Archive: August, 2023

A guide to following the National Hurricane Center

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 28, 2023, 8:30 PM | comments: 0

Having grownup in the Midwest, I vividly recall the obnoxious weather coverage by local weather dudes (it was always dudes) whenever the summer weather would get severe. At some point, having a crawl on the screen showing which counties had watches and warnings was not enough. With even the most subtle hint of a possible tornado on radar, they would break into programming and talk about it for hours. Keep in mind, tornadoes are ephemeral, lasting only a few minutes. Sometimes a line of storms will generate multiple tornadoes, and that's something to keep tabs on, but most of the time they do not.

Then I moved to Florida and saw what the local TV folks did for hurricanes, and I realized that weather coverage could reach an entirely new level. It wasn't just the idiots from The Weather Channel standing outside, this was like the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup and NBA Finals all at once to these so-called "meteorologists." Fortunately, there is a way to cut through all of the bullshit. Hurricanes are serious, and potentially dangerous, but you don't need drama.

The National Hurricane Center maintains a web site that does a pretty good job of forecasting and preparing people for a storm, depending on where the science takes them. It's fairly matter-of-fact, and not made dramatic. It is updated every six hours, at 5 and 11 Eastern, day and night, as a storm progresses. Once you get to know the products that they publish, you don't need the local TV idiots. Here's my guide.

To be clear, I am not an expert. However, I do find that the data, as presented and considered in aggregate, is useful for understanding what's going on. I would also editorialize that the time to prepare is not when a storm looks likely, it's early in the summer.

Watching the world

The home page of the NHC has a big old map that shows all of the current storms or potential storms. It's divided into three tabs, splitting the Pacific and one for the Atlantic. This is where you can see things forming early on, though admittedly, for your daily life, this isn't super useful. For us here on the Atlantic, systems pop up closer to Africa, and they come apart before they get even close. This happens in the Gulf of Mexico as well. These disturbances are marked with an "X," and clicking on them shows text about the system with the probability of them becoming legit storms in two and seven days.

Eventually, a system may be given a number, meaning it's organized enough to be a real storm, but still only a tropical depression. Once it reaches sustained winds of 38mph, it is considered a tropical storm, and it gets a name. At this point, all of the more interesting products are published. Again, this information is updated at least every six hours, at 5 and 11.

Now you have a named storm

There are a few things to look at, and some of it is more valuable than other parts. The forecast discussion is a wall of text that describes what the meteorologists have observed, and what their prediction models, uh, predict. That context is helpful because it tends to summarize what may happen, and also has a ton of nerdy science stuff. It always ends with the approximate position of the storm every 12 hours for the first three days, then the two after that, paired with wind speeds.

The cone of shame

The TV weather porn loves to show the cone, but often TV people explain it wrong, and the average person by extension doesn't understand what it means. There is actually text on the page that explains it, but it's small, and it obviously isn't shown on the tele.

The first thing is that the cone is showing where the center of the storm is most likely to go in the next five days, with 60-70% certainty. The further away from its current position, the less precise one can be, so the cone is larger. What it does not show is the size of the storm or the areas likely be affected. This is just the area where the center of the storm might cross. A narrow cone only means the forecasters are more certain about where it's going. Storms can be hundreds of miles across, and in the case of Florida, potentially cover the entire state. Just because the cone isn't near where you live doesn't mean that you're in the clear. As the key on the graphic shows, the wind speed range is indicated by the letter at the center of the storm, but that can extend hundreds of miles in every direction, especially to the right front of the storm (more on that in a minute).

What time is it?

I really like the graphic that shows the arrival time for "tropical storm force" winds. This one is more interesting because it takes into account the size of the storm.

This product shows you when it's gonna start getting breezy, meaning that the time shows when wind that's at least 39 mph will blow through your hair. This doesn't really tell you anything about the severity of the storm, but it gives you scope. So combined with the cone, you can get a sense of when the storm will arrive, and how serious it will be.

Looking at the raw numbers

I understand numbers, and at least basic probability. For that you can turn to the windspeed probability chart to get a more fine-grained look at what you might expect. Here's an example:

               FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM 
  TIME       18Z MON 06Z TUE 18Z TUE 06Z WED 18Z WED 18Z THU 18Z FRI
PERIODS         TO      TO      TO      TO      TO      TO      TO  
             06Z TUE 18Z TUE 06Z WED 18Z WED 18Z THU 18Z FRI 18Z SAT

FORECAST HOUR    (12)   (24)    (36)    (48)    (72)    (96)   (120)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
TALLAHASSEE FL 34  X   X( X)   9( 9)  43(52)   1(53)   X(53)   X(53)
TALLAHASSEE FL 50  X   X( X)   1( 1)  24(25)   2(27)   X(27)   X(27)
TALLAHASSEE FL 64  X   X( X)   X( X)   9( 9)   X( 9)   X( 9)   X( 9)

First you need to find your closest city. There will be one to three lines, each one describing the probability of certain wind speeds over time. I don't know why they use knots here, and not mph, or even km/h, but for 'Merica, the three speeds they're looking at is 39, 58 and 74 mph. These bands correspond to a tropical storm, a more serious tropical storm and a hurricane. The sets of numbers then are a number of hours into the future, as described at the top with the number of hours, and the UTC time above that (again, why not use local time?).

The two numbers describe the onset probability, and the cumulative probability. Onset is at the time that you hit the hour described, while cumulative it the overall odds between now and then. I tend to look more at the cumulative, because the timing is less important in terms of preparation. An "X" means there's less than a 1% chance. So in the example above, 48 hours from that time, there's a 43% chance that Tallahassee will see tropical storm winds (39 mph or more), and a 52% chance overall. Similarly, the chance is 24% and 25% cumulative for 58 mph or more winds, which is a mid-range tropical storm. Hurricane force winds, 74 mph or more, only have a 9% chance at that point.

So there's a 1 in 4 chance that it's going to be awfully windy in Tallahassee in 48 hours, which to me at least seems pretty serious. Our chances here in Orlando are only 7% to reach that middle tier, so at this point, I'll wait and see if we really need to bring anything inside. Sustained wind is so weird to experience. I don't know if I'll ever get used to it.


One of the more annoying things about the TV people is the emphasis for where the eye of the storm is. When the storm is over water, and the eye is well formed, the strongest winds are in fact in the thunderstorms circulating around the eye wall. When it comes ashore, that relative location is certainly important. But as more and more buildings are built to withstand hurricane winds, as modern building codes require, the emphasis on the eye is a distraction from the danger of the water. On the coast, it's the storm surge problem, where the water can get sucked away from the coast, and then pushed back inland and causing massive flooding.

But that eye emphasis is even worse when the storm is moving inland. The eye tends to fall apart pretty quickly over land, but TV idiots keep drawing a line over your neighborhood and tell you to "hunker down" because it's coming for you. The center of the storm at that point isn't really the thing to worry most about, and again, it's the water. The rain and flooding that you may endure is not confined to the center. In fact, the most dangerous areas are in the right front quadrant of the storm (in the northern hemisphere). This is true when it's coming ashore, in terms of surge and wind, and it's still true inland. That's where you're mostly likely to find tornadoes and the most serious storm cells. So for inland folks like me, I'm more interested in where I am relative to the storm's center, and how much the winds are persisting. We were on the right side of Irma, and there were far more trees down and roofs damaged compared to Ian, when we were left of the path. (I understand this is an anecdote, and all storms are not alike, but Ian was technically the stronger storm by a good margin, with less time weakening over land before it got to us compared to Irma.)

So that's how I look at the storms, and react accordingly. Amazingly, we've only had three "serious" storms here in Orlando in the last decade, and that's including Matthew in 2016, which stayed off-shore most of the way up the east coast (we were in North Carolina). Irma was the worst in terms of local wind damage, while Ian last year was "easier" for us, despite a lot of flooding in different areas around town. With the 5 pm update tonight, it looks like Idalia will be mostly a non-event for us, but pretty serious up in the panhandle and coastal cities.

Americas biggest, real cultural problem

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 28, 2023, 6:15 PM | comments: 0

Something got me to thinking about science fiction, as it existed back in the fifties and sixties. Everyone has seen this, and knows what it looks like. Everything is clean, there are flying cars, technology enables an easier life. Sometimes it was even diverse, as in the case of the original Star Trek. It is wholly optimistic. People had a great imagination about how what could be, and many people saw the world with wonder and curiosity.

We don't do that anymore. Our science fiction tends to be pretty dark, dystopian or apocalyptic. (Which is great art, for sure, but there isn't anything at the other end of the spectrum.) There is a whole subset of the American population that doesn't know optimism, and isn't interested in it. Many want to cling to a past that wasn't better, really for anyone. "Make America great again" implies that there was a better time, but better time for whom? Obviously that's a dog whistle, code for, "Let's go back to when the people of color and LGBTQ people were marginalized and the white people ran all of the things." So many of those people believe that their way of life is threatened by diversity and people that aren't like them. Unfortunately we can't just write it off as lazy thinkers or the willfully ignorant, because their actions have real consequences.

We've known for decades that there is unlimited energy coming from the sun, and it stirs up wind that can also be turned to energy. The technology to use this has been around for decades, and it's cheaper than ever. It doesn't pollute stuff the way burning dead dinosaurs do. It doesn't warm the planet. And our cars may not fly yet, but they can run on clean electricity. How can you not be excited by all of that? Who can in an honest, intellectual way, say that they want pollution that warms the planet and harms our health, when the alternatives exist today, and are cheaper?

Scientists pulled off nothing short of what would be considered a miracle even 50 years ago, when they were able to create a vaccine to battle a virus that had killed millions of people. In the process, they also figured out new ways to monitor disease (wastewater, gross), manufacture the delivery mechanism of medicines more efficiently, and the concept of custom drugs to treat specific patients no longer seems impossible. Meanwhile, regular people have found new ways to work, cash is becoming unnecessary and it's more efficient than ever to obtain goods by way of delivery.

But culturally, we keep looking backward. We're not celebrating the diversity of our neighbors, and a future where we all live together, peacefully. We have solutions to our environmental and energy challenges right in front of us, but we irrationally cling to the legacy. Experts in every field create and discover things, and instead of reveling in that, we reject their expertise as elitism.

The bright and shiny future is right in front of us, and we stubbornly refuse to move toward it.

Could I have taken an artist path?

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 26, 2023, 9:58 PM | comments: 0

I was doing a little bit of editing for the documentary today. I need more material overall, but there are two minutes of produced bits that I could work on, so I did. It's fun doing creative stuff, even if it does tend to remind me about my limitations as compared to other humans with which I would collaborate, if I actually had a budget that wasn't out-of-pocket for this thing.

It's things like this that often have me wondering if I could have taken a more artistic route in my life. Just to get it out of the way, I'm not saying anything about what I should have been, because I'm firmly in the camp of people who think that "everything happens for a reason" is the worst kind of bullshit used by people who can't reconcile life events that make them uncomfortable. What I'm saying is that if I had made different decisions, would I be capable of having an artistic career that I could live off of?

When I flipped careers in a few years after college, the nature of what I did changed pretty dramatically. Working even in a 2.5-person government TV operation, I got to do all of the things. I was shooting and cutting video, doing motion graphics, designing video systems... it was all of the creative things. When I flipped to the Internet and software, it was technical and logical. I'm not saying that creativity isn't necessary in my line of work, but no one is going to be deeply inspired, laugh or cry at your work.

