Archive: July, 2020

John Lewis embodied the American ideal

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 30, 2020, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

It isn't frequent that a career civil servant is eulogized by one, let alone three, former presidents at his or her funeral. But that's what happened today for John Lewis, a man who embodied the American ideal of equality and persistence.

Lewis' passing reminded me of the patriots who put their lives at risk in the civil rights era, and how few of them are left. But it also reminds me that the civil rights era never really ended, because we're still having a conversation that was never resolved. That's why John Lewis served in Congress to the very end.

The last words of John Lewis are moving and real, and contain a sense of optimism that I hope I can have when my time comes. His parting words encourage us to pursue a better future:

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Truth seems like an abstract concept in politics, and the mental gymnastics that people practice to avoid an uncomfortable reality obscures the truth. But that's just it... it might be obscured, but you can't keep it hidden. History has shown over and over again that what is right and true will eventually persist. America's stain is its failure to deliver the ideal that "all men are created equal," but our acknowledgment of that is the basis for realizing it in our lifetime.

My non-American friends frequently look at our nation with disbelief at what things have become in recent years, but it's remarkable to see them look at John Lewis and see, with great respect, what our potential is. The best thing we can do to honor the man is to follow in his footsteps, and not be complicit in allowing the status quo to continue. We can't continue to allow there to be two Americas. It is on every one of us to demand an end to the systemic racism that has cursed us for centuries. John Lewis thought it was possible, despite being literally nearly beaten to death. If he can believe in our potential, we all can.


Forum spam

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 28, 2020, 10:56 PM | comments: 0

A very, very long time ago, I learned the joy of spam and ways to post in an automated fashion to forms on the World Wide Web. Very early on in my experience with POP Forums, on the site now called PointBuzz, some kid lit up the forum with thousands of the same spammy posts. It was not a sophisticated attack. My one and only way of mitigating spam at the time was that you had to confirm that the email you used to signup was real, but once you did that, the gates for abuse were wide open.

The next thing that I did was institute a waiting period, which is something I hacked together literally as this was going on. Basically it meant that you had to wait a certain number of seconds before you could post again. Having to deal with 60 posts every hour was a lot easier to head off than 60 posts every second! Then I required that you couldn't post the same thing twice in a row, which meant that even your slow attack from a single user account would have to vary in content. Finally, I started blocking IP addresses. Together, this has mostly kept spam to a minimum, where it was annoying but not disruptive.

Earlier this year, when I was working out how to migrate the PointBuzz forums into the managed hosted forum product, I happened to notice literally thousands of accounts created with fake email addresses, created milliseconds apart. They were all useless since none were confirmed by email, but it was a lot of data noise to say the least. This was a little more sophisticated, because they were created from what I assume was a bot net, from many IP's around the world (though mostly from China and Russia). To mitigate this, I added Google's reCaptcha service to the page, which is largely invisible at this point, and that has mostly worked. Unfortunately I had not back-ported that code to CoasterBuzz, so it was in the midst of a similar sign-up-o-rama of ill repute.

It's a bit of a constant struggle, because especially when you have had active domain names for 20+ years, they're more valuable to host outbound links in terms of spam and search optimization. I had a recent email exchange with a guy who has been running another coaster site for even longer, and we marveled at the fact that we've been around longer than social media. I would argue we were social media before it had a name.


We finally have a more or less current TV

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 28, 2020, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

Among the many things about me that make absolutely no sense is the fact that I've never had a particularly state-of-the-art TV. The reason that's odd is that I began my professional life making pictures and sound for the box. I studied radio/TV in college (and double majored in journalism with mediocre grades, so suck it, over-achievers!). My first job after a dazzling but brief radio career was running a municipal government cable TV thing, starting with nothing. By 1997, I had digital video tape and cameras (DVCPRO!), and by 1998, non-linear, computer based editing (Media100!). I squeezed my budget to have the latest toys.

At home, this was never the case for televisions. My first TV was a cheap 20" RCA from K-Mart, which seemed big at the time, probably because it was so damn heavy. Shortly after Stephanie and I got married, she bought a Sony, maybe 32", and it was enormous and insanely heavy. Large projection TV's were the rage then, but even if I could afford it, I never wanted to fill a room with one. Many years later, 2006, I think, I bought an HDTV, with an LCD panel, maybe 46", but lighter. I kept that until 2010, when that TV's sound started cutting out. The replacement was a 55" Samsung LED-lit LCD TV, and until last week, it was still my living room TV. It lasted a decade and wasn't done.

But these being Covid times, where we don't get out as much, spend way less money, and watch a lot of TV, I had the itch. I never had plasma or extra thin or extra large or 4K (if you don't count the small inexpensive TV we bought for the playroom). I think I was pretty justified though, because with my critical eye, none of the TV's I have seen in recent years looked that much better than what I already had. Mind you, the average store pipes total crap into them, so it's hard to tell. But OLED TV's, basically giant panels that are like those in your phone, appealed to me because of their incredible dynamic range, and of course more dots. With the streaming services supporting 4K, it felt like a reasonable time to upgrade. The old Samsung has a bright spot in certain scenes that bothers me, and frankly we'd like a bedroom TV for the late night YouTube hits of late shows. That's where we put it.

So I sat on the idea for the last nine months, and finally pulled the trigger. We went a size up to 65", and it's an OLED 4K panel from LG. As is still the case, all of the default settings are shit, but once I got it dialed in and found some suitable action on Disney+, specifically the documentary series Rogue Trip, I was completely in awe of what it's capable of. That you can have something that remarkable, as a moving picture, in your home, is not something I will ever take for granted. It's unreal. Shadows have depth in the same scenes with bright things, and the texture in skin and hair is vivid. It's on par with a movie theater experience. (Sidebar: I'm using the same speakers I've had now for 20 years or more.)

Now, unfortunately, the firmware running the TV is total garbage. Allowing things like your FireTV or Xbox to automatically display the right resolution doesn't work. The audio return (ARC) back to the receiver causes a hijacking of the particular input, because the CEC protocol is tied to the ARC, so you couldn't switch inputs. If you change an input, it loses all of the settings you had for it. It's just end to end crap once you start plugging things into it. The solution is making everything manual, which as a Harmony remote user is fine, but it took two or three days of messing with it for everything to work as expected. All I want is a dumb display that shows 4K video in a pristine way as it was intended to be seen. I don't think the average consumer will get that.

Once I worked through all of those frustrations, I was thrilled with what I could see though. I especially give credit to Disney+ for having so much 4K content, including its signature shows and movies across the Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Disney and National Geographic brands. It looks like there's quite a bit on Hulu as well, and unlike Netflix, they don't charge extra for it.

It's already strange to see movies for the first time in regular HD that you used to watch on VHS tape. It's fortunate that so many more recent movies have also been remastered to 4K, showing detail you never got to see. The digital world makes it a great time to be a fan of "film."


