Reminder: Unplug

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 24, 2017, 8:27 PM | comments: 0

I had a pretty great week at work, and felt the most accomplished I have in awhile. Along with the last few weeks, which were less fun, I've been really plugged in and putting in a bit of extra time. I'm feeling a little spent, though the results are worth it.

As much as I complain about people having a disregard for history, and making the same mistakes over and over again, I do it too. When I fully commit to getting to a certain place, I tend to forget that at some point I need to unplug and back away for a bit. That's me right now. With Diana gone for the weekend and Simon in bed, my first thought was, "Hey, why don't I read up on these technologies and maybe play with them a bit." No! It's time to do something that isn't related to work, to use some other muscles (even if it's the one where I do nothing).

I make fun of type-A people, I guess because they engage in non-sustainable behavior, but every once in awhile, I catch myself being like that. It's like that first six months I lived in Florida, going at it non-stop, without a vacation or a real break from it all. No wonder I was so tweaked out then (the house financing thing didn't help).

So this weekend, I will do my best to stick to recreation. You've gotta unplug now and then.


Investing in yourself pays

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 23, 2017, 10:28 PM | comments: 0

I've been having an amazing week at work, onboarding a new hire (and feeling pretty good about getting it right), working on hiring another, and having good moments with my team. I'm also getting set to speak again at Orlando Code Camp in April, and I'm doing a talk on hiring and getting hired. It got me to thinking about the tear I've been on for the last eight years, and how it started.

While 2009 was a terrible year to find work in my field while living in Cleveland, and that caused a ton of anxiety, it ended up being awesome when it was all said and done. That summer was fun because I was making enough money on my sites to sustain me and more than cover my mortgage. The economy may have sucked, but ad revenue was good in those days. More importantly, the involuntary time off gave me a chance to invest in myself. That was a huge turning point for me. It was the year I actively started managing my career instead of letting it happen to me. It ended with me moving to Seattle on Microsoft's dime.

Almost eight years later, I remember the job anxiety, but mostly I remember how much I was learning. I was like a sponge. I certainly had the time, so I did my best to dig in and learn all that I could about the emerging technologies and patterns that would make me better at what I did. There is no question in my mind that these actions are what set me up for years of success from then on. (I made a cosmically stupid decision to move back to Cleveland in the middle of all that, but one of these days I'll let that go.)

This brief walk down amnesia lane is relevant to the talk I have to give, and I don't think it applies to just my field. Investing in yourself, really spending the time to learn new things, will have incredible return on investment. I'm not talking about doing things for yourself, I'm talking about doing the work to make yourself better. It's not even something to narrow in scope to your career. You can learn virtually anything, and that includes being a better parent and a spouse. The results are tangible.


Forming opinions without knowledge

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 22, 2017, 11:07 PM | comments: 0

I've spent a lot of time lately wondering why it is that I don't write as much as I used to. Prior to 2013, it wasn't uncommon that I would write a blog post almost every day. I love writing. I've always loved it. I think part of it was the change in circumstance that came that year, with the move to Orange County, along with generally higher job engagement that has continued ever since that time. The last three years and change have been the most productive professionally of my life. I also find myself being more engaged with my boy, as he's old enough now that you can have conversations and do more stuff together. So collectively, I don't think I have the mental bandwidth for as much writing.

While these are contributing factors to writing less, I'm also become more aware of the fact that I'm not in as much of a hurry to publish my opinions. I've written before that this might be because I don't find them valuable, or because there is enough noise on the Internet without me contributing to it, but it's something else. In the general sense, I don't feel like my opinions are formed enough to share because I don't have enough knowledge to support them. This is a big deal, because I've generally been indiscriminate about saying what I think. OK, so I still am that way, but a drive-by social media post isn't the same as the way I write here.

This self-awareness has been augmented in the last year in part by a renewed appreciation for science, and a new interest in history. I'm the guy who has been saying for years that the availability of all the world's knowledge on the Internet is largely squandered by people who have no interest in it, but I've probably been hypocritical about that to a degree.

Politically, I still find myself being more centrist than perhaps it appears, but really, I may not entirely agree with a guy who wants to give away free college and healthcare to everyone, but it's easier to get in that corner than one that advocates discrimination. While I'm not as quick to form opinions, and wish to generally consider more data, I can still consider a very short list of moral absolutes. Killing people is bad, for example, and I see no logical reason to ever tolerate discrimination of people based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual or gender identity, etc. But beyond that, it's hard to adopt any particular broad ideology.

There are still a lot of things I want to write about, but I haven't thought them through. So many parenting topics, comedy and politics, technology, energy, career, code... I have to get it out. For now, stuff isn't well-formed enough.


Project Fi is Fi-a-licious

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 20, 2017, 10:37 PM | comments: 0

Back in December, when I decided to unnecessarily purchase a Pixel phone, I wrote about how we were also switching from AT&T to Google's Project Fi, the pseudo-carrier that actually works on the networks of T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular (and WiFi if you've got it). There's a lot of talk in the press right now about the sudden unlimited data wars now between the big carriers, which are actually not a terrible deal, but we're still making out pretty well on Fi, and this is why.

We're not big data users. I work from home, Diana works part-time, and we're pretty much always around WiFi. Our local cable company has access points almost everywhere, too, so I find myself on WiFi even when I'm not looking for it. We're not going out of our way to really measure our cellular data usage, but we didn't use much when we had 15 gigs pooled to play with on AT&T. Now that we've had a full month both on the new service, using about 1.4 gigs combined, we paid all of $56 for the two lines, including all taxes and fees. That's not bad. On AT&T, we would have been paying about $95 when it was all done.

