Celebration, Florida

Celebration, Florida

celebration - our houseAh, Celebration, FL.

Quite the polarizing place. 

We lived there from 2003-2005 (see photo), 740 Mulberry Avenue on Savannah Square, in a 3-story townhouse. And by and large, we loved it.

I survived three category 3 hurricanes in six weeks while living there in 2004, with Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. Marked that off my bucket list.

It isn’t for everyone. Being in the heart of tourist land (US 192 abuts the North Village, and Disney is right across I-4), it is anything but convenient to shop for groceries, hardware, or any “basics” outside “the bubble.”

But there were also so many cool things, too – walking in the morning around the lake, hearing voices, and looking up to see hot air balloons just a few hundred feet overhead. Hansom cab rides in the Fall and Christmas. Walking to the bank, restaurants, the post office, the movies (sadly, no longer open). Fireworks from Disney every night at 9. Ten minutes door-to-door from the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Heaven to some. Hell to others.

It even has its own song:

It is no more authentic (or inauthentic) than beards, tattoos, and yoga pants. Give those a couple of decades of hindsight, and we’ll see how they hold up.

What Celebration does is throw into sharp relief a bit of what living in Florida is like – essentially, a state of haves and have nots. Along US 192 you have families stuck living in hotel rooms, unable to escape to a better life. Immediately beside, inside the bubble, million dollar houses and a new urbanist vision of harmonious high density living. A tiny corner of conspicuous consumption in one of the largest counties in the state, with only significant two cities of any size (Kissimmee and St. Cloud – Celebration is not classified as a city).

Contrasted with my time in Winter Park (2008-2011), Celebration certainly lacked the patina that comes with established neighborhoods. But – one murder in a couple of decades? I think that stands up pretty well, compared to Metropolitan Orlando (in 2007 or 2008 – memory fails me – there were something over 100 murders in a single year there).

I have lived in neighborhoods undergoing transformation (Hillsboro Belmont / Belmont Waverly in Nashville), established neighborhoods (Orwin Manor / Winter Park, FL), and new urbanist developments (Celebration, FL / Hendrix Village, Conway, AR). Old houses, houses with leaky roofs, new houses with termites. Neighborhoods aren’t great intrinsically; what makes great neighborhoods are great people, and I have happily found great people almost everywhere we’ve been, regardless of the prevailing economic demographic.

If you look for problems, you’ll find them. That’s not being apologetic for Celebration, because I’ve had some rather shitty interactions there. For example, the first night in our house in Celebration we had a neighbor put a nasty note on my car, for parking in the spot in front of MY house, before determining who’s car it was. Or the neighbors who never stopped by until our house went on the market – but were on us like flies trying to list our house once they found out we were moving (oh wait – that was Winter Park!). Or the neighbors who watched our garage get robbed and never called the police (oh wait – that was Waverly Belmont!). You get the idea.

Point is, Celebration is an easy target for some well deserved Schadenfreude. But it was also the first home for my second child, and the place where many happy family memories were made for us. You can say I have a “soft spot” for Celebration (mostly, the top of my head).

The issue with Celebration is that it is a dream concept, but a dream concept that was – and is – only ever available to a few. Would I live there again? Yes.

But I would take it for what it is, and not for what it was supposed to be.


The Idiot’s Guide to Bearable Computing

The Idiot’s Guide to Bearable Computing

Bearable ComputingFacetime. Skype. Google Hangouts. WebRTC. Telepresence. Teleconference. Whatevs.

Real-time video communication is – literally – in our faces at every turn.

Well then – why is so much of it so horrifically terrible to participate in?

You know what I’m talking about.

You schedule an interview with a prospective employee, who dials in from a crowded Starbucks (check). You connect with an important and hard-to-get guest lecturer, who has the camera pointed at the top of his head the entire lecture (check). You can’t hear other participants because of the horrible echo coming from one of the dialed in members in the call (check). You sit for an hour in front of an unmoderated webinar, wishing you could get that hour of your life back (check, check, check).

It doesn’t have to be this bad. Truly.

In fact, I have a little side career mission to promote what I call Bearable Computing (see what I did there?) – a mission to promote responsible technology use, that isn’t distracting, idiotic, or simply indigestible.

Let’s start with first principles, regarding videoconferencing.

  • Before you schedule a webinar or videoconference, be 100% certain you have something important and interesting to share or say. If you don’t have an agenda, a moderator, or a topic, you should bail. Now.
  • You should NEVER participate in a video call without headphones. Ever.  Echo cancellation has gotten tons better over the years, but is still imperfect. Please. Think of the children. Wear headphones.
  • You should try your utmost to connect via a wired, rather than a wireless, internet connection. Why? Because if I’m fixated on your pixelated and broken signal trying to come across whatever bogus hotspot you’re leaching down at your favorite watering hole, I’m NOT concentrating on the content of the conversation. Iffy wifi / bandwidth is the death of most video calls. Get a wire.
  • Buy a good microphone. The difference between good sound and great sound is the difference between lightning and lightning bug (with apologies to Mark Twain). Do it.
  • Use the best camera you can afford. Built in cameras, even for Macs, are OK in a pinch… but if you can splurge for a really good camera, it’ll change your videoconferencing life. And while I’m talking cameras, if you DO use your built in laptop’s camera, at least raise the camera to be at your eye level. Looking up your nose for an hour is not where it’s at. At. All. Take the time to frame your video. For the love of Pete.
  • Have good lighting. You’re going to the trouble to do a video call. What good is a video call, if no one can see you? Corollary: DON’T sit with a huge window at your back – silhouettes really aren’t that interesting…  unless you’re going for some “All the President’s Men” effect. Then, by all means. Otherwise – no. No. No.
  • Avoid dead air. Dead air is death to an otherwise interesting video call. In a hangout, sometimes it’s unavoidable. In a presentation? Inexcusable. The best way to solve this is to have a designated meeting convener who acts as the moderator for EVERY video call. Every. One. Always.

A few final notes: at our school, we record about 1TB plus worth of video in our media center each year. We see a lot of video. Some good. Some double-plus ungood. The common theme of bad video? It’s unwatchable. Bad lighting. Terrible framing. Horrible sound. Bad content. The same is true of unbearable teleconferencing: bad content, horrible framing, terrible video quality, spotty sound.

In short, before you sit down to participate in a video call, ask yourself: would / could I watch this video call, again, without being bored to tears? Is what I’m presenting watchable, in the least?

By using the right tools, and finding a good internet connection in a quiet distraction-free spot, you’ll greatly improve your chances of having a truly positive video experience.

We don’t all have to be consummate media professionals in order to effectively communicate via video.

But neither do we have to phone it in (Really. I’m stopping now).




Hendrix College Raspberry Pi Bake-Off