Archive: May, 2023

What is a "content creator" anyway?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 30, 2023, 7:03 PM | comments: 0

Have you noticed that the term "content creator" gets thrown around constantly, and applied to anyone who puts something on the Interweb? I was watching Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) interview Simone Giertz (, both of whom I consider among the best people using YouTube today, and they self-applied this term. Honestly, I think it devalues what they do. He's a tech product reviewer, she's a maker. Both are diversifying what they do with products so they're not entirely beholden to YouTube and its algorithm. But to slap the generic label on them is to lump them in with kids who post 10-second dances on TikTok.

Let's take away the platform for a moment. Marques could review technology in any number of ways. He just happened to grow up (literally) with YouTube he's raking in millions for it. But twenty years earlier, he may have ended up writing for Wired or PC Magazine or something. Simone would have made stuff, but I'm not sure it would have easily transitioned into a job until she decided she could sell the things she was making. So the former would put "tech reviewer" or "journalist" on his resume, while the latter would have been "entrepreneur" or "owner of small business." Similarly, Mark Rober would have been an engineer and science educator, and maybe make his way to television if he still left JPL. Hell, I'm making a documentary, and calling me "content creator" would be fighting words. I'm a software developer, author (got the book to prove it) and soon, documentary filmmaker.

Now, there are a ton of people who make ephemeral stuff that has zero shelf life and isn't valuable to anyone other than the platforms. Facebook and Instagram are now relentlessly pushing that out front, and it's a huge waste of time that keeps us doomscrolling and seeing ads. For me at least, the scale has tipped where this is no longer interesting or enjoyable, so I'm using those platforms less and less. But the ephemeral crowd keeps making this stuff because they may aspire to the level of the very few people who can make a buck (or worse, believe that "influencer" is a real job). It's like varsity basketball players thinking they might get into the NBA.

At the turn of the century, it really felt like the Internet was full of promise, and a great equalizer. It meant that you didn't need to own a TV network or magazine or movie studio to get what you made in front of people. This is true, but it's only half true. For the most part, the entire content ecosystem is held captive by a small number of platforms. Twenty-five years ago, things were largely found by word of mouth, and Google was mostly an idea. Even in the early and mid-aughts, there was still a healthy ecosystem of independently run things that we tied together with RSS, niche forums and early blogs. As the social function of the platforms continues to decay, I wonder if people will revert back to this.

I have noticed that some of the better video producers are looking for other ways to distribute their shows (and they really are shows, even if they have no schedule). There's Nebula, for example, which takes advertising out of the picture and has a curated set of producers making podcasts, documentaries and other series. (And yes, they unfortunately are self-labeling as "creators.") Smart YouTubers like Grady of Practical Engineering are using Nebula while also making sure they could flip in a moment with their own site. I think there's a lot of awareness of the platform danger.

And yeah, I get it, because one day YouTube added arbitrary engagement minimums to do revenue sharing. I went from making a few hundred bucks a year off stuff I just wanted to host, to zero, and they keep all of the money. I'm not interested in making a "channel," but at least pay me for what I've essentially loaned you.

If you're making durable, interesting things, you are more than a creator. You're an author, filmmaker, videographer, journalist, enthusiast... let's call it what it is.

Exercise has come to this

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 30, 2023, 5:15 PM | comments: 0

Walking in the morning is hard because I hate getting up early, but it's too hot in the summer to do it after work. So now I'm going to try doing it during the work day on a treadmill.

I did about two miles today, which was easy enough. My mistake was not cooling the room down first. We typically keep the house at 75 during the day, because that feels right living in Florida. That results in significant sweating.

There's also the issue of speed. My realistic maximum while still being able to look at a screen and mouse and type seems like 2.2 mph. 1.8 feels too slow. We'll see how it goes the next few days.

AI making softwares

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 29, 2023, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe how much AI is in the news, with everything from Skynet predictions to more likely outcomes like massive job losses. I've written before about my concern around trucking eventually being made obsolete by computers, and I still think that's a real thing. Now there is a lot of speculation about how white collar jobs could be affected too. I believe that we'll see a point in my lifetime where there simply won't be enough jobs for everyone for reasons that aren't economic at all. That sure will mess with our already naive ideas about meritocracies and unregulated capitalism.

For software developers, the future is less clear. I already contend that the profession is more about the skillful composition of existing solutions. Few people have to write "algorithms" anymore. Instead, the job is understanding the way systems work and how to improve them. Sometimes you're even lucky enough to write something new, but it will still be based on a bunch of libraries and code you found via Google.

To that end, AI for writing code actually makes a lot of sense, because it will save time. Tonight, for example, I was messing with it in the context of GitHub Copilot. I was able to do several things pretty quickly, with stunning accuracy:

  • Generate a three row page layout in HTML using Bootstrap, with fixed rows at the top and bottom (for an ad and navigation), and the middle part filling the rest of the space and scrollable. It was 100% correct the first time, even with my specified row heights, and no extraneous markup or CSS.
  • I wrote in comments what I wanted a Typescript class to do. First try didn't output data the way I wanted, so I told it to specify public properties for those values. Then finally I told it to make sure the properties were type-safe.
  • In C#, in Blazor, I asked it to write a class that would serialize and deserialize a model I had to local storage through JS interop. I thought I would have it stumped but it got it right on the first try! It may know this from another project that I have, assuming that it's looking at everything that I have on GitHub.

I don't think may of these scenarios are hard to code for, but in the first instance, it would have been lots of trial and error and looking at StackOverflow. In the second one, I'm still not that proficient with Typescript, so that was more about doing it the "right" way. And the last example, I was just trying to stump it. I could have easily copy-pasted that from another project. That it knew how to do this in the context of Blazor, the .Net WebAssembly tech, is really surprising.

In the fall, I'll likely get back into a coding groove, and it will be interesting to see how this technology changes the way that I work. It sure is promising so far.

Old school PC gaming

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 27, 2023, 11:50 PM | comments: 0

Yesterday we heard "Disco Inferno" while riding the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster at Epcot. I explained to Diana that the song always reminds me of this game that Stephanie and I used to play in the late 90's called Dungeon Keeper. Well, actually it was Dungeon Keeper 2. The premise of the game was basically a management sim where you were in charge of building a dungeon and killing all of the good guys with your monsters and minions. It was the opposite of D&D, kind of. When you built a casino for your monsters, and they hit the jackpot, the narrator would say, "Jackpot winner!" and "Disco Inferno" would start to play.

I remember reading awhile ago an article about the GOG service... Good Old Games. It has been around for more than a decade, and what they do is take old games and figure out how to make them work on modern computers. They work with the copyright holders to sell those games, with no DRM and a very liberal refund policy, and it's pretty great. The Dungeon Keeper games are available for "free" via Xbox Game Pass on the PC (which is actually through EA), but I couldn't get either one to reliably run. DK2 would run, but at a frame rate that was like a slide show. So I bought both games for ten bucks on GOG, and they worked right out of the box. The first one even runs on my M2 Macs! These games are so, so good, and hold up incredibly well despite the two decades and change that have passed. I spent the late afternoon and evening playing almost non-stop.

I am not nostalgic about many things, but there were some games back in the day that were so much fun on the comprooders. When Dungeon Keeper 2 came out, that was the start of the era where we would constantly chase higher frame rates with new video cards. I never bought the expensive ones, so I never had great experiences, just decent ones. Remember, we had not yet seen the Nintendo Gamecube or original Xbox yet, so the most sophisticated games were still on PC. Tomb Raider may have had its start on PlayStation, but it was way better looking on the computer. Hard to believe, but games running at 640x480 on a 17" monitor looked way better than anything on an NTSC video game console at the time.

There is a huge pile of things to play with Game Pass Ultimate, which covers Xbox and Windows. I kind of wish that I would have upgraded my Windows computer instead of getting the Mac Mini, but the two things are good at different things in this case. I still have the machine under my desk, and it's easy enough to just change the input on a monitor to use it. And the crappy thing is that this is the year where many of the new Xbox games require the Series X/S and won't run on an Xbox One. Faced with a $500 console that's already a few years old, that doesn't feel great if there are dual releases on Windows. Although, heck, if the cloud stuff really takes off, I can play anything on any machine that has a browser.

