Last weekend we finally saw Avengers: Endgame, which wraps up the Avengers series of movies as they’ve been set up since Iron Man back in 2008, and is basically the second half of the movie started in last year’s Infinity War.
Before I get to the spoilers I’ll say this: Infinity War was basically 2-1/2 hours of set-up, was way overstuffed with too many characters, and Thanos was a pretty limp villain, not strong enough to carry the movie, and with basically unbelievable motivations. Endgame benefits from a much smaller cast (for most of the movie) and more room to breathe, but at 3 hours long also contains a lot of material that could have just been cut, or replaced with better material. Still, it’s a fairly satisfying wrap-up to the story, and has a number of great scenes (which were sorely lacking in Infinity War).
It seems two remnants of Playland survived its closure: One, the Musée Méchanique, moved to Fisherman’s Wharf on the other side of the city when the Cliff House was renovated starting in 2002. The other is the Camera Obscura, located in a small building accessible by a short trail to the left of the Cliff House, or by stairs to its right leading to a paved area behind the building. While I’d visited the Musée several times at its location here, I don’t remember the Camera at all, and feel like I only heard of it a year or so ago.
We parked in a nearby lot which had broken car glass in many spaces. My guess is that people park there at night to go walking and that’s when most of the break-ins occur. We didn’t see any cars with broken windows. There’s also street parking, as well as the lot for the Lands End Lookout building, above the Baths.
Admission was $3 for each of us, but it was well worth it for the novelty: The Camera had a 360° angle of view, and once the operator turns it on, it slowly rotates through its arc, projecting the image of the area around the building on a large concave wooden panel in the middle of the room. Viewers must slowly walk around the panel to stay oriented to the image, but it is amazingly sharp and clear. Which makes sense, since what we think of as a “camera” – film or digital – has a resolution of the image it produces, while this camera has effectively infinite resolution – or, at any event, probably higher resolution than the human eye can perceive.
It takes about six minutes to complete the circuit, so during the second cycle when the camera was pointed at the Cliff House, Debbi and I checked out the small but neat collection of holograms around the room.
The Camera Obscura is in some ways emblematic of San Francisco historical sites. Most of SF was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, so most of the historical sites that remain have a sort of immediacy to them: Some of them, like the Camera, are still functioning. Others were functioning within the lifetimes of many people living (such as Alcatraz). In a way this is a testament to the pace of technological (and sometimes social) progress in the last century: The Camera Obscura is still pretty cool today, and it must have been pretty awesome when it opened in the late 1940s. Nonetheless, though that was only 70 years ago, it feels like a different era in history. But the Camera is not a relic, it’s a representative.
Today is my 20-year anniversary of working at Apple. Where does the time go?
I went back and read the entry I wrote about moving to California and starting work at Apple, and it’s, uh, a little embarrassing. I guess I was… enthusiastic? But also young. Not that 30 – which I had just turned at the time – is all that young, but myself at 30 reads as young to me, 20 years later. Ranting about stupid tech problems, a silly dig at Microsoft (which was still on top of the world at the time, rankling many an Apple fan), a strange surface sense of self-awareness that nonetheless makes me think, “This guy, he has no idea.”
We had a department meeting last week where they had short segments on myself and two others hitting big milestone anniversaries. I found a couple of old photos from my first couple of years that they used, and our director said a lot of kind things. He also devoted a chunk of it to my puns, which I’m sure would amuse my sixth grade teacher. There are a lot of people in our department that I don’t know well but now they know me a little.
Apple is in many ways essentially the same company I joined, only much, much bigger. As John Gruber once said, “[Steve] Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.” I think that’s been key in maintaining the continuity and the level of excellence and – frankly – keeping the company a place I want to work, across two CEOs and many huge changes. Apple had, what, less than 10,000 employees when I started? How big is it now?
