The company man

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 25, 2015, 8:16 PM | comments: 0

The hit piece that the NYT did about Amazon (which probably has some semi-truths to it), and a couple of other recent stories about employment and work, really got me thinking. One friend recently lost their job in a very arbitrary manner, while another was passed over for promotion for likely no logical reason, still another is watching the organization turn upside down from very poor middle management. Given our culture's desire to put so much emphasis on work as identity, it sucks for everyone involved.

Right now, I feel pretty lucky, because I like the company that I work for. Even as we grow (and that I say "we" is significant), I was able to talk to the CEO today briefly about some of our strategy, and that's pretty cool. Sometimes the work is hard, I have stressful days (though not as a pattern of continuous stress), but in the bigger sense, I generally feel like I'm supported and valued. I even feel that if that was not the case, we would be having conversations about it.

Here's the thing, I've been burned a lot by employers. I equate getting invested with a company a lot like getting into a romantic relationship. They only end with separation or death. You can be hesitant to fall in love in fear of being hurt again. Not counting contract work, I've only left a job twice voluntarily and not as a preemptive move to evade the failure of that company. The rest were layoffs and crumbling companies. Heck, I was at one company for a few months where they were literally asking me to lie to customers.

So in the case of my friends, or maybe the people who are having a hard time at Amazon, I can certainly identify with the disappointment of having your company more or less turn on you. But you know, the relationship analogy goes further. It's like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it. You have to risk pain to find love. Sometimes, a decade of service and awesomeness can disappear an instant, and finding it again can be hard.

For years I've tried to write this off as, "It's just business." If you're not invested, you can't get hurt, right? For better or worse, I'm starting to realize that it's not just business. Our work is often tied to our identity, and I suppose we have to be at peace with that. It feels good when it's good.


Amazon might be awful, and at the same time not

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 19, 2015, 11:41 PM | comments: 0

The New York Times published what someone might call a tear-down piece on the work culture of Amazon. It has been interesting to see how people react to it. Bezos responded by saying that it's not the company he knows, and I hope he's just saying that for the benefit of stockholders, because even if the piece is not representative of a big problem, it certainly isn't an anecdote either.

I worked for another gigantic technology company in Seattle, Microsoft, and it was not reasonable to make generalizations about it either. Especially during the time I was there, it was more fair to say it was really many small companies. Some of them were awesome, some not so much. My friends who have stayed or returned after working elsewhere have indicated that it's getting a lot better, too. Ironic, then, that the article quotes Bezos as saying that becoming more like Microsoft would cause the company to "die."

The thing about gigantic companies is that it's hard to generalize, and at the same time, you can't ignore negative generalizations. Good and bad culture aren't mutually exclusive in large companies. Heck, even where I work now, a small company by comparison, we spend a lot of time thinking about how our culture works as we grow, because we know that the reason for our success in part comes from the special sauce that is our culture.

Reading about Amazon in that piece reminds me of working at Microsoft in 2009, mostly hearing about other groups and reading the comments in the "Mini-Microsoft" blog. I liked the group I was in, and we delivered some great stuff despite our size. The influence of the negative parts of the company was there, but my manager at least largely worked in that context without making it toxic.

Amazon, for example, apparently does stack ranking. Microsoft, and even GE (which some business types say invented the practice) have stopped doing it. It's toxic, it kills collaboration, and frankly the return on investment for all of the time and money spent on it is probably negative. A friend of mine in another MSFT group described it first hand, as a manager, where people acted to achieve "visibility," not a better product. That's absurd.

I also wholly reject that you need to commit your life to a job for compensation, fulfillment or whatever. The loyalty is not bidirectional, money is not an intrinsic motivator, and believe it or not, a lot of really cool things happen outside of your job, starting with your family. I get the idea that you may put a lot of time into it when you like it. I know I've sat down at my computer at 7:30, and realized at 5:30 that I was going at it almost all day (that's a hazard when you work remotely). Still, there are fantastic things going on outside of my door and my window, and they're pretty much all things I'll remember longer than I will that last e-mail. Being switched on all of the time isn't sustainable. Unless you're a blogger who thinks work is everything.

Of course, some guys working there believe in the 100% opposite of the NYT piece, and that's fine. I happen to think that Nick's response is way more anecdotal than the NYT, but again, there's no reason why both situations can't be true in a company that large. I kind of know Nick through Facebook, because we apparently worked in the same group at MSFT at some point. I've never been shy about telling him he's a Kool-Aid drinker, and I think he puts too much faith in hierarchy and process. He took great offense at my suggestion that the things he looks for in developers are ridiculous, which I suspect doesn't play well to a "bar raiser" (are you kidding me?) at Amazon.

