Archive: November, 2019

Can you not look at your phone?

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 18, 2019, 10:16 PM | comments: 0

I managed to work in a really solid walk today after lunch around Lake Eola, the big lake with the fountain in the middle of downtown Orlando. The weather was perfect. There's this little bar and grill down there (where I've never had lunch, oddly enough), and as I walked by, I noticed that half the people there were staring at their phones, including people who were there with other people. On a perfectly lovely day.

What has happened to us? I've got a whole post I intend to write about being present, as it has come up for me and my family in a number of contexts recently, but it's nuts. I see it everywhere. When people are in line for food, walking around between meetings, standing at a urinal, and worst of all, driving... can't anyone just be alone with their thoughts for a few minutes?

Look, I think it's a miracle that we can carry super computers in our pockets connected to all the world's knowledge, but let's be real. People are checking how many likes they have or playing Candy Crush. I'm not saying a little time wasting isn't worth it from time to time, but shit, put the damn thing down and look around. What does it say about you that you're so incapable of not reaching into your pocket and pulling out that phone when there's just the slightest moment that the world isn't stimulating you?

I've had most notifications turned off for a long time on my phone, and what I do see is time restricted. I ignore those Slack messages at work when I'm sitting in a 1-on-1 meeting, and you better believe I'm a little offended if you can't do the same for me. If I get a text in the car, it can wait. If I'm waiting to get a burrito, I look around and observe the fascinating rhythm of people around me (half of which are staring at their phones). Heck, even waiting in line at theme parks, look around, because the people watching opportunities are amazing.

Just try it. Try to not follow through on that impulse to look at your phone. Be present.


The comfort of a good doctor

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 15, 2019, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

Because of my digestive issues as a child, prescribed acne treatments that didn't work and a terrible orthodontist, I pretty much swore off doctors for the first 15 years of my adult life. After the divorce, I started going for my annual check-ups, but missed a couple of years after each move. I never had doctors that I liked, but now I've had a really good one for the last four or five years. Diana sees him, too.

What I like about him is that his office is not a factory. You don't have to wait forever, and he doesn't seem like he's trying to get out as fast as possible. He spends the time he has to, in order for you to feel that he's covered all of the bases. He's honest and not judgmental. I've been with Diana on visits to see him as well, when working through her challenges with migraines and vertigo, and he's thoughtful and ready to offer a referral when the limits of his expertise are reached. He's a really good doctor.

I don't feel good about my overall health right now. I've gained a little weight, and haven't been processing stress very well lately. I largely work with the latter part of that by seeing a therapist, but a good doctor explains the science between how the psychological challenges mess with the physiological problems. And that's good, because science isn't a belief system. It informs you to make better decisions. I feel like I have better information now to make better decisions.

Despite my damage about doctors, and previously "meh" doctors, I'm happy to have a good one.


Early impressions of Disney+

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 14, 2019, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

You might have heard, Disney launched a new streaming service on Tuesday called Disney+. The company has made a number of very important acquisitions over the years, including Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and most recently, the Fox studio businesses. Getting all of this under one roof was an important strategy for CEO Bob Iger, but he also saw a future that shifts watching habits to streaming. He's willing to take on some pain and even cannibalize the existing business instead of letting someone else do it. Apparently, 10 million people were signed up the first day.

I signed up in the morning, because they offered a bundle for Hulu subscribers, which we already have. Basically it's $14 to get Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, or $6 more if you want the ad-free version of Hulu (which we pay for). We already get Amazon Prime, so if you ignore the fact that it includes the shipping and same-day service, we basically pay $30 per month for a whole lot of streaming capability, which seems like a pretty good value to me.

While Hulu covers the network TV, and a number of minor cable networks as well, Disney+ includes almost everything they own, save for a few movies that other services have dibs on though next summer, and a few distribution deals that linger, like Sony's use of Spiderman and Paramount's distribution rights to Indiana Jones. It's nice to have access to all of that, and the big surprise for me is all of the stuff I've missed from National Geographic.

To me though, the real excitement is all of the new original stuff. I'm excited about The Mandalorian, a new Star Wars series about a bounty hunter, The World According to Jeff Goldblum, which is kind of a cross between How Things Work and Mythbusters or something, an extraordinary documentary series about Imagineering and a goofy reality show about high school musicals being made by casts a decade after graduation called Encore! There are a few others yet to start, but the original stuff is all pretty compelling so far.

There were a few problems the morning of launch for me, mostly around creating profiles, but I was at work anyway, so not a big deal. That night, I couldn't start the Imagineering doc, but that resolved itself in ten minutes or so. It's been pretty smooth since then, as Simon has watched most of the Mickey Mouse cartoons he loves already. The criticism has been pretty harsh about the tech problems, but honestly, no one has ever launched a streaming service picked up by 10 million people in the first day before. As someone who literally loses sleep over scalability problems for a living, I'm willing to cut them a little slack as long as it gets better soon.

