I Am A Bananupdate

Is it hypocritical of me to say that I miss when people used to write long-form blog posts when I’ve been really bad at doing so myself?

Probably, but something something do as I say not as I do.

The sporadically (and weirdly) warm weather the past couple weeks seems to have started triggering my spring allergies already, resulting in me waking up at 4 or 5 AM with a running or congested nose, so blame this post on that.

I’ve been reading back through my old journal posts from during and before the pandemic, and I… really miss pre-pandemic life. And it also strikes me that I used to have a much more obvious “life outside of work”, but that mostly disappeared during the pandemic and hasn’t come back since. I don’t think this is the fault of work — my teams and manager and everyone has always been great about work-life balance — but it just feels like something inside me stopped being able to properly destress outside of work (so *all* of my non-work hours are now spent trying to relax) and/or my hobbies now would rely on things I’d consider unacceptably high risk (like going to Origins again and sitting in a convention hall with thousands of people for 4 days).

But it’s striking how much I used to do outside of work, whether it was as simple as “host board games on a weekend” or “go rock climbing once a week” to “dedicate a day every week to doing newspaper things for The Tartan” or “go to things like weddings or group events”. It’s not that I don’t write about them anymore… I don’t do them anymore. It’s probably worth a more serious look at how I can change that.

2024 will probably end up being a year of change (and unexpectedly expected large expenditures of money), in many ways, and not just for myself. It’ll be interesting for me to make a December post and see how many of the currently ongoing pieces of “fun” (both with myself and friends) ended up working out.

Anyway… life goes. There should probably be some photos in this post, but it’s 6:30 AM and I’m not going to boot up my photo computer to satisfy that itch, so wall-of-text it is. (Or was.)

Back To “Normal”

It’s been over a year since I last posted, and a lot has happened this year, especially in the last 6 (or so) months of it.

The biggest thing is maybe that I’ve flown on not one trip but two trips, and have managed to avoid COVID in doing so. (The last flight there might still be pending, since I just got home today.)

This summer we felt like we really needed to start doing something to get back to normal, since the world was clearly moving on without us, we clearly couldn’t go the rest of our lives without ever flying again, and the pandemic situation was clearly never changing significantly from its current state. So we decided that the safest thing to do was to book an international trip to the UK!

It sounds crazy, but it actually makes sense if you assume (like we did) that the riskiest part of travel is the airports (rather than the planes, which circulate air so rapidly and also filter it) and indoor spaces. London Heathrow is one of a single-digit number of international destinations that the Pittsburgh airport directly services so… London hiking trip it was!

Photos are here, here, and here, and ignoring the indoor breakfasts at small B&Bs (with like… two other groups at most) we had only one meal indoors at a restaurant. We also found that Heathrow immigration into the UK is totally automated and takes literally 30 seconds. From deplaning to heading to the train was less than 30 minutes.

The weirdest part of it (after the initial shock of “I haven’t been in an airport in three-and-a-half years”) was how basically no one wears a mask while flying. Like… COVID is still a huge thing? And airplanes and airports are great places to catch things? Maybe wear a mask just for this part?

The second weirdest (or maybe I just never noticed before) is how inconsiderate people are now when they cough. No covering of the mouth (with a hand or otherwise). No mask for people who are very clearly sick with some respiratory disease. Yeah, get on a plane and cough into the air for your neighbors to breathe thanks that’s a great idea we appreciate it.

In any case, despite all of that, the trip as a whole made me comfortable enough to travel in person to my teams’ release planning this past week, for the first time since summer 2019. And this trip really pushed a lot of my comfort zones.

Starting with… an airport transfer, so it wasn’t just the relative quiet of the Pittsburgh airport and the quick exit through SFO. We also had to deal with DFW (and, unexpectedly, ORD on the way back) which are extremely busy and have nary a mask in sight (although SFO seems to be better at this than anywhere else, which is maybe not surprising). Then also sitting in meeting rooms all day with dozens of other people for most of a week. And eating indoors at team dinners. And attending an (indoor) team event with over a hundred people in attendance.

I’d purchased an N100 mask specifically for the office, and while I’m sure I looked ridiculous in it, it apparently worked because I have successfully returned home without COVID (although we’ll find out about the return flight in a few days, so hopefully it’s not premature to make that statement). Photos from this trip will be on the photos site at some point. If the last set is any indication (Carnival 2023 photos posted in November) it might be next year. We’ll see.

