Archive: September, 2021

Lab results, meh

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 30, 2021, 6:09 PM | comments: 0

My labs came back with my thyroid hormone levels unchanged, and my cholesterol and triglycerides insignificantly lower. In other words, the levothyroxine isn't doing it at the current dosage, so the doctor is doubling it. She is also not content to wait and see what happens with cholesterol, and is putting me on Crestor.

Here's the thing that I'm struggling with. Neither of these situations is really my fault, which is to say that behavior didn't get me here. I could certainly exercise more, but even talking through my eating habits I'm not doing that poorly. I rarely drink soda and haven't had red meat in over 16 years. But I still feel like I'm at fault for something, or just feel shitty that my body is in some way defective.

The funny thing is that hypothyroidism can cause depression and fatigue, so that may be part of the reason I feel shitty. It tends to drive high cholesterol too. Hopefully the higher dosage will get some results.

The dark cloud of health concerns

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 28, 2021, 8:26 PM | comments: 0

For the most part, I can really say that things are objectively going my way lately. Parenting is challenging as always, but work is the best it has been in a long time, I don't have any major financial concerns, I've got the best partner ever and I can watch fireworks every night. It should be mostly fun to be me.

The truth is that the hypothyroidism diagnosis really fucked with me. I'm a person who has never so much as needed glasses, and I can't tell you the last time I needed a prescription for anything other than the very infrequent lorazepam I've taken. Heck, getting the Covid vaccine kind of made me feel invincible. I have a follow-up in a few days to see what impact the levothyroxine is having on me, and my suspicion is that it may depend. At first I felt uneven, with wild swings between fatigue and energy, and now that it has leveled out, I'm mostly just hungry all of the time, and my resulting behavior has negated the weight loss I initially had.

But the bigger stress is that I have a colonoscopy and endoscopy coming up in late October. The guidance has changed about when to start doing colonoscopies to age 45, so my doctor felt it was a good idea. The GI says that my history of IBS is not reason to expect something terrible going on in there, but that's not comforting. My doctor ordered the endoscopy because I've had an issue now for about six years, every three to four months, where I have difficulty swallowing. When food gets stuck, sometimes I have to force it back up. A part of me believes that if whatever that is hasn't killed me yet, I shouldn't worry. I've also recently wondered if it was related to a food allergy, since the last two times it happened was with specific food I had. I just don't know.

There are two realities I haven't warmed up to. The first is that if there's a problem, it's there regardless of doing these procedures. The second is that most things they find are not things likely to kill you. I mean, that's the point of colonoscopies in the first place, because even if they find cancer, it's early enough to treat it efficiently.

I suppose this is partially a normal thing for people entering middle age to think about. I'll feel better after the scoping.

Fading Facebook

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 26, 2021, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

I first saw Facebook in 2005, when it was only open to college students. There were a lot of college students in my social orbit (all of them coaster nerds, natch), and I thought, wow, this is a cool way to keep up with your friends. In September, 2006, it opened to everyone, and I signed up the first day. It took a couple of years, but my Gen-X friends and coworkers eventually got there. That was the beginning of the end of blogs and AOL Instant Messenger.

If you don't remember, Facebook was pretty simple back then. It had a feed of posts made by people that you were friends with, ranging from drive-by status updates to photos from some earlier event. There was no iPhone yet, so real-time attention whoring and over-sharing was still years away. Facebook didn't have groups or brands, it was just people that you knew. As someone with a very distributed social circle, the result of college, many jobs, moves, and hosting an original "social network" since 2000, Facebook was extremely useful.

You know how things changed in the intervening years, of course. The first serious problem was when they prioritized the algorithmic feed over your friends. When Facebook put engagement over your social circle, that was the beginning of the end. To say that it has played a role in fucking up our country is an understatement.

I've continued to use it largely as a journal. Few friends are still using it in a meaningful way. The export function could ultimately be useful to me as that journaling function. Still, mostly I've hung on this long to keep connected to others, but now that has largely been diminished. Then this week, their usual piss-poor quality practices made it even less useful. It stopped notifying you of replies and responses to your posts. Without those, there is no conversation. I've never used it for real-time notification (I limit that to text messages and personal email), but now there's nothing there beyond likes, which are not interesting to me. They're not even notifying you of birthdays anymore.

Maybe I need to follow through with making my own social network, even if I end up being the only one using it. At this rate, that's where Facebook will be in the grand scheme of things anyway.

Let's talk about Inspiration4

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 26, 2021, 5:11 PM | comments: 0

The launch and return of the Inspiration4 mission very much lived up to its name. Four civilian, non-professional astronauts spent about three days in orbit. Unlike the sub-orbital flights by Branson and Bezos, this crew went well beyond the orbit of the ISS and stayed there for a few days. Only one of them was a billionaire, and he chose to use the opportunity to select others who represented hope, generosity and prosperity. All of it was used to raise over $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The Virgin and Blue Origin stories attracted a lot of attention for not great reasons, mostly for billionaires being billionaires. Let me be clear that anything that advances the eventual democratization of space travel using reusable spacecraft is a good thing. It has to start somewhere. I think it's also true that we need a backup plan, because humanity clearly can't be trusted with its own survival on just one planet. But those first two flights were stunts that brough people to the edge of space, who promptly held press conferences. The Inspiration4 mission didn't involve the company CEO, and SpaceX is already pretty good at ferrying things to and from space.