Of the projects I’ve worked on in the last two decades, I think the one I’m most proud of is the iOS SDK, which shipped in Xcode 3.1 near the end of my first decade. It was a large and interesting project in which I think we got many things right and that work has served us well in doing similar projects in the decade since. I’m hopeful that the groundwork we’ve laid in Xcode’s new build system in the last few years will lead to it eclipsing that in my memory, given time.
Personally, the last ten years have had their ups and downs: Debbi and I bought a house together. We had three cats pass away, but got two more. We bought a vacation home. My mother moved to assisted living and passed away. We got married! We went to Walt Disney World and visited Debbi’s family and friends in the area. Friends and family have come to visit. It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster, which maybe is normal for middle age. I’d say it’s been more good than bad, but maybe that’s because these have been good times for the last three or so years: There were some dark stretches earlier in the decade.
This year so far has been a cool and rainy one in NorCal, which is one of my enduring memories of my first month or so in California. Spring in February is normal to me now, whereas it felt like bonus exotic vacation time when I first got here.
I “celebrated” by doing a Magic draft in the evening at Game Kastle, where I assembled a mediocre Azorius deck with lots of removal (four Lawmage’s Binding! Three Slimebind!) and not enough good creatures. I dispatched a good Simic midrange deck, and then run over by a hyper-aggressive Rakdos deck and a solidly aggressive Orzhov deck, for a 1-2 finish. Not the best, though looking back I think I was in approximately the right place, the cards just weren’t there.
I also tweeted about my Appleversary and acquired about three dozen new followers on Twitter. No doubt they’ll all be disappointed when I rarely tweet about Apple or tech. 🙂
20 years is a long time to stick with anything, but honestly you can never run out of interesting things to work on at Apple. I’ve been working on approximately the same project for most of that time, and there’s always something new to learn or develop. I doubt there are many companies where that’s true, and I consider myself lucky to be there.
I turned fifty years old on Wednesday. It hardly seems possible!
I’ve treated my birthdays as very low-key in recent years, and this was mostly not an exception. Wednesday Debbi came into the bedroom before I got up with a pair of giant balloons for the number “50”. Later on I thought they spelled “SO”, as in “I am SO old!” She also put “Happy Birthday” signs around the house, and bought me boxes of See’s Candies.
I took Wednesday off from running, but I did go to work. I’d planned to put aside some of my current projects and instead work on some stuff I wanted to work on for a day. Instead I put them aside to work on putting out a fire. Best laid plans! But hey, I did get the problem solved. And I left early to pick up comics, where the owner of the store told me Debbi had stopped in and given him her credit card number to pay for my haul for the day. So I picked up a few extra things, which I think was her intention. She also cooked dinner. A pretty great birthday!
Friday night we went to Sundance the Steakhouse for dinner, which is one of my favorite restaurants and one we’ve gone to often for our birthdays. The complementary dessert for my birthday is great too.
Saturday we did some chores, but we also had some cleaners over to do a serious cleaning of the house, especially the bathrooms and kitchens. We haven’t had cleaners in since we moved into this house, and it took the two of them about 4 hours to get through everything. But man, it sure looks better, especially the master shower, but also just much less dust on everything. Jackson followed them around while they were here, which was pretty funny; even the vacuum doesn’t faze him much.
Finally, today we threw a small party with friends and their kids. It’s been a while since I had a birthday party – maybe since 2012? I had a good time, although I think a couple of the kids were a bit bored at times. But I carried my friend Itai’s younger daughter around upside-down a bunch of times, so I think she had a good time. And cake from The Prolific Oven and ice cream from Rick’s is always yummy!
It’s no surprise, I guess, that 50 doesn’t feel much different from 49. I’m not sure whether it feels much different from 40, either. I’ve been pretty lucky that my hair isn’t graying very fast – mostly just at the temples – and my body is in pretty good shape considering I’m someone who’s not in great shape. A few aches and pains, but nothing chronic. I’m still able to run 14 miles a week.
