Another year has ended. Hello, 2020!

As 2019 ends and we enter the roaring 20s, it’s time for my yearly wrap-up and review post. This was an eventful year for me, with the passage of my father and a significant job change that I haven’t really talked about on the blog.

It’s also the closing of a decade, and for me, that’s much more momentous-  at the start of 2010, I owned a condominium in South Florida, lived with my girlfriend and her adorable cat, and had been with the same company for eight years.   I stayed with that same company until they dissolved in 2016, but during that time, they sent me abroad, and I worked for them in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Bavaria.

At the start of the 2010s, K and I split up amicably and I short-sold my condo.  I moved into my brother’s spare room for a short while, then I began a string of moves that would take me to Germany and back.  I started this blog, visited twenty-seven new countries, and saw countless concerts and musicals.   I dated other people after K, and stayed with someone for about four years who ultimately wasn’t right for me.   I’ve been single since that relationship ended, and I have no interest in changing that status- I’m not entirely closed to the idea of love, but I’m not looking for it either.  As long as I have friends to go with me to concerts and cons and restaurants, I’m doing just fine.

At the end of 2010, my newest niece was a newborn, and now she’s an adorable nine-year-old lunatic-smartypants.  The lunacy runs in the family, and it’s entertaining as hell to watch my brother coping with fatherhood.  My sister and I have started an annual tradition of taking a trip every year during her summer break from teaching.  This started when I was overseas and we went to Rome and Venice together, but in recent years we’ve taken trips to other places we hadn’t been like Boston and Philadelphia.  The rest of my very large family has spread geographically, in interesting ways.  My sister’s branch of the family all moved up to Orlando before I moved back up, and various aunts and uncles all moved from northern climes down to Florida.  Some of my cousins are closer than ever before, and some are further away.

In the past ten years, I’ve strengthened and reinforced some of the deepest friendships of my life, and I’ve made many, many new friends all over the world.  I’ve traveled extensively, and I’ve seen things that have enriched my soul in ways I can’t even fully quantify.   I would call the past ten years a wildly successful part of my life.

theycantalk.com is really great! go there now!

Let’s get back to the regular year-in-review stuff.  I started doing goals instead of resolutions last year, after realizing that resolutions are kind of pointless and they never last the entire year anyway.    How did I do on last year’s goals?

2019 goal – Be healthier: Eat better, sleep more, and get some damn exercise.

I did ok on eating better, but my sleep and exercise habits are still basically rubbish.  I let my gym membership lapse this year, because when I do work out, it’s either in the apartment gym or at home.

For 2020, I obviously need to keep moving forward on this one.   Working from home warps my sense of what time and what day it is and getting out of the house regularly helps recalibrate that.

2019 goal – Travel more: I’ve decided on a try to make at least three out of state trips and at least one international trip for the year.

I didn’t make it out of the country this year, but I flew to New York three times, as well as trips to Dallas, Philadelphia,  Chicago, and Washington DC.  I’d call this one a success despite the lack of international travel.

For 2020, I still have no International travel on deck, but I already have plans for a few out-of-state trips.

  • My cousin is getting married in the mountains about forty miles from Portland, so I’m going to spend a few days in PDX before the wedding.  After the festivities, my sister and I will be taking our annual summer sibling trip by going to see Seattle.  (We’ll already be on the left coast, so it makes sense to try to fit that visit in while we’re already most of the way there.)
  • I’ve got tickets to a concert in Nashville later in the summer, so I’ll be checking out that city as well.
  • For the first time since 2003, I plan on going to DragonCon in Atlanta.
  • I almost pulled the trigger on airfare to the Waikiki Spam Jam (I’ve wanted to go for years,) but my Portland/Seattle trip will eat a lot of time and I don’t want to ridiculously overdo the time-off requests at my job.

2019 goal – Feed my inner introvert: Spend more time with books and less with little screens, whether they be my phone or my television.

This was a mixed bag.   I read enough books to meet my arbitrarily chosen Goodreads reading challenge goal.  I had a significant decrease in screen time,  but I still watch too much television.   I have spent lots of quality time on my own, though, and I definitely not let my inner introvert starve this year.

For 2020, I will set the same Goodreads goal and keep reading for pleasure.  I will try to clear some of the things loaded on my Kindle before acquiring new titles.   I will try to reduce the amount of television I watch.

