moved here, which is to say 6 years, before the pandemic. It has been dark for four years, so it's great to be back. I can't fully explain why I enjoy speaking gigs so much, despite having done it at over a dozen different events, and despite my social atypicalness (is that even a word?) and ASD.

Tonight was the speaker party in Lake Mary, near the event which takes place at Seminole State College. There I was able to catch up with a Jacksonville-based friend of mine that I met through this event years ago, who works for Stack Overflow (if you're a software developer, you know). I also got to briefly catch up with some of the folks that run the local user group that runs this free conference. We're really lucky to have this kind of ecosystem here where all of this is sponsored and free. And one of the guys that I worked for at SeaWorld Entertainment now works at the college, which helps to run the event, so it's very circle-of-life. The community is large but small, if that makes sense.

This annual thing was always fun, because it was an unusual one night a year where I could meet up with other nerds, have drinks without having to drive anywhere (I always get a hotel in walking distance), and have the kind of casual yet slightly inebriated interactions that one takes for granted when they work in a colocated manner with their colleagues. Don't get me wrong, I love working remotely, but even for me it's nice to have that social connection now and then. The friend from Jax, we go years in between and just pick up where we left off. I even met his wife once.

After the meetup and drinks, where the food was again not ideal for a non-beef/pork eater, I went across the road in one of these "town square" retail developments here in Lake Mary, to an Asian restaurant that was oddly only open until 10. Had some solid sesame chicken, and had a nice conversation with one of the bartenders about rum, which is timely given my documentarian efforts. It was a solid cap to the night before returning to the room to polish my deck before my talk tomorrow morning. And I wrote this post.

If all of this sounds non-remarkable, that's kind of the point. Three years ago, the event was cancelled at the last minute because of Covid, and honestly I was crushed. With my autism diagnosis coming after that, I realize now how there are certain circumstances where I thrive, and derive some amount of self-value, and conferences where I share stuff are high on that list. While I now acknowledge how exhausting many social situations are to me, the situations where I can confidently lead a discussion are like gold.

I have to get to sleep. Gotta get up at 6 to be there at 7 because one of my quirks is that I have to get dibs on the best doughnuts. Even two years ago I wouldn't have recognized that, let alone said it out loud.

What it costs to run my sites, 2023 edition

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 24, 2023, 4:33 PM | comments: 0

The curve of site running costs has been pretty crazy over the last 25 years. It started out relatively cheap, around $50 a month. By 2001, it was often as much as $800 per month, at which point I had a T-1 connection installed at my house for $1,230 a month. That had a remarkable speed of 1.5 mbps (you likely get more than 100 mbps downloads at home now), and I had to buy my own server and software. Eventually it settled into a rhythm of around $120 per month for a great many years. The performance wasn't great, but it more or less worked. When that server finally had to be retired, I was spending around $180 per month. That had its issues too, when I had a server die on me once, a fire at the data center cut it out another time, and I had a hard drive die once too. No redundancy. In 2014-ish, I moved everything to the cloud, specifically Azure.

In these days where ad revenue has become, for lack of a better word, dire, I thought it would be good to talk through my spend now. I spend a little more, but the performance is extraordinary and redundancy is included. Here's the run down:

  • $110: Database - This is the largest cost that I have. I use a SQL Azure database pool, which means that I can make as many databases as I want that share a pool of "database transaction units," which is some arbitrary measure of CPU and memory usage. I average under 10% utilization, so plenty of overhead for random Google algorithm spikes or bots slamming the sites. It's fully redundant and I can go back in time if I mess up a database. I could over time adapt everything to run on PostgreSQL, but on Azure at least, this isn't likely less expensive for the same performance.
  • $23: Primary site hosting - This is abstractly a Linux virtual machine running all of the sites in containers. To accommodate all of the sites, it's not at the cheapest level because it takes a lot of memory. I'm only running one instance, instead of multiples, which is why every now and then it appears to go "down" for a moment because the underlying machine dies, is being decommissioned or some other condition. All of CoasterBuzz runs here, and the non-forum part of PointBuzz runs here.
  • $23-46: Forum hosting - As above, but there are two slightly lower powered instances that are load balanced. This is the hosted POP Forums app, which includes the PointBuzz forums and sometimes other customers. At times of slightly higher demand, I have to either add a third instance or double the resource level (CPU/memory).
  • $15: Redis cache - This is a small pile of in-memory data that is shared between the hosting instances, as well as the main sites. It's faster to get commonly used data out of memory in the app itself, or in lieu of that, in a shared in-memory database like Redis, compared to the regular database. This is one of the reasons everything is so silly fast.
  • $6: Various storage accounts - There are a bunch of these that do different things. They host the images that people upload into the forums, different bits of state and backups.
  • <$0.05: Background functions - The systems do all kinds of background tasks like updating the search index and other things, and I love that the sites themselves are not taxed by this, and it costs virtually nothing for them to fire off these tasks tens of thousands of times per day.
  • $40: Elastic search index - I task Elastic to manage a search index, which also runs in Azure. All of the sites use the same index, because I was clever about making it a multi-tenant affair.
  • $10+: Miscellaneous - Add extra costs for bandwidth, DNS and some other minor things. Bandwidth used to be the most expensive thing, now it barely registers.