You can't be a Republican and a Trump supporter

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 28, 2020, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

I've long complained about the general adherence to what I call sports rivalry politics, the thing where you support a party at all costs regardless of its actions, the way you support your local sportsball team. Indeed, you can self-identify with a party, but it doesn't mean that it is led by the correct, moral people. In the case of Donald Trump, if you identify as a classic Republican, you can't support him. It's not even that he's a vile human (and he most certainly is that), it's that he doesn't align with the classic values that you say you identify with.

Republican valuesDonald Trump actions
Champions representative democracy. Suggests without proof that elections are rigged.
Strong Constitutional values, including a strong judiciary. Labels judges as conservative and liberal, wants loyalty from appointees.
Free speech is critical to a functional democracy. Calls the press an enemy of the public.
A free market economy allows the market to decide.  Engages in a tariff war, advocates subsidizing entire industries.
Personal responsibility is the cornerstone of citizenship. Takes no responsibility for anything, finds scapegoats and boogeymen for every problem, encourages followers to look for people to blame.
Deregulate all of the things. Try to regulate (largely failing in the courts) anything he doesn't like, including social media, congressionally budgeted spending, women's health, etc.
Public education is one of the core American advantages for success. Appointed an education secretary with no education experience, who didn't even attend public schools.

Keep in mind, these are only the broad policy ideas that Republicans tend to adhere to, many of which I think over-simplify governing, but Trump doesn't subscribe to any of these things. It doesn't even get into the many moral issues of racism, misogyny, disregard for science and the general disregard for the sanctity of the office. If you're Team Republican, he flies in the face of the core things that Republicans tend to stand for.

Perhaps you need a different leader who checks those boxes.


That is why it is called the present

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 26, 2020, 3:30 PM | comments: 0

Simon is on a Kung Fu Panda kick suddenly, after years of ignoring those movies. There was a line that stood out to me from Oogway, the old turtle, where he says:

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.

True words, certainly. Infuriatingly true, but difficult to accept when everything that you really want to do you can't, presently.

I'm at the age now where it's reasonable to be thinking about what retirement looks like. Of course, I'm frustrated that I made poor choices in my 20's as far as saving and investment goes, but it seems like I have a shot at making some of that up. I got a late start to parenting, too, so empty nesting won't come for me until I'm in my late 50's. I don't want to wait until official retirement age to have whatever it is that I think retirement lifestyle is though. There's a spot where the future and the present are at odds: You have to plan for your future, but thinking about that makes you realize that you shouldn't wait for the future either. There's no time like the present to live your best life.

Now layer on a global pandemic, where you can't travel to Europe because your fellow citizens are awash in a mess of entitlement and denial, concerts and festivals can't be a thing, and it's definitely not responsible to have a party. The present restricts your choices, and it doesn't take long to get bored with drinking on weekends and scrolling through online nonsense.

This isn't all bad, mind you. All of this time to contemplate life has made me realize several important things. The first is that I am a creative person who doesn't spend enough time creating. I'm working hard on that to whatever extent feels good on a day, and I'm not beating myself up for doing nothing. The second thing is that work is going to be a part of who you are, whether you like it or not. If it's exceptionally difficult, the problem may not be you. I see that with great clarity now, being well supported at all levels. And finally, for better or worse, your child in many ways becomes a product of your actions, so choose them carefully. It's so hard to consistently do the right things.

Today doesn't feel like a gift, because we lost one of our animals to old age, Diana's battling headaches again, Simon is struggling with crashing computer games, and I'm just having a tantrum about all of it. But there's a cuddle pile watching the Panda movie (again), a meal on the horizon that will involve cheese and I'm going to play some tunes for my friends. Sometimes the small things are the gifts.


What if I built my own music cloud?

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 25, 2020, 5:04 PM | comments: 0

I got to thinking about my music locker problem, because it causes me anxiety. I know that I'm the weird one, and call me old school, but I tend to think of the files that I purchased, along with those that I ripped from my significant CD collection, to be my music collection. I don't want to keep moving stuff around or have to start paying monthly to people to listen to what I already own. So what if I built my own thing?

Here's the way that I look at it. Storage is insanely cheap at this point. My music occupies about 50 gigs, which would cost a dollar per month on Azure. If I wrap an API around accessing the files with a serverless resource, that's essentially free. I could probably manage the catalog and playlists in some flat file format, and that would be free, but I already pay for a database pool for my sites, so I could go full relational database for free as well. (If you're wondering, solving the issues with concurrency with a flat file, or indexing with a doc database, seem like problems I don't need.) Wrapping a web-based front end around it would be pretty easy with Vue.js, though I'd need to build something native if I wanted to persist files to my phone.

Of course, you have to secure all that because it has to be for personal use and not for others, but that's easy enough. The bottom line is that it would let me own my own music service forever. The only outstanding question I have is whether or not there are .NET libraries that will read the metadata on AAC files, which is a third of my collection because that's what iTunes defaulted to back in the day and I didn't know any better. I also don't know if there is a .NET Core library that will play them back, in the event that I built a phone app (because I'm sure not using Java).

That would be an interesting science project. Because I don't have enough of those.


Sometimes I miss the good chaos

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 24, 2020, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Losing another cat had me thinking about all of the time, and moves, I made with her. And then, looking for a good picture of her required looking through a great many unrelated photos, so the rush of memories and feelings covering the last dozen years or so... there's so much there.

The memory inventory reminded me a lot of the various times that I just felt... icky. There were some low points between relationships, the feeling of regret leaving Seattle, the despair of late 2001. But there were times of great excitement and optimism, too. Dating Diana more seriously, moving to Seattle (and everything that went with it), having a child, moving to Florida, leaving a convenient job to join a startup, building two houses. Lots of that caused plenty of anxiety, but it was good anxiety, mostly. Swirling in the chaos of opportunity and potential is invigorating.

I kind of miss that, to an extent. In November, we will have lived in the same house for three years straight, and by March that will be a record for us staying put. Six moves in eight years was exhausting, I don't recommend that, but there was something kind of cool about it. (Excluding the SEA to CLE move, because of the aforementioned regret.) Even now, we're pretty actively thinking about what life looks like when Simon is sent out into the world, and it doesn't involve living in this McMansion. Not sure how I got this way, because in my previous life I just assumed I'd live and die in Cleveland and that would be OK.

Isn't it funny that a global pandemic causes you to evaluate what normal even is? I used to find comfort in familiarity, but now I find it in depth. The richness of life to me is finding the deeper experiences. For example, a job where everything is changing all of the time leads to more satisfying outcomes because the challenge is rarely the same day to day. Every visit to New York City (talk about chaos!) involves meeting new people, seeing new things. It would seem like seeing a show several times would be an exercise in familiarity, but really it's one of depth, where you observe more things each time you see it. It isn't enough collect things and build a portfolio, I want to be deeply intimate with the things I engage in. Chaos agitates your surroundings, making it easier to find the depth.

The world is chaotic, but the nature of the pandemic chaos is to force your daily life into something that lacks chaos. I associate chaos with mobility, which I associate with depth of experience. It's a strange phenomenon.