It seems like most people who endeavor to work in creative fields suffer a bit. Some are able to carve out a niche and be comfortable, doing deeply satisfying creative work. A lot of people though find it unsustainable. That was kind of my story. I didn't feel like I could ever have a comfortable lifestyle doing what I did. Diana hung in there in theater for a long time, but it wasn't conducive to having a social life. Mind you, we both do a ton of stuff outside of our day jobs that helps satisfy the creative itch. I think it's fair to say that we're artists, it's just not what we write on our tax returns.

This curiosity comes at an... expected time of life for me. Of course you think about your choices, and what else you might do, in midlife. What I did not expect is that the curiosity doesn't come at the expense of some negative situation. Sure, the sheer volatility and chaos of trying to build a career in tech startups, SaaS companies and such, has been ridiculous, but I think I've earned the wisdom and experience to say that I'm pretty good at what I do. I still learn everyday, there are things I don't know, but I think "success" is an earned qualification. I am confident, hopefully with humility, in my job.

What I'm thinking now is something that is akin to becoming a parent. I don't think becoming a parent changes you, it's just that you become that as well. So if I decide to lean into artistic things, it's not in spite of or to replace what I already do. I can be both.

Exploring this aspect of me also comes because of the post-pandemic, antidepressant, ASD-diagnosed awareness that I didn't have before. My years in my late 20's and mid 30's were weird, and I didn't know myself as well as I thought I did. The picture started to become clearer when I met Diana, but that has been a whirlwind with having a child and moving all over the place and constantly changing jobs. Something about 2020 allowed me to come up for air, then 2021 dished out a pile of shit. Last year, everything seemed so in focus (other than my actual eyesight, which doesn't like to see anything closer than 14 inches).

In that awareness, I can look back and say that I've always been a deeply emotional person. I know now that my brain hasn't been ideally wired to express or process those emotions, or something made me feel as though I shouldn't. But the way that art makes me feel... music, film, theater... it's deep and intense. It has always been that way. It's a gift. I've always wanted to be a party to the process of making art. Art is feeling.

I don't know what this means, exactly, but I feel like the things that I'm most into definitely go a long way toward being an artist. And yes, in my rejection of the "content creator" nonsense, I can say that I have been a bona fide writer, author, photographer, videographer, amateur lighting designer. I'm working on adding filmmaker and pro LD to that list.

Next steps in my lighting endeavour

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 26, 2023, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

I have my head in a number of different things, rotating around between them, but still engaged in all of them. The lighting bit has been getting more of a share of that mind lately, and now I have some clarity about what to do with it.

Most importantly, I think that I understand my intent. As I've written before, teenage me always fancied myself a lighting designer, and I don't see why that would be off the table now. I had quite a bit of experience with theatrical lighting in college and community theater, and believe that I'm a student of all of the touring stuff I've seen. What I lacked was the understanding of how the modern gear works, and even in the last few months I've come a long way. I'm constantly watching tutorial videos, and often following along on my laptop.

The way I see it, this could lead to a few scenarios. The first is that I would be qualified to get part-time work as an operator or designer, and there are a ton of opportunities to do that around here. Between the theme parks and the constant supply of conference "business theater," there's a lot to do. The secondary potential is to essentially rent out myself with gear, specifically the controlling hardware.

In either case, I want to root this pursuit in the joy that I have for it, first and foremost. Over the years, I have problematically started all kinds of coding projects thinking, "This could make me money!" When that was the motivation, it didn't last, and I wouldn't finish those projects. Like the documentary I'm working on, the intention is not to make a buck, though I would be happy to sell it, I just want to enjoy the process of making it.

I recently negotiated a less-than-retail price for a couple of Intimidator 260X fixtures, the successor model to those I bought last fall. So now I have four that are essentially the same. As a kit to stuff, I imagine that I'd like to have two more, six total, and a couple of cheap Chinese knock-off wash fixtures. The closer I look at the latter, the more I see that they're very similar to machines that cost five times as much (also likely made in China), but likely lack the quality control. My thinking is that, if they break, even buying three replacements, however unlikely, is still cheaper. You can design entire shows virtually in the control software, sure, but it's not the same as seeing light manifest in front of your eyes. That's the thrill, and I've experienced that even with the first two fixtures I bought last year.

The control part is a little more complicated. It's clear now that the industry has settled on MA Lighting as the gold standard. Well, sort of. It seems like theatrical production on big shows is split between the MA products and ETC. I've messed with the software-only versions of both, and MA seems better suited for concerts and big light shows, but is still perfectly capable of doing theater. To that end, if I'm going to commit to learning something in a non-trivial way, the product that can do more seems like the right choice. The MA 3 line, after years of software updates, seems to have turned a corner as the "best" product, being favored over the MA 2 stuff which a lot of folks apparently still prefer.

Software-only is fine for programming, but it would be hard to use when actually running a show. Physical buttons and faders are necessary, especially for "busking," which, as it implies, is "performing" with lighting. To get physical buttons, you have to spend somewhere between $6,800 and $80,000, which seems like a lot until I think about what some of the video gear I've bought over the years costs. The entry level involves using your computer as the actual computing power, plus a few touch screens, and the control surface is just that, connected by way of USB. Full consoles have all of that self-contained, obviously, but getting in to this for the price of a car is not an option. The more you spend, the more you can control. So those big EDM shows? Those probably require the $80K arrangements.

The good news it that committing to that road means waiting until at least March before the equipment is even available. That's plenty of time to save many, many pennies. The bad news is that I have to wait until March. But I really want to do it.

Finally, a win against platforms

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 25, 2023, 9:46 AM | comments: 0

The podcast Armchair Expert recently returned to the open web after a two-year exclusive deal with Spotify. Prior to that deal, we listened to that show pretty frequently in the car, but I couldn't do it when it went exclusive. I have two reasons, the first and more obvious one that I don't like things moving into closed platforms instead of being agnostic around the Internets. The other thing is that Spotify has broken making a living as a musician. You can't really make a buck easily without being at Taylor's level.

The end to a bunch of exclusivity deals apparently has had varying results. But in the end, I think it's the right thing. Platform consolidation generally hasn't been good for the Internet, or the people who put stuff on it. I know it's kind of a hippie-utopian sentiment to want everything to be generally democratized and starting from an equal place, but I think pre-platform it made for a more interesting place with far more opportunity. The barrier to entry is lower when you can start a YouTube channel or a Facebook page, but with the latter you can't even make a dollar, and it takes a long time to do so with the former. All of the advertising consolidation controlled by the Google-Facebook duopoly is bad for advertisers who have few choices, and worse for small publishers because they can't stack ad providers to fill their inventory.

Naive and optimistic me feels like the best things will rise to the top, but the silly app ecosystem, most of which replicates what could be regular web pages, has put gatekeeping and algorithms above human promotion. Surely there has to be a future that's more than 30 seconds of dance choreography and cat videos. Maybe the independent podcast will show people that's the case.

Remotely in-person

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 24, 2023, 6:55 PM | comments: 0

I just got back from Denver, where I spent a few days meeting up with my peers and our corresponding product, design and analyst folks. These 25 people were largely two-dimensional Zoom tiles with obvious talents for what they did, but now many of them are more than that. They have back stories and lives.

I generally do not align with the folks who feel like butts-in-seats are the one true way to work. I have always been at my best and most efficient when I've worked remotely, as have the teams that I have led. Taking a commute out of the equation is literally getting days of your life back every year, and I've been surprised by how much of that time I instead use for work. It ebbs and flows, and it took a lot of practice to find boundaries. You can't be answering email and messages 24/7, because that does not actually result in more or better outcomes. And I can say with certainty that, especially in the world of software, open rooms full of desks are not better for getting work done, and collaboration as a percentage of work is not large. Headphone sales I'm sure are what they are because of this office arrangement.

What we missed though, because of the pandemic, was the periodic in-person meet-ups. I've read some compelling math that saving on square footage makes it possible for remote workers to gather in person several times a year, paying for flights and rooms. What we did the last few days was awesome, not for any work that we did, but because humans, even software engineers, are social animals. It feels good to get to know people. Having not done this since before the pandemic, I was almost surprised that, yes, people share personal stories and experiences in ways that they don't do remotely. I think a few days of this per year is generally enough to feel more connected to your job.

I will also say that, for me, the cognitive and emotional load of something like this, where you spend all day (and evening) with folks, is high. Even today, I feel pretty spent. I'm grateful for the opportunity, but it's a lot. I'll look at folks a little differently now, having had the opportunity to work with them in a room all day, and interact socially in the evening.

Again, I don't think that these interactions are some kind of proof that "together is better," only that it makes the remote work that more meaningful. I hope that we're able to do it two or three times a year.

Gaming out the end of your life

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 18, 2023, 10:02 PM | comments: 0

Ah, the things you think about when you reach an arbitrary number of decades in your life. I was reading an article today about the potential lack of preparedness on the part of my generation for retirement. The short story is that Gen-X'ers on the whole have been only marginally good at preparing for their retirement years. A great many (though not as many as Millennials) are in the student loan debt situation because they borrowed to go back to grad school. But more common is that we just weren't thinking ahead much, and spent our money on stupid shit in our 20's. I can closely identify with that. If it weren't for the industry that I work in, and trying to put away the maximum allowable amount into retirement accounts, I'd be in the same boat. (And I would be in the clear of even having to do that if I would have sold all of my equity post-IPO on my last job, when it was worth five times as much. All I can do is cross fingers and hope it's in a better place ten years from now. I was waiting for "fuck you money" instead of "reduce lifetime risk money.")

Conceptually though, considering my overall generation or not, it's pretty weird to be literally gaming out the rest of your life, until you die. I personally don't look at this as a morbid fascination, because I'm at peace with the transient nature of our existence. It doesn't mean that I don't want to make the most of my time, I'm just not troubled by the fact that there is an end that I can't avoid.

You know the dumb cliches, that youth is wasted on the young. The problem in our 20's is not that we don't appreciate the benefit of early saving and investing, however small it might be, it's that we don't appreciate that time is finite. I just couldn't be convinced of it at the time. I know my dad tried to on a number of occasions, but I ignored him (sorry, Dad). And it really hits home because I do a bunch of interviews almost every week, often three or more, and often (but not always) with people younger than me. When I hear them talk about their career intentions, it makes me hyperaware of the opportunity to do at least some basic planning.

It also reminds me how much we don't know. There are not shortcuts for wisdom and experience. My dad wasn't wrong, I just didn't care because I lacked the wisdom and experience. It's the fascinating anthropological process that I keep coming back to, that we as humans continually take in more information, but we either continue to evolve our world view, or we double down on the one we had. Either way, we don't have a lot to go on early in the process.

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about all the things. How will it go when my son reaches adulthood? How can I or will I support him in that transition? When can I realistically stop working? Do I stop working, or just decide to do something that's purely fun and inconsequential? (Guardians of the Galaxy ride op at Epcot? Bartender at Epcot? LD at the American Gardens Theater at Epcot?) Should I start a business doing something outside of my current expertise? Do any of those things make it more or less possible to travel to the places that I haven't been? Do I need to get life insurance outside of work for the long term? (Another thing I should have listened to my father for.) What should the remaining vehicles in my life be? At what point do we down-size to a smaller house? Is there even the most remote chance of owning property near the ocean? Do we keep up donations to the non-profits we care about? How do you consider all of this while still enjoying life?

