2021 Holiday Advent Blog – Day 9 – Snorkeling for Santa

Kids are nuts sometimes.

Despite installing a solar heater for our pool this summer and loving it for months after that, I don’t think we’ve been swimming since the end of October because it just got too cold and the heater couldn’t get the water to a reasonable temperature during the day.

Mind you, “reasonable” this year after we got the heater became 90+ degrees, which just about feels like bathwater, so needless to say we’ve gotten pretty spoiled… 😛

That said, somehow we found ourselves swimming not once, but twice over the last couple of days! For the first night, we had gone out just to float boats in the hot tub that they’d built that afternoon and somehow one thing led to another and two of the three of them were in the water while the third played on the side and I supervised from the comforts of dry land. The next time, I noticed that the water was up to 82 degrees, so I decided to take the plunge so to speak because I honestly prefer to be in the water whenever the kids are anyways.

It was still pretty cold!

I mean, not enough to immediately send you squealing for indoors – maybe moderately relaxing at best – but I toughed it out because if we’re being honest, this summer I learned that the pool is an awesome way to tire them out which ultimately just makes the rest of my time before bed with them so much easier! Plus, they had a blast because the only swimming they’ve had for a month and a half has been 30 minutes a week for swim class!

Here’s hoping we get some warmer days during Christmas break that push those temps upwards of at least 85 degrees to give me a fighting chance… 😉

2021 Holiday Advent Blog – Day 8 – Old Enough to Snoop…

So apparently the kids have figured out where we keep their Christmas presents.

Granted, it’s not really much of a hiding place as it is a giant stack of boxes in our bedroom closet that’s supposed to be off-limits, but I guess on more than one occasion Christopher and David snuck in there while I was taking a shower and were poking around.

Christopher allegedly even took a bunch of pictures with his iPad, though he had deleted the evidence by the time I was able to check…

It’s frustrating both because we genuinely want them to be surprised on Christmas morning and also because we want to try to preserve the allure and magic of Santa Claus for at least another year or two, but at the same time I’m not gonna lie … I totally knew where my Mom hid our presents in the back of her closet and I was probably about their age when I started poking around to try and catch a glimpse at what new Nintendo game I might be getting for Christmas that year.

As a funny aside, though, I’m pretty sure they haven’t entirely pieced it together yet because upon finding a couple of Jurassic World Lego sets (that are clearly for him), David came and asked me if I was going to share the Lego sets that are in my closet because I guess he thought they were for me instead! Which, I mean, is sort of valid because I do have various sets sitting around still boxed that are for me, but not being into Lego Jurassic World in the slightest, those ones are definitely his.

I think we need to find a better hiding place next year if we’re going to keep this little ruse up much longer, though… 😯

2021 Holiday Advent Blog – Day 5 – Colors of the World

Apparently these came out last year and Crayola has been working to be inclusive of various cultures for decades, but this was the first I’ve seen them while wandering around the store this evening and I just thought it was really cool to have a box where any child could reach in and grab something to color with that looks how they look regardless of the color of their skin.

In comparison, you’ve got maybe six shades in your standard box of 64 crayons that resemble skin tones … a couple beige, a few browns, and black … whereas these sets just do a better job at something super important like allowing kids to feel represented in their own creative works.

Doing our best to be thoughtful of other people is how we move forward as a culturally rich society and I just thought that this was such a simple, yet fantastic idea. Plus, to stumble upon them during the holidays when “Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men…” is in the forefront of our minds – kudos, Crayola!

2021 Holiday Advent Blog – Day 4 – Merry Mario-Mas!

For what it’s worth, I’m not super crazy about the Mario Kart iOS game because I feel like the controls are a pain in the butt compared to the console games that I love … but for some reason Christopher likes it so every once in a while I feel obliged to indulge the kid…

…and yet today was kind of neat because they were celebrating Christmas in the game!

