The Happiest Place On Earth In The Middle Of A Global Pandemic

It was like the old bad commercials. We got our vaccines, and my wife is like, “We’re going to Disneyworld.” I thought she was joking when she texted me this. At the time i was still 50% sure that whatever loophole had gotten me the shot before availability opened up to even people my parents’ age was going to prove to be wrong (and maybe should have been, except that at the time, shots and appointments were going begging, thanks to Governor Business).

But she was serious, and as soon as i got my dose (and got my sweet sweet 12-hour knockout flu-like-symptoms), she went and booked it. Some kind of deal that was too good to pass up with accommodations we wouldn’t normally splurge on, and a few nights for her parents to join us on the off chance they could babysit. She pointed out, rightly as always, that she’d been at work, in her office, for the whole damn pandemic, and that she wanted a damn vacation. Something that approximated a normal enough experience, something that was open, and something that was low-effort. And about the only thing that really qualified at this point was the Mouse himself.

  • Flying during the Coronatime
  • There was, in April, a huge difference between flying out of Logan, and flying into MCO. In one state, a small number of people are flying for business or necessity, a small number for leisure, and the airport is quiet, orderly, and very corona-normal. A lot of things remained closed. MCO looked basically like MCO but with masks on, grudgingly because Florida’s gonna Florida. Crowded, chaotic, 0% business, 100% vacation.
  • While JetBlue and the flight we were aboard was well-behaved about wearing masks and enforcing the same, it was not so rigid as to be unworkable in real life. Toddlers and under aren’t going to be perfect about it, and fortunately no one was expecting them to.
  • Baby man had never used an airline toilet before, and this was a “fun” new experience for him. And for me cramming into the bathroom with him. We brought his Elmo toilet seat with us (everywhere) and that helped some, but he did not enjoy the loud flushing noise in the least.
  • Our flight down was roasting. I was sweaty and unfresh, but the little guy who deals with heat about as well as i used to was displeased until we got him to nap.
  • The flight back from Disneyworld, stereotypically enough, became at some points a symphony of crying children. Mine included for some of it, mostly because we got him up too early and he didn’t want to nap.
  • With the documented studies showing that planes are actually well set up to prevent spread, it is plausible to me that flying was not the worst thing you could do, if airports behaved mostly like BOS.
  • That being said, at MCO, the security line ran clear across the building, without even being adequately distanced if at all. It was shocking to be crammed together like that, but vaccinated as we were, i didn’t really care.
  • Disneyworld, Pandemic Style
  • Similar to many other hotel chains, Disneyworld’s hotels would like you to check in using their smartphone app and not line up at a desk to do so. Unlike some hotel apps, this actually worked well. At no point however is several taps on your phone (not to mention unlocking it with your mask on (this was before your watch could help you with that)) preferable to an actual key.
  • For weeks before the trip, we’d escalated our (admittedly negligent, on account of him having already had COVID) mask acclimation for baby man. A lot of our gratuitous T rides and visits to stores or whatever were aimed at getting him used to the idea that if you wore a mask you got to do fun things. And this mostly worked. We did not have any knock down drag out battles about wearing a mask. Everything we read before the trip made it sound extremely strict, that you could only ditch the mask while eating or in designated areas, but in retrospect i think these were written from the bizarre perspective of the Adult Disney Superfan™. Importantly, the unwritten rule in the parks seemed to be that if you were in a stroller, it didn’t really matter if you wore one. This was crucial; he needed a break, he needed to cool off, and we needed that not to be a big deal. This way, it still worked for us that he could put it on in order to go do something fun. Of course, explaining the nuance that you could pull it back down for photos was another thing, but he doesn’t always like smiling for pictures anyway.
  • There was indeed a feeling of stuff being missing, though. Mostly food things; a lot of places to get stuff to eat or drink were closed and while it’s not like the food there is any good, this was a cheat week for the girl and i on our diet campaign, and anything that stood in the way of us living it up was a problem, okay?
  • As a result you sort of found yourself adopting a ‘regular’ if you went somewhere more than once. If it worked and wasn’t a debacle (many things can be with a toddler, of course), then you’d probably do it again. At the hotel we stayed at, the little cafe with online ordering was actually pretty decent food, but we’d traversed the menu fully by midweek. The online ordering worked okay, but the situations where they shooed you away in person to go have you punch it in your phone seemed avoidable. Even in Massachusetts we have perfectly good ways of carrying out this transaction in person at a distance. One imagines that a lot of this online ordering will be there to stay. The detail of placing your order then telling them “I’m here, go and make my order” needed to be better communicated.
  • It’s not surprising that a place as complex as Disneyworld (and of course, the engineer and design professional that i am has all manner of fascination with the details) requires a complex, many-featured app. It’s complex, and like most feature-packed and evolving apps from gargantuan corporations serving any number of hundreds of stakeholders, it should probably be thrown the fuck out and redesigned from the ground up. Also i think if they made friends with Apple they could do half of it from the watch.
  • It was stupidly hot for early April, right around 90º so the fact that there were fewer air-conditioned or at least shaded indoor shows to go take the edge off was a little bit of a bummer. At least baby man got to see Lightning McQueen in person, though.
  • Baby man has a complex relationship with rides, as he is at a complicated age. He’s old enough to have a little bit of his dad’s adrenaline craving, but simultaneously old enough to be afraid of quite a few things without entirely mitigating it by realizing they’re pretend. He realizes it, but it’s not enough in the moment. This results in him sometimes burying his head in your side in the middle of a ride, but also wanting the next one, or even the same one again.
  • Rides he likes:
  • Anything that flies and spins, Dumbo, the dinosaur one, the Tomorrowland one, the flying carpets. They’re all good in his book. We probably rode some combination of these a dozen times.
  • Most anything that spins. Impressively, he’s done a total 180˚ on his opinion of carousels, which he’s hated since a very young age (see below for contrast) and now loves it. He didn’t love the teacups the way i did, but he had just eaten quite a lot. My eldest niece remains on notice for a teacups competition someday. He liked the alien spinny ride in Toy Story Land which i also wanted more of (but we got distracted, see further below). But maybe he doesn’t quite match up to his dada’s appetite for disorientation.
  • Anything that’s a train: This includes roller coasters, which he is variably fucking psyched for/scared of. He loves watching them. For a long time, roller coaster POV videos were part of our standard YouTube diet. They’re fun, even if the narrators are insufferable. But he rode the tiny Barnstormer last year, as we were pleasantly surprised that he was tall enough. We figured it’d be over quickly if he hated it, but instead he wanted more.

    This year, he was tall enough for Big Thunder Mountain among others. We got on fast, which was too bad because he enjoyed the hell out of the queue maze as well. With the tunnels (he loves tunnels, normally) and loud noises, it wasn’t long until he was clutching me and half-burying his head in my side, but he was still picking his head up when we went over hills. The real review was that he wanted more so we got right back on again.