I am quite literally thinking about a "retirement career." I've been thinking about that quite a bit. I was already thinking about it by making my documentary, but I'm not sure if that's a career or a one-off thing that I will be able to say that I did, like writing a book. I always wanted to be a rock star, but I don't play anything or write songs. International Man of Mystery is also not actually a thing.

The starting point for a successful partner relationship

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 18, 2023, 8:18 PM | comments: 0

I was listening to the public Internet return of Armchair Expert, with the first episode featuring Kristen Bell. If you're unfamiliar, the podcast is hosted by Kristen's husband, Dax Shepard and their friend Monica Padman. They've always been pretty open about their relationship dynamic, parenting and such, but in this show, Monica brings up questions that some writer believes can accelerate connections between people. This leads to Kristen declaring that the best relationships work when people decide what they want to be for the other person, which is the exact opposite of convention, which suggests that you need to find someone who is what you want. Instead of looking for someone who checks all of the boxes, look for someone who will allow you to be who you want to be in the relationship.

Usually, my first instinct when I hear things like this, especially from a celebrity, is to immediately believe the opposite is true. But this hit me as something completely obvious that I've never articulated or considered. It's so profound to me that it would have completely changed the way that I see dating back to the start.

Some background... Since my autism diagnosis, that journey of reframing my life has a repetitive theme. Countless situations in my past, I felt as if there was something broken about me, because I didn't conform to the expectations of others or some arbitrary, blanket societal expectation. It also applies to relationships going all the way back to high school, whether they be friendships or romantic in nature. I was too weird, oblivious to an inferred social contract, or, to the earlier point, didn't check some boxes for what the other person wanted. I'm not saying that authenticity is inherently ideal, because if your authenticity is that you're a racist or nazi or something, you know, exhibiting that doesn't make you authentic, it makes you an asshole. But for the rest of us, we're probably being cast into a box.

Kristen Bell's perspective is not actually new, because I've seen it before. I recall talking to someone, long after she married and had children, who told me that her husband, on paper, did not check the boxes one would typically look for. But she rattled off some things that she liked to be for him, and he liked to be certain things for her. Again, this is the complete opposite of the conventional wisdom, where almost anyone will tell you, "Don't settle, make sure they are all the things that you want them to be."

But people are autonomous human beings. They all have their wants and needs, and none of us necessarily fit into boxes. People also change over time. So it seems to me that having expectations for what a partner has to be is a recipe for failure. When that partner does not meet those expectations, it's a recipe for resentment. That's a toxic situation.

This naturally causes me to reflect on my relationship with Diana. I was thinking about this a bit while we were in Europe (and enjoying a lot of beverages in Skyline). She has never, at any time, set any kind of expectations for what she expected me to be. I can't think of a single instance where she declared an expectation. But I think if you were to distill our intentions of what to be for the other, we have only decided to be supportive for each other in the pursuit of the things that we wanted to do, and who we wanted to be. I think it's really that simple. I think it works because we never set expectations for each other, but we actively try to be what we hope to be for the other.

And while she's just on the edge of the range, I claim Kristen Bell as one from our generation. She is wise.

We finally got Hygge back

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 17, 2023, 8:25 PM | comments: 0

After nearly six weeks, we finally got our Model 3 ("Hygge") back from the shop. What an ordeal that was. To recap, Diana was lucky enough to run over a crow bar in just such a way that it embedded itself into the back left tire, tore up the inside of the wheel well and bumper as it turned, and caused what was ultimately over $15k in damage.

The fix required replacing all kinds of stamped body parts connected to the frame, which is a bummer because the exterior of the car was fine. When I first saw it, I figured they'd replace the stuff lining the wheel well, snap the bumper back on, get a new tire and be done with it. It definitely was not that simple.

So we finally experienced what happens differently when it's a Tesla. While not the nightmarish situation one would have five or six years ago, it was still slow and annoying. It started even with the towing, because some trucks won't tow a Tesla. Many tire shops won't replace tires on a Tesla. And body work is limited to shops that have gone the distance to understand how to work with aluminum bits and high voltage wires. It's a serious pain in the ass. Despite the Model 3 now being one of the most popular cars in America, getting body parts is still slow.

Non-collisions may or may not affect your insurance, since it's nobody's fault (except the moron who either left the crow bar or let it fall off of their truck). But we just renewed at a rate that was 20% higher than it was six months ago, for the same cars that are less new, because Florida. Insurance is a shit show here. Homeowners is even worse. I can't wait to see how much that goes up. Neighbors are reporting 50% increases in just one year.

On the plus side, the minor panel alignment issues on Hygge are gone since they had to take much of the car apart. It wasn't so much the doors as much as it was the trunk, which is perfect now.

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I feel silently judged

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 15, 2023, 8:40 PM | comments: 0

I was running out of multivitamins, so the other day I went to the Amazon to order some more. The first result was the "men 50+" variety, and it took a second, when I realized, fuck, that's me. It didn't feel good when they arrived either. But the other thing that came into focus is that there are, I think a lot of expectations about how you're supposed to be as you go through life, and midlife in particular seems to come with particular arbitrary expectations.

The pandemic really woke me up. I think it was the monotony of the day to day that forced me to do more with my time. I got into all kinds of new things, or revisited old things. The next year had few redeeming qualities, but I started paying way more attention to myself. I got my hypothyroidism and cholesterol under control, got a couple of tattoos, formally sought an autism and ADHD diagnosis, and ramped up therapy. Then last year, as normalcy seemed to be back, I addressed depression, made more things, thought more about the places I wanted to go. This year has been even crazier. I started making a movie, I went to Europe, I think my lighting obsession is getting serious, and I feel less constrained by the world than ever.

In other words, me, the guy that used to retreat to the comfort of safe routine, has been very busy the last few years trying new things.

It's true that in a larger sense, I've had few shits to give about how I am perceived. But there's a part of me that feels silently judged for who I am and what I'm doing with myself these days. This could be rooted in my desire to be included in things and be appreciated, which is something I've rarely felt, and might cause the indifference to how I am perceived. There's also a thing though where our culture puts people in boxes for, among other things, our age.

I have a T-shirt that says, "It's weird being the same age as old people." It's kind of a funny joke, yes, but it genuinely reflects how I feel. When I was younger, people my current age seemed dull, beat down by the world and just kind of... gave up. Some people currently my age I suppose fall into that group, but most of the people I know well in that demographic are wise, quietly dominating whatever they're into, and often pivoting to do new awesome things. I'm not sure that I can reconcile my friends and the half-century club of thirty years ago.

I still feel that sometimes the things that I do or that interest me might be perceived as immature, or a realization of and reaction to my own aging. If it's the former, you can imagine how much I care about that. Maybe it's the autism, but whatever social contracts involve constrained behavior for arbitrary reasons are not useful to me. If it's the latter, well of course I'm going to react to where I am in my life stage. How can you not seek a sense of purpose? My world view is continually expanding, and if yours is contracting as you get older, I'm gonna just call it out and say that you're doing it wrong.

So while it may be just made up in my head, I'm kinda tired of the peripheral worry that someone, somewhere, imaginary as they might be, finds me silly or immature because of the things I want to pursue. I'm delightful and interesting. I'm not gonna feel bad about that. If I'm not your cup of tea, that's fine too (because I might be filled with rum).

The strange world of rock and roll lighting design

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 13, 2023, 9:44 PM | comments: 0

While I don't have a ton of happy memories from my high school years, I very distinctly remember some of my rock and roll lighting fantasies. In the 1988 to 1989 time frame, there were these awesome videos from Def Leppard and Pink Floyd on MTV  The former went all out with an arena tour in-the-round, while the latter brought automated lighting in a way that had not been seen before. A year or two later, I sat behind the lighting guy at the Ohio State Fair for a Mike + The Mechanics show. When Depeche Mode's Violator came out, I had not yet seen them, but walking to school, listening to the album on my cassette Walkman, I would imagine light shows, especially for the song "Clean," which I routinely approximate after showering, to the embarrassment of my son.

Younger, naive me thought about how great it would be to be a rock show lighting designer. Realistic me also understood that probably a dozen people in the world were doing it at the scale of shows like Pink Floyd's Delicate Sound of Thunder tour.I don't have deep history on the profession in those days, but I know that Vari-Lite was basically the only game in town. They owned the whole ecosystem, making the light fixtures, which were apparently very failure prone, as well as the control consoles, and even the operators and techs. It was a package deal. Those Floyd shows, if you watch the video, had that big circle behind the stage, and they were flying clusters of the lights over the crowd,. It was totally epic. To see those big, chunky Vari-Lites moving around, that was cool.

I imagine it was pretty hard to get into the business in those days. And even for much of the next decade, lighting was usually a bunch of trusses packed with short parabolic mirror lights, with a color gel in front. Theatrical lighting was a little easier to get into, but schools and college venues often had a limited number of analog dimmers, and worse, analog controls. I remember my high school went digital shortly after I graduated, and the dimmers occupied a small rack. The board had about 40 faders, a tiny text LCD, and non-volatile memory that could hold like a hundred cues! I did the design for a few community theater shows on that gear. I vividly remember manilla folders full of Rosco gels, and I had their swatch book.

These days, there are relatively inexpensive lights intended for DJ's and such, like those I bought last fall, and there are even cheaper options. There's also a whole world of cheap knock-offs made in Asia, which is the same place that much of the US stuff is made, but with presumably wide differences in quality. Then there's the pro stuff that costs often thousands of dollars per unit. There are a number of European manufacturers making the bulk of the touring gear. As far as control goes, there is readily available cheap stuff that can run on tablets, and the big pro market share vendors have software-only solutions that do about the same as their physical consoles, only with limitations in how much you can control. I wrote about some of that last week. What I'm getting at is that you don't have to be in a secret club to start learning.

For example, I watched an interview with a guy who started as a pro lighting designer and programmer at the age of 50. That dude has a $60k console and hires himself and his gear out. On the cruise, I talked to one of the Disney creative execs about their gear, and he enthusiastically mentioned that they're always looking for people at all levels, even part-time and for contract work. You can probably see where I'm going with this. I have the means to learn all of this stuff because I could buy the tools.

And here's what I hate about getting older, is that it keeps getting harder to be an idealist and optimist. Grownups pretty easily get into their routines. I tell myself that's not me, because look at me, I still want to discover new music. But I also get a burrito every Thursday and get kind of annoyed when for some reason I can't.

I've taken on a lot this year. In addition to the base responsibilities of being a parent and having a day job, I'm making a movie, still writing software and I kinda want to do this too. Oh, and I'm taking on extras at work, too, like being asked to join the DEI council. But you know, maybe me and my laser enthusiast buddy can pitch Taylor Swift to design her next show.

Let's be real: Writing open source software is volunteering

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 11, 2023, 10:49 PM | comments: 0

I've spent a fair amount of time volunteering for things and raising money for causes that I care about. It's hard to nail down exactly why I do this, but I suppose like anyone, I see things that I feel should happen for the better of humanity and I want to help. In leading those kinds of efforts, I'm always taken aback, shocked even, to find people who expect something in return for what they're doing.

