The blog home of Jeff Putz

Back to my (lighting) midlife crisis

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 18, 2024, 6:56 PM | comments: 0

Way back in August I decided that I was going to jump in and buy a lighting console, as inexpensively as possible, and after eight long months, today was the day. I saved money, gathered the virtual change in the couch cushions, and waited and waited.

With just some basic messing around, and showing Simon at a high level how it works, I can already say that it's night and day different from trying to peck around pop up virtual controls on a screen. It just makes sense in a way that it didn't without physical buttons and faders. I connected a couple of lights, just to see them whirl around, but I imagine most of my time learning will be with virtual rigs.

I'm pretty excited to learn new lighting things.

Evolving cruise habits

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 16, 2024, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

We took our 26th cruise for our 15th anniversary last weekend. Most importantly, we finally won some trivia, and cheap loot, and in a relentlessly dominating way. But after doing this for a decade, especially these shorter trips, things have definitely evolved.

It's hardly surprising that the biggest change is that we have a 14-year-old. Things actually started to change when he was 9, and we bought him a cheap $40 phone for the purpose of running the DCL app. With that, knowing that he could send us messages, we gave him some limited amount of autonomy. Mostly he could just check himself into the kids club, and later in the year, we let him check out as well. If he wanted to stop for ice cream or whatever, we let him do that, too. After the pandemic, he could go to the tween club, and ever since then he can pretty much do as he wants, provided he checks in, meets us for dinner and gets back to the room by midnight. This has actually been amazing, to see him be responsible. This last time, we even spotted him walking around Castaway Cay with new friends from Vibe (the teen club). It's a relief to see him find some of "his people."

This effectively means that, for much of the cruise, it's like we're vacationing without him. For a big "adventure" itinerary like Europe, this is more limited to at-sea days, but for these short "turn your brain off" Bahama runs, we're like empty nesters part of the time. I have mixed feelings about that, because we used to get all of the feels when he got hugs from Mickey or a princess, and those days have passed. On the other hand, Diana and I had a relatively short window between our first date and being parents (not quite three years), so getting more "us" time is good. We aren't really limited to specific date nights at home either, since we don't need babysitters anymore.

We've really only had one non-tropical itinerary in this new phase, last year's Northern Europe (various posts), but Simon's relative maturity is largely the reason that we could even do that. Eating for him while traveling is still very challenging, as we discovered last month in DC, so for the sake of all of our enjoyment, that's still a good way to see a lot over a relatively short period of time. We are considering maybe a single European city with him, where, worst case, we know we can find a McDonald's. We found one in Copenhagen, and it's the same shit you can get anywhere. I think longer cruises are still a safe bet.

Meanwhile, we enjoy finding a spot where we can avoid large crowds and reliably meet folks, both guests and bartenders. That's the dirty little secret about Disney cruises, is that so many families dine or see the shows late, then retire, so you can often get very exclusive feeling service. We meet so many people, and sometimes we even keep in touch with them. We've even hosted a server for a few days. Again, this is so much easier with a kid who doesn't need constant supervision.

The enjoyment comes in different ways though, and the ships make a difference. We haven't been on the Wonder or Magic since 2017, but the smaller scale and clustered adult areas I'm sure would be solid. The Dream and the Fantasy, all longer itineraries since the Wish debuted, have been a lot of fun for us, as we often hang out in Skyline, the martini bar. The adult experience on the Wish feels disjointed. The piano bar, Nightingale's, seems like our spot, but the skill of many of the bartenders and selections elsewhere has greatly improved. Also, with four laps on the Wish, half of them have been in concierge, and that is an exceptionally different and awesome experience because of the exclusive areas (including a bar) that you have access to. I'm not sure if most people would find the extra cost worth it, unless you really value exclusivity. And sometimes, we do.

I'm generally better about food and drink that I used to be, which is to say I don't stop and get pizza every time I go by it. I'm way more disciplined. That's extra hard on the Wish, because all of their daytime counter service options are the best in the fleet. The buffet stuff is great too (fantastic tikka masala!). I noticed on this last one that I don't slam drinks the way that I used to either, which I'm sure is some combination of age and having a home bar. On our last night, I left dinner with the same drink that I entered with. I'm sure my kidneys appreciate that.

The biggest change over the years though is that we're not trying to do all of the things while onboard. The point is to relax. We used to try to see every show and movies and deck parties and other stuff, but these days, it's just whatever feels right in the moment. Like 80's music trivia, which I understandably would have an unfair advantage in. That's why we had a perfect score and dominated the other 40 or so people in the room. We have the cheap swag to prove it.

The Tesla quality problem

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 11, 2024, 7:50 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I immediately noticed about the new Model Y that Diana is driving (replacing the totaled car) is that the quality of it is generally pretty good. I mean, you'd expect that for any car, but Tesla's quality "journey" hasn't been great. I'm comparing the new car mostly to the other three-year-old Y we have, which is not on the same level.