For now, I'm having a ton of fun revisiting Dungeon Keeper. And the funny things is, I suspect the CD-ROM is still in my garage somewhere.

Simon's education, middle school edition

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 26, 2023, 3:30 PM | comments: 0

When we last met our now-teen hero, he was finishing up a year at what turned out to be a kinda shitty private school. Our decision to yank him was more than justified when almost the entire staff of that school bailed after the end of the year. To recap, the school was intended to cater to kids with learning differences, i.e., neurodivergent kids. It was a great move for him socially, but a disaster academically. The school held no regard for accountability, only accommodation, which amounted to success by showing up. While we did "save" him the inevitable struggle and anonymity of an over-crowded middle school, I think he had few opportunities to learn to learn.

The stars aligned, and a relief middle school opened near us, while his former elementary principal took over at the relieved middle school. With that leadership in mind, combined with the knowledge that ESE services and electives are not funded well at new buildings, we were able to get him transferred to the relieved school, with a few familiar faces looking out for him.

The pre-game started out pretty well, and he got to see the school and walk through his schedule before the year started. Being able to take AV Arts (TV production) also seemed like a win. The first few weeks, it was a lot, and we were again in the rhythm of struggling with actual homework. Then we had a hurricane. I was happy to have him back in a public system though, which I really believe is the foundation of our society. I also got reacquainted with things like teachers, in the 3rd lowest paying state, barely have enough dry erase markers without help from parents, and that's infuriating in a state where we waste so much money on political nonsense.

His teachers were generally pretty solid this year, helping him out, but not giving him a pass every time he got frustrated or couldn't focus long enough to complete the work. Sometimes he also got help with homework after school in the YMCA program. There may have been some situations where he wasn't getting pulled out for some of the things in his IEP, but mostly I felt like he was well-supported. The harder thing was getting support at home, because getting things done was a daily struggle, especially when it had to compete against screens. I don't think we managed that very well.

His AV Arts teacher also got canned in the middle of the year, which is not surprising given what Simon described to me. That's unfortunate, because when I had him along on one of my documentary shoots, he seemed into it.

Socially, this year was heartbreaking. He went from having a best friend to not really even vaguely having a tribe. He's been bullied. He's a lonely kid. Most of the neighborhood kids were never particularly kind to him either, so the closest thing that he has to friends are really us. I hate it. And I hate it because that was me at that age, and I know how it feels. I'm still resentful and sad about it, but I don't know how to protect him from that.

But his voice is changing, he has crushes, and he's starting to show interest in eventually having a teenager job, which is surprising at this age. He's got another year at the middle school, then he'll go to the new high school near us. These will undoubtedly be some difficult years. What I see, when he can engage, is a lot of intelligence, but it seems difficult to reach it sometimes.

For now though, it's time for summer. That means travel, water parks, mini-golf and fun stuff.

I was there when I was needed

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 25, 2023, 7:12 PM | comments: 0

You ever encounter a new-to-you phrase, and then it keeps coming up over and over? Like when kids say "cringe" all of the time, only something a little less meme-y. For me that thing is, "I was there when I was needed." It generally refers to someone's involvement in something that had a particularly positive outcome. For example, I would say it if I were asked to make a cheese steak when I was a grill cook in college, and it was on a day when they were up for an award, and then they won it.

Now, to know me is to know that I absolutely can't stand "everything happens for a reason" nonsense or any other kind of fate fantasy. Everything does happen for a reason, and it's one that is generally easy to explain and completely lacks divine intervention. I also find that anyone who really believes that you can "do anything if you put your mind to it" is completely naive and blind to things like mental health and the birth lottery that heavily influences your outcomes. It's true, you'll not find any motivational posters in my office.

My take on being there when you are needed is more about the contentment that you experience because of a situation where you really felt a sense of belonging. Like, when I've thrown a really great party, and everyone enjoys themselves and I've got that afterglow. Or I helped pull off a charity event that raised a ton of money. I was there when I was needed is kind of a humble way to say that you were an important part of something great.

It's also something that I closely associate with purpose. That's a far more interesting use of the term. That feels relevant to me. When we talk about stuff in those terms, I'm troubled by how few times in my life I've felt that feeling. I certainly feel it when I volunteer for stuff, and coming out of each shoot for my documentary. I've felt it on occasion in various jobs, but it's concerning that it doesn't happen more often. It happened constantly when I was coaching volleyball. As I've said before, scope really doesn't matter that much, but feeling appreciated and impactful, that you have purpose, is easily one of the most powerful feelings you can have in life.

I want to be where I am needed, but it's not always easy to find or make the situations that enable that situation. Stick that on your motivational poster.

Seasons do change in Central Florida

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 24, 2023, 8:31 PM | comments: 0

As we finish up our first decade in America's southern appendage, I'm here to contest the notion that there are not seasons. There are seasons, they're just not the same as what you're used to.

Summer is swamp-ass season. I want to qualify that this is not exactly true for the Atlantic coast. Their average temperatures are a few degrees below ours, and they see a lot more wind. Here in the O.C., swamp-ass season starts with the end of school, at the end of May. Daily highs aren't 90 on average quite yet, but the humidity moves in. We get real washout thunderstorms that last for hours. By late June, the humidity briefly subsides in the middle of the day under the hot sun and still air, and then all the moisture from the gulf and the ocean collides and causes a brief downpour at about 3:30 p.m., followed by more sun. This goes on until at least September, and it's kind of like winter because being outside kind of sucks.

October brings a brief transition that I call mini-fall. The rainfall drops almost in half, there are a few days where you can leave your windows open, and it cools off just enough that for some reason a cockroach or two decides that maybe it's warmer inside of your house. Oh, and the mosquitos are the worst right after the fall love bug season.

Then with the holidays, just before Thanksgiving, we have jacket weather season. As the name implies, it gets cool enough to wear a jacket, especially at night. To tourists, it seems warm, but you can spot the locals wearing hoodies. This is what makes living here great. There is no snow to shovel, very little rain, no humidity to speak of, and it's just outright comfortable most of the time. You probably don't want to be in the pool unless it's heated. I spend so much time on the patio. The grossness of July and August is totally worth it for this season.

The other brief transition, in April, is mini-spring. It starts with another love bug situation, but you know that the glorious jacket weather is behind you. It isn't raining a ton yet, but you get some pretty warm days, sans humidity. This isn't terrible, but make sure that your AC is working well before the HVAC guys double their prices.

Those are the seasons.

Where does anxiety come from?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 24, 2023, 7:45 PM | comments: 0

I had an interesting chat with my therapist recently about the origin of anxiety. The short story is that anxiety isn't exactly causal the way that stress is. A difficult situation can cause stress, but anxiety is more about what might or could happen. It's an interesting distinction, because stress is something that you can avoid in many ways, by just not engaging with things that cause it. I imagine that involves never leaving the house or doing anything though, so not ideal. Anxiety can be a little like that, sort of, but it's up to your brain to figure out how to rationalize the probability, or lack thereof, that something might happen.

Why does this matter? Because if you're experiencing anxiety, and you don't want to, you have to figure out what the source of it is. That's tricky since sitting up right can invite anxiety, and the things that you worry about could be subconscious. How is that for some psychological bullshit? Something that you can't even point to can mess with your sense of being.

There is some emerging data that Americans have been experiencing more anxiety since the years leading up to the Covid pandemic, and of course, that whole thing just blew the doors off of things. The reasons are harder to pin down. Things that were pushed outside the realm of polite conversation have come back into the mainstream, including racism and hateful discrimination toward all minorities. These things were there before, but at least people engaging in them were marginalized. We elected a president who did it. Then millions of people died of an illness we did not anticipate, and while that was being sorted out, we had an insurrection. We have book bans and healthcare restrictions and it's harder to vote, and all at the hands of people who do not constitute a majority. If a straight white guy can be anxious about that, I can only imagine how others feel.