The networks have been helping me out by not making too many new shows that I actually want to see.  And also by making shorter seasons for the things I DO want to see. The Mandalorian’s first season was only eight episodes.  Watchmen wrapped up with nine episodes.  I feel a lot less guilty about a show that only eats eight or nine hours out of the year than one which runs 24 episodes, with a third of that being filler.

2019 goal – Write more in this blog.

This was an utter failure.   I only wrote four blog posts all year, despite having plenty to talk about.

For 2020, I have a more specific blog goal than just saying “write more.”  I am setting myself a goal to do a minimum of 52 blog posts- that’s one per week, with this post serving as my first one.  If I have a busy week and can’t get a post out the door, I will have to double up the following week so that I don’t fall behind.  If I manage to do better than 52 posts, then that’s groovy too.

2019 goal – Listen to more music, live or otherwise.

I did really well on this-  I started the year off with Hamilton on their Orlando tour stop, and I followed that up with the Boston Pops, the Fixx, Waitress twice, Fiddler on the Roof, Aurora, Muse, Alice Merton, Tom Jones, Weird Al, Information Society, Hugh Jackman, Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, A Flock of Seagulls, Carly Rae Jepsen, Queen + Adam Lambert, Billy Joel, Bishop Briggs, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Alice Cooper, Dennis DeYoung, Night Ranger, King Princess, Sara Bareilles, and Beetlejuice on Broadway.  And that’s just the live stuff- I also listened to hours of recorded music.

For 2020, I realized that I don’t need to set a goal for something that I am already compelled to do.   I’ve already purchased tickets for ten or eleven shows through this summer, and I’ve got another eight or so on my radar with loose plans to go to them.    Music is as vital to me as breathing, and I don’t really need to set a conscious goal to do either one.  I plan on buying a new gadget or two sometime soon to improve the soundscape in my apartment as well.

2019 goal – Let go of rage.

I am much improved in this area, although I still find it challenging at times.  The passage of time helps a lot- the things that were a source of anger for me in 2018 are all well into my rear-view at the close of 2019, and I had a few perspective-setting events throughout the middle of the year, like the death of my father.  I also made a change this year from a frustrating and unsatisfying job into one which is much more challenging and enjoyable.

For 2020, I just need to continue on my path toward being centered and easygoing.  I’ve kept an active social life with local friends this year, and that has helped me enormously-  being around people I like helps to keep me happy.

Aside from the other goals I’ve listed for 2020, there are a few more things I want to accomplish:

  • I want to see more live Shakespeare.  I used to love watching the Bard’s plays, but I haven’t seen one in ages and I miss it.
  • I need to make a firm decision about my geolocation by the start of this summer.  I’ve been saying for a while that I hate the heat in Florida and that I’d like to go further north, but I am not decisive on this point.  Inertia is real, and it’s hard to move again now that I’ve been in one place for a while.   I have family and friends and a social life here in Orlando, and it’s difficult to think about what my life might look like in another place.  I was capable of making friends and gaining a social life when I moved to Germany though, and I’m sure I could do the same somewhere else in the US.  My Aunt thinks that DC is where I should go, and it’s on the short list if I decide to relocate after all.  My lease here is up at the end of the summer, so a decision needs to be made with enough time to set a move into motion if that is my choice.
  • I have long felt that I own too much “stuff” and I’ve been going through cycles of decluttering and offloading things I don’t use for years, and I want 2020 to be the year that I finally get rid of all the extra crap.   I don’t own a lot of stuff, but somehow it still feels like too much.  Then again, I might be a little psychotic on this front-  this photo looks too cluttered to me:

Do you have any goals for the new year?  How do you feel about entering the roaring 20s?

A brief history of my early digital life.

As far back as I can remember, Dad always got us into whatever the latest and greatest technology happened to be.

In 1980, we had a Tandy Color Computer (TRS-80) model one, with a whopping 4k. We even had a newfangled data cassette drive, so that we could record and play back programs off audiocassette. 

Back in the 1980s, there were computer magazines that had programs in the back that you could type in to make your computer do something. I’ll never forget the time that I was typing in a four-page BASIC program and I ran out of memory… Dad always said he meant to get the upgrade to 16k, but he never did get around to the upgrade.

1980 was also the year I talked Dad into getting us an Atari 2600 so I could play Berzerk. At least I think I talked him into it. It’s entirely possible he wanted it just as much as I did because I distinctly remember waking up from a sound sleep late one night to find Dad hunched over the controller, guiding Pac-Man through his dot-filled maze in the dim glow of the tv screen.