Sure, there are often perks for this sort of thing. We enjoy a quasi-private room to have drinks in before shows at our performing arts center, because we're donors. I would imagine though, that most well-adjusted human beings would contribute even without this perk. I don't think it's a stretch to believe that. The vast majority of things that I've contributed to or volunteered for resulted in little more than a "thank you," and that's fine. I do not seek recognition, I seek results in the cause that I'm contributing to.

There is all kinds of drama regarding a popular open source software library that I've used for years, called Moq. Nerds will appreciate that it's a library used for mocking dependencies in unit testing. This won't mean much to most, but the short version of the story is that it is very, very widely used. Mostly via automated build processes, it is downloaded hundreds of millions of times per year. The guy who maintains it decided to slip in what is essentially spyware for the purpose of making money, which as you can imagine sets off alarm bells everywhere and companies using it suddenly scrambling to replace it or revert to an earlier version. Then, the maintainer asks for feedback, and mostly unapologetically, insists he's just trying to make a buck for the thing he spends a lot of time on.

I am not at all one of those hippie types who thinks that software should all be free. I do think that it's OK to charge for software, and that people deserve to make a living making it. I live very comfortably for doing exactly that, even if it is via corporations. And if there are ways to make a buck with open source software, that's OK too. I mean, Red Hat is a publicly traded company supporting an entire open source operating system. But what this guy did with Moq violates trust and breaks the entire open source community, because of his project's relevance. And instead of admitting that he made a pretty terrible mistake, he doubles down and insists he needs to get paid.

That's shady. Maintaining an open source project is basically volunteering, though you may not even get a thank you for your work. That's the nature of the beast. Some folks do get to a place where it's just too much work or pressure or whatever, and in those cases, they usually shore it up to a final, stable place, or they hand it off to someone else who wants to carry the torch. That's perfectly reasonable. I've had a handful of contributions, and a number of heart felt thank you's over the years for my projects, and while appreciated, I mostly do it for myself.

The Moq guy is why we can't have nice things. And now I feel like I have to refactor 731 tests to use a new framework, and that pisses me off.

Your excluded child, and being an accomplice

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 11, 2023, 9:28 PM | comments: 0

If there's anything that I can be sympathetic about with regard to childhood, it's being excluded. I know that pain very well. To some extent, I know it in adulthood as well, but at least as an adult I know how to roll with it and understand where I derive my self-worth and value from. So you can imagine how much it hurts me to see my kid going through it.

Simon was more or less cast aside from the neighborhood kids years ago. It wasn't all of them, mostly one or two, but you know how kids work in packs. Going into his last year of middle school, I don't think that he's really found his tribe, and we know he's had to deal with specific bullies. Again, familiar territory to me. But the world today extends that sort of thing to the online world, where any thread of decency or decorum does not exist, not even for former US presidents.

Tonight his buddies were communicating via Discord, yet another platform. We have been unwilling to let him signup for the service, because he doesn't really understand online safety, or apply the right critical thinking to get what's real and what isn't. This is made worse by his intense desire to belong. We're not doing this to be dicks, we just don't think that he's ready. Last year he plugged his Roblox login to some random form on the service, which you should never have to do. Shortly thereafter we received a warning from someone logging in Thailand or something.

But the unkind tendencies of the real world are not better online. Tonight, he was being excluded from some kids, one of whom he knows in real life, because they were not connecting via the game or Zoom or whatever he was using. They were using Discourse. This eventually led to tears, with a cracking, deeper voice than I'm used to. At just that moment, the screen saver on my TV showed a photo of him when he was 5, and happy. The contrast was... upsetting.

It's a strange distress, to know that your child will be an adult in five years, and that your window for getting your part right is getting smaller and smaller. You don't get a do-over.

Update: Simon's esophoria

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 11, 2023, 8:41 PM | comments: 0

Back in November I mentioned that Simon was diagnosed with esophoria, which is a condition where the eyes look more inward than they should. The result, as you can imagine, is that they have issues focusing on things accurately. The diagnostic result of this at the time showed all kinds of problems. His eye tracking would constantly back track over words that he was reading, and the ability to even copy and write text was severely impaired.

The ophthalmologist referred him to a specialist that does therapy for this kind of thing. Fortunately, this is almost entirely done by software and at-home exercises, and he's been doing those on a fairly consistent basis for the last nine months. There are some specific measurements that show progress on this. The speed at which he copies text is probably the most striking one. Before he started the therapy, he copied text at the speed of an 8-year-old. Now, he does it at the speed of a 13-year-old, which is what he is. That's staggering.

At this point, we have to wonder what this will mean in terms of school. Things like taking notes or copying things from the screen or board were slow and he absolutely hated doing it. School started this week, so it's too early to tell. My hope though is that this thing alone could change the way he approaches school work. Admittedly, I may be projecting naive optimism.

I still think it's a crazy good catch by the eye doctor last year. The therapy cost was not trivial, but here's hoping it makes a difference.

Life engagement is not a linear phenomenon

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 10, 2023, 5:10 PM | comments: 0

I was thinking about how, at the moment, I want to simultaneously do all the things, and how, prior to the vacation, didn't want to do much of anything. Younger me would believe that this is some kind of personality flaw. Mature me knows that such a sentiment comes from the arbitrary expectations of a messed up American work ethic that has no boundaries. Also, ADHD, ASD, varying mental and physical health, etc. It's never simple.

I think midlife comes with a sense of urgency, and that doesn't help with the sentiment that you must do all of the things. Right now. I'm trying to get to a place where I accept that we're just not built that way. We can't be on all of the time, nor should we be. Engagement in all the things is variable, and not linear. I mean, if you want to use a sports metaphor, you don't run all of the time, you do it in bursts, and rest in between.

We have to figure out how to normalize this.

Northern Europe 2023: Disney Dream

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 9, 2023, 10:51 PM | comments: 0

I figured that our time on the Disney Dream was something that probably should be its own post separate from the ports on the cruise. In some ways, I would not even expect there to be anything new or novel about being on the ship, because we've been on it 15 times prior. The Dream, for over a decade, only ran back and forth from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas, meaning Nassau and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. Then a little over a year ago, it was rotated out of that position, and the Disney Wish took over those itineraries. The Dream, therefore, was essentially our "home" ship. It is deeply familiar because we've spent nearly two months of our lives on it.

So it was kind of a funny when the itinerary that we wanted, the Northern Europe thing, was going to be on the Dream. It has also been doing the Mediterranean, and I think after our trip, it did one that was almost all Norway ports (which in some ways, I think I might have preferred). When we rolled up to the ship in Southampton, it was kind of weird seeing a ship that, dry dock treatments aside, had only been in three ports. But I suppose that also made everything easier for us. There are no mysteries aboard that ship, saving all of the adventure for the ports.

A few days before we left, they dropped the second of the three Iceland ports that we were supposed to visit, Isafjordur. It was the smallest of the three, in terms of population, but the views, and the bus tour that we booked, seemed pretty epic. The official explanation was an issue with port construction, and deeper questions suggested it had to do with the dredging in the port, which was not on schedule. Obviously you don't want to run a billion-dollar ship aground. Tender boats were probably not an option because that town was simply too small to accommodate such a thing, and there was already another, smaller ship that would be in port that day. We got like $45 in port fees back, but I wish there was something more. Losing this port meant five at-sea days, and changed the value proposition of the itinerary.

Boarding was a little slow going, as I said previously, and it was later clear that the rail strike meant a lot of people relying on the train from London got in pretty late in the afternoon. I'm glad we booked the private car. But once aboard, it was like any Bahamas trip. We had some lunch in the Cabanas buffet, dropped our carry-on bags in the room at 1:30, when the staterooms were available, and secured our key cards and lanyards. They're doing some new lanyards for the 25th anniversary of DCL, made of faux-leather with a Mickey imprint, instead of the usual office store stock standards. It was also the first time we saw white lanyards, indicating the 25-cruise Pearl level. We've got one more to get there.

We got Simon registered for Edge and Vibe, the tween and teen clubs, and he was off on his own. He's actually been pretty independent since he was 9, when we got him a cheap Android phone off Amazon to use the onboard chat app. Back then, we allowed him to check himself into the kids club, but not out. Then we gave him out privileges, and obviously now he just does whatever. I think it has really given him the room to figure out how to be social on his own, even if much of that social interaction ends up being with the youth counselors.

After dinner in Animator's Palate, and meeting our dinner servers, we headed one deck up to the Skyline Lounge. This is the martini bar found on the Dream and Fantasy. It's kind of tucked away back in the corner. One side of the bar is all video screens that change between various famous city skylines from around the world. The menu (on iPads), features drinks themed to those various cities. There are a number of reasons that we so consistently spend time in this bar. The first is that it's generally quiet. It gets busy right before the second dining, with a little burst after, but we almost always sit at the bar. We're also cocktail people. We aren't beer people, and we enjoy good liquor (responsibly, of course, usually). This is also where they tend to put some of the most skilled bartenders, and do the mixology classes. Between the Dream and Fantasy, we've never had a head bartender that wasn't awesome. Best of all, because it's not usually crowded, we inevitably meet interesting people here that we can have good conversations with. With a 10-night cruise, and missing only one night in that bar, we met a ton of people that will undoubtedly be long-term contacts. Some of them, actually many, also are local to us, and we already have plans to meet up with them. That is completely fantastic.

On our first at-sea day, after France, we had our first mixology class. A guy named Vlada, from Serbia, ran the class, and Skyline. We were going to do more of these classes, but he only switches it up once during the long itinerary, so we would only do one more on our last night. We walked away from this cruise with four new interesting drinks, two of which are variations on things we already make. One, the Purple Rain, we added to our menu.

We had some good conversations with entertainment people on this cruise. I wrote about meeting some of the execs involved with entertainment in my lighting rant, and we also got to see a "lights on" performance of "Be Our Guest" from their Beauty and The Beast show. They put up the video feeds from below and around the stage, and piped the stage manager's headset audio into the theater as well. For theater nerds like us, this was awesome. We had a few good conversations with a young violinist, who managed to play along to requested music that he had not previously tried. People who can do stuff like that blow my mind.

Our three days in Iceland got progressively colder. On the first day, after our excursions in Reykjavik, I did go in the hot tub before the bulk of folks made it back to the ship. I had the one in the adult area to myself, with nothing but the fjords in front of me. The next day was at-sea, and people were generally spread out on the deck with blankets and such (these are provided in Alaska as well), reading and taking in some intermittent sun. That was the day that we briefly entered the Arctic Circle, so I can say that I've been there. We watched the latest Indiana Jones movie that afternoon, and I thought it was brilliant. Watching it with a thousand other enthusiastic people may have colored by perception of it. The third day, in Akureyri, was a lot colder. I was already nursing a sore throat from the snoring all night in the very dry air inside our room, and this did not help. After our excursion in town, we came back to find that the carpet in the hallway in front of our room had been replaced. It was super squishy. I didn't think the old carpet was in bad shape, but this is the reason that every ship in the fleet seems like it's new.