The tourists definitely took a lot of pictures, and they did some light scientific research. Apparently they will open source whatever data comes from that. I think that in many ways, one of the lasting artifacts of the mission will be the documentary (on Netflix), which through the first four episodes has been completely excellent (and OMG who is picking the music, because it's amazing). Certainly the money raised will also have meaningful impact.

One of the more critical things that I've seen is something that dates back to the Apollo days: People ask why "we" spend time and energy on space when we have so many problems on the ground. I'm still surprised by this response because I think the answers are obvious. For one thing, we as a species and society are capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Space exploration has never come at the expense of something else, and it's not a zero-sum arrangement. Certainly we can ask questions about what our priorities are. I strongly believe there are not good reasons to accept that poverty exists, but it's a choice we make.

More importantly though, I think space travel does in fact serve as inspiration for what's possible. I totally get how easy it is to become cynical, that we're doomed to make the same mistakes over and over and never truly get better at being human. The last year and a half have made that view worse. But people leaving the planet, potentially going to another one entirely, that's the stuff of dreams. If we can achieve that, what else are we capable of? Seeing extraordinary achievement inspires us. Now wrap that up in the context of what it means to be in space, how vast it is, how relatively small, and temporary, people are. While some may feel this makes life pointless, I can't think of a greater motivator to make it count.

Travel aspirations

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 24, 2021, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

The last time I was outside of the state of Florida was the first week of January, 2020. That's the longest at any point in my entire life I'm sure that I haven't left the state that I'm in. (Even though the state of me is always changing... see what I did there?) In January we rented a VRBO on the Atlantic side, right on the beach, which was amazing, if a little isolated. The pandemic ramp has gone a lot slower than I expected, even following the science as best we can. Once Diana and I were fully vaccinated in April, we started to go out more locally, to local restaurants, and of course theme parks. With Simon still ineligible, we've tried to stick to outdoor stuff, so the parks have been workable for that. In July we even did a couple of nights in a Disney hotel, to enjoy the pools (and poolside bar), along with the Skyliner. But we still haven't really gone anywhere.

We're already booked for the inaugural sailing of the Disney Wish in June, so we'll leave the country at least for that one. Excited for the new ship, but also generally excited to restart what I call "lazy travel." The short cruises that we've done are gloriously brainless trips that require almost no effort on our part. We drive an hour to the port, people bring us food, we don't have to worry about feeding or entertaining Simon, and the views are pretty awesome in between the ocean rocking us to sleep. No Internet. That's our happy place.

But we had planned more serious adventure travel prior to things shutting down. Last year we were planning to cruise to Alaska again without Simon, bookended by some Vancouver time while he attended "cousin camp" in Seattle. It would have been our longest vacation without child to date and we would have been unconstrained. Like, we could've done the adult-only train trip into Yukon, or hung out with Canadians in downtown Vancouver. Still pretty bitter about not getting to do that.

This year we planned to go to Europe. I'm not sure what that specifically was going to be, but I hate that I still haven't been there. That may have involved a cruise as well, so we could do some country sampling in preparation for return visits to extended stays in one or more of those nations (Iceland, Norway, Russia, etc., the northern routes). It may have involved some circulating around the English countryside as well, so Diana could show me where she spent a semester of college.

I also would like to return to Hawaii, and since I'm on that side of the world, maybe see New Zealand.

I honestly don't know how much of this is realistic when factoring in Simon, but I'm definitely ready to go. His passport renewal is even in-process. At work, they normally make us use all of our time off, but again this year, with the pandemic lingering, I can carry over another week, which I am absolutely doing. Team Puzzoni needs to get out of Flori-duh.

Hang in there, phone

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 23, 2021, 9:07 PM | comments: 0

My current phone is a Pixel 4 that I bought in October, 2019, replacing a Pixel 2 that I had for the two years prior. Google made some weird choices with the 4, starting with facial recognition to unlock it instead of a fingerprint reader, which was less than ideal when we started wearing masks five months later. It also had some kind of radar thing so you could wave your hand over it to snooze the alarm or advance music tracks. The big sell was the advances in computational photography facilitated by a custom processor, which were back-ported to the other models relying on the stock CPU. In other words, it wasn't a great upgrade and I should have waited another year. My battery life wasn't great though, so I'm not sure if I could have waited.

In January, when we rented a beach house for a week, I baked the phone in the pocket of my swim shorts sitting in the hot tub for a half-hour. Battery life has been questionable ever since. Then recently, the inductive charging has only been working intermittently. Worse, it appears that the NFC radio has died completely, because I can't use the phone to pay for stuff at all. I didn't realize how much I relied on that. I can't get through a day without charging a little, which is not great considering I work from home.