It's weird, because the first one, the Model S in 2015, was perfect as far as I could tell. When we replaced it with the Model 3, they had been making them for a bit, so it wasn't early in the run, but still fairly new. The only thing that I could really find wrong with it was that the trunk wasn't aligned well, but that was pretty easy to adjust. It had no rattles or squeaks. But the issues with the Model Y are pretty well documented, and they were a problem for quite awhile. When we replaced the totaled Nissan Leaf, I remember a rattle driving the 2021 Model Y home the first day. It tormented me. I'm pretty sure I actually fixed that (it was the seatbelt attachment in the passenger B pillar), but it has since developed other noises, and it's infuriating. The body panel alignment isn't great, and I had them fix the most egregious one, the front quarter where you could see the lines in the crease not line up to the door. The car is so fun to drive, but the noises grate on me. It's why I drive with open windows as much as possible, and/or loud music.

To their credit, the new car seems OK. It does sound like a stray label or something is flapping around sometimes when the AC spins up, but we can probably get that resolved if we can capture it happening. Otherwise, no rattles, no squeaks, the panels seem well aligned, doors and trunk all close smoothly, it's all just as expected. And actually it's better, because they iterate constantly, not just on model year. Diana's car has a better center console, a privacy cover in the trunk, more double-pane windows and noise isolation, better interior materials (and no piano-black), and it even has the bio-weapon defense mode air filter. Cost less, too! Overall, I'd say this car is the least remarkable one we've bought since going electric. There's nothing particularly novel about it and is simply as expected.

For now, Tesla still has some competitive advantages (if you keep in mind that 140,000 other people work at Tesla other than its off-the-rails CEO), but I'm not sure if that lasts. The supercharger network is opening to all cars. And the phone/keycard thing to get in and drive, and no "power' button, it's hard to think of a different way to go. The standard dash cams have helped document the previous accident, and we've submitted footage to law enforcement for other accidents we've witnessed.

But the Hyundai group is making some pretty great, affordable EV's now, and unlike others, they're profitable. All of the German makers are doing great stuff as well. So I can't say what our next car will be, and frankly if we can avoid any new cars for another five or six years, that would be ideal. The others are adopting Tesla's charging standard, so now it's a matter of them picking up the other things that we've gotten used to. Midlife crisis me is really liking the Porsche Macan EV, as well as their too-expensive Taycan.

Wonder versus fear

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 10, 2024, 7:35 PM | comments: 0

You can't go a minute without me pointing out that the American factions at odds these days are not morally equivalent. But deeper than that, I've come to realize that there's a simpler way to look at it.

A portion of the population views the world with wonder and amazement. (Sometimes they get tattoos to remind them of that.) They see science and the universe as fascinating and worthy of awe, and channel that to help others. Another portion lives their lives driven by fear of pretty much everything, but especially people who aren't like them. What they can't describe, they'll create imaginary narratives around.

I'm sure there's nuance, but that feels pretty real to me.

Sleep is the foundation of everything

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 10, 2024, 7:12 PM | comments: 0

I used to pride myself on the fact that I could generally sleep through anything, and I generally slept well. I probably didn't really appreciate this until I started cohabitating with Diana, who does... not. She has her reasons, but if there was one thing that I could count on, it's that I was a good sleeper.

Then the pandemic happened. Well, I think that's part of it. I started a new job at the same time, and it captured an unusual amount of brain cycles for me. The differentiating factor I think was having so many direct reports, I think ten at one point, while also having to do a lot of vision stuff and some architecture. But also, you know, global pandemic. More and more, I'd get up during the night, sit up, maybe walk around, pee since I was up anyway, and it hasn't returned to my previous normal since.

Prior to that, for a year and a half, I had the need to go to an office, and by extension, needed to be in before everyone else. That's also a traffic mitigation tactic. Before that, I had a good rhythm of getting up early enough to do a walk and stuff. In fact, I remember 2014 and 2015 as years that I was particularly active, and at an OK weight, generally feeling good most of the time. Some of it was the newness still of living here, but I generally slept well and everything else was good.

Since then, I've hit another age milestone, but what I appreciate more than ever is that good sleep is the foundation to your well being. Not getting it has a cascading effect on everything else. If you don't sleep well, you don't get up very early. If you don't get up early, you probably don't have time to move around a little. If you don't move around a little, you get flabby and you feel your core in suboptimal ways. That all in turn has psychological consequences that antidepressants can't compensate for. And that mental health situation makes it harder to sleep. It's a vicious cycle.

I think I might be starting to break out of the cycle. My biggest issue is that a combination of brain-won't-turn-off and sometimes restless leg syndrome (that shit is real) keeps me up. It sucks. The brain thing, if I'm careful and put the phone away early, I can at least partially mitigate. The leg thing not so much. I accidentally figured out that I can beat both, when I had a well-timed panic attack. I don't have these that often, but some years ago, my doctor gave me lorazepam to use "as needed." It chills me out, brings my heart rate to a good spot, and it's like getting off of a busy freeway and on to a road with no other cars and nothing to look at. It's also a controlled substance that's particularly addictive, so I don't want that. The 30 pills I've had generally last me a year.

But like everyone else in Florida, I started to wonder if medical marijuana would help, since it's "known" to help with anxiety and insomnia, and that is a permissible reason to prescribe it. (This is a blog post onto itself, for another day.) I've only been using it for about three weeks, not counting the DC trip since you certainly can't leave the state with it. But boy did I feel the RLS after walking 12 miles around the nation's capital. The problem with medicinal weed (edibles, in this case) is that the research is spotty at best, since it's still a Schedule I substance, despite scientific consensus that it's not in the same category as heroin. Hopefully that'll change. I couldn't tell you what it feels like to be "high," because I'm from the "Just say no" generation and adhered to that, but the 5mg of THC I've been taking makes it super easy to go to sleep. Whether or not it works through the night is hit or miss, and I have to experiment with the strain and combination with CBD to figure out what the "right" thing is.

