US healthcare is not for everyone

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 28, 2017, 10:43 AM | comments: 0

With Diana's recent bout of migraines lasting four weeks, I once again appreciate how screwed up healthcare is. The first problem is that healthcare can, for the most part, only be had because of insurance, and insurance is largely dependent on having a job that provides it and hopefully subsidizes it to some extent. In a perfect world, where everyone had a job and these circumstances, that would be great, right? Of course, we don't live in a perfect world, and furthermore, kids don't get to choose their parents or their circumstances. Make no mistake, had my kid been born to parents scraping by financially, he wouldn't have had all of the therapy that has allowed him to compensate for ASD and his developmental challenges.

Back to my wife's situation, she's had a number of visits to a neurologist with $50 co-pays each time. Her MRI had a co-pay of $200. Seeing her general practitioner had a $35 co-pay, and the emergency room he sent her to had a $300 co-pay. Now we're going a second time, for another $300 (IV infusions just aren't available here anywhere but in a hospital). This isn't a cut on our insurance plan, because it doesn't really matter who is writing the policy. While inconvenient, this isn't a financial issue for us. But now imagine that I was a worker in the local tourist service economy, making $10 per hour. We would be closing in on a grand to treat this one problem, which is a month's worth of take-home pay for a service economy worker. That person would have to choose between financial hardship, maybe bankruptcy, or not getting the care at all.

Why are we OK with this?

The cold hard facts are that we pay more in this country per capita for healthcare than any other nation (it's not even close), but rank 31st in life expectancy. If life expectancy is a proxy for the quality of care, then we are absolutely doing it wrong. We pay twice as much as the UK, which funds a public system and ranks 21st. America likes to be number one in stuff, but why in healthcare costs?

As much as I think a single-payer system seems like a good idea, right or wrong, my greater frustration is that we won't even have the conversation in the United States. All of the alternatives are off the table, without any regard to their merits, because sticking with the big pile of expensive suck we currently endure is better. That's completely insane.

If you want to wave a flag and chant "USA!" then you really need to accept that this system sucks. That means considering alternatives and having the conversations. Stop aligning with your favorite party, because this isn't a sports rivalry. Cast aside the ideological bullshit and demand something better from your elected officials.


I'm handling stress

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 24, 2017, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

I have historically been terrible at dealing with stress. When the going would get tough, I would predictably fall into certain patterns. I would kind of withdraw from the world, not be excited about anything, bottle it up, sleep poorly, and the worst part, have repeating bouts of IBS. These last few weeks, my stress level has been pretty high. Diana's condition, and the lack of medical progress, was difficult for me to see. Simon asking if Mom was going to die, while still experiencing anxiety about many things, including second grade (yeah, months in advance), has kept me on a short fuse. Work has been busy, but I don't know that it has been any more stressful than usual. I typically enjoy the responsibility I have, though in the context of the rest of life, maybe it too has been wearing on me.

Things were different this time. I knew I was stressed, but I seemed to process it differently. The starting point is probably that I've been in a solid routine of daily movement. While I definitely want to drop some weight, I'm mostly trying to offset all of the sitting time that comes with my line of work, and make it a permanent part of life. I haven't shut down and become anti-social, and I vent about the stress to friends. Somehow I've managed to sleep pretty well, too. The IBS hasn't hit, probably because of the activity and the general avoidance of fried food.

The timing for our next vacation helps a lot, too. It's a little harder now to take vacation time, because I can't just yank my kid out of school because we feel like it. He actually has to be there now. I imagine we can still pull him out for a Friday three-night cruise now and then, but not often. It's so important to unplug on a regular basis, and I still forget to do it. There's no medal for ignoring your limits and burning out.

It seems as though effective stress management is something that grownups should just be able to do, but I know people way older than me who haven't figured it out. Life is challenging enough without having your brain in this weird chemical state that feels terrible. Figuring out how to process and purge stress seems like a good use of time. I'm a lot better at it than I was even five years ago. Perhaps being a parent has granted me more patience.


It seems like things catch fire every four years

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 24, 2017, 8:37 PM | comments: 0

When I look back at my life, it seems like bad things happen every four years or so. They aren't necessarily bad things happening to me directly, but some category of stuff that really blows. The last few weeks were one of those things, where Diana started a migraine headache that wouldn't go away. Slowly, it was like she was disappearing into a pile of mush, and it was heartbreaking to watch. That's not a way to live. It was, perhaps indirectly, related to some other health scares, all generally not a big deal in the end, but we finally moved forward today by bailing on her neurologist and revisiting our GP, and he put her in the ER where she got a nice cocktail of drugs via IV to break the headache. It's not gone, but she's not rating her pain at 10 anymore. The hope is that she's better in a few days.

Four years ago, she had "the" health scare, right as we were moving from Cleveland to Orlando. That one turned out to be OK too, but the timing sure was rough. Four years before that, we were abandoning Cleveland, pregnant and failing to sell two houses. Four years before that, my first marriage fell apart. Four years before that, well, 2001 wasn't good for anyone, but it was my first introduction to surviving unemployment and a poor economy. Should I start worrying about 2021 now? Of course not, I don't buy into coincidental bullshit.

If this is our hiccup for the year, I can live with that. Diana is full of Benadryl and passed out now, getting her first real sleep in weeks. Simon is hopefully a little more at ease too, as his ASD tendencies don't leave a lot of room for the nuance between minor cold and certain death. Team Puzzoni soldiers on.