Here's the thing, even if the article is something of a hit piece, it sure seems like an opportunity. Executives in large companies are famously incapable of gauging the condition of their work force. I'm not talking about the data that so famously drives Amazon. I'm talking about the condition of the humans working there. It's a little self-righteous to believe they're changing the world by selling shit for cheap and getting it to customers as fast as they can (it's not space travel or curing Ebola). I'm a big fan of the company, but if you've got 4,000 open req's and you want to toss your bottom 5% every year, in a toxic system that drives people out, you probably have to do a little soul searching. No parental leave? Are you kidding?

I had the pleasure of meeting Les McKeown last year and read his book Predictable Success. He makes a solid observation about the curve that most every company makes, especially in the startup space. While I don't agree that a company can irreversibly head toward certain death (interestingly, he thinks Microsoft is in that phase), it's clear that companies can get into his "big rut" phase and not even realize it. DHH wrote an excellent post explaining that someone has to be in the right place to say, "Dude, we have some issues and we need to change." I think Amazon has been presented with that opportunity, and it's a gift it has received when it's in otherwise great shape. I hope the company takes it.


Cruise report: Disney Dream, August 14-17

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 8:28 PM | comments: 0

Oops, we did it again, another three-night Bahamas trip on a Disney Cruise Line ship. I've said it before, but the reason we've done this itinerary five times in the last two years is because it's probably the most care-free and easy full-service vacation we can do living in Orlando. That, and we really love being on those ships. They're kind of fancy without having to be fancy. We've also had some great fares, though this was not one of them. We did, however, book a winter cruise with our Seattle counterparts at 10% off with a room credit while onboard.

I won't get into the details of the itinerary, since we've done that before. The service was fantastic as usual, the room cleaner than clean, way more good food than we should have had, etc. Despite the more expensive summer fares, it didn't seem that crowded. The parking garage was empty in the upper levels, there were noticeable empty tables at dinner and the beach at Castaway Cay seemed less crowded. Let me talk about the more interesting variations on this one.

This was the second time they had us sitting with another family for dinner. They weren't ideal, but not a deterrent to having a good time. It began with the mom informing us that she popped a squat to pee off the side of the road on the Beachline on the way to the port, coming from Tampa. She brought it up the next two nights as well. Ironically, she wouldn't pee in the restrooms closest to the restaurant, even though they're continually cleaned by an attendant during meal times.

We had a bit of a rough time with Simon at first, having to deny him mini-golf because of misbehavior the first day. We're having a hard time lately redirecting his negative behavior into more positive things, and it came to a head that night with us feeling pretty defeated. Fortunately it got better after that. Things started poorly when he lost another tooth that morning, and then eating felt weird all day so he didn't eat.

Our day in Nassau was spent on the pool deck, and we watched Inside Out in the Walt Disney Theater. We totally loved it. The juxtaposition of joy and sadness as symbiotic components of our lives is probably over the head of most kids, but what a great movie. Also loved the short, Lava. What a beautiful piece that was. I don't think it was better than Feast (which was in front of Big Hero Six and featured a Boston Terrier), but it was a very interesting idea. This is the first time we saw something screened in the big theater, and Dolby 3D is surprisingly watchable, if not at all worth an upcharge in a theater on land. Our evening wind down included watching Peter Pan up on Funnelvision.

Our best day was easily on Castaway Cay, where things were very nearly perfect, even with non-perfect weather. Remember, I'm not a beach guy. Sun and water makes me tired, and not being much of a swimmer, I don't care for deep water without floatation. But it was a great temperature, the water was perfect, I rented a tube, the bar runners kept mai tai's in my hands, and after significant coaching and coaxing, Diana managed to get Simon to finally trust a life jacket and be confident out in the water.

We parked our stuff just beyond Cookies BBQ, which is unusual because normally we go out to Cookies Too, as fewer people go that far. Still, our umbrella was 30 feet from the water, in front of the platform where the climbing ropes and rope bridges were about 50 feet out. That turned out to be a great motivator for Simon, who got to a point where he was confident floating out there with us, unassisted, and getting on and off the platform via the ladders. It was a seriously big deal for him, and wonderful to see him so confident and happy.

By about 1:30, a little shower had turned into a huge downpour, which was OK until the lightning started. That was made more freaky when I was standing in the restroom with Simon in an inch of water. It was the kind of epic rain we get at home, only without all of the storm water management. The beach really cleared out as people went back to the ship. We got pretty soaked, but I'm glad we didn't bring shoes as we originally considered, to go out to the observation tower off of the old air strip.