Emma (2002-2020)

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 24, 2020, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

(Photo from February 5, 2008)

Today we had to say goodbye to Emma. She left peacefully with Diana at her side (solo, because Covid). I've been making jokes for years about her eventual end, because she was almost 18, but I'm still very sad to see her go. She mostly died of old age, as far as the vet could tell. She's been moving pretty slowly the last two weeks, but still able to jump up into chairs. Yesterday, she moved a total of 20 feet all day, and began to lie down in the shallow litter box that Diana put out for her. She was clearly getting weaker by the minute, really not even able to keep her head up. She very suddenly became a shell of her usual self.

Diana adopted Emma after she spent almost two years with a family on a farm, where they decided she needed to go because she wouldn't play nice with the kittens they had. Of course, Diana acquired more cats, so Emma eventually had to learn to roll with them all, including my older Cosmo when we merged the pride. I called her Princess Bitchy Pants because her meow was completely annoying, and she always looked annoyed. She was tiny under all of that fur, and you could put her on her back and brush her, and she would do "air paws" and purr like crazy. She would sweetly groom Oliver and Gideon, before getting tired of them and whacking them in the face. She was the alpha in the pride after Cosmo died, and not afraid to chase the boys around despite being much smaller. She was still chasing Oliver as recently as a month ago.

Simon was sad to see Gideon go a few years ago, but Emma was much friendlier toward him. He would put his head down in front of her, and she'd start to groom him, which was hilarious and sweet, and strangely contrasting to her unpleasant meow. I don't know how you explain euthanasia to a kid with autism, because I can barely understand it myself, so we told Simon that she would go to the vet and have medicine to keep her comfortable while she dies. That's not untrue, we're just leaving out the decision making process that we're burdened with. I know what that knowledge did to me as a kid, and I resented my parents for weeks when I had to say goodbye to Smokey. Simon took it as well as could be expected, which is to say he was in total meltdown for about 15 minutes, and fortunately has been easily distracted since.

Letting go of cats is always hard, deciding when it's their time. I suspect she wouldn't live more than a few days more, so this one at least was close to a natural old age death. It's still hard though, with four cats in 13 years, starting with Luna (2007), Cosmo (2013) and Gideon (2018). As I said, this one isn't as hard because I feel like I've been expecting it for a long time, but it's still sad. It's hard to see Diana's cats go, but I wasn't as "close" to them because they knew who the mom was, and I think they largely have tolerated me. The ragdoll kittens are coming in another week or so, and I'm excited that they'll know the three of us as their family from the start, and hopefully be with us to retirement. For now though, it's just Oliver, and he definitely knows that he's alone now.


So you've been called a racist

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 23, 2020, 12:30 PM | comments: 0

I watched an exchange unfold on a friend's Facebook post that was about something divisive, and seemingly from left field, one person complained that she was actively labeled a racist, presumably because she supported Trump. So let's unpack that a bit.

First off, Trump himself is objectively a racist. He says racist things all of the time, and has for as long as he's been engaging in politics. You can cite hundreds of examples. If you're not convinced of that, that's the first problem. I would think that justifying white supremacists as having a valid point of view, or that some are "good people," is a good starting point when defining a racist. It stands to reason that if you support a racist, by extension you support racism. Look, I don't imagine that you have hate in your heart for people of color (unless of course you do), but racism isn't just throwing out the N-word and attending Klan rallies. Racism is also endorsing a known racist.

Racism does not constitute a difference in opinion where can just "agree to disagree." No, advocating for racism is not morally equivalent to being against it. Every human being has a moral obligation to speak up against racism. You can self-identify as a Republican or "conservative" or whatever, but it doesn't mean that you need to be OK with racism and racist policy. Even I agree with certain old school Republican fiscal policies (none of which are actively practiced these days). There are Republican leaders who are critical of the racist president, so if you must join a team, there are people on the team who stand up against the racism. I would align with them. Being labeled isn't a consequence of your political affiliation, it's a consequence of who you support.

We value free speech and a democratic system of government in the United States. These freedoms are not without responsibility and consequence. Despite the empowerment of white supremacists in recent years, the circles where it's acceptable to ignore them, let alone endorse them, are shrinking. If this reawakening to civil rights issues has taught us anything, it has reminded us that stamping out the two-system America that discriminates requires the active participation of the majority (i.e., white people). Supporting a man who is the antithesis of equality carries with it extraordinary risk in how you are perceived by others, personally and professionally. Again, don't misconstrue this to be because of the party you affiliate with. People can disagree along party lines, but again, there is no moral equivalence between disagreement over racism and fiscal policy about farm subsidies. The problem is the man you align with, not the party.

So if you've been called a racist, I can almost assure you, it's not because you lean right. There are right-leaning leaders who are fundamentally capable of acknowledging racism and declaring the moral imperative to end it. Trump is not one of them. Heck, there's a PAC run mostly by old white Republican dudes who align with the right side of history.


About theme parks in the pandemic

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 20, 2020, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

Walt Disney World has been getting a lot of negative attention for opening lately, in part because our infection rate here in Orange County has been pretty bad. Our ICU saturation is at 70%, which is definitely not good. But the thing about the theme parks, and really all amusement parks, is that the infection rates don't necessarily mean that they're unsafe to open. Things are comparatively worse in South Florida, without theme parks. What we know now that wasn't clear in March is that there are mitigation tactics that can help prevent the spread of Covid-19. It doesn't make anything "normal," but the overall guidelines for behavior make it pretty clear what will work.

Anecdotally, it seems like the spread has more to do with individuals in small groups giving up on the mitigation tactics... pool parties, barbecues and other small scale social gatherings. The young people who all started dry humping each other in bars didn't help. The science around social distancing and mask wearing is relatively sound, as well as the reduced risk of people being outside. In that sense, it would imply that the theme parks are actually relatively low risk for infection. With such low attendance and limits to capacity, I think it's reasonable to expect that visiting the parks would be safer than going to a grocery store. Not completely without risk, but definitely low.

That said, even low risk isn't a great idea for us, because of our health histories. Most of what we enjoy is meeting up with friends, many of which are also not going, and the out-of-town friends are obviously not coming. We'll certainly start throwing money back at them again early next year, if things go as optimistically as some health experts hope, but I'm not in a hurry to pay for a dramatically altered experience.


Art takes time

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 18, 2020, 8:35 PM | comments: 0

With the world in many ways on pause right now, I feel like maybe we have too much time to think. I revel in that time, but lately it's too much of a good thing. I can only imagine how people who need to have something to do at all times, to avoid thinking too much, are surviving. For me, I often come back to the idea that I may have been intended to be more of a creative person. Artistic endeavors tend to have incredible highs, at the expense of having pretty serious lows. There's a part of me that feels it's probably worth it to some degree.

Professionally, there's certainly a creative aspect to what I do, but I wouldn't call it art. All I can really say is that over time I feel like I get further and further away from creating something that resembles art. That's likely why I'm writing more, I want to make "something" with my video camera, I fleetingly want to learn a musical instrument, and wish I could be in a band or a theatrical production, or something. I was watching We Are Freestyle Supreme tonight on Hulu, a doc about the improvised show that a troupe has been doing for 15 years, on and off, including Lin-Manuel Miranda. I was struck by the phenomenon it again became on Broadway late last year, and that it's basically just a bunch of friends who get together and instantly create something entertaining and joyous for people.

