Archive: September, 2023

Movie production as summer camp vibe

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 29, 2023, 11:56 PM | comments: 0

If there was any one thing that I love the most about subscribing to Disney+, it's the special feature making-of shows. In every single one of those, the actors, directors, crew talk about what a great experience it is working with all of the people to make this piece of art.

Most recently, tonight, I observed this watching the Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 3 making-of. They weren't just making a movie, they were making the last of a trilogy, if you don't count the other three that the cast was involved with in the MCU. These humans genuinely seemed to enjoy these jobs, made extra special because that particular series of movies was quite literally about being a part of a chosen family. As someone who has generally felt like a person not grounded in any particular circle of people, I deeply identify with this.

I realize now that my desire to find some kind of real life professional experience like this is because I want the same. I want the summer camp vibe. Diana has talked to me about how some of her theater experience is like that. They put together a crew and cast, they do rehearsals, then tech week, then they run the show. Then it bittersweetly ends. And when it's done, they call get to feel pretty good about what they did. Sad as the end might be, that end itself is a deeply emotional experience that I just never get to have. But I want to.

Growing up as your tastes adapt

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 29, 2023, 11:30 PM | comments: 0

There have been a few threads on the sites recently that were started in observation of things that I think mostly originate in a change of tastes. Park X isn't as good as it used to be, or it's just different. I totally get this, but different doesn't mean better or worse, it means different.

Last year, I met up with my friend Ken to visit Cedar Point, which is kind of a big deal since I share responsibility of maintaining the biggest unofficial site ever about the park. (Technically we were in town to see a show.) The park's general operations, in terms of rides, was deeply disappointing. But at the same time, the culinary and beverage operations, as well as the overall resort ops, leveled up several tiers since the last time I was there. The ride situation was disappointing, for sure, but my buddy and I ate a lot of great food and got a little drunk and had a great time.

When I was in my mid-20's, what we experienced would have been a train wreck. Why? Because at the time, the only thing that would have mattered was riding as many roller coasters as possible in the shortest possible time. To this day, a great ride gives happy joy joy feelings to the N-th degree, certainly, but that's just a component to a greater experience. Toward the end of last year, I met up with my ex, Catherine, and her family, at Universal Orlando. I finally got to ride Velocicoaster. But much of that day involved being with her family, and that was the important part. We both have children and life experiences and spouses, and everything is different. I was the one who pushed Cath to get over her coaster fear, and now she's watching her "babies" ride at other parks without her. Things are different because we're different.

I remember in my late 20's, at the turn of the century, going to Cedar Point, or with friends from that social circle to other parks, to wait in line and ride all the things. Those were amazing social scenarios that I hold dear to my heart, but they're a product of that time in my life. I wouldn't go out of my way to try and recreate those, because at a minimum, I'd want to make new memories with my wife and child, if it made sense.

Growing up is weird like that. But I think the people who really are maturing in a positive way, they're accepting that the best moments are just different. It doesn't mean that you are different, it just means that the circumstances are different. It goes back to what I've said about becoming a parent. People are quick to talk about how they've changed, but I would argue that they haven't changed, they're just something new in addition to what they were. It's a subtle distinction, but it's real. That influences your decisions.

I can't help but apply this to the day that we had today. Diana and I went to Epcot for lunch today. I wish we did it more often, but my schedule sometimes makes that hard (day job and all). We've done this quite a bit over the years, and generally we can get in and out in an hour or so. It's very hashtag Orlando resident. We went back after work, bringing Simon, but it was crazy crowded. We got our Guardians of The Galaxy ride, had some food, and then got the hell out of there. It was insanely crowded. Twenty-something me might have tried to tough it out. But not this time. It's not like any of us haven't been there enough.

A friend of mine and his wife, now empty nesters, moved into a high rise above a major downtown metro. I'm envious. It's cool as fuck, the kind of thing that you would do in your 20's if you weren't so fucking poor. But I'm sure that there are people of a certain age that would consider that immature. That's nonsense. Circumstances change, our tastes change, we can do different things. That's what living is all about.

PC gaming on M2 Mac just got more interesting

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 28, 2023, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I've spent a lot of time this year thinking about gaming, and how I feel like the Macs I bought this year are just begging to show what they could do. I still haven't bought a current-generation Xbox, and while the PC under my desk actually runs most stuff pretty well, even after four years, I just don't like sitting at my desk to play games. I'm intrigued by the handhelds like the ROG Ally, and the Lenovo Legion Go coming out next month, but I keep going back to the fact that my laptop presumably has insane untapped ability.