    The funniest example of this, though, was in Toy Story Land, after we did the indoor shooting gallery ride, he was giving the Slinky Dog roller coaster (we called it “The Dog Train”) the side-eye. “I don’t want to go on the dog train.” So i assured him we didn’t have to. We ate dinner, and he kept watching it. We waited for the spinning ride and he kept watching it. We went to go on the spinning ride again and… “I want to go on the dog train.” And of course he fucking loved it. It’s a nice little ride, but there’s no dark parts or anything not to love. We rode it three times.
  • So what doesn’t he like?
  • The dark. Tunnels, one of his oldest friends, constantly betray him. He hates the Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Pan type rides because there’s always a scary part. He didn’t like the ‘Runaway Railway’—even though it was a train, it was dark and scary in parts, and super loud. He liked ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ okay, but not the darkest, scariest parts. This was consistent with his opinion last year, too. We started with those ostensibly kid-friendly rides and they were an abject failure. Maybe some other year, but no big loss for a lot of them. Except the Seven Dwarves roller coaster, which is awesome, and he’s wrong. It’s a train, but it’s too dark and loud for him. But like i said, it’s awesome and he’s wrong.
  • The noise. He hates loud noises. Ironic, considering we once thought that maybe he’d have poor hearing that runs in the family. But he hates it when the Revolution score a goal, he hates it when there’s construction equipment, he even hates it when the engines of his beloved MBTA commuter rail trains pass by with roaring diesels. So dark tunnels with booming sound effects = buried head in mama’s lap.
  • Was there anything good about doing this in the coronatime? At times, it felt distinctly less crowded. At other times, it seemed entirely normal, throngs of people, nowhere to sit, no shade, too hot, and lengthy lines for meh rides. But there were certainly more times where we were able to walk right back onto rides repeatedly. And one time where they just said, if you want to stay on, stay on. The distanced lines were also kind of a good thing, especially with the toddler—you could spend more time walking than standing, for one. But you could also spend a lot of the wait time out of an enclosed queue and then have the rest of your party join you last-minute.

    But while in no sense did i feel like we didn’t get good value for our little escape from reality, there’s also no way that normal’s not better.

    Not being someone who imbibes a lot of the kool-aid, i’m not going to lament there being some lack of fucking magic or anything that ridiculous, but sure, there’s something off. The need for their employees to now police health and safety seemed to be wearing on some of them, And no one in their right mind is going to choose masks, face shields, skipped seats, and empty cars, and temperature checks. It’s not because they’re reality intruding on your fantasy or anything stupid like that, it’s just that they’re not fun and you’re there to go do fun things.
  • Was it, you know, a vacation? I mean, kinda. Is that even possible with a toddler? No, of course not. He’s still gotta be wrestled into his clothes and convinced to eat even his favorite things half the time. And then there are complicated new rules to play by, and all sorts of upsets to a man whom the larger world has forced considerably more routine upon than we’d have chosen. So of course none of that’s relaxing. But for the first time in a year there was no cleaning, dishes, recycling, grocery shopping, cooking. For the first time in over a year, i told the bad project to fuck off. There was a hotel bed (technically i had already been out of town once or thrice this year and in a hotel bed, but we’re not gonna talk about why that happened). There was a pool and beers to drink outside. There was even a sit-down meal at a restaurant. A birthday party for mama with family. Dessert in place of respectable meals for a whole goddamn week. Sure that’s a vacation.
  • And of course, we’re fortunate people to not just be vaccinated early, but to have the means to go spend a buttload of money on a vacation that many people save for years for, and to do so at a time when it’s not even going to turn out perfectly. But everyone’s hard has been hard, and ours was too. So we made it be over for a week. Kinda.

On things coming to an end

It’s like moving apartments, or changing cities, or switching jobs, or some other big life change. Two of them at once. One we saw coming, the other a surprise.

It’s surprising how easy the end of the coronatime has been. Or maybe not; considering that each passing day brings a lapse of something that nobody liked, a relief from restrictions and from fear, and a lessening of risk that some days felt very far away, and other days felt like it was going to get you any second.

Getting vaccinated was a surprise, and not really something i sought out, considering that, having had COVID in December, i already considered myself rather well protected from having it again. But considering that my better half works with vaccines, and works with the virus itself, there was a back door for her, and for significant others, and I got one at Gillette Stadium on a relentlessly snowy day in February.

Two weeks later, any article would have said i was pretty much impervious, but it didn’t really feel different for me. Masks on inside, masks on outside, and no real concerns about actually getting it from anybody. Few people in a huge space at work, or everyone at daycare had also already had it. Not much of a change.

But the wife had had enough of the coronatime, what with having been at work for most days of it, and, justly confident in the vaccine, booked us a damn vacation to Disneyworld as soon as she knew we’d have our shots. More on that in another post.

Before that, though, we’d started to broaden our horizons a little bit. Like we’d go for a ride on the T just because baby man loves trains more than everything. We’d still be masked up, we’d still keep distant from people, but at the same time, there was just… nothing. No worry whatsoever about huffing the exhalations of any dozen other people on the Orange Line. It was normal, and unremarkable, and there was a feeling of proximity that was a little new, but at the same time, the extent to which i’d internalized the fact that It Was Okay was nearly total.

Theodore and I on the T.  For fun.

At Easter, my wife and i got to hug our siblings. And hang out inside if it rained. Or just if we wanted to.

Weeks later, we’d repeat the same in an airport, on a plane, in a theme park. In fucking Florida.

Like i said, discussed elsewhere. But it was fine. We breathed other peoples’ air. So much of it. Some of them were probably filthy with the ‘rona. It was fine.

Cases plummeted, in the weeks after we returned. We met friends at beer gardens.

We invited them over to our house like it was no big deal. The government made it very clear that things were working, and as the weather got better, suddenly the air outside felt like something the masks were denying us, cool spring freshness that we couldn’t wait to partake of.

And while much is still being made about the etiquette of wearing one, not wearing one, and whether or not one should judge those who continue to, here were are, walking around without them. And running without them.

And sure, new systems are emerging, a mask in every pocket for when you go inside, and the instinct to still give everyone a wide berth on the sidewalk remains. But next, we hope cases continue to plummet, and next the switch is truly flipped and there are no restrictions anywhere except for those we choose. Let’s hope we’ve indeed done enough to earn it.

We didn’t forget how to be normal at all, it turns out.

Unfortunately i can’t be sure i can say the same about my job.

The way things look right now, in a month or so, a project i’ve worked on for close to three years, or, roughly baby man’s age, is going to come to a crashing halt. It’s probably never going to ship. This happens in my industry, and nobody likes it (because we like to fucking brag about our work, obviously), but it’s a risk of doing business. In this case, though, this unmentionable thing has been in development for nearly a decade and has had tens of millions of dollars invested in it, so it’s gonna sting for more than just me.