We dried off and hung out in our room for a bit, watching people come back to the ship (our room was on the port side), while doing a little video-on-demand for Simon. By 3:30 we were able to go back up to deck 13 for mini-golf and foosball, sun returning, and it was crazy to see the beach almost empty. Bummer how that worked out, but we still had a great time.

As we were finishing dinner, Simon decided that he really wanted to go ride the Aqua Duck, which was another goal of mine. I assumed his earlier confidence had a lot to do with that. So we bailed on our table (and discussions of roadside urination), changed to swimmies, and went up to deck 11. It's usually only a few boats to wait. We got up there, and Simon freaked out. With that freakout came puking all over me, and three places along the stairs. They had to close the ride temporarily as they sanitized it. We headed right to the poolside showers to de-barf. It was hard for me to not be angry, and it felt like a setback after the amazing day on the beach.

We ended our last evening by seeing Believe, which is a pretty good show (though the audio mix wasn't good at all this time). It was a fun weekend, even with the difficult start. I describe the ships as my happy place because I literally don't have to think about anything. I show up, get on the ship, and they tell me where to eat. I sleep better than ever at sea. I always feel more relaxed. I do think that Diana and I need to do one without our little guy... we could use a weekend like that.


Don't confuse cultural evolution with political correctness

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 6:33 PM | comments: 0

Simon has been really into watching the classic animated Peter Pan lately, which we borrowed from the library. I can't even tell you the last time I had seen it, but I was struck by how incredibly, well, racist it was. The stuff with the Indians is all based on pretty awful racial stereotypes. By today's standards, I think it's offensive. The issues of gender roles and sexism in the movie don't offend me that much, but again, it's a relic of a different time.

As art, and a reflection of the time it was made, I can hardly fault it as having malicious intent. It is what it is. I'd like to think that we've evolved since then, though clearly not everyone feels that way. People seem to confuse this evolution, where we stop devaluing people based on certain attributes, with political correctness, and I think that's a real issue.

I suspect most white people my age had that racist old grandparent, if not several, that would go on racist tirades at family gatherings. When you get older, you struggled with the idea that they're the product of their time, but that they should be smart enough to conclude that racism is not at all cool. Starting with the baby boomers, who lived through the worst of the civil rights era, you expect more from them. Yet, we have stories that make national headlines of a bunch of college kids engaging in racist chants on a bus. It's disappointing.

What's more infuriating is the idea that these changes are just political correctness. No. We don't use the "N word" because it's foul and represents the worst kind of hate our nation has ever engaged in. We don't call women "bitches" because we've spent most of human history treating women as the inferior sex, and that hast to stop. We don't say someone is "retarded" because it's cruel to demean people with mental disabilities. We don't call people "fag" or say something is "gay" because it's messed up to infer that homosexuals are lesser people.

We are evolving. That's not being PC.


Tesla buying experience

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 17, 2015, 8:00 PM | comments: 2

After the whole process of justifying the purchase of an electric sex space car, we started the process of actually buying a Tesla. As someone who is famously annoyed with (and secretly enjoys) traditional car sales, buying a Model S was more like buying something on Amazon.

The process starts with the design and options online. You can change exterior and interior color, wheels, trim packages and, of course, the battery size and drive train configurations. It's all pretty simple, and getting exactly what you want is just about the opposite of the typical car buying experience, where it's hard or impossible to score precisely what you want. Some of the options are of questionable value for the money, but it is what it is. You could conceivably get the price up to $140k. We certainly did not.

The introduction of the 70D and the release of the Model 3 being two years out were the things that motivated me. We did pearl white, the sun roof, leather seats, matte wood trim and the premium sound (for SiriusXM radio). Our range is 240 miles, which is more than enough to get between supercharger stations if we choose to do road trips.

Once you've settled on your design, you put down a deposit of $2,500 with your credit card. You have a week to modify the design or cancel and get your money back. After that, they commit it to the production queue. Within a week, they actually start making the car in Fremont, California, and it takes four or five days to build. Another day or two, and they put it on a train or series of trucks, depending on where you live. Order to delivery for us was six weeks.

From the time you order, the progress of the build and everything is available on the "My Tesla" site. You get to see your VIN before they even start building the car. You upload a picture of your drivers license, your insurance policy number, etc., so it's all on file and ready to go when your car arrives. You even make your final down payment online via an ACH transfer. It's all so seamless.

Meanwhile, they'll attempt to hook you up with financing if you require it, by working with partner banks. Naturally I watched various forums and rates, and it looked like I could pretty easily score a loan at 3% or lower for 72 months because we intended to put down as close to half as possible. (Our intention is to use the $7,500 tax rebate toward the loan to make it a more reasonable 60 months.) It just didn't seem like any of Tesla's partner banks would get the low rate, but surprisingly, Chase came through at 2.3%. They had another offer from another bank as well at a higher rate. I suppose it's possible that Chase simply knows my history, since our credit cards are there.