So my cloud spend is around $230 a month.

Those are the monthly hard costs. I also spend $30 per month on an Adobe subscription, though I don't use it all that much. I also have domain name fees that are a few hundred bucks a year, an annual fee to Florida for the honor of having an LLC, accountant fees to do taxes, postage to mail membership cards (until I run out of them) and credit card fees.

The traffic between the two sites tends to be between 5,000 and 20,000+ page views a day, with the low end happening during the holidays, and the high in the middle of summer or when there's a big news event. The traffic trends have been pretty steady the last five years, still seasonal, still concentrated during the work day. To break even on hosting alone, I need to make about $10 in ad revenue daily, because half of the PointBuzz ad revenue goes to Walt. So on the low end of the traffic spectrum, I need to make $2 per thousand page views, and on the high end, $0.50 per thousand page views. Even with traffic picking up as we head toward spring, I'm not making that minimum, so I'm paying out of pocket.

The other problem is that club membership revenue is way down since you don't need a membership for most of the big coaster events. There was a time when that alone would cover my costs. Between that change, and the Google-Facebook ad duopoly that has destroyed competition among ad sellers and devalued independent publishers, there ain't a lot to go around. And while traffic is steady, it's not what it was during the pre-Facebook days, when I could pay my mortgage on ad revenue.

For now, I guess I'll roll with it, because it's hard to stop doing something you've been doing for 25 years, and I can afford it. But I kind of hate what the web has become. It's all walled gardens on platforms in exchange for a reduction in privacy, and consumers don't care. I could add more ads to the sites, but they're the worst kind that you see on your local TV station's news sites, with link bait nonsense selling crap. I'm not going to subject my visitors to that.

Next desktop computer upgrade figured out

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 23, 2023, 7:57 PM | comments: 0

After two weeks of intense noodling, research and testing about what I should do for computer upgrades, I finally have a decision. I'll explain that momentarily. With that in mind, it's pretty weird how I'm so worried about making the wrong choice here. I mean, I bought a light for the documentary for $500. It doesn't do anything but light. The right tools cost what they do. But the thing is that, unlike a lot of the video nerds online, I'm not using all of my gear for work that I get paid for the way they do. If they spend $3k on a computer instead of $2k, it's not even a blip on their radar. I, however, am spending on a passion project, so the math is different.

The conclusion ended up being to go the Mac route. It's not so much that it's the perfect solution, it just looks like it's the more economical one. That's weird to say out loud about Apple hardware. At first, I thought about just not buying anything new, and use my laptop docked to a boatload of storage. The problem is that it wouldn't work with my backup solution. Every file that I generate gets backed up to a NAS at my house, and also gets backed up to a cloud provider. For that backing up to happen, the storage has to be plugged into the computer, and my laptop would definitely not be connected any time that I'm doing something other than editing video. And make no mistake, because Spectrum sucks and is still capping upstream bandwidth at 10 Mbps, it takes a week to back up a weekend's worth of shooting. But also, I had this arrangement once before, so I know how poorly the backup situation works.

There are some pros and cons to the Mac solution. The biggest pro is that I get a huge amount of desk space back, enough to get some real speakers. The biggest con is that storage is going to be in a separate box on the desk when it comes time to buy more hard drive space, which is inevitable. It seems like a reasonable trade though. I've confirmed that SSD's over USB 3.2 gen 2 or Thunderbolt 4 are plenty fast enough for 4K video, to edit right off the drives. I can tuck the SATA SSD I have in my PC now into an external enclosure, and it'll be good enough to edit from as well.

So how did I arrive at this decision? The variable to isolate was that the Mac has a lot of video encoding capability built-in, as do the newer Intel CPU's. But the rub is that video editing software relies heavily on the GPU as well. I could see on my laptop how well these M2 Macs eat video, so I did some simple scrubbing over timelines and exports, all to/from an external SSD, and the CPU's and GPU's did not get overworked. Maybe that doesn't even matter, because the processor in the Mac Mini is the same one in the laptop. It's a known workable solution.

For the Windows machine upgrades, I first tried to figure out where my bottlenecks were. I benchmarked all of my drives, and they're all plenty fast enough. Then I did the same scrubbing and exporting tests with the same source material, again, from the external drive. Watching the CPU and GPU graphs, the CPU would sometimes get crushed, so clearly going to the new i9-13900K would be a no-brainer, and all things considered a pretty good value. The GPU that I have also gets crushed to 100% as the screen waits to catch up, and it appeared to take the bulk of the load in timeline scrubbing as well, which was very concerning. The next step up in the overall scale of GPU's after the one I have currently runs about $450 for about a 10% increase in performance. To make a meaningful GPU leap, I'd have to spend at least $600, which blows the whole cost curve. I would be looking at $100 more than the Mac Mini, and there are some hidden costs as well. I would have my "new" computer, but half of one sitting around. That one would need a case and power supply to become whole enough to pass to Simon, so another $200 at minimum, or it becomes landfill fodder. And of course the Windows computer would become a small space heater, too.

