I Need Better Sleep…

January 17, 2019 10:58am
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If I had to guess, I probably get 3-4 nights of “good sleep” a week. And honestly, sometimes it’s more just decent than good.

Because I always have so much do to after the kids go to bed, it’s a pretty regular thing for me to stay up really late one night and then pay for it by being super tired the next day and eventually crashing early when I get home. It’s a vicious cycle, and in the end I know that it’s more unproductive than, say, going to bed at a consistent time every night and then making due with the time that I have each day.

But I don’t know how to break the cycle…

Lately I’ve noticed bursts of energy, followed by lulls throughout the day. I’m good in the morning, then sluggish after lunch. Another burst late afternoon into the early evening, then slowly coasting downward as I go home and see the kids before bedtime. When they go down is when I really start to crash because Christopher likes to turn all of the lights out in the house before he goes to sleep, and in the event that I don’t fall asleep myself waiting for him to crash, I’m very tired at that point. Until around 11:30 pm when my night owl-ism tends to kick in and then I want to get to work!

Of course, if I start working on something just before midnight, that ends up leaving me with only a few hours of sleep because I have to get up between 8 and 9 am to take Christopher to school, and then I’ll be dragging the rest of the day until I can officially crash myself.

I’ve even gone so far as to map out what I think an ideal day with adequate sleep would look like for me, but I just can’t seem to execute on it and make it a reality. I can’t seem to find the discipline needed to implement a new schedule, so instead I’m doing this back and forth thing that can’t possibly be good for my general health and sanity!

Musing About Disney World and Stats

January 16, 2019 3:30pm
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There are some times when I would really love to get a glimpse of some of the statistics around Walt Disney World.

My curiosity this morning is specifically around Disney Vacation Club (DVC) and how many members there actually are in order to better gauge how many people are really fighting over the tickets to the Moonlight Magic events that are continuing again this year. Today was the opening of registration for the first two events at the Magic Kingdom, and even though I logged in about 15 minutes after the opening at 9:00 am, I was pleasantly surprised that it actually wasn’t difficult at all to get them this time…

I’ve been to a handful of these events since Disney started doing them back in 2016, but more often than not availability was always very limited and if you weren’t ready to jump on the email the second it showed up, you were plum out of luck.

Because if I remember right, the first few events didn’t have a scheduled reservation time, but just sent an email when it was ready … and sometimes it would come at three in the afternoon when everyone was at work … and others would get it a day or two later!

So I don’t know if maybe Disney just wised up and either beefed up the servers that host these sites or increased the capacity admitted to the events … or both. Even looking back further, it seemed like they were always having problems with demand for any Annual Passholder special events that they hosted as well … which always seemed odd to me for a $100 BILLION company like Disney to not invest more in their infrastructure to make their web experience absolutely flawless.

It’s really the same with the My Disney Experience app or guest wifi in the parks. I’m sure their hardware has to be beefy with possibly tens of thousands of concurrent wifi users online in a single park each day, but again … you’re Disney! You charge $100+ admission just to get in the door! Figure it out!

But just from a numbers geek’s perspective, it’d still be neat to know to what scale we’re dealing with for any of these problems – if the Magic Kingdom holds 100,000 people (hypothetically), do they let in 25% of that for the DVC events? Or any of the other hard ticketed events, for that matter???

It admittedly always amazes me how really any of the four parks can average at least 30,000 guests a day (according to TEA/AECOM’s reporting) and it doesn’t feel like you’re surrounded by such a sea of people because everyone is spread out across 100+ acres and eating/shopping/doing attractions to balance the crowds!

I think you could do some really fun stuff, and I’m sure that there are entire teams of geeks at Disney who do just that!, with access to the actual numbers of how many people walked through their turnstiles each day, or rode Space Mountain, or bought Mickey bars.

There’s a part of me that thinks it would be super cool if there’s a NOC-style room somewhere at Disney that has giant maps of each park up on the walls with heat maps showing guest flow around all of the lands and attractions.

They’ve got to be getting something more out of these MagicBands that we’re all wearing now!

As one often does at the beginning of a new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity and ways that I can get more things done to make this year my absolute best yet.