Review: Pandora, The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 15, 2017, 10:23 PM | comments: 0

Disney started doing passholder previews today, and we were able to secure a reasonably early time on a school night. A few things to keep in mind... This was a limited preview so the new area at Animal Kingdom was not busy. The line for the snack/beverage shack was the only significant line. The river ride was a walk-on, and the flight simulator ride was running in 15-minute blocks of passes handed out at the entrance to the land. It appeared that the new restaurant was fully operational, but we didn't go in. Also, this was before sunset, and we were out at 7:45 p.m., before it got dark. I suppose there are spoilers here, if you're worried about a ride being spoiled, so avert your eyes if you don't want to know what's in there.

I have never seen Avatar, the movie. I remember when it was released, people made a big deal about it, but between moving cross-country, starting a new job, looking after a pregnant wife and otherwise having a full plate, I didn't see it. When I finally bought a Blu-Ray player, it was offered as a free mail-in, but I forgot about it. So going into this new thing, my full understanding of Avatar is that people somehow projected themselves into blue cat people living on some amazing planet that was going to be strip-mined. Or something. Mostly, I heard the movie was really pretty.

Crossing the bridge to what used to be Camp Minnie-Mickey and the theater for Festival of The Lion King, a little bend and foliage hide the area for a big reveal. Or at least, it would be a big reveal if you couldn't see the back of it from the parking lot. The floating rocks are impressive, but not quite the gravity defying thing shown in the artist renderings. You definitely can trace the load-bearing elements, but it's still visually very cool. It's also very windy. I'm not sure if that's intentional, or just something that happens (it's like that walking under Spaceship Earth at Epcot most of the time).

From the central area under the rock island things, the Na'vi River Journey is off to the left, as well as a restroom, while Flight of Passage is to the right. They appear to be in the same building, which has an impressive series of queue paths that mix the alien plants with real plants and probably the most expensive rock work ever made. Even the hand rails have a custom finish and custom lights and such. Further to the right is the bigger counter service restaurant, a gift shop and a beverage stand.

You'll notice that cast members are happily shouting alien words at you, which is kind of weird, and maybe a little awkward. When someone at Epcot in the France pavilion says, "Bonjour!" to you, you get it, because it's a French person, and you have a frame of reference. The people in Pandora are just saying some made up stuff to you that isn't real anywhere else. It comes off as corny, and maybe it's worse because I didn't see the movie.

We started by boarding the Na'vi River Journey. Most of the queue is in the shade or under cover, but I imagine that even on a busy day it will move pretty quickly. The ride seems to have a lot of boats running very closely to each other, and it loads in pairs, four rows total at a time. Dwell time is very short. Drop in, sit down, and off you go.

If there's a story to this ride, I don't know what it is. The first turn has some small glowing things that look like... uh... let's say adult novelties hanging from the ceiling. Then you see a blue cat person that says something, and off you go into a jungle forest thing. Each scene uses some brilliant and convincing effects, and some of the 3D video projection is convincing enough that you have to look hard to even see that it's video. While there are some places here and there where you can see lights, they're probably the most hidden of any dark ride I've been on, so you need to look hard to be taken out of the moment.

I'm just not sure what the moment is. Every scene has some new bioluminescent plants or critters. I can tell that the "native" music gets louder and more layered as you go, and culminates in a blue cat person that is easily the most fluid animatronic character I've ever seen. I don't know what he's singing, or why, or where all of his buddies are, but he definitely seems to stare into your soul.

Then it's over. I mentioned that people described the movie as being "eye candy thin on plot." If that's what they were going for in the river ride, then mission accomplished. I did it twice, and while certainly magical and beautiful, I had no frame of reference and wasn't sure why I should be emotionally invested in it. This might be confirmation bias here: Since Pandora was announced, I wondered what the viability of this IP-made-themepark strategy was, because it's not like people have been talking about Avatar for the last seven years. It's not on T-shirts and lunch boxes or generally a part of the public consciousness.

Is this harsh? Maybe. Fortunately, it's not the only attraction in Pandora.

Flight of Passage is the simulator ride. More on that in a moment, but let's talk about the queue and pre-show. The stand-by queue is really long, and transitions from outdoors, to a cave with paintings, to an airlock sort of thing, to some interior bioluminescent environment, to a lab (which has a lot to look at), and finally the Avatar "interfacing facility" that let's you plug into a Smurf. This is explained in a poster in the Fastpass queue in three easy frames. It shows you sitting in the seat, "clearing your mind," then you psychically connect to your avatar (are these basically brainless blue-meat people for your use?), then you ride a Banshee. Got it, let's ride!

They were still feeling out loading and training, so with the scheduled times and no standby for the preview, it still took about a half-hour to get through the ride. I don't think they're running at full capacity, so I'm not passing judgment there. The first room piles in 16 people, though the first two seats were apparently broken. A screen on the wall blacked out the #1 and #2 positions. What follows is a far too lengthy explanation about matching your DNA to an avatar (again, are these soulless, brainless meat-people?), and they blow some parasites off of you and suck your DNA into the walls or something. In the next room, they explain the ride system to you, which has seats and restraints similar to a Zamperla Disk-O with the outward facing seats. There is also more story explanation about connecting to your meat-person, as told by Dr. So-and-so, which might be a woman posing as Sigourney Weaver. It probably doesn't matter.