In the same time period, we also had a TI-994a, which had some program cartridges you could slide in on the right side. We had a couple of game cartridges and one or two other programs that I never paid much attention to.  There was one music program cartridge that played a jaunty little tune when you locked it into place, and I loved that thing even though all I ever did with it was slide it in to hear the song.

Dad also had a knack for getting us into trial services. Between the years of 1983 and 1986, Knight-Ridder and AT&T piloted an interconnected videotex machine called Viewtron in homes in South Florida. Dad was fascinated and immediately signed us up. This consisted of a box that you plugged into your tv with a little wireless chiclet keyboard (a big deal back then!,) and it dialed into a set of servers. There was weather, shopping, a digital dictionary and encyclopedia, and an early “CB Chat” system. I remember using it to research reports and projects for school, but the part I loved the most was the chat system.  Viewtron was ahead of its time, with all kinds of services that we take for granted now, and it folded after just a few years.

Flash forward to 1984, and Dad once again signed us up for something new and exciting- our family was charter subscribers to the new Prodigy dial-up service. Some of my earliest uses of something like e-mail were done in the message boards on this service, and I made my first “Internet friends” during this era. Alas, I lost touch with all of them when we left Prodigy a few years later, but it was still an interesting time.

In 1986, I got the first computer that was just mine- a Commodore 128. I used it for word processing, to write reports, and I dialed into BBSes with it, but mostly I used it to play games, and I loved that it used the same type of joystick as the Atari 2600. To this day, I still prefer one stick and one button for my gaming- the newer game consoles have far too many sticks and buttons and I can’t ever remember which one of the eight or ten buttons does which action.

My brother had an Atari computer in his room, an Atari 800 I think, and each of us spent time running a BBS on our respective machines for a while.  A BBS is a Bulletin Board System, and these were popular when computers used separate modems to dial out on a telephone line.  Most BBS setups had message boards, some games which were called Doors for some reason, and a few other things.  Some allowed the sharing of files, and some were set up as multi-node, which meant you could have multiple people connected and those people could talk to each other- this was an expensive setup because each node required its own phone line.  Another early feature of BBS life was FIDOnet, an early form of long distance messaging where the FIDOnet nodes would call one another and messages would be sent from node to node to reach users across long distances.   I loved running a BBS in the early 1980s, partly because I loved that sense of community, and partly because I loved being able to jump in and chat with whoever happened to be on my computer at the time.

Here we are, more than three decades (and dozens of new computer systems) later, on what would have been Dad’s 81st birthday. He used to say that he wished he would have paid more attention and learned more technology when we had all those computers in the house all those years ago, but I think he did just fine. 

I started a new job about two months ago, doing some pretty neat stuff with a great technology company, and I can’t help but wonder if my life would have taken a very different path if Dad hadn’t encouraged my fascination with technology so much over the years.  

What was your first computer?

Orlando Airport’s Hidden B-52 Memorial Park

Nestled on the outskirts of Orlando International Airport is a tiny little park, with a great big retired B-52 Stratofortress bomber in it.  This particular B-52 flew missions with the 306th Bomb Wing of what used to be McCoy Air Force Base from 1963 to 1974.  It was retired and set up at this park, the B-52 Memorial Park, which was dedicated in 1985.

Here’s a fun factoid – Did you ever wonder why Orlando’s airport code is MCO instead of ORL or OIA?  It’s because the airport is still using the original FAA airport code from when it was McCoy.

The B-52 Memorial Park is located on Bear Road, just past the North Economy Parking Lot, and if you didn’t know it was there, you might miss it-  it’s set back a little bit from the road.  Once you’re there, it’s pretty hard to miss though, because a B-52 Stratofortress is HUGE.

I had been meaning to check out this park for a while after I learned about it, and I finally managed to stop by to take some pictures last October, after I came back from a quick trip to DC.  I had parked in the North Economy Lot, so this was just around the corner from my car.

I couldn’t resist getting a shot for scale-  even the tires on this plane are huge.  Please ignore the stupid facial expression in this photo.

There are several sidewalks and benches around the plane, as well as an elevated viewing stand that looks directly at the nose of the aircraft.  At the base of the viewing stand, there’s a sign about the park itself.

It’s possible to walk up close to and underneath the aircraft, which is fascinating to me.   I’m still a ten year old boy at heart, and I love airplanes and trains and the like.

There’s also a tiny memorial to the faithful K-9 contingent of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, but it’s also easy to miss if you’re not reading all the signs.  It just looks like a fenced off patch of gravel.