In about a month, Google will introduce the Pixel 6 in at least two sizes, and I plan to buy one. I'm #teampixel because I firmly believe that they have the best photo science, without question. The design has historically been "meh" according to critics, but I don't know what you're supposed to do that's interesting with something that shape that you're going to put in a case anyway. The Pixel phones have always had a very clean version of Android, too, sans the crap that other vendors add. I'm very happy with Android, and it's easy to sideload my own apps, and it uses bona fide Chrome for a browser, so web apps work the way they should, even with the phone off.

I think Apple has some nice phones this year with better price-feature ratios, finally, but they're still a little pricey. I'm not crazy about where iOS has gone though, with some weird home screen management, and a settings app that is a nightmare to navigate. I'm also endlessly annoyed with Apple crippling web apps in Safari. That frustrates me more than anything. So I'm not likely to return to iPhone any time soon.

At the end of last year we finally upgraded Diana's aging Pixel 2 to a Pixel 4a with 5G, and it was only $350. Considering it has the same camera abilities as my 4, at less than half the cost, that was a steal. Its replacement, the 5a, is widely regarded as the best Android phone right now at only $450, provided you can live without inductive charging. I might have bought one if it weren't for that, but I really like that convenience.

But for all of my complaining about pricing, I suspect the 6 is going to be expensive, and I'll end up paying whatever they ask for because I'm a schmuck. It will be twice as expensive as Diana's phone, but not twice as good. Not only that, but I'll probably buy the big one, not because I like big phones, but because my eyes get tired at night and I just can't roll. (This is still weird to me, that the same phone in the morning I can see fine, but can't have it too close to me at night.)

So hang in there, old phone that I can't use to pay for stuff. You've got a month to go.

Keeping up the front-end

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 23, 2021, 12:14 AM | comments: 0

I've mostly avoided adopting front-end app frameworks in POP Forums, which is good because there's no way I could have kept up with all of the false starts and changes. There was Knockout, then Angular, then Angular again, then React, then Vue... and none of it made sense for a text-heavy app like this anyway. But the style framework, and even the basic front-end scripts I have I do want to keep current, and that means ditching jQuery, as not even Bootstrap (the CSS base I'm using) needs it. I was hesitant to even put the work item in my backlog, because it felt like a lot of work.

Tonight I mostly got there, with the exception of the wire-up for post previews (because it needs the new Bootstrap). Javascript basically can do all the things now that jQuery did. I'm not even sure if I need the polyfills anymore, because I don't care about supporting aging technology, and my stats show almost no one is using it. It's a bit more verbose in syntax, but I'm happy to have one less dependency.

I do actually use Vue in the admin, and I'm a version behind there, but it looks straight forward to update. I use it in a very minimal way, and out of one file. In fact, I've mostly avoided all of the messy front-end building and npm dependency messes. The forum script is only 5k compressed. I've never even bothered to rewrite stuff into TypeScript, because I wouldn't really win anything for doing so.

I find this sort of work tedious, but since I'm not doing it for salary, it's not too bad. All things considered this, refactoring has been going fast enough.

Tattoo two

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 20, 2021, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

It was just two and a half months ago that I made good on finally getting a tattoo, and as I said then, it was really just half of what I wanted to do. I'm not getting any younger, and I am a grownup, so why wait?

The idea here actually evolved quite a bit over the last 10 years. We were still in Seattle, and I saw a woman in one of the Microsoft cafeterias that had this amazing shoulder piece that was kind of like a steampunk watch mechanism, photo-realistic and in full color, and I had never seen anything that detailed before. As I said, that's when I really got the bug, but then time got away from me, what with the parenting and moving and jobs and pandemic and stuff.

But the ideas would come to mind again, and over that much time, they changed a lot. Inspired by what I had seen in Redmond, I thought about some kind of clock face with gears and a sun and moon revolving around it, which evolved into a compass device. After that, bits of realism came and went, and it got more symmetrical. Over time, I started to really like the clean line work I would see on the Internet, but rarely in person. The gears, and the detail they would involve, started to fall by the wayside when I started to see more geometric stuff happening that was also detailed. Mandalas had a ton of detail if they were drawn that way, and that really appealed to me. Meanwhile, with all of the cruising and general desire to be near the ocean, the nautical vibes from a compass rose really stuck. It occurred to me that the two things, in the right hands, could skillfully be combined and layered. These were two things that I've seen separately quite a bit, but even for reference, I couldn't find many examples on people.

Of course I went back to Scott "Cool-Aid" Irwin at Hart & Huntington, and if you follow him on the Instagram, you can see that he can do pretty much anything. Last time, I was also super impressed with his ability to see how things best fit on different body parts, his knowledge of needle sizes and machines, how the ink pigments have improved over time and a hundred other technical things that I think you want a good artist to help steer you on. But he also can illustrate anything, and you can see that from his stuff online. You can't pigeonhole him into any one style. Even though I had a lot of anxiety about the process of finding the "right" thing, I felt pretty good about trusting him to get there.