Once we were seated, we ended up being there for awhile because of a disability load. I'm OK with that, but since my 7-year-old was a little anxious, I was worried he'd freak out. There's a little screen on the front of the seat to create some distractions. The 3D glasses are the best made of any ride, and are the best of any 3D movie or ride I've ever seen. The room goes dark, there are some flashes and the shield in front of you opens to reveal a gigantic screen. What follows is a flight simulation that moves you up and down, and each seat pitches and rolls individually. Along with wind and water effects, it's the most convincing flying sensation of any simulator I've ever seen. It raises the game. The world of the blue people is visually interesting, and has some "gee whiz" moments, even for someone who doesn't know the film. It's a bit more aggressive than, say, Soarin', or even Star Tours, but the movement is more precise because of the nimble, individual seat. It also has nice touches, like the ability to feel the Banshee "breathing" between your legs.

I'm torn. I was completely underwhelmed with the river ride, but really impressed with the flight ride. Again, the problem here is that I'm not in any way invested in the IP. There are other examples in town where this matters. For example, I don't care about The Mummy, but it's a damn fine roller coaster anyway. To me, that's why the thrilling flight simulator here works, but the boat ride is frankly not more interesting than Pirates of The Caribbean. At least I can relate to pirates.

We'll be back, but probably only to see it at night, which I imagine is spectacular. If Disney wanted people to have more to do, they've succeeded. I'm just not sure that the emotional connection that people have with it will be very strong.


Hey! We found a Smurf Thundercat taking a bath!


TNAF is still awesome

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 14, 2017, 9:41 PM | comments: 0

I almost forgot to mention that I saw The Naked And Famous the week before last at some goofy amphitheater I didn't previously know about here in Orlando. They opened for Blink 182.

They only did about 10 songs, which was a bummer, and of those only one was from In Rolling Waves, my favorite of their three albums. They've been playing more songs at some of the festivals and such, and I hoped beyond hope they'd play more. Alas, I was just happy to see them. It was almost three years ago that I saw them play The Beacham here in Orlando, and that was a fantastic show. I'm still struck by how live they are relative to their recordings, and they sing well, too. I'd love to see them take another swing through the area as headliners.

I'm not a Blink hater, but I wasn't all that interested in seeing them. I guess I just thought of them as a Green Day knock off, meant to capitalize on the pop-punk thing in the late 90's. But while Green Day eventually started doing Broadway musicals, Blink perfected an enduring appeal to everyone from frat boys to teenage emo girls with plugs in their earlobes. That's an impressive way to roll for two decades. It seems a little silly for 40-somethings to be singing teenage anthems, but hey, good on them. I'd be lying if I said I didn't know any of their songs, because I pretty much knew them all. They're definitely entertaining live.

It's weird how these days I'm more about going to see a Broadway level musical than a rock show, but what I'd give to see someone like TNAF in that environment. I'm definitely closing in on midlife.


Simon's America

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 14, 2017, 3:50 PM | comments: 0

Politics in the last year have been a real downer, for sure. It has felt like there has been a renewed desire to hate and discriminate against groups of people, on the usual basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender and sexuality. I was so sure that we were slowly moving beyond that.

Being a dad definitely causes me to be more engaged in the desire to be outspoken against this irrational hate, because I don't want my kid growing up into a world that makes it OK. What surprises me is that, already, at the tender age of 7, I can see that Simon's America is not reflective of the one that I see on TV and social media. It looks more like the one that I've lived in, especially in my profession, which I perceive to be far more diverse than average.

When I look back at the parent group we were a part of during his first two years, I see parents from many professions, either from or one generation removed from immigrants from all over the world. Now that we live in Florida, we go to birthday parties and see that many of his friends speak Spanish. His friends have included Jews, Hindus and Muslims. The parents come from everywhere from Macedonia to Brazil to India to New Jersey. The families range from single parent by choice to same-sex couples.

Simon's America is how America looks, and that diversity can't be stopped. Even though we're experiencing a bump in the road, and we are obligated to be vocally opposed to the hating, this is our future. It's real life today for my kid, and I see it in my personal and professional life. This America isn't something to be scared of, and I would argue that it's something to be celebrated. Our future is only going to get more challenging as we rely more on machines to do things, and divisiveness toward people not like you won't change that. Baseless fear of other nations with which we necessarily participate in a global economy won't help either. We have to break the cycle of fear and start working together again to create things.

Simon's America is pretty great. Hopefully you'll want to come along for the ride.


Selective memories

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 14, 2017, 3:09 PM | comments: 0

One of our cats gets nervous about, well, everything, but he especially freaks out when I pick him up. In fact, he seems to kind of gloss over and pretend he's somewhere else, in a way that's kind of disturbing. It's as if his brain has a self defense mechanism to block out the unpleasantness of the situation.

I think that memories might be like that, too. I frequently mention how I miss Seattle, along with the mountains and perfect summers and what not, but my friends there have not been shy about just how brutally crappy the weather has been this last winter. I only spent two winters there, but they seemed decent enough to me. The rain in November and December was a drag, but it seemed like there was always a break in the clouds either at work (Redmond) or at home (Snoqualmie) on any given day. Maybe because of the change in elevation? I dunno, it just seemed tolerable. Maybe the mountain views skewed my perception.