The trade situation was not ideal. In a "normal" car buy you end up having to dick around with getting what you want for your trade then what you want for the new car, with invisible forces at work (incentives and dealer rebates), and hope you're getting a good deal. Tesla is not in the business of used cars, so while they'll get the car appraised, at your house, no less, you're stuck with whatever bids come back from buyers. As I wrote previously, that didn't go well for a bunch of reasons, and I didn't get as much as I wanted. But I did sell it to a friend and I know she'll really enjoy the car.

The transportation took longer than Tesla expected, unfortunately, so we ended up getting the car about a week later than originally scheduled. Throughout the six weeks, a delivery specialist, local to the Orlando store, was there to take any questions and guide us through the process. It was a little weird that she wasn't actually there for the delivery, as she was off on that day, but I suppose that's fine.

When we arrived to pick up the car, it was sitting in the delivery room, washed up with a big red bow on top. I had to sign the loan contract and some Florida stuff, but that took not even five minutes. It was all ready when we go there. No waiting for the one and only guy who can process the financial bits, as you would in a regular dealer.

The DS walked us through the features of the car, which for me at least was largely a review, but it was still nice to have that thorough walkthrough. It's all very laid back and enthusiastic. It's not the vibe you get at a BMW dealer, for example. Tesla employees are all in jeans and there are no commissioned sales people. Once we were done, we were free to take our time and depart when we were ready. And a small bonus: They gave Simon a little Tesla T-shirt.

The delivery was a great experience, but we had the car only 24 hours before we had to park it in a garage for a cruise we had planned a long time ago. I had only one opportunity to launch it from a dead stop, but it was awesome and giggle worthy. I don't think that will get old. I'll write more after we've had it for awhile.

Oh, and by the way, if you're interested in ordering, use my referral code. You'll get a grand off, and I'll get a grand credit toward a future car.


Selling the Prius V

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 11, 2015, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

I have to say that (so far) the process of buying a Tesla has been one of the best buying experiences ever of anything, and that's for something that generally is miserable to buy. I'll write about that when it's all said and done. Unfortunately, selling the Prius V has been less fun.

Tesla sends a fancy appraiser out to your house (or work) if you want to trade in your car, and then they take the data and photos and put them out to wholesalers who will bid on the car. What I got back as an offer was about $5k less than the average retail asking price and $2k less than the Edmunds trade value. I went through a similar process with AutoTrader, and their offer was even less. I've learned that there are too many Prii sitting around, and that inventory does not help. Even new, their sales are a bit soft lately, presumably because people are bored with it, waiting for the 4th generation version, or not as interested in high fuel economy.

This frustrates the shit out of me. You don't negotiate the price for a Tesla, because frankly they're already six weeks back-ordered (though in real terms, it's more like two weeks from the time you order until they start building your car). Since the price is what it is, and they're not interested in being in the used car business, it's just not their scene. Private sale is a pain in the ass when you still owe on it, and I really didn't anticipate doing it so I didn't budget to pay it off first and early. (There's no way in hell we would have even considered a Tesla unless we could put major money down... I don't need a second mortgage-sized payment!) Fortunately, my best friend stepped in and offered to buy it, and everybody wins. I don't get as much as I wanted for it, but I also have the satisfaction of knowing that the owner will really like the car, and that some assholes won't turn around and make $5k off of it.

It was a really great car for us. We couldn't be happier with it. When our regular Prius was totalled on Christmas Eve 2011, the V was totally new. It was a little more expensive, had slightly lower fuel economy, and was absolutely cavernous inside. We weren't sure if it was worth the extra cost, but I'm glad we did it. The interior improved the things I didn't like about the previous one. It's fantastic for road trips. I think it's also kind of attractive.

The saddest thing is that it ends a string of six Toyotas I've owned going back to 1996. I'm really disappointed that, given their invention of the modern hybrid, they have completely blown off EV's as a part of their strategy. It's really strange that they're dicking around with hydrogen. Meanwhile, the German luxury car companies are taking electricity seriously, and GM is going a similar route. I've loved my Toyotas, but they're not going in a direction that I love.

Simon actually cried when we left the car, which was unexpected, and not totally understood. As my dear friend put it, it's an "open adoption," and he'll get to see it again. I'm bitter about not getting more for it (for which I'm partly to blame), but happy it's now in the hands of someone who will enjoy it the way we did.


Framing the debate on your life

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 8, 2015, 11:28 PM | comments: 0

I had a suboptimal morning. My morning walk went well enough, but after that I was having computer issues, Simon issues, a distaste for eating anything we had in the house, etc. After dinner, we went to the pool and met our neighbors there, and after that I enjoyed Ghirardelli brownies and listened to a lot of good music. And of course the nostalgia began flowing with the music.