I can't easily tell how well the theoretical Windows computer would do encoding with the new CPU/GPU combo, but another thing that made me lean toward the Mac is how effortlessly it can work with ProRes files, which Intel can't do at all, and the Mac also seems to eat H.265 easily, like oddly better than H.264. You can see where that optimization lies. So if you're editing in DaVinci Resolve with the usual camera codecs and raw formats, the Mac seems tuned for those. You have to spend more in the Windows world to get the same performance. Several YouTube comparisons seems to confirm this as well.

So after four years with a desktop PC, I'm going back to a Mac. Obviously I'll continue using the same monitors. I thought for sure I'd go the Windows route, but to get where I want I would definitely have to spend more. Outside of video work, much of what I do is in a browser, and dev work I can do on either platform. But the video editing is owned by the Apple silicon.

Accounting like it's 1999

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 22, 2023, 5:55 PM | comments: 0

People often call me a "computer guy" because they don't really understand what I do. That's fine. But they also appreciate that the technology that I use is pretty good stuff, and that's true. A master mechanic wouldn't buy their tools at Walmart, after all. So you'd be surprised that, to this day, I manage my personal bank accounts with Microsoft Money 97 and the business accounts with QuickBooks 99.

I'm so ashamed.

But the thing is, accounting is fundamentally boring and uninteresting, and I've had little interest in spending money on it. Business transaction volume is very low, but I still need to track a P&L for tax purposes once a year. Personal finance involves almost everything going through a single credit card, with a checking account receiving payroll and paying that credit card and big monthly things like the mortgage and utilities. But boy, reconciling that credit card every month is an arduous task that takes at least 20 minutes. I don't care for it.

Fortunately, there's this thing, the "Internet," which is a network of computers that can talk to each other and do stuff. Reconciling your banking is one of those things. But with so little income in the business, you can imagine how little I'm interested in paying a monthly or yearly fee for that, since all of the services start at $15 a month. I can stomach four or five bucks a month for the personal stuff though.

It looks like Zoho Books is free if I have revenue of less than $50,000 (no danger of that). I fired that one up, and it looks like it does all of the things as I would expect. Having done integrations with QuickBooks Online in previous jobs, and having my own thing since 1999, I know more about accounting than I would like. The personal finance thing is more tricky, because honestly the main reason that I use Money 97 is because you can add recurring things to a calendar and predict your balance. That's huge to enable me to pay off credit cards and save as much as possible. It looks like Intuit's Simplifi can do it, and it's $48 a year, which isn't great, but not horrible.

Eventually, I'm going to have a computer that can't run that old software. Those things have 16-bit installer headers that the current version of Windows will run for compatibility (the programs themselves are 32-bit), but probably not forever. In fact, the ARM version of Windows does not support it. And really, why should any operating system support something that's over two decades old?

Pride isn't the worst thing

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 19, 2023, 11:47 PM | comments: 0

I can't say that I've spent a lot of time in my life feeling proud. In the general sense, pride is not an attribute that is always looked upon as "good." It's vaguely associated with narcissism and ego, which are not things that you really want to be linked to. But I'm rethinking that a little bit. My business hero and quasi mentor, Matt Ouimet, the former CEO of Cedar Fair, once told me that he felt proud when he was walking around amongst the attractions that were under his charge.

Part of this comes in part because of my recent visit with my friend Mike from back in the Penton Media days. very early in my career. He's the kind of friend that you have to admire... veteran, professional, really good at what he does, parent of a kid with special needs, seen his share of shit... and also thinks highly of things that you've done. That last part admittedly makes me a little uncomfortable. He was there when I started CoasterBuzz and built it into something that could pay my mortgage, and he seemed to admire that. But like your good friends generally should, he thought highly of even my most modest accomplishments, and that's a thing that I don't get from very many people. Mind you, Mike is one of the kindest people I know, so I imagine that it's pretty typical for most people to feel good around him.

But I also think that maybe he's not ridiculous. I tend to take stock in what I've accomplished when I talk to him, if only because we met about 24 years ago. That's a lot of time to know anyone, and the list of people that I still actively talk to since then is pretty short. It lends some credence to his opinion about me. Couple this with the usual midlife introspection and existential examination of one's self, and maybe, just maybe, it's time to give myself a little credit.

This is a somewhat odd concept to me, in part because my journey as a parent had a late start. But I'm not all that far from retirement either, so few things about the "typical" milestones make sense to me. I feel like I'm still not that far from the failure of my first marriage, my career change, my middling indifference toward my career, or the start of parenthood. I don't feel like I have "finished" things that would qualify me for any kind of pride.

