2023 Review

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 31, 2023, 7:44 AM | comments: 0

It feels like we've had two good year in a row, which seems unusual after the shitshow of the pandemic. But the sheer volume of stuff that we did was epic, and that is super satisfying.

The hobby business

This is becoming the same story year after year, but the swings were much worse when they should have been better. CoasterBuzz was up an extraordinary 35% in terms of users and page views, which I can't really explain other than some tweak to the Google algorithm must have really helped. PointBuzz is harder to measure because of the change in Google Analytics that I put off updating, but my own data around forum sessions shows that the increase is about the same, maybe a little more. But ad revenue was down 30%, and that's after being down 42% last year.

The outcome is that, despite a significant resurgence in traffic, I actually had to fork over my own money several months to cover the hosting costs. Those costs didn't change much compared to last year, despite improving some of the performance behind the hosting. Ironically, this could be part of the reason for the increase in traffic. Google weights fast sites over slow sites.

When I've looked around the Internets to see if other indie publishers are in the same boat, they all tend to talk about solutions involving all of the really intrusive crap that dominates most sites. I'm talking about the video slide-ins from the top and bottom, mostly, and some sites seem to have two or three of them layered. I'm being an ideologue, but I just can't resort to subjecting users to that. If these things have survived for two decades, and are attracting more attention, that didn't happen by bludgeoning visitors with the worst kinds of ads.

Google says that they're switching to an all-CPM model "early next year," meaning I get paid for every ad shown, not just the ones that are clicked on. I'm not sure how this will affect earnings, but it can't get much worse.


As I said last year, I don't talk about this much anymore. That said, I had pretty good year with a great team that delivered so much good stuff. I finally got to meet many coworkers in real-life, with the first work travel that I've had since before the pandemic. It seems like the longer I'm in any job, the weirder things get, but so far that's not true with this one. It's a nice change of pace.

Making stuff

It seems like a silly realization to have, given how obvious it is, but I decided this year that I may try to do some new things, without commitment. For some reason I had it in my mind that anything you attempted to do you had to commit to for life, or you were a shitty person. Yes, I'm still working through all of the silly tropes that if you don't do certain things, you're less of a person or flawed in some way. For example, I bought some electronic drums, used, and decided to give that a shot. I figured out how to do some basic things, but I found that keeping metronomic time was hard, and I wanted to play like that guy from Wolf Alice without practice. This was obviously not going to be a thing, so I packed them up, and they're sitting in the garage (where I should really unload them).

On the other hand, I did actually decide to make a documentary film, and I've got a bunch of footage "in the can" and a narrative that I haven't figure out yet how to edit. It's about rum, sort of, but mostly about how small businesses help each other out through things like pandemics and hurricanes. I spent a non-trivial amount on gear, travel and even an animation sequence. I arbitrarily time boxed it to a year, but that's mostly a guideline. The mental block, more than the edit, is trying to figure out if it can be feature length. Many things that I wanted to shoot ended up not happening because of all of the times that I was blown off. If it ends up being a short, that'll be OK.

The movie stuff only included about five days of shooting, and I do mean days, but there was a lot of preparation. I needed to learn how to properly use the new gear, and I did a ton of experimentation with lighting, because that to me is what separates good from bad. I still got it wrong when I was shooting by myself. The first time out, I had Diana and Simon with me, and it made a world of difference. They would see things that I didn't, or when I was running-and-gunning, they could carry around lights, or get a microphone on someone. It's a lot of work to do it "right," so despite a small shooting schedule, the cognitive load was high during the first half of the year. Then we went to Europe and I just got into other things.

I made my annual release of POP Forums, up to version 20 this year, but the improvements this year were smaller in scope than last year's super update. More interesting was that I decided to see if I could make my moving lights, uh, move, by way of code that I wrote. As it turns out, yes, I figured it out. My ADHD hyperfocus kicked in, and over the course of a few weeks, I wrote enough code to create an underlying engine of stuff to make the lights go. I'm not sure what I can do with that. I could keep going, and make a user interface and figure out how to do effects and stuff. What would be super easy is to do basic cue lists and such, and I even write code for cross-fades. All of this kind of lacks intent though. I'm not sure what the outcome is because it's all tinkering, not really something coming from requirements in the classic sense. At the very least, I'm doing a live demo and talk at Orlando Code Camp about it in the spring.

Of course, I also spent time trying to learn as much as I can about actual lighting for events, concerts and theater, which is largely academic when I don't have much of anything to apply it to. I started to explore both the ETC and MA Lighting platforms, and the latter seems to be more widely used for touring, events and concerts, while ETC seems to be more common in theaters (I think it stands for "electronic theater control"). I think I can learn how to program both, but I'm going to focus on MA and get their entry-level console, a PC-based system that's more control surface than anything, so I can push actual buttons and faders and stuff. Unfortunately, I have to wait until at least March to get one.

