Archive: September, 2023

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.