I write about this now because this morning I got up at 7, an hour before my alarm, having gone to sleep around midnight. I felt good, I walked a mile and change on the treadmill for the first time since August, and I felt sharp all day on a day where I really needed to be. I have hope now that I might be headed toward my pre-pandemic status quo.

There's still work to do, and I recognize that "sleep hygiene" is a real thing. It means going to bed at a time where you confidently believe you can get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. It means putting down the phone earlier, because that NYT crossword can totally wait (I don't doomscroll the way I used to). I have to get into these good habits, because I know that it only gets harder as you get older, and I am not young. Sleep is key.

The value of shared experiences

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 9, 2024, 7:28 PM | comments: 0

Yesterday's eclipse was interesting because, at the very least, most everyone in the United States was able to see some portion of it, weather permitting. A subset, including a non-trivial number of people who traveled, got to see it in its totality. Something that cosmic certainly affects people in deep and meaningful ways, and maybe for a few minutes at least, the differences that make us weary of each other seem less important.

Those kinds of moments are not very common. Unfortunately, many of the biggest shared experiences are of the most negative kind. The attacks of 9/11 seem like one of those things, or maybe when the Space Shuttle exploded on launch. Regardless, they're moments that we can recall, and trade stories about what we were doing at the time. I've seen anthropologists talk about how shared experiences are an important way for people to connect and be more integrated with their communities, and also why that doesn't scale very well when the population gets beyond a certain size.

Sometimes, it's the differences in people that bond them together. We've seen this in recent years as marginalized communities, including women in general, have come together to demand fair treatment. Perhaps the weirdest thing to me is the people who feel culturally threatened, but are not at any actual risk, who come together with the common goal of leaning into that irrational fear. That's an entire (loud) movement now.

But there are also small groups of people who do things together that, by extension of that experience, see the greater potential for what they can do with their fellow humans. Artists, who probably already have a more idealized and romantic way of seeing the world, are a great example of this. Find a group of people who made a movie, or live theater, or music, and see how they feel during that process. Can you imagine if the world were led by artists?

Ultimately, it's a universal truth that everyone has their shit to deal with. At my most naive, I would hope that this alone would instill empathy in people in a way that made the world less divisive. As usual, I point out that there is not moral equivalence among all factions. While I can be empathetic toward people who fear some communities of people only because they're not like them, I cannot condone their desire to further marginalize of oppress those communities.

I don't know what kind of large scale shared experience would help, but there aren't many scenarios that I can think of that aren't terrible. I hate that we as a species haven't already evolved beyond this.

We have bad luck with tires

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 8, 2024, 4:33 PM | comments: 0

Prior to moving to Florida, I don't think I ever had to get a tire patched. The second week I lived here, I got a pretty solid nail in a tire on the Prius. It deflated in an Ikea parking lot. Fortunately it had a donut spare, and I learned how much changing a tire in July in Orlando sucks. I found this little indie local repair shop called Clark Tire & Automotive, and they're pretty great. The reason that I know that is I've been back several times.

What makes it annoying though is that a lot of shops won't even put a Tesla on the stand, for reasons I don't completely understand. There are lift points, and you just put some rubber pucks into those and you're good. It's not a huge deal, because I have a jack and a torque wrench, but still. In any case, we had to plug one of the tires on the Leaf, and now I've had two inside of a few months on the Model Y, on opposite corners. Apparently I got lucky twice, because they have foam in the tires, and the nails in both cases were just between the foam and the side wall. A little to either side and they'd have to replace the tire outright. And of course, there was the great crowbar incident of 2023 on the now-defunct Model 3 that did $12k of damage.

So this morning I pulled off the wheel and took it in. All things considered, it at worst required 90 minutes of my time, but it's annoying. Also, I've only got 18k miles in three years, so two punctured tires seems excessive.

The hopeful versus the fearful

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 7, 2024, 11:11 PM | comments: 0

I sometimes ponder the division in this country, the way one might describe the "sides." The thing that I often come back to is that there is a fundamental difference among the divided. One "side" appears to be fearful of, well, anyone not like them, while the other appears to be very fixated on a positive and amazing world with less fear.

The fearful side is pretty obvious. It's the folks that appear to be scared of literally everyone not most like them. It's the usual boogeymen... immigrants, the gays, the trans, the brown and black people, sometimes Jews and usually Muslims. For the hopeful, there's a good chance that these folks are either part of the group already, or obviously people that are in their lives. My birth lottery may be some of the reason that this group of people, despite being a white, straight male, are not people I would fear. They've always been there. They are my friends and chosen family. That I love them as a part of my life is not an exaggeration.

As a hopeful person, again, these folks are an integral part of my life. They make the world better, and I know this first hand. They're my friends and coworkers.