Mike isn't wrong though. That I'm still maintaining something that I started more than 24 years ago, with all of the changes in our culture and the Internet, is worth acknowledging. I wrote a book that was published. I've been maintaining an open source project for two decades. I did a radio show for awhile in the pandemic. I built a personal music cloud player when the commercial options disappeared. I turned around my own financial situation. I've transformed a number of software engineering organizations, even if those organizations failed to reward or recognize me. I've given significant amounts of my time and money to worthy causes. I've recognized and overcome depression. I've moved a bunch of times looking for the right situation, and finally found it in Central Florida. I've managed to keep another human alive into teen years despite some challenges. I go to Walt Disney World for lunch. Oh, and now I'm making a movie.

I think I've earned a little pride.

The problem is that pride is ugly if it is not accompanied by humility. So while I list my achievements above, it's more for my own personal inventory than anything else. I'm not interested in bragging (as I've said before, self-marketing is exhausting). It just helps sometimes for someone to acknowledge.

So take your own inventory. A little external validation isn't terrible either. Regardless of the scope of what you've achieved or contributed to the world, there's nothing wrong with feeling a little pride about it.

When your artists are all old (or dead)

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 19, 2023, 7:17 PM | comments: 0

I had a weird realization yesterday that it feels like most of the artists that I grew up with are pretty old, if not already dead. That's a little disconcerting. How did I get here already?

First, I was watching Shrinking on Apple+, which includes Harrison Ford being more brilliant, and funny, than I think he's ever been. I know he's got another Indiana Jones in the can, but shit, he's 80. Who knows how many years he has left. I also watched that U2 documentary on Disney+, well, Bono and The Edge, and they're over 60 now. The music end of things is a little more weird, because when I was in college, "classic rock" was barely 20 years old, and most of those people just disappeared or died. But here I am 30 years later, and bands like U2 are still doing stuff, not to mention even "newer" bands like Garbage and Weezer. How much longer do they all have?

My Gen-X generation is fairly well represented though. On the film side, we've got Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts, etc. In music, we still have Dave Matthews, Pink, Alanis, Snoop Dogg, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and such. Yikes, a lot of them are dead, and that's sad. Like, a lot.

I dunno, it's just kind of weird. The "grownups" that dominated our movies and music are starting to disappear or be very old. Some are alive but haven't been seen in ages.

Rum doc next steps

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 19, 2023, 2:40 PM | comments: 0

I've watched all of the footage we shot last weekend, and I'm pretty satisfied with it all. The investment in lighting gear paid off, and even without any color grading, it looks "cinematic," if only because I shot it at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I don't know where it might eventually be shown, but I figure I should conform it to a theatrical format.

I have begun editing in my head, and doing so helps me understand what I need to shoot next. I've got a number of things to shoot at the distillery, and I would like to go to the place where one of their ingredients come from. I also want to find another interesting restaurant, and maybe an interesting liquor store, if that's a thing. Lots of stigma about those, which is weird when you consider they sell product that can sometimes cost over a hundred bucks per bottle.

I have not physically started to edit, but that's partly because I need to upgrade the PC first. It's too annoying when it skips around as it does now when you scrub timelines. I've come to realize how trivial the editing I've mostly done with it has been (you know, Lego time lapse builds), but I also suspect that DaVinci Resolve is a little more demanding of the computer. As much as I enjoy buying gadgets, I have to admit that this will be less satisfying because I'm essentially replacing 80% of a computer, that at the end of the day will reside in the same case with the same installation of Windows. I also just paid for our big summer vacation, with a couple of hotel nights yet to book, so my wallet is melting a little. I'm not in a hurry.

I could do the video proxy thing, where the software makes lower resolution copies of your stuff, but that takes even more disk space, and frankly I want to see the real thing up close as a check that I'm getting the exposure right.

Early as it is, I'm already thinking about music. What a pain in the ass that is. With my Storyblocks subscription, I could use anything from there anywhere, but it is production music and it sounds like production music. The really appealing thing is that I could use something like Lickd, and license actual real songs, but release and distribution is restricted entirely to YouTube. I don't know what direct licensing from a record company would cost, but I'm sure it's well out of my budget. Another option is to find a musician I like to write stuff, and pay them directly, but I wouldn't know where to start.

I'm also thinking about graphics. There are things in my head that I want to try and get out, and I decided that I might try to do graphics in Resolve instead of After Effects. That's learning something completely new, but if they've done for motion graphics what they did for editing, I can likely and comfortably leave Adobe behind there.

Lots to think about, but I'm letting what I have marinate for a bit. I'm hoping to get back down to the distillery next month for their big monthly tiki party.

Lastly, I've been thinking about doing some kind of behind-the-scenes content, but not sure where to start there. I can't easily shoot me shooting the movie.

Mental health on the mind

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 17, 2023, 7:08 PM | comments: 0

My long-time friend Mike Freeze was here in town recently for a conference, and he made the time to visit at my house for a great many hours while I poured drinks and ordered wings. Inevitably the subject of our friend Mary came up, and then we just had her birthday. She would have been 48, complaining about her eyesight like the rest of us. But unfortunately, she took her own life in 2012.

