Last week my parents treated the whole family (me, Jill, Mom, Dad, Brother John, his wife Jen, and their nine-year-old Claire) to a cruise on the Disney Dream.

This is my second cruise. I sailed on the Disney Wonder ten years ago and very much did not like it. I resolved this time to keep an open mind and try to experience all it had to offer, especially because Mom was looking forward to a great vacation with the whole family, and because Jill really loves cruises and wants me to enjoy them with her.

So let me tell you about everything we did! … No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

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Jill runs (or walks) a lot of 5K and half-marathon races with her posse, the Sparkle Sisters. (See A few times each year, she’ll go away for a weekend at Disneyland or the Space Coast or even at the nearby Disney World resorts with her friends.I stay home alone with the cats and the dog, and I take advantage of the time to tidy up and tackle some home projects.

This is the first time we’re doing it the other way around, though. She and her friends ran the Pro Bowl 5K at the ESPN Wide World of Sports this morning, and they’re running the Celebration half-marathon tomorrow morning. So Jill and seven of her friends are staying at the house … and I decided it was my turn to get away.

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Train whistle

A long while back, I took the “Magic Behind Our Steam Trains” tour at the Magic Kingdom. The guide told us what the various steam locomotive whistle signals meant, and I jotted them down. I finally decided to post them here so they no longer take up space on my notepad.

  • Four notes, coming into station: “Here Comes The Train”
  • At the station, two notes and a bell: “I’m Here”
  • Two notes when ready to leave: “Let’s Go”
  • Three notes, when the engineer needs to back up: “Let’s Go Back”


Floyd Norman, Disney Legend

Floyd NormanA few months ago, I attended an interview with Floyd Norman. Floyd is a Disney Legend – “the first African-American at Disney,” he says. He got his start in animation, but his career really took off when Walt himself asked him to help with the story on The Jungle Book.

During the interview, he said a lot about the creative process. I took notes. (My notes weren’t exact, so most quotes below are paraphrased.)

Creative people are more willing to take a risk, he explained. “Creativity is not being afraid to be different, and to be a little bit nuts.” He talked about his job being a collaboration between art, creativity, and technology. “Walt and his colleagues were just making stuff up. The painters, the cameramen, et cetera – they learned and made it up as they went along.” His career has spanned from Sleeping Beauty all the way to Monsters Inc.; he explained that Pixar is very much like the Hyperion studio in the 1930s. Because no one had done it before, there was nothing telling them they couldn’t do it.

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I feel like I’m always doing something, always trying to keep up with my schedule. I read a book once that described a character running around “like someone always late to a meeting,” and that sums it up. Jill says that it’s because we tend to have a lot going on as the holiday season gets closer.

So I decided to keep a log of what we did in our free time on each day of October.

  1. Tidy up from a busy September.
  2. Visit Mom & Dad in their condo, upgrade their MacBook / iPhone / iPad.
  3. Play Guild Wars 2 and Minecraft with Eve.
  4. Theater for a special screening of Iron Giant. That evening, play Lego Dimensions (PS3).
  5. Tired. Go to bed early.
  6. Minecraft with Eve.
  7. Epcot Food & Wine with Katie.
  8. Columbia restaurant with Katie and her friend.
  9. Food Truck Friday with Mom & Dad.
  10. Upgrade my Hackintosh, while Jill is at a sewing machine class then goes to the Studios to see the last Mulch, Sweat, & Shears performance.
  11. Jill has a sick tummy. She braves it and we go to the Pixar concert.
  12. I play the Star Wars Battlefront demo while Jill goes to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.
  13. TV: Agents of Shield, Muppets. Then we play Disney Infinity Speedway.
  14. I’m on a live site call for work all day and late into the evening.
  15. I run the Celebration Computer Users Group meeting.
  16. Amita’s 50th birthday party.
  17. Working on the weekend. Dinner with Mom and Dad.
  18. Working on the weekend, all day.
  19. Minecraft with Jill and Eve in the evening,
  20. Some more Lego Dimensions, and watch Agents of Shield.
  21. Back to the Future day! Watch BttF 2, order out for calzones, then play the BttF levels in Lego Dimensions.
  22. Go see Patrick in the theater group’s performance of The Taming of the Shrew.
  23. 6AM launch call for work. Take it easy that evening.
  24. Get up at 4:45am to bring Jill to the airport for a trip to DC (to support friends in the Marine marathon). Play GW2 (the long-awaited Heart of Thorns expansion) with Eve. Dinner at Noodles & Company with Mom & Dad.
  25. More GW2 with Eve. Phonecall with Tracey to catch up with her.
  26. Work from home. Mom makes ham and mac&cheese for dinner. Pick up Jill from the airport.
  27. Jill edits photos from her trip. We play some GW2 with Eve.
  28. Catch up on TV: Muppets, Agents of Shield, Supergirl (bleah), Star Wars Rebels.
  29. More GW2 with Eve. It’s a new release with all kinds of new stuff, okay?
  30. The office is holding an offsite party to celebrate all our hard work, but we’re working too hard to go.
  31. Jill had a 10K scheduled but skips it because she’s got a bad cough. We celebrate Halloween with eleven people and two dogs on the porch, and 525 trick-or-treaters.




