2020 In Review

What a wild ride this year has been, huh? Earlier this month, Christine and I put together Christmas cards that attempted to summarize the year. We didn’t have enough space to cover everything we wanted, plus 2020 threw us a curve-ball after our print deadline. First, let’s start with our card:

If I had to pick a theme for 2020, it would be “self-isolation.” After our big Disneyland trip at the end of February and two nights out at stage shows, we started staying at home before the official mandates to do so rolled out. Fortunately we both work jobs that can be done from home, but it was a big blow to our social schedule and interactions.

298 days of self-isolating, and counting. Also a set of political counters and the Air Quality Index.

A lot of our activities ground to a halt. But that’s not to say that nothing else happened. Nor is it to say that there isn’t more than a few brief sentences behind the things we called out in our holiday card.

This article is an attempt to add a little more texture and depth to our 2020.


Last year’s card featured our cats: Norman, the formerly-feral stray that “came with the house,” Cornelius, the naked Sphynx cat, and the two new goofy kittens, Vincent and Basil (who are mostly Sphynx, with a Devon Rex grandparent, and a little more fuzzy than you’d expect).

We all had a good year, and the cats are quite pleased that we’re spending the majority of our lives in the house with them. Even if we sometimes put humiliating clothing on them.

Disneyland & Black Spire Outpost

Christine and I kicked off the year with a two-year anniversary trip in late February to Disneyland. Black Spire Outpost (a.k.a. Batuu, a.k.a. “Star Wars Land”) was the highlight of the trip. It was such a fun immersive experience. It wasn’t just rides and scenery. You could interact with the scenery. You could interact with the employees and they’ll stay in character, using vocabulary, phrases, and greetings unique to the location, and adding to the experience that you’re on an off-world outpost.

In the first 20 minutes of being in that part of the park, a resistance fighter approached and recruited us into some hacking activities. She showed us how we could get close to a computer panel and then use our “data pads” (smartphones) to hack in and retrieve some vital plans. These sorts of missions were set up all around the outpost, both in common areas and in the ride queues. Often, a successful hack meant something happened in the real world: a computer panel would beep and flash, a droid would turn its head around, a space ship would vent smoke. We spent a good chunk of time hacking for the resistance and avoiding stormtroopers and Kylo Ren.

Christine hacking at the Cantina.

We also spent a good amount of time at the Cantina. In fact, several nights we closed it out, which was fun experience. The energy generators, which are flaky throughout the night, causing brownouts in the bar, finally cut out and the DJ droid shuts off in a dramatic performance.

An evening at the Cantina.

We got to fly the Millennium Falcon and Christine got to meet Chewbacca.

We both built droids and Christine had a magical, emotional experience building her own custom lightsaber.

One of our favorite takeaways from the trip was eating “Ronto Wraps.” These come from a food stall and are framed sort of like galactic street food: meat (or fake meat) cooked over a rocket-engine-turned-roaster, served with spicy slaw and other toppings in a pita. We liked them so much we tried several recipes to make them at home. They’re now a weekly meal to go alongside watching The Mandalorian on Disney. We’ve also made a few attempts at recreating the fancy Cantina drinks, served proudly on the laser-cut replicas of the Cantina coasters I made in the basement.

We also eat popcorn from R2D2’s head on those nights.

Long story short: it was a fun time and a highlight of the otherwise-mostly-drab year.

Guest House

In case you haven’t heard, I’m building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU). That’s a fancy name for a guest house or granny-flat. Portland has strict limits on city boundaries, to help prevent sprawl and help encourage higher-density housing. Think about how different New York City might be if Manhattan wasn’t an island. It could conceivably have been another sprawly, congested Los Angeles without that hard boundary. In the past decade, Portland has encouraged major-road real estate into retail-below / apartments or condos above. They’ve also pushed to turn residential single-family land to multi-family dwellings. These come in the form of duplex-conversions and tiny houses.

The particular “tiny house” I’m building is just under 750 square feet. Once the pandemic has subsided and folks feel comfortable traveling again, the short-term plan is to use it as a guest house for friends and family as well as for short-term rentals (think Airbnb and Vrbo). This should help offset, and perhaps fully subsidize, the mortgage. Medium and long term plans are still in flux, possibly downsizing into the guest house and renting out the main house, but regardless of what happens, you can be sure they’ll include more international travel.

Progress as of Thanksgiving.

The new house features a window-bench (as a reading nook) on both the outside and inside of the big bay window! The concrete floors are plumbed to provide radiant heat directly from the floor. The kitchen is smaller than what we’re used to, but still quite competent.

Inside the ADU, the living room and kitchen, the beginning of January.

If things go according to schedule (spoiler alert: they probably won’t), the contractors will be complete in late February.


You may have seen that the protests in Portland hit national news. It’s true that Portland has the worst track record of police violence in the US. But it’s also true that the protests were mostly peaceful — contrary to national news reports of “antifa violence.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/29/us-police-brutality-protest

The first night after George Floyd’s murder sparked riots in Portland. Agitators smashed store windows and stole merchandise downtown. But after the initial riot shock, the protests were a peaceful (on the protestors’ end) affair, constrained to two city blocks — a park in front of the courthouse and the neighboring justice center (the “police station”). The rest of Portland, outside those two square blocks, and pandemic aside, was business as usual. Portland wasn’t a “war zone” any more than a sit-in or even a renaissance faire is one. There was a medic tent and a food tent (later a food truck) that took donations and handed out free BBQ dinners. There was a constant flow of people giving speeches.

But you could almost set your watch by the police response. Nightly at about 10pm they’d decide it was suddenly an unlawful gathering and start throwing tear gas and flashbangs (concussion grenades).