And in my case, it changed everything about my work. Instead of being a cleanup hitter of a mechanical engineer, suddenly i was a project manager who barely touched CAD, but had over a dozen engineers in three countries to push. Instead of being a problem solver, i became a problem dealer, filling up other peoples’ inboxes with shit that was just time-consuming enough that i couldn’t do it alone. I wasn’t a doer, i was a talker. Making decisions and faking authority until i got drunk with it because there was no time to equivocate. Meetings all morning, inboxes filling up before i woke up, and cleaning them out and processing them, and swatting them back out to colleagues, vendors, clients, until i went to bed.

My work-life balance was upset in ways that are hard to even remember coping with. I woke up with the baby man before 6, for some of that time, and answered emails and other messages so Europe could act on them.

Every workday i looked at the clock because it was going too fast, not because it was too slow.

When i realized in retrospect that i’d worked, but not on the most urgent thing, i was furious at myself. At night, when i sent my wife to bed, i was secretly thrilled at the prospect of how much i’d get done in the 3-4 hours before i’d make myself go to bed. For some of that time, i would go to bed at the exact time that baby man would wake up in the middle of the night and begin howling to get out of the crib. I’d kneel on the floor next to it, put my head down on the rail and console him. Sometimes i’d pass out there. Sometimes i’d realize i was talking to him about work, half asleep. I ate horrendously, and for a few fun months i gave up trimming my beard and getting my hair cut.

It’s a joke to say that you shed sweat, blood, and tears over a project, but usually only two of the three are literal. It made me cry, it made me throw things, it made me an asshole.

Things got done, other things got ‘done’, a much larger number of other things just never went away and were black holes into which effort disappeared without effect. A bureaucracy grew and flourished, nourished by the large number of people whose energies it could sap. Good technical work occurred, a thing that didn’t exist was brought to life and we built a bunch of them and they all fucking worked. It was a goddamn miracle, sure, but the expenditure of effort on all the things that had precious little to do with that kinda just left me dead inside, professionally.

The mad pace continued with few meaningful breaks from July 2019 to October 2020. Only for a few of those months did i get to do what i really thought of as my job.

And that’s just it, now that it’s over, i know i miss what my old job used to be, but i don’t know if it’s still there, nor do i know if i know how to do it anymore.

So there we are. Two bad things are going away. We hope.

Fuck off forever, COVID.
Fuck off forever, Bad Project.

Year in Review, 2020

No political commentary or any of that here, just the (limited) data and context. It was a weird year in numbers, too.

Running: 188.5 miles.
It was an uneven year for running. As you might expect, the lockdown months made it difficult to get out a lot. In March, i made an effort to go run after being relieved of watching the baby man. In April and May, as the quarantine dragged on, i did less well at this. Working from home, I needed to do more than I did, but work was unrelenting. In December i got COVID so i didn’t do much running, being sick/contagious.

Bicycling: 746 miles.
It’s difficult to make up for 18-24 days a month of 5-6 miles a day, lost for ten months of the year. After May, it was possible to go into the office, so there were a handful of days a month where i went into the office, still. Beyond that, there were periodic bicycle tours of tunnels and construction sites.

Soccer: 17 games.
6 wins, 9 losses, 2 draws.
3 shots on goal, 1 assist.
27 goals allowed, 1 own goal.

Soccer was shut down for four months. For a further two months, it should have been shut down, but I stopped playing to avoid getting the ‘rona, which I did anyway, so how smart am i? Anyway, with an 80 team league reduced to 10-12, only the hardcore good teams kept playing. And us. Honestly, i’m proud of a lot of those losses.

Commuting:
Big surprise, it barely happened for the last 3/4 of the year! The usual mix of walk to daycare, bike or run the rest disappeared in favor of sparse bicycle trips, occasional runs home. All told, there were 75 bicycle commutes, still.

Travel:
We slept in two places that weren’t home for a total of 7 days. Upon reflection, this is surely the least i’ve been away from home possibly ever, but defiintely going back to the 1980s.
We visited two other states. Florida and New Hampshire. I know, right? We flew home from the one trip we took the week before everything shut down.
We put 3,247 miles on the car the whole year. Fewer soccer games played, only one trip to Foxboro, and a serious disincentive to be more than an hour from your own bathroom. The maximum was 557 miles in July.

Entertainment:
I saw the Revs play their home opener, which they drew, disappointingly. I saw one movie in the theater, which was The Rise of Skywalker, which was also mostly disappointing, upon reflection. The upside of the baby man taking upwards of an hour to go down at night is that i get to read under his crib. When i run out of twitter, i read books. I read four new books this year. Some people who read this will find this pathetic. We got 6 Lego sets this year and built 4. 8 Duplo sets and built 7. Some we are saving. We have approximately 35 linear feet of wooden train tracks.

Twitter: 1,986 tweets.
You’d think that in an election year, never mind the unrelenting clusterfuck of 2020, that i’d tweet more than my usual pace of 150-200 a month, but it’s not true. There’s not much of a pattern here. My guess is that the most noteworthy thing i posted this year was a joke about a tribble.

The Internet:
72 Instagram posts, plus 141 days of instastories.

The Cat:
The cat has been battling something like a UTI lately. She peed outside her litter box dozens of times. Some of them were while i had COVID so i can’t count. We partially solved this by moving her litterbox into my isolation zone in the bedroom. Because what the hell, i can’t smell anything. Now, though, i have nevertheless smelled plenty of cat piss. She also puked 35 times this year, and drew my blood 8 times.

Drinking:
This year i drank 147 beers, which is really not impressive, but i have an excuse. First, is that i lost half a month to COVID. And while i did institute a policy of a work-from-home lunch beer for the heady first two weeks of lockdown, i don’t think that made up for the lack of general festivity, friends, or social occasion.

Anyway, my other excuse is that this year we tried to improve our cocktail and wine consumption. We did well at this, and will count them next year.

Food:
I ate at McDonald’s 10 times. Could be better, but it wasn’t bad. We ate 8 burritos, and got ice cream 9 times. Pathetic. Especially the last one. Completely unacceptable performance. As far as coffee is concerned, we don’t go out for it much, but it’s a 3:1 Dunks – Starbucks ratio.

Other shit:
Daycare: We went a period of 108 days without daycare starting in March. We went a further 33 days without it in December.
COVID: I got 5 tests. The last one was positive. Annette got 5, but they were all boring and negative. Baby man got only one test, which was negative, but we’re all pretty sure he has it. I isolated for 9 days in the bedroom, and the first day in the outside hallway. I caused my office to get shut down for 3 days.
Population: We started the year with three people in the house, now we have four. Somehow, she’s a grad student.
Home Renovation: 1 room painted. 1 room wallpapered. 2 light fixtures. 3 shelves. 2 miscellaneous wooden thingys. 1 piece of Ikea. 1 miniature playground. 1 rug. 5 other pieces of furniture.