Our at-sea day between Iceland and Norway was suboptimal. I slept poorly the night before, didn't even go to Skyline that night, but I just felt like crap all day. I brought back food to the room and intermittently slept and watched movies most of the day. I'm kinda pissed about it, but some of this is just affirmation that me and cold weather are not entirely compatible. I skipped dinner, because I didn't want to deal with that scene (more on that later). I did feel slightly more human by 7 or so, and I did have a dessert cocktail that night. I still called it pretty early.

I jumped out of bed the next morning, and Diana and I walked around Alesund, Norway. There were not a lot of open things, because it was Sunday. It ended up being our favorite port day, easily. That night, I felt like I was able to resume some amount of normalcy. Some California friends we met previously came back to the bar, and the dude was celebrating his 50th with a very expensive bit of rum served in a very expensive glass.

That led to our final day at sea. The weather had finally changed for the better. It was sunny, and somewhere in the 60's. The pools were full (note that the water is always warm, because it's heated by excess engine heat), and the lifeguards didn't look like polar explorers. Lunch was just beautiful, out on the aft deck outside of Cabanas. Because we were between Norway and Denmark, the cell phone signals were pretty solid, and I was able to pinpoint our position on my phone. The sun very much lifted our spirits.

We did the walking tour of the ship, the "art of the theme" or something like that. I've done that many times before, on all of the ships, but it's always a little different depending on who does it. Olivia, from the UK was our guide this time, and she was hilarious and entertaining, and I saw a few things I had not seen before. That was fun. She happened to point out that, for reasons unknown, the designers decided to put mirrors on the ceilings of the restrooms in The District, the aft bar area on deck 4. Sure enough that night, I had to check, and of course I had to take a picture.

At the end of the tour, we ran into Tony From Spain, or as he likes to say, #tonyfromspain. Tony has been a fixture on the cruise line for almost as long as we've been doing these, over ten years. He hosts countless entertainment events, we've seen him on Castaway playing tunes, and now he seems to be gaining more responsibility. We were wondering if they were grooming him for a future cruise director position, but he says he still has some way to go for that. Nice guy though, and always fun to talk to.

On our disembarkation morning, for the first time, we skipped eating in the main dining room, and instead ate in Cabanas. This was pretty much always a thing, we just never did it before. And usually, that's because we liked seeing our dining team one last time before getting off the ship. But there's also more pressure to get off quickly. This time, we checked with our stateroom host, and she said that as long as we had our stuff out by 8:30, it was all good. So after admiring the wind turbines from our room, we had Cabanas breakfast at a leisurely pace.

So let's talk about the dining situation. The dining service is usually the hallmark of the service standard relative to this cruise line. You rotate across three main dining rooms every night, but your service team always follows you. So by even the second night, usually, they know you well enough that they can almost predict what you'll choose from that night's menu. On the 23 prior cruises, we had one team that was efficient, super fast, but not always the most courteous or on top of things (last December on the Fantasy). This time, super nice guys, but they were pretty terrible at time management. After the first night, we fortunately got them commit to getting Simon's food out almost instantly, because he's not great at waiting. Frankly, I'm not either, so I was kind of annoyed when we'd see the first plate come out like 45 minutes into the service. There were prior cruises where we might be done by that time!

And when something wasn't right, our main server kind of freaked out. I had some really dry chicken one night. That's fine, I've encountered that before. His resolution for this was just to throw all kinds of food at me that I wasn't going to eat because I can only eat one meal a night. I'm a picky eater, sure, but typically something works. In the absolute worst case, especially after drinks, there will be late night pizza or tenders. But it was the long waits that I didn't understand, when we watched another table's service team just crank out the dishes.

The night of my sick day, he had told Diana he would surprise me with Indian food the next night. She of course told me, and I just headed that off and said, no, let's just skip to what you're suggesting, because I'm not gonna order something and then be "surprised" with something I don't have room for. So despite me explaining from day one that I don't eat red meat and seafood, he brought out some fish curry. I just couldn't get how he got there. I quietly pulled the head server aside, and talked to him outside with a general plea to get this guy some serious training. He meant well, but he was just not good at this. I also explained that I thought their comment card rating system was being used in a toxic way that made the servers fear anything less than a perfect rating, probably because they weren't renewing contracts. That's a hard job already, they don't need that stress. I ended up emailing corporate about that perception, and had a nice call with their executive guest service director yesterday. She seemed very receptive and we talked about management stuff. She also promised to send along my kudos to a long list of people who were awesome.

The port in Copenhagen didn't have a proper elevated gangway, so we went out via deck 1, as we would in most non-home ports. The line to customs extended outside from midship, almost all the way aft, so you could see the insane amount of activity as the ship was being restocked with entire pallets of vegetables and toilet paper and who knows what else. It's really something to behold, and by that time, I suspect most of it was already done.

And finally, because I forgot to mention it in my Copenhagen post, the weirdest thing happened at Tivoli Gardens a few hours later. We had only been there a few minutes, when suddenly a bunch of a bunch of attractive young women started yelling Simon's name. It turns out they were the youth counselors, taking a brief shore leave on the turn-around day. Simon knew at least one of them from a previous cruise. They were all very kind to him and looked out for him, and they always make him feel special. They even wrote a card for him on the last night. It's another reason that we stick to this cruise line. Regardless of the situation at school or in life, Simon is always treated well on these ships.

Getting back to lighting stuff, post-vacay

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 9, 2023, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

A personal highlight for me on our Northern Europe cruise was that I got to spend a little bit of time talking to theater and show nerds about their lighting not just on the Dream or the cruise line, but Disney in general. We got to see a "lights on" run through of "Be Our Guest" in their Beauty and The Beast show, complete with the video feeds from under the stage and in the wings, and the stage manager's headset traffic. They also happened to have two of the top show execs from Disney Cruise Line on this particular voyage, and they did a Q&A. I got to talk to the more technical guy for like five minutes after, and learned a ton about what they were running. The short story is that they're using Grand MA3 consoles almost everywhere, with some MA2 units still in some places (including the American Gardens Theater at Epcot, because I asked the DL after one of the Living Colour shows). The Walt Disney Theaters in the various ships have in excess of 500 fixtures each. I'd love to see their network rigs.

When I last checked in, in late June, I was trying to figure out the most optimal way to send bits across the wires to make lights do stuff. I'm pretty happy with where that landed. Once you understand the protocols, this is not even remotely the hard part of writing lighting software. I also pretty comfortably figured out how to model the identity of fixtures, cascade dimming across different fading mechanisms, structure cues and cue transitions, do some basic effects... basically all of the things that an existing console can do.

The hard part is the user interface. My experimentation has involved using a browser-based interface, with actual on-screen sliders that work as "faders," even on a touch device like a tablet. Honestly it's all pretty cool that it works. But there's a lot of investment in UI development to map actual lighting fixtures to the model that I was able to easily stub out. The same is true for building cues, grouping fixtures, creating preset "looks," etc. The conceptual paradigms, doing change tracking of the lighting's state, is pretty straight forward and well established against existing products. Building a user interface out myself seems a little daunting.

Getting back to MA3, you can download the software for free, on Windows or Mac. It has a built-in visualizer, which means you can make virtual rigs and create entire shows on a laptop. The trick is that you can't output any of it to the real thing without spending money. The most basic thing for them is a $2,000 box that enables output of 4,096 parameters, which are kinda like DMX channels (mostly... two channels controlling the tilt of a fixture count as one parameter). This box means that you can use the software on a computer that you provide, presumably with a touch screen, and run an actual show. The top of the product line is an actual console running the software with a bunch of touch screens and physical buttons and faders for $80,000, and it controls 20,480 parameters. It's a weird product line, because their smallest, self-contained product with screens costs $30k. But if you're willing to bring your own computer with external touch screens, they have an "on PC" product that has the main control surface for $7k. Comparing that to the video gear world that I'm familiar with, that's actually a really good deal.

The MA line appears to have the greatest market share, while ETC's EOS line seems to be second. I've played with their stuff as well, and run through some tutorials. They have a "student" kit that includes a USB key to unlock the software and a USB to DMX box for like $200, but I can't figure out any way to qualify for that. The software-only key is only $500 though, controlling 1,024 DMX channels, which is actually a great deal because networked DMX interfaces are cheap. But as I've done more MA3 tutorials, I'm just not convinced that their product is anywhere nearly as good as the MA stuff.

It's worth noting that I have been using MA's retired product, dot2, since last fall. It's free and can run two universes (1,024 DMX channels). It has been super useful to learn a lot of the light programming concepts, but it's kinda limited in terms of features. It doesn't really customize very well and the effect engine is limited.

Why do I care about any of that? Because I don't think my time to develop my own product would be worth it. There are really good products that do it all already. If I'm genuinely interested in learning enough about it to the point of doing it part-time or in quasi-retirement, I should just use the real thing that exists in venues. The only problem is that it seems my interests and hobbies are all very expensive. Also, looking at some used lights on eBay for home use. (That sounds ridiculous to say out loud.)

The vacation has re-lit a fire for all of the things that I was too mentally spent to work on. I'm scheduling more shooting for the movie, vaguely planning another forum release for this year, still thinking about gaming, and yeah, the lighting thing. Sure, ADHD has me jumping around, but at least I don't get bored!

Northern Europe 2023: Denmark

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 9, 2023, 3:30 PM | comments: 0

Our cruise ended in Copenhagen. For as long as we've had it planned, we've been referencing the scene in Pitch Perfect 2 where Brittany Snow's character talks about traveling to "the very sunny, very beautiful, Copenhagen!" It wasn't very sunny, but it was very beautiful, and I immediately fell in love with the city. It literally started with the customs agent, who had a big Jessica Rabbit tattoo and was into biker culture. She was very kind to Simon, and already promoting the country as the home of Lego.

Copenhagen wants you to enjoy yourself as a tourist, and make everything stupid easy, so they offer the Copenhagen Card. It allows you to use all of the public transportation and entry into most of the attractions in town. They were $67 each for adults, and $37 for Simon. The first $23 each was going to be for just getting into Tivoli Gardens, weather permitting, and we didn't have to commit to that specific attraction in advance. Bus and train fares got pretty close to rounding out the total cost. Had we gone to another attraction we would have been doing "free" stuff. Regardless, I think it's worth it just for the convenience of having one thing.

After a lot of research about hotels, a friend suggested that we stay at one of the airport hotels. I can't even explain how good of an idea that was, especially in a city with such a great metro system. I leaned on Google Maps to tell us how to get there. We started on a bus that went a few minutes to the end of one of the metro lines, in an area with a ton of new construction and development. You change trains once, and we were at the airport in just under 40 minutes from the time we got through customs. We were the only people on the bus, and there were only a few people that far out on the train. I can't for the life of me understand why so many people were waiting for hundreds of private cars and taxis at the port, when the transit was so good. The vehicles are very clean, the stations are large and bright, and our bus was actually electric.

I'm sure that's a cultural thing to some extent, as the mostly American passengers are used to the shitty excuse for transit we have. But the other cultural thing that I found interesting is how much using the transit system in Copenhagen is a system of trust. They have terminals in the train stations and in the buses to tap a card on and off, but there aren't gates or anything. Bus drivers might ask you for proof, but they're not really policing it. On the trains, they have people who randomly wander them and check tickets, but we only encountered that once on three fairly long rides. You don't even tap the Copenhagen card, so no one even knows you're on the train unless one of the checkers ask to scan.