The blur around the lights isn’t fog. It’s CS gas (tear gas).

Although we outfitted ourselves to go out a couple of times, it was difficult for us to keep up with the nightly protests. The pandemic led to business closures, which led to a lot of folks out of work, giving them extra incentive to protest night after night. We’re significantly older than the median age of the protestors and start the workday early, which made it rough to continue this trajectory of help.

We tried to help in other ways, donating supplies and money. I also designed and manufactured a large Black Live Matter window decal for our front porch.

Christine has contributed on the media front. She summarized a lot of the misconceptions of riots and violence in Portland in her YouTube video The Revolution in Portland. Her podcast, The Daily Rose, is a counter-voice to the narrative pushed by the alt-right. It touches on both Portland and national events and news topics.

And if you’re a fan of the musical Hamilton, you may be interested in her parody of the King George song (“You’ll Be Back”) that swaps in Trump as the main character.


A practical side-effect of gearing up for protests is that we were already prepared for the west coast fires. Portland is known for its clean water and fresh air. But when the fires hit, our air was classified as “hazardous.”

CDC’s Air Quality Index (AQI) scale. We routinely had values of 400+.

At other times during the pandemic, we’d go outside on walks and hikes. We’d have picnics. We’d generally enjoy the natural surroundings. When the fires hit, even the simple act of going out the back door of the house, to get around to the basement door, to grab something from down there and return to the house, required a mask of some kind. Until we found every possible draft in the house, we even had to wear N95 masks at night when we slept. The indoor AQI was often above 100.

The fires also pushed back construction schedule on the guest house — which is fine. Folks need to stay safe, and subcontractors seem to play the manly-man part and not even wear masks to protect themselves from COVID, much less from the fire smoke.


The pandemic and social distancing meant we couldn’t hold a third-annual Potions Party. But it didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun. We had quite a few happy hours over Zoom video conferencing, a few even included board games that we’d strategically picked to be compatible with remote play over a video call. We also attended a Zoom-based karaoke night. It was a successful “night out” with friends, despite the video latency causing the karaoke part to be a little less successful.

Christine and I went on a few hikes, had some picnics, and visited Multnomah Falls. Christine loves kayaking and I hadn’t been since I was a kid in scouts. This turned out to be a wonderful activity to do with friends. The size and maneuverability of kayaks meant everyone maintained healthy distances.


We had a semi-unexpected event occur after publishing the holiday cards. Earlier in the year, Christine’s Prius had its catalytic converter stolen. It was an older model car, and apparently that theft is becoming more and more common. They can be sawed off the car in 60 seconds and then folks can resell them for the raw palladium and rhodium for a few hundred dollars. The age and condition of the car combined with the cost of putting in a replacement almost totaled the car on paper, so she made the difficult decision to sell it. At the same time, my car, at 21 years old — old enough to drink! — hadn’t been doing well. Being a convertible, it has never really weathered the Portland rain terribly well. Since bulldozing the garage to make room for the guest house, it really was on the decline. I ended up donating it to the Humane Society for a tax write-off.

My Eclipse getting towed away.

Our original plan was to be carless. We have amazing public transit, with the bus and MAX trains. Taking Lyft (similar to Uber) everywhere can get a little expensive, but nowhere near equivalent to car and insurance payments. For years, we had a local rental service (car2go) that left cars parked around the city that you could unlock and rent by the minute with a smartphone app, then leave elsewhere in the city (as long as it’s in their service area). But the pandemic made public transit and ride-sharing more risky, and car2go ended up closing shop in Portland. We revised our plans to bring in a used car.

My original aim was to get an older pickup truck or Subaru Outback. This would keep the price low and give us some good hauling ability — something I’d been lacking in the 2-seater convertible. Various friends talked me out of the pickup, mostly around comfort, safety, and the security of storing gear. When looking at used Outbacks, I discovered that they hold their value quite well in Portland. For only a few thousand more, I could just get a new one.

We made a plan to test-drive an Outback and also decided to check out the plug-in hybrid Crosstrek while we were at it. The Crosstrek is a little smaller than I wanted and significantly more expensive. It also only seems to come in terrible-blue and less-terrible-blue. I didn’t think I’d like it, but we both loved driving it. Plus, going either hybrid or full-electric is the right thing to do these days. With the plug-in battery, it has a full-electric range of 17 miles if you stay under 60MPH. Beyond that, or faster than that, the gasoline engine kicks in, powering the drivetrain and charging the battery.

Happy New Year!

Despite the pandemic and political situation, we still managed to have a pretty good year. We’re extremely thankful to have jobs that can be done from home and to still be gainfully employed.

Happy New Year! We hope yours is filled with an abundance of joy and love!

✻ ✼ ✻

One Second Every Day, 2020

For the past year-plus, I’ve been using the One Second Every Day iOS app to create a video collage of each month. I leave Live Photos enabled, so each second is not just a still image, but could be a quick snippet of candid video. Christine and I have already established a pattern of taking a selfie at 8:22pm each night, which is a convenient backstop if nothing else happens that day. I try not to fall back to the 8:22 photo if I can. If I’m working on a project or out in the world photographing interesting or odd things, I’ll try to capture those in the collage. But this past year, with pandemic-induced isolation, the majority of the photos after March are our 8:22 selfies.

I mostly made this for myself, but feel free to watch — whether it’s the whole thing, the first 10 seconds, or randomly skipping around.