Much of my own anxiety is related to my age. On one hand, I feel more qualified than ever to do life, because I've seen some things. That instills confidence. But celebrities from childhood are dying, I'm feeling a little weight from financial irresponsibility in my youth, I have to take medicines for my thyroid and cholesterol, and my eyes get tired at night. On top of that, I'm a parent to a teenager, which is exceptionally hard, and I feel like I need to be doing more to leave the world in better shape than we found it (that's not going well). Oh, and I don't know how long it will take me to reconcile life with autism and ADHD or what it means for me the rest of my life. Oh, and the time that passed since I graduated from high school might be the same amount that is left. Cheerful, right?

Despite all of that, I'm actually fairly optimistic about a great many things. I'm more content than I was a few years ago, by a lot. I'm doing a bunch of things that I enjoy. I have the best possible partner in the world. I get to travel. So why is it that anxiety can creep in sometimes and I can't get up and move beyond it? I mean, suggesting meditation when I'm SQUIRREL! is not really helpful.

Certainly I've lived with anxiety my whole life, but I'm not sure why it ebbs and flows as it does. I guess that's on the agenda for my next session.

What would you do without doomscrolling?

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 19, 2023, 11:32 PM | comments: 0

Metric has this great song from their most recent album called "Doomscroller." It's a really fantastic ten minutes of epic rock music that bands just don't make anymore. I hope they're proud of it, because it's pretty good. I think the song is about getting consumed with rage by the things you find on the Internet. And I often wonder if all of that noise obscures the good things that you'll find online.

I've already declared that social media isn't social anymore. That's a bummer, but if you have reached that understanding, what are you left with? Admittedly, I hang on in the hopes that I see something from the people whose connections are slipping away. But I find the scrolling to be of little value, and I do it less and less. Indeed, I'm getting back to a place where I'm trying to not pick up my phone as the default thing when something else isn't earning my attention.

The worst thing is that the algorithms are pushing more "content" to you, and very little of it has any weight or importance. And of course it has been widely demonstrated that going down rabbit holes lines in bullshit is not hard.

I've tried to build some boundaries. I want to be an informed person, and receive actual news written by journalists. People who reject critical thinking will suggest that The New York Times is biased toward whichever side you don't align with. (Because you know, Americans have fully embraced everything as if it were a sports rivalry.) Network TV news, at least the evening shows, from the likes of NBC, ABC and CBS are reasonably trustworthy, if a little condensed and lacking context. And of course there are a few very good technology and science sites I try to keep up with.

But if you encounter something with a click-bait headline, and instead of it following inverted pyramid style writing, it starts with several paragraphs of search engine optimization and no lede, it's probably nonsense.

There's certainly a predicament here, because I believe that everyone should attempt to be civically engaged, and speak up when things aren't right. Martin Luther King famously said that it was white moderates that were the barrier to positive change, and that still holds true today. We can get along just fine with our heads buried in the sand. And while you can swing to the opposite excess, as a self-appointed white savior, we should all be looking out for marginalized people.

Not having barriers, and just scrolling and scrolling, that's not great for mental health. When there's a break in the action, see if you can keep your phone in your pocket. Look around, be with your thoughts. I promise there's nothing on that screen that's likely to improve your life in those moments.

Mistakes were made

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 19, 2023, 10:56 PM | comments: 0

My reexamination of life in context may seem like I'm looking for a pass for, well, whatever about it that was uncomfortable. I'd like to think that I'm self-aware enough to know that not everything in life that was negative can be attributed to autism or ADHD. Indeed, mistakes were made. Sometimes suboptimal things are related strictly to our choices.

One of the earliest mistakes that I can think of is from my junior year of high school. In the third quarter of my English class, I remember the teacher calling us up individually to find out what our grades were. I knew I wasn't really very engaged, but I was pretty surprised when I had an F. My teacher, one of the best that I had, looked me in the eye and said, "You didn't do anything, what were you expecting?" I made some pretty bad choices about doing the school work. How do I know they were choices? Because I got an A the next quarter.

This is a popular topic of discussion at our house right now, because I have a 13-year-old. Fortunately, he knows about his autism and ADHD, and as parents, we've made sure that it's understood in school. He has certain accommodations that are made that I never had because there was even less understanding about the different ways that kids learn back then. However, there's a balance to be found between accommodation and accountability. As far as Simon is concerned, that's totally out of balance. It's a source of struggle for everything from homework to chores.

It's kind of interesting to me, that here I am working backward toward understanding which things in life were mistakes, not having any knowledge at the time of how my brain might not be typical. Meanwhile, with Simon we often start from the place of suspecting the atypical brain is the cause for challenge, instead of choices. And there's the challenge of accommodation versus accountability.

What's different is that I can't change the past. I can learn from my mistakes though, and at the same time I can identify situations that were challenging for reasons other than my choices. The difficulty in college to sit down for an hour to concentrate and write a paper was not a choice. But to not do it at all, that was a choice.

Suboptimal separation

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 17, 2023, 11:37 PM | comments: 0

What a weird few days. I drove Diana to the airport yesterday so she could fly to Cleveland (where I just was), so she could drive to Toledo and attend the funeral for what was her, I think third cousin or aunt, but I don't really understand what the right terminology is for that lineage. The short story is that she was essentially a second mother to her for a number of years, so her passing was a big deal.

Now if I lean into this in a more selfish way, it's super weird, and difficult, to be away from her like this. I didn't exactly like going to CLE and Cedar Point without her a couple of weeks ago, but it's even worse in the context of her having to go to an important funeral without me. But with Simon still in school and the crazy expense of air travel, it was not exactly practical for us to go with her. And I hate that, because I hate the idea of her going to something like that without my support, for whatever that's worth.

Diana and I have had a very intense coupledom from the start. She's there for me at the worst times, and vice versa. Except when we can't. I've had to miss a wedding or two that she went to, and she (and Simon) have been to very few out-of-town events for me. Again, it's not an issue of concern or love, as much as it is expense. And it feels like that shouldn't be a thing, but it's a reality when you live many kilometers from the thing.

Our late start in our relationship has all kinds of disadvantages. Having a kid when she's 40 (and I was 36) is certainly not ideal. I never got to meet her mom, and from what I understand of her, we would have gotten along famously. We had no specific roots when we met, so we've moved around a ton. Being closer to 60 when our kid leaves the nest is definitely not great. And we had few adventures pre-parenthood, though it feels like now we're making up for that. Career compromises and such, that's a topic unto itself. But despite all of this, we have been a surprisingly durable and reliable team. And I'll be the first to say that's all Diana. I'm just happy that someone doesn't mind sleeping next to me, because I know that I'm not easy or typical to roll with (though at least now I know why). That it works is largely because of her ability to roll with me.

But however mundane or insignificant the thing might be, it's weird when we don't get to share it right away. I trouble her with my blog posts and work stories and thoughts about my life a decade or two ago with new context, and she tells me about crazy shit at work or volunteering at school or the latest daytime Simon challenge. When we're not together, it's strangely uncomfortable.

It's extra weird considering the fierce independence that she's always leveraged. Also because of my in-between relationship times, which are pretty small between 2005 and 2007, when we met. We haven't had much "alone time" since. But once she moved in, we were rarely apart. I was always worried about her getting into a car accident, working late, then it actually happened near the end of 2020. My anxiety is always high at night until she's next to me. It's worse a thousand miles away.

So one more night of weirdness. Then we can celebrate being alive and healthy and together.

Rum doc update

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 17, 2023, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

It has been just short of four weeks since I last did a location shoot for the rum documentary. But I haven't been idle in getting this movie moving. Let me catch up.

First off, I did do some product shots here at our house about two and a half weeks ago. I decided that in the narrative where the distillery owner talks about all of their products, I would lead into their retail manager talking about all of the products. This was not super intentional. When I was last at the distillery, I was following around a tour, which ends in the shop for tasting, and someone there talks about all of the flavors of rum that they sell. I thought, "Cool, that's a good way to review all of the stuff that they're making." So I tucked myself into a corner, and shot the retail manager talking about the stuff, with the intention of inserting in shots of product later. I asked the owner if I could take home some bottles for the things I didn't have, and she sent me home with about $350 of liquor.