The B-52 Memorial Park is open 7:00 AM  to sunset, and is easily found with the help of Google Maps. It’s also close to the ride-share waiting lot, so you will pass a lot of loitering Uber and Lyft drivers on your way there.

Are there any hidden historical gems close to where you live?

 

Goodbye, Dad.

It’s been two weeks since we buried my Dad.

He passed away on Sunday, May 26th. It wasn’t a surprise to any of us- he had been sick for a long time, and his health declined noticeably over the last few years. At the end, he relied on a caretaker twenty-four hours a day- an aide cooked for him, fed him, dressed him. For the last ten months or so, he was bed-ridden, and for longer than that he was almost entirely non-verbal.

That’s not who he was, though. My father was a loud, friendly person who would strike up conversations with just about anyone.  He was a pharmacist for decades, and he had a knack for learning about his customers. This habit led to one of Dad’s customers becoming our family’s go-to automotive mechanic for years. On another occasion, Dad set me up on a totally awful blind date with one of them.  We had nothing at all in common, but it was a perfect example of my father trying to do things to make his children happy.

They say vertical stripes make you look taller. I don’t think it helped me in this outfit.

My brothers and sister and I each said a few words at the funeral. I didn’t want to at first- in fact, only my oldest brother was going to speak initially. We all talked about it the night before the funeral though, and it became apparent very quickly that we all had very different perspectives about him. My sister is nine and a half years older than me, and my brothers are five and six years older, so we each had a very different relationship with Dad.  When we realized how different each of our remarks would be, we decided that it would be good for each of us to say something.

Speaking at the funeral was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  When I stepped up to the podium, I actually couldn’t speak for a moment.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to speak at all.  When I finally started,  I had to force myself to slow down.  Staring down at the paper the entire time, this is more or less what I said:

My father was always larger than life, and growing up I thought he would live forever. When I was a kid, dad was a mythic giant. I used to call him The Ogre, after a stand-up comedy bit that I liked. He didn’t much care for the nickname, because he thought it was a mean sounding word, but I meant it fondly. He was my giant.

Dad was the guy who would surprise me with a trip to Disney, just the two of us. He took me to my first concert, the first of many, even though he didn’t really like the music. He would watch movies with me, and then he would annoy me endlessly by loudly and correctly guessing the second half of the plot halfway through the film.

He taught me all sorts of things about being a man. He had opinions about everything from my schoolwork to the checklist of things you wash when you take a shower to the sorts of things a man should wear. When it was time for me to buy a real suit, he went with me to the store and explained what to look for. He helped me to pick out the suit – this suit that I’m wearing now – but then he also made me get a sport coat for some reason.

When I had the chance to go live abroad for a while, his health had already started to turn and I told him that I was worried that I would miss important dad-time if I went. He told me to go, and that I shouldn’t miss a great opportunity just because of him.

He was like that- more than anything else, Dad wanted me to be happy. He wanted all his children to be happy. Above all else, he taught us that family was important, and happiness was important.

When I was a kid, I thought he would live forever. And as I look at all the people who have gathered here to see him off, and I think about the lessons he taught us, I realize now that in some ways, he will.

For a very long time, I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about my father, but I learned things about him all the way up to the very end that I didn’t know.  I learned less than a year ago that his sister called him “Hal” when they were kids.  I learned from his childhood friend at the funeral that he grew up in an apartment above a candy store.  (That totally explains the sweet tooth that I inherited from him.)

Not every memory is a pure and happy one, of course.   My parents divorced when I was in high school, and there was a bit in the middle of my childhood where he wasn’t around very much. He tried to make up for it though, and he did his best to spend time with me.  We took quite a few trips together, including one summer in high school when Dad loaded my brothers and me into his Honda and we drove up to Washington DC and upstate New York and New York City.  We walked through Central Park more than once because we were a little bit lost, but it was still fun.

It became apparent to me as I got older that he would do anything for his children.  I can think of countless times that he went out of his way to make sure that we were healthy or happy or successful.   On balance, he was a pretty great Dad, and I feel fortunate that I had him for as long as I did.

I’m going to miss him.

A Photo An Hour – March 23, 2019

Photo An Hour is a link-up that I’ve seen Bev do a bunch of times, and she always mentions linking up with Louise and Jane, who I don’t know.  The premise is simple-  you take a photo each hour and post it in real time.