The WiFi calling has been a huge plus. Florida houses are practically Faraday cages, because they're concrete on the lower floor and lined with foil. It doesn't matter who your carrier is, the signal isn't good unless you're by a window. Google's network foo generally works well in that sense, though there have been a few odd times where the signal was too weak and it didn't fallback on WiFi, so I've missed one call. It was spam anyway. Sometimes, I just put the phone in airplane mode and turn on the WiFi at home, which works very well, and the call quality is a miracle. Oh, it's nice to use Android's native visual voicemail, too, for those annoying times when someone leaves a message. The transcription is surprisingly accurate, too.

I have to mention the international support. It just works. We were in the Bahamas a few weekends ago on a Disney cruise, and at Castaway Cay, we had a nice strong 3G connection that was more than adequate for posting selfies on the beach and backing up photos. The Fi app greets you on the new network, tells you what the rates are (unlimited texts, 20 cents/minute for voice calls, data at the same rate as the US). That's pretty cool. I was very impressed. And again, even in that vacation situation, we still paid the $56 for the month.

I have hit some spots that weren't super strong for cellular signal, but they were rural places where no network is great. When we were on the far side of the dunes at the Canaveral National Seashore, it was tough to get a signal, but it's unsurprising because of how far "out there" you are. Everywhere else, like downtown Orlando, Delray or even The Villages has been fine. WDW is covered pretty well too, though they have free WiFi everywhere.

Overall, we've been really happy with the service. I like the little widget their app comes with too, with a circular data usage meter. Almost a week into this month and we've only used .18 gigs. I realize for big data users, this is likely totally inadequate, at $10/gig, but this suits us fine. I think competition is finally driving prices down, though I wonder how that will go during the 5G rollouts a few years from now.


Revisiting the politics of fear and the common enemy

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 18, 2017, 7:32 PM | comments: 0

I've written before about how fear seems to be at the core of American politics in recent years. As I've said, this is not something that is the exclusive domain of either side. While the focus now is on the right's desire to make sure you're scared of brown people and the extraordinary threat they pose to you, the left wants you to be scared of rich people and your own inevitable financial ruin. Scared people have a strong tendency to get beyond people that say they can protect you from the threats, but beyond the fear, what they're really doing is gathering support to confront a common enemy, real or not.

Donald Trump has managed to turn this into an art form, and takes it one step beyond the common enemy. He has learned to identify the enemy, and then blame that enemy for his own failures. This isn't a new tactic, certainly, as taking responsibility for anything isn't really his thing. It's awfully convenient now that the new enemy to unite against is the press, because in his mind, they are the reason there's a perception that he's not doing particularly well. I thought that participation trophies were the exclusive domain of bed-wetting liberals, but apparently not.

This isn't the end of the scapegoating, however. Even Fox "News" is starting to turn on Trump. Congress, even the GOP side of the aisle, will not be far behind. At that point, it won't just be the press, it will be Congress that is the enemy. The judiciary is already the enemy.

We have to do better than this. The right will have us believe that we're more likely to be killed by a terrorist than win the lottery, when the reverse is true. The response is not logical. We can't let the other side have us believe that financial success is the result of nefarious intent either. We get the government we deserve when we allow these ridiculous fear-based policies dominate our politics. Identifying an enemy is not the thing that makes us better. Identifying a problem and objectively looking for solutions is what makes us better.


A new found love for American history

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 16, 2017, 4:30 PM | comments: 0

I read an interview recently with some prominent anthropologist and historian who explained why humanity has managed to keep a pretty consistent cycle of destroying itself periodically. He was basically validating the theory that history tends to repeat itself, and he explained why. Generally, the worst of human action is spaced out by several generations, and he suggested that this is why the "war to end all wars" was not, in fact, the last world war, or any war for that matter. He said that as the reality of human suffering becomes less distributed and separated by more generations, we simply forget about it and do dumb things, oblivious to history. Another story I read made the point that the Internet may have changed that, but it's hard to say if it makes things deteriorate or get better faster. On on hand, information is freer than ever, but on the other hand, humans have a strange desire to live in willful ignorance.

Bright and cheery thoughts, right? Regardless, this fascinates me in part because one could argue that history can serve as a way to both predict a possible future and absorb some serious knowledge. Of course, there's a certain historical musical that no one has ever head of (wink, nudge) that obviously has sparked a great interest in American history. I've been reading the Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton, and I can't wait to read his George Washington book as well. Going deeper than the superficial stuff that you might get to learn in high school (if you got anything out of it at all) has been extraordinary. The United States almost never came to be, and if we're being honest, the founding fathers were kind of a bunch of dicks. They were brilliant, well-intentioned people, certainly, but they weren't people I'd go get a beer with. They kind of gloss over in school that Washington was a slave owner, you know? The self-evident truths were a lot of talk that didn't extend far beyond white men who didn't want to be accountable to the king, unfortunately.

Despite the character issues, they got it more right than wrong, and it took a fair amount of humility to leave space for the Constitution to be changed and improved. There's no question that the gears of progress have been painfully slow, and even after the abolishment of slavery and granting women the right to vote, filling in the blanks took entirely too long, and it's not finished. It's staggering to think that Jim Crow laws were still a thing until a few years before I was born. That's nuts. Still, when I read some of the theory behind the structure of the US government, I can see how things moving faster could have disastrous consequences. Washington may have had slaves, but the humility he exhibited in his farewell address is brilliant:

"Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest."

Which leads to the present. Equality for the LGBT community was a slow-moving train as well, then, in the span of a few years, the marriage issue was settled. We've gone from an arbitrary war on drugs to the legalization of weed in a few years. I'm not particularly interested in it, but I've been swayed and understand now how destructive the fake war was. Now I see a slow awakening around carbon and energy policy, and I think that's going to blow up next. Information, history, knowledge can drive people forward if they choose to see it.