It started with returning to using a to-do list app – in this case, Todoist – and along with the tracking and accountability, it’s also lead me to change how I look at my work not only to keep myself more upbeat and positive in hopes that it shows through in the things that I do, but also in carrying that perspective through to work that I maybe didn’t get done or needed to postpone to avoid The Negative Cloud of Failure from holding me back even further…

My new strategy is something that I’m definitely piecing together a little bit at a time, but here’s where I’m at right now…

  1. Always remember that postponing a task isn’t failure. Work sometimes gets delayed for a variety of reasons, and it doesn’t do any good to dwell on them. Plus, sometimes a task scheduled for today gets bumped for something else that ended up being more important – life goes on!
  2. Start and end my day knowing my priorities. I’m trying to get in the habit of making Todoist my first stop online, even before social media or email, because it helps me to mentally plan my day. I like to end there, too, as it gives me a chance to review what tasks are leftover and reconsider their priorities as I reschedule them.
  3. Keep my number of tasks manageable. The last time I used Todoist, it eventually got backlogged with literally years worth of old tasks until it became daunting and frankly depressing to see my list of incomplete tasks growing more than shrinking. So instead, I try not to put every little thing there, and if a single day has more than about half a dozen tasks, I know that I need to trim it up to keep from getting overwhelmed.
  4. Have multiple kinds of work available. I’m not always in the mood for working on certain kinds of tasks, so instead of spinning my wheels all day, I’ve found it’s helpful to keep a variety in my pipeline so I can work on things that excite me as productivity fuel as much as possible!
  5. Look at work as smaller pieces instead of one big task. A great example – my home office has been the place to dump everything for almost a year, so it’s a real mess. I’m trying to clean it up, but it’s certainly not a task I can tackle in an evening. Instead, I’ll put something like Office Cleaning, part 4 as a task on my list and when I get to it, I’ll spend some time filing or cleaning up a portion – something I can do in an hour or two. And only when I get #4 completed do I add #5 to the list – that way I’m not constantly tripping over tasks.

One other thing I’m thinking of doing is setting up a dedicated monitor by my desk that just displays my current task list (I like the Next 7 Days option in Todoist because it gives me a glimpse of a week or so at a time).

I could either just have a browser with the Todoist website open directly, or I see that DAKboard now offers integration with Todoist as well and I’ve really come to like them for my digital calendar.

Right now I tend to keep it open in a browser tab at all times, but I think something more front and center might also help to keep me more accountable when I feel like killing time around Facebook or Twitter instead of knocking out a quick blog post or something! Especially when you’ve got tasks of various sizes, being able to look at your to-do list and think, “Hey – that will take me about 20 minutes and I’ve got half an hour right now, so why don’t I do it instead of watching videos on YouTube?!” is great for being able to feel more productive at the end of the day because you were more productive!

Over time I’d like to slowly expand my usage to be able to track more long term goals and ideas – for example, right now I’ve got a project in Todoist for things I want to read/watch/listen to but didn’t have time to when I stumbled across them. It’s easy enough to just copy & paste a website link, but for ideas I’d like to add more context and notes if I have them – kind of like what you might do in Evernote or a totally different app.

think you can do that in the paid version of Todoist, and if my newfound momentum keeps up for weeks and months, I can see how it could easily be worth the whopping $3/month … but again, baby steps right now as I just ease back into things and really try to feel out a system that works right for me! 😉

Can we go on a cruise today???

January 14, 2019 6:31pm
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Remember that thing I said last week about following passionate people?

Tim and Jenn (TheTimTracker on YouTube) are a couple of likeminded Disney fanatics whose videos I’ve been enjoying lately because they really go out of their way to be positive and it’s hard not to have fun just living vicariously through their videos.

Case in point – last month Tim spent two weeks eating hotdogs at the Magic Kingdom for the 12 Days of Hotdogs promotion that they did at Casey’s Corner … because I certainly don’t think that I could eat that many hotdogs myself, but it sure was fun to watch! 😉

Anyways, apparently Disney recently sent a bunch of media guests on a complimentary Disney Cruise, so the last couple of days they’ve been posting videos about their cruising experience which have been a lot of fun to watch, albeit every single one so far has left me desperately yearning to go on another cruise myself! It’s neat seeing around a Disney ship because to date we’ve only done Carnival and Royal Caribbean, and although I think we’d both eagerly sail again on either one of them, we’re also very curious to check out a Disney Cruise for ourselves, too.

In fact, if it wasn’t for our kids currently climbing on everything in sight and worrying about them constantly falling off the boat, I’d love to take the whole family on a cruise…

…though admittedly another part of that cruise yearning is more likely than not also getting to spend a full week without responsibility!

Still … I do miss that decadent, blue water so…

*sigh*

Robots Playing Video Games???

January 13, 2019 12:50pm
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This is a really cool video of Super Mario World, and not just because it’s an incredibly fast speed run featuring all sorts of exploits that I’d never seen before, but also … the game is being played entirely by a robot!!!

So apparently what they’ve done here is hacked the SNES controller so that instead of sending inputs to the SNES via physically pressing buttons, they can have a computer send the commands … which is obviously much faster and can enable some pretty neat exploits that are (usually) too quick for a human to pull off.