In the mean time, the software for both platforms runs on any computer, free, but you can't actually control real lights without hardware. MA had a less featured product that has been discontinued that does have real output, so I've used that a bit to run my lights for Halloween and other experiments. It does have 3D virtual visualizations, so I can build an entire stage and make a show that way, too. It's just really cumbersome without physical buttons and faders.


Overall, this was a mostly good year. All of my numbers are where they should be, except my triglycerides, as usual. This bothers my doctor more than me, but as long as my pancreas isn't pissed, I'm not going to obsess about it. Top of "normal" range is 150 mg/dL, and I tend to be around 200. A few years ago it was 350. Apparently for really problematic people it can be over a thousand. I already take prescription supplements, Vascepa, and I do not tolerate fenofibrate. Long term, regular activity would likely make it better, but another year passes and it has been difficult.

In June and July I got into a fairly regular habit of walking a couple of miles on the treadmill every morning, while I worked at my desk. I lost quite a bit of weight this way as well. But after I got back from Europe, it broke the cycle. I did it once or twice a week, then once, then not at all. There is a reason though, and I think it has to do with anxiety.

My mental health overall has been much better after starting on bupropion XL, about two years ago this February. I am still surprised by how much more I feel, and how infrequent I experience what I think is depression. It still happens sometimes, like when we get streaks of cloudy days, but mostly I'm good. What I am dealing with though is anxiety, and I think that it's connected to the insomnia I also experience. This has been a thing since the pandemic, and I thought that maybe it would dissipate. It hasn't, and my brain races sometimes for hours after I get into bed. I have a small number of doses of lorazepam prescribed to help with panic attacks, and that allows me to sleep, but I'm already paranoid about using that because it's habit forming. My doctor has suggested that medical marijuana often helps people with anxiety and insomnia, so I may try that if she thinks it's a good idea. What little science there is on it suggests that in small doses it can really help.

The anxiety and lack of sleep makes it harder to get up early enough to do the walking. If I'm awake until 2, getting up at 7, or even 8, is exceptionally difficult.

Aside from the slightly high tri's, I generally feel relatively healthy, though I know feel better if I'm regularly moving. I remember a point in my 20's where I would get winded walking up stairs, and I haven't felt that at any point since moving down here. Heck, when we cruise, I'll do the deck 3 to 11 climb if I really have to (and admittedly I get a little winded by deck 10). I don't feel good about having to take two medications indefinitely, rosuvastatin for cholesterol, and levothyroxine for hypothyroidism, but I got pretty far into life without taking anything. My poor kid is already on several meds for ADHD and anxiety. I'm not sure I'd want to back off of the antidepressant, because it seems to work really well. I also voluntarily take OTC famotidine (Pepcid) because it seems to keep the swallowing problem I had away, as well as cetirizine (Zyrtec) for allergies and IBS.

My mental health journey is very much a work in progress still. Again, the autism and ADHD diagnoses have allowed me to reframe much of my life, in mostly good ways. I'm far more self-aware. I recognize when I can't stay on task. I ask myself often, in work and social situations, am I reading the room right? I also recognize the coping strategies that I organically developed over the course of my life so far, and recognize when they don't work. I will unapologetically step out of a room when all of the interaction becomes too much. This awareness is empowering.

Diana continues to struggle with back pain, and she continues to fight Aetna for appropriate, doctor-prescribed treatment. She has had some medicinal treatments that help, but longer-term stuff is more difficult to get. On the plus side, her migraines have generally been well controlled.


I'm not sure where to go with this, other than to say it's still hard. I'm also less inclined to talk about the daily stuff involved because he's a teenager now, and he deserves some level of privacy. The craziest part is that in one year he grew several inches, and he's almost taller than me now. And there's the voice change. He's more than two-thirds to legal adulthood. And for a kid that doesn't like very many foods, he sure can eat like it's his job.

School continues to be challenging, and it's hard to nail down the why's. His ADHD clearly makes everything that he's not that interested in harder. Education has mostly been navigating developmental delays, or what is sometimes uneven development. I remember a point in grade school where he was well ahead in one area, and behind in another. Writing is hard for him to start, and blank pages freak him out. We've got him outside help for math, which is making a pretty big difference.

Mostly we struggle with the same issues that we did a year ago, keeping him responsible for all of the things that someone his age should be responsible for. Homework is always a struggle to start, but not always difficult to do. He wants shortcuts for everything, and doesn't really get that learning requires work. I think it's a little better than last year, but not by much. My biggest concern is still his long-term ability to be self-sufficient. It's not a question of "if," more to what extent. Right now, I have a hard time seeing him go to college, which is a harder road unless he takes deep interest in a trade.