American history, and really world history, has been pretty much on the better side of what humans are capable of, and the cycles of suck do seem to get shorter over time. In a bizarre time when indifference and apathy has led us to the hottest mess of government I've seen in my lifetime, it's that historical context that I lean on. The American way has been one of persistence, and I hope we can keep that up.


Packages, libraries and frameworks, oh my!

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 14, 2017, 8:12 PM | comments: 0

Last night I wrapped up about 16-ish development hours rewriting and refactoring some code used to integrate with a third-party service. (Actually, I spent double that time, but the other half was spent on a lot of peripheral refactoring and unit testing, as well as significant changes to the feature set.) The TL;DR version is that the previous integration work used an open source library that didn't quite do things right in wrapping a REST service, so a lot of the normal kinds of failures you expect to get were difficult to get instrumentation around. I completely dropped the dependency on that library. Now it works, works fast and fails in a predictable and observable way. Hopefully my team and customers will be happier for it.

Interestingly, the dev team of the product we're integrating with once wrote a blog post suggesting that you really don't need a library, SDK or whatever wrapped around their API, because REST is pretty simple. There was a time when I might have said that I also wasn't interested in reinventing stuff, but I've eventually come around to see their point. In fact, as much as I've embraced the open source world and taken shortcuts to reach my destination faster, I've come to realize that this conflicts to some degree with my hiring philosophy.

I can't stand the developer types that think that quizzing people on encyclopedic knowledge of algorithms and design patterns is a good use of time. Sure, you should have a good understanding of how HTTP works, but I don't care if you remember what SOLID stands for as long as you practice it. I'm absolutely in the column of putting a candidate through a coding exercise, and I don't care what they need to do to arrive at the end product, because it's that journey that I'm most interested in. The most valuable developers, in a world of managed code and countless open source projects, are the ones that can skillfully compose solutions in a way that makes the product maintainable, extensible and scaleable. If they have to get all over StackOverflow to do that, I don't care, so long as they thoughtfully compose and don't just cut-and-paste.

That brings me back to my point about dependencies. Packages, libraries and frameworks definitely have their place in your project, but taking those dependencies should never be taken lightly. Should you endeavor to write your own front-end UI framework or a back-end dependency injection container? No, that's a waste of time, and you probably won't be good at it. Should you take a dependency on some package that you could write yourself in 17 lines of code? No, because those kinds of trivial dependencies can "break the Internet." The reality is that you need to look at the cost-benefit ratio of taking these dependencies, because sometimes the shortcuts don't save as much time as you'll use later on supporting something you don't own.


Remote work works

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 13, 2017, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

Facebook kindly reminded me recently of my start for my first 100% remote gig, and it occurs to me now that I've been doing it for four of the last five years. The break occurred during my contract year at SeaWorld corporate. That was a fun year, and while I didn't mind the commute, there's no reason I could not have done the same job remotely.

I've had teams composed of people from Seattle to Tampa. The distance has never been a deterrent to getting work done. The technology to collaborate and make things happen is pretty mature, and it has been for a long time. I see my coworkers every single day, even though my current team is spread out all over Florida (plus Atlanta and soon, Oklahoma City). Despite the distance, I feel like I know them pretty well. Colocation may have some benefits, but honestly, they're limited to being able to go out for lunch together.

I still found it weird a couple of years ago when Yahoo decided to end remote work. Think about what that means: Everyone had to live in a more expensive place, Yahoo had to pay for real estate in an expensive market, people who bailed had to be replaced at enormous cost, morale took a hit. The company line was that they wanted higher levels of collaboration, but as someone who has delivered outstanding work with distributed teams, I call nonsense on that one. I think it was based on the desire to command and control. The problem is that there's no truth to that scenario. Physically seeing someone in a seat is not indicative of their ability to do the job. In fact, the thing I've been saying about remote work for years is the opposite: When you're remote, the only thing you really have to show for your work is results (or lack thereof). That's a pretty powerful motivator to do your job well.

There are benefits for the worker that go beyond the basic flexibility of time management. You don't lose literally weeks of your life to time spent commuting. (A half-hour each way commute sucks 7.5 weeks of your year away from you.) Heck, that's good for your employer too, because I think generally one agrees that time not spent commuting ends up being time spent working. You're not using energy to move your car. Even with Diana working part-time and me occasionally going to the office, we scarcely drive 600 miles per month. We could probably get away with one car about 95% of the time.

I'm not opposed to commuting, but remote work makes so much sense.

Now, it's not all perfect. I have two related challenges. First, I don't always respect boundaries in terms of time. I've been that crappy dad who has asked my kid to not bother me at 6, 90 minutes before his bedtime, and I don't like myself for that. Second, I don't move around enough, and I'm making a lot of poor decisions about exercise. Sure, I could go walk a few miles in the morning, but I talk myself into knocking out some email as soon as I get up. That's dumb.


The people in your path that make you want to be more

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 10, 2017, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

As my friends all know, I have a Hamilton problem. I'm not listening to it as much now, but as one of the more exceptional pieces of art created in my lifetime (I don't think I'm overselling it), it sure has opened up a lot of things to think about in terms of history, finding our place in the world, the way our government works, the way we as humans affect each other. So I was struck by an interview that 60 Minutes re-aired and updated a bit with Lin-Manuel Miranda, when he mentioned that it's often the crossing of other people in our lives, in his case Alexander Hamilton, centuries after he died, that inspire us to be more. That's really profound.

Indeed, it's easy for most of us to encounter people and wonder, "What am I really doing with my life?" I've written countless times before that scope doesn't matter that much. I think that frankly if you can raise a child and not screw them up too much, you've already achieved one of the hardest things ever regardless of whether or not anyone recognizes you for it. But sometimes people still challenge you, whether it's in person, in books, in the past or the present. Sometimes the people may not even be real, as a work of fiction.