In some ways I don’t feel that much different from when I was 25, but in other ways I do. Little (and big) life experiences and lessons add up over time. It’s a perspective I don’t think I could have had when I was 25. Maybe other people do, but it’s the sort of thing I wish I should share to those who don’t, if I knew how.
It is weird to think that I’m pretty firmly past the halfway point in my life – hardly anyone in my family during my lifetime has lived to 100 (only one person that I know of). That’s a little bit of an illusion since not all of my childhood feels like I really lived it, so maybe I’ll make it to 90, and I have a pretty good chance to get to 80. 30 years is a long time.
But it’s still weird to write something like that.
Anyway. I don’t make many New Year’s resolutions, but this year I decided I would talk less about my age and longevity at work. It’s a little too much like bragging, and I already know that I work with lots of younger people who are as good or better than I am at our jobs. And maybe it feels a little too fatalistic. Hopefully that will be an easier resolution to keep now that this birthday has passed.
But, as they say, age is just a number. And a birthday is just a day. And every year has a whole bunch of them
Many years ago when I was still into role-playing games, and in particular into Call of Cthulhu, I came across a magazine (remember those?) with a short adventure investigating a spaceship which crashed on a planetoid and – of course – eldritch horrors were involved. Someone had even created an image for the adventure involving an old Space: 1999 Eagle – an inspired choice since that show had great visual design and was at its (modest) best working the horror genre. I wondered at the time while no one had really mined the potential of Lovecraft and space opera. Of course, lots of people have combined horror and science fiction; even before I saw that magazine we’d already had Alien and George R. R. Martin’s novella “Nightflyers” (which has itself been adapted as a film and a recent TV series on SyFy), and they’re hardly the only examples. But I hadn’t seen instances combining specifically Lovecraft horror with SF.
I’m sure there have been plenty of instances by now of that combination – Lovecraftian fiction is bigger than ever and there has been a lot of it written in the last 35 years – but now we have something resembling it in comic book form: Outer Darkness, by John Layman and Afu Chan. It’s working a more overt form of horror (with large doses of terror), but it is, if you will, a second cousin to that role-playing adventure I came across decades ago. And it’s one of the comics I most look forward to each month.
The comic is on a slow burn to reveal its story, but the basic idea is this: Humanity has reached the stars, and there are horrible nightmarish things out there. Joshua Rigg is a former ship captain in a dead-end career when he’s asked by a fleet admiral to take command of his old ship, the Charon, to head into the outer darkness to retrieve – something. The ship now had a god engine, a ravenous being to which sentient lives have to be sacrificed to make the ship go. This is no Star Trek crew: The officers include an oracle, an exorcist, a mathematician, a mortician (!), and various others of various species. And apparently there’s a war on.
In the second issue, Rigg puts his crew through a brutal exercise to see what they’re capable of. And in the third we meet a couple of junior crew who come to a bad end – or so it seems. But this seems like the kind of universe where if something doesn’t get you in one issue, something else might in the next. The stage is still being set three issues in – we barely know anything about the characters’ pasts, or what’s going on in the universe, or what the Charon is heading out to retrieve. But it’s engaging stuff so far.
I was not a big fan of Layman’s previous long-form comic, Chew – I burned out on the shtick after about 30 issues – but Outer Darkness has a very different tone and is a solid read so far. It’s also got some fine and distinctive artwork by Afu Chan, whom I thought I hadn’t seen before, but it turns out I did buy HaloGen, though I don’t really remember it.
Honestly besides the space opera/horror mash-up, the slow burn resemblance to Babylon 5 is also a draw for me. If Layman wants to make this fan really happy, this series will have the sorts of revelations and changes in direction that were the keynote of that series, so that by the end we’ll be looking back impressed by how the story got from these simple beginnings to wherever it ends up. Here’s hoping!
After 37 (or so) seasons of television, the BBC cast a woman as the Doctor. Jodie Whittaker fit right in with many of her predecessors, perhaps not surprisingly most closely evoking David Tennant – the most popular Doctor of the modern era – and Peter Davison, with her portrayal of the Doctor being more consistently upbeat and less of a schemer who can’t entirely be trusted (a la the sad end of Matt Smith’s Doctor vis-a-vis Clara).