Kristy was down here for a few days, so of course she made the most of it with a side trip to Disney World with friends, and of course I came with!

Friday evening she, Kate, Tina, and I went to Kona Cafe at the Polynesian for dinner, then we went to the Magic Kingdom just long enough to get Dole Whips and ride a ride. Pirates was closed so we went on Jungle Cruise. “Does anyone know what kind of snake this is? … starts with a P …?” Someone yelled PLASTIC! “No! That’s wrong! This is a python! You want to see plastic animals, go ride Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom, those are the most fake animals I’ve ever seen!”

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Big Hero 6


Short-story author Anton Chekhov once wrote:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

I have a lot of respect for stories that lay out the pieces and then use all of them. A good example recently is Guardians of the Galaxy, in which the protagonist’s motivation is entirely represented by a cassette tape (scenes of which neatly bookend the movie). John Lasseter’s films for Pixar and Disney also tend to be very good at this; the villains are driven by a motivation that seems obvious in hindsight, and the heroes save themselves not by finding a convenient gadget but by discovering something about themselves. Nothing’s left on the table. Nothing’s pulled out of thin air. Plenty of room for foreshadowing and plenty of opportunity for the themes of the story to be suggested and interpreted instead of stated outright. Lasseter’s stories are often themed around toys or monsters or racecars or Santa’s elves or other kid-friendly subjects, but the messages apply to all ages. A story which lacks the finesse to handle this well – in which things just happen, and people just react – is just a kids’ story.

Big Hero 6 is a kids’ story.

Before the film even begins, we already know Baymax the big cuddly robot. All the TV commercials have emphasized two fundamental things about him: that he’s a balloon who can reinflate himself when he gets punctured, and that he acts drunk when his battery runs low. So then all through the rest of the film, as we see Baymax fly and Baymax shoot rocket-fists and Baymax scan the city and then Baymax fly some more while carrying five people, I kept waiting to see what happens when his battery runs low again … but, no, nothing; that was just for the laughs in the one scene you see in the commercial. And then finally at the climax of the film there’s a scene where precious moments are lost lamenting the fact that there’s no way to push Baymax through space toward a target. “If only someone had a balloon,” I kept thinking, “then you could just poke a hole in it…”

Meanwhile, the story as a whole is about two people who have each lost a loved one. The bad guy seeks revenge, while the good guy renounces it … except, no, the good guy doesn’t really have any reason for revenge in the first place. He lost his loved one through an accident, not because of any meaningful action on the part of the bad guy. What caused that accident, anyway? (We never find out.) And why is the bad guy so dedicated to revenge? We only met him in one scene before he was revealed to be the antagonist. He didn’t look like he had a dark side. He didn’t even have time to mention this person who supposedly was his entire life, whose loss drove him over the edge. It reminded me a little of Frozen, in which – at a pivotal moment in the story – one of the characters all but says, “Guess what? I’m the bad guy,” with absolutely nothing leading up to that revelation.

Don’t get me wrong – the film contains a handful of moments of pure joy: the first visit to the “nerd school”, Hiro’s demonstration, and Baymax’s first flight. These made the film enjoyable. But I’d also like to have seen teammates and an enemy with real personalities and motivations, and I also wanted to see Hiro take something he learned earlier in the story and use it towards his final showdown with the bad guy. Without that, everyone’s just reacting. I expected more than that from a film with Lasseter’s name on it.

Richard Marx


Jill and I went to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival this evening. I sampled:

  • Canada: Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup, “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce
  • France: Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes
  • Germany: Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll with Mustard

Plenty more tasty selections, but I’m saving them for next time!

It was a fairly busy evening, but still we ran into our friends Steph and David on the bridge between UK and France, and spent some time catching up with them. I love that we can be surrounded by tens of thousands of strangers and still find people we know.

Then Jill and I caught Richard Marx’s last show of the day. Sometimes Jill can’t remember what she had for dinner last night, but she can always remember the words to sing along to eighties songs. The concerts at Epcot are always excellent and this was no exception.

Disney World tips


I received an email from a fellow Princeton alumnus, asking for any tips on bringing the family to Walt Disney World.

My park visits aren’t typical of how other people do it. I treat the parks like my own local suburban mall; Jill and I drop by for a few hours to stroll, peoplewatch, and grab a bite to eat. So I suggested that one of the many books on how to make the most of a Disney World visit might be a better resource. Jill also recommends AllEarsNet ( as a web site with a lot of useful information on it for Disney trips.

But still, I came up with a few recommendations for him:

  • Use the Disney World web site to make FastPass+ selections so you don’t have to deal with lines when you get here.
  • Do things at nonstandard times – eat lunch outside of the typical 11am-1pm timeframe, go on rides when there’s a parade happening. That helps avoid the crowds.
  • AllEarsNet has a great list of “Overlooked Attractions” ( that has ideas for a lot of the out-of-the-way less-well-known experiences that are a lot of fun. For example, we like to go to the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds for the campfire singalong and the movie.

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