For example, and I thought this was super interesting, apparently the fastest way to move Mario in Super Mario World is to rapidly change the direction that he’s facing as you move (i.e. pressing left, then right repeatedly). And we’re talking within a single frame of the game, so it’s not exactly something that a person could do, but when its just a computer sending signals to the console, it’s just another command.

Now as far as I can tell (and please correct me if someone reads this and sees that I’m wrong!), but the computer isn’t necessarily reacting to changes in the game – it’s essentially running a script that the designers have testing out and tweaked to get the best possible outcome, whether it’s triggering a Level Complete action before the level is actually complete by playing to an exploit in the game or defeating bowser at the end.

One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed watching speed runs is because I think it’s incredible to see people play that have such a mastery of a given game that they not only know where every last item or power-up is, but also things like which order to kill monsters in because they understand how the game tracks those kills and determines what power-ups to drop next. So to then be able to take it another step and know what location in memory various statuses get held so that they can exploit weaknesses to make the game do things that it’s not supposed to – just wow!

Just one more example – here’s a glitch in Super Mario World that somehow triggers the end credits less than a minute into the game…

You can read the link above to explain the glitch better than I can, but it’s pretty cool stuff. 😉

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For example, an American with a kindergarten-level education concerning economics shall not be permitted to speak on this topic with individuals possessing graduate or doctorate-level education.

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In my ongoing attempt to make 2019 my best and most productive year to date, one of the ideas that I’ve been exploring is how I should best spend my time.

I’ve already written about the downsides of social media, and that’s definitely something that I’m trying to curb in search of this new me.

But at the same time, sometimes I struggle because not everyone online is bad – in fact, that’s been a major concern whenever I distance myself from social media is that I’m going to lose track of the people who I really do want to follow in the process!

So one thing that’s helped is taking a look at each of my interests and thinking about whose insights and opinions I really value in those areas. And those are the people who I’m primarily following, on social media and elsewhere.

Because I figure if I’m going to spend time reading stuff on the Internet, why not steer clear of the random strangers and drama queens and instead devote my time to people who I actually care about?!

Here’s my list so far…

These are all people who inspire me, they make me laugh, and the things that they do make me happy, so if push comes to shove, I’d rather kill a few minutes checking out something new that one of them did than arguing with some random stranger on Facebook. 😉

Magic for Sale

January 6, 2019 10:10pm
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Some bittersweet news – last week I sent a bunch of Magic cards to Card Kingdom and today they confirmed that they’ll give me over $500 for them!

It’s a little sad because I spent a lot of time as a kid trying to collect a full set and many are barely worth pennies now, but on the upside, I’m going to use the money to start college funds for David and Matthew, which at the end of the day is probably better than them just collecting dust in the closet.

For what it’s worth, at least they priced a bit higher than when I had done this same exercise a couple of years ago, but never got around to mailing them off – apparently back in 2015, the dual lands that I had (Underground Sea and Plateau, revised edition) were running $180 and $40, respectively, whereas three years later they were offering $295 and $65 for them!

It was definitely a little unsettling adding cards to the cart that I thought should’ve been worth more, but came in at only a few bucks or less. I basically set my limit at $1 or more, and then added in a handful where they were offering pocket change, but I happened to have a handful of them.

It’s not like they’ve been doing anything at all sitting in my closet for the last umpteen years…

And honestly, I was really impressed by the turnaround – I believe I shipped them Thursday via priority mail, Card Kingdom received them yesterday, and then this evening they had already graded them and confirmed the final selling price.

Their value if everything had been perfect was $595 and I ended up with $514, so I guess that’s not too bad for a stack of playing cards that I literally have had since the mid-90s! Granted, there were a ton that they didn’t even want – anything common or uncommon, plus some rares that they’d only take in bulk which probably would’ve cost me more to ship than I’d have made back.

Thanks again to Card Kingdom for making the entire process surprisingly easy! I think I’d actually heard about them years ago when they were featured on an episode of Kris and Scott’s Scott and Kris Show, so when they showed up on my search for places buying cards via mail and their website was super simple to work with, I was sold.

It makes me wonder what kind of a total I’d have gotten if I’d held onto more of those dual lands that I used to have because back before I started selling off my cards to buy music stuff instead, I’m pretty sure I had a full set of them! Oh well. 😛

Today was a great day!

Historically I haven’t really been much of a Busch Gardens fan because A) I’m scared shitless of “real roller coasters”; and B) I tend to spend half the time comparing everything to Disney and just being perpetually disappointed.