So Diana helped me dress up our antique buffet as a bar, which would appear in the background, out of focus, the target bottles in the foreground. I bought a camera slider, which uses a motor to move the camera steadily in front of your subject, even panning if you want. That's one of the toys I've resisted buying for a few years because I had no use for it, but this was the perfect use. (Sidebar: I do wish I had it for the B-camera in the interviews, because having some slow, steady movement to cut to would be not the worst thing.)

I tried to marry the two things last weekend, and I'm deeply unsatisfied. The from-the-corner recording of the retail manager has some focus problems, because I was relying on auto-focus. For a less moving person, this would be fine, but she was moving quite a bit, and being short, kept disappearing behind my foreground. That's a dumb rookie mistake, but with the camera essentially above me hanging from the EasyRig, it would have been really hard to do manual focus. You can do OK, if you can keep tapping the LCD where you want to focus, but the position was too awkward. If that weren't enough, the audio is just slightly over-modulated in places. I have to figure out the why. In my tests, the wireless mic (a DJI Mic) was not peaking on the receiver, and it looked OK in the on-camera meters as well. Looks like I need to reassess that and not just watch meters, but listen. Also, in my product shots, I somehow did not get the pineapple bottle, and some of the bottles are not upright or the camera wasn't level. I can fix that in post, but at the expense of losing resolution (rotating then zooming in). Also, I bought some amazing Amaran 2-foot tube lights that were amazing in lighting the bottles. I can use those as backlights on a C-stand to great effect. I can see the honeycomb grid in the main light reflection, which I'm not sure that I'm crazy about.

Meanwhile, I'm in the process of hiring an animator to put some visuals to the lead distiller's description of fermentation. I told him that I wanted to do this, basically put a face on yeast, and he leaned into it hard. He personifies the yeast at every opportunity when he describes what happens in fermentation. It's about two solid minutes. I used one of the online freelancing sites to solicit work for that. The good news is that I found several animators that have a style that I'm really into. The bad news is that they almost universally quote $2k or more to do the work. And here's the thing, I respect the art, and I'm not going to try to minimize the value of what they do. I'm gonna haggle, sure, but I'm not going to try to corner them with some kind of bullshit "for exposure" proposition. You can't pay rent with "exposure." It is what it is, and I guess my thinking is that maybe if I up the production value, I'm more likely to be able to sell the film. I budgeted $10k for the whole thing, and while I'm not there yet, I am getting close. I still have no idea what I'm going to do about music.

The distiller's spiel also had the audio problem. I'm not sure why he was coming in so hot, because the meters did not indicate that was the case. Fortunately, the stars aligned to save it. My camera records four channels of audio, so the wireless bits go into channels 3 and 4 (the wireless system has two transmitters). On-camera, I have a shotgun mic that records to channels one and two, with the second channel recording at a lower level as a backup, in case there's over-modulation. With the stars aligning, DaVinci Resolve has an audio effect that is an AI voice isolation thing. The distillery has a lot of fan, pump and bottling noises, and a shotgun is going to pick that up, reflecting from all of the metal tanks and stills. But turn that on, and the shotgun audio sounds like I had a clean lavalier on him (which I thought that I did). So that interview, which is the basis of the animation, is golden.

All of this so far brings up something that I knew was true, but in my mind I insisted I was too indie to accept. Everything that you do, when it comes to shooting, will be better if you have help. My solo trip to Cape Coral made this more obvious, when compared to our first trip there, with Diana and Simon. On the first trip, Diana simply assumed responsibility for things on that first trip and by extension freed up room in my head for other things. She mic'd the talent, asked about setting up certain lights and in the back of her mind, thought about what we had to talk about in interviews. Even Simon would ask things like light levels and color temperature (which is pretty great for a 13-year-old). When I was solo, I wasn't thinking about things at that level. The mistakes made that obvious. I wasn't paying attention to monitoring audio closely, I wasn't moving lights around or reducing time by having others setup stuff, and I had no second opinion about interview questions. I can't even tell you what a difference this makes. It results in less mistakes.

Another mistake is that while shooting some food truck vendors, again, solo, I didn't think enough about lighting. In a wild coincidence, DaVinci Resolve has also introduced an AI virtual lighting thing that blows my mind. The short version is that you can introduce lighting into situations that didn't have it. The most animated of interviews that I did involved a guy pretty late, and it was pretty dark. I could see him, but it looks like shit because I was solo and didn't think to put a light on the guy. I'm angry at myself, because I can't repeat that moment. I'm hopeful that I can save the moment with comprooders, but I haven't applied the effect yet.

There are a lot of things that I can re-do, and I'm trying to remember that. Certainly staged product shots fall in that category. But even the product "tour" can be re-shot if I go back down there and ask her to do it without a tour in the room. The only thing that is really "one shot" is the interviews, because they're honest, vulnerable and in the moment. Every interview that I've done so far looks amazing and cinematic. Other stuff can easily be staged and re-shot. I also need to consider how bad I want shots of endless sugar cane fields, and I think I really want that, despite the fact that I likely have to drive for three hours to get it (but oh the drone shots). As for the missing product shots and crooked bottles, I can re-do that at my leisure.

Last night I started to mess with a logo for the film using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, leaning into online tutorials. This I think I can do by myself and not rely on a third party. What I have so far looks pretty cool.

And one last thread... I feel like I need to get down to the consumer part of rum consumption, and I think I have a few interesting leads there.

I'm not idle, but I'm not exactly cutting the movie yet either.

Plan A and Plan B in 2013

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 16, 2023, 7:09 PM | comments: 0

As I wrote previously, we started to figure out how to move to a better situation a decade ago. Another Cleveland winter was not in the cards. Work and career didn't really figure into it, exactly, unless it did. Plan A was to move to the Orlando area, with no specific job in mind. I was working a contract job at an insane rate and banking a ton. I hated the job, and was about to bail on it. Plan B came up rather suddenly, when I got a call from a recruiter at Microsoft for a program manager gig. On May 16, 2013, I found out I didn't get it. I can't say that I was surprised.

I can't exactly generalize about Microsoft because it's a huge company, but those PM interviews, of which I've had six and landed one while I was there, were always the same. They were set up to walk through a contrived situation, sketched out enough to start a conversation about what one would do, but too thin on details to be well understood. The idea is that the people you're interviewing with can see how you think and collaborate. They will insist that there are no right answers, but there are. Having autism doesn't mean that you can't respond to uncertainty, but sometimes it does mean that it's hard to get beyond what I call an irreconcilable situation. I talk about this all of the time in the context of Simon, where "I want to do a thing" and "I can't because Dad said so" simply causes a brain block that makes no sense. I had another interview like this at MSFT the start of last year, and I disagreed with the entire premise, so they wanted me to defend something I didn't think was right in the first place.

What bothered me most about this is that no credence was given toward what I had achieved in the past. Had they talked through actual situations, I could have easily demonstrated my ability toward non-abstract things. And good interviewers know how to fish for bullshit. Fortunately, this opportunity a decade ago was more like a bonus option. We were always leaning toward Orlando because of the lower cost of living and total lack of winter cold. With that contract job at the time, I was comfortable enough that I quit that job the day after the news came from Redmond.

By the end of May, the research about moving had begun. I also started talking to agency recruiters in Orlando, which I ordinarily don't care for, but despite the uncertainty of contract work, the money is worth it if you do it in short bursts. At the start of June, one of the recruiters put me in touch with a guy at SeaWorld corporate about a 6 to 12-month gig as one of their two software architects (the other was full-time). Two weeks later I flew down there, and three weeks after that, I started that job and moved down with the cats for a long week in a hotel with them. I feel like I accomplished a lot while I was there, and made huge steps toward maturing their systems despite literally decades of crusty stuff. Mind you, not much of it lasted because (duh) that's what happens when you defer that work to contractors and you don't retain them.

So my introduction to Orange County came very, very fast, and it's extraordinary how so much can change in the scope of three weeks. In that time period we sold the house, found a rental, moved a thousand miles, I started a new job, and we became passholders at WDW. Things can change quickly when you want them to and you focus in on it. Granted, the contract job, terrible as it was, helped enable it all because of the silly pay. Getting the SeaWorld gig just made it a slam dunk and easy.