To recap, Apple abandoned Intel processors a couple of years ago in favor of their own home-rolled ARM processors. As it turns out, they're insanely powerful without sucking a ton of power. Each one has exceptional GPU ability, too, which means it can push around 3D pixels like crazy. But big game publishers mostly build their stuff to run on the consoles and Windows. Simplifying it, they have to compile all of their code to run specifically on each platform, which often means a lot of optimization necessary for each one, especially in the way that it talks to the graphics hardware.

Well, Apple earlier this year published something that it called the Game Porting Toolkit. It uses a combination of something called Wine, which is open source and has been around for years and allows you to run Windows software in MacOS using some kind of API translation layer, and their own thing that translates Direct3D, Microsoft's graphics API, to Apple's Metal, which talks to their own GPU stuff. What that means is that they create translations layers for Windows and its 3D interface, so it can talk to the Apple silicon. If that sounds computationally expensive, yes, it is, but the point of the toolkit is to show what's possible, as a jumping off point to port a game to the Mac. When they released it earlier this year, some folks were able to hack together some things where PC games would run, with varying degrees of performance.

With the new release of macOS Sonoma, which is otherwise unremarkable, and an open source project called Whisky (to go with Wine, of course), it's easier, though not perfect, to get a machine in a state where it can run a pretty broad collection of Windows things. Well that's fun, because I've been having fun buying a bunch of old games from GOG. Some of them have been ported to run on the Mac, but a bunch are primarily for Windows.

In my previous ramblings, I mentioned revisiting the two Dungeon Keeper games. The first one has a Mac port, which doesn't run all that great, surprisingly for its age. The second one is Windows only (currently $1.49!), so I haven't played it as extensively since I can't run it on my Mac laptop. However, after some fiddling around with the Whisky, I got it to work! The surprising thing is that the 3D frame rate actually appears to be higher than it is on my Windows desktop, which is unexpected. If it's that good through those translation layers, even for a game from 1999, I would imagine that games that are ported to truly run natively on the Mac could be pretty great.

Don't get me wrong, the power of these machines when used for video editing and software development is awesome. But with all of that power, gaming should be there too. Now, perhaps, we're getting closer.

The ad revenue crash, in one chart

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 26, 2023, 9:52 PM | comments: 0

I know that I've spent some time this year complaining about ad revenue, and even outlined what it costs to run my sites, but after a brief semi-reprieve early this summer, it's gone back to pretty terrible. You can tell the story in one chart from the last three years:

The graph represents the revenue for every thousand ad impressions. If the RPM is $1, then I get a dollar after showing a thousand ads. Last year wasn't great, but it was at least a break-even proposition. You can see that most days in 2022 were between $0.80 and $1.60, which still isn't great, but this year it has been almost entirely below 80 cents. And mind you, traffic on CoasterBuzz is actually up about 3% this year, and PointBuzz up 13%. (Annoyingly though, traffic dropped on PB once Cedar Point announced the new ride. It's apparently more interesting to wildly speculate about a new ride than to talk about it as it's actually being built before your eyes.) The traffic increases obviously won't compensate for an ad rate that's been cut in half.

This month I'll miss covering the hosting costs by about $40. That's not a huge deal, but I'm not crazy about the idea of subsidizing the sites forever if the ad situation doesn't turn around. I keep hoping that the Google ad monopoly will be broken by some kind of action out of the FTC's lawsuit against them, but I'm not even a little confident that anything will come of it, seeing as how the trial is basically happening in secret.

Again, the problem is that there are no secondary ad providers. It used to be that if Google didn't have an ad to show, you could forward the view to another provider, and even to another after that. For years I had them chained like this, and 65% would come from the primary, the next 25% from the backup, and the last 10% from the backup of the backup. There were times when the net RPM was consistently over $3, so even on a slow day a dozen years ago, with 12k impressions, I could net a grand a month. And sure, that sounds like margin, but keep in mind that I also had to buy new computers every couple of years, plus software. Remember, I make everything in terms of the software running the site. There's also the video equipment, when I would once or twice a year make some original video. Then on the PointBuzz side, Walt has generally kept up with good camera equipment as well, and he gets a share of the PB revenue.

Now, technically, yes, there are some other ad providers I could use. Certainly you've been to sites where you have to "X out" two videos or things sliding over the text and images as you scroll, right? Great experience, right? Of course it isn't. That stuff makes the Internet shitty. I'd rather close the sites down than subject people to that. So for relatively non-intrusive display ads, Google is the only game in town. It all funnels through them, unless it's on one of the closed platforms, most of which Facebook owns, so technically there's a duopoly. Either way, it sucks for independent publishers and service providers. It's another reason to reduce or eliminate the big social platforms from your life.