FLS is art of the most ephemeral kind. It's never the same twice, and only the memory of it persists. As Miranda points out, things that endure, like Hamilton, do not come easily. It took him six years to write that show. If it takes him, a genius who won a Pulitzer, Tony, Emmy and Grammy before the age of 40, that long to create something great, I feel like most of us have no shot.

Where does that leave me? First, it makes me understand that the only time box there is for creating things is lifespan. That's already a pretty big motivator when you enter midlife. The second thing is that scope is relative when it comes to doing anything. I've learned that you don't necessarily have to invent things that outlive you to have purpose. The simplest kind gesture toward someone else can have immeasurable impact. And the last thing is that if I wish to create things, it takes practice. Most of us non-genius types need to make a lot of shit before we make anything of moderate value.

That last part is something that I keep seeing over and over again. Just this year, I've seen that sentiment from Spike Lee, Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith, all filmmakers that I admire. You can't be too precious about what you make. It's not even clear what the bar for success is, but it might just be finding joy in doing it.

So I've got time. I can't travel, theme parks are off the table for awhile. I can practice making things. Art takes time.


My open source project focus

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 17, 2020, 4:30 PM | comments: 0

I spent a lot of time in the first quarter working on POP Forums, mostly in ways to reinforce it as a commercial SaaS product. The commits for the release I haven't released yet were very scale heavy, and I still haven't done any real optimization around ElasticSearch (using the language analyzers right). I'm really happy with where it is now, having run it across multiple nodes with serverless background stuff and caching and such. It's stupid fast and it hasn't broken a sweat even on mostly cheap virtual hardware. To that end, the run up to making it a hosted product burned me out on it a little, and while I'd like to spend more time improving it, there isn't much incentive to doing so unless I get some customers. I launched it, but between a new job and the uncertainty of Covid, I'm not comfortable spending anything on marketing. I want to modernize the front end of it all, but that's a heavy lift in terms of learning, and I'm not sure how to make time for that.

At some point, I did decide to start porting my blog to an open source project, because why not. It's simple and I want to have a shared code base that I can drop in as package references to this blog, but also two other projects. The first is that I want to enhance it with the podcast enclosure stuff, because I need to replace the aging CoasterBuzz Podcast site, which I built 15 years ago (!). We don't do the show anymore, but that's beside the point. We do a show once every seven years! 😁 The second thing is that I'm planning to resurrect SillyNonsense. That domain has been with me for 20 years, but I haven't used it since the early oughts. All of this quarantine and world chaos has me wanting to produce some video stuff, and you know I'm not content to just put up a YouTube channel without my own means of engagement and brand. I'll write about that part some other time.

Doing open source stuff can be a mixed experience. People often seem ungrateful for what you provide for free, and worse, often want you to support it immediately and for free, but I get just enough interest from people that it's worth it. The forum project only gets like a dozen clones a day, but I've had a few people contribute on and off. I've had the chance to share knowledge around design decisions and such, which is rewarding. I had one guy look at it all as a blueprint for how to do his own work, and I had to explain to him that there was stuff in there that was crusty, with a dozen plus years of ick in there!

The big thing though is that it keeps me grounded, and hopefully gives me a little street cred. I've worked with a lot of really smart people the last six or seven years in particular, and as a manager by day and not maker, I want them to know I get what they do. Fortunately I don't think any of them look at the code, but I can dazzle them with my devops automation that I barely remember myself!


The Puzzoni cat pride

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 16, 2020, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

When Diana and I moved in together, I went from one cat to four. Fortunately, I'm a cat person, and so marrying the Crazy Cat Lady was not the worst thing. I spent 2,500 miles driving in each direction from Cleveland to Seattle and back with those furry bastards, and it wasn't fun, but you've gotta do what you've gotta do.

Cosmo died in early 2013, and she was my cat, spanning two marriages, a vet student girlfriend, three moves and I don't even know how many jobs. I think 16 years is a pretty good run for a cat. She hated everyone else, but she always seemed to look after me, especially the in-between time when I was living alone. I miss her, because Diana's cats always kind of tolerated me, and only bugged me when they needed things. We lost Gideon about two years ago, but he was barely 12 when he suddenly developed a cancerous tumor on his leg. He was our gentle giant, scared of everything, despite his enormity. He actually warmed up to me in his last year or two.

That leaves Oliver and Emma. Oliver is closing in on 14, but he still acts like a kitten. He's dumb as a box or rocks and ticklish, but I guess that's part of his charm. Emma will be 18 in the fall, and she's showing her age. She's a fairly nice cat despite having the most irritating meow you've ever heard. She's been sick a lot lately, but hasn't lost any weight. She's slowed down a lot in the last few months. I've made jokes for years about her dying, not to be cruel, but she's beating the odds at this point, given the time that she lived outside. I'll be sad when it's her time, but not at all surprised. For some reason I expect that it won't be disease that takes her, we'll just find one day that she died in her sleep.

Oliver definitely needs playmates, but I've resisted more cats because I really wanted to be down to one before augmenting the pride. But then the pandemic hit, and it became obvious that Emma was in decline. We decided a long time ago that we wanted a pair, preferably brothers, because they tend to grow up as cuddle buddies. All of our cats previously came from shelters, and as bad as I feel about not doing that again, we really wanted to get ragdolls. My brother-in-law has two, and they're enormous, friendly cats. They aren't hypoallergenic, but they're potentially less sneezy because they don't have an undercoat, which apparently means less dander. That may be a minor win for Diana (yes, the Crazy Cat Lady is allergic to cats).

So there are two kittens joining the pride in a couple of weeks. They'll be neutered and ready to go. We have some ideas for names, but we really have to meet them first. Knowing we'll have to say goodbye to Emma at some point, hopefully the kittens will make the transition a little easier.


I can't make sense of my kid, but there are wins

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 15, 2020, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

I've had a bunch of seemingly thoughtful narratives in my head about how I can relate to my boy, and what it means to be wired differently, and a hundred other things, but I think I'm trying to talk myself into nonsense that I don't really believe. I've tried to write these thoughts down a dozen times in the last month, and I just don't believe any of them. Autism is hard to figure out.

The short story is that I'm just impatient with him. He shouts across the house to try and converse, which we've told him is not OK. He can't understand why talking back is a negative behavior, and he can't reconcile what punishment is, that there's a cause and effect. He views meals as a restaurant operation, and we're the servers. He seeks help for things that should be self-care. There are still meltdowns over seemingly insignificant things.

But when he falls apart, when he's in that state that he can't reconcile a situation, its cause, and its potential resolution, I get him. I was there as a kid, and those memories are vivid and intense. I don't know how many of the stories I've told, or to whom, but I know the anguish that comes with the impossibility of reconciliation, because I likely have ASD as well. They didn't diagnose it when I was a kid, so I only have the knowledge that two therapists suggest I likely have it, but developed the coping skills in my teenage and young adult years. (Therapists apparently can't formally diagnose this sort of thing, because you have to be a doctor.) It explains most of my childhood difficulties. So I get where he's at when he's in his worst state, but I don't know what to do with him, and I probably agitate him more than calm him.