And that advice I got a week or two before going to Seattle had a lot to do with it, too.

The best career advice

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 16, 2023, 6:53 PM | comments: 0

We are fast approaching the decade anniversary of my arrival in Orange County as a new resident. I think that even accounting for the 2009/2010 season, when I moved to Seattle with my new wife and had a baby, this has been the densest of my almost-five decades so far, in terms of change and life events overall. But one of the things that triggered the move was a conversation I had almost ten years ago to the day.

If you know me, you know that back then I had an unusual amount of access to the CEO of a then-billion-dollar public company. I didn't work for him, but I had a lot of contact with him, and he always answered my email. To that end, he became an unintentional mentor of mine. I really respected his path, even though it was not without its missteps. He made hard decisions, he empowered people and it seemed like his priorities were all correct.

So one day in May, of 2013, we're at an event, and in a break in the action, we get a few moments to catch up. He described the progress that he was making on a few fronts, and I told him I was working in a contract job that was lucrative, but I hated it. I said that we thought that we wanted to move to Orlando, and that we could do it without any specific plans. I also told him that I was flying out to Seattle in a week to interview at Microsoft again, despite not really being sure if it was even the right fit for me. It was a weird time. I didn't like what I was doing, but it enabled some degree of freedom to improve the situation.

He told me something that has stuck with me since. In fact, I heard him say it to others, and even in a public speech once. He said that all of the things that I was talking about regarding my career were "rounding errors" relative to the big picture. My contentment, and little family, including then-3 Simon, were the more important things. Yes, it's important that you can provide, but not at the expense of your contentment. There's nothing wrong with building a career, but as he said, you can get burned if you're just chasing the money. I was chasing the money in that shitty contract job.

That really settled it. We had to move. I couldn't deal with another Cleveland winter. There was little upside to staying.

I won't say that making more money is bad as you move through your career, but in the last decade, I've never actually changed jobs because of pay. When I left my first full-time job, it was a totally lateral move to a much smaller company where I felt I could have more impact. (That one didn't really work out, but chasing start-ups can be like that.) I am more aware of income than I ever was, but that's largely because of my failure to really save anything until my mid-30's. I can catch up if I remain disciplined.

I'm not going to chase money, but I'm not going to let myself be undervalued. That seems like the sweet spot, and that's the advice that sticks with me.

Reframing early adulthood

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 10, 2023, 5:05 PM | comments: 0

I've talked a bit about how I've spent a significant amount of time reframing my life in the context of now knowing that I have autism and ADHD. I imagine that some people might find this to be a little dramatic or weird or even attention seeking, which would reinforce one's lack of understanding around these conditions. But it's a hell of a thing to learn in midlife when you've always felt that you didn't belong, found social situations challenging or you either couldn't stick to completing tasks or were hyperfocused on them (or both). And really, I give Simon a lot of credit prior to my diagnoses, because seeing what he has gone through is a lot like seeing myself. And sometimes, that's heartbreaking.

My first wife, Stephanie, sent me a stack of photos that she had, from the days before digital. We met my senior year of college, so the timing there is relevant to the things I've spent a lot of time thinking about lately. I liked having a robust mop of hair in those days (the "Adam Johnson," if you will, but without the abs). College and my early professional years were chaotic. I found myself angry at the world for so many reasons. I didn't like myself because of my relationship with school work, my inability to establish romantic relationships and the way I was treated by people that I thought should be advocates.

College felt like a fresh start, because the social hierarchies of high school were rendered meaningless. Two of the "hot girls" from high school lived right upstairs from me, and they were restarting, like me. I found purpose in studying radio and TV, in part because I already had some experience working in municipal cable TV, and video editing was just obvious to me. I felt that I could mimic radio, too, and I was on the air my first weekend. I wouldn't say that I quickly felt a sense of belonging, but I did feel a sense of purpose. Socially I met a few women that I liked, and began the long pattern of quickly landing in the friend zone. 

I had romantic issues my first two years, but I think there are other reasons for this that had little to do with my diagnosed stuff. I also started to attract conflict with a few of my professors. It started when some alumnus questioned the way the radio/TV department functioned and didn't emphasize enough academics. I felt similarly, and I was pissed when they trashed the person in the press. Two of them acted as station managers instead of instructors, and did much of the "work" instead of deferring it to students. I called them out in a letter, with guidance from the department chair. As you can imagine, this didn't go well. I know now that the way I approached it wasn't great, but I also wasn't wrong. I felt a great sense of betrayal, too, because I thought these guys were there to advocate for me and my future, and yet they were tearing me down to other faculty (all of whom would tell me about it). Their egos were pretty fragile.

On the surface, one might think that it was me with the ego, but that's one of those fundamental misunderstandings about the neuroatypical. I believed that because I could observe a situation that was objectively not fair or correct, I could call it out. It had nothing to do with my opinion about myself. In my mind, I observed something  incorrect. That isn't narcissism or ego when autism is involved, it's just a logical conclusion that has only specific remedies. It's kind of funny that a common trait of ASD is the inability to recognize social contracts, because to me, describing an injustice is something we're supposed to do as a matter of societal participation.

This desire to see fairness has been a mixed blessing for me. Certainly advocating for people who are disadvantaged for any reason is a good thing. It's why I will always ally myself with anyone who is discriminated against. But I also view myself as wronged in many cases where it's either not personal or not about me. I can generally let small things roll off, but bigger things, in work or in transactional situations, it's much harder. The psychologist who did my ASD/ADHD screen suggested even that I may lean into victimhood. I disagree with that, maybe on semantics, because I'm only a victim if I can't overcome the situation, and I always do.

Task completion was something that really eroded my sense of self. In college it was the predictable and usual thing about not being able to finish things. It was particularly bad my senior year, by which time I felt "done" with school and was ready to move on. I vividly remember walking across campus in the snow feeling deep self-loathing about not getting projects done or not doing assigned reading. I thought this was a personality flaw, which makes it even harder to try and do something about it. It's natural to be defensive if some arbitrary standard makes you substandard. But ADHD is real, and it can affect you in ways that make it harder to follow through.

My first "real" job (I skip radio, because it didn't last) put me in front of politicians and educators as a committee of bosses. I knew the job, to start up a municipal cable TV operation, having been around it for years before. I mapped it out, built the first wave of things, generated several hours of programming per week, hire people, and got it done. Having to navigate competing interests, and telling some people "no" for things they wanted or expected, was a minefield, especially in a small pond. But just like the college situation, I believed I knew right and wrong, and there were some things asked of me that frankly were not even legal, or at least unethical. I would later learn that they contemplated letting me go, but fortunately I had the foresight to document the legal stuff, so it never came to that. It was a lot for someone my age, and I had what I now understand to be two classic autism meltdowns as a result of that job. Steph was completely supportive, thankfully, but I perceived these meltdowns as immature.

What I now understand is that we develop coping skills for what I call "the unreconcilable." Again, Simon helped me understand this. There are conditions and situations that simply don't make sense, and you can't arrive at a conclusion. What do you do with that? Today, I just try to identify it as something I can't make sense of, and work to file it away and redirect my attention toward something that does make sense. This does have a cost... repressing that frustration is mentally exhausting, but I don't lie on the bed flipping out the way I might have as a child (or really stressed out 20-something). And that job? The high school principal, in response to telling her no for something, said she considered me "one of the kids," despite my academic and professional experience. And when I asked for pay that was more in line with my counterparts in other cities in the county, and the teacher on the committee said we all make choices about our career, I chose to change careers.

Socially, I think I was pretty oblivious about my shortcomings as a partner in my first marriage. We share responsibility for that, but I do know that I was oblivious when it came to reading things that Steph wanted or expected from me. You could argue that no one has to read minds, but I see now that wasn't it. There were things that were important to her that I did not do, but I don't beat myself up about it the way that I used to. Picking up on social cues is still not always easy for me. People often tell me that I "tell it like I see it," but really it's because I don't always know when it's appropriate to apply a filter. I mean, have you read this blog? I just don't always see the social cues.