I got to my appointment a little early, but Scott was already drawing, as I gave him a heads up about what I wanted. As much as I wanted to nail something down in advance, it was definitely more efficient to just be there and have some conversations with him. That's a weird interaction, because you're basically telling an artist how to change what they've done. I mean, it's constructive criticism, but I appreciate there's a human there. Anyway, from his starting point, we talked about shading the compass rose, and putting basically a mini-mandala in the middle, and then some sizing go arounds. The fourth time, I believe we had it right, and he worked up the stencil.

The first time on, he didn't like the way it was sitting, even though it looked straight to me. The curvature of the back, especially when I leaned on that leg, made it look kind of "bent". He washed it off and reapplied it probably 2 degrees off of the first attempt, and it made a difference. It was a little disconcerting because it was kind of a purple mess, but you could see where the lines belonged.

This was more "pokey" than my first one, and I admittedly winced a little toward the shin. I don't know if there's such a thing as good pain, but this feels like you're earning something. Total time in the chair was about an hour and 45 minutes, and about an hour before that spent on drawing and revising. The shading in the pointy parts didn't feel like much at first, but they felt like a sunburn afterward and looked pretty bad for the first few hours. Lots of good conversation in the shop, and it's crazy how these days you literally have people bringing their kids. Really great vibes there.

Is there any particular meaning here? No, not really. For a long time, I thought about ways that elements of some design could have special meaning, but over time, I kind of let most of that go. Ultimately, I just wanted to have something that was visually appealing to me, that felt like art. This became even more the case after Diana got her new tattoo a few weeks after my first one. For whatever self-esteem issues I've had in my life, the one thing I've always felt good about was my lower legs. Some combination of cycling in high school and volleyball in college created definition, and it has stayed there even while the rest of me has varied from fit to doughy and back.

What's next? I don't know, but I think I'm good for awhile. I really wanted to do these first two things at the same time, and last year. A part of me wishes I didn't wait so long, but I give myself a pass because, well, life has been pretty busy. As fast as the last ten years went, my focus the next ten is to be less busy. This will be a story from the year that I realized this.

The back to school dream

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 18, 2021, 2:59 PM | comments: 0

Two years ago I mentioned the recurring moving into a dorm dream that I frequently had, but I want to expand that into something bigger. While the moving in and dorm scene is often part of these dreams, they have since evolved into a series of dreams involving the start of school. Sometimes it's high school, with me having to go back for one last semester or something, but more often it's college. The locations vary a lot, infrequently something that seems like a college campus, but otherwise ranging from something like the Microsoft main campus (which feels like a university) to a cruise ship or combinations thereof.

What happens in these dreams? I generally encounter people from my entire life history, ranging from friends today to people I knew in college. I don't think Diana has ever been in one, but Simon was once because I was late picking him up for some reason. There is usually some concern about completing something on time. The security issues I mentioned in that previous post often come back, but not always. In last night's version, I did return to the street to find my car missing. There is always a lot of walking around looking for someplace that I'm supposed to be, and worry that I'm going to miss something.

Still absent from these dreams is any sense of social anxiety, which is good, but the new themes of missing something, these time based anxieties, are not welcome. I suppose that they're not exactly surprising either. Between the pandemic conditions of the last year and a half and my own reckoning with midlife, it isn't hard to see where the anxiety comes from.

My doctor has suggested it might be worth exploring active anxiety management, but I feel like we need to get this hypothyroidism thing under control first before we start throwing more medications into the mix. I also believe that therapy in the last year has also helped with a ton of the anxiety. The minor panic attacks I use the lorazepam for have become less frequent, maybe three to four weeks apart, so none of this anxiety is creating a quality of life problem at the moment.

Pandemic Friday nights

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 8:38 PM | comments: 0

Early in the pandemic last year, when it wasn't clear that we could really do much of anything, we settled into a kind of rhythm. It usually involved me pouring a drink around 4 in the afternoon, as work was winding down. We would fire up a live stream from Suzy and Alex, a duo we met on our New Year's cruise at the end of 2018 on the Disney Fantasy. They're wonderfully charming, from the UK, and played covers of stuff. If they weren't playing, then we would run some playlists, and get our drink on.

Tonight, as work winded down, we did something kind of similar, but without any specific dinner plans, it was a "fend for yourself" kind of night where we would pick over leftovers or frozen food. I fired up some playlists from my own streaming music service, and we tried to set some new high scores on Ms. Pac-Man (machine review forthcoming).

A lot of our weekend activity lately has been going to Epcot, sadly without friends since they're not really visiting Orlando again yet. Between that and Diana's return to work, we haven't had an evening at home at the same time in awhile. I don't want to go back to a year ago, but I guess I want to point out that it wasn't all bad. We tried our best to make it work, roll with what was going on.

We're so close to getting beyond this. Fuck, I wish people would just get vaccinated so we could move on. Then we get the kids approved, and we put it all behind us. I don't understand why the people who last summer were all, "But the economy!" are all now avoiding the vaccine, which costs them nothing. America seems extra stupid, and that's frustrating.

On the plus side, there has been some really good music this year.