Next year: It will be different, with any luck.

Last year: Ha, you caught me. Never posted it. It’s coming. Update: It’s here.
Previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016.

Because Good Is Dumb

Starting with The Empire Strikes Back and continuing to the grimdark Nolan Batman movies, the idea that ‘darker’, downbeat stories are what people want, are what are real got so pervasive that it became a joke. The end of Se7en, or Spider-Man blowing away as dust at the end of Infinity War. That shit was real, the good guys lost, and that’s how you know it’s serious.

But in real life, the good guys losing sucks. In real life, the bad guys suffering no comeuppance sucks. In real life, the consequences are not dramatic and moving and limited to costumed superheroes, they’re mundane and shitty and are disproportionately heaped on people who can’t afford them.

On a lot of days in this dismal fucking year, it sure feels like the falling action of one of those middle movies, the build to the cliffhanger that gets you amped up for the years-away denouement of the trilogy by imperiling your favorites in the moment. There are too many enemy fighters, the walls have been breached, a key hero has lost their nerve or even turned heel. On a lot of days the news, social media, the doomscroll as a whole just make it feel like defeat is assured.

Terrible things keep happening. Our government is doing a lot of them intentionally.

Conspiracists are salivating at the prospect of a race war in the streets, and the occupant of the White House on down to trigger-happy, racist, bully police soak in the validation of their habitual abuse of minorities. The shining light of so many people righteously protesting is ignored, and unfortunately the pretty justified rioting plays right into their hands. There are tanks on the streets, secret police, government abductions and executions. All of this is covered in detail in the press and it doesn’t matter.

Public health malpractice is costing tens of thousands of lives, and they’ve so successfully tied it to identity that people who might be most vulnerable to COVID are the ones howling in protest of measures that might save them from it. The red-faced old white men and retired women braying about how their freedoms are being trampled and injecting themselves with bleach. Every time some wave of stupid is beaten back he just invents a new one. Old people are getting sick, young people are getting sick, governments won’t shut down, or ones that do won’t pay people not to work, or businesses to stay open. My city’s hollowing out and so is yours. It’s going to be a decade before things come back to where they were a year ago. It may get worse before it gets better. It may cost anyone like you or me something even more if we’re unlucky. Nothing is being done other than an inevitable fake dog and pony about a vaccine that isn’t done yet that might be a just-good-enough fake to get him reelected.

And let’s not forget the election itself. Twenty years of Republicans engineering victories from elections they deserve to lose by denying a say to people they don’t like and scaring just enough people into voting for their worst impulses. Their coalition is stagnant, fetid, aging, dying, and being peeled away, albeit too slowly by the very things i’m describing. But they’re still going to win. Maybe everywhere. This is probably what’s most frustrating. They cheat faster, better, and harder than people who don’t cheat can fight. People who don’t cheat are fundamentally ill-equipped with the imagination to conceive of all the ways you can cheat. But cheat they will, from doctored videos pumped into people’s Facebook feeds to scary men at polls to drive people away, to Russians tampering with the totals. To our founding fathers and the goddamn Electoral College and the fact that somehow Wyoming gets to tell Massachusetts what to do in life.

The odds are stacked against us. We are too naive to stop cheating. We’re too weak to actually beat COVID as thoroughly as we must. We’re not anti-racist enough to see how these things are affecting people who aren’t us. We’re too lazy or beaten down or tethered to jobs and children to actually fill the streets when outrages occur; maybe nothing would get us out there, and maybe we’ll find out soon when the ultimate outrage occurs. It may happen that he steals the Presidency, or refuses to leave office, or encourages ‘our’ jackbooted cops to billy-club us into submission, and it may be that we can do nothing about it. But perhaps more likely, we will do nothing about it.

In short, the movie reference that applies is from Spaceballs: “Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.”

Definitive “Sesame Street” Power Rankings

99. Any recurring character in an animated segment

98. Baby Bear: That voice is just the worst thing. The worst thing.

97. Rudy: Seemingly the heir to Baby Bear’s annoying voice, Grover’s tendency to screw up, and Telly’s stubbornness all in one. Rudy is not endearing.

96. Rocky (Zoe’s pet rock): Rocky makes Zoe a terrible character whenever he’s around, which is a lot, actually.

95. Mr. Noodle and all other Noodles: There’s a Tiger King style documentary to be made about the world of Noodles and i can’t wait to see it.

94. Elmo taking on different forms in Elmo’s World: These can be downright terrifying and they sometimes make my son cry.

93: Elmo’s World Guests: Pretty much only have one of two old-time Noo Yawk accents.

88. Elmo’s Dad: It pains me to note that Elmo’s Dad is supposed to be an engineer. He’s also an obvious attempt to construct a boomer’s idea of a Cool Dad. He has a soul patch and plays a saxophone in a classic rock band. FFS.

87. The Crumb: Mid-20teens Sesame Street had a lot of expensively animated missteps. This is one of them.

86. Velvet: Elmo the Musical was never aimed at me. I do not condone musical theater. Velvet is annoying, even correcting for that admitted bias.

77. Prairie Dawn: Mostly down here for telling Abby she could only dress up as a princess, but honestly it’s the most she had to do for years.

76. Dorothy: You’re killing Elmo’s World, Dorothy. It grinds to a halt every time you’re on the screen.

75. Grouchetta

74. Giant Elephant Guy: Exceptionally annoying voice, made up for by being very obvioulsy a dude in a suit, which is a little funny.

73. Stinky the Plant

A bunch of others that don’t really register.

25. Bert: Poor Bert. He’s redeemed some by his pure love for pigeons.

24. Barkley

23. Herry Monster

22. Guy Smiley

21. Baby Natasha

20. Gonger: Cookie Monster and Gonger’s food truck is underappreciated. A little bit of talking about following directions, a little bit of how-it’s-made film, and occasionally they’re just kinda sneaky funny.

19. Julia

18. The yip yip aliens: They lose major points for their implication in this season’s dreadful Number of the Day song.

17. Ovejita:

16. Any and all penguins

15. Murray Monster: One of the few new characters that does a good job of doing old Sesame Street things, notably, muppets interacting with random people on the street and going and learning things about new places.

14. Snuffy

13. Any and all chickens: The chickens are never not funny.

12. Telly Monster: Telly can be annoying, but only because he tries so very hard.

11. Slimey

10. Elmo: You’ve gotta give him some credit for not making you absolutely want to murder him, considering his ubiquity. That being said, cocky “yeah baby” Elmo is the worst and belongs at the other end of this list.

9. Abby: Once they toned down the “magic things are magic!” introductory interactions with Abby, she became a lot more likable, despite her overuse. Animated Abbys do not count here, they mostly suck.