The saving grace in the spring is that the CoasterBuzz Club revenue at least cushions the blow for two or three months. But membership, which at one point leveled out around 700, is less than a hundred these days. Again, traffic hasn't varied much over the last decade, but we don't do events anymore, and most of the parks don't have any club membership requirements for their events either. The whole value proposition has become, "I value the site, so I'll help out," which unfortunately doesn't attract many devotees. 

For now, mostly I'm going to bitch about the situation, and that's all. A year from now, who knows.

Is my movie a short, or do I need more?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 26, 2023, 8:51 PM | comments: 0

I was looking today at some of the interview footage for the rum doc, along the lines of one particular narrative thread. I have at least one more interview that I want to do, getting the "enthusiast" angle, and I'd like to get a certain tiki bar in the mix but they won't return my email. What I'm wondering though is whether or not I'm going to have enough for a feature-length movie. That alternative is that it's a short film, but I really want to go the distance. I suppose that would mean getting more material.

I also wanted to get a clip of archival news footage, specifically from the coverage of Hurricane Ian, which affected the businesses that I talked to. So I reached someone from the corporate owner of a Ft. Myers TV station, and their standard rate for footage is $200... per second. Are you kidding me? Using a few seconds in a documentary most certainly constitutes fair use, but as an indie there's no universe where I even want to attempt to go that route. If I were able to sell it, and that's a big if, it would likely complicate things.

Trying to get someone to talk to from the big ag company that grows almost all of Florida's sugar cane, and therefore half of the sugar in the US, was a non-starter. It turns out that they haven't exactly been great caretakers of the environment in South Florida, which may explain why they're not interested in talking to me. They're secretive and spend more than a million dollars a year lobbying, especially in the last few years. The feds restrict sugar imports, making it more expensive.  Their usage of water and discharge of wastewater is apparently harming the Everglades, which in turn may create a water problem for Miami and other cities on the Atlantic coast, because the aquifer they get their water from is fed by the Everglades.

Meh, I'm just frustrated about the sugar and the tiki bar. I need to get out and shoot more.

The joy of things that really last (like a KitchenAid mixer)

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 25, 2023, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

I can definitely be the guy who buys stuff and is giddy about the object's newness, but I deeply appreciate things that last a long time.

Almost 16 years ago, I bought Diana a 6-quart KitchenAid stand mixer for $300. It was a relatively expensive Christmas gift, but she was moving in with me, and she was very good at cooking and baking things, so it seemed appropriate that she have nice tools. It sounds a little like I wanted her to make stuff for me, since we'd be living together, and I suppose that's a little true, but she wasn't about expensive jewelry, so this seemed like a good choice.

I didn't know at the time that we would move around so much, but we did. Moving makes you better appreciate which things you need, and which you don't. I'm not planning to move again soon, but I'm pretty sure there are a ton of things I'll throw away soon. But some things are durable. That KitchenAid mixer is one such object. It has survived all of the moving around, and when there was a problem with it, repairing it has been easy.

Around the time we moved into our first house down here, in 2014, the mixer had become very noisy, like the gears were grinding. That was not entirely surprising, because after one of the moves, somewhere between Seattle and Cleveland and Orange County, the mixer appeared to be leaking oil. Then at one point, it stopped working. I cracked it open to find that it was, overall, a pretty simple device. There's an electric motor, a gear box and a small circuit board. The oil had obviously been leaking out of the gear box, but in the process of it moving, probably because it was packed on its side, the oil had covered the board. I disconnected it, tried to soak up the oil with various absorbent things, but there was still a lot of it under the components. The best solution I could think of at the time was to try and blow it out with a hairdryer, so that's what I did. Letting it sit for a bit, I put the board back in, plugged it in, and it came back to life. Cool! I got as much oil out of the inside as I could.

But it did run noisy. By 2020, at the start of the pandemic, it started to sound as if things were almost grinding. The Internet of course showed me what was inside the gear box, and it was clear that they were either too dry or worse, actually grinding. Having a shitty first car that leaked literally everything at one point or another, I knew that the gasket sealing the gear box was probably toast, so I found the part online for $8. I also bought a $14 tub of food-grade grease. I disassembled the gear box and, after trying to get out as much of the dirty lubricant as possible, was relieved to find that the gears all appeared to be in good shape. The oil was not gritty, and there was no scoring on the gears. I cleaned it all up, put in the new grease, and wow, it ran so quietly, without any upsetting noise.