Too many old comprooders

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I have a lot of computers that I'm not using. When it comes to laptops, my upgrade cycle has been about every three years. The improvements from one to another are often marginal, though battery degradation is usually an issue. My desktop cycle is much longer. My late 2009 iMac I used until late 2015, so that was six years. It became Simon's computer. I replaced it with another iMac, and I used that until early 2019, so about four years, and that went to Simon while the old one I gave to one of his former teachers. At that point I built a Windows desktop, and I suspect that will last me at least another three or four years.

But most of the laptops are still hanging out. I have my 2012 MacBook Air still, which is sitting in my cabinet. It can still act as a build agent for iOS apps, which I admittedly don't make unless it's out of experimentation. That one had its battery replaced at some point after moving to Florida. I have a Surface Pro 3 that I bought in 2014, which was never my daily laptop, but I used it when traveling and going to clients for work because it was nice and small. The same year I bought a 13" MacBook Pro, and that was my daily driver until early 2018. That is currently Diana's laptop, so she's using a 7-year-old machine. That was the year I switched to Windows, and I bought the HP Spectre. I used that one until last spring, when the battery life got particularly terrible, and I was always annoyed at how warm it would typically get. I replaced it with the Surface Laptop 4, which I adore because of the goofy Alcantara fabric. It never gets warm, and even with a big developer load I can get 6 or 7 hours of battery life out of it, more with benign web browsing.

Note I still have all of those laptops. The Air I'll hang on to. The Surface Pro 3 I almost never use except to drive the lasers when we have raves at home. (Or a New Year's Eve party, which last happened December 31, 2019.) Like I said, Diana is still using the MacBook Pro. Yesterday, I bought a $45 battery to replace the failing one in the HP, and now it works like a champ again, though it gets a little warm still. Not sure what to do with that one. I could give it to Diana, but at this point I think she prefers Macs, and she really deserves a new computer. She says she might be content with a ChromeBook.

I think I might donate the HP, because someone can easily get another three or four years out of that thing. The rest, I'm not sure.

The funny thing is, I remember that laptops were really shitty back in the day unless you spent a ton. The Sony VAIO I bought in 2000 I remember paying at least $2,500 for (with 64 megabytes, not gigs, or RAM). Then in 2005-ish I bought an HP to tote around for consulting, and it was shit. The power connector came loose, and I had to solder it back into place. I only had that one for like two years, when Apple flipped to Intel.

I had to break up with AltNation and SiriusXM

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 17, 2021, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

Way back when I lived in Seattle and bought my first Prius (man, the jokes really write themselves there), in 2010, I was introduced to the world of satellite radio from SiriusXM. Immediately I latched on to Lithium, their channel with all of the 90's/aughts alternative rock I grew up with, and AltNation, their current alt rock channel. It really brought back those feelings of listening to 107.9 The End in Cleveland back in the day, because it was a fairly broad spectrum of music. In those days, you could hear something weird and obscure one minute, but then hear something that was popular across genres. I don't think people really remember that you could hear Jewel on alt rock stations around the turn of the century, right along side Nine Inch Nails or Garbage.

While the world is generally satisfied with streaming services that allow you to pick and choose specific things, and most have "channels," they're largely algorithmic. The thing I always liked about AltNation is that it was curated the way radio was back in the day. You could argue that there's some taste-making going on there, and you're probably right, but that's OK because some humans are better than others at identifying "good" art, whereas group think is not, and that's why there's so much "reality" TV.

In any case, AltNation has been my go-to for a long time. However, in the last year or two, they seem to have gotten into a rut. It's not just that the playlists are repetitive, but they've become more homogenized than ever. Hearing the same crappy imitations of already crappy emo bands gets old pretty fast. How many fucking bands feature Travis Barker? And then they get a stiffy for The Killers, who haven't had a good record in years.

But the real problem is what they seem to avoid entirely, despite having committed before to certain bands. I first heard of Wolf Alice on AltNation, and now that they have arguably the best indie rock album of the year, and they're tearing up the UK scene, they haven't featured even a single song. Last year's The Naked And Famous album had no action, even though songs like "Punching In A Dream" were a staple of the channel. And they've completely ignored the last two Garbage albums. Even slam dunks, like this year's Foo Fighters album, definitely one of their best, get little play.

When our Nissan Leaf got totaled in an accident late last year, that was the end of our SiriusXM radios. I held on to their cheapest streaming plan, just for AltNation, but I finally let it go because listening just wasn't doing it for me. It makes me sad that the channel just degraded so much. Our current cars stream LiveXLive, formerly Slacker Radio, and their Alternative Hits channel isn't bad. They play all kinds of stuff you'll never hear on AltNation. Right now, I'm listening with ads, but $4 a month might be OK (it's already included with the cars). It doesn't have the "live" DJ's (what can I say, having done that job, I value it), but it may work out. We'll see what kind of things I discover going forward.

Finding his people

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 14, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

The remote school last year, and the fairly isolated nature of on-site school in the spring, left Simon in a very awkward and weird place socially, at a time when he was already struggling. This year, for grade 6, we moved him into a school that caters to kids with what you can broadly call "learning differences." Simon is pretty intelligent, and his ability to grok things often comes down to how interested he is in them. Layer in ASD and ADHD, and sometimes the issue in education is that you just need to find the right path to reach him. The odds of that happening in a building with 2,000 other middle schoolers did not seem high. Fortunately, the state covers most of the tuition.