The day contrasted the good and the bad. The memories triggered by the music brought similar waves of contrast. Good and bad times in college, difficult and amazing times in relationships, amazing times that I felt at home, others I felt I didn't belong.

If age has brought anything, it's the understanding that perspective is important to your sense of being and happiness. I don't know if anyone else would think so (and frankly, I don't give a shit), but I've had an amazing life thus far. I believe that because it's how I choose to frame the debate about whether or not it has been awesome.

Funny how life is about the choices you make, but even reflecting on the quality of your past (those suffering from clinical depression aside, of course), is the result of the perspective you choose. We can all frame the debate of our life in the way that we choose.


The 80's tapes

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 8, 2015, 11:03 PM | comments: 0

I've said many times that music has very much provided a soundtrack to my life. I can listen to certain songs or albums and be transported to a time I would otherwise not remember a lot of detail. It's particularly so of the music I listened to in high school and college.

My senior year of college, I worked for a commercial radio station on the weekends. Annoyingly, I spent three of those 10 hours running one of the countdown shows (sometimes it was American Top 40, other times Rick Dees). The resulting boredom gave me a chance to do other things, and one of those was to compile some 80's music mix tapes. Back in those days, the radio stations subscribed to a service that got the licenses to compile music into CD's. There were compilations that came out every couple of weeks with the current stuff, but they also had library discs that had the older stuff. This meant there was a gold mine of stuff from which to make a mix tape. (MP3's were a long way off at that point, let alone the automation that dominates radio today.)

Over a few weekends, I did some mix tapes on cassettes that were really the best of 80's radio. I still have those tapes somewhere, complete with neatly computer printed liner notes. I need to find those. When digital music became the norm, I started doing playlists, the modern version of the mix tape, but I don't have any that go beyond 1992. I want to see what I thought was really fantastic from those days and recreate those playlists. I often think of that era as a wasteland for popular music, but the truth is that there was some good stuff that was released in those days. I'm probably atypical of people my age, because most of my listening habits are restricted to new stuff, specifically the alt rock rotation. Then I hear something like Simple Minds' "Don't You" and I'm reminded of the gems from that era.

I wonder where those tapes are... I know they've moved all over the country with me.


Organize business to your strengths, not arbitrary ideals

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 8, 2015, 12:54 PM | comments: 0

This isn't about where I work, but in talking to a friend today, it's where a lot of people work. Managers have a funny way of showing up into an organization and changing the way that it's structured. The change is usually based on some ideal that they came up with that, in their minds, would lead to a more efficient and productive machine.

Most of the time, they're totally wrong.

I won't suggest that hierarchy is bad in an organization. That's kind of naive, and as organizations grow, there has to be some amount of structure. It can still be pretty flat at the low level, I think, and be more specific as you go up the chain. However, hierarchy is often used to enforce two things that seem obvious and necessary, but actually get in the way.

One, hierarchy assumes that people are motivated by moving up through it. This is a completely inaccurate view of humans. Some people contribute really well, and do not aspire to any form of leadership. That's OK, because they have value as individual contributors that you can count on.

Two, hierarchy assumes that there is parity between the roles and titles you've created to the actual skills of the people that you've hired. This too ignores the way that humans work. Most everyone is good at more than one thing, and their job satisfaction may be derived from doing those things. If you take one away to fill your arbitrary and ideal structure, you end up with less happy people. Less happy people do not contribute as strongly. This, by the way, includes people with strong leadership ability who also get in the weeds and do grunt work. Don't hold them back because of the structure you want to impose.

Don't get too hung up on an org chart at the lower levels. Those organizations should be fluid and adapt according to the people on the payroll.


Yes, it's true, we ordered a Tesla

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 7, 2015, 10:45 PM | comments: 0

It's probably not a huge secret or surprise to anyone that has seen me write about my fascination with electric cars that we did, in fact, order a Tesla Model S. A 70D, configuration, actually. There's a part of me that wanted to largely not tell anyone beyond my immediate social circles, because people make a lot of assumptions about you when you buy something expensive. In fact, the psychology around that is probably what kept me from pulling the trigger for as long as I did.

My motivation is for science, progress, innovation, and being the nerd that I am, a relatively minor gadget fetish. But before I get to who buys a Tesla, and for what reasons, let me make something clear. While I don't owe anyone an explanation, understand that we're not rich. What we are is careful about what we spend money on when it comes to larger things. By not buying too much house, giant TV's, expensive clothes and other things that generally don't matter, we're able to save the shit out of our pennies. And we saved a shit load of pennies for the last 18 months, even after the requisite retirement saving. My friends started enabling me when I said I was thinking about it, and their opinions about why buying this car was OK were sound. When I really did the math, writing a big check was admittedly a little scary, but the cash flow in the long run was not.