Is one group more morally correct? I'd like to think so. I often go back to the immigrant thing. A part of the population is deeply alarmed at the folks showing up at the border with Mexico, but are those folks really a threat to the way of life to people who fear them? Crime statistics show that they are not more likely to commit crimes than "natives." Labor statistics show they don't "take" jobs from "natives." And worse, statistics show that some of the most vocally opposed to immigrants, legal or not, are well off and in zero position to be affected by any kind of immigration.

The hard thing about this observation, for me, is that I always come back to the observation about who the "good" people are. The super weird thing about it is that "those" folks often self-identify as Christian, and while I do not, I remember enough to know that the rejection of the people not like us, who are need, are exactly the people that Christ insisted we help. It's totally non-ambiguous.

I am definitely in the hopeful camp.

Disregarding all that doesn't really serve you

posted by Jeff | Friday, April 5, 2024, 3:53 PM | comments: 0

Long-time readers know that there was a time when I wrote a lot more about politics. I still do drive-by comments in response to news articles (that I actually read) on Facebook, but that's the extent of it. I still believe that there is right and wrong, and the political "sides" are not morally equivalent, and one is particularly dangerous to democracy. But I don't write about it because I'm not going to change any minds. My approach was dumb anyway, the idea that you could shame someone into reality with facts and figures, and well-formed arguments. Obviously, a non-trivial portion of Americans live in a decidedly non-real world, devoid of science and critical thinking, replaced by fear of everyone different and ludicrous conspiracies.

For as much as I still have a lot of anxiety about how things are going, especially with a teenager, I'm more selective about where I put my energy. The other day, Simon told me something about some situation or sentiment around some third party (not him), and it was something that I would not even consider engaging with. So I started looking under and behind things, and Simon asked what I was doing. I told him, I'm looking for the fucks I should give. He thought it was hilarious.

It's a very midlife thing to say, but we do indeed have a limited number of fucks to give. As a citizen of the planet, it is noble to want to leave the place better than you found it. And to find the balance, you have to accept that some things you can be concerned about but have limited ability to change. I'm fortunate enough that I can donate to causes ranging from civil rights to the arts to medical research, even though I can't write legislation, produce a musical or cure cancer. Hopefully I help move some needles though. There are more immediate concerns I have to pay attention to, like parenting and my day job.

There are pretty easy things to let go of though. Randos on the Internet are easy enough to ignore. Toxic relationships you can walk away from (if only college-age-me knew this). Day to day things you can't control, like your car getting totaled, it sucks, but better to move on.

I should mention that I fully appreciate that part of my ability to choose what to put energy into is because of my win in the birth lottery. Some people have it harder than others, for a great many reasons. You don't have to try and be their saviors, but I think it's important to be a voice for anyone struggling, especially if their voices are drowned out by hate and bigotry. We have to do better, and it's low cost to speak up for others.

I used to be angry, a lot, about all kinds of things. I learned in therapy that this might be because of my inability to blend in during my teen years, while as a capable adult, I'm always trying to compensate by exercising advocacy for others, as if they now are me then. Yikes. I still get triggered by bullies, as it turns out. These days, I feel like my head is at capacity, and there's less room for the anger and non-specific resentment. It's probably why I lean into making stuff, listening to music obsessively, and hopefully setting up good times for me and my family.

We're at 15 years married

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 4, 2024, 2:23 PM | comments: 0

One of the better things about getting older is the opportunity for new adventures. You'd think that being with someone for a long time would breed some kind of routine, but the story of me and Diana has been one of constant evolution. Different jobs, changing hobbies, new travel destinations, and of course, a constantly growing child. But Team Puzzoni as a concept has been a constant.

I don't know how to account for 15 years, or explain exactly why it works. But despite my, uh, "quirks," we manage to be a good team. We can be independent and we can do things together. We can hand-off stuff to each other. We often take up certain responsibilities organically, and when we don't, we usually talk about it and make it happen. It's easy. I mostly credit Diana with the reason for the ease. Her ability to adapt and roll with pretty much anything is extraordinary, from parenting to partnering.

I love this woman for a hundred reasons, and few days go by where I'm not impressed by her in one way or another. I might like to brag a little. We're starting to think about what our third act looks like, and even though there are no clear pictures (we've got time), I'm certain that it's going to be awesome. Because when it involves a strong and incredible woman, it's easy.

Can't get back into maker mode

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 2, 2024, 9:58 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I were comparing notes about how we are both struggling to get into a mode of making stuff. We want to be passively (TV) or semi-passively (video games) entertained. As I've said before, it's pretty normal to go in waves, but I feel like I've been out of the water completely. I had a brief charge when I did my Code Camp talk prep, then went back to almost nothing.

I shot my first stuff for the now-short film doc a year ago, and it's not edited. I hate that feeling, because I'm not super charged to do it, like it's an obligation. I certainly haven't shot any new video of anything in ages. I haven't been real motivated to write code either, despite two or three projects I want to revisit. I think I have a block that I need to get into the lighting stuff, but waiting on that gear.

Diana hasn't been in her sewing studio much, though in her defense, she just came off of a pretty serious few months of work schedules, and she puts a lot of time in with the cat shelter.

That's the problem with art and making stuff... it happens when inspiration strikes. It's hard to force it. I don't know how people who are artists for a living do it, although it's telling that they can be miserable at times.

My lighting endeavor has been delayed

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 29, 2024, 9:48 PM | comments: 0

I got the word this week that the lighting console that I hoped was going to ship by the end of this month has been delayed until to May. Mind you, I've been waiting six months as it is. It's a bummer.