I want to point out that ASD and ADHD aren't all bad. There are things that I can point to that are, quite frankly, gifts. The biggest win of my professional life is still that I was able to become a software developer (I'm still uncomfortable with "software engineer," even though that's the accepted industry nomenclature). I was 23 when I started to mess with code, and I think when I built my first website with dynamic elements, at 26, I became a software professional, self-taught. Granted, the ADHD and/or autism may have provided the hyperfocus to learn, but it also got in the way of learning at times, because I was so outcome driven. I didn't care what the "right" way to code was, provided I got what I wanted on the screen. It took me until my mid-30's to get past that, but it resulted in getting a programming book published. And I could not have written that book without hyperfocus.

As I said, this is all pretty weird to reframe parts of your life, when you're just about over the midpoint. I have a long history of not liking myself very much, and it doesn't help that I generally disregard external validation. But there's definitely something to the way we're wired, and I hope we can learn to recognize those differences, and look at them in a different way. That's what I'm doing.

All of my attention looking at Europe

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 9, 2023, 8:58 PM | comments: 0

We're finally going to Europe this summer, and it's pretty much all I've been thinking about lately. Well, I've been thinking about it for more than a decade, but now that it's finally going to happen, it's something I'm pretty excited about. It's not without some minor frustrations, but overall I expect it to be amazing.

Diana and I have been talking about it since Simon was born. You may not realize it, but she was pregnant about two years after we met, so we did not have a lot of time together without being parents. That's the nature of getting married in your late 30's. Early on, there is of course a natural hesitancy to be away from your kid for very long, but I'd say that we got over that pretty quickly. It was easier at least when he was a baby in Seattle, for us to do a quick getaway for a weekend while he stayed with his cousins. By the time we got to Florida, it was harder to do even a weekend, let alone something like two weeks. So we kept saying, "When he's older." He's older, and we think he's ready to go with us now.

Travel can be a little challenging with him, partly because he's impatient and doesn't adapt well to uncomfortable situations, but mostly because of food. And look, I'm not going to be critical of him, because exhausting as it is, I know it's not a personality flaw. I was that way too, and I'm bitter that I was always made out to be some kind of asshole because of my food pickiness. That's autism, and I'm still that way. It's not as simple as just saying, "Get over it and eat that other thing."

As I've said before, that's why cruising is so easy for us. We know that no matter where the boat goes, he's going to have food that he'll eat, and that's less stress for us. Cruising in places that are not in the tropics also means that you get to sample a lot of places without all of that time in airports and train stations. Since it's my first time going, and most of the ports are places that Diana hasn't been either, it made sense to book a cruise to Northern Europe. We'll start in England, with stops in France, three in Iceland, Norway and ending in Denmark (Russia got voted off the island, for obvious reasons). If Simon wants mac-n-cheese or a burger every night, so be it. And if that weren't enough, my train obsessed boy gets to see a number of trains that he's familiar with up close, including the tube in London, the Southwestern Railway to Southampton, then in Copenhagen, the Metro.

The start and end cities are certainly the biggest we'll visit, and we could probably spend several days at both. Since we're pushing two weeks, and I'm not comfortable taking more off than that for work (though I technically could), we'll only do a day at each end. In London I suspect we'll be mostly jetlagged, flying in overnight, but we'll be staying two blocks from the Thames, within walking distance to many of the things (Big Ben, London Eye). In Copenhagen, nothing will be open yet when they kick us off the ship, but with one card we can get on unlimited trains and busses, and see Tivoli Gardens and Christiansborg Palace or other architectural things.

I am a little frustrated with some of the port offerings in Iceland, because the official ones were all crazy expensive, and their direct counterparts are generally booked as well. Don't get me wrong, just being in those towns will be amazing, and I'm sure we'll enjoy walking around and finding stuff. The views in the photos that I've seen appear extraordinary, and with sunset at 11, and sunrise less than five hours later, I hope that we sail relatively close to shore.

Cherbourg, France (which is only 90 miles from Southampton) had few official offerings, but the thing I would have liked to have seen, Omaha and Normandy Beaches, involve bus rides two hours each way and little time to actually stop given the 4 o'clock onboard time. Fortunately, there's a bunch of stuff in the area around the port, including an aquarium, a Titanic museum, as the second to last port it sailed from, and a cold war-era nuclear submarine (they cut the reactor out and removed the missiles, obvs). I'm pretty excited about that. That's the kind of stuff that I like to see anywhere. As long as there's a reasonably authentic pastry shop nearby, I'm good. I am, however, deeply ashamed that I recall no French despite six years of it from middle school to college.

I haven't looked that much into Ålesund, Norway yet. Cruise line offerings are a bunch of random tours mostly, and not that expensive, but I suspect we do a lot of that on foot. It's not a huge city, but definitely bigger than the two smaller towns in Iceland, but smaller than Reykjavik.

There are also two days at sea before Iceland, one after, then one more after Ålesund. That'll be good to recharge, though the seas up there can be, uh, robust sometimes, though less so in summer. Watching a movie might be weird (and I imagine they'll have Indiana Jones!). Fortunately it's on the Dream, the ship we've been on the most because it spent the previous decade doing the loop from Canaveral to the Bahamas. That's a bigger ship, and we know it very well.

With all of these teasers in the north, missing Ireland, unfortunately, I imagine I'll want to go back. I wish we could do the very next cruise, which ends in Oslo, and visits Sweden and Germany. I'd like to also sample the Mediterranean in a similar manner, stopping in Turkey, Italy, Greece, France and Spain. Maybe even more intriguing is the river cruises that go through France, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and others, depending on the itinerary. The reviews I've read suggest that you see more of the "real" Europe, where there's less tourism, not to mention a lot more exclusivity on those small boats. Granted, that's a couple cruise. Regardless, after seeing all of these places, I think it sets up some longer subsequent trips to specific places. And yikes, that isn't even considering Asia or Australia yet.

Can't wait. Iceland seemed unusual until a number of friends went and loved it.

Life looks better from a Segway

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 7, 2023, 7:45 PM | comments: 0

Yesterday we went out and did a Segway tour up in Mt. Dora, a cool little uniquely Florida lake town. It was a Christmas idea that Diana came up with, but we just got around to booking it.

After the usual training, as half of our group of six had never been on a Segway before, the tour was really in two parts. The first part was to go rolling through a fantastic park along the lake. There were critters of all kinds, the plant life that you don't find elsewhere, and of course, there were plenty of alligators in the water. Some of them, further off shore, were pretty big. The guide indicated that there were potentially as many as 6,000 gators in that chain of lakes. We only happened to see a half-dozen or so, but it is mating season so I imagine there are a bunch of horny gators out there. Eggs start to hatch in August and September. It was a really fantastic romp in the woods and along the boardwalk, but I imagine it will be gross a month from now, when swamp-ass season starts.

The second part was around the city, which has to be the hilliest part of Florida I've seen. Well, Clermont is like that too, but those hills are longer. It's very much what you would imagine an old Florida town to be. There's the historic inn, a few other historic buildings, a quaint downtown, and tons of unique restaurants. It's all very charming, and there are some fantastic houses around the lake as well.

Diana and I have done quite a few of these tours. The last one we did was around Port Canaveral, which mostly consisted of going around to the canal locks and around the big visitor building. Like the Mt. Dora tour, quite a bit of it was off-road, which is super fun. Those were also the fastest ones that we've been on, able to go the full 12.5 mph, while the others were all limited to lower speeds. We also did one in Seattle, which was long, but aside from the "free run" around the Seattle Center area, it was a lot of crossing streets and being cautious. Our first and second experiences were at Epcot, back when they still did tours prior to the park opening. The second one was particularly great, since it was just us and the tour guides. As repeat riders, the training part was quick, no one was falling behind, and we got to roll through all kinds of cool places. In fact, we got to slide into the backstage area where they load the fireworks on the barges, which was very cool.