Like a lot of things in life, I don't believe that this is simply the result of randomness (though it may help). You can make this situation happen for yourself if you choose. I live by the idea that you're only as good as the people you surround yourself, so that's part of it. Beyond that, you seek out others who make things happen. You read books, especially more non-fiction. You study history and its most interesting people. There is a lot to draw on out there, but you have to want to see it.

If the world can get through the next decade or so, beyond all of the willful ignorance, the optimist in me sees a renaissance. Creative, driven people can and will solve problems. Knowledge, learning, science will be celebrated. I think our humanity depends on it, and we can be motivated to do it.


Disney Wonder, February 2-5, 2017

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 5, 2017, 10:21 PM | comments: 0

Given the frequency of our cruising the last few years, I suppose I make these little trip reports mostly for my own reference, so I can look back at the way things changed, to catalog the moments so I understand the sequence. The truth is, I think I appreciate the opportunity for these vacations more as time goes on. My child is growing up fast, and as I close in on mid-life, I'm highly aware of how brief these moments are, and how fortunate I am to have them.

The Disney Wonder had an extensive dry dock rehab in October, some months after we sailed on it in Alaska. As the second-oldest ship in the fleet, some 17 years and change, certainly it had been well maintained, but it was looking a little dated in places, tired in others. What I noticed in particular included restrooms with broken tile, a buffet that looked old and was laid-out inefficient, an insufficient kids pool area, and aging restaurants. Of course, using the improvements to the Magic, the year-older ship, as a blueprint, they brought the Wonder up to date and nailed it almost every way. There are no signs showing that this ship is the age that it is. I was talking to an officer that mentioned the exterior in particular, using modern paint, is much easier to maintain, much shinier, much less prone to fading. It's really a beautiful ship, and when you're in port with some of the hideous ships of other cruise lines, you have to appreciate Disney's desire to build something classic in appearance.

This was a 3-night cruise, but because of the off-season placement of the ship (it spends much of the year on the west coast), it departed on a Thursday and did not stop at Nassau. The Bahamas are a little crowded this time of year, I imagine, which is good because the fares are all lower. So the second day was spent at sea, the next at Castaway Cay. As it turned out, our day at sea included turning around and getting close to Freeport on Grand Bahama to transfer off a passenger for a medical emergency, but otherwise the ship was in no hurry until the return trip to Canaveral. We never get off the ship in Nassau anyway, and there's plenty to do onboard.

From a food standpoint, there have been some tweaks to the menus in Triton's and Animator's Palate, but they're about the same. Animator's Palate has upgraded video screens (and probably audio) for the animation show, but the teases they made showing kids drawings animated on screen were not there. The big dining story is the creation of Tiana's Place, and it's amazing. It's a new menu, and there is live music. My only criticism is that the staff does a parade around the restaurant, and it gets loud, and in our case it came at the expense of getting our desserts in a timely fashion. When you have a kid having long, busy days, drawing out dinner time is not ideal.

Also, minor complaint, the Wonder has soft pretzels, but they insist that they only offer them when they're at sea, and that sucks. They said this in Alaska as well, even though it didn't seem to be true. Major complaint: They made the one bar a "proper English pub," and removed Strongbow (the dry stuff from the UK) and replaced it with... wait for it... Angry Orchard. Gross. Having "real" Strongbow has been one of my favorite things about DCL beverages.

The Oceaneer's Club and Lab kids areas were completely rebuilt, which is good because they were tired and dated. However, aside from programmed activities, it didn't seem like there was that much for an enterprising kid to just pick up and do. To make matters worse, the new Slinky Dog slide, Simon's incentive to enter the club, was almost never open because apparently they have to staff it. That meant we couldn't unload the kid for an hour or so. Finally, on the last night, they opened it right before dinner, and he went in. Then, unexpectedly, they served macaroni and cheese for dinner in the club, and Simon made friends and stayed there.

The live entertainment on our July sailing was a little mediocre, in part because the old Toy Story musical was not very good, and also the other shows have tracked chorus parts. That's still true, unfortunately, but they ditched Toy Story for a very ambitious adaptation of Frozen. I love the movie, but I try to keep my expectations reasonable. I've seen a lot of high quality, union theater lately, so I guess I'm more critical than I used to be. Disney has a lot of great art to work from, and we've seen great stage adaptations of other films. I'm happy to report that they almost completely nailed it. You wouldn't know that it was the same company doing the other two revue-style shows.

In terms of technical execution, this was the best design we've seen from any onboard show. It was a skillful mix of scenery, video projections and puppetry, carrying on the traditions of The Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical at Animal Kingdom. The choreography was great to watch. Vocally, the chorus was live, addressing my biggest complaint. Most importantly, the actresses playing Anna and Elsa were not directed to emulate Kristen and Idina. In fact, I would even say that the performances they gave were outstanding, but played to their strengths. Elsa's "Let It Go" had different "wow" moments, and it was great. It's everything that you want theater at sea to be, but almost never is. I think they deserve a lot of credit.

It wasn't just the theatrical shows, however, that were fun. As I said, the live musicians in Tiana's Place were above average. The lobby and bar singers were all much better than I've seen on previous sailings. Heck, even the bingo crew was pretty entertaining. I finally saw Rogue One (whoa, that was dark) and Moana (Lin-Manuel can do no wrong).

We had a perfect day at Castaway Cay. Well, the water was too cold for my soft Florida body, but we had a cloudless blue sky, 75 degrees and a light breeze. That's not a bad way to spend a day at the beach.

There were a few challenges we had with Simon, but a lot of that is rooted in the fact that Diana and I really want to do a cruise without him. I love him dearly, but he's been very challenging lately (that's a post all to itself). Fortunately, we had my dad aboard this time, so we did get a few hours to enjoy a couples' massage, something we haven't done in years.