The Clarion at the airport is steps away from the train station, which makes it all the more convenient. It's a little pricey, even more so because we paid extra to check-in early (this is a thing all over Europe, apparently, which is a little gross if the room is ready anyway). The room was fairly large, and like our room in London, had very Scandinavian design sensibilities. The weird thing was the enormous bathroom, which included a very long bathtub. When searching for a hotel, the biggest expense problem was just getting a room with two beds. We had the same problem in London, and in both cases, "second bed" means fold-out sofa bed, which I suspect isn't super comfortable. Almost no place in Copenhagen proper that I looked at even had two-bed rooms available. Surely Europeans travel with family, right?

We dropped our bags by 10:30 and then headed back down to the train. Google had us get off the train and take the bus the last few blocks to Tivoli, but as we discovered on the way back, it would have been easier to just transfer from the M2 line to M3, getting off at the Rådhuspladsen Square station, which is closer to the park's entrance anyway. I had scoped out months ago that there was a McDonald's just down from the park, which was a lifesaver for finding food for Simon. Food inflexibility is one of our biggest challenges with him, but he recently started eating hamburgers. They have to be from McDonald's or Red Robin (or DCL), but it's progress.

Tivoli Gardens is celebrating 180 years. I first learned of its existence very early in my roller coaster and theme park enthusiasm. It has regularly won praise for its appearance and beauty. The reason is obvious before you even get inside the gate. The park very much has a city park feel, with rich gardens in every direction, an eclectic mix of architecture, a big stage venue in the middle, and as you might guess, amusement rides scattered about. It has classic "carnival lighting" all over, but unfortunately we wouldn't be there late enough to see it, especially during these long summer days. Once inside, we ducked into the adjacent food court, where I had some fantastic Indian food, and Diana had a massive chicken sandwich.

After our lunch, the rain was being kind of vaguely persistent and annoying, but it was just warm enough, low 60's, that it was not uncomfortable. We bought ride wrist bands just for me and Simon, because Diana didn't want to potentially irritate her back issues. We started with Rutsjebanen ("Roller Coaster"), which is I believe the second oldest operating coaster in the world, built in 1914. The big deal here is that there are no up-stop wheels, and a live human sits on the train and brakes it manually. I'm not gonna lie, I found this a little disconcerting, especially in the rain. The operator has to really lean into it, foot braced on the car in front of him, and it did not appear he has any restraint of his own. There is no reach envelope on the ride, you could in theory touch anything around you. I love it in part because there's no way something like this would ever be able to operate in the US, and yet, I'm not aware of any particular injuries involved with it. I'm also happy that Simon had no issue riding it.

Our next ride was a beautiful Wave Swinger right in the middle of the park. I haven't been on one of these in years. They ran it for a pretty long cycle, and it seemed to operate at a robust speed. This is still one of my favorite flat rides. We also did a circular pirate-themed ride, Galley Express, similar to a Musik Express, only a little slower with repeating hills. There are a lot of circular flat rides back in that corner of the park. Next we did the powered coaster, Maelkevejen, which is a Mack ride that's built above all kinds of other things. It's an interesting ride, and has a pretty great helix on it.

As the rain backed off a little, we wandered over to Daemonen ("Demon"), the smallest B&M roller coaster I've ever seen. They were only running one train on this floorless looper, so the line was pretty long. Simon bailed, wouldn't even try it, unfortunately. His wrist band was pretty loose, so we cheated and shimmied it off so Diana could ride with me. It took about an hour, but during that time, the sun came out, and it was a very comfortable ride. Despite the size, I think the intensity was just right, totally dialed in. There aren't very many B&M's that I haven't liked (Iron Wolf is mostly the only one, though poor Kumba is not aging well). Short as it is, it packs a lot into a small space.

Simon next went to what I think is a modified Huss Condor, with two of the four wheels having outward facing seats. I was content to let him do this one on his own, I guess because I was tired. He also did the neighboring Monsoon, which looks like a weird inverted magic carpet. They also have what I think is a kiddie Moser tower that bounces up and down. I was willing to do the S&S tower next to it, but he wouldn't bite. Surprisingly, he didn't weasel his way on to the kiddie coaster in this area.

We walked around the remainder of the northeast side of the park, and found more of the restaurants. I would have loved to have sat down in one of these, but again, the eating proposition was not ideal with the picky eater in tow. After sitting for an hour or so while Simon repeated some rides, we started to head out around 6. We stopped and ordered a couple of thin pizzas in the food court, then around the corner to McDonald's for Simon's dinner. I was definitely feeling it by then, and all of the time zone changing and cold and sometimes early excursions were catching up. Probably should have taken it easier during the at-sea day the day before, but we had another mixology class and a last hurrah with folks that we met over the previous ten days. We could have easily spent a few more days in this city alone.

Our ride back to the hotel was super easy, and after the bulk of any kind of rush hour situation. As I mentioned, we took the metro from the station there in the square, with a single transfer back to the airport. The hotel unfortunately didn't really have any great food options late, just a bar, so that was kind of a bummer because their breakfast the next morning was pretty robust. Our new teenager is pretty much hungry at all times. And honestly, I was used to eating as sport, as one does on a cruise.

One final note, the Copenhagen airport the next morning was another example of a better way to do everything. Security involved first scanning your own ticket, then the security gate was a queue with a screen at the end that either said "stop" or go to a specific lane. No taking off shoes, and the x-ray trays were returned on rollers under the line. It emptied into the most beautiful duty-free store I've ever seen. We had a short flight to Frankfurt, which was kind of shitty because we had to walk literally almost a mile to the next gate, which involved a manual interaction with German customs and another security screening. There was no good food in between, and the stuff on the plane (Lufthansa's Eurowings brand) was borderline dog shit. The flight attendants seemed surprised that we didn't speak German, which is odd flying to Orlando. For whatever reason, we were in "premium economy," which had extra room and all the food and beverage was included. It was cool to finally see Terminal C at MCO, but bags took almost an hour, and then another 45 minutes waiting in a customs line because there was no one staffing the MPC (mobile app) line that would amount to a quick QR code scan to return. Welcome home, indeed.

All the good labs

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 7, 2023, 9:47 PM | comments: 0

Taking a break from writing about the trip to write about my health. I had my annual physical just before the trip, and the labs came back while we were having dinner on the way out of France. For the most part, the numbers are the best I've had for as long as I've been having numbers.

My LDL is the lowest of my adult life, 64, thanks in part the statin I'm taking. That's way, way below national averages for any age group. My HDL is a point too low at 39, but the overall ratio is well below 2, and that's amazing. My other work in progress is the triglycerides, which are still just over 200, but that's a long way from the 350 where I used to be. "Normal" is below 150, but now that I'm getting off of my ass regularly, I think this is going to head in the right direction.

I'm also pretty pleased that the numbers indicating prostate, kidney, liver function all are in the best places, improved slightly. My thyroid numbers are right in the pocket as well, so I continue to be on the right dosage of levothyroxine.

This is the first time in years that I haven't felt like I've had this health cloud hanging over my head. Everything isn't in line yet, but the change has still been fairly radical. The timing couldn't be better, because I'm not gonna lie, the arbitrary number of my age has been wearing on me the last few months. I can't even explain why. I suppose I'm still looking for meaning an purpose, even though I have intellectually concluded a long time ago that humanity is largely an insignificant accident in the scope of the universe.

Maybe the most important thing is that finally seeing good numbers encourages me to keep at it. I can see results.

Northern Europe 2023: Norway

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 7, 2023, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

Spoiler alert: This was probably our favorite port.

After the crappy respiratory feelings incurred in Iceland, I was determined to make this day count. We had another bus trip scheduled for the afternoon, but with the ship docked right in the middle of the town, I wanted to get up and see it in the morning.

Ålesund, Norway is in the lower-third of the country, and still about 7 hours away from Oslo by car because there are no straight line roads through the mountains. The city sits on a peninsula surrounded by a number of islands that are connected by tunnels. The main part of town doesn't have any buildings older than a hundred years and change, because of a fire that burned most of it to the ground in 1904. The rebuilt city leans on art nouveau vibes and something that I can only describe as exactly what you'd expect from seeing Norway in pictures. The EV percentage was even higher here than in Iceland, I'm guessing probably two-thirds. I know new car sales in Norway are more than 90% plug-in now, according to an article I saw a few months ago.

Unfortunately, we were there on a Sunday, so most of the retail was closed, as well as most of the restaurants. Nothing we could do about that. Diana and I left the ship in the morning, and did a random walking tour around the central part of the city. This was the closest thing to "warm" that we had experienced at that point, with the temperature around 62. I was comfortable in shorts, and periodically took my hoody off, especially when the sun peaked out. There was one restaurant/bar prepping to open around noon that looked pretty great with an outdoor patio, but unfortunately we had to get back to the ship to get lunch, Simon and ready for our bus trip.

We met a gigantic dog and his human, and they were one of a very few locals we met. They clearly take the day off pretty seriously, and I admire that. There were a couple of souvenir shops right by the dock, and we picked up a few things for next to nothing. We also grabbed a magnet for one of our favorite bartenders, who collected them from each port, but wasn't able to get off the ship that day. Take care of the people who take care of you!

None of the tours that we researched were big standouts, relative to what was available in Iceland, but I would have been content just to drive around. The hills and shores are stunning. What I found particularly satisfying is that, outside of the city, people lived in nice but modest homes with a fair amount of property. We saw neighbors in different places just hanging out and talking to each other in the single-lane street, where our huge motorcoach seemed out of place. If it were a little warmer, I could see living there. It was idyllic.

Our first stop was to a 12th century church in Giske. Most of what you could see was introduced within the last 250 years, but the bones of the building are very old. There's also a grave next to it that they believe contains the guy who built the church. The exterior is actually marble, but covered in layers of stuff to protect it. There was something satisfying about having a young woman sporting serious goth vibes acting as guide for the church (she's called out as a "lovely" positive in the last two Google reviews!). Most of the graves outside were fairly "new," which is to say they were from the last 250 years.

Next we headed to Godøy, the next island over, where we visited the Alnes Fyr (lighthouse). This was first built in 1853, though most certainly rebuilt over the years, since it's wood on a steel frame. It's a narrow climb to the top, and there's a grumpy old keeper that appeared to moderate tourists going in and out. The view from the top is certainly impressive, but the landscape is already pretty impressive at the ground level. The air there is different, that's the only way that I can describe it. There is a small cafe and art gallery built into the side of the hill. There was cake included in our tour. You can't really go wrong with cake.

From there we headed back through the four tunnels into Ålesund, as the bus climbed through quite a few residential streets to Fjellstua Aksla, the overlook, which sits about 600 feet above sea level. The view of the city from that position makes it seems almost as if the entire area was created for the purpose of making a movie. Even more remarkable, there are hundreds of stairs that you can take to walk up from the city below to this spot, which I am happy to say I didn't have to worry about because of the bus. This was another spot where we could see the ship in its entirety, and again it was so weird to see "the Bahamas ship" in Europe.