I'm not a car guy. When we moved to Seattle, the Toyota Corolla I was driving was six years old. I only sold that one because I was so intrigued by hybrids. I think real car guys are into cars for the engineering and interest in the machine and its power and performance, and I respect that. They aren't into cars for status. I think one of my issues with expensive cars is that some exist strictly for status, and they're douchey and pretentious. I see a Cadillac Escalade, optioned out, and I think, "What value does that 15 mpg piece of fancy shit add to the world?" It's symbolic of excess. Conversely, I see something like a BMW 7-series and I think, "That's a fine piece of engineering," but since I'm not a car guy, I would never buy one. Experiences not stuff, I would say.

Which brings me to the Tesla Model S. It's the company's second generation all-electric car, and the first mass-produced EV to do more than 200 miles on a charge. It's the next evolutionary step beyond the Nissan Leaf, in my opinion, which is range limited to around 80 miles, but quite honestly an extraordinary "just works" fantastic car that I've really grown to love. The Model S is also the car that will lead to the Model 3, an "affordable" car for people who are feeling the future. People buying Teslas, according to recent research, come from a broad spectrum of income ranges and professions. As one guy at the store put it to me, "You'd be surprised how many people come in wearing flip-flops."

I think I'm going to start an EV blog. I want to write about the experience of being all electric. It's pretty exciting. In case you haven't read my previous posts about the car, here are some of the reasons I'm into it, as a non-car guy who doesn't think it's a douchey car...

  • It really is the future. Electricity can be generated from renewables, and renewables will replace fossil fuels. It's inevitable, and the right thing to do. The battery problem is essentially solved, and capacity just keeps getting better. In fact, even with a "lowly" Leaf, it's solved for 98% of driving. I know this because I've lived it.
  • Electric is more fun to drive. Ever do an electric go-kart? It's like that, only on the road. Instant torque, leaving cars behind at a traffic light, never gets old. Even in a high-performance conventional car, that launch isn't the same. And the 70D does 0-60 in 5.2 seconds.
  • The technological leap is both amazing and frightening. It's a car that can be altered with software.
  • There are very few moving parts to the drivetrain(s), and there's a beautiful simplicity to that. I mean, the two motors (in the case of the 4WD models) are connected to the axles. How many parts move in a combustion engine?
  • Honestly, this car is something to be patriotic about. It's made by an American company run by an immigrant that is the first successful startup in decades in an industry that hasn't got much right in the last 30 years. It proves that we can still make tangible things.
  • Owning one makes you a part of something important. The Model S funds the R&D of the next generation.
  • Sometimes, stuff can be a part of your experiences. If you can afford experiences and stuff, well, why not?
  • We've learned that all of the scary things about where you plug in aren't important. Your "gas station" is your house, and you leave with a "full tank" every day.
  • Tesla has largely solved the distance driving problem with supercharger stations all over the country, and more and more are going up constantly. They're free, and on average not more than 170 miles apart. Since you can charge to 80% from empty in about 20 minutes, that's a solid arrangement.
  • Yeah, non-car guy will admit it... it sure is pretty.

Delivery is next week. Can't wait. So far the buying experience has been pretty great, though it's coming nearly a week late (due to delivery delays, not manufacturing).


GOP debate score card

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 6, 2015, 11:14 PM | comments: 1

The GOP presidential pool has been such a shitshow that I couldn't resist watching their first debate... and scoring it. But what to score? I'm generally dissatisfied with all of the vague and emotional (and usually divisive) nonsense they've been spouting, but equally annoyed with the stupid coverage by the news media.

So I started by scoring the candidates' answers and scoring them (or portions of them) in one of four ways: Specific, vague, emotional or off-topic/strawman. Whether or not I agree with them was irrelevant, I was looking for intent and content, the presence or not of a position. In some cases the questions themselves may have required an emotional answer, but only a few times. Here are the results:

 SpecificVagueEmotionalOff-topic/strawman
Donald Trump   1 7 2.5
Jeb Bush 5 3 1  
Scott Walker 1.5 2.5 5 0.5
Mike Huckabee 0.5 1 3 2
Ben Carson   1.5 3.5 1
Ted Cruz 0.25 0.5 5.25  
Marco Rubio 0.75 2.25 3.75 0.25
Rand Paul 2.5 2 1.5  
Chris Christie 3 0.5 2.5  
John Kasich 3 2.5   0.5

So I guess you could say that the winner was Jeb Bush. I was surprised that Kasich did as well as he did. Again, I don't agree with many of them on policy, especially how insistent they are increasing military spending. How do you talk about debt and budgets and think that's a good thing when we outspend the next whatever countries combined?