8. Rosita: Rosita seems fun in general and ideally she would be around more.

7. The Count: His love of counting is so pure.

6. Two-Headed Monster: They’re funny and i don’t have more of a justification than that.

5. Ernie: As a kid, I identified with Ernie. Ernie was fun. Bert was not. I’m sure it’s tough to be a Bert in this world, but it was never something i could wrap my brain around.

4. Big Bird: Big Bird is nice. He’s the embodiment of nice. If we could have Big Bird be our ambassador for our first contact with aliens, i think he, Mr. Rogers, and Tom Hanks would handle that job just fine.

3. Oscar: is my wife’s favorite. A true Gen X’er’s muppet.

2. Grover: Not Super Grover, importantly, and especially not “Super Grover 2.0”. Real Grover is cheerfully foolish and curious and sure of himself before he makes peace with his ignorance. Super Grover 2.0 is a boring buffoon.

1. Cookie Monster: Cookie Monster is the rampaging id we all want to be in our lives. Not me though, i’m like that all the time and people still like me.

Year in Review, 2019

What’s it say about 2020 that i didn’t really find enough time to put together my charts and graphs for 2019. Here we are in the first days of 2021, and thinking back to 2019 and looking at the numerical detritus of a different madness is hard to wrap my brain around. Not to say 2019 was normal, it was nuts, but it was a hell of a lot closer to normal than our current moment.

Off we go.

Running: 161.6 miles.
An absolutely embarrassing year. Excuses: In March, we traveled. In June and July, we traveled. In September through December, i worked an unholy amount.

Bicycling: 1,056 miles.
Nearly three weeks of traveling in France, and two weeks in Germany meant that this was less than it could have been. Not a lot of trips outside of commuting.

Soccer:
33 games. 16 wins, 15 losses, 2 draws.
16 shots on goal, 1 assist. 47 goals allowed, one own goal.
We were decent this year. Missed a lot of games due to travel. While i was generally really pleased at how often i got into the attack, and i forced a lot of good saves, one of these days i have to score one.

Commuting and Transport:
197 bicycle commutes. 31 run commutes.
21 MBTA trips.

There were 15 car commutes in there, but in my defense, 10 of those were in a foreign country and four of them involved a U-haul and 500lbs of prototype. Our T usage was, of course, heavily Orange Line-centric, considering it’s a block away.

Work, Sleep, and Sanity:
This is the part where you can start to see some effect of the mad pace of the hellproject, even though the averages sort of mute the drama of it. In September through December, i worked too much and slept too little, and that shows here. Sometimes i would put my laptop away at 2, climb into bed, and the man would immediately begin yelling, and i’d go kneel next to the crib, put my head down on the bar, my hand on his back, and shush him back to sleep. For what seemed like ages. And i didn’t never pass out on the bar of the crib. Looking at some of those average hours of sleep though, holy crap, how did we survive that. And that outlier in March? That was due to trading off a stomach bug that resulted in entire days of sleeping. And work got worse in November and December, but the man started sleeping through the night. So those canceled each other out a little bit. And even though our vacation in France was a well-documented disaster, both the we and the baby man slept great. 2019 was a stretch, is what i’m saying.

Drinking: 203 beers.
You might imagine that the weeks-long vacation in France might be the peak of my beer drinking. Instead, it was in May, where my first work trip to Germany involved several nights of getting a solid buzz on with round after round of Dinkel Acker with clients and colleagues. Then we did that again in June. And while there were many 1664s by the pool, there was also a lot of wine. And also there was a lot of things going wrong and relentless hustling.

Food:
11 trips to McDonald’s.
14 times
getting ice cream.
489
total cups of coffee.

Travel:
41 nights spent somewhere other than home: 8 in Germany, 16 in France, 3 aboard airplanes. 10 in Florida.
11 airports.
4 countries.
Not actually that impressive, but i did spend a lot of time in two of them. For a period from the end of May through mid-July i spent more weeks in Europe than in the US. Look at how fucked up things are here, can you blame me?
6 states.

5,319 miles on our car, the most in August and September for trips to Rhode Island. A considerable additional number of kilometers on two rental cars in France and two more in Florida.
3 theme parks visited: Disneyworld in Florida, Disneyland Paris, and Sesame Street Land in Florida. Baby man does not lead a bad life, i don’t think.

Entertainment:
We saw zero movies in the theater. Won zero games of bar trivia out of maybe two or three. I went to 8 Revs home matches, and they were 4-3-1.

Internets:
Here’s how you can tell I was busy in 2019: I only uttered 1,056 tweets. averaging a mere 70 per month for the second half of the year. 78 Instagrams, though. Not so bad.

The Baby Man.
Back when I could still keep stats on his bodily functions.
Barfed 18 times.
Pooped in the process of diapering 3 times.
Peed on me 6 times.
Blew out 65 diapers.


But none of these things happened any later than July.

The Cure for Francophilia

In July, the girl, the little man, and i spent over two weeks in France with much of her family. Since i was in second grade and was first introduced to the language in the otherwise dire public schools of Slidell, Louisiana, i’ve loved everything French.

In 2003, i was thrilled to visit Paris for the first time. It was another scorching hot, deadly summer, and my first experience was amazement, and joy at being finally immersed in it, but still kinda, you know, enduring it. A week later, passing through for another night on the way back to London, it was cool and pleasant and it was everything I ever wanted.

Since then, i’ve been back half a dozen times or so in all seasons, and always had a fantastic time just soaking in its Frenchness. In 2015 when i brought the girl there, she noted that i was uncharacteristically nervous that she wouldn’t like it as much as i did. It rained on us but i needn’t have worried. The food alone made it amazing.

This year, we planned an ambitious itinerary around the end of the Women’s World Cup, from Provence, to Paris, to Normandy.

And somehow, so many days on this trip felt like my favorite country was kicking me for loving it so.

June 30th, Boston: Before we even left, yes. We got on the Logan Express bus from the Back Bay T station, I wrestled our bags into the rack and went to pay the driver. The girl handed me her wallet with her Charliecard to show the driver. It wasn’t even needed anymore. I set her wallet down to watch the man look out the window and talk to the traffic, and i never picked it back up. We spent the remaining time before our departure frantically searching for it, then preparing for the reality that we didn’t have it anymore.

July 1st, TGV Station, CDG Terminal 2: Multiple of our party can’t walk, and between luggage and strollers, we sought an elevator down to the TGV platform. After a few trips in the wrong direction in the urine-scented box, it finally took some of us down to the platform, but would not go any further. At that point, ticket agents confronted the people down there, while upstairs, they weren’t yet taking tickets and letting the rest of us down. Shouting in French ensued, with me a hundred feet away and barely able to help.

Upon boarding the train, me and a bunch of other people were riding between cars in stifling heat upon a mountain of luggage that had nowhere to go. It took me roughly an hour to get all our luggage moved to the right car, and I rode most of the three hours to Avignon standing while our giant suitcases sat comfortably.