On Saturday, Diana thought it would be a good idea to make her crazy delicious pizza for dinner. With the dough kneading attachment on, she switched the mixer on, and it did nothing. After ruling out the outlet, I opened it up and put the multi-meter on the pins that output power to the motor. They were a big fat zero. Just to make sure, I carefully checked the input, and sure enough, there was a healthy 120V going in. It appeared that the once oil-soaked board was no more.

I'm embarrassed to say that I've still never gone deep into electronic components, so it could have just been a bad capacitor or something. But ADHD has thwarted every attempt to learn beyond what resistors and diodes do, let alone what happens when you make complete circuits. The replacement board was $40. It looks different, with significantly fewer parts, but it works as expected. The repair took me not even five minutes.

So this 16-year-old machine that originally cost $300 (and appears to be replaced by a slightly larger 7-quart model costing $550 today), with $48 in replacement parts and a tub of (edible?) grease, is still working like a champ. It's really heavy, but is responsible for countless cookies, cakes, fresh pasta and Dolewhip. I like simple machines that work forever.

New on the left, old on the right. They're different, but work the same.

That time I opened the gear box and repacked the grease.

Our house looks... lived in

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 23, 2023, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe, but we've been living in our house now for almost six years. In another year, we will have lived here together as long as the other five places combined. With that time, the place has started to look a bit lived in. I don't exactly mean that in a good way.

The most visible problem is that the carpet is shit. It was always shit, because that's what Pulte used. They didn't have an upgrade option the way that KB did in our last house. That carpet looked pretty solid after three years. This stuff started to develop wrinkles near doors in two years, and by three, it looked as if a half-dozen people had been living here for a decade. It's just terrible. It's embarrassing how crappy it is.

The other big problem is our primary bathroom. It seemed awesome at the time, but it's builder brown and does not inspire joy in the first hour of the day. Worse, the shower is a mold magnet that can't be beat, because of the honeycomb floor and all of that grout. We've also had to replace the caulk twice, despite it being "mold resistant." The bathtub occupies this gigantic space in the middle that's obnoxious. We'd like to gut it all, and start over. Same layout, but use big 2x1 tiles on the floor and shower walls, and a one-piece shower floor. A smaller but taller tub. Shades of gray with a strong color on one wall. Those mirrors that have the lights embedded in them.

There are other signs, too. The walls are attracting dirt in places that Simon can't seem to keep his hands off of them. Most walls are still "agreeable gray." We have certain base boards that have always been "sticky" and attract dust (I wonder if it's the right kind of paint). Our furniture is mostly not great, and it doesn't help that the ragdolls and their extra-furry feet use claws that are unkind to leather. You should see the state of our recliner. The engineered hardwood floors are showing some wear, but that feels more like "character" to me, so I'm less worried about that.

It's hard to prioritize fixing any of this because we tend to use whatever we have over normal expenses (and very aggressive retirement savings) on travel and doing stuff. No regrets there, especially this year. Europe was amazing. So now I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping for a solid bonus and/or a better stock price the next time I vest some equity, neither of which are particularly in my control. I think we have about 2,000 square feet of carpet that needs to be replaced, so I fully expect that to cost $10k. A bathroom re-do I estimate would cost $20k. Yikes. Those two things together are a car. Or they're some really great trips, domestic and foreign.

The need to collect things, physical or not

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 20, 2023, 9:17 PM | comments: 0

People like to collect stuff. I don't mean that in the hoarder kind of way (though that's certainly a thing). I used to be all about judiciously growing my CD collection, but from high school, it was about a decade and change before iTunes, and subsequently Amazon, started selling music digitally. I don't think I got much over 300 discs, if that. Now I can say that I have well over 8,000 songs, most of which I legitimately bought. And since I first started developing my personal music cloud almost three years ago, I've played songs over 43,000 times. We can count all sorts of things.

When I started to really get into roller coasters, I was counting those. Oddly enough, despite running a coaster nerd site for two decades, I only just recently exceeded 200 rides on my track record. Like a lot of things you might collect, you might reach a point where you think, "These things aren't really different or interesting enough to go out of your way to collect."

I know some people are fanatical about collecting airline miles, like George Clooney's character in Up In The Air. I've gotta say, that one seems odd because you're gonna be sitting on your ass for every one of those miles, probably not doing anything super exciting.