I always wanted to buy a Segway, but at $5k each, they're a bit expensive. And now, unfortunately, they're also no longer made. A Chinese company called Ninebot bought the company in 2015. In 2020 they discontinued it, after only 140,000 total had ever been made. There's a fairly robust used market out there, and even used they're going for over $5k. Ninebot specializes in all kinds of scooters, and they still make a thing that is classic Segway-like. It goes the same speed, but it's lighter, has smaller non-air filled wheels and costs about a grand, sometimes less when it's on sale. I've been tempted to buy one for the last few years, but I just can't imagine that it's as robust and solid as the proper machine. I will say that it's intriguing that there's a go-kart option for the newer thing, and it will go 25 mph.

It seems weird that these things really never caught on. In tech circles, it sure seemed like they would. There was some limited adoption in law enforcement and security. Disney used them quite a bit backstage at one time, but I'm not sure if that's still the case. They killed Epcot tours probably because people were suing to use their own in the park, saying it was a medical device (ADA guidelines suggested they could be, but I don't think any accredited medical organization ever agreed), and Disney won that suit.

Hopefully these things can still be found here and there. They're a lot of fun.

Trip Report: Cedar Point Boardwalk and Wild Mouse, 5/4/23

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 5, 2023, 8:57 PM | comments: 0

In terms of new rides, the addition of Cedar Point's new Wild Mouse probably doesn't feel that extraordinary. But the addition is part of a reimagining of one of the park's greatest assets, its waterfront. The new coaster is only part of the important change. They collected some of their fantastic flat rides all in one place, and built a new food and drink venue that leans into the greatness of the location. This is extra hilarious for me as a founder of PointBuzz, because back when it was still Guide To The Point, I seeded this silly rumor about how they were planning to redevelop the whole area into a boardwalk, based entirely on some concrete pressed to look like wood back around the turn of the century. I can't believe I've had a website for 25 years.

I'm going to go in order of interest, but stick around for the food and my look at Sawmill Creek, the golf resort that Cedar Fair acquired in 2019.

Let's start with the new Wild Mouse roller coaster, built by Zamperla. This Italian manufacturer is not new to the park. They made most of the rides you'll find in the Camp Snoopy area, opened in 1999. In the last two years or so, they've really leaned into building roller coasters. I don't know the whole progression of intellectual property ownership for the spinning mouse, but as I understand it, French manufacturer Reverchon, which built the now-classic spinning mouse coaster that you can find all over the world (where it's still operating), went bankrupt in 2005 and Zamperla acquired the IP. With their wider ambitions to build larger rides, this was a slam dunk for them as they proposed new layouts. Cedar Point's ride is a fantastic example of this, going beyond the horizontal switchbacks and doing near vertical turns helices. It's a really dynamic layout... that you may not even see if the car is spinning hard enough.

Let me address the elephant in the room... the reliability of the ride during the media day wasn't great. The first hour was fine, but then it set up for some reason, stopping cars in three places on the track that had to be evacuated. After it resumed, it happened again, with me on it. My friends and I got stopped on the last block before the final turn to the final brakes, so we had walked down about ten feet of stairs and off the ride. No big deal. I am not surprised by this. It happens with new rides.

Now, if I'm to speculate about the problem, my guess is that it had to do with centering the rotating cars before returning into the station. The Reverchon mice had an elongated centering mechanism in the last section of track down the long side of the ride, and the cars would move continuously through unload and load. This Zamperla model does the unload/load on the short side of the ride. The car centering happens on the little track switch just before the turn into the station. This mechanism has a motor assembly that leans into the car and rotates it until it senses the centered position. I think it's this that was failing. On the first stop, they took the offending car off the circuit. Even after that, one car sent to test didn't center, and they had to do it manually in the station. Whatever the issue, with Zamperla on-site, I'm sure that they're going to figure it out. It's unfortunate that some of the press focused on this.

Despite our stoppage, that first lap was pretty crazy. I could generally track where we were headed, but it was just enough to be disorienting. Our second ride, however, was in another category. Riding the cheese themed car, not named for a mouse like the other cars, is apparently the ADA accommodating car, with a larger door and different weight distribution. I didn't see this myself, it was suggested after the fact. But I can tell you, without question, that it makes sense. By the time we came off the second switchback up high, the rotation continued in an extreme way until the end. I can't tell you how many times we went around, and I can't count in the video either. It didn't make me sick, and me and my party had just left the grand pavilion, loaded with food. But it was amazing and disorienting, and showed how this little roller coaster punched well above its weight. I absolutely loved it, and I want every park to have one of these now.

The boardwalk concept is long overdue. I started a fake rumor back around the turn of the century in the forums about how a boardwalk project was going to be a thing, because I was convinced it was obvious. Apparently it was only obvious in recent years, but hey, two decades... I was still right! The flat rides relocated to this spot feel like they always belonged there, despite being many decades old. I didn't get a chance to ride them, and I regret that, but I was stuck waiting for Wild Mouse to come back online. I can't tell you the last time I've been on any of them. In particular, seeing the Calypso back in its prime is wonderful. I give so much credit to the park and its maintenance folks for restoring these great rides to their best form.

The park has a number of "streemosphere" folks doing performances on the midways. I love this for so many reasons, not the least of which is it gives theater nerds a work they might not otherwise have. It also shows that the company is no longer scared of tattoos. Dread sneaks in though, wondering how long the park will keep this up. Live entertainment has a mixed record with the current leadership.

The Grand Pavilion is what it sounds like. Leveraging the extraordinary position of the park on Lake Erie, the new venue builds on their recent revitalization of culinary efforts around the park. The new restaurant offers fantastic proteins like turkey and hand-breaded chicken tenders and pork, and even some seafood, along with staggeringly good sides that are not from a frozen bag. I spoke briefly to the corporate VP for food stuff, and she made a good case that humans love food, and eating, and the social parts that involve food. Some years ago they started a long-term initiative to rethink food in the parks. Grand Pavilion is an extension of what has already gone on at places like the Farmhouse and BackBeatQue. This is not shitty theme park food. I would argue that they're exceeding what you find in counter service at Disney, and it aligns with what Universal has done in its Harry Potter locations (though they still suck everywhere else).

Upstairs, you'll find a huge bar with a ton of inside and outside seating. This place was made for volume, and judging by their staffing level on a day when they weren't even making the drinks with liquor (sad face), this is going to be fantastic. The drink menu they've made includes a lot of classic. Most of is uses lower-shelf liquor, but it looks like they've adopted good tequila, Casamigos, and I saw St. Germaine and some other "better" bottles. If this is successful, I hope that they learn from it and improve the resort situation at Breakers. In my visit last May, not even the busy season, the demand at the Surf Lounge and Friday's was off the charts. They're leaving money on the table, and that wasn't even peak season.

I was on the ground for barely a day for the media event, and Sandusky is notoriously terrible for "good" hotel facilities. I decided that I would try Cedar Fair's latest acquisition, Sawmill Creek. It's a golf resort that has been around for as long as I can remember, but prior to the buy in 2019, wasn't what anyone would describe as "good." I can happily report that the renovation is generally solid. I can nit-pick about some things (would it kill them to repave the parking lot and road in?), but the rooms are what I would describe as "business class," on par with any Holiday Inn Express or Marriott brand that has been recently renovated. It's not luxury, that category simply doesn't exist in Sandusky, but it's solid. I paid $203 for a standard room, and it was only a little less than I paid at a Marriott Westin in Lake Mary, FL, in March. I thought it was reasonable, especially in Sandusky.

It was cold, so I wasn't hitting the outdoor pool, and I given my tight schedule, didn't really enjoy it as much as I could have. I spent the night before mostly working. I did venture down to the bar, and had a drink that I dictated to the bartender, who happily made it. I scanned their collection, and saw that they had Chambord and St. Germaine, key ingredient so to a cruise cocktail that I like. The barkeep was super friendly and excited to try making it. Somehow it only ended up being $9 (other ingredient were Citron, like and club soda). I was sitting next to a person that might have been the GM at Kings Island, judging by the conversation, but I'm not one to insert myself into conversations.

The one thing that I will observe, and this is true for all of the hotel properties, and some others, is that the interior design seems to stop just a little short of where it should be. This is hard to define, despite my brother-in-law being an architect for a several big hotel chains that you would know. For example, if you're standing in the lobby, or the atrium just off from there, you see all of these beautiful textures of brick and wood, but it needs something else. It's not fully decorated. Even in the halls, there's random stock "art" on the walls. Same in the rooms. It needs something else, and Cedar Fair's design lacks whatever that is.