An alternate theory is that maybe I just have selective memories. The two years spent there were very intense, mostly because of having a child, but also because of the moving and marriage and new job and such. I may have been too tired to remember everything, or my brain just skips the parts I didn't like and goes right for the sunny mountain moments. And cheese. If that weren't enough, I've had additional memories to help paint over any potential unpleasantness, including a visit where we got to see a Garbage show, and last summer as our bookends to the Alaska cruise. It was just completely perfect.

For my Seattle friends, don't worry, July 4th is right around the corner, and therefore summer is only weeks away!


Like you're running out of time

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 11, 2017, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

Because everything comes back to Hamilton, there's a theme in the show about its namesake and, "Why do you write like you're running out of time?" While a useful foreshadowing device (spoiler alert: Aaron Burr shoots him), it's a testament to his extraordinary drive that made him such a key figure in the founding of our country. We're all running out of time, technically, so a little urgency to do "stuff" is probably healthy to an extent.

I feel this urgency all of the time, but I think I have different opinions about what "stuff" is important and should be prioritized. I've known a lot of type-A people who see little other than work, but for little reason other than it's what they think they're supposed to do. In fact, I find it valuable to spend time daydreaming and contemplating such things.

The thing that I often come back to, as a guiding principle, if you will, is that the things that are an act of creation are worth emphasis, and taking what little time we have. I'm pretty liberal about what that means. The aforementioned daydreaming is, for me, something that results in a lot of creation. It's the origin of so many things I've created, for fun and for work. Parenting is an act of creation, as the first teacher for your kid. I can't even work in a job that doesn't involve creating something. Some time ago, I realized that the scope of what I create was less important for my own happiness as long as I was happy creating.


Monochromatic decorating

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 9:48 PM | comments: 0

I was going to write about politics, but honestly, I think I'm too exhausted to do it, and I don't know that it's constructive. So let's talk about decorating!

We go through little streaks where we watch a lot of HGTV. I'm not sure why, but it feels satisfying when some young couple comes up with the strangest "requirements" for a house or a renovation, and they live in a market where a house costs nearly a minimum of a million dollars. It's such a different world compared to the Cleveland market, or even here in the western reaches of Orange County, Florida. It's not so different, however, than Seattle. I love it out there, but man is housing expensive.

Anyway, the thing that is really striking is how trendy decorating can be. Right now, it seems like the new hotness is monochromatic decor. By that, I mean virtually everything is some shade of gray. The paint is gray, the flooring is some shade of gray, counters and cabinets are white, accents and furniture are white or black. I keep seeing this over and over again. It's not just on TV, either, because many of the home models around us are decorated the same way. Apparently, making your house look like the interior of a futuristic spaceship is the thing to do.

I'm not dissing this look, mind you. I actually really like it. My concern is just that it seems like something that would very quickly feel dated or overdone, the way that cherry wood and brown granite does now after 10 years or so. Mind you, the gold standard even four years ago was dark cabinets and a certain lighter speckled granite that was everywhere (guilty).

When it came time to pick stuff for Puzzoni McMansion v2.0, I was kind of dreading it. I like the monochromatic look, but accept that if we bail 15 years from now, we might have to replace it with whatever people like then. Plus, everything in that category was conveniently more expensive. As it turned out, we were able to combine a lot of choices to make something that covers a wide range of tastes, and is hopefully a little more unique. We're doing the base paint as a light gray, flooring that is a light brown with a somewhat gray tone, dark brown cabinets, white counters and in the kitchen, a marble backsplash that mixes white, grays and browns to tie it together.

The fun (and cheaper) part of decorating will involve adding color via window treatments and lighting. Although, we're strongly attracted to a concrete coffee table. We saw one in a model that was awesome. So, a little more gray before we get into color.


Sad kid gloves

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

This year's parenting stress has come in the form of pediatric psychiatry. I mentioned previously that Simon was diagnosed with ADHD after some issues in school where he couldn't stay on task. A low-dose amphetamine seems to have made a huge difference for him, according to his teacher, but it has potentially amplified or surfaced some new issues.

The first problem is that the therapist that should be offering the treatment to pair with the drug for ADHD said she couldn't work with him because he has crippling anxiety. We've seen this at school, too, in that if there's something he doesn't feel that he can do, he simply shuts down and avoids failure entirely. He had a mini-meltdown in art class because having to draw caused more anxiety than he could take. It's hard to say if the new found focus makes this worse or not, but either way, we feel very strongly that drugs should be paired with therapy, so we need to work through that.

The other problem, and the one that is emotionally difficult for all of us, is that Simon has taken to picking the skin from his fingers. Not just the cuticles, mind you, but the actual pads of his fingers too. The school called last week because the nurse is spending a lot of time putting bandaids on his fingers, and there's no end to it. If that weren't enough, when we ask him to stop, he immediately feels bad about, because he doesn't understand that it is, to some extent, and impulse that he can't control.

He was on Prozac for awhile to address the anxiety, but it didn't seem to be working, and certainly the compulsive finger picking should have been kept in check too. Now he's on something new, and we're hoping that's the ticket. It's absolutely heartbreaking that the kid is 7 and having to medicate like this (he also takes allergy meds). If there's a bright spot, it's that he seems to have developed a lot of coping mechanisms for the ASD behaviors, which is a serious achievement.