But also, what kind of business can get away with that? It's already been nine months. Obviously, a business that's part of a duopoly for lighting control. ETC, apparently isn't much better. As I've written before, ETC, is more dominant in the theater space, while MA Lighting, which I'm waiting for, is more dominant overall, but especially for concert lighting, which I'm most interested in. Also, because that's what Disney is using in most of their venues here, and on the ships.

The thing that I'm struggling with is that it's really hard to even program for visualizers without the physical control surface. I know that pros do it, on a laptop, but it's awkward at best. I've tried. If the "performance" is more than pushing "go go go," it's not the same.

I'm frustrated with this. Especially since I started to explore the software aspect of it. The algorithms to "animate" lighting are not complex or hard to implement. The challenge is more about how to do the user experience. I don't know if MA or ETC really have it "right."

Two decades ago I would have naively tried to challenge the scene. Today, probably not.

The promise of the next thing against the moment

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 29, 2024, 9:39 PM | comments: 0

I heard a song today that reminded me very much of our time in Seattle. The general feelings associated with that time were of some anxiety, unfamiliarity, but mostly of promise for a future that I couldn't define. That was electrifying, and frankly something I deeply needed after three and a half decades in Cleveland. The idea of what might be, is energizing. I felt a lot of that same feeling here when we moved to Orange County.

Almost eleven years have passed since that move. I still get those feelings when I look at certain aspects of my life, but the thing that's different now is the influence of time. It seems like, once you hit 50, time mostly is the thing that's trying to kill you. The future may offer a great many positive possibilities, but it also moves you closer to your demise. I think to a lot of folks, that feels dark, but on the scale of accepting the ephemeral nature of your being, I'm somewhere slightly closer to acceptance relative to my peers. Probably not as far as I'd like to be. 🙂

Time is a bitch. I'm likely somewhere between 50% and 75% in my life meter. The biggest consequence of this is that I'm a lot more particular about where to distribute my remaining fucks. If I'm being honest, the only ones that weigh heavy are the around the outcomes of my son's life, and how much I can influence them. And I realize that the scope of that influence decreases every single day. Stuff that occurs at work, or whatever else affects my daily life, ranks way lower.

Prioritization is an evolving endeavour.

School testing is going to ruin my kid

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 28, 2024, 8:23 PM | comments: 0

Simon has the state writing test next week, and it's gonna be bad. They're at the point now that they expect substantial free form writing, and he... won't produce what they're looking for. It's complicated.

We do a writing drill regularly, where we ask him to write a few sentences about stuff, whatever topic Diana comes up with. This seems like a good idea, because it allows him to write without it being a real academic pressure situation. Unfortunately, it creates just as much anxiety, angst and dread as a school assignment. He can't start. When he makes a mistake, he flips out. It's not where he should be in 8th grade, so what's going on?

First off, he's not illiterate. He can read fine, and even seemed to enjoy a recent book he had to read for school. He stayed up late one night on his own accord and read a bunch of chapters, and could verbally tell you what it was about, more or less. He can also tell you all kinds of things about things that he's interested in, able to recall the most minor of details. He notices the most insignificant things about theme park attractions, but he's the opposite of detail oriented for anything he doesn't care about, like folding laundry.

But writing is an entirely different problem, and I don't know how to solve it. I couldn't even help him with recent stuff around parts of speech, because I didn't get it in school either. Writing, and structure for writing, has always come naturally to me. I can't explain how it works, I just "know." Even then, you'd think that if he can verbally tell you something, why can't he write it? We don't have an answer for this question. My interactions with him deteriorate quickly, and I am non-helpful, because I can't not react emotionally with frustration.

He hasn't been formally diagnosed with dysgraphia, but he exhibits all of the markers for it. We're going to ask if the school district can evaluate him for that, and if not, we'll go the private route. I don't know what else to do other than throw money at experts at this point. Homework is stressful for everyone, and I hate it. He needs to be able to write to enjoy a decent quality of life, and that's where my head goes to. My frustration is out of fear for his future.

For a kid who has probably more than his share of self-esteem issues, going into that test unable to get any significant traction is going to be bad. We're already anticipating a meltdown. It's not going to be a good week.

Jagged Little Pill (it feels so good)

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 26, 2024, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

I can get pretty obsessed with any music, and listen to it a lot. I don't know if that's an autism thing or not, but Simon does it too, though I assume it might be a teenager thing. Regardless, it seems like there's at least one musical per year that I get really hooked on. I didn't expect that this year it might be Jagged Little Pill, but here we are.

Most jukebox shows are, at best, serviceable as a few hours of light entertainment, and I don't look forward to most of them. Beautiful was better than most. TinaAin't Too Proud and others I've already forgotten were terrible to meh. So I imagine that there are one of two things happening here. Either, one, my Gen-X'er nostalgia for Alanis Morissette and the era of alt-rock that wasn't confined to a box is very strong and blinds me to what might be shitty, or, two, they generally did a great job of putting these songs into the context of an interesting story. I want to believe it's the latter, but I can't see over my own bias.