Accidental Hoarding

We’re in the middle of a bonafide pandemic. COVID-19 has caused people to go a little bonkers, as if preparing for the apocalypse. Along with shelf-stable food, many stores have low or zero stock of hand sanitizer, bottled water, and toilet paper. I can understand the food — folks are encouraged to self-quarantine for a week or two, and it’s helpful to have shelf-stable food so that you’re not going to the grocery store. The hand sanitizer, too. But the water? If our water supplies stop functioning, we have much larger issues than a virus. And the toilet paper? I just don’t understand.

But it turns out I may have accidentally hoarded a couple of these. After Cami Kaos blogged about toilet paper a couple of months ago, I decided to try out Who Gives A Crap? They are a B Corp who sells toilet paper online. It’s made of bamboo. Half their profits go toward building toilets for communities in need. And because I don’t always internalize quantity when making online purchases, I now have a *ahem* crapload of toilet paper.

What remains of my 48 rolls of TP.

About a year ago, I wanted to get some Purell for my shop in the basement. When laser-cutting wood or cardboard, I sometimes get some charred edges on my fingers. Since there’s no plumbing down there, a bit of sanitizer and a paper towel work really well for that. So I ordered a couple of bottles. I just didn’t notice that each was a liter!

To be honest, the Purell came in handy because I brought one to Puzzled Pint this month so we could provide sanitizer to the attendees. (And folks were amazed that not only could we find some, but such a big bottle!)

It also turns out that I like the Purell wipes for airline tray-tables and armrests, and they only come in giant boxes:

What remains of 300 wipes.

On the mask front, I started with a fancy mask with replaceable N95 filters (top-left, sepiatone paisley), to help with fumes and particles from laser-cutting in the basement.. It was a little small, so I got a slightly larger black one that takes the same filters (upper-right). It turns out that that style doesn’t fit my face too terribly well, and the elastic bands irritate my ears. I then ended up trying a Vogmask, which fit my face much better, with a more comfy strap! That one lives in the basement shop. Then I also bought a second one around the time of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire for bicycling and going out.

That first sepiatone mask now lives under my pillow, coming in handy in the wee hours of the morning when the kitten occasionally wants to lick the inside of my nostrils. The black one fits Christine well.

I guess the trick to hoarding supplies is to do it long before you need to. Or have a time machine.

Snow Ducks

Last year, a little too late for snow season, I picked up a silly little contraption. I forget where I first saw this, but it turns out a lot of Amazon sellers resell a plastic mold, similar to a spherical snowball mold, except for making rubber-duck shaped snowballs. Because that’s a thing the world needs. It was silly and quirky enough to be an impulse buy. Winter over, it immediately went into storage.

Fast-forward to today. We’ve gotten a pretty good blanketing of snow — enough to stick, unlike earlier in the season. So of course I had to pull out the snow-duck maker!

They’re nearly melted now, but it was fun while it lasted. I hope they brought a smile to passersby.

Nostalgic Magazines

Two recent events have pushed me to revisit media — specifically, magazines — from my past.

News broke on Twitter that Mad Magazine is shutting down after 67 years.

I don’t think I ever owned a copy of Mad. I don’t know that my parents would have even let me. But I loved it when my friends had a copy. I saw it at school, I saw it out camping with Scouts. It was constantly in the background, and became a treat when brought to the fore.

My favorite parts were definitely the fold-in covers and Spy vs. Spy. The fold-ins absolutely blew my mind. I’d seen many optical illusions at that age, but never ones intentionally crafted to tell a story or reveal a punchline. Spy vs. Spy was just a more modern Tom & Jerry. Honestly, I remember the 1984 PC video game more than I remember details of the comic strip, but I remember loving it.

In chatting with a friend about hacker culture and how a young modern-day hacker might go about meeting others and making a name for themself, I took a little trip down memory road to 2600 magazine.

Back in the early 90s, I dipped my toe in hacker culture by regularly showing up at a local 2600 meetup. In the back of the magazine, they published (and still do) cities around the world that have local meetups for readers. These monthly events opened my eyes to a whole other side of computers, radio, and electronics.

I even wrote at least one article for the magazine, way back when. It described how to drop down to a DOS prompt in an old pen-based PDA: the Tandy Zoomer, which later morphed into the Palm Pilot. Yep, that probably dates me. I feel like I must have written a few more, but have no memory of what it could have been about.

I assumed 2600 went out of business and stopped publishing, but was surprised to learn they still exist. I ended up ordering a collection of recent back-issues and kicked off a new subscription.

2600 may have appeared on your radar even more recently. They published a list of our government’s concentration camps: http://concentrationcamps.us

A Californian in Paris Disneyland

In front of the Paris Disney Hotel

As a kid, I grew up about 20 minutes away from the original Disneyland. I know that park like the back of my hand. In my 20s I had an annual pass and would stop by on weekends, or even after work to meet friends, have dinner, and people-watch without going on any rides. These days, I’m a bit more than 20 minutes away, but try to make it down every couple of years. As much of a DisneyLAND fan I am, I’ve never been to another Disney property — not even Disney World in Florida. Earlier this year, Christine and I were in Paris and had the opportunity to stay in Paris Disneyland. This blog post will be about my experience, observations, tips, and tricks. Those observations will be from my point of view — using Disneyland as a reference for comparison. Part of my knowledge comes from an ebook I picked up on a whim before boarding the plane: “The Independent Guide to Disneyland Paris 2018.” This was extremely helpful in summarizing and mapping out the park and rides.