I've never felt compelled to hurt myself, and I feel fortunate about that. I know plenty of other people who have had that urge, and it's scary to think about, and even harder to talk about. Depression runs in my family (whether they realize it or not), and I didn't really even understand that I was dealing with it until a few things lined up to make me see it. My life has been wildly different ever since.

It's not puppies and rainbows always though. I feel incredibly melancholy today. It's hard to pin down why, exactly, though I'm sure it's partly the realization that I've been eating like a moron lately, and my weight, and a rare recurrence of IBS, are reminding me today in an unkind way. I'm also flying solo all weekend, which is kind of a bummer after spending most waking moments last weekend with Diana. It's all temporary feelings, but it seems like they sneak up on me now and then.

I also worry about Simon, because being a teenager is rough. I can appreciate what it means to be a teenager with ADHD and ASD, because as it turns out, I was one too. It isn't fun. He really hasn't found his tribe this year, which is also familiar, and it's heartbreaking. Empathy alone doesn't make me qualified to help, so I worry.

The last time I talked to my therapist, I was generally surprised that, taking inventory, I had worked out most things currently in my orbit. I haven't been in a spot like that in a long time. As in, 8 to 10 years long time. With only so many keystrokes left, I want to be careful about what I spend my time typing about. (That's my middle-age metaphor. You're welcome.) That means trying to be as efficient as possible about maintaining (relatively) good mental health.

Take care of yourself, friends.

The satisfaction of feeling spent

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 14, 2023, 11:16 PM | comments: 0

The last two days running around to shoot for the rum doc left me pretty exhausted today. That's kind of a good feeling though. Feeling exhausted generally means that you did a lot of a thing, and in this case, it was a satisfying thing.

The funny thing though is that it's not really physical exhaustion the way that I thought it was. I'm tired, but I don't think the fatigue is the result of all the running around and carrying heavy things. It's more mental than that. I'll be honest, doing interviews is super exhausting for me. It's not just all of the eye contact, which I assure you is part of it (#ASD), but I was after certain things that help tell what I think the story is. Getting that from people takes a lot of careful listening, empathy and trying to understand a personality on the fly. I'd like to think that I'm good at that, but it's a mental muscle I haven't used in a long time, probably in the early podcast years, easily 18 years ago. It's very taxing. After that, I did three hours of driving, which is also mentally expensive because driving in Florida.

So after work today, I was a certified couch potato. What might be a little different though is that I felt validated and justified to just sit around and watch TV. To be honest, this is normal behavior for me, but what has really changed in the last few years is my ability to be OK with the lethargy following intense activity. I don't know what it is about our culture that calls this "bad," but I'm deprogramming for that. The world tends to impose plenty of stress, and we don't need to add to it by beating ourselves up over arbitrary external expectations that we never agreed to.

I'm making a rum documentary

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 13, 2023, 11:15 PM | comments: 0

If you follow me on the gram, then it's probably obvious at this point that I'm making a documentary about rum. It specifically centers around the Florida distillery Wicked Dolphin, but the narrative is likely about the bigger process of an ecosystem of local businesses making stuff. It doesn't have a formal name yet, but I'm leaning toward Rum With Me. I like the way that sounds and it says what it's about without being too literal.

This weekend, Diana and Simon helped me get started. The first day we went to two restaurants that are customers of Wicked Dolphin, one right at the Sanibel Causeway and the other in Cape Coral. Both sustained damage after Hurricane Ian. We were surprised at the amount of damage still visible even on the mainland. So many retail signs are blown out, traffic lights are at weird angles or missing their shades and trees are either down or in piles of cut debris. Today we spent the day at the distillery itself, and interviewed the founder and CEO, and then got the basic mechanics of how rum is made. I'll have to go back and get a lot of pickup shots for that, including bottling and barrel breaking. They also do a bunch of big events, so I'll go back to cover those as well. Next week I go to see where sugar is refined, though I can't actually get anything at the refinery, and we'll get some done shots over the sugar cane fields. Exploring some other ingredient threads as well.

I fully expect this to be a year-long process, but I think I've got a good start. I was thankful to have my partner and producer, Diana with me today. She's organized and helps me fill in the blanks on the people interfacing, which I admit is more exhausting than carrying things. That autism and eye contact thing is legit. Honestly, she makes everything easier. Even my day job, and she's not even in the room for that.

The mess of equipment that I have collected has been fantastic. The core piece of gear is a Canon C70 cinema camera, which I've had for two years, but honestly has been used more for LEGO building time-lapses than anything else. But the dynamic range and quality of the image it makes is so amazing. Paired with an RF 24-70mm L f/2.8 IS, everything looks so good. I used my still camera, a Canon R6 with an older EF 17-40mm L f/4 on an RF adapter as a B-camera, and when I set both to use CLOG3 and the same color temperature, it's staggering how easy they are to match. In retrospect, I should have tried my RF 35mm f/1.8 IS, because it has dreamy depth of field, but I don't have any ND filters for it, and as it is I had to bring it down to ISO 100 at f/4 and a 1/50th shutter speed (close enough to 24fps with 180º shutter, or 1/48th, as the C70 measures it). I think the two cameras will match really well, but I'll likely only use it for short bursts of alternate angle things.