I’m a complete sucker for stuff like this, so driving around lit up Christmas trees on the course made barely being able to control my own car a little easier to bear.

And if that wasn’t enough, for the extra point here’s a neat compilation from all sorts of wintery video game levels that makes for some nice ambient holiday music – how many do you recognize???

2021 Holiday Advent Blog – Day 3 – It Was Beginning to Look a Lot Like Savings…

This sketch is technically from last season on SNL, but I love it so much it’s one of those videos that I have to watch whenever it pops up on social media because I’ve never understood how you would surprise somebody with a car unless you’ve got stupid money to give a gift without letting the person pick it out for themself.

Seriously, I hate it when people try to give me things for around the house because I’m just really picky about stuff that I have to see every day, so if I had to drive it … and then also make the payments on it afterwards?!

Then again, with that 0% APR, we should probably be good, right?

2021 Holiday Advent Blog – Day 2 – Movie Thoughts … 8-Bit Christmas

When I first stumbled across the announcement for this movie, I was super excited.

I mean, if there’s ever been a movie that seems to be tailored for me, this has got to be it, right?!

That said, by the time I got to the end of it – frankly, I was kind of bored and disappointed…

I mean, I like Neil Patrick Harris just as much as the rest of us, but the entire story is a flashback-style didn’t sit great with me off the bat. It took a while before I made the connection that it was basically a geeky remake of A Christmas Story, though I didn’t think it focused quite enough on the actual video games to pull it off.

There were some nuances that just bugged me, like the Power Glove being included even though it didn’t come out until later, and in the trailer there’s a scene where a janitor is describing a Black Friday stampede seemingly for the NES … only to find that in the movie, there’s a different logo on the wall because he’s actually talking about a stampede for Cabbage Patch Kids instead!

I know that they do that in movie trailers from time to time in an attempt to maintain surprises – in Avengers: Endgame, the part in the trailer where Captain America is arm wrestling Thanos shows only a couple of Infinity Stones in the gauntlet, whereas in reality that was at the end of the movie and he had collected all of them except for the Mind Stone.

I get it, but I don’t really like it.

As for the disappointment at the end – *** SPOILER ALERT *** I was really cheesed that we didn’t even get a big moment with him unwrapping an NES and going crazy on Christmas morning because it felt like the whole movie had been building to that, only to decide at the 11th hour that they wanted to end on a completely different kind of movie. Again, thinking that video games were the focus of the movie, it was a disappointment to instead have a story about a kid who played video games but also did a bunch of other stuff.

I think that trying to make a new Christmas movie in particular is a challenge because so much of what we love about the classics is nostalgic … just like those games themselves, a lot of them aren’t really very good movies these days, yet they transport us back to a simpler time when we were kids and that’s half the reason why we get such a kick out of revisiting them year after year after year.

So I guess it’s tough for a movie that’s made for my generation to really hit when they don’t fully commit to the concept, whether they set out to make a video game movie and just slipped on the proverbial icy patch along the way or if the Nintendo was really just a prop in an otherwise father and son tale all along.

I think they could’ve done the NES a lot better than this.

2021 Holiday Advent Blog – Day 1 – Night of a Million Lights

I’ve really missed a Christmas light display like this since Disney got rid of the Osborne Family Lights at Hollywood Studios a few years ago, so when I saw that the Give Kids the World Village was putting on this new event again, I jumped on picking up tickets for us right away!

I was immediately impressed to find that the event had all of the best parts of the Osborne Lights, but without the heavy theme park crowds because there was clearly a lot more space to work with, so whereas the Osborne Lights were almost always elbow to elbow, here at Give Kids the World the streets were nearly empty with just small groups casually taking photos and enjoying the presentation.