The next thing I had to score was the moderators. The banter in and out of the breaks was just cringe worthy, but the questions for the most part were actually pretty decent. What I did do is count the number of stupid questions, missed challenge opportunities, and challenges.

Moderator Stupid Questions Missed Challenges Challenges
Chris Wallace 1 0 4
Megyn Kelly 0 1 3
Bret Baier 0 1 0
Facebook 2 n/a n/a

The questions chosen from Facebook were not great.

Fresh off my viewing of The Newsroom, I couldn't help but count the mentions of the things that main character said have become representative of the GOP.

Ideological purity 8
compromise as weakness 8
a fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism 8
denying science 2
unmoved by facts 12
undeterred by new information 5
a hostile fear of progress 6
a demonization of education 1
a need to control women's bodies 6
severe xenophobia 17
tribal mentality 5
intolerance of dissent 11
a pathological hatred of US government 7

I think what bothers me about most of the GOP candidates, and I would in the general sense not count Bush, Kasich and Paul in this category, is that they're so fucking down on the country, and I'm tired of hearing that. The only thing that stands out to me as being particularly wrong with America is the asshats who are running it (or in this case, want to run it). Seriously, if you're buying into this bullshit, you're buying into fear. Fear is a powerful motivator, and they're using it to pander and get votes from the scared. You don't need them to protect you, you need them to show leadership.

We're more than a year from the election, and already it's a big disappointment. I'm not expecting much from the Democratic side either.


Watching Younger

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 5, 2015, 7:33 PM | comments: 0

TV Land had a show this year called Younger, which has fortunately been renewed. It stars Sutton Foster and a number of capable and hilarious actors (including Hillary Duff). We first learned about Foster when she did an amazing one-shot number about levers on Sesame Street a few years ago (seriously, one continuous Steadycam shot). She was on an ABC Family show called Bunheads that didn't last very long, but what we did see impressed us. We filled in the blanks to see she was a big star on Broadway. She's very charming, and kind of nerdy, and fun to watch.

In Younger, she plays a 40-year-old woman, recently divorced and empty-nesting, who can't reboot her career because no one will take her seriously after being out away from work for so long. So she fakes being 26, and she gets a job, a younger boyfriend, and hilarities ensue. The show is funny, sad and at times vulgar in exceptional ways. It's surprisingly well-written.

One of the things that resonates with me is the different ways we look at age. As a kid, I tended to gravitate toward adults, but starting in my late 20's, I often identified more with younger folks. I still roll like that, but also appreciate the wisdom and knowledge that comes with age. People of all ages can contribute to the world. The show both plays to and rejects the Millennial stereotypes.

Meh, whatever, I don't mean to overthink it. It's a funny ass show, excellent for binge watching.


Is real news really that impossible?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 5, 2015, 6:52 PM | comments: 0

Last night we finished watching season 1 of the HBO show The Newsroom. I totally loved it, not just because I'm a TV production nerd or guy with an unused journalism degree, but because it really stood for something (and the performances are amazing). I'll gush more about the show when we finish the series though. Right now I want to talk about reporting real news.

The first season takes place in 2012 at a fictitious cable news network. The evening anchor, played by Jeff Daniels, is a life-long Republican frustrated by two things. First, the GOP has been hijacked by the Tea Party into a nutty right-wing fundamentalist thing that is clearly hurting the country. Second, the news media indulges in the circus and never calls out the politicians for the shitshow that they've become. With his executive producer, they make it their mission to report facts, elevate the discussion and stop pandering to willfully ignorant people. The series starts with a bit of a meltdown he has when asked what makes America the best country in the world. (If you've never watched it, spend 8 minutes... it's a great reality check but there is an underlying hope that he conveys.)

That first season ends in a tear down of the Tea Party, based entirely on facts, and starting with the real reason behind voter ID laws. There are about a dozen things he uses to characterize what the GOP has become, and there's little question that it deals in facts. It makes you wonder, why doesn't anyone have the balls to do this? (Hint: Ratings, and it's a big piece of the story arc.) The closest thing we've seen to this over the years was John Stewart's The Daily Show, and that was supposed to be comedy.

Understand that I'm not suggesting that the Democrats are changing the world for the better either, but ask yourself: How does a president as mediocre as Obama get reelected? Obviously, he runs against a pool of candidates who have no policy positions and no plans, and are the very shitshow I described. The first season ends with the state of the GOP in 2012:

"Ideological purity, compromise as weakness, a fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism, denying science, unmoved by facts, undeterred by new information, a hostile fear of progress, a demonization of education, a need to control women's bodies, severe xenophobia, tribal mentality, intolerance of dissent, and a pathological hatred of US government."