We first saw it on Wednesday, on our usual subscription day in the usual seats. By intermission, I already knew it was a winner. In fact, we stayed after for the cast chat-back, something we haven't done since Come From Away came through many years ago. The cast is very strong (and very young, aside from the actors playing the parents). The adjustments made to the songs make them seem like they always belonged there, as if they were written contextually for the show. And surprisingly, the charmingly weird phrasing and word usage of Alanis doesn't sound weird when other people sing it. Heck, with the chorus harmonies and what not, it might even be better.

There are a few different plot lines centered around several characters, the biggest of which is the "Mary Jane," the mother, and her addiction. They hit plenty of other light hearted topics like racial and sexual identity, rape and over-work. Despite the gravity of the subject matter, it's all tied together pretty well with a satisfying ending.

At first glance, the choreography seems a little spastic, maybe too modern, but it balances out pretty quickly. In fact, it works out to a brilliant staging of "Uninvited," which was already one of my favorite songs (favorite ever, I mean). It's used to show the push and pull against addiction at the lowest point, and it's really effective. The minor lyric changes make it seem like it was always about addiction, even though it was originally for the City of Angels soundtrack. It's so good.

I liked it so much I went back for the Sunday matinee. Diana was working it, so I was solo, but it was totally worth it. Unfortunately, the tour is almost over, so it's hard to say when or if there will be more opportunities to see it.

On governing and government

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 22, 2024, 8:40 PM | comments: 0

Our trip last week to Washington D.C. was surprising to me in that it was bigger to me than just a tourist adventure. The United States is not "old" in the way that much of the rest of the world is. We saw things in Europe that were certainly older than anything in Washington, but the sheer volume of history concentrated in one place is staggering.

On arrival, just walking around was kind of overwhelming. Mind you, there's not really a thing in Washington that I haven't seen in photos, but from the moment I stepped on to the mall, with the Capitol at one end, and Washington Monument at the other, I immediately felt the weight of the things that happened there. Shortly thereafter, I was on the steps of the Capitol, where I couldn't help but contrast the peace of the moment and the knowledge about what happened there a few years earlier.

Less than 24 hours in D.C., my family and I toured the White House. The tour takes you through the east wing, and covers the entire second floor, from the East Room to the State Dining Room, and everything in between. The portraits of previous president line the foyer, and Washington and Lincoln still hold prominent places. I stood in the place where Obama gave his speech announcing the killing of bin Laden. I stood in the Blue Room, which held countless White House Christmas trees. Heads of state from throughout history dined with presidents in the State Dining Room. Literally every important guest entered through that foyer over the last two centuries. There probably aren't many places with that concentration of history.

The United States presidency is a serious job. The US History Museum has an exhibit about presidents, subtitling it "A Glorious Burden." The decisions a president makes could, in theory, literally lead to the end of humanity. Their words matter, because a person in that position is a figure head and symbol charged with operating our democracy.

It doesn't end there. Congress makes laws that can affect 330 million people, or potentially billions. It can authorize war, it can decide to feed the hungry, it can reduce the cost of healthcare. Its impact on the American way of life is non-trivial. It is serious. It is important.

For years now, I've been watching headlines and seeing a big box of crazy say things that enable the worst inclinations of Americans. A subset of the population is deeply afraid of something that isn't actually a threat. They may have legitimate worry, but they've also been convinced that there are scapegoats with which to assign blame. They're the people not like them. And they've given unconditional trust to people that they think will help them or "defend" them. The reality is that they actually are not looking out for their interests, which I also can't explain.

There are people in office or running for office that are not looking out for democracy, or the Constitution, they're only looking for power and influence. I know that the truly disenfranchised, and those who see moral equivalence in politics, believe that it's all the same. It is not. I think back about how much I disapproved of the policy of George W. Bush, around the Iraq War. He owned up to that mistake, if subtly, but I truly believe that he had the best interest of the nation in mind. He might have been wrong, but what I truly believe is that he was, at heart, a public servant. He worked for the United States, for public service. I believe this to be true of every president in my lifetime (though I'm uncertain of Nixon, because I was too young).

The Trump movement is not that. It isn't OK to say that you're willing to be a dictator, to "suspend" the Constitution. That is not democracy. It is not public service. It is fundamentally contrary to the founding documents, to the intent of the founders. It is contrary to the Constitution. It's not an ambiguous proposition.

When I was younger, Reagan famously said, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." His intent was to sow mistrust, to suggest that government was the enemy. This is insane. As someone who spent years working in local government, I can assure you that government, led by the trustworthy and selfless, is valuable. Those who want to lead it because they believe they can protect your from it are not the right people.

I don't know what to do with this.

Spring break in Washington D.C.

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 21, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

People are fond of talking about visiting Washington D.C. on a an eighth grade trip, but going to an inner city school at the time, that wasn't a thing for me. I've driven around it a few times (Atlantic coast roller coaster trips when I was into that). We've talked about it as an educational opportunity, and with Simon studying American history this year, it seemed like as good a time as any. We've got friends who live in the area too, including Ken, who lives in the middle of it all.

We played pretty fast and loose with planning. I booked the flights, and found a hotel about half way between the Capitol and the White House. The Riggs used to be a bank. It's pretty obvious when you step inside, and they fashioned the front desk to still look like teller windows. There's a bar in the basement (which was unfortunately being renovated) in what used to be the vault, and they still have the massive door there. Overall, service was pretty great when we needed it, it was super clean and comfortable, and a solid home base for the four nights. It's a little expensive, but so is everything in D.C., and you can't beat the location.