There are so many other things I should probably write about, like how the elevators in Salesforce Tower in SF are the worst and made me literally 20 minutes late to a meeting waiting for them, or how I amusingly tried to meet my coworker Paul in the UK and couldn’t make it happen but ran into him (repeatedly) in SF during planning, or how I’m amazed that my team at work is now over a hundred people and I don’t know half of them and met a bunch of people I work with daily for the first time in person this trip, or how I’ve been playing a lot of roguelike deckbuilding (computer) games recently and really enjoyed Slay The Spire and Roguebook while not really being a fan of Banners of Ruin, or how I’ve started getting (somewhat) back into coding at work now that I can delegate more of my architect duties, or how we’ve watched through almost all of Picard and how I enjoy the series if you think of it as not being part of the Star Trek universe because the characters are just all completely out of character, or about how I was supposed to be home from the SF trip on Saturday except we hit a flock of birds on takeoff causing us to return to SFO and making us miss our connection and therefore continuing the trend of plane issues that has seemed to plague all our friends recently…

I could write a lot more things, but I think this trip has just made me tired and sad at the state of the “pandemic” (which is so clearly over to everyone else) because it’s just a reminder of how much I’m missing by trying to stay safe when the rest of the world refuses to do its part. So I think I’ll just stop here.

Life and Things

I opened up the wordpress dashboard today to write a post and noticed I had a post pending from June. So, uh… here’s that post so I can get it out of the draft section:

It’s June, so I should probably write something, but it feels like my life has been a whole lot of The Same™ for the past few months (and years), so I’m not sure how much interesting there is to write about.

Well, I guess there are two things.

The first is that we attended a wedding (Lea and David’s) for the first time in something like three years, and it was simultaneously amazing to do something that felt almost normal and terrifying because COVID is still a thing and numbers are going up again at the moment. I guess we’ll know later this week if we got out unscathed.

As far as weddings could have gone though, I think this was the most low-risk it could have been. It was local (so no travel required), they required at-home tests the day of (a few hours before) from all attendees, the venue was largely outdoors, and the indoor portions were in a room where one side was almost entirely open to the outside (with good air circulation).


The second is that my mom came to visit for a week last month, on her way to DC to see my uncle, who hadn’t visited the US since the pandemic began. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the trip with her (work obligations and also a bit of fear of travelling, still), but it was amazing to see her again. I think the 2.5 years was the longest I’ve gone without seeing her in real life, although we have been sporadically Facetiming.


In any case, in terms of December updates, I guess there’s a few things?

In the world of TV, we finished Deep Space Nine and started The Original Series, and I’ve also started watching my way through Community with small interludes into a small SciFi show called Dark Matter and an attempt at a series called Under The Dome, along with finishing a series called Second Chance. Let’s tackle these in a fairly random order?

DS9 as a whole was much, much better than I was expecting. I think, of all the Star Trek series, it has by far the most coherent overall narrative, best character development and growth, and the general feel of realness that none of the other series really have. I think they did just about everything right within the context of the series and, except for a few really bad episodes (why does everyone like “Move Along Home” and “Take Me Out To The Holosuite” so much?!), has outstanding episodes that deal with difficult issues (like war) in depth.

Unfortunately, that’s also a lot of why I think Voyager is still my all-time favorite series? As a whole, I would say I watch TV (and entertainment) to ignore the realities of life and the world at large. There are a few exceptions (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend arguably being one of them, but it’s a show I have no urge to return to at the moment despite my love for it, so maybe that just reinforces the point), but there’s something about being able to jump into Enterprise or TNG or Voyager provides an escapism that DS9 just doesn’t, even though it’s obviously not contemporary.

This leads to maybe why Dark Matter and Under The Dome just didn’t click for me, and maybe some of that is thanks to the depressing state of the world at the moment. Dark Matter is a well-done SciFi series that strikes me a lot like Firefly or BSG (closer to the former than the latter). Under The Dome is a town sealed off from the world where people start fighting amonst themselves and, uh… yeah, too close to home for the pandemic-laden world. I didn’t watch beyond the first few episodes of either series. Maybe I’ll come back to them later.

Not much to say about The Original Series of Star Trek. It’s about as bad as I expected it to be, so far. I guess I can understand how it was groundbreaking at the time, but yeah… in today’s world, it’s sexist and strangely acted and has honestly irritating sound effects. We’ll watch it just because I feel like we have to, but we’ll see how that continues to go.

Second Chance is a decent show. It was apparently billed as “a modern take on Frankenstein” and, uh… I guess you could call it that? It’s really just an investigative-themed show (like White Collar or kiinnndddda like Psych) that has techy elements around it. Not a huge fan of how the series ended, but it was an enjoyable enough watch through.