Another successful trip in the books, for sure, even with a few relatively minor hiccups. DCL does an amazing job.


Taking back patriotism

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 29, 2017, 10:37 AM | comments: 0

I have fond memories of learning American history in grade school. There was something fascinating about the framing of our government, the struggles for equality, the innovation during the Industrial Revolution. There was a clear and obvious reason to feel patriotic about our nation. It seemed even more relevant in the midst of school desegregation.

Patriotism meant pride with humility. It meant we embraced our flawed and often tragic past, but reveled in our accomplishment to get beyond it. We were always a key player in a narrative that benefited a world greater then ourselves. We invented medicines, new industries, and defended friends from fascism and tyranny.

At some point, patriotism was co-opted to be something else. Humility was the first thing to go. Treating war and conflict like a sports rivalry replaced the reluctant gravity of causing death among our fellow humans. Blind flag-waving took precedence over engaged, intelligent discourse. Nationalism replaced patriotism as a means to divide and marginalize segments of the population. Patriotism meant you were with us or against us.

This is not what I learned in school.

Political apathy caused us to elect a reality TV show host, someone more obsessed with his own popularity than solving problems. This isn't normal, but what we've seen in the first week of his presidency has been extraordinary. I'm not referring to his actions, but rather the responses to them. The apathy has transformed into extreme engagement and protest. In fact, I would argue that this is the definition of patriotism that I learned in grade school.

I feel like what I've heard the last two years is that America has become a real shit hole. Obviously, a lot of people believe this. We have challenges, for sure. Technology is radically changing our economy and the labor landscape. Working people live in poverty. The environment puts our way of life at risk because of the way we disregard it. The renewable energy transformation is occurring too slowly.

Despite these challenges, we are still a nation that changes the world with our inventions. We launch and land rockets. We make the world's information searchable and connect friends around the world online. We make electric cars here. Some of the most brilliant scientists and medical minds live here. Perhaps most impressive, we invented devices, supercomputers in our pockets, that fundamentally changed everything about our lives. That's the extraordinary America that I know.

Socially, we continue to slowly erode our foundation of injustice. The hold outs of institutional racism are being identified and dealt with. Our LGBT friends can marry and enjoy the legal protections that match their love. Women are slowly having their rights codified, and the cultural admission of inequality is taking hold as a precursor to action. Religious freedoms are guaranteed but not given as a basis for legal discrimination. That's the extraordinary America I know.

With this week's actions by the president threatening all of this extraordinary progress, the people have found their patriotism. The time has come to take patriotism back, to send the message that we are better then this. Going on about how much we suck serves as an effective means to instill fear and establish control, but we're not having it.

Patriotism means standing up, with pride and humility, acknowledging our flawed past and fragile future, and demanding better. A better outcome that proves that "we the people" includes all of the people. That's the America that we were destined to be.


Science, equality and human decency are not left or right issues

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 26, 2017, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

I've never seen people as politically charged as I do now. Maybe that's a good thing, because apathy is what led a minority (and by most measures, it is a minority) to gain power in government. The apathy has been getting worse for my entire adult life, so perhaps this the collective kick in the nuts we needed.

Regardless, there are several areas of our society that are bizarrely being painted as partisan issues, and that has to stop. It's particularly disturbing in just the first week of the Trump administration.

Science

OK, this one I get why people make it political, because of a misguided sense of obligation to protecting incumbent industries and corporations (something ironically at odds with the desire for less government and regulation... because it's just the same government and different regulation). That's a horrible idea in terms of overall economic policy, because by protecting the incumbents and deincentivizing new industry, you leave those opportunities to someone else, probably China, who gains the first-mover advantage while the incumbents fail to evolve and die. You shouldn't need a degree in economics to understand this.

That aside, science cares not what you believe. You may not believe the sky is blue, but it still is. Nowhere is this more true than with climate change. One of the surprising side effects of this is that, after years of a GOP-run Congress, the states are starting to take matters into their own hands. California and New York are taking extraordinary steps toward securing their own futures in terms of energy and the environment. As Conan The Republican found in the NatGeo doc Years Of Living Dangerously, his own party continues to put the military and the nation at risk by suppressing science and rational energy policy. Inflexible ideology doesn't make science go away, it only leaves you on the hook for ignoring what is right in front of you.

More concerning now though is this insane effort to erase from the Internet the results of scientific study by government agencies. As a taxpayer, I paid for that research, and regardless of whether or not it suits anyone's agenda, I'm entitled to see it. That's what a transparent government does. I'll be watching Data.gov very carefully, because if anything changes there, my own political involvement is going to get extreme.

Science, you see, is not a partisan issue. As Webster puts it, science is "knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method." It doesn't matter who you voted for, the atomic weight of Nitrogen is still about 14, and it still makes up about 78% of our atmosphere.

Equality

The worst strawman I've seen this week is that women marching on Washington (and around the world) last weekend was totally unnecessary, because women are equal under the law. That's the most delusional thing I've ever heard. Equality in American history is funny like that, because even outside of the Jim Crow era, inequality that is not explicitly defined leaves room for implied, legal inequality. American history has in the long run been on the right side of this, but it's slow going. Our most recent victory in that sense is the recognition that same-sex couples are due the same rights as heterosexual couples.

This too, is not a left or right issue, but the reason that it becomes political is that the absence of explicit law allows for implied legal discrimination. I admit that the last year has been an eye-opening experience for me, because in the diverse field that I work in, and the diverse places I've lived, I don't fear people who are different than me. However, a vocal minority, now in power because of the aforementioned apathy, is trying very hard to codify their fears from people of different races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientation and, still, gender. I thought we were over this.