Ken met us at the airport, because he just happened to be coming in for a work trip an hour before us. What was great about this is he had a few Metro cards for us, and I never so much as looked up a map. We just got on the train with him, since we were going almost the same place. Fortunately, the room was ready when we arrived at 1, so we were able to drop our junk and get some lunch across the street at a Shake Shack. It's not particularly economical, but we went more than once because Simon is picky about food.

After lunch, we went out to the mall just to take it in. Being about three blocks from it was perfect. Since we were there, we headed over to Air & Space, which we quickly learned required a "ticketed" time, since it was half-closed for renovation, but still popular. The Smithsonian museums are all free, but this one, along with the African American Museum, require specific entry times. That's really the worst wing-it mistake we made, but also not a big deal because there's so much to do.

We did a quick loop through the Natural History museum, and if you've been in one with a decent collection, honestly, they don't differentiate themselves much. It was so busy. After that, we met up with Ken and his lady friend and walked down to the Capitol, and just kind of hung out there for a bit. Simon was starting to get hangry, but unfortunately would not agree to eat at any of the places on Pennsylvania Ave. The youngest among us was tired of walking. So we went back to our hotel, got Simon more Shake Shack, and the rest of us went further down E to The Hamilton, where the food was solid, and the drinks were even better. We ended the night checking out Ken's place and a laser show.

Saturday was planned entirely around our scheduled White House visit. Going there is a whole thing, which starts with filling out a form from your representative well in advance. I guess there's some kind of random drawing, but if picked, they send you an email asking you to submit all of the details for your party, presumably to do a background check. We got all of that and had a noon time to arrive. When you get there, they verify your identity twice, which seemed a little weird. Then you walked between a fan and a dog, and finally through a magnetometer while they X-rayed the smallest of allowable items. From there, you follow the fence to the east gate, and enter through the east wing.

There's a White House experience app that walks you through all of the places you'll go, so check that out if you're interested. You cross the east wing through the colonnade, passing the movie theater, and you can peak in the China Room, library and Vermeil Room. From there, you go up the stairs and into the East Room. That's where it got interesting, because you more or less do a loop all the way around the second floor. From the East Room, you go through the Green, Blue and Red Rooms, then the State Dining Room. At this point, you turn back toward the Cross Hall and Foyer. It kind of makes you realize how relatively small the building is. The upper floor is the residence, with the various historic bedrooms, but you obviously don't get to go up there. They don't send you through the West Wing either, but that kind of makes sense since that's where people are actively working. The parts you go through are pretty extraordinary though, as they roll up the carpet and create lanes for you to walk through. The age and history behind much of the art is just staggering. My understanding is that the furniture is from a pool that presidents can choose from, so while much of it is quite old, the sets in the rooms vary from one president to the next.

But to stand there in those rooms, knowing all of the figures of history that stood in those same spots... I found it very moving. But it's also a reminder of the serious job that the presidency is, something that seems to be lost in the current political climate. That's a subject for another post.

We followed our White House visit with a stop for lunch at The Hamilton, then worked our way down to the Washington Monument to meet up with a friend that Diana used to work with in Orlando. Eventually we headed back up to a Walgreens for snacks, then back to the hotel to rest a bit. That night, we planed to walk around the basin to the monuments.

The cherry blossoms hit a little early because of a warm spell of weather, so that was lucky. The walk around the basin was surprisingly dark, with the first stop being the Jefferson Memorial. It's such a crazy structure. The quotes on the inside are inspiring, and again, remind you of the gravity of the position. We also hit a snag here, when Simon thought he lost his earbuds (they were in his other pocket), resulting in an almost-meltdown. I drifted between sympathetic protector to stern disciplinarian in those moments, but it was ultimately a false alarm. Unfortunately, his demeanor changed from there on, and he insisted that he wanted to go back to the hotel. Being half-way around, it didn't matter really.

The FDR Memorial felt like a random series of water features, but shortly thereafter we reached the MLK Jr. Memorial, which I thought was extraordinary. It's modern but still timeless. And his quotes are both inspiring, and a stark reminder of how far we have yet to go.

Next was the Lincoln Memorial, which has all kinds of construction and restoration going on around it. He's another extraordinary figure in history, and arguably one of the most critical in making sure the US stayed a country. From there we walked around the WWII Memorial, and eventually back to the hotel. We walked almost 12 miles that day, and we were all feeling it.

Sunday, we got out of bed pretty late. We intended to go to the American History Museum, and maybe Air & Space at 3 if we were up to it (we had a reservation), but we weren't. The main priority in American History was their new-ish exhibit about the influence of popular entertainment, and it's really, really good. They have the ruby slippers, some Muppets, and even Lin-Manuel's Hamilton costume. We also went through their first lady and president exhibits, the latter of which includes the top hat that Lincoln was wearing when he was shot. There was a food exhibit with Julia Child's kitchen. We were ready to pack it in, when Simon noticed the trains in the transportation wing, so we were there a little longer. I was just happy that he found something interesting to him.