July 1st, Violès, France: When you have 10 adults, you can get one hell of an Airbnb for not so much money, divided so many ways. We did that. It was one hell of an Airbnb on paper—a vineyard, modern appliances and furniture, air conditioning, a million bedrooms, boxes of wine to drink… And an ant and fly infestation. Dozens of flies, hundreds of ants, and an all-hands battle against them.

July 2nd, Violès, France: When we arrived, the pool systems were off, and the pool was a bit messy with some not-so-clever cicadas. It was pushing 100˚ out, and an enterprising member of our crew started pushing buttons in a nearby room. At some point, i was summoned to help, being an engineer who actually speaks French. I flipped the relevant switch and we all hopped into a soon-to-be-perfect blue pool. But we’d also turned on the water for the whole vineyard. Our host was not pleased. Later that night, after a great dinner at a local restaurant where I basically got to order for everyone, the insects returned.

July 3rd, Lyon, France: We waited rather too long to book lodging in Lyon during the World Cup, and the last reasonable option was a $200 Airbnb. No air conditioning, stairs, whatever. It was one night. Accessibility concerns meant that we ditched our original plan to take the train into the city and park at the airport, and instead we’re now driving into the center of the city. Up and down steep one-way streets. Google Maps lied about the parking garage, but that was okay because the Airbnb was five stories up. We changed a diaper there, the baby man made a game attempt to trash the place in fifteen minutes, but this wasn’t going to work for some of us and a hotel was hastily booked for a large sum of money §. Having driven to this hotel, they realized they made a mistake and moved us to another. At this point, we’ve driven around the center of Lyon for over two hours, and are in danger of not making it far across town to the stadium for kickoff. After the game, it took us roughly two hours to get back to our hotel with all the taxis spoken for and Uber a bit of false advertising.

July 4th, Grenoble, France: We had no reason to think that a city at the foot of the Alps would be a crime capital. We spent a nice day playing at a playground, eating ice cream, sightseeing, and having dinner. Many of the rest of us had gotten lost, but we had a great day. Until we returned to a car with a broken window. With a bag and two iPads stolen from it. An expensive call to the rental car company. An expensive call to the local police. Who said to make an expensive call to the national police. Who said to go in person to the local police. Whose first office was closed. Finally we find a hot, sweaty police lobby for me to wait in, with disinterested desk officers slowly processing whatever they’re processing and an old second world war comedy on the TV on the wall. I’m under no illusions about obtaining any justice, but the rental car company says I need a police report. With thisª:

in hand a sweaty ninety minutes later, we cram dirty clothes in the broken window and begin our two hour drive home close to midnight.

July 5th, Les Baux-de-Provence: Five days into our vacation, nothing bad finally happened, other than the possibility that we had maybe cost our host thousands of Euros in fines for violating local water bans, which is probably better than ruining the year’s vintage, which had also seemed a possibility.

July 6th, Violès, France: We scarcely left the house, which is a good tip for avoiding anything bad happening. We drank, we swam, we drank some more. It’s pushing 100˚ still and people are probably dying because of it. Perspective is useful.

July 7th, Uzès, France: It’s a notch hotter and we leave the house, but barely leave the car until evening. We had a great dinner in a nice bar in a town that the girl and I really liked four years ago. It was a good day. When we returned, there were more insects than ever.

July 8th, Violès, France: I learned some entomology from a very enthusiastic exterminator in French. I don’t actually care what i’m talking about, i still love talking in French to people. We got a late start searching for lavender fields, which had mostly been harvested already, but it was still a perfectly okay day. At least we got really drunk late that night.

July 9th, Avignon TGV Station: The rental car company was not impressed with my police report. They told me that Grenoble was a bad place and that they were deeply unsurprised at what had happened. And that they were just gonna bill me for it and I’d have to take it up with my credit card company. At least getting everybody’s luggage on the train again went better.

July 10th, Paris: We had a nice morning getting the walking-averse onto a tour bus, which we rode far away to the Luxembourg gardens. With the man cooked both literally and figuratively, we were devastated to find that the snack bar was out of sandwiches for the day, and went home to get him a nap. As if that wasn’t bad enough, then i got pickpocketed on the Métro. Yeah, getting shoved onto the crowded train with my stroller tickled my spider sense enough to be looking, but not hard enough. According to my better half, who fought their attempts to shove her away from me and the stroller, there were five of them, and one of them took advantage of my attention on the baby to lift my wallet. They attempted over $10,000 of charges in half an hour, all but $667 of which were declined. Still, they got away with nearly $1000 between that and the cash. And, what with that and the events of June 30th, now we have no cash or credit cards, nor a way to rent the next car. I abruptly start being nicer to my in-laws for no particular reason.

July 11th, Paris: We did very little this day other than not spend any money (Pro tip: some credit card companies will immediately load your new card onto Apple Pay in this situation, which meant that we could pay for a lot of stuff like diapers and formula for the baby and cookies and wine for us) and take the man to a local playground. He took a long nap and i caught up on work email, which remained terrible, but less so compared to other events.

July 12th, Disneyland Paris: Ah, the refuge of Disneyland, which initially I rolled my eyes at as a waste of valuable being-in-Paris time, but now seemed like a needed two days of paid-for-months-ago and everything-taken-care-of. Anyway, even their standard let us down as we found our toilet pre-peed-in and other niceties:

July 13th, Disneyland Paris: In Disneyland Paris, they still attempt to serve proper three-course meals, just like everywhere else, but worse, slower, and more expensive. At least they were a bundled cost, but I was not sad when my small colleague demanded we leave the restaurant adjoining Pirates of the Caribbean. By this point he was wise to the length of typical meals, and if the food wasn’t meeting his standards, he’d be difficult to contain.

July 14th, CDG Airport: It took us an hour and a half to get a car rented, but at least since it was the same agency as before, they remembered a time (a time that to me, seemed so long ago) when I had a valid driver’s license and handed me the keys to an Alfa Romeo.

July 15th and 16th, Crépon, France: Nothing bad happened for the rest of the trip, actually. Normandy was beautiful and blessedly cool. Everyone had a good time. Disaster was held at bay. It was nearly relaxing.

July 16th, CDG Airport: After dropping off rental cars uneventfully and having difficulty finding the shuttle back to our hotel, we figured screw it and that we’d grab a cheap cab back and save time. The cabbies had seen us before, and as they talked amongst each other at the cab stand, while we walked to the car of the lucky winner, he said “Ils n’ont pas trouver la navette.†” and quoted us €20 for the trip. We walked away.

But i’m still not mad at France.