For me, I look forward to the originals, and catching up on some of the Marvel movies, including Endgame, that I haven't seen. We're not really "Disney people" in the pin-trading super-nerd sense of things, but they own a lot of great content (and cruise ships), so they end up separating us from a lot of money that way. I think this service is a bold move, and nostalgia will certainly rope people in for a bit. The real challenge is good, original new stuff that will make the long-term argument. They need a Mrs. Maisel and a Jack Ryan or Fleabag to make it work in subsequent years.


I had a crush on Kim Fields

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 13, 2019, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

The other day I saw something totally random about the 80's show, The Facts of Life. Because it ran for so long, there were a ton of episodes that ran in syndication in the after-school time slots. These were the years where I started, uh, getting urges as I headed toward teenage hell. So naturally, I noticed girls on TV, and this was a show about girls, so I watched it pretty religiously. (Also, there was nothing to do in winter after school in those days. I watched a lot of TV.)

When I got to thinking about the show, I remember how obsessed I was with Tootie, played by Kim Fields. Even when she had braces. It was that weird time of life where, if girls are your thing, you stop chasing them on the playground and start wondering why it's so hard to talk to them. It's not a sexual thing, or at least, I don't think it is, but infatuation seems to come easy. So yeah, Kim Fields might have been one of my earliest celebrity crushes.

What stands out about those feelings is that I wanted to tell people I had a crush on a TV girl, in that way that you test for what constitutes as appropriate conversation at that age. I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone at that age, which is something I've unpacked quite a bit over the years talking to therapists, but in this case it was worse. I felt like I couldn't tell anyone because she was black.

That wasn't the last time I felt that. In grade 8, I was passing notes with a girl I had a crush on, who insisted we had to try and find a lesser used hallway between classes to make out. Weird thing about schools... those places usually don't exist! It never happened, but I remember the same feeling of guilt, wondering what certain family members would think if they knew my first kiss was with a girl from the east side of Cleveland.

I grew up around a lot of racism, which was pretty weird for a kid who was becoming a product of Cleveland's court-mandated school desegregation. I remember people talking about it more in the context of "busing" than anything else, and I didn't understand it was about racial equality, I mean really get it, until we moved out of Cleveland to an entirely white suburb.

I can't do anything about that past, but I can make sure that my own child never feels bad about who he likes. I think we've been fortunate that, especially in Orange County, diversity is his normal scene. We still need to be proactive though, as we've recently learned a couple of kids in the neighborhood have adopted racial slurs as their latest thing. As he's started to learn about slavery and civil rights in school, it's encouraging that he identifies these as illogical human issues, but I know we have work to do to teach him about how people feel when their physical attributes cause people to exclude them.

Also, Tootie grew up to be very pretty, but it's sad that she was on a Real Housewives show.


The GOP, the party of personal responsibility, is the new "Occupy" victim

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 9, 2019, 8:33 AM | comments: 0

Remember the whole "Occupy Wall Street" thing back in 2011? The short story is that a bunch of unorganized people camped out in a park in Manhattan's financial district to protest a vague set of concerns over wealth inequality, corruption in the financial system and other vaguely immortal behavior rooted in capitalism, but not capitalism itself. There is historical precedence that shows wealth inequality destabilizes or destroys societies, so that's a valid concern, but you have to consider at what point it's a problem, and how desperate the people at the bottom are. And certainly, as we began recovering out of the great recession, it was clear that greed and a lack of regulation and accountability made that happen.

But where the protest came from was a disorganized sense of entitlement and victimhood. It was composed largely of white, middle class college educated people with expectations that a degree meant they didn't need to work their way toward success. This still goes on today to an extent, where people who took out $300k in student loans will never get ahead because, well, they borrowed $300k for education. Like I said, there are bona fide issues to address about "the system," but if your reason for challenging it is that you feel like a victim and you're entitled to something, I have a really hard time getting behind that.

In the days of Ronald Reagan, he led the GOP with something often branded as "compassionate conservatism," which suggested that government would work with philanthropic organizations to alleviate poverty, and generally be sensitive to the plight of the poor, but not be solely responsible for lifting people up. It encouraged people to take responsibility for themselves to advance in life. Now, this is the same period that brought us "trickle down economics," the theory that investment and wealth building at the top raises all boats, but we've seen for the last 30+ years that doesn't work. And taking responsibility for yourself is also a nuanced problem, as environment and birth lottery still drastically affects outcomes. But the core tenant of the party, that you are responsible for you, is still a good value to adopt, even if there's a ton of nuance around its practice.