These days, I'm mostly fanatical about collecting money in retirement accounts, since I didn't do it in my 20's and early 30's, because I was an asshole. But I don't want to work forever, so now I find myself trying to put away 20% of my gross every year. I'm mostly only getting to 15%, but that's still feels pretty good.

There's one other thing that I decided to, for some reason, pursue. We do love our cruises, and pre-pandemic, Disney Cruise Line's loyalty club topped out at 10 cruises to reach Platinum. We knocked that out in our first three and a half years, and nine of those cruises were in the latter two and a half. But then, emerging from the pandemic, they introduced a new level, the Pearl status. That required 25 cruises. It kinda makes sense, because you couldn't throw a Mickey Bar without hitting a platinum member. When they introduced this, we were at 23. The Europe trip this summer would get us to 24. We had to schedule one more to get the credit. That was last weekend.

What do we get? Mostly epic bragging rights, I guess. We can book and check-in earlier, including get dibs on excursions and other things (well, after concierge, anyway). They're giving free photo packages that we're not interested in, too. But the reward isn't the point. I think that humans have a innate need to count things. I don't know why. It's just how we're wired. Everyone has a thing.

Now that the achievement is unlocked, I might need something new. I know that my Playbill collection has been a little stagnant since the Covid. Maybe we need to get back to Broadway. Or the West End.

But this rock-n-roll is so good

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 20, 2023, 8:35 PM | comments: 0

I have, I guess since college, been pretty passionate about music. That's funny because I couldn't carry a tune if it had a handle. And I can't really play anything, even if I've had a fleeting interest in drums. But as a Gen-Xer who came of age in the midst of a significant change in music, I'm all about the vitality and excitement that came in a period where everything felt new, and nothing fit neatly into a box. It was a great time for radio, when alt-rock stations could play Jewel and Nine Inch Nails, and it was OK. It was glorious.

The music industry has mostly been a shit show ever since. Taste makers shifted from radio program directors to streaming algorithms, and I can't say that we're better for it. Americans in particular seem obsessed with ephemeral, disposable pop music. Look, I acknowledge that Beyonce is a talented singer and performer. I don't want to take that from her. But she's cold product. A hundred people come together to give her something to sing with the intent of selling as many streams or downloads as possible. Is that art? It might take hundreds of people to make a movie, but some of the best music ever was written by a single person. In pop music, the closest thing we get to that is Taylor Swift, but she tends to stick with produce-songwriters like Jack Antonoff, who writes some pretty great songs himself with his many side-projects. I'm no Swiftie, but I respect that as something closer to art.

But the really infuriating thing is that the algorithm, especially in the US, largely ignores some great rock and roll. I've ranted about this before. I don't understand how Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend, a huge #1 in the UK, got nowhere in the US. Last year's Tears For Fears album The Tipping Point was #2 in the UK, and despite not getting any radio/streaming preference that I heard, at least hit #8 in the US. Grouplove has a consistent following and new albums every year, but no one is paying attention. Bands like The Regrettes get the attention of Lin-Manuel for a Hamilton cover, but no one notices their fantastic albums. If there's a sliver lining anywhere, at least Wet Leg has been too irresistible for anyone to not notice. They're an outlier. For whatever reason, Foo Fighters also continue to be recognized, and people are not afraid of those guitars.

This grinds my shit mostly because it's hard to discover the good stuff without it being embraced by radio, terrestrial or satellite, or the streaming service algorithms. I know it's out there, but I can't find it. Even ten years ago, it was easier. SiriusXM's AltNation used to find a ton of stuff. Yes, a lot of it ended up being one-hit-wonder stuff, but who cares? If you follow my blog, you know I publish yearly playlists of stuff that I love. My 2014 playlist had 55 songs. So far this year, I have only 14, and there isn't a lot of time left.

Last weekend, when we met the house band on our cruise, I enthusiastically (because alcohol) tried to sell them on some great stuff they might not know. I'm sure I appeared to be a drunken Gen-X guy looking to connect with people, and that's fine, but I asked them if they knew any Garbage songs, even "Stupid Girl" or "Only Happy When It Rains." Disappointed, I told them they needed to check out Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend, and even played "Smile" on my phone because I thought their bass player might appreciate the sweet bass line. I fully expect that I had zero impact on their musical influences, but I suppose my point is that in a just world of art, they should already know this stuff.

And so I'll keep writing about this junk, and hope one other person gets it the way that I do.