Knowing we pushed him the day before, we were content to let Simon just hang out and watch videos or whatever the rest of the night. Meanwhile, we met Ken at a pub and racked up a fairly large bar tab on St. Patrick's Day. The weird thing is that it wasn't really busy, and much of the city was like that. Ken explained that was pretty typical, the ebb and flow of crowds and tourists. It's also influenced by fed workers who tend to be remote on Monday and Friday.

On our last full day, our only intentional stop was the International Spy Museum, which is far from free, but easily the second-best thing we saw after the White House. The collection and exhibit design is exceptional. The upper floor is mostly about technology and historic profiles, while the next one down is more about history, including intelligence failures like 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, war spying, interrogation, Germany as the wall came down, terrorism, etc. All of it is really well done, including a big multi-surface video piece that talks about Washington's role as the first president and commissioner of American spies. Chris Jackson ("George Washington" in Hamilton) hosts it. People were bypassing it, and they missed out. The museum also had a temporary exhibit of James Bond vehicles from the various movies. We spent four hours there, more than any other place, and we could have stayed longer.

We had to pass the US Archives on our way back, so at 5, we figured we'd roll up to the place and see if we could get a quick look at the founding documents. Sure enough, there was no line, and we walked right in. The Constitution is in decent condition, but the Declaration of Independence is faded to the point of it being illegible. The Bill of Rights isn't much better. But they're there, the real thing, and again it's inspiring to think about what those folks were getting themselves into at the time.

We dropped another $60 at Shake Shack, this time actually getting milk shakes, despite it being like 43 degrees. The Smithsonian museums might be free, but it's expensive to eat and drink in the district. At this point, we had walked about 30 miles over four days, and we were pretty spent. We saw a lot of stuff. Diana and I met Ken for one more drink, and were in bed by 9, if not actually sleeping. Fortunately, check-out time wasn't until noon.

It was a very busy vacation, but totally worth it. We definitely want to go back, eventually. The comfortable, centrally located hotel made a huge difference. I left with a lot of thoughts about government and history, and I'll write about those eventually. I'm so glad we did this.

At the Capitol

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 15, 2024, 11:07 PM | comments: 0

The relative peace at the Capitol seems strange considering what happened a few years ago. That it happened at all is shocking, but what is deeply concerning is the number of people who think it was no big deal, or worse, justified. Sometimes I don't recognize a country where some folks think having a dictator would be fine. Change happens slowly, and we get it wrong (a lot), but we're nothing without democracy, and the foundation established by the Constitution.

Long exhale

posted by Jeff | Thursday, March 14, 2024, 7:45 PM | comments: 0

Spring break is here. While I'm sure Simon is breathing a sigh of relief, I am right there with him. I didn't really detach from work until about 7, which I don't like to do, but things are challenging and I wanted to set people up for success.

And so I'm sitting here, as if letting out a very, very long breath that I feel like I've been holding for months. I do this every single spring, it seems. I go three months between significant time off, but I never make it a point to unplug in between. And I wonder why I'm battling anxiety.

But I left things in a pretty good place, or at least, good enough to feel able to disengage. It feels great. I still have a little travel anxiety, because it never feels quite right until you're where you want to go, but everything is more or less headed in the right direction.


Mini-review: Asus Zenbook Duo (2024)

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 11, 2024, 7:46 PM | comments: 0

I bought the 16" M2 MacBook Pro about a year ago, and it has been fantastic. As I said, Apple got back to making excellent hardware. I've enjoyed writing code on it, as it really has no compromises. To that end, I was not in the market for another laptop, a second one, but I was looking for a solution to my lighting console problem. The short version is that the console I'm going to acquire lacks its own computer or screens (and therefore does not cost $80k!), so I was looking for a practical solution. My first thought was to get one of those little NUC machines and some big touch screens. Then Dave 2D previewed this new Asus, and it was like it was made specifically for this problem. A laptop with two screens is far more portable and easy to roll with, and I could add another external screen, too. This one is not intended to replace the MacBook, but I inevitably have to compare the two.

This machine will be the brain of the lighting rig, but it's also an opportunity for some light gaming, as my only Windows computer. With 14" screens, it also feels less cumbersome to carry about. It comes in two versions, with the base at $1,500, including a Core Ultra 7, 16 GB of RAM, 1TB of storage and 1920x1200 OLED screens. What's crazy is that for only $200 more, you get twice the RAM, 2880x1800 screens and a faster Ultra 9 CPU. I say crazy because $200 wouldn't even double the RAM in my MBP. What I'm struck by is the quality of these OLED screens, and why Apple still isn't using them. Battery life is around 8 hours for normal browser-based stuff, maybe more, and I imagine it would be about the same for dev work (with one screen, anyway). The keyboard you'd think would be squishy given its ability to separate, but it's considerably better than the one on my previous Surface Laptop and the HP that I had before that.

The two-screen trick is not something that I've used that often, but when I have, it's a seamless process. You pull the keyboard off, prop up the computer on the kickstand, and that's it. I set up the computer with an external ViewSonic screen, and found it ran the lighting software perfectly across the three screens. I've used it a few times with multiple browsers open on the two screens. It's odd to have them over each other instead of side by side, but I think that's just muscle memory.

I can't understand why someone didn't think of this design sooner. The 2-in-1 convertible tablets and all of that are fine, and Surface Pro definitely fills a certain niche, but this thing is just silly practical.