On the bright side, he's often independent when it matters the most for us. We can leave him alone when we go out, and in the cruise setting he's basically autonomous. He's also developing his own personality, though it's somewhat influenced by obnoxious middle school boy stuff, which I suppose is just something we have to endure. While we've caught him in some minor lies, he's otherwise not a kid who gets in trouble or does really stupid things, though he doesn't really have the social framework for those opportunities either. Like I was, he's kind of a lonely kid. But he's often happy and expresses appreciation in ways that he didn't used to. He's growing up.

About the cats

It's worth mentioning that we fostered a ton of cats this year. Diana volunteers for a local shelter called Candy's Cats, and they adopt out of a Petsmart store. We already have the three of our own, and I am not at all interested in more (I'm not crazy about the third, because he's a dick to Finn, our favorite). But it is fun to have kittens around now and then. We had an elderly old girl stay with us that kind of limped around (arthritis), and for some reason she got really attached to me. Followed me everywhere, would not leave me alone. She landed a good home with another volunteer.

A lot of them have some issue, like they need medicine, or they need vaccination and quarantine. But for the long haulers, like the three kittens we had the last few weeks, they're able to roam free around the house, play grab ass and posture themselves as bigger than our gigantic cats. It sure beats them being stuck in cages.

Travel and entertainment

It was so good to be back in the theater, a lot, this year. The first part of the year continued to catch-up after the pandemic. We started the year with the return of Wicked, then the "meh" Pretty Woman, the extraordinary Sorkin version of To Kill A MockingbirdChicagoMy Fair Lady (which was better than I expected), Into The WoodsBeetlejuice (which was impossibly good) and Funny Girl. The 23/24 season is a little "meh," but the next will be better.

We also spent a great deal of time in the amazing Steinmetz Hall. That includes staff and donor events, which are just insane to have in that space. We saw our local community orchestra and choir do a fantastic show of Disney music. My favorite shows were with the Royal Philharmonic's residency. We saw one show with Beck, which was pretty mind-blowing, and another with Broadway royalty Sutton Foster and this dude whose name I can never remember.

For our anniversary this year, we decided to do a three-night Wish cruise in concierge. That's not something that we normally do, because it's kind of stupid expensive, but we also turned an important corner. Simon is essentially self-sufficient onboard, and since he can't get off the ship without us, we let him do his thing in the teen clubs. The Wish has a superior concierge experience compared to the other ships, and the amenities are pretty great with smaller numbers of people. The open bar doesn't hurt either (though you certainly can't drink the value of the increased cost). We had an exceptionally good time, and we were well taken care of.

We did a Segway tour in Mt. Dora with Simon in the spring. I feel like those are getting harder to find, but I always have a great time doing them. Simon caught on pretty quickly, and Diana and I are veterans with a lot of miles (Epcot, Seattle, Port Canaveral). It's a bummer that they're so expensive to buy, even used. I'm not sure why, but they seem "better" than the electric scooters that are popular right now, that I've somehow resisted buying.

We did a staycation for my birthday, given its proximity to our Europe trip. About every other year we do this, where we find a cheap rate at a Disney resort, check-in, and act like tourists riding the busses and getting reservations and stuff. It's surprising how different the entire experience feels compared to a typical visit from home. We stayed at Coronado Springs, because it was cheapest, but also because Simon loves the pyramid pool, and we love the Three Bridges tapas/sangria place. Diana conspired with my friend Ken to surprise me there, since we're both big Living Colour fans, and they were playing the Flower & Garden festival. We had a few issues, but otherwise it was a solid mini-getaway.

The big deal this year was that we finally made it to Europe. We've had this itch for awhile, but traveling with Simon always felt like a non-starter. But at some point, it seemed obvious that doing a long cruise to many countries was the perfect idea. For one, we'd get to "sample" a bunch of places without spending a ton of waking hours in airports. The other big part is that we knew Simon would have food that he'd eat, guaranteed. The flying part overnight with him was certifiably awful, and the resulting fatigue in London made it less fun.

But despite a lot of unusually cold weather, even for Iceland, the trip was mostly everything that I hoped for. It wasn't without its challenges, but none of them were related to food. We saw amazing things, met amazing people, and I think most importantly, have a good idea about the places we'd like to go back to. London and the UK in general were already on the list, in part because of Diana's semester in school there, but we also developed strong feelings for Copenhagen, and Norway by way of our stop in Ålesund. I like the idea of seeing more of Denmark, Norway, and since Sweden is in between, that too. I wrote a lot about flying out, UK and France, Iceland, Norway, the ending in Copenhagen and the cruise itself. I would be down for something like this through the Mediterranean.

We did one more cruise in September on the Wish, which felt too short. Part of our motivation there was to get our 25th cruise, putting us in the "Pearl" status that gives us dibs on booking, checking-in and boarding first for the rest of our lives. That's important because we're doing the inaugural sailing to their new, second island/beach facility this summer, and we want dibs.