Granted, I don’t know how much of this is due to COVID – this is only their second year, so they’ve only ever existed under pandemic conditions … it’ll be interesting to see how that changes as this thing eventually dies down…

Once we got back into the sponsored part of the exhibit, the kids really loved having all sorts of things to interact with and it was neat seeing all sorts of local attractions coming together in one place for a common goal. Legoland, Universal, Margaritaville, Gatorland, and Ripley’s were some family favorites for us!

Now admittedly, and also a bit unexpectedly, parts of the evening were certainly a bit somber as we were randomly reminded of the real purpose of the Village, which is to give vacations to sick kids and their families during otherwise terrible times in their lives. There were decorations colored by some of the kids themselves, at one point we went on a tram tour that took us around the actual houses – also fully decorated – where families were currently staying.

At one point, our own kids asked if they could come stay there sometime because it looked like so much fun, and it was hard to explain that while yes, they’ve “been sick” and had hospital stays and even spent their earliest days under critical care in the NICU, it wasn’t on the same level as the kids who come here because they’re struggling with cancer or other life-threatening diseases … the kinds that people don’t necessarily “get better” from.

Still, at times it was also a quaint reminder to savor all of the smiles that our kids beamed as we explored the lights together and also spent plenty of time watching them run around with other kids on the playground in the middle of the Village. Plus, it made the prices a little easier to stomach knowing that all of the proceeds from tickets and food and merch were going to a good cause instead of simply a shareholder’s next dividend check!

Seriously, it had me pondering all night long why Disney never did something like this as a non-profit, although in their defense apparently they did donate a bunch of the lights and the workforce to help put them up, and they do host Make a Wish families in the parks themselves...

I don’t know – maybe in ways it’s better having something like this being a third-party, not operated by one company where the entire community can rally around it to help these kids.

By the time we were all cold enough to call it a night, I think it’s safe to say that everyone felt very much merry and bright, and it was a fantastic way to help kick off the holiday season that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again in the future. In fact, the kids asked on the shuttle bus ride back to the car if we could do it again next year, so that seemed like a pretty good sign to me!

Coronavirus, Day 625 – The Family That Vaccinates Together…

I’m happy to report that as of this weekend, our entire family has been vaccinated against COVID-19 with the kids getting their first Pfizer shots on Saturday!

Frankly, I hate how political this vaccine has gotten and I have a hard time understanding anyone’s justification for not getting it after over five million people have died from COVID globally since this pandemic started, well, 625 days ago…

But that’s not what I wanted to focus on when I set out to write this post because if anything, having our kids vaccinated is a huge relief for my wife and I because it represents the next big step towards getting back to normal … whatever that even is anymore. A lot of our habits and things we would do as a family have changed over the last two years, although some of them are honestly just as much to blame on the age of the kids as they are on the virus itself.

Eating out, for example, certainly isn’t something that I look forward to when I have to spend most of my meal chasing kids and begging them to sit in their seats and not make a gigantic mess of everything within reach at the table!

Going to the store is something that I’ve done with the kids one-on-one, even with Matthew recently, as long as they’re being good about wearing their masks.

And of course, theme parks have been out of the question, although I think now with everyone vaccinated we’re just about ready to try hitting up Legoland on the weekend again if they can hook us up with a good enough deal this week for Black Friday! 😉

Whether we’ll still wear masks on occasion when we’re out and about is probably up in the air – I had to make a grocery run to Publix earlier today and wore mine, even though very few non-employees had them on anymore. In that scenario, it almost feels like a gesture of good faith if service workers are going to be required to wear them, going back to the mantra all along that we wear masks to protect the other people around us while they wear them to protect us.

I’ll probably write a more in depth post in the near future about lessons learned from this crazy pandemic, but if nothing else, I really hope that my kids have picked up something about being compassionate for the people around us because despite friends and family having caught COVID to varying degrees along the way, we’re very lucky that none of us directly have gotten it.