Human Decency

As anyone with even the most basic education knows, we all look pretty much the same when we peel off the skin and the human constructs that we apply to our identities. And even though I don't actively practice the Christian faith that I was brought up in, the most important lesson that I took from that experience was that we need to take care of our fellow human beings, regardless of any of the circumstances or identities that they possess.

Human decency is not a left or right issue.

But practicing human decency means being a lot more flexible in how we see the world, and it requires a great deal of courage to move beyond fear of the people we don't know or understand. Ask yourself, as objectively as possible: Are the people we appoint to lead capable of exhibiting that courage to move beyond fear and embrace human decency? Do you have the self-awareness to answer that honestly?


Simon has a new roller coaster problem

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 24, 2017, 2:00 PM | comments: 0

I'm not sure if I've written about it, but Planet Coaster came out recently, and I think it's a solid game. Like RollerCoaster Tycoon 1 and 2 from way back, I've played through the bulk of the scenarios, and now I kind of hang out in the sandbox to build stuff. It's pretty cool.

Simon, not surprisingly, also thinks it's cool. His playroom is currently occupied by an aging K'nex Serpent roller coaster, and a bunch of wood tracks, a Hot Wheels garage and countless cars of various sizes and shapes. Oh, and a bunch of Duplo blocks. Collectively, this is a "ride" that he likes building, and as is the case with actual amusement rides, he's mostly interested in the mechanics and procedure of the rides and not really the ride experience itself.

For some time, he was all about watching me build stuff in PC, but he wanted to try and do stuff himself. I'm not sure if he's ready for physics and how coasters work (my gut says challenge him and see what his almost-7-year-old brain can absorb), but he gets that he can drop a pre-built ride on the ground and build some paths to the entrance and exit. He also gets that he can do what the game calls track rides, which are things like cars, log flumes and the like. So I let him go nuts.

He dropped in some pre-built coasters that came with the game, or those that I saved, but otherwise, he managed to do some serious work as he sat there, going at it for six hours. He built a custom monorail, some car rides and a log flume, and a ton of flat rides and food stands. I wasn't sure how he would do, because navigating in 3D space with some weird mouse and button movements isn't very natural, but he did it.

In fact, he overdid it. When it came time for dinner, he was complaining about a headache, which isn't entirely surprising because I'm not sure he actually blinked during that time. I should probably have enforced a break. Still, I'm careful about how I limit his time, because I think that there is some developmental benefit there in terms of fine motor skills, problem solving, patience and focus. I also remember how adults were constantly treating me like an inconvenience or burden because I wanted to mess with their computers. I might be a little bitter about that.

We'll try to do the roller coaster physics, and see how that goes.


Women in global unity

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 24, 2017, 8:41 AM | comments: 0

The march on Washington, and really all over the US and even abroad, was a wonderful occasion. This was a hastily assembled effort that came with an uncomplicated concern: That the civil rights of many people, and women specifically, are at risk because of the current sentiment in government.

Why is this important? First off, there is nothing more American than massive, peaceful protest. Democracy in this country has always been well intentioned, but even the founding fathers knew that "we the people" did not include all of the people. It's a legacy we still haven't beat, for reasons as violent as intimidation and legal as gerrymandering. This kind of protest is self-energizing and sends a message to those in power.

Second, it shows the importance of action. Anonymous social media activism isn't activism. Like and share doesn't mean shit in the greater scheme of things. But get like minded people out into the world, and things happen.

I've read some criticism of the march by people genuinely unsure about why it was necessary. For that, I was struck by a photo I saw of an elderly woman holding a sign that suggested she couldn't believe she still had to protest for civil rights. Indeed, it seems absurd to me that women still do not have an equal place at the table. It's not about butthurt over the election, but the amount of hostility toward the rights of women and minorities has come to a head. It's not OK to continue this way.

I'm proud of all the friends that went to Washington last weekend, or participated in other cities (including Orlando). I have to wonder if we'll ever get to a point where this isn't a political issue, and rather just something that is a result of basic human respect. It's easy to criticize the discontent when you have nothing at stake. That seems to be our cultural climate right now.


Looking back at the Obama years

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 22, 2017, 11:44 AM | comments: 0

I realized today that, in my adult life, there have only been three presidents: Obama, Bush and Clinton. The elder Bush was president in my first two years as a voter, but he was elected prior to my turning 18. Looking back at those presidents, I remember being both stunned that Clinton could pull off a balanced budget, the only one to do it in my lifetime, while pissing away his legacy by humping interns. I didn't vote for Bush, but Gore and Kerry were not particularly compelling alternatives either. I still think that Bush is fundamentally a good man, but his obsession with going to war with Iraq, on what turned out to be false pretenses, will forever overshadow his service. There are no winners to pick.

Which brings us to Barack Obama. He campaigned on the promise of hope and change. In my lifetime, I've been struck by our inability to move beyond race, because as a kid growing up in the inner-city as a white minority, it has appeared absurd that racism is still a thing. Yet, in high school and college, I learned that not only is it a thing, but it's a strikingly commonplace problem. Indeed, just the election of an African-American president implied that we were finally over it. I could not have been more wrong.

So let's just go to the race thing straight up. Obama being elected as the first black president is absolutely an achievement of historic proportions. And I don't believe that it's something that just anyone could have achieved. He truly had the right temperament and appeal to make that happen. At times, "preacher" Obama delivered on the promise to inspire. It was something that we sorely needed more of throughout his presidency, in my opinion.

I'm not going to go through eight years of policy and pick winners and losers, but it was, at best, a mixed bag. Presidents, by nature of the structure of our government, can set agendas and have striking social and foreign policy impact, but getting laws passed requires congress. We know how that went. A lot of people will defend that kind of impotence with "but Republicans," but I think truly transformational leadership figures out how to get beyond that, and that's what I was hoping for.