The GOP has since become the Occupy movement, entitled and claiming to be a victim. It supported a president that it knew was immoral from the start. Now that he has, in office, broken laws with mounting evidence, it believes that it has become a victim of the "Dems," the free press and phantom conspirators. Even if all of that were true, it doesn't change the fact that the president has acted illegally. You can't do things that are wrong and be the victim. If you get a speeding ticket, you can't blame the cop for speeding.

No one is trying to "overturn" the election. If the Senate would in fact remove the president, and I somehow doubt it will, Hillary doesn't become president, Mike Pence does, the other guy you voted for. The House is doing exactly what the Constitution outlines. All this nonsense about not being "fair" to Trump is not real. He gets to defend himself in a Senate trial. The House acts more as a grand jury investigation, and to that extent, has adopted the same rules the GOP outlined for Clinton's impeachment. The accused isn't entitled to anything in the investigation phase anyway. Read the Constitution.

The Mueller Report made an extensive case for obstruction of justice, which for some reason the House did not act on. Now their own investigation has mounting evidence that the sitting president attempted to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political rival in exchange for aid. It's not ambiguous. The president and his party are not victims here.

Nut up and face the music. Take responsibility. That's what Reagan would have wanted you to do.


Book review: Bob Iger's Ride of a Lifetime

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 8, 2019, 8:22 PM | comments: 0

Last week I finished Bob Iger's book The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. It might seem a little obvious that I would read his book given my general interest in theme parks, and by extension Disney, but I picked it up mostly because these executive memoirs mixed with business leadership advice are easy and interesting reading. It's probably not surprising that parts feel a lot like Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc., because running Pixar ultimately translated to running part of Disney.

Iger's story is unusual, and there's a degree to which you have to take his advice with a grain of salt. Few people work their way up from the bottom in what is ultimately the same company by way of acquisition, and even fewer are equipped to run a company of that size with such a huge degree of success. What I'm getting at here is that he is in fact a unicorn with exceptional instincts. You and I, if we're being honest, don't have that. It's a great story though, if somewhat sanitized. He dances around the fact that his predecessor, Michael Eisner, lacked the humility to know when it was time to move on, and some of the bosses he worked with were somewhat toxic in their approach. He does acknowledge that Steve Jobs, someone he had great love and respect for, was not the easiest person to work with. He also seems honest about the painful decision to have to let go of John Lasseter after allegations of sexual misconduct.

A common thread with Catmull's book is the desire to see what isn't obvious. It's interesting that both talk about the importance of this, but the closest thing that both offer to advice is that you have to rely on other people to some extent to see it. Certainly, that's another argument for surrounding yourself with the best people who are better than you. This is, ultimately, what makes Iger so successful. Even as a network TV guy, he saw from the start that for this media empire, you have to be willing to disrupt your own business before someone else does, in this case by making a big bet on streaming, and as a content creator, you still have to give people room to make the best possible art. There are people who believe that a huge company can't make great art, but disagree entirely. If anything, having the streaming outlet will give them even more room to take risks and tell great stories.

At the end of the book, Iger gives a summary of advice, as it relates back to his experience. This is the usual fare you would expect, largely around mature and honest communication. What's interesting is that even when there are billions of dollars at stake, the fundamentals about decision making and relationship building aren't really that different. I think his position is that, if you can constantly be thoughtful about these aspects of leadership (something, again, I believe he's uniquely capable of), you can apply his advice at any scale.

Overall, it's an easy and quick read, and even if it can be a little touchy-feely, worth hearing about his story. Media consolidation isn't necessarily the best thing, I would generally say, but what's striking is that he seems intent on keeping the soul and creative culture of the company in tact. I think he's succeeding.


Mini-review: Pixel 4

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 7, 2019, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I posted a few weeks ago about ordering a Pixel 4, and how I justified it, so I won't rehash that here. Let me just talk about the phone.

The phone is the same size as the 2, or pretty close, but the screen is larger. It has a reasonable bezel at the top with a speaker and the various sensors, a thin bezel at the bottom, and rounder screen corners. I personally think all of the notch and bezel opinions are silly, and I don't care that there's technically more screen real estate. As long as it properly fills a 16:9 ratio when horizontal, it truly doesn't matter.

I think the back is actually glass now, but the white one at least has this really great textured feel that doesn't get finger printy. The sides are a nice black composite material, and the power button is orange. Mostly none of that matters, since I immediately put it in a rubber-like case, as I've been doing with phones since 2012-ish. It also helps protect the camera bump, which is now a square.