First off, I should say that my experience may be different than yours. We took the trip as a luxury vacation — 6 nights, 7 days. We used the morning “Magic Hours” plus conventional fastpass to get onto rides with long daytime lines. My understanding is that most folks try for shorter stays with extremely packed (and, it sounds to me, stressful) itineraries. We were blessed with the privilege and ability to take a longer stay, so took it in an effort to minimize stress. If your stay is shorter, they have (rather expensive) paid FastPass tiers that let you line-hop without having picked up a FastPass ticket/receipt ahead of time. This paid system is a little like Universal Studios. Anaheim Disney does not have paid FastPass tickets, only the on-demand ones you pick up at the front of the attraction. If you are a packed-itinerary kind of person, the ebook I reference above has several “optimal path” guides for maximizing your rides with strategic picks throughout the day, free FastPass, and frequently hurrying from one end of the park to the other.

The overall layout of the parks, hotels, and shopping district are, if not exactly geographically similar, are spiritually similar to Disneyland. There is a central plaza with Paris Disneyland on one side and Walt Disney Studios on the other. Disneyland Hotel, the most expensive of the Disney-owned, is analogous to the Grand Californian. It is a beautiful mansion that sits above the main gates. Some floors have a private elevator that descends down to the gate. Off to one side is Disney Village, their version of Downtown Disney. Beyond that (and outside the security bag-check) are the other Disney hotels. We stayed in the big Disneyland Hotel, but were we to go back again, would probably stay in one of the farther ones. We visited the bar at their Sequoia Lodge one night. The 10-15 minute walk wan’t bad, the bag check was annoying but quick, the style of the hotel was a copy of the Grand Californian, and I vaguely remember the rooms being half the rate of the main hotel’s.

In front of the Paris Disney Hotel
In front of the Paris Disney Hotel, which is also the main park entrance
Paris Disney Hotel at night
Paris Disney Hotel at night

As to individual attractions:

The Castle is a sight to see. It’s big, bold, and the best fantasy castle on earth. You need to understand that they built this castle for European folks who live in countries that are positively littered in castles. I’ts much larger than the one in Anaheim, and has a basement as well! Be sure to check out Maleficent, in animatronic dragon form, lurking in the dungeons.

Discoveryland is the Paris equivalent of Anaheim’s Jules Verne phase. They’re really trying to stick to the theme, whether it works or not. Something unique to Paris Disney is that a lot of the fast food spots — that is, not fine dining nor carts — have a collection of vendors under the roof of a large shared indoor promenade. I can only assume this is because the rest of the world isn’t blessed with California weather. The one in Discoveryland went all-in on the steampunk theme.

Because of the commitment to theming, Space Mountain was really weird. You start in a queue that looks like it was added after the ride gained popularity. It’s largely metal, utilitarian, and is decorated with schematics of Star Wars space ships. Once past this, you’re in… a Victorian study? There’s wood and wainscoting and Baltimore Gun Club architectural drawings of a From the Earth to the Moon cannon — the kind where the “bullet” is a space capsule that ends up poking the man in the moon in the eye. The loading area feels very Eiffel Tower, with its reinforced metalwork. At the start of the ride, you’re stationary on an incline, waiting… and then an explosion and you launch! Sort of like, oh, I don’t know, you were being shot out of a canon. So the overall theming felt like a Star Wars veneer hastily thrown on top, but the ride experience itself was amazing! It’s significantly longer than Space Mountain in Anaheim. It also has loops and barrel rolls.

The Nautilus is an under-appreciated gem. I’d be hard-pressed to call it a ride, but more of a walkthrough. You descend underground, then walk from room to room within the submarine. There’s no line, and it will probably take you 5-10 minutes to get through, depending on how long you stop to take in the elaborate set dressings.

Food court, Space Mountain, Nautilus

Star Tours was almost the same. The queue was a bit different, but the fundamentals were the same. It lived in a pocket in the back of Discoveryland, around the corner, out of view from the rest of the Jules Verne stylings. A Darth Vader meet-and-greet also lives in the same spot — with a large X-Wing atop the building.

On the other side of the park was Indiana Jones. This is 100% different from the one in Anaheim. The Disneyland one is a jeep simulator disguised as a roller coaster. The one in Paris is a literal roller coaster around a temple. It was a good ride, but aside from it wrapping architecture, didn’t feel very Disney.

Thunder Mountain Railroad was fantastic and completely broke my expectations. Like in Anaheim, it’s near the riverboat. Unlike Anaheim, that’s just the entrance. The full ride lives in what would be Tom Sawyer’s Island. You get on the train, and once the ride starts, it shoots underground and under the river, emerging on the island mountain. It goes on for significantly longer, finally descending under the river and back to the load/unload queue on the “mainland.”

Thunder Mountain Railroad — on an island!

I’d like to say Phantom Manor was great. When we booked our tickets, it wasn’t on the list of planned ride closures. (It was on the previous month.) It’s apparently been under refurbishment for a year and a half, and was scheduled to open a few weeks earlier. We stopped by ever day, only to find the entrance chained up, the exit boarded up, wonderfully thematic signs describing the closure, and an occasional hard-hat worker entering or exiting. The big kick in the pants was that our last full day there was a soft-opening of the ride for employees and their families. Our last partial day was for the top-tier level of annual passholder. It was a huge disappointment. That was the ride that both Christine and I were most excited for. Maybe next time.

Pirates of the Caribbean was similar, but different. While the one in California starts out in a sleepy bayou, with fireflies and a banjo player, Paris is more of a seaport town. The ride itself is similar. I feel the Paris version is perhaps a little longer. A lot of the animatronics alternated between English and French, which was fine. I didn’t always get the full English recording of a character, but the plot is simple enough that it doesn’t matter.

Just outside of Pirates were some Pirate Caves. This is an area to explore, similar to Tom Sawyer’s Island and the cave found there — but much more elaborate, with many branching paths and multiple levels. We thought we explored it fully, but returned on another day and found a whole other area we’d missed. Even now, I am not entirely convinced that I saw the whole thing. It was a fun adventure that took me back to exploring caves and forests as a kid. One of the highlights was that you could climb up and look out of the skull-waterfall’s eye sockets.