That said, somehow the stars aligned today and what was our first of likely many visits in 2019 was actually pretty great. Granted, it certainly didn’t hurt that admission for our family of 5 only cost us about $120 … for the entire year! … thanks to a buy 1, get 1 free offer on their Fun Cards that they offered for Black Friday last year coupled with free preschooler cards for all of our kids.

We pretty much spent the entire afternoon just walking around, looking at animals, and the boys absolutely LOVED it!

I ended up with Christopher and David because Matthew was cranky and Sara was trying to get him to fall asleep, but it was pretty awesome just how engaged they were with each and every new animal that we came across – whether it was something big like the giraffes or lions or even smaller stuff like lizards and snakes and whatnot. We took a little time to learn something new about each one, and I think they really liked being able to call the shots by picking which animals we were going to check out next…

…even if I did have a hell of a time actually finding some of them!

If I had to rank our favorites, I think it might look something like this:

  1. Hippo
  2. Elephants
  3. Gorillas
  4. Flamingoes
  5. Duck fishing in the Hippo pond

After our animal hunt, we ended up over in the Sesame Street area, which I absolutely loved the last time we were here because I think that Busch just did a really great job of making it so fun and colorful and interactive for the kids.

David was still a little nervous going on rides, but he really enjoyed the ones that he could do with Christopher.

Christopher, on the other hand, would’ve lived there if we’d given him the chance, and one ride in particular was pretty amazing. He and David were going to ride their Snuffleupagus version of a Dumbo ride, but it turns out that while they were both tall enough to ride, Christopher wasn’t tall enough to supervise his little brother on the ride, so he rode by himself while David rode with Sara.

Watching that kid slowly realize that he could make the elephant go as high or low as he wanted all by himself was absolutely wonderful, even if it felt like he was literally growing up before my very eyes!

I wish I would’ve gotten a better picture of the GINORMOUS SMILE on his face, but darkness + spinning ride doesn’t make for good pictures… 😛

It was almost the same with their last ride of the night – the two boys were able to drive a car for The Count together, and boy, do I wish that I could’ve had a GoPro strapped to the dashboard to catch a glimpse into that little joy ride! 😀

On our way out, we got to enjoy the lights and Christmas decorations during their final weekend, which was a nice way to wind down the evening as we slowly headed out to the car. The kids split a couple of giant cookies, Sara and I each got to indulge in some holiday-themed desserts, and before we had even pulled out of the parking lot, two of the three kids were already fast asleep in their car seats…

Ultimately the weather was great – a bit chilly with the wind, but nowhere near spring or summer heats that make theme parks more challenging, the kids were amazingly well behaved, and it’s nice that we’ve got another option to entertain them that’s a little closer than driving all the way over to Disney World.

And I didn’t have to go on a single roller coaster!

I wanted to share a couple more links that I enjoyed while I was reading about productivity and best catering to your employees’ potential last night.

I’ve got to say that more and more, I’m finding myself becoming a real proponent of asynchronous communications – maybe it’s because it’s starting to feel like real time communications and this on-demand mentality are kind of, well, exhausting … to the point where it makes me wonder what kinds of changes an organization could see simply by moving away from the constant fire drills and everything is urgent mentality and instead allowed for the time needed for everyone on their teams not only to just breathe, but also to frankly put a little more thought into their decision making process that only not being rushed really allows.

I know that I can definitely think of some examples where I’ve been up super late working on code because I was in the zone, being super productive … only to have to deal with the fallout the next day when someone was looking for me first thing in the morning when they got in and didn’t care that I’d been kicking out some of my best work at 3am while they were long asleep!

Sure, it can be hard to break free from the mindset of “I have a question that’s holding me back and I need it answered now!”, but for me it’s really just a matter of remembering that everyone else has jobs, too, and they’re not typically waiting around for the phone to ring or an IM or email to pop up begging for on call assistance. 😉

It was only a few years ago when I finally decided that I wasn’t always going to answer my phone the moment that it rang, particularly if I was deep in the middle of something. And honestly that came from sitting back and realizing that pretty much 9 times out of 10, they were almost always calls that could either be answered via five minutes of research using tools that my team had already provided, or they were follow-ups to explain an email that they’d just sent to me minutes earlier!

Seriously!

Anywho – here’s some more food for thought on this topic that I found intriguing. Happy reading!

Why Focus Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage at Work (Plus 19 Ways To Actually Do It)
https://blog.todoist.com/2015/09/01/how-to-focus-better-at-work/

Managing a Remote Team: Best Practices from Doist’s Head of Marketing
https://blog.doist.com/building-and-managing-a-remote-team-2cd0ee4ccb5f

Why We’re Betting Against Real-Time Team Messaging
https://blog.doist.com/why-were-betting-against-real-time-team-messaging-521804a3da09

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