Overall, it was a really great day, even though the sun didn't spend a lot of time showing itself. The forecast was originally suggesting a washout all day, so I'm perfectly happy with what we had.

Northern Europe 2023: Iceland

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 5, 2023, 1:01 PM | comments: 0

After two days at sea, we arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland. I don't know what time we arrived, but I would have liked to have been up to see us sailing in, were it not for the fact that I was already still adjusting to the time changes. It wasn't just going from east US to UTC, but it changed going to France and then twice at sea. Waking up and looking out my window, it was like looking at a different planet. It's totally different from the waterways around the Alaskan coast, which are very green with trees. The soil in most of Iceland is very shallow, because under that it's mostly volcanic rock. There isn't a lot of matter for plants to cling on to.

Our bus trip was in the afternoon, so we were able to be fairly leisurely in the morning. After lunch, we boarded our bus and headed out through the city. A bit over 100,000 people live in Reykjavik, and it accounts for about a third of Iceland's total population. As we navigated away from the port, we passed through a number of residential neighborhoods, and immediately I was struck by the percentage of cars that were EV's. Many of the modest houses we passed had car charging apparatus in the driveway, and even some of the multi-family units had them. I saw one right on the street, on an arm above the sidewalk, plugged into a Tesla. They're clearly all about making it work.

The tour guide pointed out these metal shacks all over the place, and these are bore holes that surface steam from the ground. Cold as Iceland appears, it's sitting on all kinds of volcanic and geothermal energy, so heating homes is cheap and efficient. We passed several outdoor swimming pools, and this is a big thing, apparently, year-round. The guide said that many young people prefer the pool over the bar in social settings. To deal with the dark winters, many people use UV lights at home to keep their energy up.

Once we were outside of the city, the landscape reminded me a lot of parts of Hawaii's big island, only with a bit more color, since many of their lava fields are much older. Our first stop would be an overlook on Lake Kleifarvatn, south of town. It kind of reminded me of the Columbia River Gorge, in Washington and Oregon, only more rugged. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Just down the road a bit, we stopped at an active hot spring, where the "boiling mud" was bubbling. The first thing the tour guide said prior to exiting the bus is to stay on the path, because one wrong move could cause third-degree burns. Noted. The smell of hydrogen sulfide was strong in the air. The more active pools were filled with boiling hot gray liquid, and it sounded like you were next to a giant pot of water on the stove. It was completely strange. Around the far end of the path, there was a mountain stream, and it was quite cold. That's the crazy thing about Iceland, is that it's cold and hot at the same time. Were it not for the latter, I imagine the place would be uninhabitable.

Our last stop was at a very underwhelming viking museum. This sounded super cool because they had a "sea worthy" replica of a viking ship, but that wasn't at all what I thought it would be. This excursion would not have been our first choice, but we were pretty slow booking shore-side stuff. The thing you really wanted was the Golden Circle tour, which hits all of the best waterfalls, geysers and such. But even a cursory exploration of the third-party offerings showed that these were all booked. In addition to the Disney Dream, the super gigantic Norwegian Prima was in port, so that's easily 9,000 tourists in town just from the ships. The other big attraction is the various swimming lagoons, but as a former hot tub owner who used it in Cleveland winters, this seemed less interesting to me.

We had a day at sea after this, because the port of Isafjordur was cancelled a few days before we left. It's kind of a sore subject for me, because it meant that half of the itinerary was now at-sea. We got like $45 in port fees refunded, but I felt like there should have been something else, even a credit for a future cruise. It changed the value proposition of the entire itinerary. We had a third-party bus tour to, you guessed it, a waterfall in that port, and there would be food on the trip.

So 32 hours after leaving Reykjavik, we landed in Akureyri. The town itself is a little more friendly to large plants and trees, so the immediate area actually has Pacific Northwest vibes. Unfortunately, it was also unseasonably cold even for that area, with the temperature in the low 40's. I was already dealing with a sore throat from snoring in the very dry air stateroom, so I was already concerned that I might get sick.

We grabbed a little breakfast, then headed out for our tour a little before 8. Despite the cold, it was oddly humid, 95% according to the weather I looked up. After crossing the fjord, we passed a tunnel that we could plainly see from our room on the ship. That tunnel crossed through the mountain, but we were taking the pass over it, because obviously there's nothing scenic about a tunnel. The pass is often not passable in winter, but even with the fog, the views were extraordinary.

It wasn't long before we arrived at Goðafoss Falls. These falls are about 40 feet high and put down a very impressive amount of water and sound. The photos don't do it justice. I know you think that waterfalls are waterfalls after you've been to Niagara, but it's something completely different with the landscape around it seems so alien.

There's an old footbridge just down river, and then a single-lane vehicle bridge after that. They ask you to stay on the trails, because the vegetation is pretty fragile, given the shallow soil.

Once we got back to town, we stopped at the Akureyri Botanical Gardens. This felt even more PNW-ish, as the trees and vegetation largely sheltered the area from the wind off of the fjords. We didn't stay long, but the gardens were quite lovely.

On our drive back to the ship, we passed a massive swimming pool complex, complete with the kind of waterslides you'd expect at any decent water park in the states. As I said before, swimming is a big deal in Iceland.

I also noticed, prior to our return to the ship, that all of the traffic lights had a little heart for a red light. As if you needed a reminder about how nice the people Iceland are.

That night, I had a short bout with a fever, and I ended up being up a fair amount of the night. The next day, at sea, I barely got out of bed during the day. I watched movies and slept. Fortunately I felt good enough later that evening to get up and about for a short time.

Northern Europe 2023: UK, France

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 4, 2023, 11:02 PM | comments: 0

Once we got off the plane at London Heathrow, we had been awake for about 25 hours or so. The only other time I've dealt with time changes like this is traveling to Hawaii a couple of times. Our bodies were confused. And all of the exit signs are funny guys running from an arrow, which to us is like a cruise ship. Our bags were out fairly quickly, maybe waiting 15 minutes. Going through customs is awesome. You navigate a constantly moving queue, then walk up to a machine, put your passport face down, and look at a camera. It opens its gate and you're in. It's fast and efficient, and the opposite of the way the US does it.

Next task was to get some tickets for the tube. If you're by yourself, you just tap your credit card at both ends, but it's a little more complicated for us with a kid. Unfortunately the kiosk kept rejecting my credit card, which surprised me because I had booked our hotel on the same card. Diana called Capital One (Google Fi is a great carrier to travel with), who said it wasn't them rejecting the card. We tried hers, and finally got the tickets. We don't typically use our Capital One card, but it's the one with no fees for international transactions.

The Elizabeth Line appears to be the newest of the subway lines, and crosses London west to east from the airport. The trains are very new, and the stations are all very modern. We transferred to the North Line (going south) toward Waterloo Station. The change wasn't straight forward because the platforms weren't well marked in terms of direction, and my lack of sleep, food and frustration was high in a way where I was certainly taking it out on Simon. But shortly thereafter, we emerged in Waterloo, which is itself something of an attraction, especially to Simon, who is fascinated by trains.

Our hotel, the Park Plaza County Hall, is next to Waterloo Station, where we intended to take the train to Southampton the next morning. With the rail strike, and given the South Western Railway's reputation, the aggregate advice seemed to be to book a private car if we wanted to get to the port in a reasonable time. This was a bummer, because Simon badly wanted to take the train, and frankly the car was going to cost four times as much. As something of a consolation, our room was on the 12th floor, overlooking the station.

Since we arrived at the hotel around noon, the room wasn't ready, obviously, but they were happy to hold on to our bags. Since we were next to the London Eye, it seemed like an obvious choice for something touristy to do. I'm not sure if it was worth fifty bucks a person, but given the crazy fatigue, it was something to do that didn't involve a lot of thought. I definitely enjoyed it, and it was kind of surreal to see up close a place that I "know" from countless movies and photos, but to that point had never been. It's so much to take in at once, the old and the new, the seat of government, the palace... all of it.

After our ride, I grabbed some food from some noodle joint, and we headed back to the hotel. The notification that I was supposed to get when the room was ready never came, so Diana finally asked, and we were in at around 2:30. Diana went with Simon back into Waterloo for McDonald's, something we know that he'll eat. I took a shower, and passed out shortly thereafter.

We were all up and moving around a little by 5, and I was again pretty hungry. We initially thought we would just walk up to a restaurant for dinner, but Simon wasn't having it. Still tired, I suggested we just eat in the hotel restaurant, where we knew we could be served immediately. This initially felt defeatist, but it turned out to be a really excellent choice. Turned out the food was pretty great. We both had a Magner's, which comes in an enormous bottle, and they serve it over ice, which is super weird for a part of the world that I thought was ice-averse. I had chicken satay that was impossibly good, and a bucket of fries with some unusual but delicious ketchup. Diana had something involving guac that she liked. I can't remember if Simon had anything, but maybe it was leftover snacks and/or airplane food. By this time it was clear to me that no one really used cash, at all. Restaurants even bring tap terminals to the table to hit your credit card. This was consistent in every city we visited. It's something reinforced in my first 36 hours back in the US, where I encountered people dicking around in the grocery store with cash, slowing everything down.

With a second wind, clearing skies and really pleasant temperatures, we decided to get out for a bit. We had no specific plan at all. On the south side of the actual County Hall complex, where the government of London used to reside, there's a Marriott hotel with a stunningly beautiful entrance. I knew it was there, but it was out of my price range. We crossed Westminster Bridge then crossed the street for a closer look at Westminster Palace and the Abbey. Again, it was so strange seeing these familiar landmarks just for the first time. As we walked south between the two buildings, I wanted to get around to see the church from the front. We just kept walking until we could turn right, at which point, we were basically alone. Not a tourist in sight.

I don't know that Great College St. has any significance, I was just impressed by its random direction, and many different ages for the buildings that lined it. When your big city experience is mostly things like Manhattan or Chicago, essentially well planned grids of streets, it's so interesting when the roads appear to have no plan at all, and some buildings are hundreds of years old. It is infinitely more interesting than most anything you'll find in North America.

We eventually made our way back around to the front of Westminster Abbey, and while I'm not even a little religious, I would have really liked to have seen the inside. By 8:30 we started to make our way back toward the hotel. As it turns out, none of the restaurants that we passed seemed to have any wait, though I don't know what it was like three hours earlier. I was feeling some amount of regret that we would not have much time in London, and that we were so tired. This is a city I must return to. It's not even a question.

We all rolled out of bed on Saturday morning around 7, and did our best to quickly wrangle our stuff back into the suitcases and bags. I should mention that the hotel room was fairly adequate, with a Scandinavian kind of minimalist vibe. I learned in searching for hotels here and in Copenhagen that rooms that sleep three or four people are hard to come by, or otherwise expensive. Usually the second bed is a fold-out. I don't entirely mind this, but it's another thing made more difficult when traveling as a family.

Our car service picked us up just before 8. It was driven by a fairly young guy in some kind of Mercedes van that isn't sold in the US, and was far more utilitarian than any Mercedes you'd buy in the US (aside from the cargo vans, obviously). I really enjoyed the drive out of town, tired as I was (think 4 a.m. Eastern). It's striking how people tend to live in smaller housing in more population dense places, and public transit is just everywhere. I knew this was how Europe would be, but it's more striking when you see it first hand. Even as we got deeper into the countryside, housing was more practical than what you'd find at home.