For me, the key question was whether the writing would improve, as the show’s writing these last few years has been inconsistent at best, and often just plain weak. Did new show runner Chris Chibnall succeed in elevating the storytelling? My answer… after the cut (along with spoilers for the season):
Of the many personal looks back at 2018 I’ve read over the last couple of days, I think the most memorable to read was that of Peter Sagal on Twitter. My year wasn’t that great – I doubt many peoples’ was – but it was still pretty great.
I rarely talk about work here, but a lot of the great was due to work. Over a year ago we had some shuffling on my team after which one of my long-tile colleagues jokingly asked me how it felt to be the senior engineer on the project I was on. That question caused me to realize that this was a point where I could continue cruising along the way I had been – plugging away on my assigned tasks – or I could step up to more of a leadership role. I don’t at this point fully recall how my head worked through it all, but as you can guess I decided to do the latter. (“Up my game” was a phrase that went through my head.) I wrote a little bit about this last year, and this year felt like the payoff of what began back then.
Anyway, the past year-plus has involved shepherding the project through some major milestones, helping to plan and organize them, and also helping to onboard two new hires.
It was a year of learning a bunch of new skills, and a number of lessons too, some of which also opened my mind about, well, working with people and just plain interacting with people. It wasn’t all stuff that was right in my wheelhouse, and it was certainly frazzling and exhausting at times, but I can look back and feel like I – and the whole team – accomplished some great stuff.
One thing I’ve been working on embracing through all of this is the value of being positive: Giving people encouragement and speaking up when people do good stuff. I’m a bit of a cynic at heart so this doesn’t always come naturally to me, but there are so many opportunities in software to be negative – many of them part of the normal flow of the job, because software development means bug fixes, revision, refinement, and critique. I’ve been finding that it helps to balance out dealing with the negative parts by also emphasizing the positive. (At least I think it helps! It helps me when other people do it.) This seems obvious in hindsight, but it’s such a wide-ranging principle that it’s something I’m still working on, and I keep thinking of more nuances to it, things I can improve on or should stop doing.
And as you might imagine it’s only a short hop from thinking about this at work to thinking about it in my personal life, social interactions, and on the Internet.
So anyway, I’ve grown a lot the last year (I think), but there’s always more to learn and new ways to improve. Plenty to keep working on in 2019!
My personal life didn’t have quite the same feeling of accomplishment, but I had a good year there, too. I didn’t take a lot of vacation last year, but we did have a nice two-week trip back east to visit our families and stay at our beach house over the summer. And I went to the World Science Fiction Convention.
I also had a grand old time all summer following my Boston Red Sox, who jumped out to a big lead early in the season and never let it go. I felt like this team’s offense wasn’t close to the level of the 2013 team’s wrecking crew, and beyond Chris Sale I was pretty concerned that the pitching staff wouldn’t carry them deep in the playoffs.
And boy was I wrong.
David Price reinvented himself as a control pitcher, the bullpen went from question mark to exclamation point, and the offense kept coming up with big hits at the best times, especially hometown hero and mid-season acquisition Steve Pearce, who must have found the whole thing an unbelievable experience.
And then there was Andrew Benintendi, who I think provided more sheer fun and enthusiasm than just about every other player in the postseason put together:
All of which added up to a surprising and very satisfying World Series championship, the franchise’s fourth this century, and a lot of great October entertainment for me!
We’ve wrapped up the year in a low-key manner. Unfortunately Debbi came down with a bad cold on Christmas Day and it’s lingered through New Year’s. We did manage a trip up to San Francisco, and also out to Half Moon Bay and Pacifica, as well as having people over for games and to hang out on New Year’s Eve afternoon, but otherwise we’ve been hanging out at home trying to get her well.
Hopefully she’s turning the corner and that 2019 will start looking up shortly.