Lighting has been my fear all along, because frankly the camera and lenses don't even matter if the lighting sucks. I have four cheap Neewer LED panels, but I think the output is like 35W equivalent, so they're not very bright, and borderline useless with natural light. After much watching/stalking of various YouTubers who have great lighting, it was clear that I needed a fixture that was 200W equivalent with a quality dome or diffuser. The go-to here seemed to be the Aputure/Amaran 200x with a Light Dome II. This was, absolutely, a killer combination. Even with daylight, it's the right thing. I coupled it with $20 of black quilted fabric we picked up and Diana bound, and hung that from a C-stand to do some negative fill opposite the new key light. For backlight I used one of those cheap Neewer lights with a honeycomb on it (to keep it off the lens), and that rounded out the kit. I dialed in the 200x and the Neewer to the same color temperature as the cameras, and it looked amazing. I also used one of the Neewers to throw up some subtle color on the barrels in our one interview, but it was only a little visible. I'm going to have to suck it up and buy some more powerful secondary lighting at some point. The smallest thing I bought was the DJI Mic kit, a pair of transmitters and a receiver, and then I added a decent Shure lavalier to plug into those. I love having those on a person, with a little piece of gaffer's tape on the inside of their clothing. Sounds amazing. The transmitters can record right on the units, but I haven't done that. I imagine it might be slightly cleaner than what's piped into the camera. Oh, and I had to buy a few C-stands, which I've avoided for years, but they make such a huge difference because you can fly all kinds of stuff over and around people. They're also satisfyingly heavy.

Which comes to my last point. You can't do this sort of thing for free. I've been accumulating some of this gear in the past few years, and some of it even dates back to 2006 when I bought my first HD camera. But there are gaps, and I knew I would have to spend to catch up. My total "budget" as I thought of it was $10k, which includes travel, but I've only spent about $3k. The aforementioned 200x light and dome were part of that. The next biggest thing was a DJI Mini 3 Pro drone for the sky shots. It's pretty fantastic, but not entirely without its flaws. I flew it over Sanibel Harbor about a half-mile away and a pretty neat shot following a car over the bridge. The most expensive thing I bought though is a Swiss piece of fantastic engineering called an Easyrig Minimax. Basically it's a contraption that you strap on to your back and it supports the weight of your camera in front of you at any height you choose. As cameras are too small to sling on your shoulder without extra rigging, they're also too heavy to carry in front of you. The Easyrig fixes that problem. The C70 with the 24-70mm, a shotgun mic and a 7" LCD monitor (because my vision isn't good enough to monitor focus without) weights about 8 pounds. I can also strap my gimbal to it, but I didn't do that this weekend, even though I did bring it with me.

What will I do with this film? I have no idea. I think the first step is to submit it to film festivals, though unfortunately I don't think it's realistic to do any fall shows. Maybe then I try to get it in front of streamers. I don't really know. The temptation is to get it in front of people any way I can, for free, but truth be told, if I can make something back, that would be OK. So I don't know.

I've got some action items and follow ups already to do. As the footage marinates, I think a clearer narrative will emerge. But I'm finally making a movie. I just never realized that it should be a documentary.

Why open source software is important to me

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 9, 2023, 7:45 PM | comments: 0

When I open sourced POP Forums around two decades ago, I honestly did it in part because it wasn't something that I could sell anymore. The window of opportunity for selling niche software like a forum application was pretty short. I originally built the thing because I wasn't satisfied with existing options, and I wanted to have the ability to integrate with other things. Since I was maintaining it anyway, I may as well have given it to others to use. The fun thing about it is that it has since been translated into five more languages, and the packages have been downloaded thousands of times.

These days, I have the added motivation to keep my skills sharp and maintain some amount of street credibility, since I mostly manage people and process and don't write code in my day job. But more and more, I'm taking advantage of existing open source software in ways that lead to cost saving, shortcuts and really robust solutions that wouldn't be possible otherwise. Recently I've been messing around with Keycloak for identity management, and KrakenD for API gateway orchestration. These are fairly mature products, yeah, I think they qualify for that term, because they're so robust and well thought out. These big projects are often backed by companies that offer paid support or consulting for them, so there is some incentive to maintain them.

I feel like, however small the user base might be, it's important that I'm giving back to that ecosystem. That's why I imagine that I'll continue with my stuff for as long as I can.

We did the Tron

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 8, 2023, 4:34 PM | comments: 0

I churned out a few words on CoasterBuzz about the new Tron roller coaster at Magic Kingdom...

The long wait is over, as humans, er, users, are riding the new Tron roller coaster at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Preview invites very suddenly went out a week or two ago, and we scored one of the last slots after waiting online for a crazy three hours. I was hoping for a night ride because of the lighting package, but we got 9:30 a.m., because that's all that was left.