The proprietor of the hotel in Normandy stayed up late for us and moved around our rooms so we could be near each other. The waitstaff at a dozen different restaurants were solicitous of my little man and his cousins, and patient with the demands of the rest of our unruly party (which I couldn’t always intercept and translate into polite French). Our Airbnb host forgave us our literal trespasses. The last police officer I spoke with in Grenoble was kind and helpful and sympathetic. The fury on the face of the lady at the front desk at Disneyland when I showed her pictures of our room and her swiftness in finally fixing it (by moving us to the nice part of the hotel). The late-night gas station clerk who joked along with me while I guessed at the size of our car’s fuel tank and had to come back and pay for more. The nice pot-smoking cyclist who declared himself the mayor of the TGV baggage compartment and helped me and countless others inch our way to the right place while we mutilated each other’s languages. Or the nice cab driver who took a cash fare at 1am across Lyon probably right after he put out his light. The manager of a rest stop sandwich place got our man a little travel bag with goodies that easily bought us a few hours of happy car seat time.

Even in a scorching summer in one of the most tourist-infested parts of the world, you’re still going to find nice people, and have good experiences. Even if our luck on this trip was objectively rotten, an awful reward for a huge amount of effort put into planning it, and no respite whatsoever* from strenuous work at home**, we were still lucky to get to do it, and will always remember it. Maybe even especially the bad parts.

Footnotes:

ª Later, we noticed that the police report describes a green Ford Fiesta, not the large minivan we were driving, but on the other hand, the rental agreement says I was driving a VW Polo. Good job, everyone.

§ It was probably only available because some large fanbases had seen their teams be upset.

† “They didn’t find the shuttle.”

* Let’s face it, being the sole French speaker in a dozen neophyte travelers was never going to be a relaxing job.

** We’re not even going to talk about work right now other than that I count it as an accomplishment that i only billed eight hours during my vacation.

The Man and the Mouse, and other tales of Florida

Upon planning a trip to visit the little guy’s mom’s parents, we made it pretty clear that a 7-month-old did not have a burning need to go to Disneyworld, considering how excited he is by: leaves, cats, buses, the MBTA, mirrors, office lobbies, and other activities that do not cost $114 for admission. Knowing the little man’s grandmother as we do, though, and proud as we knew she was of her resident pass, we penciled in a day there and acted surprised when she said that’s where we were going.

And you know what? The man really liked it. Sure, what he liked most was riding around at knee level amongst the throngs of people laughing maniacally in his stroller every time he saw other small children. But he also liked rides! (Also: they just let you bring a 7-month-old on most of the rides, which admittedly i hadn’t given any thought to, but had kind of assumed wasn’t a thing). So there he was riding flying carpets, carousels, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. And looking around wide-eyed, even smiling. The idea of how new and exciting everything is to him is so invigorating, and better than that, you never know, with him—any place might be the next happiest place on earth™.

Other things we learned:

  • The diaper changing room near Main Street at Disneyworld is amazing. Cushy beds, table liners, a kiosk to buy crap you forgot. As it’s probably likely that i’ll be back there before the man is out of diapers, i can tell you i will be looking forward to it next time.
  • Disney’s reputation for experience design is deserved and well-documented, but i thought it was interesting how the barnacle-like growth of strollers on and around pathways clogged the arteries so thoroughly and in such a disorderly way. Immediately, i thought of redesigning it, realizing that like midtown Manhattan, the Magic Kingdom is, in some ways, some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. It deserves an expensive, well-designed solution, don’t you think?
      • Could you do an underground parking elevator-vending machine system like in high-density parking garages? It would have to be extremely fast and foolproof (their existing wristband tech would solve a lot of UI problems), but there would remain the issue of needing to not forget anything on your stroller lest you have to do it all over again.
      • Or what about an underground, self-serve parking area? Naturally, any underground solution would encroach on existing underground infrastructure.
      • Maybe this can be accomplished with policy solutions? Stroller-free zones, or congestion charging? Perhaps a valet service would do the trick, with the human element allowing for efficiency based on knowledge of how soon you’ll be back for it and trust that it’s well taken care of.
      • Stroller standardization could be another way to go. Maybe providing one, well-designed, compact, modular stroller at the parking lot would be a means to de-clutter the random agglomerations of compact (like ours), giant, double, and quadruple strollers.
      • Anyway, on the off chance they read this, and want to hire me and my day job to work on it, this is the sort of shit we rule at.
  • The Haunted Mansion is objectively the best ride at Disneyworld.
  • Experiencing big crowds with the little man is a little bit unnerving, considering he and his stroller are always pointed headlong into it, and i can’t see him. Fortunately, as i mentioned, he sort of loves that. But unsurprisingly, people walking around the Magic Kingdom, particularly at busy times, are badly behaved in the way that Connecticut drivers are. One wonders how many stroller fender-benders occur at brisk speeds.
  • Counterpoint: we spent the day walking so slowly that i barely budged my green ring on my Apple Watch, and not because of my wife’s parents’ slow amble, either.

Regarding the rest of Florida:

  • It’s still terrible. Traffic lights that take hours. Weaving drivers around people doing ten under in the left lane. We saw an American flag with he-who-must-not-be-named’s face on it. Their toll road arrangements, particularly as intersected with what your rental car is set up for are inconsistent and difficult and leave you scared of giant fines.

A Review of Assorted Baby Products

  • Considering that my better half and i live in a tiny basement apartment in a city not known for large… anything, we were accustomed to living our lives with careful consideration of any objects brought into the house.  Readers who’ve known me a for a long time know that this is a substantial change from my impulse-buy bachelor days.  
  • Change, however, is a thing that’s said to happen when babies are involved, and suddenly we find ourselves host to all manner of new products, some we’ve sweated the purchase of, others we’ve clicked buy on and hoped for the best.  
  • Consider this an addendum to my corporate-friendly thoughts posted earlier.  Highlights and commentary on design choices follow*:
    • Ergobaby 360 Carrier: This replaced the other carrier below, and everything about its construction reflects well on its higher cost; the materials and features are excellent and well-considered.  That’s not, however, the same as saying i agree with their choices.  

      In particular, the lift-the-baby-then-secure-the-carrier method is uncomfortable at first, and maybe something that not everybody can even do.  Basically you lift the baby onto your chest, ideally leaning back a little while standing (it’s awkward while sitting), support them with one arm, don one strap, switch arms, do the other strap.  Then, let go of the baby (!) and reach to connect a buckle at your shoulder blades.  Now, the baby can’t go anywhere at that point—the straps can’t go back over your arms if they’re raised—but this is more of a high-wire act than i’d like, and beyond that simply lacks the convenience of front access.  It seems to me that it would be easy enough to design an accessible fastener that only releases when the weight of the payload is held by your hands.  

      Apart from that, for a $150 carrier, charging $20 extra for multiple locations of washable drool covers is a bit ridiculous.  Despite all that, it’s comfortable for both of us for long walks or subway rides or bouts of xmas shopping, and his legs are well-supported with a clever forward-swung sling portion of the carrier.  His considerable weight is distributed partially to the waist, which helps as well.
       