Overall though, it was a fantastic, if super brief visit. Cedar Point has something great to celebrate this year. I understand that Castaway Bay has been renovated, so combined with Sawmill and the classic Breakers, the park has a complete and awesome package. My only hope is that ride operations are better than last year. That's where they need to focus attention next.

I went back to Ohio (again)

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 5, 2023, 7:59 PM | comments: 0

I did a very fast overnight back to Cleveland and Cedar Point this week, fast meaning I was semi-working the whole time or traveling, so there was little time to do much of anything else. Economically, there was nothing smart about this endeavor, because it cost me about six hundred bucks total, and much of that involved waiting around for shitty Frontier Airlines to stop sucking. But every previous time that I've been invited to some kind of event like this, and I didn't go, I regretted it. And this one involved a ton of people that I value, including my PointBuzz partner, Walt, and my friends that work at CP. I knew I wouldn't get a lot of face time, but those relationships are important to me, and any direct contact is worth it.

Cedar Point, of all the things in Ohio, is one of the few places that has almost no negative feelings or memories. Stephanie and I had great times there. I think it was my third date with Diana. Catherine and I had epic times there and I turned her from terrified to enthusiast in one year. When I started going to the park as an adult, maybe in 1997, two years after college, it got me hooked on roller coasters, amusement parks, and most importantly, helped me into a community of people that I would not have met otherwise. Granted, much of the coaster nerd community is not for me. Most of it, actually. But this is the genesis for creating a core group of people that I still interact with regularly, not to mention spawned PointBuzz and CoasterBuzz. What else have I done consistently for 25 years?

Other feelings about Ohio, they're not so great. A former college classmate (a few years difference) is at Ashland University this weekend for an alumni thing, and I can't help but think what a mixed experience that was. I have few positive feelings about high school, and how lonely and out of place I felt there. Cleveland itself provided a few interesting professional years, when I worked at Penton Media and expanded another social circle, but in the general sense, I spent 30-something years in Ohio and it limited me.

Let's be honest, the dread starts at the airport. CLE is a shit hole, and this after it was "improved" to impress people for the Republican National Convention back in 2016. Terminal C isn't terrible, but even there, if you're from Cleveland, you can't help but remember the promise of Terminal D, now shuttered, as a beacon of hope to make Cleveland a hub city. When you leave the airport, everything around you is dirty and run down, from the crumbled roads to the lack of any landscaping at all. The drive to the car rental hub is especially depressing. And there's a good chance the skies will be gray and terrible. This is the experience I had this time around, and it just brings up decades of similar feelings. Outside of Cedar Point, it's hard to remember the sun in Cleveland.

The drive from the airport to Cedar Point is familiar, though when I lived in Brunswick, it involved a short stint on the turnpike, crossing over in Elyria (also shitty) to SR 10. The airport route involves the I-480 stretch, crossing over in Westlake or Avon, and maybe even stopping at the Winking Lizard, an all time favorite bar-food restaurant. The drive down 10, to Rye Beach Road, is intensely familiar, and to this day, associated with the excitement of knowing where you're going. There's a side memory of driving out that way for volleyball tournaments in Toledo.

This time, I stayed at Sawmill Creek, which was acquired by Cedar Fair, and renovated (trip report forthcoming), but the morning of the media event was all the classic feels. Driving up the otherwise empty causeway, the incredible skyline of some of the world's greatest rides, and to this day the disbelief that it's a thing. I remember driving up that way with my friend Dan back in early 2000, looking at the ridiculous rise of Millennium Force. It's a special place. Many of those trips were in the off-season, and there are few things as special as going to a place usually occupied by tens of thousands of people on any given day, empty. I have driven my own car around Cedar Point's midways, and that is an infinitely special memory for me.

And the social part of that can't be understated. Few friends still work there, but I'm still in touch. The marketing guy is still there, and I adore him, even if I see him rarely. As I said, there are so many memories of romantic entanglements of the past, and also with Diana. Great memories of drinking buddy memories with people who have passed, and friends from elsewhere that I visited with just last year. The rides are honestly secondary to all of this. Cedar Point has always been such a happy place.

About a year ago, when I went with my buddy Ken to see Tears For Fears and Garbage, the operations performance of the park was deeply unsatisfactory, but it still felt good to be there (in no small part because of the bar action). The sights and sounds and smells are core memories. When I hear the Magic Kingdom train whistles at home, I still think of the Cedar Point trains as heard from the hotel or campground.

On that trip last year, I returned to Brunswick, where I attended high school, and bought my first house. I met my college roommate Jen for dinner, but the town felt so incredibly foreign to me. I didn't recognize it, and that was only traversing a few blocks from the freeway.

It's been more than a decade I think since I've seen downtown Cleveland up close. I admit that so much of my issue with Cleveland has to do with the weather. It took Seattle, which is not the weather profile you think it is, to make me realize how miserable the Cleveland weather made me. This was amplified when I moved to Orange County, Florida, a decade ago. That's the triggering thing. When I got off the plane this time, driving through the rain down SR 10, it brought back decades of sadness that I couldn't even associate with any specific events, people or places.

I don't want to hate Cleveland, because the place itself didn't do anything wrong. It was so great to return to Blossom Music Center last year, where I saw my first show. But it's clear that the place gave me everything that it could offer by the time I left it. Cedar Point is an exception, certainly. But while I sit here on my patio in May with a wonderful 79˚ breeze and the tunes from recent years playing, I feel more at peace than ever. These retrospectives and assessments will likely continue throughout the year as I recognize the decade anniversary of our move to Flori-duh. I still feel like socially I don't exactly have a tribe here, but that's really my whole life. So tomorrow I'm going to get on Segways with my little family and motor around a Central Florida area that is, today, what I consider home. The concept of "home" is flexible for me, but right now, it's pretty great.

Social media isn't social anymore

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 3, 2023, 11:18 PM | comments: 0

With Twitter in meltdown, some new media companies going under, and the ad market generally being terrible for anyone who isn't Google or Facebook, there's a lot of reflection about where we are on the so-called social parts of the Internets. That retro is pretty bleak.

Before Facebook, there were a million web forums, and on them, a million little communities formed. It's not an exaggeration to say that a great many Millennials and Gen-X'ers found their people this way, and likely still have relationships with them. At the turn of the century, and for some years after that, blogs started popping up either on platforms like Live Journal or Blogger, often on personal setups, and it was all messily tied together via RSS and trackbacks. Those were fun times.

When Facebook broke out of colleges, I signed up on the first day. Said Millennials were already there, including many who graduated but were able to keep their .edu emails for some period of time. College friends came on over the next year or two. And keep in mind that, at the time, Facebook was a desktop computer affair. When you posted photos, you would often post a ton of them dumped from your digital camera that was not your phone. (Some folks really didn't understand how to edit out the dupes and blurries.) It was fun, maybe even a little addictive, to see what your entire life of acquaintances were up to. I know that a lot of people would do life comparisons, but maybe because I had been doing forums and blogging prior, I knew that whatever you would see online was a subset of a person's life, filtered.

The point though was that what you did, your interaction and experience, it was social. It was just people you know posting photos of their food, from their vacations, and strangely (at the time) their kids. Compare that to today. It's hard to find what your friends are doing, and you're bombarded with ads, videos of completely meaningless and ephemeral crap, brands, celebrities and possibly politicians. People try to make being an "influencer" a thing, and everyone is a "creator" that makes disposable time wasters. Even if you can find the "recent" button, there isn't much to see from your friends because most of them have left. I'll admit, Facebook for me at this point is something I rarely read, I just post to it knowing that I'll be able to see the memories in later years. And that's just until I can figure out a solid way to pull it all out and keep it elsewhere.

Building a social network the way Facebook used to be would not be difficult. There are two huge problems though. First, you need the people you know to be there. Second, you need to pay for the infrastructure, because it's not free. Those are two pretty big hurdles to clear. To be social.