This has a useful side effect: His classmates share similar challenges, socially and academically. These kids aren't going to judge him or perceive that he's different the way the larger body of kids would. They're his people. So this weekend, one of them had a birthday party, and he was able to stay overnight for the first time. It sounds like he had the kind of carefree time you expect kids to have, and it was awesome. The truth is, we've never really seen him this happy socially. He still pushes back on some of the school work, but even that's better than it was before.

We kind of saw it coming in the first few days of school. He immediately bonded with a specific classmate over Roblox, and we've allowed them to play together online a little more than we probably would have otherwise. It's interesting to hear them play, to cooperate, mostly be kind to each other and laugh and have a good time. It's also a relief.

I often hang on to something that one of Simon's doctors said around the time of his autism diagnosis, that kids tend to figure out coping strategies in their middle and high school years to exist in a neurotypical world, to the point where they're able to operate successfully. It doesn't mean that they're not proud of who they are, or that they can't leverage their alternate wiring to their advantage, they're just able to meet the world where it is, since it seems generally unwilling to do the reverse. I want that for him in part because I didn't have that in my school years, and it made me miserable. As if identity issues aren't hard enough in your teenage years.

It was also something of a relief for us to trade stories with parents who know exactly what we go through. We're not alone.

Covid hysteria among the wrong people

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 12, 2021, 10:46 PM | comments: 0

I was talking to a coworker last week in Oregon where indoor coffee shop dwelling is not allowed, and in fact outdoor masking on the streer is required in certain places. This was shocking to me because these protocols do not align with the known science of Covid transmission. Not only that, but it's in a place where daily case counts come in at about 24 per 100,000 people, and 78% of people 12 and over are vaccinated. Meanwhile, many rural locales, far less densely populated areas, plus most of Tennessee and Kentucky, see per capita infection rates that are 6 or 7 times as bad, with lower vaccination rates, and they're not doing much of anything.

Now, good on Portland from the standpoint that their hospitals aren't being crushed, but it still seems like an extreme reaction not rooted in the science. Granted, things are pretty bad here in Orange County, as I've described previously. Being treated on a random counter in the ER is not ideal, to say the least. I suppose the West Coast desire to do the right thing is frankly better than doing nothing, or worse, having your own governor attempt to prevent you from doing anything. This kind of thing is not what healthcare workers signed up for.

On one hand we would understand that your odds of a breakthrough infection are pretty slim, maybe 1 in 5,000 per day. I think we're all at most a degree or two away from someone who experienced this, and in almost every case it wasn't a big deal. My own anecdote is that we've been vaccinated and circulating around theme parks now for four months, among tourists from all over, no less, without incident. (Well, I did have something for a couple of days, but it didn't fit the Covid bill.) We even had that stretch where we didn't have to use masks indoors.

But let's be real, vaccinated people are having to wear masks because the unvaccinated wouldn't do it otherwise. It feels like the whole class is losing recess because of those few misbehaving kids. And if they would have been adults and had the shots earlier in the summer, we would be like, "Delta what?" by now. Those are the folks who should be hysterical about this, but they're not.

Yes, there is still concern about kids under 12, I know, because I have one. He masks like a pro, and does it at school. This weekend, he did an overnight with one of his classmates (great story about that to tell), for the first time ever, and it was a pretty big deal. Like anything, you assess the risk, and with a work-from-home parent, it seemed pretty low risk. Kids are lower risk to begin with, though I still worry a little because of his allergies and bout with pneumonia some years ago. But then I look at the window of critical development that he's entering, and how he's lost 18 months already for social engagement. The risk of him not having those opportunities seems higher.

The situation is endlessly frustrating. It's tempting to shrug it off, since 99% of the people dying in hospitals now are unvaccinated, and they made their choice. It's completely preventable. But as I've been saying for some time, our individual actions have widespread impact. Those people in the hospital are costing billions of dollars, and we'll all pay for that with higher insurance premiums. Healthcare workers are completely overworked. They're compelling extreme mask usage and business interruption in certain areas. They're keeping the labor market for service jobs hesitant. The irony is that they often appear to be the same people who vocally insisted that the economy reopen before the vaccine rollout.

Now there are waves of mandates coming from private employers, and the noise against that is reaching a fever pitch. Again, this is the least hard thing that has ever been asked of Americans. You just need to get a shot. No one is asking you to ration food or fuel. This isn't a draft where we're requiring military service where you have to risk your life. It's just a shot, like those you had to get before you started school. Seriously, you might even get a lolly.

Infuriating car rattle

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 12, 2021, 9:44 PM | comments: 0

Tesla has a pretty bad reputation since the introduction of the Model 3 for fit and finish problems. With the 3 and the Y, they've not done a very good job of getting body panels lined up. Our 3 was actually mostly OK, with the exception of the trunk not always grabbing the latch on the first try. That was easy enough to fix once I was motivated enough to get a couple of Torx bits to loosen and realign the latch. Our Y had a really poorly aligned front right fender, and it drove me nuts because the crease that went from the camera and into the door didn't line up, and it was the first thing that I would see every time I entered the garage.