So if I'm wired differently, I can look at what my coping mechanisms are to roll with neurotypical people, but I don't know how I arrived at them. For example, I recall as a child wanting to interject into adult conversation and demonstrate intelligence because school taught me that this was valuable. I believed that was the social contract: When you know something, it's appropriate to share it. What it comes off as to others, kids and adults, is a kid who is a know-it-all who "thinks he's so smart." (My step-father belittled me for this constantly, which did a lot of damage that I still haven't fully repaired.) I see Simon do the same thing sometimes, and I'm horrified when my instinctive reaction is that he's being a know-it-all and I should be embarrassed for him. I know from experience that his motivation is not to seek approval or attention, it's just the idea that knowledge is valued and you should share it, that it's how you contribute.

With that empathy, that perspective that may be similar to his, I feel for his behaviors that others may find "weird" or "annoying," but I want him to be him. I'm just continually fearful that he will struggle as I did, maybe worse, and that makes me incredibly sad. I don't know what the right thing to do is.

It's not all struggle and despair though. I remember the days when he did not engage in imaginative play. It's that classic difference between parking toy cars and driving them. ASD kids line up cars, while other kids drive them around. You could see it all of the time. But eventually, he started using train tracks and blocks and to create "rides," inspired by the things he saw at the theme parks. They didn't entirely make sense to us, and even today they often don't. He'll use Lego bricks to make things that don't resemble anything from real life, but they slide over each other in a way that he finds pleasing. There's an abstract mechanical thing going on there, but only he understands it.

This summer, I'm seeing another breakthrough. He obsessively watched videos about the new Mickey Mouse ride at Hollywood Studios (which we did not get to do before the closure). He began to build it out in Minecraft on the Xbox, with a surprising amount of detail, like the movie screen that "rips open" in the queue before the guests walk through it. He was replicating what he saw in real life (or video, as it were), which is something I've never seen him do. Now, in the computer game Planet Zoo, he's combining the two things, the abstract mechanical things, and the real life things, and composing new things. Even three months ago, all he ever did in Minecraft and the Planet games was download the work of others. He's composing now, imaginatively. That brings me so much joy. This is a kid who wouldn't draw a stick figure before.

(There's a sidebar here... parents often want to force their kids to play sports or limit their time on electronic stuff, but at the end of the day, letting them pursue what interests them has great benefit, provided it's not just passively watching stuff all of the time. Almost no one encouraged my interest in computers, and some adults looked at it as burdensome, and I think it set me back.)

Certainly I worry about Simon's social development, but I'm hopeful that limitation has only 6 to 9 more months. In the mean time, I see real development for problem solving and imagination when it's things he's interested in. Getting back to math, or even typing practice, is already a struggle, so I'm not excited about how that's going to go. I feel there's something wonderful inside of him, I just hope we can get it out of him without making childhood miserable in the process.


Comfortable at home

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 14, 2020, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

I have had, several times in the last few weeks, a feeling of gentle comfort and joy in various places in my house. The other night I came downstairs and sat in my office behind my computer, to do a little writing, and I looked around and just kind of felt good about where I was. I've had little moments like that, which is somewhat reassuring because unfortunately we'll be spending a lot of time here for at least the next six months. Feeling comfortable and a certain peace is going to be a necessary goal at home.

We've almost lived in this house now for three years, and I remember having a little bit of unease when we pulled the trigger on building it. We had legitimate reasons, in that I wanted a bigger office to stretch out in given my remote worker status, and Diana needed more room for her giant quilting machine. Then when we found the floorplan and oriented it on the right lot, the benefits of extraordinary amounts of sunshine filling the living areas every afternoon made my vitamin-D needing, SAD-enduring self very happy. The short-term financial discomfort from a false start on selling the previous house took almost a year to resolve, but once that was done, the stress and purchase regret were gone.

Without the traveling we like to do, plus remote work, Diana essentially not having a job until this all passes, school happening at home, being in swamp-ass season, I'm really glad we have the space now. For the first time in my life, I have a house that isn't a cause for stress and isn't a financial burden. It only took 26 years of adulting, a recession, a housing market bomb and six moves!

Knowing we're going to be here, a lot, makes me want to enhance it (mostly by increasing the patio size and enclosure), but with the economic environment, I'm kind of scared to devote five figures to that kind of endeavor. Even with a good job at a company that is strangely thriving, it feels like the only responsible thing to do is hoard money just in case. Maybe as the months go on, I'll change my stance on that. For now, I'm very grateful for the situation we have.

It's a weird time, and this year will likely be the first one in seven that I haven't left the country, and probably the first in my adult life that I haven't left the state I live in. OK, technically that's not true, I went to the Cleveland in the first week of January for a conference. But it was Northern Ohio in January, so it shouldn't count. But when the pandemic is mostly over, I promise to spend liberally to support theme parks, cruise lines, Broadway and those silly shops in Skagway, Alaska. Until then, home is cozy, and I'm going to try and like it here as much as I can.


Another health update

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 12, 2020, 8:05 PM | comments: 0

In December, it felt like a good idea to write some things down about my doctor visit, to keep myself honest. Well, seven months passed, and... basically not much has changed.

But first, it's important to know that Orlando Health decided to let go of my trusted and amazing doctor, along with the other two doctors in the office. I found this out through a friend, and then weeks later they notified me by mail. There was no stated reason, and it's pretty weird to do that to what they advertised as the most highly rated doctors in the system. I'm sure they'll land somewhere locally eventually, but that's some bullshit to pull, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

I had what is my normal yearly check-up, and honestly there was little reason to go beyond getting a refill on the anxiety meds. I actually used them very infrequently, until about mid-March when life started to get extra weird, at which point I rationed it. I only had 15 doses, but there were some instances where I was feeling the physical manifestation of anxiety, crazy heart rate, short of breath, insomnia, and I decided to pass to save it for an instance of it being really bad. Lorazepam for me is like driving on the freeway, only the express lanes disappear and I'm insanely relaxed. Like anything that is prone to addiction, I'm hesitant to take it, but it works pretty well. I've been able to curb the anxiety though a number of activities, but sometimes stuff just adds up.

The other assignment I had was to lose weight, which would likely improve my slightly high cholesterol and blood pressure, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. I lost about 5 pounds, about a half-pound per week after my last visit, but when mid-March rolled around, I began eating my feelings and not moving around enough. The weight loss stopped. I did maintain, however, which I can attribute to a two things. I'm not going out to eat much (or get take-out, as it were), and I've transitioned mostly to drinking soda water instead of actual soda. I've easily cut 300 calories a day just with that choice.