On the California Adventure side, oops — Disney Studios side — The Tower of Terror, like the old one in California was immaculately themed. That’s something I seriously miss. The new Guardians of the Galaxy skin on the old Tower ride is fun, but I feel loss over the reskin. But for some reason, the ride felt less thrilling than the Anaheim one was. I’m not clear if this is real or perceived.

The Backlot Tour trams were fairly yawn-worthy. If you’ve been on the equivalent trams at Universal Studios, these don’t hold a candle to them.

The Stunt Car Show was absolutely worth seeing. It only happens twice a day, so plan accordingly, and be sure to show up early to get good seats. I vaguely remember someone saying that was the last month (or season?) of the show, so by the time you read this, it may not even exist.

The Ratatouille Ride was… ambitious. The ride vehicles use the same technology as Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters — the California Adventure ride where the cars have no controls nor tracks, but perform elaborate dances around each other in a large open area. The trackless tech was amazing! But the ride itself was movement from IMAX screen to IMAX screen. You had the point of view of a mouse underfoot in the kitchen, with a few minor gimmicks to make it feel more real (wind, water spray, smells piped in). It feels like something that should be amazing, but turned out to feel a little lackluster — especially given the wait times.

The spinning turtle shells in Crash’s Coaster were absolutely like no other coaster I’ve been on. It was new, novel, fantastic, and fun. Each rollercoaster car seats four people — two in front, two in back, seated back-to-back. The people in the rear ride backward at the start and end of the ride. But in the middle, it’s free-spinning. As the coaster goes up and down and around, you’re facing whichever direction you happen to be facing at the time. It’s wildly disorienting, but in the best and most fun possible way. Because of the small cars and long duration, the line for this fills up quickly. Even the single-rider line has a long wait. Be sure to grab a FastPass!

In the Marvel/Avengers area of the park, there is a plaza with outdoor shows occurring at either end. Both the Stark Expo and Guardians Dance-Off were entertaining, have zero wait to see, and are fun to catch. The Stark Expo had great effects, such as Thor activating his hammer perfectly timed to a flash of lightning on the screen behind him, looking like he’s calling the lightning. Helpfully, both were in English.

The indoor shows, Mickey and the Magician and Avengers, were good — but with a huge wait and no FastPass might not have been worth the wait. The Magician had some delightful stage magic. It brought in cameos of a lot of characters of other Disney films, as Mickey’s magic fizzled, sparked, and generally didn’t work right, like some sort of apprentice sorcerer. The minimalist but powerful costuming for the Lion King brought in all kinds of feels, and I haven’t even seen the movie or stage show. Helpfully, the spoken lines alternated between English and French, and was masterfully written such that if you only knew one of the languages, as if you were listening to half of a telephone conversation, you’d still be able to pick up the full story. The Avengers show had some great stage effects (with video projection mapping rivaling Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and wirework. Lite on plot, but you’re there for the effects.

As far as food goes, the secret gem was the vegan chili food cart, in the old-time-Hollywood area, just under the Tower of Terror. Even as a non-vegetarian/non-vegan, it tasted great and was just the right amount of non-sugary food to get me to the next meal.

The two fancy restaurants required some pretty intense reservations. Captain Jack’s, the equivalent of the Blue Bayou, lives inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Bistro Chez Rémy lives adjacent to Ratatouille. Both are immaculately themed, which is half to reason to go there. The other half, of course, is the 5-star food found nowhere else in the park. If you’ve been to the Blue Bayou, then you know Captain Jacks. It’s a similar setup. One little bit of mismatched expectation was around their tiki drinks, served in souvenir mugs. I’m used to Trader Sam’s, which has its own signature mugs to go with its cocktails. The mugs at Captain Jack’s had no logos or branding or anything Disney or Pirate about them. I might as well have ordered one from Amazon. Save your cash and don’t get a mug. Now the Ratatouille restaurant shrinks you to the size of a rat when you enter. The chairs are champagne cork toppers. The tabletops are tea tins. Every detail was themed.

Both restaurants serve 2-3 of levels of Prix Fixe menu, at different price points. Each course lets you choose between a few different options, mutually exclusive from the other Prix Fixe menus. We found that if you get the most expensive tier, they let you substitute an item from one of the other menus — for instance, if you wanted a particular dessert from another tier that wasn’t on your set of Prix Fixe options. But they will only do that for the top-tier menu. You cannot substitute “across” or “up” to another Prix Fixe menu’s options, for any price at all.

Champagne chair

Within the hotel, we didn’t go to California Grill because the one vegetarian option (celeriac) was outrageously overpriced (€42). Inventions was an all-you-can-eat buffet, with Disney characters wandering around. The offerings were outstanding and top-notch, including high-end seafood/shellfish, meats, cheeses, pastas. I got to try whelk (sea snail) for the first (and possibly last) time. But like many such buffets, you end up either feeling sick from overeating because you wanted to get your money’s worth, or you feel like you paid too much. We went there once and decided it wasn’t worth returning. Our hotel bar was named Fantasia, and was where we retired virtually every night. They were one of the few places that could make a good American-style Martini, not to mention all of the other outstanding drinks. It also turns out that Scotch is much less expensive if it’s not imported across the Atlantic into the US. Most evenings they had a piano player, covering everything from jazzy songs to Disney classics, and even once I heard the Super Mario underground theme (I think a request from a kid in the lobby). The bar at the Sequoia also had a great ambiance, albeit no piano player.