Routine absent routine

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 19, 2023, 10:24 PM | comments: 0

I recall reading somewhere that research indicated it takes about two months for the average human to develop a consistent habit. That's the average though, as the range was something like two weeks to almost a year, depending on the person. I really leaned into this idea as justification for Simon getting Invisalign instead of braces. I wanted to spare him the self-esteem consequences of braces, but at the same time, know and understand that he's not great about sticking to doing things regularly unless it's something that he's deeply interested in. I figured, a month or two of reminders, and he'd mostly care for the cleaning and rotation on his own. This (mostly) has worked out.

Following my mostly good lab results from this year's physical, I've wanted to maintain some of the things that I was doing to get there. The problem is that I've had massive variations in doing stuff in the time since. Obviously there was the two weeks in Europe, but that was followed up with a work trip after that, a holiday weekend, and then this recent cruise. The rhythm I had was disrupted and I can't get back to it. I've only done my morning walking three weekdays in the last month, I'm eating for sport and my sleep habits are absolute shit. I'm blaming the daily variations, sure, but mostly I'm wondering how to be better about positive routines when life is not routine.

And I say that in part because variation in life is something I'm valuing more and more with age. I'm kind of proud of the idea that while getting older I'm not getting set in my ways, with autism no less, but rather I crave the opposite. At the same time, there is value in certain habits that are good for you. And like anything else in life, I reject the "you just have to will it" trope that indicates you suck as a person if you don't do the thing. Human brains aren't that simple.

But the research about forming habits is good. It allows me to understand that it's mostly an issue of stringing many days together of doing the thing to form a habit. It seems attainable when you get that. Heck, on the subject of cruises, I may eat gratuitously, but after 108 nights of cruising, I firmly achieve step counts because I use the stairs as much as possible and look for excuses to traverse the length of the ship. I also go to T-Flats every Thursday because it's eight bucks for a burrito bowl and drink, and I desperately need a little outside lunch time.

I think I can find that routine, just need to put together those days.

Cruise vibes, just when we needed it (Disney Wish, September 2023)

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 19, 2023, 7:47 PM | comments: 0

I haven't written much of anything this month, and part of the reason might be that I just don't want to sound like I'm complaining, or ungrateful, or something. But we've had a difficult few weeks in a number of ways. Everyone has their things, I guess, and I kinda hate that there are still situations where we're culturally expected to "be strong" or some such nonsense. Regardless, the timing ended up being just about perfect for us to embark on our 25th cruise. We needed it.

Unlike the Europe trip, this is the turn-off-your-brain kind of vacation that we enjoy, cost be damned. I've described it before... show up, go to dinner where and when they tell you, let the youth counselors look after your kid. And that's exactly what it was for three glorious nights, with almost no serious issues or problems.

There was nothing special or gamed out about this one. We booked fairly recently, so we couldn't get our "free" Palo brunch, and there were no mixology openings (until the night before). We weren't celebrating any real occasion, other than it being our 25th, which gives us "Pearl" status in Disney's loyalty club. No upgrading to concierge. And for this being our third run on the year-old ship, we were still kind of looking for a rhythm, the way we do on the other ships. Simon seems to have his, which on any ship is a combination of frequenting Edge or Vibe, doing pool/water stuff and eating like a teenager. For us, we like to meet people in the evenings, and that's easiest when you can sit down in a bar somewhere. By extension, this usually means getting to know bartenders as well. Finding the "best" spots has been different on the Wish because it's laid out so differently, but we did OK this time.

We were seated for dinner with another family, and from experience you've got a 50% chance of getting awesome people or assholes. In the latter category, we had a woman start with a story of having to stop on the Beachline freeway on the way to the port to squat in the bushes and pee. I wish I were making that up. Sometimes we just get our own table, but not this time. A nice family from the northern part of England, a grandmother, mom and son trio, were seated with us. The boy was 12, and he and Simon did spend some time doing things outside of dinner, especially on the first night. The eldest of the family was full of stories, having run a proper English pub before recently retiring. The mom told us a little about her work, and she was interesting to talk to as well. It was a relief to know we would enjoy our dinner times.

Having seen the shows previously, we skip those, but we do enjoy live music. The first one was saw was a swing band playing in Luna. After their second set, we spent a little time talking to DCL's creative director, as we recognized her from a Q&A she did in Europe. That was a fun conversation, though we couldn't get her to spill the beans on the new show that they'll do for the Treasure. The next night, we discovered that the swing band was actually the house band playing with specific singers. Said band was doing Gen-X friendly tunes in one of the lounges, and they were really good. Like any good nerds, we took excessive amounts of time talking to them as well. Turns out that they were also the band to play in the big Pirates deck show, the one where they play the movie theme to fireworks. We watched their soundcheck, but avoided the mass of people for the actual show. We talked to them again the next night, and suggested some bands that they might have overlooked. Hopefully they weren't annoyed, but I get excited about certain music, especially after a few drinks.