Sure, the survival rate for COVID globally has been somewhere around 98% and we know skews higher for younger people, but we mustn’t forget that the five million dead figure that I cited earlier comes from a quarter of a billion people on Earth catching COVID … “only 2%” of 250,000,000 is 5,000,000, and that’s not even taking into account cases and deaths in developing countries that may be underreported or long-term effects that we won’t know the fully impact of for years to come.

So like I said, I’m very thankful that my family was able to add this level of protection to the masking and social distancing and other measures we’ve been taking since this whole thing came to light some twenty months ago at this point. I wish that more people would get vaccinated – as we stand, the USA has roughly 59% fully vaccinated and 69% partially vaccinated – because I don’t know what it’ll truly take to move into the next phase for this thing when more than just the deniers are able to put it behind them.

But we’re doing our part, along with nearly three million other kids to date. And that’s something.

And as long as we’re talking about Plex…

I added a few more disks to my NAS when Best Buy put them on sale earlier this month, so now we’re officially up to a whopping 20 disks including parity in my Unraid array!

Of the 122 TB in use (now out of 208 TB!), about 108 TB is for Plex, and of that the split is roughly 80 TB for TV Shows and 25 TB for Movies … it’s basically a giant DVR where nothing ever gets deleted because who knows when you might want to go back and watch The Big Sandwich episode of Wings on a random Tuesday night?!

I know that I’ll never watch half the stuff on there, but everyone needs a hobby and at least data hoarding takes up a lot less space than regular hoarding does… 😉

Lesson Learned – Test Your Backups!

I like to think that I’ve come a long way since I first started noodling around with Plex back in … wow – 2014?!

What was first an install on my old desktop PC with way too many external hard drives tethered to it via USB has since grown to span several separate servers for NAS, downloading stuff, and Plex itself. Pretty much everything has disk redundancy via either RAID or Unraid, and although only a small portion of my media library itself is backed up, the rest is backed up in triplicate between images of the entire VMs themselves, local backups on the NAS, and then cloud backups to Backblaze as well.

So then why did it take me nearly a day to restore Plex when I had a random glitch earlier this week???

I’m still not really sure what happened. I came home to find that one of my two UPSes had powered down, which turned off all of my network gear but otherwise the servers themselves were still running as they’re connected to both UPSes with redundant power supplies.

Once I got the network back up, I found that Plex wasn’t responding – likely because it lost its direct connection to the NAS – so I was going to reboot it once everything was back up, except it didn’t want to respond. After waiting a while and shutting down the other VMs correctly, I finally had to kill the power to get ESXi to reboot and when it came up, Plex wouldn’t start because one file – Preferences.xml – was suddenly empty!

Of course, as you might groan along with me, that’s the file where Plex stores all of your server settings – port forwarding, tweaks to the scanning rules that I’ve made over the years.

I didn’t really want to redo everything, so I figured I’d just restore it from the backup. I use Duplicati for all of my backups and having done a few restores, it’s usually super simple. Just pick what you want to restore, where to drop the files, and you’re all set.

…except that in my previous restores, those datasets probably consisted of thousands of files whereas the backup for my Plex folder runs upwards of a million files.


And apparently this is problematic because when Duplicati makes its list of files to restore from, naturally it has to traverse the entire dataset. My first two or three attempts all failed miserably because it would just spin at each of the top folders and then eventually another backup process would try to start and lock the database, thus killing everything in the process!

Once I realized to turn the other backup task off, it was A LONG WAIT in between each level, but after maybe an hour and a half just to browse to the file, the actual restore literally took maybe 2 minutes!

If Duplicati had a way for me to restore by path instead of using the GUI, it would’ve been a lot simpler.

Or if the backup files got stored by Duplicati on Backblaze in a way I could browse them remotely instead of as encrypted archive files, that would’ve worked, too.

In hindsight, I think what I need to do is write a simple script to tar up Plex’s Metadata folder before backing it up so that it’s one file instead of 600,000, and that might win me a few favors with the Duplicati gods.

As they say, we live and we learn…