On other attractions, the fireworks show isn’t as grand as the Anaheim one. In fact, being a adults with no kids, we ended up skipping the fireworks (after the first night) and parades, opting to go on rides instead — while a large percentage of park-goers lined up on Main Street to watch.

And like California, why is there always a giant line for Peter Pan??? It’s not that different from Snow White or Pinocchio. If you feel you have to ride it, go the FastPass route, but you’ll still need to get there early to get a decent time.

So those are the highlights of our trip to Paris Disney. There’s so much more I could write and so many more picture to post, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Hopefully this helps you plan your European holiday — or even if not, it brings you a little spark of joy and happiness.

Our Week in Paris

Last month, Christine and I spent a couple of weeks in Paris. The first half of the trip was Paris-proper, while the second (which you’ll see in the next blog post) was out in the suburbs of Paris Disneyland.

In Paris-proper, we did a lot of the “standard” tourist stuff. We visited (what we could see of the burnt husk of) Notre Dame, the Eiffel tower, Catacombs, Arc de Triomphe, and Moulin Rouge. Some were good, some were terrible. (Spoiler alert: Moulin Rouge was terrible.)

Recently Christine has gotten hooked on “Airbnb Experiences.” Those are activity listings on the Airbnb site — touristy things, but not usually the “big” things. They’re smaller activities with a more local flair.

For example, we took a class at the kitchen of Les Secrets Gourmands De Noémie and learned how to make my favorite tiny-hamburger cookies, macarons. (Don’t confuse them with the terrible coconut travesty of macaroons.) This was fantastic! I’ve often thought of making macarons at home, but have been scared away. Various aspects of the technique have scared me off. But getting hands-on instruction from an expert, IN PARIS no less, helped me realize that it’s a bit of work, but ultimately no big deal. We made a couple dozen macarons and ate them throughout the rest of the trip. Delicious! I will definitely be making more soon!

Finalizing the Pistachio

Because Christine and I are such big fans of cheese, she signed us up for a cheese tasting class with the certified cheese monger Le Cheese Geek, a.k.a. Fabrice. Due to Yellow Vest riots and police activity, many of the metro stops were closed. Closed streets with police vans and bulldozers zooming down them made it feel like an impending apocalypse. We were late to class because we had to route around the metro closures, but it was a wonderful experience despite our tardiness. Class was held at a fromagerie, before it opened for the day, in the cool cellar. Fabrice really knew his stuff, and even recommended a cheese shop here in Portland that he’d recently visited. We had little tasting books and went through a number of exercises. For instance, we started with a block of cheese that we had to describe to someone in the other room — who couldn’t see it, but had to draw what we described. That led to a conversation on looks, terminology, and history. For example, some of the rind coloring was made with ash and used as a brandmark to distinguish different cheese-makers in the same region. We then proceeded to smells, tastes, and geography. Overall, we tasted about 10 different cheeses — with some variation, such as the same cheese at two different ages or the same cheese handmade versus mass-produced. Each was paired with a perfectly matching beverage and small snack, such as red/white wine, grape soda, fruit, and chocolate. I can’t say I’m an expert at cheese now, but at least I have a little more knowledge and ability to say why I like a cheese, and not just “I like this one.”

This is not us or our class session, but a representative sample photo taken from the Cheese Geek website. We forgot to take photos!

Another event that Christine signed us up for was a night out at a “secret jazz club.” It turned out to be not-so-secret: it was the lounge and bar of a fancy hotel. There was quite a lot of history to the hotel, and we got a tour with the backstory. It was definitely not someplace we would have stumbled into ourselves, but still a great evening out. It was one of the few places in France that we were able to get an American dry vodka martini without having to explain how to make it. (In France, the Martini is a pre-mixed drink that comes in red and white variants.)

One afternoon, we were in the area and thought we’d check out the French fashion at Galleries Lafayette. This is sort of like a fancy department store in a historic building, but each designer has a little booth or area, like a fleamarket. Most everyone had their floral-print summer stuff out. Yawn. But we did see some great unique looks. Alexander McQueen had a few wonderful dresses with plenty of laced eyelets and straps holding things together. Miu Miu also had some good goth/punk looks. Le Tanneur had some magnificently understated leather reporter bags. Ultimately, we ended up with a few things from Diesel — I, a belt, and Christine, a long skirt and pants with an abundance of zippers. Unexpectedly, Galleries Lafayette had a suspended rainbow bounce house, but we didn’t have the nerve to try or the patience to wait in line.

Now. The part where I throw shade. I had high hopes for the Moulin Rouge. We had expensive tickets that included dinner with the show. The early dinner seating was supposed to guarantee good seats. But we got screwed on multiple fronts. The vegetarian menu was the same price as the meat-eaters menu, but at a far lower quality bar with much less food. I ate the most expensive carrot I’ve ever tasted. It was kind of bland. Based on the quantity of couscous on the plate, I think I could have calculated how many euros each pearl cost. Because the menu was prix fixe, we were stuck with a tablespoon of lemon sherbet alongside finely minced fruit salad, as we looked over at the rest of the table dining on large portions of chocolate mousse and cake, who paid the same price we did.

We effectively had front-row seats at a long dining table. There were two different stage configurations. The pre-show setup was a good view for me, but Christine had her back to the stage. After the preshow, Christine left and went to the bathroom, at which point the stage expanded outward alongside, and flush with, the table. Because it boxed in her seat, she had to climb up on the stage to return to her seat. So technically, she was on stage at the Moulin Rouge. When the show started, we both had a shoulder to the stage and could crane our necks to see lots of legs and feet, but didn’t have a great view of the overall dance numbers. It wasn’t a great experience. If we’d had cheaper seats, we would have had a better view. So if you’d like to go to a show there, skip the vegetarian meal — in fact, skip the meal altogether. Have a nice dinner out somewhere, then go to the show.