The biggest change is the switch to face unlocking instead of the fingerprint. It generally works, but sometimes it feels a half-second too slow, and I'm not sure what the criteria is for it to "look" at you. Is this an improvement? I think it's just a lateral move. The fingerprint was at least intentional, where sometimes you just want to look at the time on the phone or a notification without unlocking it. I'm on the fence, which is to say in the long run I probably won't care either way.

The phone initially defaulted to gesture navigation, which I think was available already in the newest Android on my previous phone, but I didn't know. Basically it means that side swipes acted as the back button, bottom swipes were like pressing home, and swiping up half-way and stopping was like the task switching button. I tried it for a few days, and it felt slower. With this elongated screen, I can say for sure that I definitely don't need that screen real estate for apps. I switched it back to the old school buttons.

From a capability standpoint, I do notice switching apps is slightly faster, and they're also more likely to maintain state, presumably because of the RAM availability. But also, if what I remember about Android is correct, this is more about how developers implement state when the app is closed, forcibly or otherwise, so I wouldn't blame that on Google either way. The crazy high 90Hz refresh rate is sometimes obvious in scrolling, but mostly in animations inside of apps, especially games. It's a subtle usability tweak.

The radar is pretty cool. It is one of the things that instigates the face scanning, which made unlocking a little awkward in the Bahamas last weekend, where the radar is not authorized for use (because it's radio frequency energy). It was slower to unlock in those cases. Where I suspect most people will dig it is that you can wave your hand over the phone to snooze an alarm. You can "air swipe" to the next song, but I haven't tried that. It's a neat hardware trick, but I think it's just another sensor to add to the suite of gyroscopes and such.

The camera is, as you would expect, extraordinary. It delivers on everything they talked about in the announcement. White balance is improved, low-light photos are impossibly good, and the portrait mode has definitely improved, especially with hair. The computational zoom is probably an improvement, but it isn't perfect, and I think some of the gain in image quality comes from having a second camera. Is it better than the Pixel 2? Yes, incrementally. Comparing photos of the two, I think the biggest thing is that the white balance is more accurate in a variety of light sources. It also manages to squeeze out a little more dynamic range in those difficult scenarios.

Is it worth $800? No, I don't think any camera is. If it weren't for the Fi credits and trade-in, I'd never pay that much when a $500 phone is almost as good. Heck, the $200 Motorola I got my mom is pretty great. I'm paying for the opportunity to be at the front of the camera technology, mostly, and if I was more budget conscious, I would likely be satisfied with a less expensive phone.


Of the sea and stress

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 5, 2019, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

My earliest memories of peace, that feeling of being truly in the moment, without being drawn into the past or future, are vivid and fresh in my mind. The first came from a great many naps taken in the pop-up camper we had growing up. My mom always wanted to chase us out of the camper to do stuff, but being there in the cool breezes with the forest noises, drifting in and out of sleep, was fantastic. Similarly, I remember being on my dad's sailboat on Lake Erie. Sometimes, you could catch it just right that you could lay on the bow in the shadow of the sails, without risk of sunburn, and hear nothing but the sound of the water moving around the hull as the wind moved you forward. It was wonderful.

I don't think I really experienced peacefulness like that again until my first marriage honeymoon, when we had a hotel room right on the ocean. Waterfront stays after that reinforced these happy places and sense of peace, and having the chance to spend more time on beaches after moving to Florida made me realize how good the sea makes me feel. Then the cruising started in 2013, and I'm certain that I'm addicted to all of the senses... the wind, the smell of the ocean, and more than anything, the sound of the water.

We squeezed in another voyage last weekend. It's not inexpensive, especially compared to a day at the beach, but not only is there the chance for that environment of peace, but there's no Internet to distract me, and if there's one place I know that there will be no fights to put food in my son, it's on a cruise ship. I'm taken care of, as is my family, and I can spend time taking care of me.

It's especially powerful to hear the sound of the water while feeling the motion of it. These are the best nights of sleep for me. I don't know how to meditate, but this is being present in a way that I haven't found elsewhere. The stress disappears, my brain shuts off, and I just hear the waves. I only feel peace.

My stress comes from the usual places. However, I'm not a Type-A personality, and I'm not a box-checker around the life ideal that culture generally prescribes. The stress isn't entirely self-inflicted. Sure, I feel like I do "have" the wife, the job and the house, but those aren't a product of some nebulous pursuit of happiness. They aren't the keys to happiness, they just enable some degree of comfort. The happiness I have to choose, and sometimes I allow life's challenges to interfere with happiness. Forget my Instagram feed, because my real life is that sometimes it's really hard to be me.

It's not hard to feel peace at or by the sea.