The bar situation is still weird, since there is no adult "district" the way the other shops do it, but we did meet some nice people in the Hyperspace Lounge (Star Wars). That's a weird spot, because they're mostly about the themed drinks, and show no conventional "earth" bottles, which also means that if you ask for a certain thing that isn't in the bar, the bartenders will go out and get the ingredients they need from the bar just outside. And one of our favorite bartenders, that we've ordered from on three cruises, happened to be working there. He's the adventurous type that loves the challenge of making something interesting for you, off-menu. Nightingale's, the piano bar, is right next door, and also right on the atrium, so it gets intermittently crowded. They have the "good stuff" there, but it's hard to get a seat at all, let alone at the bar. Then there's the Rose, which is where people pre-game for the up-charge adult restaurants. It's fancy, where you can buy the $2,500 shots of whiskey, if that's your thing, but they can make anything and have all the good stuff. Great bartender there as well.

We did just sneak into a mixology class that only had like eight seats to begin with. There were cancellations, and so we ended up doing it with four people. Talk about exclusivity! Had everything from the classic Jamaican rum punch to a wild variation on mojitos using whiskey.

We had a solid beach day at Castaway Cay, getting out there kind of late because we slept in a bit. I love going there, and we calculated that this was our 26th time (subtracting non-tropics itineraries, but adding a few for the two-stop itineraries). I just hate the food options on the island, though we learned that if we ask ahead of time, our dinner service team can arrange for alternatives. That's a game changer for me, since the only thing they typically have that I'll eat is some dry-ass chicken, and it's always terrible. But the weather was close to perfect, in the mid-80's, partly cloudy, and most importantly, the water was warm. Simon spent some time doing teenager stuff (no idea what), but Diana and I kind of just floated about for the better part of the afternoon, and I thought it was incredibly therapeutic. We're doing the first run to the new, second island next summer, and my expectations are high.

I will say that the food game on the Wish is definitely elevated, and there are a number of reasons for that. For their counter service stuff, they have several stands beyond just the pizza, burgers and sandwiches found on the other ships. Here they also have the cantina with Tex-Mex and a genuine smoked meat barbecue. The smells are every bit as amazing as the taste of things. The buffet, by design, is not a help-yourself affair, which is different from the other ships, and likely more staff intensive. But the upside of this is that the presentation of everything is elevated, and there are more sophisticated options. It's not uncommon to find tikka masala, wok-fried Asian choices and even little charcuterie boards. It feels like there's not enough seating during an at-sea day, but the food is definitely better. The evening sit-down restaurants have variations on the usual menus, and it's usually pretty good.

The thing that I sill have a hard time getting over is the lack of a proper, full-circle, promenade deck. Knowing how busy those are on the other ships, I can't imagine I'm the only one who believes this. Instead, there are shorter promenades on both sides, with stairs at one end to an uncovered stretch of deck, and stairs at the other end that you can't even ascend. We sat out there on the at-sea day and almost no one goes out there, not even for the shuffleboard. Word is that they designed the ship this way so they could have a big window on the back for the Arendelle restaurant, which of course no one is looking out because there's a show there, or the blinds are down because the sun is coming in. Looks like the Treasure will be the same way, though with a Coco theme. I hope they can change it for the third ship.

Overall though, a much needed reprieve from real life, if not a little too short. Nothing on the books until next June, but I'm sure we'll sneak in another one before then.

Sleep habit changes

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 8, 2023, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

Early in the pandemic, my sleep habits changed. The short version of that story is that I just wasn't sleeping through the night anymore. That's weird because for my entire life I've been a pretty good sleeper. I could fall asleep easily, and not wake up until I had an alarm, or otherwise my body just had enough, often nine or ten hours. Obviously, everyone endured a fair amount of anxiety during those weird times. What's frustrating about it is that it never went back to normal.