The reality is that pandemic life isn't going to go away for at least another half-year. That means no theme parks, cruises, air travel, paries, etc., so I'm working on mentally preparing for what that's like. The world is settling into a rhythm for how to coexist with this disease, and it's not the worst thing in the world, but the number of people unwilling to play along is not helping us with that rhythm. Diana and Simon are high risk in terms of respiratory health, so we have to be a bit more careful than others, especially now that we're hitting almost daily infection records right here in our county (about 1.3% of the population has now had it).

So I've got the eating generally in a good place, but exercise is hard to commit to with the mental weight of parenting, work and the civil unrest that I feel obligated to help fix in whatever way that I can. I wish I would have figured out how to make fitness a part of my routine when I was a kid, because that's a hard habit to take on when you're an adult. It's not even an issue of how I look or feel, it's just the issue of getting the most out of the machine for another 40 to 50 years without it breaking down.

Hopefully I'll be able to see my favorite doctor in another six months.


We need a better way to do online music

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 10, 2020, 8:00 PM | comments: 0

The idea that you can keep all of your shit in "the cloud" is actually fantastic. Computers, phones, tablets and Etch-a-Sketches are all ephemeral. None of them last forever. But the promise of someone else's computer, with redundant storage, that you don't have to manage or own, that's awesome. There are some things where this is already awesome, like photos in any number of services, Google docs and most any backup service that doesn't involve a hard drive in your house.

But music? The situation sucks. It's not portable, the rules keep changing, someone wants your money at all times, and it's difficult to own anything. Even video is in a better state, where you buy a movie via any service, and it's just available on the other services, without you having to spend any money with them.

In the old days of digital music (get off my lawn!), you had to keep all of your music, probably ripped to MP3 files from your CD's, on your computer. Then you had to synchronize them to your iPod, and later your phone. And if you had even a slightly non-trivial collection, you didn't have enough room for it all. Then, I think in late 2009 or so, Amazon was like, "We've got all of this infrastructure, so upload all of your shit, and then you can play it anywhere with our web-based player!" I think you had to pay like $30 a year for this, and I immediately signed up. By that time, I was buying all of my music there anyway, having left the DRM'd bullshit from Apple, which they then charged you more to unlock without the DRM. I still had to sync to my iPhone, and after that my Windows Phone, but it generally worked. When I switched to Android, then I had access to the Amazon Music app, and I was in a good place.

At the end of 2017, Amazon was like, "Yeah, we're not gonna do this anymore. You can subscribe to the service, but we're throwing away all of your uploaded music by the end of 2018." Shit. I mean, their app was terrible (still is), but at least they had the vault service. So I moved everything over to Google, which made sense being on a Google Android phone anyway. We enjoyed 18 months of stability.

Recently, Google decided that having two music services was redundant, so they were merging Google Music and YouTube Music, migrating all of your junk over to the YouTube. The good news is that they would keep your uploaded music and all of your playlists. The bad news is that if you don't pay them $15 a month, you can't play stuff in the background on your phone, they will play ads and you can't download local copies to your device for offline listening. Shit.

So you're probably like, "Why do you need to 'own' music anyway?" That's a good question. The first part is that we subscribe to SiriusXM, which is known for satellite radio, but we use the streaming service almost every day. For six bucks a month, to have curated music channels (and none of the streaming services do this well, I might add), with all of the personality-driven things like the Broadway channel and even the DJ's on Lithium and AltNation, it's totally worth it. Based on that curation, we still buy music, and that will be ours forever. We'll always own it, no matter what services are around. That's also important because we have a surprising amount of things not available on the services. So the "locker" or "vault" service has a lot of value to us, and our spend is still probably less than a typical music subscription service. It works for us really well.

The music industry has made a lot of strides to accommodate the digital world, but it still has a lot to do to be consumer friendly.

  • Playlists need to be portable. I don't mean you can export a text file, I mean there's some machine readable thing that allows you to save your stuff and use it interchangeably between services, whether they be subscription only or locker services.
  • If you want my money, store the stuff that I own. Not everyone is OK with having access to a song until you lose the licensing rights to it.
  • Don't replace my uploads with what you think are the right songs. Amazon was notorious for this, and the mixes or versions were often wrong.
  • Have a web player, and an app that works on Android and iOS.

Is that too much to ask?

The situation makes me want to create my own app, not multi-tenant, but just for me, and open source.


Fellow white people: It's OK to feel deeply uncomfortable

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 10, 2020, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

I'm kind of tired of people referring to these as "extraordinary times," but I'm not sure that there's a better word. We've never seen anything like this pandemic in our lifetime. We're also witnessing the largest protest movement in American history as racial inequity continues to haunt us as America's greatest failure.

These two serious crises, if I am to observe the nation through the lens of the Internet, seem to make a lot of people deeply uncomfortable. More specifically though, they seem to make white people really uncomfortable. We all deal with things in our own way, but what's disturbing is the way people simply create their own reality as a way to avoid the feelings of discomfort. Please, fellow white people, embrace the discomfort, because the reality is reality whether you want it to be or not.

Covid-19 is going to be with us for at least six months to a year, and that's assuming that the vaccines actually work and can be produced in enough volume to get them in people. Hope will not make it go away, or make it less dangerous, or make it less contagious. Of course you want to minimize the economic damage it's causing, as we all do, and we can all help do that with limitations by social distancing and wearing a mask in public where we can't avoid people. These mitigation strategies are uncomfortable and inconvenient, for sure, but they're so simple. What do you hope to achieve by throwing a tantrum in Trader Joe's? This is not political, and it's not about your freedom (which is often confused with entitlement). Where one person's freedom starts, another's ends, so the only way we coexist with this virus is to take care of each other with these simple tactics.

Systemic racism, you didn't start that, and I didn't either. But it's there, and we can't let generations of failure continue. If your instinctive reaction to this is, "All lives matter," then you are fundamentally failing to listen. If you feel like you have to defend yourself just because this is a topic America is hell bent on reckoning with, why? Racism has been codified into our society in hundreds of different ways, and every one of them is going to be challenged. It's OK to feel deeply uncomfortable about that, because your whole value system, which you likely inherited and did not choose, is being challenged. If you feel judged, it's not because you're uncomfortable, it's because of how you choose to react. I think the more you listen, the more you're willing to understand, the easier that empathy will come to you. And let's be real: people of color asking for an equal footing and a general acknowledgement of the two-America problem will not fundamentally affect you in a negative way.

I usually don't like to compare my life to others, because the things that are hard in my life are hard to me. It isn't usually useful to keep score in this manner. However, while we all have our challenges, as a white male, I've never had to worry about driving while black, jogging through an affluent white neighborhood, how my resume might be viewed because of my name, whether or not I can get a loan because of my ethnicity or address, if my child is getting the education he's entitled to compared to white peers and I've never had to worry about whether or not I'm paid fairly relative to other white men. This doesn't mean that I haven't worked hard professionally, it only means that I haven't had to deal with the severe and real impediments that systemic racism cause.

So cool, this all makes you uncomfortable. I would be surprised if it didn't. It's not a reason to push back, it's a reason to listen.