For now, sometimes we need to keep gloves on him when he's playing, which, again, makes him feel as though he's doing something wrong. It's a difficult time for this sweet little kid.


"Liberal energy"

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 30, 2017, 11:19 PM | comments: 0

There was a subthread on a friend's Facebook post today about solar energy. It started out reasonable, in that some dude was skeptical of the economics of solar, and renewable in general. I played along, because I figured there are a lot of people who just aren't aware of what's going on in that industry. I've had people tell me for years that electrical cars aren't practical either, and we've been driving those for two years without compromise, so you expect that some people just have questions and don't know.

Then the guy referred to solar as "liberal energy," and it went down hill from there.

Renewable energy has a pretty clear future for many different reasons, not the least of which is the limited volume of fossil fuels and the environmental impact of burning them. Even BP is pretty straight on that, predicting the end of crude oil in 2066 or so, assuming constants in extraction and consumption. The harm from carbon emissions is scientific consensus at its most basic. Heck, we're now seeing the kind of crazy economic inversion that makes renewables more viable than ever. Last year's overall investment in the technology and infrastructure was down 26% but the new capacity coming online grew 9% for the year. It's also encouraging that the US military has declared climate change and the related energy issues as a top priority for national security, and global stability, and where there are military contracts there are companies ready to step in to make a buck.

The fascinating thing about renewables is that it's not a single topic about one simple thing. A lot of people think about it in terms of throwing some solar panels on your roof, and that's the solution. The reality is far more nuanced than that. I'm frequently surprised myself about the new things that hit the headlines. Solar is already turning into a combination of private, public and commercial generation, and now there is storage (mostly batteries) thrown in the mix to offset excess daytime generation for use at night. Wind is in a similar boat, since it's not constant either. The when and where isn't cut and dry either, and we're seeing the generation and storage evolve into a more distributed model that includes domestic rooftops, neighborhood "farms" and substations and the usual purchased generation from afar.

Regulation and legislation is the real hurdle at this point, because the utilities want and need to defend their business. Individual consumers, scientists and researchers don't have lobbyists, though there are non-profits stepping in to fill that need. In the US, the regulatory climate varies greatly by state. While the annual aggregate amount of new capacity is split almost evenly between solar, wind and natural gas, some states are better than others. California is growing solar, in part by necessity because they can't even purchase enough power, but then you have unlikely places like Georgia, which prohibits power purchase agreements (a strange but no-money-down practice where you buy the power you generate on your own roof). In Florida now, after a vote last fall, we have certain property tax exemptions for solar equipment which provide incentives for private and commercial generation. On the flip side, places like Nevada have become hostile toward generation because the utilities are writing protectionist legislation and influencing the rules of their utility commission.

In any case, the bigger point is that electrons are not partisan. The future is renewable, and the economics are moving in that direction at a surprising pace. The biggest danger we have in the US is that we're already falling behind China in manufacturing renewable products, which is a byproduct of politicizing renewable energy. Some mistakes are made over and over again.


Probable Puzzoni World Headquarters v2

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 30, 2017, 8:15 PM | comments: 0

Well, I guess three years in one place was too long, after moving five times in the prior four years. Not really, moving isn't fun, but we're gonna do it again anyway, about one mile. Provided everything goes OK with the financial gymnastics of building a house while living in one you want to sell, we'll likely close in early October.

That's the "probable" part, the finances. While conditionally approved, I'm fully prepared for anything. Right now the only condition is to promise to save my pennies, but you never can tell with mortgage underwriters.

After my rant a few weeks ago about house envy, it turned out that we had a lot of good reasons for wanting to have more space. Again, the primary concern was that we're a family that's home a lot, because I work from home, and Diana is now teetering on turning quilting into a business. Simon's room isn't really big enough for a non-Ikea bed and a desk. In the category of superficial reasons, mostly we wanted a big two-story living room, which is a popular feature around here in floor plans of all sizes, even town homes. Then we started thinking about timing, as rates aren't going to stay down, and these neighborhoods are building out pretty fast now. That they won't be getting cheaper is an understatement, and our realtor is fairly confident that our house will sell for about 15% over what we bought it for. There won't be better times to do this in the foreseeable future. We're looking at a base price of $102 per square foot, which is pretty good even for this area, where stuff is now moving for $125 or more. You can't get this much house for this little in very many places, and I don't feel bad about taking advantage of that. I can't help but think back to Seattle, where the same house would easily cost twice as much. I love it there, but even with higher salaries, ouch.

It's not entirely hard to poke holes in any of our rationalizations, and that's OK, because I'm making peace with the idea that I just want something with more room for my family and nicer flooring. If I can do that without over-extending myself or being a financial moron, why not? When it's all said and done, we'll be spending only 21% of our income on housing (mortgage, taxes and insurance), and be at a pretty solid LTV ratio of 77% or better.

That said, the financial gymnastics are a lot different this time. Since I'm not contracting, the banks actually believe I make a living, instead of them pretending I don't. They are also strangely willing to let you put less down. We're only doing about 11% up front, and then when our house sells, we'll roll those proceeds into the loan, and recast it so that we're beyond the 20% threshold for silly PMI. Builders are pretty stingy these days, and they won't do a contingency at all. Some actually wanted 20% of the cost of the house up front, just to break ground, which is nutty.