Overall, despite the failure of the red windmill, it was a great first part of the trip. The second part — Disney — was spectacular. Read about that in the next blog post ⇒

Dietary Virtues

I am trying to be more mindful of what I eat. I used to say “I’m about 40% vegetarian,” but had no way to back that up. It was a wild guess about how many meals I ate that were vegetarian vs. carnivore and, honestly, was probably a little high. Since meeting Christine, I’ve learned more about the meat industry. I don’t think I can ever be “100% vegetarian.” It’s just not in me. But I can certainly make more informed decisions about what I’m eating and where it’s sourced. I can start thinking of meat as a special treat, and not just an everyday default. But the first step in bettering yourself is knowing where you’re starting from. Just what percent of my meals actually are vegetarian?

But the first step in bettering yourself is knowing where you’re starting from.

Benjamin Franklin came up with a list of 13 virtues, to improve his character, and a method of tracking them. Being a printer (among other things), he custom printed sheets of paper with a grid page for the week. The days of the week go across the top. The virtues — things like Temperance, Frugality, Sincerity, Tranquility — go down the side. On any given week, he’d primarily focus on one virtue, listed at the top of the page, leaving the rest to chance — or habit. Reports are a little scattered about whether he marked successes, failures, or both. What I do know is that at the end of the day, he’d review what he did and how he behaved. He’d use that to mark the grid and reflect on how he could improve.

I used to be a big 3×5 card “hipster PDA” person. With the exception of the grocery shopping list, I’ve departed from a rigid hipster PDA methodology, but I do carry around and use a Field Notes notebook for random notes and scribbles. I thought I could maybe design a grid on a single index card that I can keep in the front of my notebook, to mark off my meal choices as I go through the week.

This will give me a baseline of how much (and what kind of) meat I eat throughout the week. With that visibility, I hope to be more mindful of my consumption. For each meal, I’ll put a dot in corresponding grid cell(s).

In addition to food, I’ve also added booze to the grid. I should probably cut back on that, too. Or at least track it and decide from there. Plus, there’s a small space at the bottom, if I discover I’ve forgotten something.

Tracking dietary virtues

So my hope is that I’ll stick with this a few weeks, then be able to report back here how I’m doing and whether/how I’d like to course-correct my dietary actions. Stay tuned!

Weaning Myself off Facebook

This is about me. This isn’t a judgement on you.

Hi, friends. Many of you already know that I don’t do new years resolutions. I don’t want to make an arbitrary decision on a specific annual calendar day to grandly proclaim that I’m going to change something huge. I like to be more mindful of my life and make small decisions throughout the year to course-correct my life into something more positive.

A few years ago, I tried to give up Facebook entirely. “Good bye, my Facebook friends, foooorrrrrr evaaaaaaaar!” [long pause] “Hey, what’s up? Check out this cute kitten video.” I failed. It was too big a proclamation. Too big a change.

I deleted Facebook Messenger from my phone a while back, and although I generally don’t miss it, the little red numbers in the app telling me I have messages (and the prompt to install Messenger when I click on them) is a dark pattern that’s really annoying. I’m annoyed by the news articles, the avalanche of what’s terrible in the world, the epidemic propagation of fake news links, the company flagrantly disregarding privacy. Deleting Messenger was a small step in the right direction.

My trust in Facebook is at an all-time low. Their entire business model is based around surveillance capitalism. Whether it’s selling data overseas, leaving fake reviews for their latest panopticon, preying on children with in-app purchases, or sitting on their hands during Russian election tampering, they’re happily making a profit and not giving a fuck about anyone but the shareholders. I’m not a shareholder, or even a customer. I and my history of activities are product that’s bought, sold, and traded.

So I’m taking another small step. I’m deleting the Facebook app from my phone. Thankfully, I don’t have a Samsung with an undeletable Facebook. I can delete it, just as I did with Messenger. I won’t be totally cut off. This is not another failed “goodbye my Facebook friends, foreeeeevvvvaaaaar!” I’ll still have access via web browser — just as I do with Messenger now. I’ll eventually see party invites and other important news. I just won’t be checking it on the bus. On the toilet. During tea breaks. While waiting for food at the carts. The hope is that it will be out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

I still have plenty of other social network options:

Mastodon is a decentralized Twitter. Think of it as a parallel to email. Maybe your email account is with Gmail. Your friend uses Hotmail. Your mom is still on AOL. Your employer runs their own email server. Mastodon is like that: no one company owns it. If you’d like to get a start, sign up at Mastodon.Cloud and look me up at @BrianEnigma@xoxo.zone. You can read a good getting-started intro at “How Does Mastodon Work?

Twitter still exists. They’re not yet as terrible as Facebook. Find me @BrianEnigma.

Instagram is technically owned by Facebook and hasn’t yet become a cesspool. You can find me there as BrianEnigma. My Instagram still cross-posts to Mastodon, Twitter, and Facebook.

My blogs are https://netninja.com (for tech projects) and https://blog.brianenigma.com (for personal projects).

My email and phone number are both out there, but I won’t be posting them here. Ask me if you don’t have one or the other.

And social networks aside, I really need to be spending more time reading novels and technical publications and working on projects and less time farting around Facebook. It’s been great, but I need to take a few steps back.

Thanks for listening and understanding.

The Portland Scooter Infiltration

Portland is such a great transportation city. We have a lightrail system that’s been around since the 70s. We have a great fleet of buses and some streetcars. We have all of these connected to Open Data pipes that allow third parties to innovate with transit trackers. We have smartphone apps and not-quite-Oyster cards that let you hop on any of these without thinking too hard about exact change. We used to have the best bike infrastructure in the US — until Austin beat us out. Sure, it doesn’t match, say, Amsterdam, but it’s pretty darn good for a US city. And we have a healthy and skeptical fear of Bay Area scooters.