I took it in and got that fixed, but what eluded me is a rattle that I can't find. I found countless forum posts and videos showing resolution for various rattles, but none of them address the one that I have. It seems like it's somewhere in the back, and has a slightly metallic noise to it. In the process, I've found some other things. The back of one of the rear seats wasn't seated at all. The side of the center console was also not seated. The rear seatbelt buckles are really loosely connected to the frame, and just in case it was one of those I added a little adhesive foam, but I don't think it's those (the volume of the rattle doesn't change with the seat top removed). I've discovered that the rear left window isn't aligned right in the door, and I'm pretty sure that I'll take that in because I can't un-see it.

Still, the rattle eludes me. If I shake any of the individual rear seat sections, none of them make a noise, so I don't think it's the seats. It could be something with the trunk, but shaking that doesn't reveal anything obvious. If it's something loose in the trunk sides, I'm not sure how to get in and look. Cavernous as that trunk is, there are two long plastic liners on both sides, and I can't find anything online to see how they're attached.

It could conceivably be on the outside of the car, maybe in the rear suspension, but it's so hard to see any of it. The underside of the car is all battery, and in between the wheels is the pit inside of the trunk and the rear motor. That's the thing, there aren't actually that many parts!

The success ratio of service calls to fixed rattles isn't good, which is why I feel like I need to find it myself. You also never know if they're going to send mobile service to you, which is awesome, or if they want you to bring it in, which is not awesome. That's super inconvenient in Orlando, as the store is too small, and way up north. My hope is that they will come to me to get that window aligned right.

I love the car... It's comfortable to road trip in, the cargo space is absurd, and yeah, 0-60 in 4.8 seconds. But this rattle is all I hear on any road that isn't perfectly smooth, even with the radio on. I mean, a Nissan Versa or a Toyota Corolla won't ship with these problems, and they're less than half the cost.

Thoughts on another 9/11 anniversary

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 10, 2021, 6:07 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe that this marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That means an entire generation has come of age since then. For that reason, the desire to reflect on that day seems reasonable, but I also think it's time to evolve in the way that we think about that day. Everyone is different, but for me, I've chosen to avoid all of the retrospectives and TV specials, because it's still deeply troubling, and there isn't a lot of new ground left to cover. I will watch the filmed version of the musical Come From Away, which I believe focuses on human potential, instead of its worst capabilities. As they say in the show, "We honor what was lost, but we also commemorate, what we found."

I wanted to write about what led to that day, what happened after, how it changed things, but I just don't have it in me. I think there is a lot of important historical context that is missing from our general consciousness, in the way that few people have an understanding about the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the end of the Soviet Union, etc. But it isn't my job to solve that problem, and I'm barely qualified to have opinions about it.

There was a brief period of unity in the world, at least for a few weeks, and I hang on to that as an example of what humans are capable of. President George W. Bush reminded us of the true teachings of Islam, the press was largely sticking to facts and reporting the truth (and people understood what reality was), no one falsely connected Iraq to terrorism, charitable contributions to everything hit records, and people generally gave each other a little grace to roll with life.

It's hard not to fall into a downward spiral of cynicism in a year when we can't do the most basic things to prevent disease and watched a lawless mob attempt a violent insurrection. But in response to something terrible, we got to see just how good people can be. That's what I want to hang on to.

The randomness and chaos of your career

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 9, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Twelve years ago today, I learned that I would be flying to Seattle to interview at Microsoft, for a job that I ended up getting. What I haven't thought about much since then is that I was actually talking to a few different groups out there, and even in the group where I landed, there were some questions about whether or not I might take on some kind of leadership role. It ended up not being that, which I later found frustrating given my career trajectory at the time. Even then, I think I understood that I didn't want to be heads down coding all of the time. That's why I sought an internal transfer after a year, to get back on that track.

But that wasn't the only "almost" even in that company. A year in, I almost landed a position managing a dev team that built testing tools for the various studios making games to integrate with Xbox Live. It came down to me and another guy, and the hiring manager took the other one only because he had been at the company longer. He wanted to build a second team for me, but didn't get the budget. That was frustrating. I imagine things may have turned out differently had I got that job.

These are just a few examples of the randomness and chaos that you can't control, even when you think you're actively managing your career. 2009 was a tough year, and honestly any job I didn't hate would have been an improvement, but one that relocated me to Seattle and a company that I admired was a pretty big deal. It was the year that I wanted to stop letting career happen to me though, to actively move toward the things that I wanted to do. There's still an element of chance to it all, which I can accept since I'm not Type-A. I figure if you just keep at it long enough, eventually you'll hit the chance that gets you where you want.

I was talking with a friend the other day about how at a certain point you stop caring about equity in employment offers, because you almost never hit that lottery. I still take pride in asking for salary over equity in a gig years ago, which worked out since the company eventually tanked, but I didn't really know it would. Another gig, I couldn't get equity when I felt that I should since I was basically starting the engineering team from scratch. And now I have a job where the company actually went public, after years of not caring about equity. So much chaos and chance.