After building two other houses (well, my first was 85% done when we jumped in), I know a lot more about what to look for, and I hope to be more zen about it. The upgrade costs are insane, but we managed to get what we wanted inside of our budget. There was a flooring option that was more than agreeable for us that we didn't get when they first showed us the list and pricing. The only real compromise we had to make was on getting carpeted stairs. Maybe we can improve those at some point in the future.

So there it is... we're upgrading to a bigger McMansion. I have no lofty expectations about it being an investment, I don't care what the Joneses are doing and I just want to make good on the opportunity while it's solid, because Team Puzzoni is worth it.


Reading the New York Times makes you smarter than reading Facebook

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

Despite the Twitterer-in-Chief labeling everything he doesn't agree with as "fake news," news is still news, and facts are still facts. Journalism lives on, and I think it's being challenged in a very healthy way. Provided it figures out how to pay for itself without compromising traditionally held values in journalism, we could be on the verge of a new golden age for it.

I've been dissatisfied with the state of journalism for years. As much as the president bitches and moans about the press (mostly because it doesn't satisfy his vanity), he owes his election to the press for not asking any real hard questions or calling out his lies and gaslighting of reality. That doesn't mean that there was a total lack of journalism occurring. Even CNN got things right now and then, as did the other TV networks. The New York Times and Washington Post in particular did a solid job in reporting during the last year. In fact, I was particularly energized by the talk at SXSW from the NYT, enough that I subscribed at their 50% off rate. I've been reading it fairly regularly now for a month or so, to varying degrees.

What have I learned? More than anything, is that there are always deeper stories, way more nuance and complexity in the world than our culture seems willing to embrace. This isn't a discovery, per se, as much as it is a reminder. Americans have been very keyed into soundbites for all of my life, but they seem to be even worse in the era of "like and share." I think the press that goes deep is reasonably good at exposing all sides of politics, despite accusations of liberal bias. If you buy into that bias allegation, I would invite you to go back and look into their investigative pieces on Hillary Clinton's email nonsense, which was very thorough, even if it mostly exposed poor judgment. At the same time, the public doesn't understand the difference between "the media" and "the press."

The NYT is not infallible, but it is dedicated to truth. I think it deserves our respect as an institution. The American press is a vital part of our way of life, and so important that it is guaranteed by the First Amendment. The press does not, and should not, deliver only the things that you want to hear, and you should not have that expectation.


Science is political, it just doesn't have to be partisan

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend's marches around the world for science on Earth Day were criticized by some in the scientific community because they politicized science. I tend to agree that science shouldn't be political, as it's not a belief system or moral issue. That gravity is a thing isn't subject to belief or morals, it just is. However, there has been growing sentiment among a segment of the population that wants to challenge science with a belief system, generally in order to reject it and do potentially immoral things, like allow for pollution. So, sorry science, you're political whether you want to be or not.

Generally, it's the far right that rightfully gets a lot of shit for its incessant denial of very real science, but it's hardly the exclusive domain of those people. There's a perfectly nutty lefty segment content to reject immunization and advocate steaming your vagina. Willful ignorance when it comes to science is bad no matter where it comes from.

Using science to combat disease, better the environment and improve our lives all seem like logical things to get behind, regardless of your party affiliation. I mean, no one ever says, "I totally don't mind a little polio or rising sea levels."

We have to hold politicians accountable. "I don't believe that" is an emotional response to something that can generally be proven and follows some consensus. Inevitably, someone says that science is easily corrupted because of a conflict of interest, or a few anecdotes about fraud against hundreds of years of legitimate discovery. Let me ask you this: If it was about the money or seeking something other than truth, don't you think being that scientist who could prove climate change wasn't a thing would be the richest and most famous scientist of our time? Think about it. The scientific method is rooted in skepticism.

I saw a great poster from the march in Washington. It said: "Every disaster movie starts with a scientist being ignored." Sometimes Hollywood fantasy is rooted in fact, too.


Winning at all costs isn't worth it

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 24, 2017, 8:24 PM | comments: 0

The New York Times had a really excellent profile on Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, and it doesn't paint a very good picture of the guy. That's a bummer, because Uber is arguably one of the more disruptive forces to come out of technology, and probably one of the most overdue, in a long time. I would go so far as to say it's even necessary.

But the profile is one of extreme bro culture and questionable judgment at every turn, in order to further the company's goals. I'm not cool with that, especially at the expense (allegedly) of blatant sexism. "Winning," whatever that means, can't come at the expense of your people, your partners or the world. That's just now how you should roll.

The first genuine startup tech company I worked for was Insurance.com, and it was probably an ideal first for me as far as pure technology companies goes. (Technically, it was an auto insurance agency, but in practical terms it was a software company that sold insurance.) While it ultimately got into trouble because it funded growth on the back of a what should have been an "extra" non-core revenue stream instead of the long-term, recurring revenue that was safe, it was good to its people and fostered an excellent environment. Good ideas came from everywhere, within the development team to marketing and the call center. Sure, there were kingdoms, but generally good ideas were able to come up from everywhere. When I look back at it, I was definitely critical and skeptical at the start, and definitely at the end, but that was a company full of good people focused on all of the right things. It's the reason that the outcome of our product was so great, even if the spending at the executive level had a fatal flaw.