    • Infantino Carrier: We bought this almost on impulse at Target, because it was so inexpensive and it served us extremely well while he was little.  People with smaller babies probably would get longer use out of it.  Ultimately, worn front-facing, it provided inadequate support to his giant fat thighs as he reached the 15-20lb mark.  The four-buckles-for-him, two-for-me system was easy to put on, though, and we miss being able to be securely wearing the carrier before inserting the baby into a stable location.  The downside was (again as he got heavier), the weight was all on the shoulders, which required better posture than i have and meant it got uncomfortable after an hour.  
    • Munchkin Diaper Pail: This has a fun little gear mechanism that operates the sphinctering of the tubular diaper baggie. It sometimes skips due to too much torque on account of being too full, but in general, the sphincter twists shut very effectively, which means that our tiny bedroom with like, half a window, does not smell like diaper. It doesn’t consume consumables excessively, either.  Here is where i say ‘sphincter’ one more time for fun.  At work, i frequently describe mechanisms or concepts using this word, because it’s both funny and scatological and extremely descriptive.
    • Fisher-Price Jungle Gym: A hand-me-down, and a lifesaver of one.  We don’t have this version, and there are clearly a few out there, but there was a good two month period where he couldn’t help but burst out laughing every time those butterflies fluttered overhead. Moreover, it’s a solid framework upon which to hang whichever little toy he’s most into, as he’s progressed from staring at it to beating the crap out of it. It’s on its second use, and as he wrestles it and i trip over it, it is slowly losing some of its rigidity.
    • Thule Urban Glide 2.0 jogging stroller: This is our only stroller, which is a decision we are mostly good with, except when we find ourselves in a tiny store or café, or on an orange line car at too busy an hour (read: we really prefer to keep our stroller off the T).  Put another way, it’s deceptively huge.  It’s long, obviously, but the wheelbase sneaks up on you, and it’s the thing that snags, or runs over strangers’ toes.  Someday we’ll have a cheap smaller one for stuff like that.  

      Having said that, this thing is awesome.  It bounces cheerfully over the uneven brick and cobble sidewalks of the South End and up and over mismatched, nonexistent, or blocked curb cuts, without jostling the (probably sleeping) passenger, thanks to pretty nice, simple shock-absorbing and big, forgiving wheels.  It drives great while running, too, rolls extremely smoothly, but that’s not the same as it requiring no effort; up hills, and especially into Boston’s inescapable winter wind, it’s an additional burden.  Good.  

      The adapter for the (see next) car seat was simple and robust, and also led too short a life.  Now that he’s out of that, though, it’s a lot more fun for him, as he’s got more to see than just the sky (not that he doesn’t love the sky), although he’d probably still prefer it if the stroller had 10-15˚ more uprightness available.  The wind/rain cover is also excellent and means that we can go out on the coldest days with just the (amazing) LL Bean sleeping bag thing that my mom got him and don’t have to coax him into more garments.  

      The wheels come off easily to fit in our car, in addition to the nice folding mechanism (one quibble—the closure latch is just a cheap plastic hasp and tooth that is sometimes a wrestling match.  It seems to me a swinging, detented hook might be better on release.
    • Chicco KeyFit car seat: We got nearly five months out of it, and i’ll always remember it as the thing we brought him home from the hospital in.  He was straining against it almost from that day.   It was a matter of weeks before we were pulling out the inserts for newborns, he was confined and overheated through the hot, humid summer, and practically bursting out of it when we switched to the next car seat.  We used the snuggly winter cover thing exactly once.  It is, however, extremely robust and well-designed, and one of many things we feel extremely wasteful about for having used so little.  

      In general, infant car seats should be easier to carry one-handed (they probably are with lighter babies).  The handle needs to get closer to your body, and there needs to be a way to not be bouncing it off your knees as you walk down the block.  Perhaps i’d be willing to move the handle left or right and trade an addition of ballast for a more convenient center-of-mass.  In smaller cars like ours, some help in clicking the seat in, visual aids, detents/feel features would be nice.  It’s not hard, but sometimes, due to the long cramped reach with an extended heavy object, the insertion-and-click winds up being heavy and jarring for the dude.  
    • Graco 4-in-1 car-seat: He was content for 45 minutes in the old one, provided the car was moving steadily.  With this one, its maybe up to an hour. It’s definitely more comfortable for him to get in and out of, a lot less yelling.  This is a heavily, heavily upholstered thing that i haven’t spent enough time with yet to truly understand.  It is worth mentioning that it’s huge, and that it’s cost me a click of my seat in our Mini Countryman.  The buckles are a little chintzier than the Chicco one too, and get lost and twisted a bit more easily.
    • Qooc Food Processor: This is a relatively new addition, which is fun for me to play with, because someone clearly put some effort into the product design on it.  Especially noticeable is the big, blue, lightpiped, rubberized control knob.  It’s a good, simple UI feature, even if the ‘power’ glyph on the front is maybe not the right choice, given its function (left = steam on, right = blender momentary-on).  i’m more disappointed on their behalf that they almost got the light pipe right, but there’s some LED bleed out the side of the knob.  Bummer.

      The retention of the blade on the bottom of the pitcher is sufficient, but unconvincing—the nut holding it should have a light detent.  Other than that, they did a good job implementing proper food-processor-type safety interlocks with simple, inexpensive parts (i have some experience with this (whaat, it comes in purple now!)).  If it were me designing it, i might have put thru-hole drains in the bottom base under the pitcher for cleaning purposes, too. Chopped-up carrots, especially, are pernicious little bits of debris.  The material chosen for the included spatula discolored almost immediately against carrots.  This thing comes with a lot of parts, too.  It’d be nice to have some means of storing some of them.  Cribbing off our shop at work, i am organizing it (as well as our bottle+formula station) using cheap cafeteria trays.   
    • Baby Einstein Take-Along-Tunes music box: Our better fake child bought this for him based on her extensive babysitting experience, and she was not kidding.  This simple, cheap little thing has comparable effectiveness to a pacifier.  Push the button, music and lights, calm baby.  It’s hard to believe that seven classical-music tunes played with probably the firmware equivalent of .MOD files (look it up if you’re not enough of a nerd) work so well on little folk.  The scant downside is that it consumes AA batteries surprisingly quickly.

      If i were so bold as to redesign this perfect product, i suppose i might spread out the flashing lights so they’re more visible from more places. And maybe scallop the bottom so that it’s harder to inadvertently mute the speaker on carpets and blankets and things.
    • Car back seat mirrors. We’ve tried two, neither of which have done that great a job of hanging onto the Mini’s center headrest. Currently it’s this one, which is fine except the logo on it is deeply hideous. All of the strap arrangements on these are varying degrees of horrible, though. Feels like it could be done with more of a sleeve or sack sort of arrangement, or even bendable hooks.
    More likely to come later.
  • *These are Amazon affiliate links, for the lulz.  Doubt that works out for me.