He did OK on foreign policy. Getting the regular inspections and access in Iran was a big deal, and banning the use of torture was the moral thing to do. On the other hand, he never did close the Guantanamo prison, where we hold people indefinitely without charging them. Few things are less American than that. He failed on the issue of domestic spying until the Snowden leaks, and even then, his corrective action was inadequate.

The bulk of the economic metrics show we're in a better place than we were in the recession, but the speed of the recovery hasn't been ideal or all encompassing. I'm not sure if that's really a problem that government can solve. Politicians in general fail to define the problems correctly (hint: it's not globalization or trade affecting jobs, it's automation). Personally, I'm in no position to complain at all. I've been steadily employed since 2009 and doing well, but a lot of that has to do with my profession (which is, ironically, partly responsible for the aforementioned automation).

The thing that a lot of people are looking at right now though, in light of the election of Trump, is the way a president applies humility and decorum to the office itself. There is a dignity required of the office, and every man who has occupied it in my lifetime has possessed those qualities, regardless of where they were on the political spectrum. The Obamas were a classy family, for sure. The man rarely got too riled up, and he respected the office and institution of government, as those did before him. For that, he will be sorely missed.


Revisiting ASD and inflexibility

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 18, 2017, 8:01 PM | comments: 0

How strange that almost two years ago to the day I wrote about the struggle with ASD-related flexibility that Simon has, because we're dealing with it a lot lately. The difference is that now the issues surround things more relevant to an almost-7-year-old. For example, when the tap water is much colder, as it is in the winter in Florida, you have to adjust the shower differently, and my boy freaks out when the perfect temperature is not achieved with the handle at the 12 o'clock position. He's getting better at cutting his food with a knife, but if he can't make a clean cut, he won't eat it. Similarly, if I don't cut a sandwich into fourths, it's inviting drama. The other day he freaked out when his bus was late, and the one that picked up the route meant he couldn't sit in "his" spot.

Now sprinkle in all of the typical stuff where an early grade school kid is just trying to manipulate a situation to get his way, and that's the world we're living in. Inflexibility is, at this point, the most dominant "ASD thing" that Simon deals with (though we're getting him tested for ADHD given some issues at school, which is frequently a co-occurring issue with ASD). The thing that I find difficult to keep in mind is that all things, to him, carry the same weight in severity, so while most situations are minor to anyone else, to him they are dire conditions.

This is something that, as a parent, I've not been particularly good at rolling with. I've been pretty wrapped up in my own world the last six months with work, contemplating life and what not to really think deeply about how to help Simon. This has led to some suboptimal fathering moments that usually involve me getting emotional in a non-helpful way. What I would like to do is find everyday situations where I can switch something up on purpose, and encourage him to deal with the change. I also try to recall situations where "plan B" ended up being an acceptable outcome. He wants the opportunities to make his own decisions, but the frustration can be epic when he can't arrive at the desired outcome.

Fortunately, he's making strides in other areas. Academically, math has really clicked, and reading is finally getting beyond recalling words and into actual comprehension (even if he hates doing the homework that works those muscles). I feel like we're just one step ahead, but we worry a lot about him not keeping up. I'm so grateful for his teacher this year. She's been super collaborative and really looks out for him, but letting him struggle when appropriate.


Maybe we don't need another MLK, maybe we just need to be more like him

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 16, 2017, 8:26 PM | comments: 0

If there's anything I can really complain about with regard to my education, it's the lack of history. In high school, world history rarely got much beyond the crusades, and American history never got further than the Civil War. That leaves a whole lot out! I think I was fortunate though for going to inner-city schools, not just for the diversity, but for the fact that Black History Month was always taken very seriously, and it filled in a lot of blanks that about the civil rights era that I would never learn about later in high school or college. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day was not just a day off, it was a celebration of his legacy.

We're fortunate that this particular figure in history is one that really liked to write. We don't need to guess what he was thinking, because he wrote his thoughts down. Combined with writings to him, we have a remarkable record of what the man was about in a time where his leadership was so desperately needed. Of the many figures in American history that I wish I could meet, he's easily at the top of the list. His message was essential, and he put himself at great risk sharing that message. Ultimately, he paid for it with his life.

I often wonder if he would be thrilled or disappointed with the progress we've made since that time. After more than a half-century, it seems like his dream should be a reality by now, but I do understand that sometimes it takes generations for change to take hold. I have to remind myself that my great grandmother, who lived to be 96 and died when I was in high school, was born just three decades after the Civil War. We're still a very new nation.

I feel like the last few years have served as a harsh reminder that the brotherhood of man that Dr. King so passionately dreamt of has not become a reality. When I look at the worst parts of the Civil Rights era, I keep wondering where we can find those similarly charismatic leaders that will some day have monuments built for them in Washington. Where is our Dr. King?

It occurs to me, however, that maybe we don't need that kind of revolutionary leadership. Perhaps what we really need is for each of us to try to be more like him. Dr. King was committed to non-violence as a means for change. One of his core principles was to put love over hate in engaging with those who oppressed others. He believed that it was injustice that must be defeated, not people. That's a fascinating bit of nuance to me, because it truly means that you aren't out to take down others, but rather the symptoms of their hate.

I don't hate anybody. I'm strongly discouraged, and sometimes outraged, at the actions of others, but I can't hate anyone. It's just not an emotion that I have the bandwidth for. It's hard not to dismiss those people. But I'm starting to feel more strongly than ever that we, as a nation, are getting a little too old for the 'isms that have plagued us since before the Declaration of Independence was written. If we hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, than let's start walking that walk, and talking the talk. If we can all do it, then we don't need another Dr. King to remind us.

The dream is long overdue for reality.


The promise of talented people

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 16, 2017, 5:52 PM | comments: 0

I'm in the process of hiring someone at work, and while I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say that it's an awesome and fantastic experience hiring software developers, I will say that there's something satisfying about meeting a bunch of new people and seeing the potential of how they may affect your life and your job.