I'm back into a startup that is bootstrapped and therefore commanding its own destiny. My boss is very keyed into the "why" for the business, which means that while growing the business and making it successful is important, there's a very explicit understanding that we're making the lives of our customers better. What makes this even more fun for me is that I've taken on more responsibility for developing our staff, and as people who know me understand, that's a big deal to me. My inner coach loves this. I have one direct report today, and another coming soon, but I've just pulled in a dotted-line report to accelerate professional growth. We're going to win because we focus on our customers and our people, and that's the right thing to do.

I'm lucky that we have a lot of options in our line of work, and if we're really paying attention, we see that there are definitely "right" and "wrong" ways to conduct ourselves. Winning isn't winning if you have to sell your soul, cheat or trivialize people. The Uber story has so many examples of what not to do, and I hope that they can turn it around, because I think it's an important service. But if they don't, it will be a good example of why it's OK to be ambitious and still have a moral compass.


My very favorite tree

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 22, 2017, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

We spent the morning of this Earth Day at Legoland Florida, which also happens to be the former Cypress Gardens. The gardens are still there, and they're an extraordinary and lush area at the park that includes a very special tree.

The banyan tree in the park was planted nearly 80 years ago, imported from India by Dick Pope, creator of the gardens, according to the park. It's a staggering structure that looks like science fiction, but it's a real organism impossibly spreading its branches horizontally in every direction. It's awesome to see what nature can do.

Human beings generally do recognize nature as a powerful force, though it often takes a disaster to remind us how awesome it is. Earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados serve as deadly notification that we're not as durable as we think. These relatively quick but powerful reminders command respect, but it turns out that we can certainly leave our mark on nature as well, with only more subtle, long-term consequences.

Climate change is real, and we're doing it. Scientific consensus doesn't come easy, but this is a settled issue. Political opinion won't stop it. You don't have to take my word for it, go read. The window of opportunity to change course or at least mitigate the damage is closing. Even the US military declares it an issue of national security.

When I was growing up, the 90's made recycling a necessary and fundamental part of our life. People resisted at first, but the cost of not recycling became a real monetary concern for everyone. Really clever government, like the county where I lived, built a processing facility that sorted the garbage from the recyclables for you. In the end, the responsible thing to do lined up pretty well with the right fiscal thing to do.

Converting to clean energy to reduce carbon output and mitigate climate change is going to be a little harder and take a little longer, because the fiscal impact isn't as obvious yet. It's getting there though, starting with rising insurance premiums for coastal property. High tide is causing flooding already on coastal cities, especially in places like Miami-Dade County in Florida. Living near a coal-burning power plant is a known health risk. Oil itself is a destabilizing commodity at the root of expensive war and conflict globally. Droughts are forcing migration and the closure of farms.

The great thing about this situation is that the technology to solve these energy problems exists today. Photovoltaic cells are plunging in price. Wind turbines are getting easier to build. Energy storage and distributed generation is now powering entire islands in the Pacific. Electric vehicles are getting cheaper and cover 99% of most people's driving use cases. We are on the brink of an extraordinary transition.

That banyan tree is a beautiful reminder of what nature is capable of. It reminds us that nature needs and deserves our respect. Every day should be Earth Day. We have an obligation to our kids to leave them a planet that doesn't suck, so why not work on that today? We already have the ability... now let's find the will.


I would not have survived the 60's

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2017, 7:22 PM | comments: 0

I'm always late to the party when it comes to seeing movies, I guess because I'm the parent of a young child, but I finally saw Hidden Figures, a film I couldn't wait to see because, duh, space program, and also I'm fascinated by the people who were key to social change in the 60's. I can't believe that I was born only a decade and change after that period, and the overlap of the space program with the civil rights movement is something that I never even considered. It's an important movie will brilliant performances. Even Kevin Costner did OK. I'm pretty sure that Janelle Monáe could be my next Hollywood crush.

I don't know if I would have survived that environment. I mean, dudes had to wear a tie, go into an office and apparently put greasy products in their hair. Oh, and it was socially acceptable to hate people for their race or gender. This would infuriate me at all times and likely cause a meltdown. I'd be angry, all of the time.

Would I though?

There's an argument that has persisted for decades that we are a product of our environment when it comes to much of our belief system. We're born into ideologies that serve as our first lessons on nearly everything in life. (I'll again plug the notion that, as a therapist once told me, if your parents weren't good at relationships, your odds aren't great either.) This suggests that if you grow up wearing a sheet and go to Klan meetings, you too might end up a racist.

There's growing evidence that environment may play less of a role than it used to. Research suggests that about half of Americans have changed religions in their lifetime, if not abandoned it entirely. Few beliefs are as sacred as religion. Furthermore, while we may have a long way to go, objectively issues of race and gender are far better than they were 50 years ago. Progress happens despite exposure to negative things. Why? Because slowly but surely, we allow our morality to be what it is.

If I look at the attributes of my personality, assuming that many of them are in someway predisposed, then I'm going to assume that I'd be on the right side of history. And I'd be angry in the 60's.


Misogyny still isn't a deal breaker

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2017, 6:46 PM | comments: 0

Bill O'Reilly got canned today from Fox News, apparently for being involved in one too many sexual harassment scandals. As much as this seems like some kind of karmic justice for being an entertainer that profits from divisiveness and willful ignorance, the New York Times says his pay day may still be a cool $25 million. Even when he loses, he wins. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, as our president made a career out of harassing women and being generally derogatory toward them, and he got elected anyway.