I rediscovered gaming this year. For most of my parental-era days I kind of landed on games at random, mostly Lego or Halo. It's so weird to think back to my 20's when I had to spend $40 on a game that might suck, whether it was for a console or a computer game (though at least many PC games had demos back then). So it's no small surprise that I rediscovered some of those old games, like Dungeon Keeper. Then I bought the handheld machine and finally caved for an Xbox Series X. Having the Game Pass Ultimate subscription has given me the no-risk opportunity to try a bunch of stuff, and find things that I really like. GOG ("good old games") started as a nostalgia play, but even current titles come without DRM, so I can try to make Windows games run on the Mac, with mixed success. Most recently, I've got 20+ hours on Against The Storm already, which makes a lot of top 10 lists. I found the spiritual successors to Dungeon Keeper, which are mixed in terms of quality. Still, I find that when I disappear into a game for a few hours, I come out more interested in doing other things.

Fiscal condition

Things are still going pretty well this year. For the first time ever, I contributed as much as I legally could to my 401K at work and my Roth IRA. It wasn't easy, because at any given point, my brain is like, "Well, I don't have to do this, it's optional." Had I been more responsible in my 20's and 30's, maybe I wouldn't feel like I had to do it now.

I tried to game out the year as much as possible, knowing that our trip to Europe would be expensive, though it was mostly paid for in March. It meant we more or less had a savings reset. Simon getting Invisalign wasn't as expensive as I expected, but we exhausted our medical co-pay again this year. (Sidebar: I don't know how people can afford to get the care they need without great insurance and high wages, and that's pretty broken.) We had some other big hits, like the HVAC repair (again), and costs related to the crowbar incident. There are always things, I guess.

I was kind of concerned about how much it costs just to live in this house right now, but I also looked up the numbers for a reality check. My property tax on a per square-foot basis here is $1.71. If I still owned my house in Brunswick, Ohio, the tax on that property is $2.25 per square-foot. So that's actually solid, and one of the reasons we moved down here. It probably makes more sense to measure by home value, but in that case, it's radically higher in the old neighborhood, like 3x, but values are much lower there.

Insurance has effectively doubled in the last two years, but relative to value, it's not that much worse. Mind you, I'm in the middle of the state, and that's not the case on the coasts or in flood prone areas.

World outlook

I suspect that this is the source of much of my anxiety. I thought in 2021 that maybe we were going to turn a corner, get back to something more "normal" post-Trump, but in many ways things got worse. Most of the important data post-pandemic has been moving in the right direction, with dramatic decreases in crime, higher wages, historically low unemployment, stabilizing inflation, reasonable stock market recovery. But now it seems like racism, transphobia, antisemitism, xenophobia and the like are all having a pretty big moment. And so much of it is happening under flag waving, as the antithesis of what that flag is supposed to stand for. Some folks actually want the guy back who thinks we should get rid of the Constitution. And this is just the stuff happening here in the US!

There is a minority contingent of haters that continue to wield influence. And let's be clear that there aren't just "two sides." As much as I'm willing to explore nuance, if you wish to hate people, discriminate against them or oppress them in any way, you're not right. Caring for the welfare and prosperity of other people isn't "woke," it's just not being an asshole. The white, straight, often-Christians who believe that they're being targeted or discriminated against aren't being targeted for being white, straight or Christian, they're being targeted for their hateful behavior toward people who aren't like them. There's a difference.

So this year will be interesting. A former president is on trial for dozens of felony indictments, and some of his co-conspirators have already put in guilty pleas. If all of the racism, misogyny and bigotry weren't already disqualifiers before he got elected, how do people even consider him now? You don't give the keys to someone who tried to steal your car while you were watching. Meanwhile, Congress passed only 27 bills this year, a record few laws. They're not working. I don't understand why people apparently want this.

It's not all bad, mind you. Science is winning a lot. Renewable energy and sustainable transportation are very much becoming real. Medicine is finding virtual miracles. (Does anyone remember how fast an effective vaccine was developed for Covid?) Hard to say what AI will do for us, but my limited experience with it is positive, when it isn't ripping off content. Technologically, there's never been a better time to be alive, even if some of that tech has had negative influence.

Am I content?

For the second year in a row, I can honestly say, mostly yes. It's not all puppies and rainbows, and I don't expect that it should be. But we're all mostly healthy and functional and have not had to endure a lot of chaos. I expect a lot of things to change over the next five or six years, and I feel like I'm getting ready for it. The psychological weight of my birthday this year was heavy, but if I'm feeling grief over that, I'm oscillating between bargaining and acceptance. In the moment, as I turn the calendar page, things are mostly solid.


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