Community though… is a gem. Its first season was great, its second season is better, and even its special features (with a deadpanning Dan Harmon interviewing cast members) are hilarious. It’s exactly the kind of light-hearted escapism that still tackles serious issues that I need right now in the screwed-up pandemic-laden world. I’m looking forward to bingeing through the remaining seasons.

Speaking of the pandemic-laden world, I feel like that’s all I ever write about anymore, but everything seems like it’s going backward. No one masks up anymore, anywhere, even though there are new and still more contagious variants spreading. Everyone’s living their lives as if the world is normal now, and it’s really, really not. It’s both infuriating and depressing at the same time.

I haven’t flown since February 2020. I’ve eaten in exactly one restaurant in the past three years. I can count the number of non-home indoor places I’ve been maskless in on two hands (in-laws’ house, dentist, hair salon, the one restaurant once, one friend’s house to play with his cat while he was not home, and “Lea/David wedding venue even though that was basically outdoors”). Even my friends who I consider to be careful people have stopped masking when we stop in places to grab takeout. It makes me feel like I’m one of very, very few sane people left in the world who actually consider covid a threat.


Anyway, life goes.

Tee Vee

Work continues to be a thing. The more senior architect in my area left the company recently, and it feels like I’ve been taking on at least some of his duties in his absence. This has meant that I’m involved in significantly more high-level planning conversations and discussions, leaving even less time for me to spend on actually dealing with coding-level things across my (increasing) teams. I suppose this is technically a good move for me, and it’s actually felt less stressful now than in the past because it has come with an increasing number of strong technical leads across my teams (and the other remaining amazing architects I have the pleasure of working with) that allow me to increasingly delegate team-level duties outward.

It’s weird, and I’m still not sure how much I really like not being an IC anymore, even though that change has been years. But it feels like it’s working. So it goes.

Other than work, life continues. We’ve been taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to host cheese parties on our back deck, as well as taking opportunities for outdoor dining while they still exist (because the pandemic is still a thing despite what everyone else seems to think). Oakland trips over the weekend to grab food from various places and eat it out in Schenley Plaza (or similar), followed by bubble tea from Fuku, has also been a thing. So that’s been nice, at least.

I’m fully expecting the election this upcoming week to send me down another depressive spiral of despair, so before then, I figured I should make a post about something less negative.

A large part of my free time lately has been spent watching (old) TV shows. The biggest one recently was Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which was a recommendation from a friend, and it’s also become one of my all-time favorite shows. (How many does that make now? :P) I was immediately drawn to it because it’s a musical series (and Glee, despite its many, many, many flaws, still holds a special place in my heart because of that), and I’d previously seen many of the music videos online. But the show itself is… ridiculously, amazingly, unbelievably good. I feel like it approaches characters and relationships and sexuality and mental disorders in such a responsible and caring way, and it also is ridiculously fun, besides. (It’s also ridiculously cringe at parts, but uses that discomfort as a narrative tool so well that I couldn’t stop wanting more of it all, even the cringe parts.)

The music videos also hit very differently in context, which I don’t think I really appreciated (or thought I would appreciate) until I actually saw the first one I recognized. Not only do they all stand on their own as extremely well-done and entertaining pieces, they also are incredibly well-blended with the plot and episode and characters around them.

The show didn’t quite leave me a sobbing mess in the same way Schitt’s Creek sometimes did, but it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath anyway because it is truly a masterpiece, and I’m so thankful it got its full four-season run, because I think ending at any of the other points would have been an utter travesty given the character arcs and development.

I recommend checking it out, but if you don’t, you should at least look up some of the music on YouTube because it is glorious in its own right. Highlights for me include (in no particular order): A Diagnosis, I’ve Always Never Believed In You, No One Else Is Singing My Song, I Hate Everything But You, Let’s Generalize About Men, The End Of The Movie, The Moment Is Me, This Is My Movement, Let’s Have Intercourse, Face Your Fears, and I Gave You A UTI. (As I said, responsible and caring about sexuality. :P)

Speaking of music and musicals, I also finished watching through the two seasons of Smash today. I approached it with a small bit of context from seeing a couple of the songs on YouTube previously (primarily Rewrite This Story and Caught In The Storm, via YouTube recommendations after a bunch of Jeremy Jordan videos, but a few of the others as well), and with knowing that critics had largely panned the show and its plot and characters (but without knowing any details of those reviews). And I have to say… I was pleasantly surprised by the entire thing. The songs here also hit differently in context, and are tied in beautifully with the plots and characters. While I would generally say the first season of Glee was better than Smash as a whole, Smash is significantly more cohesive, consistent, and overall better than Glee as a whole (which quickly derailed during its second season and became unwatchable during its third and onward).