I've said it a hundred times: You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I attribute my own success largely to the people that I've worked with. Sure, experience qualifies me to gather a team and handle all of the glue that makes it work, but at the end of the day those skills aren't super valuable without people who are really good at what they do. It's great to have people that you can learn from, and who are willing to learn. There's a kind of self-perpetuating energy that comes from those work relationships, and it absolutely comes through in the quality and value of the end product.

Those qualities in people are probably one of the highest influencers of job satisfaction as well. I worked very briefly some years ago at a company where every sentence started with "I can't" or "I don't know how," and it was a real drag. But the teams where I've enjoyed success have all been filled with people convinced that they can do anything (as time and money allows, at least), and those gigs always produce a natural high.

So right now, that's where I am, imagining a world where the right person fits in and creates that ultimate cycle of revolving awesomeness. It's a torturous process, but fingers crossed that it results in the aforementioned awesomeness.


Yes, people have opinions

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 13, 2017, 9:39 PM | comments: 1

It has been interesting to see the reaction to Meryl Streep's recent Golden Globes speech, which called out Donald Trump's behavior without even using his name. What she said seemed, to me, to not be something that most anyone could really be offended by. It could really be distilled to this:

And this instinct to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

On closer inspection though, it doesn't seem like it was the things she said that bothered people, it's that she said anything at all. The commentary was generally along the lines of, "She's an actor, she should stick to entertainment!" There's a bizarre double standard that we hold for our celebrities. When they screw up, we criticize them for not being role models. Yet, when they don't screw up, and in fact achieve things in their profession, we criticize them for speaking up. That's pretty weird, right?

But then, this seems to connect pretty well with American politics in the last year, and in fact Streep's point, that it seems to be increasingly OK to marginalize those who are different or don't agree with you. Disagreement is not the same as marginalization. It's not even a political issue. The economy, national security, whatever... it's all secondary when people in positions of authority use their words to marginalize groups of people based on gender, ethnicity, race, religion or sexuality.

I've been called out twice recently for speaking my mind, and accused of much the same thing. And sure, I'm basically nobody. But the one title I have that counts is father, and I take it very seriously. I have a child that is a little different, and while I'm the last person in the world who wants to hover around him and try to defend him from the bullshit he will inevitably encounter, it's important to me that he learn by example that the truth allegedly held self-evident, that all men are created equal, must not simply be a slogan. We have to stop rationalizing going after every person who isn't like us, because that's what it is.


Who needs Medium in a spicy world?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 4, 2017, 8:40 PM | comments: 0

I admit that since Medium was launched, I didn't get it. But I never really got Twitter either, the other thing that Ev Williams co-founded, and that's certainly useful to someone (in particular inarticulate politicians, it would seem). And if that weren't enough, I thought it was weird that anyone needed yet another blogging platform. Williams suggested that it could give a voice to people who wrote quality stuff with meaning. I still don't understand how or why Medium is better for that, because social media has a way of getting things people care about in front of people regardless of quality. People have to want it, and if they do, it doesn't matter where it lives.

Ugh, I feel like I'm writing a tear-down here, but I'm bothered by two things: Valley thinking and slightly misplaced ideas about the value of content.

Today, Mr. Williams announced they were cutting a third of their staff of 150, and closing two of the three offices they had, in Washington and New York. Now, if you're fans of the folks over at Basecamp, and have read Rework, then you know they're probably throwing some WTF's at the Ev-ster right now. Or they might not be, because moving their blog to Medium has been really good for them. But the company formerly known as 37signals has been ever passionate about bootstrapping itself, not taking VC money, not being in Silicon Valley and most importantly building a sustainable business over chasing an exit strategy. Their books are about questioning the nonsense, and I can't think of anything more ridiculous than opening offices in three of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. And also, having 150 people to build up a platform that, to the naked eye, is super pretty and clean, but lacks the functionality of LiveJournal 15 years ago.

I get that it has the feel of Instagram for words, but that's why I don't think it works. What's the business model? Long-form text isn't something you rapidly scroll through the way you do pictures, so even if they're trying to adopt Instagram's model, who wants to buy that? Beyond that, there seems to be a lofty goal of being super cool and intellectual and it'll make you smarter and all of that, but really, if I want that, why would I ever focus on one place to do so? It just seems convenient that Williams believes publishing on the web won't make sense in the long run, because, well, obviously he thinks Medium is the answer.

Here's the other thing that bothers me about his "refocusing" announcement. He really lays into the whole system of advertising and such, insisting that it doesn't serve anyone. And yes, that's a little ironic when he is simultaneously implying that they don't make any money. While it's certainly possible that advertising as we know it is not ideal, what I feel like he's saying is that all of the free love and exchange of ideas and information should happen for free. By now we should understand that isn't possible. Someone, somewhere, has to pay for it. I've been publishing stuff on the Interwebs now for 18 years (shit, I'm old), and there is a cost for everything whether it comes from ads, the exchange of money or whatever. Don't make this a moral issue. If I write the modern day version of the Federalist Papers, I'm sorry, but I'm not throwing away my shot. (#nonstop, y'all!) It's OK to make a business of distributing content, because that's the only business that Medium can be.

More than anything, content wants to be free. Medium wants to be a closed system. I get a ton of content about stuff that I'm interested in via an RSS reader and stuff my friends throw up on Facebook. It comes from a million places, and that's OK. That's what makes the web awesome, and I don't understand why we keep trying to "fix" that. We've seen that a closed system accessed largely by mobile app, like Facebook, can act as a gateway to that, but there's a reason that the Facebook "notes" functionality never really took off, despite most of the world having an account. Content wants to be out there. It's where the flavor is.

Years later, I still don't get Medium. And that's why I'm so publishing this there.