Another broken printer

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 7, 2020, 9:00 PM | comments: 0

I'm often amazed at how long certain electronic devices can last and be useful, especially remembering a time where it seemed everything had to be replaced every few years to be useful. My last printer lasted a staggering 13 years, and I only replaced it because the paper would sometimes slip and not align right on the page. That means the one I have now is 6, and it's not healthy. And of course, that's right after I replaced all of the toner cartridges, which cost about half as much as a new printer.

It periodically mis-feeds a page when I use the front loader, which is what I use for printing club cards. When I clear it, it declares some numeric error (basically, PC LOAD LETTER), and it requires a power cycle. You cycle it, and it gives you the same error, which is supposed to be about a specific motor. So like any nerd would, I pulled the cover off that fucker and poked at it. I know which motor is allegedly the problem, it's the developer motor, which as best I can tell turns the drums in the cartridges. So it stands to reason that maybe it's one of the four toner cartridges that are not playing nice with the motor, because I can see it turning freely and I can even move it by hand without any issue. Or, maybe something just gets misaligned and the printer doesn't know what to do about it. Regardless, after enough motor touching and/or time, it starts to work again, eventually. But now I have a printer with no cover on it, which looks pretty skanky.

The issue is not the cost. In the grand scheme of things, spending a few hundred bucks on a printer every six years is not the worst thing to itemize. What is the worst thing is having this giant heavy thing (and its new toner) ending up in a landfill somewhere when it kind of still works. I'm just annoyed at the disposableness of it.

On the "plus" side, I've printed almost no membership cards this year, because with no coaster events, the club membership dried up hard. But when school starts up, and people are delusional if they think in-person school is going to work this fall, we're going to need a reliable printer. Hoping it will just magically work consistently is probably as effective as hoping the virus in a global pandemic will just disappear.


The weirdest birthday week

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 5, 2020, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

I don't take a week off around my birthday every year, but I've tried to make it mostly a habit. It's good to be deliberate about taking time for yourself. This year, because of the pandemic, was exceptionally weird.

A number of times in the last few years, we've done five-night cruises around this time. Disney does a thing where in the summer they have a number of these that stop at their private island two days, with other days at Nassau and at sea. It's the ultimate turn-your-brain-off and be taken care of trip. We weren't planning to do that, but we were planning to visit Seattle and then Vancouver to sail to Alaska, the latter part of which would not include Simon. That obviously didn't happen. A weekend cruise in March was cancelled as well. Other than a conference I did in January, we haven't traveled since November. We needed to create some change in scenery.

Initially, I thought about booking a super nice hotel in Clearwater or something, but watching the web cameras in the area, that seemed like a bad idea because of the volume of people and lack of mask wearing. Instead I found a little privately owned place in Cocoa that had a dozen units, so we did that for two nights. It was relatively clean, but not particularly nice. We were paying for exclusivity, for sure. It achieved what we hoped for though, some time to just turn off and enjoy the beach. There were people there, but not a ton. People mostly kept their distance. We noticed driving through Cocoa Beach proper that this was not the case, so getting the more private location was a good idea in a state where the outbreak is getting exponentially worse.

Diana surprised me, agreeing with the idea that I've put out there before about retiring on a beach somewhere. That's a tricky proposition, because as you would expect, those places are expensive, and stand-alone houses are really expensive. But the idea that you can stroll out of your kitchen to see and hear the ocean every single day sure sounds like an appealing way to go out.

The rest of the week involved some concentration on doing things that I like to do. I did some reading, I wrote some code, I did some writing, and I even started to inventory some of my outlines and script fragments that I've written over the years, wondering if there's a story there. That was helped along by watching the MasterClasses from Spike Lee and Judd Apatow. Hearing those guys talk about their process, it's clear that I need to write more really terrible stuff, and even try to make something terrible, and be OK with its terribleness.

I watched a lot of movies. The queue of things I wanted to watch really got away from me. I finally saw BombshellKnives OutThe HustleDo The Right Thing, a bunch of comedy specials and probably other things I'm forgetting. Friday was the day that Hamilton dropped, and of course we watched that twice at full volume. They mixed it so well, taking full advantage of the subwoofer. "Hurricane" sounded like we were in the Richard Rodgers. It's so good.

I spent some time obsessing about video and cameras as well, but I covered that.

We did see family a few times via video calls, since we can't see them in person. I'm still thinking about buying an electric gokart. With all of this time at home, we're fantasizing about expanding the patio. I managed to go a week without thinking about what happens if the economy gets worse and I'm out of work. I had two HOA board meetings. I treated eating like a sport, and Diana made her amazing Cajun chicken pasta. I built two Lego sets. I drank too much one night. I played a computer game. There were some epic thunderstorms. Maybe most importantly, I spent quality time doing nothing but staring at the sky.

Not being able to travel was a drag, but I do feel like I made the week count. I'll take a week off in another three months or so, but try to get some long weekend in between.


Entering the world of 4K cameras

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 4, 2020, 9:30 PM | comments: 0

I have a surprisingly long history with pro camera gear, going back to 2006, which was seven years after I left the broadcast world where I spent other people's money on gear. I won't rehash that history entirely here, but I've always enjoyed being able to keep my hand in it all, mostly for fun. I bought the HVX200 in 2006, and it was exciting just to have an HD camera with pro features like internal neutral density filters and XLR audio. In 2012 I bought the AF100, and that was neat because I could put a bunch of different lenses I already had on it, and a bigger sensor meant you could get some of that cinematic depth of field. I even sold some video once for a show that aired on Discovery! In between, I did get a Canon DSLR that did video, the 7D in 2009, but shooting with that sucked, even when I rigged it up with a bunch of kit pieces.

I got a lot of mileage out of the AF100 though, and there are little bits and pieces on my Vimeo profile that I'm really proud of. The camera had been out already for a year and a half, and the price dropped a grand when I got it. It was super easy to coax great looking video out of that camera, and it even looked pretty good at night. The biggest challenge with it was that the compression was a bit aggressive when recording, so there were times where you'd get some artifacts in the image, especially once you compressed again for online use. External solid state recorders weren't an affordable thing yet, or I would have likely purchased one. The surprising thing is that I did generate enough revenue with video from that camera to almost pay for it over eight years. I was surprised when I realized that (the Discovery thing was a big part of that).

4K video is not a new thing at all, but honestly, we didn't even have a 4K TV until last year, and it's a smaller, inexpensive one we bought for the playroom. (The living room TV is now 10-years-old, an LED panel from Samsung, and it has some splotchy spots and light leak, but some day I'll replace it.) I've wanted to buy a new camera to enter the 4K world for a long time, but haven't pulled the trigger. The primary lens I have for the AF100 is worth more used than the camera itself at this point.

Three years ago, Canon released the C200, a new entry in their "cinema" camera lineup, which at the time had a strange mix of features, but not all of the features, that the sub-$10k camera crowd wanted. It checked a lot of boxes for me. It used Canon EF lenses, which I've had for more than a decade. It had real 4K resolution at all the frame rates you would prefer (24, 30, 60 fps, plus 120 in regular HD). It had all the proper pro ND filters and XLR audio. But the price was too much to spend on a hobby. The HVX200 in 2006 was about $7k with the crazy expensive memory cards, but I was single then.