The scooters started in San Francisco, but they’re now banned there. They’re “disruptive technology” in the same way that Uber was. They swept in without regard to local laws or even common courtesy. Find a scooter wherever, using GPS on your smartphone, rent it, then drop it off wherever. In this case “wherever” tended to be in the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of the bike lane, in front of a shop door, and generally places that are not only an annoyance and tripping-hazard, but actively bad for anyone with a disability. They lock when nobody’s actively renting them, but they’re scooters. They’re lightweight. You can pick them up. So they scream annoyingly if you try to move them. Local residents of SF got annoyed at tech-bros leaving their toys on the sidewalk to trip on and started doing things like throwing them in dumpsters, throwing them in pools and fountains, throwing them from atop buildings, and even lighting them on fire. See also the Instagram account chronicling the scooter vandalism.

So Portland, rightfully, is taking things slowly. And the scooter companies are — surprisingly — playing along and not just pulling an above-the-law Uber entitlement. They’ve been working on a pilot program that just kicked off today with Bird and Skip. Portland is taking a pretty sizable chunk of tax from these companies — 25¢ from each ride, with the rides costing a baseline $1 + 15¢/minute — and investing that into the infrastructure that bicycles and scooters share. This seems like a win for everyone.

I work at the south end of downtown — near Portland State University. One of my favorite restaurants is at the north end of downtown — Mi Mero Mole. It’s a bit far to go on a lunch hour, unless you perfectly time the Max trains. Since this was the first day of eScooters, and since there were a ton of them downtown, I enlisted a coworker and figured we should give them a try.

The [initial] signup was simple. Download the Bird app, set your name, verify your email, and optionally add a picture. You then link a payment source — credit card or Apple Pay. There’s a short slideshow that teaches you how to check out a scooter and reminds you of the appropriate local laws. Getting a scooter is easy. Find one in the app, walk to it, and scan the barcode. The laws are fairly straightforward. It’s like a bike. Use bike lanes when available. Don’t use the sidewalk. Wear a helmet. I think the helmet part is going to be the most contentious part of it all. Technically, adults on a bike don’t need a helmet here, but they are required on a scooter. I was fortunate because I biked into work today and happened to have my helmet with me. There will be many times where I will want to take a scooter spontaneously and will not have thought to bring a helmet. Tourists visiting town will likely not have their own helmets. Bird offers up “free” helmets (with $2 in shipping), which will allow me to keep a spare one at work, but I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity to innovate in the “oops, I didn’t think to bring a helmet with me today” space.

So my buddy and I go out to grab a pair of scooters at lunch. We found a pair of them two blocks away.

Were they on their side on purpose? Did someone get agro and kick them over? Was it the wind? I guess we’ll never know. So we scan the barcode and then…

Oh, hey, it’s app signup phase two! You’re out in the field, ready to go where you need to go, with a tiny smartphone in hand. What better time to present pages and pages and pages of small-print EULA? Literally one of the longest EULAs I’ve seen, with no way to save it, and as far as I can tell now, no way to get back to it. At the bottom were a number of checkboxes you had to tick to agree to company terms and local laws (you’re over 18, you wear a helmet, you park responsibly). Whew. Done with that.

AND THEN. Hey, let’s scan your driver’s license. Wait, what? Snap a photo of my drivers license? I wasn’t expecting that, but I guess I can understand from a liability perspective. It would have been nice to know about this up front, so that this was less of a shock. So that I was more prepared. Let’s scan the barcode on the back, too. Well, okay. I’ve already scanned that myself, eons ago, and know there’s not much hidden in there. Still, it felt — if not quite bait-and-switch — a little weird and awkward, to have this extra sign-up step sprung on me at the time of the first rental, when I’m standing at the scooter with my phone in hand, and not before, when I was comfortably in the office, creating my account, uploading my photo, and looking at the map.

The ride itself was smooth. Those are fun, zippy little vehicles. I had some cognitive issues for the first several blocks. I have an e-bike with the primary (rear) brake as a lever on the right, and a little “turbo boost” switch on the left to help get up to speed after being stopped at a red light. The scooter is exactly the same, but mirror image. I kept grabbing for a nonexistent brake with the wrong hand. It was like being a stick-shift driver in an automatic car. You find your hand reaching for a control that isn’t there — which isn’t so bad for the gear shift, but a little more dangerous with the brake.

At several points both during and after each rides, we ended up as unpaid spokespeople for Bird. These scooters are so new that today was their first day, so people had all sorts of questions about how the system worked. We ended up getting to the restaurant for about $3 each (due to traffic and route choice) and back to the office for about $1.50 (we zipped down Broadway).

Overall, I have to say that it was zippy and fun. It is certainly more cost-effective to keep on the bus or Max, and spontaneity can be hampered by the helmet requirement. But it’s more fun and quick to take the scooter. The bike has its own tradeoffs. I always feel a little nervous about locking up my $1800 eBike in Old Town Chinatown after dark as I hop into the barcade. I’d have zero second thoughts about leaving someone else’s scooter in lock-mode next to those same bike racks. That’s somebody else’s problem.

But overall, I hope these scooters take off and establish a cooperative, symbiotic relationship with the city. I’d hate to see them turn into bay-area above-the-law a-holes. I’d hate to see locals lighting them on fire and throwing them off bridges into the river. I’d love to see them take hold and establish themselves as yet another transportation option. And I’m genuinely excited that they can help pay for even more amazing infrastructure.