I'll say this, as a themed attraction, it's about what you should expect from Disney, though because the world of Tron is so dark with blue trim, the queue and such are not what I would describe as richly textured. What is textured is in the video clips and such displayed in the queue and station. There's also a pretty cool reveal moment in the queue, though it's confusing about what to do after that, unless you happened to see the door open. Missing is any indication of Olivia Wilde.

For our ride, I was reminded why we still use the disability access service (DAS) from time to time. My son just turned 13, with autism, but he has a way of having anxiety turn him into a puddle for anything new. He had been obsessing about the motorcycle position of the ride for weeks, and after doing the test seat, resolved to not do it at all. We learned shortly thereafter that every train has a standard lap bar row for people who either can't fit on the lightcycle or, in his case, is for whatever reason freaked out by it. The cast members were very kind and accommodating, reassuring him that it would be fun. And spoiler alert, he enjoyed it.

I sat on one of these at the Vekoma booth at IAAPA many years ago, and found it kind of uncomfortable and gimmicky. I don't think that it really adds anything to the ride. In fact, it feels awkward when you're locked in and waiting to dispatch. I imagine it wouldn't feel great if you had a stomach full of churros and Dolewhip. Your field of view is somewhat limited just because of the body position. To board on the far side of the train, you walk between the cars, and while there is some clever iconography explaining that, I wonder if people will get it during normal operation. It felt really awkward to get off of it, too, and I kind of tripped on something. I get the theme, I just didn't care for it.

The visual effects during the 74 second ride are pretty cool, with some clever use of mirrors, screens and lighting. I think it helps to have seen the movies, but even then, I can't say I made any real connection with it. It's a lot of (mostly blue) eye candy.

As a roller coaster, the launch feels like it has a very long acceleration curve, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, there isn't much to it after that. It meanders back and forth around some fairly tight turns and then it's over. There are five or six-ish turns inside the building, with I think a total of three long block brakes (they mercifully don't slow the train). There just isn't much there. I might even argue that if you take out the launch, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train does more stuff. I guess given that it's in Magic Kingdom, it's appropriate, but I think I would choose Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain before Tron if I could only ride one in a day. Admittedly, I was so dazzled by Guardians at Epcot, and that threw my expectations out of whack.

I sound kind of underwhelmed, and I am, but it's a fine attraction for that specific park, that a wide range of people will enjoy riding. And if any park needs more high capacity attractions, it's Magic Kingdom.

One final note, you can tell this is a copy of a ride built for another park, because the sight lines are a little jarring in places. I mean, as you exit, looking over at the queue for Barnstormer is super weird.

What does the next desktop computer upgrade look like?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 7, 2023, 11:48 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe, but the computer that I built is almost four-years-old. For development workloads, it has been everything that I hoped for, never being particularly over-taxed. It was easy to overclock. I haven't done a ton of gaming on it, but what I have done has been great. Planet Coaster, Planet Zoo, Control, Halo, Forza, LEGO Star Wars, have all run at pretty solid frame rates. Video editing is not quite what I would like, but to be fair, I didn't have a 4K camera when I built the computer. Export times aren't really a concern, but being able to smoothly move around color-corrected video, meh, that's not quite what it should be. I didn't appreciate it until I got the new M2 Mac.

There isn't a clear upgrade path though, because of cost and the new found performance of the M2 machines. In the Intel world, the logical next step is a 13th-generation i7 or i9, which is a significant upgrade from my current 9th-generation i7. The newer CPU's have more cores, more cache and faster access to memory. The individual cores are a little over 50% faster, and the new CPU's have two or three times as many, in a mix of efficiency and performance cores. So if you're throwing computing tasks at all of them, the i9 benchmarks 4x my current set up, the i7 3x. So if the software can use all the cores, that's a crazy difference.

To get to that point though, I would have to replace my motherboard and memory as well, and that would close in on $850 to $1,000. It would also consume a whole lot more power. Then there's the question of whether or not I buy a new GPU, and that really throws the cost into new territory. Remember that the GPU (and "neural" cores in Apple silicon) play a big part in video editing. I currently have an RTX 2070. An "affordable" replacement would be an RTX 3060, under $400, but it would largely be a lateral move. To do 25% better, add $50 for a 3060Ti. To do about 45% better, add at least $200 more for a 3070. The cost of these things is nuts.

The alternative is to get an M2 Pro Mac Mini, which would cost $1,600 to match the innards of my laptop, and another $400 if I want to match the 32 gigs of memory I would have in the Intel computer. The side benefit here is that it results in a tiny little aluminum block on my desk (with an SSD in an external enclosure dangling from it), that uses a fraction of the power. Then Simon gets my existing desktop. Single core performance is similar to the newer Intel CPU's, but multicore benchmarks at 2x what I have now, so compare that to the 3x for i7 and 4x for i9.