I'm not sure why anyone would make this a political issue. Being an asshole toward women is never OK, and yet our culture is apparently willing to overlook it, even for important things like electing a president. Still others believe that misogyny is justified as some reaction against "political correctness," as if being enlightened and kind to others is a bad thing. Racism, homophobia, xenophobia and any other 'ism that you can think of are similarly rationalized. This strikes me as a barbaric throwback to previous centuries.

People make mistakes, and I get that. My record is embarrassingly far from perfect. That said, I believe that most people are capable of owning up to their mistakes and changing their behavior. When it's a pattern of behavior and that person is unapologetic about it, that goes well beyond being a fallible human being that made a few bad choices. Those people can and should be held accountable for their actions.

It seems absurd that we're still even having these kinds of conversations. I'm wondering if it's going to take another generation or two to get beyond this. I take a little comfort in knowing that my son doesn't have one of those openly racist, hateful grandparents, and, as I did, he goes to a racially and ethnically diverse school. Not learning the behavior is an important first step.


The best car deal ever

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2017, 1:15 PM | comments: 0

We started leasing our Nissan Leaf in August of 2014. We did a 2-year lease because frankly we were not entirely sure what getting into an electric vehicle would mean. A short lease seemed to mitigate any risk, which we may have overlooked because of our general enthusiasm for EV's. This turned out to be the right decision for so many reasons.

First off, the Leaf hasn't been great about retaining value. I think sticker was around $34k at the time, before the $7,500 tax credit. They haven't retained value very well, not because of any issue with the cars themselves, but because a bigger battery variation of the car has been in the works or rumored for at least two years. Ours has a 24 kWh battery, rated for around 80 miles but in practice can do 100 if you're not doing all highway miles. Last year they bumped it to 30 kWh. To be clear, this is more than adequate for 98% of our driving scenarios because you wake up with a "full tank" every day. (We even charge on a lowly 110v household outlet!) Still, battery costs have come way down while power density has gone way up, so everyone fully expects the next version to have capacity that enables 200 miles, presumably something around 60 kWh. We're totally winning by not owning the car.

At the end of our two years, we were actually not at all ready to see it go. I thought a compact Toyota was crazy low on maintenance, but this little EV takes it to another level. Without oil changes, there's nothing to do. We're closing in on three years now, and there's literally nothing to do except rotate the tires now and then. So Nissan was good about extending the lease for another year, and by the way, take two months off of paying. That gets us to August 2017.

Second, did I mention the delays in introducing a follow up car? Chevy finally got the Bolt out into the world, but the rollout is slow and production numbers aren't great. We don't know if we'll see one in Florida in the summer or not. Dealers don't have any idea how to sell them, because dealers are worthless middlemen continuing a process that no consumer likes. But at least Chevy has something out, while Nissan has been quiet. Lately, car enthusiast sites are finding "spy shots" of a camouflaged new Leaf driving about.

Nissan doesn't want our car back, they want us to buy another one, and so they've offered to extend the lease another seven months, and by the way, have three months off of paying.

This gets us to 43 months total at $106, and 5 of those months were non-paying months. I think we got $5k for Diana's trade, and used that as the down payment. That's $4,028 in lease payments, and $5,000 down, making the total cost per month to have that car $210. I've not had any new car, out of 9 total (including Diana's), that were that cheap in terms of total money put into having the car, purchase to sale/return. And by the way, the cost of driving it works out to 3.5 cents per mile. A gasoline car that does 30 mpg at $2/gallon costs 6.7 cents per mile. An SUV at 15 mpg will be 13 cents per mile, or 3.7x what it costs to drive the Leaf. As gas goes up, so does the cost, while ours comes from a regulated utility. And by the way, it's like driving an electric go-kart and it's super fun.

Just imagine what's going to happen when sub-$30k EV's are a thing in a few years.


Fear of a lack of self-awareness

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2017, 12:51 PM | comments: 0

Today at work we had our every-other-week sprint review and retrospective, and it was super positive. We've executed like a (mostly) well-oiled machine now for three or four sprints, and when you get to the part where you talk about what went well, what didn't, and what to change, the last two-thirds of that discussion get awfully quiet. Virtual high-fives among our distributed team are great, but I always fear that we're not being self-aware enough. It's not that I want to be a poopy-pants, I just don't want us to get so comfortable that we overlook our own flaws.

As it turns out, this is a healthy kind of fear, because it does move you forward. I often think about the time I was at Microsoft, because it was a time where the company culture, as diverse at it was from one area to another, was largely oblivious to its shortcomings. Maybe 40-60 in favor of oblivious when I started. When I switched teams mid-way through my time there, I went from the 40 to the 60. There was a lot of attachment to the status quo, about "how we do things," and the worst part was that one of those things was an arrogance about "knowing" what customers really wanted, without asking them. It was completely strange to me, and other than being a squeaky wheel, I was ineffective at changing this. After I left, not surprisingly, they never shipped anything.

That was a good experience to have, in part because it reminded me not to get comfortable, and face the flaws of me and my team outright and directly. Admitting that you have a problem is in fact the first step to recovery.

Still, it's OK to have a little celebration. I reminded the team today that the level of collaboration and communication we enjoy isn't all that common, and we're even a distributed, remote team. My last co-located gig couldn't touch the level of collaboration that we have today. (Some day, companies like IBM and Yahoo will learn this. OK, well not Yahoo, because it's toast.)