Panasonic, which I have some loyalty to, introduced the EVA1 around the same time, and it checked many of the same boxes. The weirdness in that one is that it didn't have a proper viewfinder, but with updates, it was able to record with higher bit rates and even output raw data for external recording. When I saw it in real life last year on our NYC visit, which included a stop at the world-famous B&H, I was disappointed at how plastic it was. The Canon, by comparison, had the robust construction I would expect. Both cameras were the same price.

Anyway, in Covid-19 pandemic days, the urge to create and make things is stronger than ever. I saw that both cameras came down a grand in price I think late last year, but then I noticed the Canon came down another grand. With all the vacation travel refunds, it felt like maybe now I could justify it as the device I could use for the next eight years. Comparing the two cameras, aside from the viewfinder and build issues, came down to bit rates and outputs, and I had to psychologically get over that to make a good decision.

Cameras in this sub $10k range all make some compromises somewhere so they can't do what the expensive cameras do. Usually this comes as a combination of codec used to store the data, or how lossy it is, the color sampling rate, which determines how many pixels get counted for color information, and the color depth, which is the number of bits used to describe the colors. On paper, the Panasonic does the better sampling and depth for most of the recording options, but the Canon will record the full on raw format with 12-bit color sampling. The recording media is expensive and file sizes are enormous, but this is the equivalent of shooting raw on an SLR camera.

But here's the thing... to really see the flaws created by lower sampling and bit depths in compressed 4K, you need a specific set of circumstances and then zoom in to small areas of the image where those circumstances occur. There are so many pixels that you can "get away" with these "shortcomings." That was clear the more I looked at samples that reviewers posted (that is, the original files from the cameras) three years ago. And let's be honest... most of what I'm going to shoot is probably going to be viewed on a 5" phone screen. The less expensive Canon doesn't have real compromises, and since it's already three years in, the support in tooling for the raw format is a solved problem too. Plus, I've always liked the color science of Canon cameras. Canon is also known for legendary auto-focus capability, with face tracking and such. I've always been "meh" about that feature, but not having to pull your own focus when you're doing run-and-gun shooting is pretty awesome when it works so well.

So I pulled the trigger. I did a few quick tests, and the quality in low light, even with the 4:2:0 8-bit color, is pretty clean. In the raw mode, it's staggering how you can over-expose something by three or four stops and still correct it to find the detail. Mind you, at 24 fps, you can only record about 30 minutes on a 256 gig card, but you could composite special effects with the stuff that comes out of there. I can't believe what you can get out of a camera and not need to have a Hollywood budget.

What am I planning to shoot with this? Well, it's hard to say in the long run, but in the short run, I'd like to do some silly nonsense for YouTube, and I'm going to try and write some shorts, maybe casting my family since we can't exactly recruit people outside. I've got ideas about how to make drinks, some cooking (everyone's doing it), reviews of products, social commentaries, and whatever else comes to mind. I'd like to get some video of the cranes that live in the neighborhood, because they're pretty cool.


Redefining American patriotism

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 4, 2020, 4:36 PM | comments: 0

One of the attributes that I value most in people, and strive for myself, is a strong sense of self-awareness. I'll admit that I don't have it to the extent that I would like, and I've been disappointed to find people that I admired lack it in serious ways. I value it because it is essential to forming a better person, able to recognize the gaps in one's knowledge or ability, which makes it possible to improve and empower others who can compensate for your own shortcomings. It is an attribute that is closely related to humility.

Self-awareness could go a long way toward improving the United States. It seems like it would be at odds with pride, something that Americans value a great deal, but I would argue that you can be proud of your self-awareness and the willingness to change the things that are not ideal. We can absolutely be proud of a relentless effort to fix what's broken.

Being a patriotic American means acknowledging that there have always been two Americas, where "we the people" never meant all the people, and its history is rooted in contradiction between stated values and the actions and outcomes that have defined us.

America is a story of extraordinary success. In relatively short time, it went from a colony to the richest independent nation in the world. It has created entire industries, leading the industrial revolution, pioneering fields like medicine and computer technology. It has built gigantic buildings, landed humans on the moon, sent vehicles to explore Mars, traversed a continent with transportation systems and invented a communication system we all take for granted today. It used its wealth to help militarily destroy a fascist government that killed millions on the basis of religion and ethnicity.

America is a story of extraordinary failure. It was founded for the purpose of exercising self-governance and freedom from a tyrannical government, but the freedom was never intended for all people. It treated people as property and systematically killed and contained the indigenous people who already lived on the land the nation claimed as its own. After a massive civil war that ended slavery, a caste system quickly evolved that segregated people by race and continues to negatively affect people of color in every way. America has a healthcare system that spends twice as much per capita on care compared to the average of comparable nations, but doesn't lead in quality of outcomes in any category at all, and in fact has the worst chronic disease burden. The US spends more on military than the next 10 nations combined, of which 7 we consider close allies. One in 10 Americans live below the poverty line despite having the largest economy in the world.

We have much to celebrate, but we have much to correct. The lack of true civic equality is a specter that we can't keep ignoring. As long as there are two Americas, we can't realistically find a path forward together. We are not all endowed with "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," because there are systems in place that make that impossible. It touches every part of our society, including education, economic opportunity, criminal justice and electoral engagement.

The idea that we can go back to a "greater" America is not real. It's a dog whistle of the worst kind: There is no time to go back to when things were more equal, only less. The nation once did great things, but it maintained a habit of doing terrible things at the same time. I believe that to be patriotic, to truly love our country, we must acknowledge this, and strive to correct it. That's what being American is to me, and I hope you'll come along for the ride.


Racism is not a difference in political opinion

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 1, 2020, 12:01 AM | comments: 0

I've noticed a lot of Internet memes that lately that go something along the lines of, "You voted for so and so, and I voted for so and so, but we can still be friends and agree to disagree." It's generally shared by white people in reference to the invigorated civil rights movement that came after the George Floyd murder, and the larger call to dismantle the systemic racism that we've been dealing with for hundreds of years.

But let's be clear about something... racism is not a political opinion that we can just overlook and be pals. Regardless of your stated political leanings, racism can't be a part of the platform you identify with. There is no moral equivalence between racism and fiscal policy or healthcare or whatever thing you think the government should have a say in. Racism is not a right or left proposition, and it's wrong, period.

Now, that's not to say that one side hasn't taken a more active stance in sustaining racism in recent years. The GOP has supported an unambiguous racist in Donald Trump since the time it was clear that he might have a shot at winning. His racism is not something open to interpretation, it's blatant. The party has further participated in system racism by way of its efforts to suppress voters and participate in extreme gerrymandering that has been declared illegal by the courts. That's not OK. Mind you, the Democratic record on systemic racism isn't ideal either, as much of the criminal justice policy in the 90's reinforced the two-America system we still have today.

If you want to engage me about politics, there's no acceptable way to defend racism or call it a difference in opinion. The finer points of farm subsidies and energy policy are a difference in opinion. Racism is always immoral.