The difference is complicated when you look at mobile versus desktop. In a laptop, you can spend about the same thing for Apple and Intel with equivalent performance, but the power draw on the Intel side will be nuts. On a desktop, you can get more computing cycles for your dollar on the Intel side. There is another nuanced discussion because raw CPU benchmarks don't tell the entire story. The Apple silicon is a system-on-a-chip (SoC), meaning that the CPU, GPU and memory are all physically on the same chip. When they're that close, everything is faster and more efficient. Is Apple better than Intel? It's not an apples to, er, Apple comparison.

This isn't something that I need to act on any time in the near future. At least, not until I find myself editing my big project. If I were replacing another laptop, I'd probably stick with Apple, but on the desktop, the sheer power of the Intel hardware whilst plugged in is pretty crazy.

Simon, 13

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 5, 2023, 5:39 PM | comments: 0

It feels like I just did this, but between the pandemic and middle age, time doesn't make any kind of sense anymore. The bottom line though, is that we're parents to a teenager. It's awfully late in life to be here, but we didn't plan for it. And make no mistake, he didn't need to get to this age to actually start acting like a teenager! He's already noticing girls, and I'm so not ready for that.

Parenting a teen is probably challenging enough without the other challenges. We put him back into public schools, and while it's definitely harder for him (and us), he is at least being held accountable to learning. His social scene is not very robust, and that's heartbreaking, but he's very fortunate to have a number of adults in his life that look out for him. For me, I spend a lot of time feeling like the bad guy, because I just don't want to rescue him from every situation that he doesn't want to (or more often is too unmotivated to) confront. I recently feel like we're turning a corner on that, but it's hard for both of us. The things I'm usually requiring of him are not hard things, they're just basic self-care and chores.

The flip side is that we provide a lot of opportunities to do fun stuff, as one does when you live in Orange County, Florida. This next year will be a big test because we're going to do some international traveling (i.e., not North America or the tropics), where things will not always be easy or convenient. Well, except the parts on a cruise ship. Hopefully he will appreciate that he's been to all of the same countries that I've been to, all before high school.

I jokingly say to newer parents, "Just wait until they start having opinions." But the truth is, despite the teen snark, this kid has some funny moments, and he seems to like a lot of the same music that we do. He isn't to the point of appreciating the same movies, but he's still young. Absent this year were the desire for trick-or-treating and Santa rituals, which is simultaneously sad and a relief. And he will soon be taller than Diana, and if he happened to get the gene that only his uncle has on Diana's side, he may very well be taller than me. Those late nights of football-holding and bottle feeding don't seem so bad (though definitely glad the poop is long behind us).

We upgraded our Disney passes this year to include mini-golf and the water parks. For a hundred bucks, it was totally worth it. It's a perfect, short commitment activity for the summer, and fun to do with out-of-town friends.

We had our first orchestra concert in the amazing Steinmetz Hall, with the epic Carmina Burana. We are so lucky to be able to do stuff like this.

The Guardians of The Galaxy roller coaster opened at Epcot, finally, and even though cheap-ass Disney stopped providing PhotoPass for free to passholders (they've since announced that they'll reverse that), I grabbed this from our first ride. Despite the expression, he has grown to love this ride, and it's certainly my favorite in all of WDW as well.

I used to build the K'nex roller coaster about once a year, then we kind of forgot about it. Simon remembered it, and I said, "You build it if you want to play with it." And so he did.

Our friends from Norway were here over the summer, and we took them to Kennedy Space Center to nerd-out on space stuff.

One of the highlights of the summer was the opportunity to sail on the inaugural sailing of the Disney Wish. Simon got to know the layout of the ship very quickly, and with a phone to keep in touch via the onboard chat, he's largely independent. He spent a lot of time riding the Aqua Mouse and getting to know the youth activities crew in Edge, the tween club. Here he is exercising concentration with his tongue as Ant-Man instructs him to push the button on the quantum core in the Marvel restaurant.

One way that we're very alike is our picky food habits. Because autism. But we had something of a breakthrough this year in that he'll eat hamburgers now. He'll tolerate pizza, but if I could just get him to chicken tenders, he could more or less eat anywhere!

The cats generally don't like being manhandled all of the time and picked up, but for whatever reason, Finn is in-Finn-itely patient with him despite picking him up all of the time. In fact, he's the only one that he seems to consistently purr for.

We saw Hamilton a couple of times again, as one does when it comes to town. On this one, we saw it from the third row, which was a very different experience. As Simon pointed out, he could see Eliza crying.

We subscribed to Mark Rober's Crunch Labs, for some fun science stuff. We're way behind on them though, as I have a stack in my office. Really quality devices though, and I I think the science is sticking with him.

The week before Christmas, we did a week-long cruise in the Western Caribbean. One port had tender service to the shore, so Simon had a chance to touch the hull of the Disney Fantasy as passengers were getting back onboard.

In what I hope becomes an annual Christmas tradition, we volunteered at Give Kids The World Village, as they get a little understaffed during the holidays. What Simon is really holding out for is the day he can assist with the ride operations.