The consistency is particularly important to me, and Smash does switchups in a way that feel significantly more natural and believable. For example, in Glee, we always have “new songs” for the big competitions, often justified in the narrative in the flimsiest possible ways (“show up in New York with no songs written and write them, instrument them, and choreograph them the night before!”), while in Smash the “new song” was done in a narratively-consistent way (“hey, experienced songwriters who have been working on this already, you have a few hours to figure it out and finish it, and also stage it as identically to the opening number as possible to make it learnable, and also all the other show songs are ones we’ve seen already”). Not to mention that Smash also does a ton more original numbers, and they connect in-universe with the characters and stories much, much better than any original songs Glee ever did, even though those were supposed to be “from the heart” and “what’s going to win us Regionals”. It just flows better, as a show.

Catching up on the critics’ reviews afterward, I find myself agreeing with a lot of it (yes, I noticed that Katharine McPhee wasn’t the best at emoting, even while watching it myself, and yes, the show does a lot of “telling but not showing”), but actually disagreeing with most of it. No, both actresses were reasonable choices for Marilyn in different ways. No, Katharine McPhee is actually hella talented and can sing really damn well. No, some of the “super cringe” story elements (particularly with regard to Kyle) weren’t actually that bad. No, the “wandering plotlines” in the first season were not out of place because they gave each character a plot point and some focus. No, Dev actually served an important purpose in the first season.

Maybe I just watch TV for fun too much to be quite that critical of it, and can forgive a ton of plot or character issues as long as I’m enjoying myself and it all makes reasonable sense, for some definition of “enjoying myself” and “reasonable sense”.

I’ve also watched through Lower Decks, also at the recommendation of a friend, and also partially because we’re working our way through all of Star Trek (currently on season 7 of Deep Space Nine). It is… not good, which is maybe amusing given the paragraph immediately before this one. Season 1 was okay enough, I suppose, and had a lot of good moments (including one or two where I actually laughed; almost every appearance of the doggo in “Much Ado About Boimler” was gold), but it as a whole just feels too fast-paced and a lot of it feels like it falls flat for me. Season 2 just feels like a lot of really cheap jokes that don’t really land and also feel even more out of place in the Star Trek universe.

Contrast that to Better Off Ted, another comedy series that I think lands every episode and nearly every joke. It has some cringe-worthy moments, but as a whole it’s witty and funny and feels overall well-written. It seems like a huge shame that Better Off Ted only lasted two seasons, while Lower Decks is ongoing (four seasons, now), in the same way that it feels like a huge shame that Smash lasted two seasons while Glee did six.

I’ve also watched some other things that aren’t worth commenting on quite as much, and have purchased a couple more series on DVD that I’ll need to start soon (primarily Warehouse 13 and Community). I suppose that’ll be my entertainment for the next however many months, and what’ll help get me through the mess that is sure to be next week.

Anyway. Happy continued pandemic, everyone. :\

I’m Used to Feelin’ That Fire

I keep feeling like I’m overdue for a post here, but every time I open up the page to write something new, I find myself drawing a blank. Where is there to say that I haven’t said ad nauseum already over the past few months? The world’s on fire and the civic situation feels more and more hopeless with each passing day. I’m behind on everything I should be doing and accomplishing less than I should in every aspect, particularly work. Blah blah blah insert the same complaints from the past year of journal posts here.

The one thing I have been keeping up with is my photo journal and photos stats, both over at life. They updated on time at the beginning of last month, and I was thinking this was the first time I failed to make a timely journal post announcing the update, but I’d also apparently failed at that with the end-of-April update this year, so c’est la vie. Or whatever. That’s probably not even the correct use of that expression.

I missed my cousin’s wedding because the world’s over COVID and so plane travel is even more unsafe than it was at any point during the actual pandemic. It would have been nice to be there, and been a nice trip, and generally just been nice. I feel bad about missing it, and should be angry at the world of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers and science deniers in general for denying me the wedding, and denying me indoor dining, and denying me travel in general… but I just can’t rustle up the energy anymore. So instead, I’m just sad.

I guess the last sentence of my last post ended up being remarkably prescient.

So things just… are. Which is better than some alternatives, but worse than others.