We arrived in Southampton just a hair before 10. It was so weird to roll up to the port and see the Disney Dream, a ship that spend the prior 12 years only sailing to the Bahamas, thousands of miles away from its former home port. We had sailed on this ship out of Canaveral 15 times prior, and it's the most familiar ship to us in the fleet. How strange to prepare to board it without knowing you'll stop at Castaway Cay.

The scene at the terminal was chaotic. The prior cruise had not yet finished disembarking, which seemed pretty strange. If the UK customs were anything like the airport, I'd expect them to be fast, but the uglier thing was just all of the people waiting for taxis, Ubers and whatever else after they got off. It was a little cool, in the high 50's, so it wasn't great when they kicked us out of the terminal to queue outside. They started taking bags, so we dropped those, and watched as the concierge, 11 and 11:15 folks queued. They loaded up an 11:30 line a little early, and we filed into that, and shortly thereafter entered the terminal again. Check-in is the same, people with iPads confirming you uploaded your docs, and then you go through security. They were kind of dicks about it, but unlike Canaveral, Disney has a lot less influence on operations. We got through, and then ended up waiting a bit.

We were boarding group 7, which by 11:45 is usually called, but maybe because of the late disembarkation, they were behind. Groups 1 and 2 were called, which are concierge and maybe others, but then they called the next few with very few people boarding. We would later understand that our fears of train service were true, and a lot of folks ended up getting to the terminal as late as 2, an uneasy margin given all-aboard is 3:45. It was about 12:30 when we finally boarded, and we went straight up to Cabanas for lunch.

Our friend Kairi, herself a crew alumnus of the Dream, missed us by about 75 minutes. I can't find a single blog post about her, which is super weird, but the short story is that she was a server for us on the Dream in Palo, the fancy restaurant, and then we connected with her again on our next cruise, and hosted her just before the pandemic. She was headed to South America to visit a friend there. She was born in Estonia, lived in the UK with her mom, then lived in Canada most of the pandemic. We checked in with her periodically via Zoom. She was back in the UK and wanted to see the ship, and us, but the timing didn't work out. We did shout to each other from the aft of the ship, and sent each other photos.

The cruise started in a fairly unremarkable way, really like any other on that ship. Simon checked in to the teen clubs, and we landed at Skyline, the martini bar. It has a twin on the Fantasy, which does the weekly Caribbean itineraries. I imagine that it's our favorite because they always serve top-shelf, larger beverages there. The mixology classes happen there as well. On the first night, we met Vlada, and his crew Cez and Natalia, and they would take very good care of us for the entire trip. It generally gets crowded before the 8:30 second seating dinner rush, but otherwise feels very exclusive. It's the thing that the Wish is sorely missing.

After a very slow roll across the English Channel, we landed in Cherbourg, France the next morning. In an ideal world, we would have booked shore excursions to Normandy or a castle or something, but everything involved being on a bus for three or more hours, and that was not appealing. On the plus side, the ship docks right on a peer that has a Titanic museum, an aquarium and a retired nuclear submarine. Interestingly, Titanic did not actually dock in Cherbourg, and instead it used tender ships to onboard more passengers and some amount of supplies. I was most excited about the sub.

We started the day eating breakfast onboard, and it was the first time we noticed that food was obviously being sourced from different places. I had some scrambled eggs that tasted weird, and some fried hashbrowns that also tasted weird. After breakfast I took a shower, and when I was done, I flopped down on the bed because I didn't feel right. I assumed it was nothing, and we went down to the pier and bought tickets to the attractions.

I had been in the Titanic exhibit for maybe 15 minutes before I felt like I was going to hurl. Alarmed, I went back outside to the courtyard between the various venues, and just sat down. I wasn't feeling better. Diana and Simon came out, and I told them I didn't think it was a good idea for me to continue, in case it was something serious. The photo below is the only one I took in France. That's the aquarium building.

Diana and Simon continued and did all of the things, and I went back up to our room. I did my best to lay down in a way that didn't make me feel more sick to my stomach, and slept a little. By 5 I was feeling a little better, no barfing, but was kind of angry about missing the sub tour. It wasn't the cost (like €18 each or something), it was the fact that I'm fascinated by submarines.

So France was a bust for me, but the best things to see there are probably best seen by car over a few days. Perhaps next time.

Northern Europe 2023: Outbound

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 4, 2023, 3:30 PM | comments: 0

The adventure is over, and I'm sad. On the other hand, now I get to write about it, and I'm excited about doing that. I'm going to break it up by country visited, with another post about stuff during the cruise, and maybe even one about cultural observations. We'll see.

I'm pretty sure that I mentioned at some point that we booked a Northern Europe itinerary on Disney Cruise Line last year, choosing to do the one that started in Southampton, ended in Copenhagen, and visited France, Iceland and Norway in between. This was supposed to be a 2021 trip, were it not for the pandemic. Despite the passage of two years, we still wanted to do the cruise because we felt pretty strongly that it would have the best chance of "success" in traveling with Simon at age 13. He's at an age where he still won't entirely appreciate the history, culture and such of visiting another country, but he's also still not great at adjusting to situations that are not ideal. Sampling a bunch of countries where we knew our kid would be able to eat one of his three foods every night was low risk relative to the cost.

I don't want to suggest though that he's the only one requiring accommodations. As an adult I've obviously adapted to figure out how to deal with what I didn't even know was autism and neuroatypical behaviors, but I'm not without my own challenges. I always thought that my travel anxiety was more of a personality flaw and inconvenience for my traveling companions, but it's deeper than that. I don't like to be late for anything or miss out on anything, and it borders on being a compulsion. This is why the local cruises in the tropics are so easy and allow me to turn my brain off. All I have to do is drive an hour and get on a ship and I don't have to make any decisions deeper than what drink to get. Adventure travel, which I do enjoy, I have to do a lot more planning. So I did a lot of planning, and it was worth it. To get off the boat in Copenhagen and know what to expect from the bus stop and train station because I looked at Google Street View is worth it for the piece of mind.

We started the trip with an Uber to MCO, and unfortunately the driver didn't speak much English. So when we asked her to go to Terminal A, where Virgin Atlantic's ticket counter is, she wasn't actually hearing us, and she dropped us on the B side because that's what her phone told her to do. It's not a huge deal if you know that airport, but still frustrating. Virgin doesn't charge you for the first bag, and they're generally more efficient and courteous than US airlines, so we only had to wait about 15 minutes to get our stuff checked in before we headed to the TSA checkpoint.

Diana did a little research, and learned that MCO participates in the "Sunflower" program adopted by some airports and venues around the world to discreetly help people with non-obvious disabilities. I still hate ASD being described as a disability, but Simon hasn't flown since well before the pandemic, and we had no idea how he was going to do. So this at least worked as a means to let the TSA know that yelling at the kid because he doesn't know what to do with his shoes would be a dick move. It turns out it wasn't the TSA that would trigger him.

The TSA doesn't do airport security well anywhere, something I appreciate even more after being in Europe, but it's a special brand of cluster fuck in Orlando. The busier, domestic side, just has enormous queues to wander through. The international side doesn't have the queues, just a bunch of unmarked lines leading to desks with agents checking ID's. It didn't seem like a huge wait, so we decided not to use the disability access, given the number of folks in wheel chairs. That seemed fine, until two people in front of us invited about a dozen more people to join them. The TSA isn't paying attention (that's comforting), and the crowd objection didn't seem to bother them. Simon, the kid who will turn in his classmates, got pretty upset, and before you know it, he's sitting on the ground, hands over his forehead, talking to himself about how wrong they were. I thought we were largely beyond this sort of thing, but we're not. It was a bad omen.

We bailed on the line and went over to the disability line, and it moved pretty quickly. I felt like we dodged a bullet, but I was pretty furious because the whole affair was unnecessary. But whatever, we got passed it. As soon as you hear Mayor Buddy Dyer on the tram, you're in the clear.

Getting the boy settled isn't super easy on a plane, now that you can't just throw a screen in front of him and let him pass out and sleep. We also had been getting up earlier in the morning and trying to go to bed earlier, in preparation for the time change. What this mostly did was create anxiety for Simon about making the adjustment, to the point that he couldn't (I suffered the same problem). The flight itself was around 8 hours, and I was willing to spend whatever it took to get a direct flight to London.

The first, expected difficulty was the lack of tenable food options. Diana had bags and bags of snacks, so that was easy enough. But the plane was noisy, and they didn't dim the lights until about three hours into the flight, with dinner service probably being the biggest reason. Simon also seems to have inherited my periodic restless leg problem, and so being tired and incapable of being still and expecting to want to make the time adjustment, he became a hot mess. It wasn't a loud hot mess, but it meant that we wouldn't be getting much or any sleep either. It was rough. And yes, he fell asleep in the last 20 minutes, even sleeping through the landing.

It was a rough start, and there were other concerns before we even left the house. The day before, they cancelled our second of three Iceland ports, because Isafjordur is apparently dredging or something and the water isn't deep enough. To pile on, the rail labour unions were striking in the UK, which would have uncertain effects on tube and train availability.

So many time zones

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 3, 2023, 8:57 PM | comments: 0

I've been home from our great Northern European adventure for about 24 hours now, and it may seem remarkable that I haven't written anything about it. Well, dear reader, as much as I felt that traveling west was "easy," I just haven't had it in me yet.

We arrived home on Thursday night at I don't know what time. We landed just after 6, but between the slow extraction of luggage, the mile you have to walk through the new MCO Terminal C international path, and the insane situation in US Customs, I don't think we even got out of the airport until 8. I don't think anything could feel more American than inefficiencies in mass transit and failure of government to be efficient at anything. Oh, there will be future posts for that.

We did more time changing than I expected. The Internet does not match the actual times that we observed in some cases, or I just didn't understand what was going on at sea. The UK is on UTC+1 for DST. France is at UTC+2, and I learned last week that you have to go all the way west to Portugal to get back to UTC (adjusted for DST). So the at-sea day after France was back to +1, and then back to straight UTC in Iceland, which for obvious reasons doesn't mess around with any kind of DST. Another day at sea, the second Iceland port, and then the next day at sea was +1, followed by +2 the day after that in Norway. Fortunately, that would hold the next day at sea, and match Denmark when we disembarked in Copenhagen. But then we had to travel our way back to UTC-4 here on the east coast. So as I write this, I'm only really a day removed from right now being 2:44 a.m.

I was asleep by 10 local time last night, but had a hard time staying asleep starting at 5:30 this morning. I kind of faked it until 7-something, gave up, and hopped in the shower. I was at my desk by 8 trying to catch up. This generally went well, but I was starving by 11, and again at 3. Cognitively, I was also pretty useless by the end of the work day, with my last bits applied to an interview I had to do at 2 (welcome back!). I had one more meeting, and I ran to the kitchen at 5 to make food.

The eating offset seems in some ways worse than the sleeping, which is likely not helped by the fact that eating is basically a sport when cruising, and this is the longest one we've ever done. But I'm also still fighting the cough I developed in Iceland on Saturday.

It's 9 now, and I'm turning in. Did not expect the adjustment coming back to be so difficult. It may be possible though that it's not just about rhythm, and there are feelings. So much to process.