Even when I hit the chances, I've made mistakes, and that's OK. The last 12 years did get me to the general place I wanted to be. The truth is I'm not even sure where I want the next 12 to go. It's hard to get caught up in titles, and I tend to think more in terms of responsibilities. Am I an operator? A visionary? A team builder? A little of everything? Do I want to lead leaders or lead makers? I know which things I'm better at, but nothing is really off the table. It helps to be at a company that's big enough to have those growth opportunities.

All things considered, you can't just wait for things to happen, you still need to be deliberate. For my first decade in software, I was not deliberate, and I think I wasted a lot of time not growing. But when you do take control, to the extent that you can, there is still some randomness to endure.

The new Garbage album sure is something

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 8, 2021, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

I desperately wanted to see Garbage and Alanis before the pandemic. That tour ended up happening this year (sadly without Liz Phair opening), but I ended up passing on going to the Tampa show. An outdoor show in August in Florida, and with the Covid situation being worse in Orlando, it just didn't seem like something I wanted to do. (Also, I hate that drive and I'm not even sure who I would go with.) I stupidly missed them last time they came to Orlando. I've seen them six times, and they're always fantastic. In fact, I like to be a hipster and mention that I saw them at their 11th show ever, in late 1995 in Cleveland.

They released No Gods No Masters in June, and it seems conspicuous that I haven't talked much about it. It's their third post-hiatus album, and it's just... different. It still sounds like a Garbage album, and there are a few songs I like, but I can't deeply get into it. I love that it's political as ever, but it's almost too literal in its approach. I agree with where Shirley is coming from, but some songs sound more like an angry Internet rant than art. When I talk myself through that complaint, I still end up in a place of, well, maybe this isn't a time for subtlety.

To be clear, I don't hate the album, and I adore the title track. There are a lot of fantastic sounds there, and creativity that I love the band for. I even got some Nine Inch Nails vibes the first time I listened. The deluxe version has some great bonuses I already had, like "No Horses" and their "Because The Night" cover with the Screaming Females. I especially love the "Starman" Bowie cover.

I might be less enthusiastic because Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend came out around the same time, and that's one of the best albums from anyone period that I've heard in years. Also, and this might be controversial, but I think that Garbage's previous album, Strange Little Birds, is easily their second best after their debut. Every song is great. "So We Can Stay Alive" just makes me lose my shit, and "Amends" is full of epic noise. These are six minute plus masterpieces, genuine album rock, which I miss hearing on the radio.

I'm fairly certain that I need to give No Gods No Masters more time, for sure. This has been a good year for albums, with winners from Foo Fighters, Grouplove, Lorde and others. And yeah, that Wolf Alice album.

Empathy... and now self-awareness?

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 3, 2021, 9:23 PM | comments: 0

In my last post I talked about the great win we had with an empathetic connection during a meltdown, and this week brings another meltdown, but a shocking instance of self-awareness.

Less surprising is that the problem was rooted in the inability to follow directions. Simon recently acquired some new tablet game, and he wouldn't disengage from it despite several directives to do so. So after the third time, I dropped the bomb: No TV for you tomorrow. I'll be honest, we rarely follow through on consequences, which I'm sure is one of the reasons that he still doesn't get the cause and effect. As any parent will tell you, it's often easier to just avoid the drama. But stopping and doing what he's asked, that's been a challenge lately.

He did some yelling and stomping, then slammed his bedroom door, so we made it two days. The rage crying and meltdown was in full effect. As much as I wanted to give him five minutes, then help him calm down, we decided to let him work through it. As he started to calm down, we had the parts where he told us that he hates us, and we're the worst parents, and other kids have it better, and we just ignored all of that. At first it was just directed at me, but eventually it was to both of us.

Over time, his posture changed to wanting to tell us something. I was sitting on the chair in our bedroom, and he tried to sit on my lap, which doesn't work well given his size. We moved to his room, and he wanted to talk. He seemed to get past what he did and his desire to negotiate a lesser sentence, and declared that he has trouble understanding when he is crossing a line, and asked for help. He wanted some warning to know he was about to suffer some kind of punishment.

This sounds like a pretty basic thing, but self-awareness is hard for him. We've learned with his therapy that it is in fact a key to unlocking solutions to a lot of the situations that he finds challenging. If he can identify why a situation causes him difficulty, there's a great chance that he can develop the coping skills to adjust.

When Simon had his ASD diagnosis, one of his doctors explained that, provided he didn't have any long-term comorbid disabilities, he would likely develop the coping mechanisms in his middle and high school years to deal with those. That's why a lot of autistic adults are roaming around the planet and you have no idea that they're there (my therapists have said I'm likely one of them). One can have "typical" behavior if they've learned to adapt the different brain wiring to work in a typical world.

Again, this gives me hope. The rest of his school years are going to be tough, but I just hope that they're not completely miserable. I hated grades 7 to 12 so much, and I want him to have a better experience than I did. Seeing him understand his own emotions could be huge for him.