I've had to roll with anxiety much of my life, but sleep was my reprieve. But since 2020, I find it difficult to turn my brain off and just let myself sleep, unless I'm really, really tired. What I settle into is a repetitive cycle of some arbitrary problem situation, often not something possible in real life, meaning I'm actually close to sleep but not quite there. For example, I might have been trying to solve a software coding problem earlier in the day. In that almost-there state, my brain turns it into some abstract variation of the problem, and my brain tries to solve it over and over again, but it's not possible because it's not real. The only thing that I find that works to break the cycle is to, at the very least, sit up on the edge of the bed for a bit. Worse, because it's there, I might look at my phone and play a few games. Or I'll get out of bed and walk around. And just for something to do I'll often go to the bathroom, and I wonder if that's now sometimes the reason I get up. I can go 12 hours without evacuating (confirmed on our recent travel to Europe), so I don't think that's it.

I do know that folks often spend less time in the deeper parts of sleep as they get older, even though their sleep needs have not decreased. Folks often nap more often but for shorter duration with age. Recovery from jet lag also takes way longer, which I can attest to. Even with my recent trip to Denver, where I tried to stay on Eastern time, I couldn't get back into a normal rhythm. Regardless, I hope age doesn't prevent me from proper rest.

Last night I had some of the best sleep I've had in weeks. Granted, I was up until 1 watching the US Open, so that helped. I know I'm getting quality sleep when I have long dreams and wake up ready to do stuff (usually looking forward to lunch). I had a dream that some dude at a bar where I was doing a light show led me to Sara Bareilles' house, where I met her fiancee and she showed me a VW Bus that she was having restored. I thanked her for her Instagram post about antidepressants that she made last year. (For real, that was the thing that pushed me over the edge to acknowledge the problem.) It was so real, and it seemed to go on forever. And I remember being slightly jealous that she was engaged, because she's on my short list of celebrity crushes still, and we get a pass for those since they're not realistic anyway.

I still theorize that the problem is more psychological than physiological, but I don't have any real data to support that. The start of the challenges coincided with the pandemic, and frankly got worse during a mostly shitty 2021. It was like a switch, and I would think that age-related changes would be more gradual. For now, I need to get back on a slightly earlier waking time, which hasn't been possible these last two weeks up late watching tennis. The earlier rise gives me treadmill time and I generally feel better, even if the sleep still varies.

So much good tennis to watch

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 5, 2023, 8:11 PM | comments: 0

Once again this year, I bought a discount month of Sling for access to ESPN, so we could watch the US Open. I'm not generally a big sportsball fan, but I'll make time for volleyball and tennis. Diana got me into the sport pretty early in our relationship. We even went to see the tournament in Cincinnati in 2008. When we moved back to the Cleveland, I joined the tennis club nearby and took lessons while playing beginner USTA (poorly). I've only played like twice, with Diana, since moving to Florida, but it's just intolerable to play in the heat here. Incredibly, indoor clubs aren't really a thing here.

Watching professional tennis has been intermittently interesting over the years. For a long time, it felt like it was the same people in the finals of every major. But much of that group has either retired, been injured all of the time, or otherwise become less competitive. There is an entire group of young, and it's not exaggerating to say "kids," coming up that are exciting to watch, insanely talented and athletic. And it's men and women, so even in the earlier rounds, there were exciting matches to watch. I can't remember it being this fun to watch in prior years. And we're only to the quarter finals... the finals are still four days away.

I suppose it's even more exciting because so many of the noobs are Americans. This Ben Shelton kid is ridiculous, and it's his first touring season. Coco Gauff is not new, but she is young, and her ability is also insane. They so much fun to watch. Carlos Alcaraz, from Spain, is also surprising for his age. Seeing these players grow and develop will be fun for years to come.

My number one resume tip

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 3, 2023, 5:52 PM | comments: 0

This week I had the pleasure of giving a friend some resume feedback. By pleasure I mean ability to help, because it sucks that they got laid-off. They have a strong employment history, but there was one thing that I see a lot that people overlook.

I'll keep it brief: Don't let your resume read like a job description.

Let's say that you were a plumber. If you write, "Joe's Plumbing, Lead Plumber, 2015-2023," your bullet points below that should definitely not be things like, "Roughed in bathrooms for new construction," or, "Diagnosed problems for clogged toilets." Those are literally things that just describe the job. What did you do? The right things are quantifiable or qualifiable accomplishments. Things that make you stand out would be, "Roughed in 20 homes in the new Dreamhomes development," or, "Mentored apprentices for the company."

I've hired dozens of people over the years, read hundreds and hundreds of resumes. If I get one that reads like a job description, I pass immediately. There's nothing there to make the candidate stand out. Celebrate what you've accomplished, not what the job is. It's the one time in life where you need to brag. If you can do it with humility, cool, but brag away.