I haven’t ever done a Photo An Hour before, but the March Photo An Hour happened to fall on the Saturday of Spooky Empire, which is a great little convention-  not as big as a ComicCon or MegaCon, but still with enough interesting stuff going on to warrant a day out of the apartment.  Spooky happens twice a year in Orlando, and while the predominant focus is horror, there’s plenty of sci-fi and other genre representation.  For example, last year they had an Animal House panel- screwball college comedy is hardly horror.  In accordance with tradition, I went to Spooky with my friend Lorrie.

I’m not aware of any particular rules for the Photo An Hour, but I set one guideline for myself:  I would start at 9am and end at 9pm- twelve hours is enough of my noise.

9:00 AM – I started off the first hour with a quick nosh to get the day started.  I don’t usually get super hungry first thing in the morning, so I tend to go light until I’ve been up for a while.  Some cold sweet tea and a Zone Bar was enough to get me out the door.  Side note:  Sweet Leaf is my preferred caffeine infusion.  They recently changed their formula to reduce the sugar, and I was super relieved to not hate the new version.

10:00 AM – We arrived at Spooky Empire, and sifted our way through the lines of waiting people to find the table where we could pick up our wristbands for the day.  On our way back out, we spotted some really great cos-players.  I kinda want the Joker’s suit.

11:00 AM – Just before entering the merch room, we took advantage of a super silly photo cut-out.

12:00 Noon – We started off the noon hour in the autograph room with Carel Struycken, my favorite 80s/90s tall guy. He was in just about everything for a while, from Star Trek to Ewok adventures to Lurch from the Addams family.

1:00 PM – Frankenberry has obviously been hitting the gym.  Seriously, though, I applaud the creativity here.

2:00 PM – One of my favorite things at any convention is cosplayers who have done something out of the ordinary, something clever and creative.  This evil Wonder Woman, for example- her consort (not pictured) was a Marvel Zombies version of Captain America.

2:00 PM Alternate – I also snapped this picture in the 2:00 hour, but I posted the other one on March 23rd.  I wanted to include this one here though, because what other use could I possibly have for a Hellraiser-Deadmau5 crossover?  This costume was really amazing.  And kind of funny.  I wonder what you’d call him… Maybe Pinmau5?

3:00 PM – At 3, we attended the E.T. Panel featuring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, and Matthew DeMeritt who was in the E.T. costume.  See, I told you it wasn’t all horror at Spooky Empire.  Dee, Henry, and Robert are in the photo.  Matthew DeMeritt was a little too far off to the left, and I’m afraid my pictures of him aren’t nearly this clear.

Side note:  I love hearing stories of behind the scenes stuff from the filming of things I love.  I find it to be super entertaining and super interesting at the same time.  That’s why the panels are my favorite things at any convention. (Followed closely by the costumes and the merch rooms, naturally.)

4:00 PM – Back in the merchandise room, we accidentally stumbled into the Upside Down.  She’s got the Eleven glare down.

5:00 PM – Time for the Christina Ricci Q&A panel.  We had managed to see an Addam’s Family panel earlier in the day, which included Carel Struycken and Jimmy Workman (Pugsley,) but which did not include Christina Ricci or Christopher Lloyd, who were both in attendance that day.  I suspect they didn’t join for scheduling reasons, but maybe it was to prevent the panel from overcrowding, since both Christina and Christopher Lloyd had their own separate panels later.

6:00 PM – After Christina Ricci’s panel, we left the convention and schlepped over to Red Robin for dinner and some refreshments.

7:00 PM – I had to cheat for the 7:00 hour because I was mostly driving for the entire hour.  Instead of dangerous highway photos, here’s my dinner from the previous hour.  The burger was delicious and amazing.  The french fries were… lackluster.  The nicest thing I can say about the fries is that they were really large.

8:00 PM – After we got back to the apartment, I did a quick scan of the paper photos from the day’s photo ops so that we have a digital copy. This is the photo with both Christina Ricci and Christopher Lloyd, opened in Photoshop after scanning.

9:00 PM – I closed out my Photo An Hour day with dessert.  It was a long day, and my sweet tooth would brook no further delays.

The next Photo An Hour is on Saturday, April 27th, 2019.  If you want to play along, simply take one photo every hour and post to Twitter or Instagram using the #photoanhour hash tag.  Alternately, save your photos and write a blog post afterwards.  I may very well do the blog-later option, because I’ll be in Chicago that weekend!

Have you ever been to Spooky Empire? What was your favorite panel or cosplay?