No one calls them out for this. Why?

Ratings are certainly a part of the problem, but I've asked myself many times, why can't someone make a go of reporting facts and leave the bullshit behind? I'm sure there's a niche that could make a little money doing this, but I think the larger issue is that people aren't interested in hearing the facts.

If people really wanted this, I suspect it would be an end to "Facebook activism," politicians would all be far more centric than they are, and they would actually get something done.

Thinking it through, I always end up in the same place. We can blame the politicians, and the media that covers them, but ultimately the responsibility still lies with the people. Right now, the people choose nonsense. I pray that changes soon.


Double self-loathing parenting moment

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 1, 2015, 4:22 PM | comments: 0

They had some free half-hour starter lessons for various things at the arts center downtown this morning. We thought we would try Simon out in the piano lesson for young kids. He wasn't having it, partly because the instructor wanted to teach rhythm and singing, which Simon reacts to by covering his ears, but mostly because there was no actual touching the piano.

To see him react that way while the other kids engaged was, to say the very least, frustrating. Maybe I would even describe it more as heartbreaking, because it seems representative of the situations where he isn't wired to fit in, and I fear that's going to make his childhood more difficult. The next half-hour, Diana did a beginning violin lesson, and Simon was in that mode of defiance combined with his sensory issue induced hitting. This inevitably made me wish that he could be "more like other kids," which even thinking makes you feel like the shittiest parent ever. So first you feel like you can't provide for your kid by helping him when he's not behaving, and then you feel worse because you want him to be something different. It's a downward spiral of self-loathing.

In a more rational moment, I know I want him to just be him. He has a very cute personality much of the time, and he's generally able to be polite and kind, and his intelligence at times is just remarkable (especially his crazy ability to remember things like navigation). Simon, at his core, is a great kid, and of course I love him like crazy. There are just times where selfishly I want being his dad to be a lot easier.


Windows 10 mini-review

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 30, 2015, 9:46 PM | comments: 0

Windows 10 came out this week. Me doing a straight review on it is kind of silly, because who cares what I say? But there are some observations I'd like to make about it, if only because of my history with the products and Microsoft and such.

When I started at the company in 2009, Windows 7 was still in beta, but heavily used internally. It was wonderfully stable and cleaner than Vista. I left in 2011, and Windows 8 came along almost a year after that in part to spur touch screen hardware and tablets. I even jumped in and bought a Surface, which was cool, but not based on x86 processors, and therefore a weird bastard child of the ecosystem. That, and the OS forcing touchy stuff on desktopy stuff was totally rejected.

For me, I thought a lot of criticism was overblown. I mean, your Start menu essentially became full screen, but as a desktop user, so what? Were people really using touch apps anyway? I just assumed people were still using desktops for Office and the Web. I never used any "Metro" apps on the desktop. But sure enough, I scored an 8" Dell tablet in late 2013, and I totally understood Windows as a touch OS. It made sense, it was pretty good, and did I mention that little tablet was only $150? I still use it as my travel/read/consumption device. Heck, it was the smaller size that made me understand tablets period, as I always thought my iPad was too big for consumption activities.

Now, July 2015, Windows 10 is released. Despite a ridiculously long beta period, in public no less, I never really paid much attention beyond some of the developer events. I saw enough to understand that what they were doing was going to nail the one operating system that worked for both the desktop and tablets. And you know what? They really got it right.

I've got it installed in three places: A VM on my Mac (via Parallels), my Surface Pro 3, and that Dell Venue 8 Pro. The VM was a clean install that I'll use for development work. As strictly a desktop affair, the weirdness is gone and it works as expected in a desktop configuration. They did "move my cheese" in terms of some stuff, but it's super easy to find. In fact, the new notification center in particular is fantastic. I like it even better than the OS X version, because it includes notifications as well as the "quick access" stuff that used to crowd the task bar. It's actually borrowed from the phone OS.

The Surface is really a laptop masquerading as a tablet, but after having it more than a year, honestly I mostly use it as a laptop. It's amazing for travel because of it's lightness and thinness. It's just a little awkward to lap it. Still, this is where the OS tweaks are the most awesome. First off, the upgrade was fast and painless. When you yank off of the keyboard, it shifts into "tablet mode," where apps run full screen (or snapped so you can multitask), the start menu can go full-screen, and the virtual keyboard pops up as appropriate. It's very cool.

It was a pain in the ass to get the Dell to upgrade, maybe because there was so little free space on it. Then, today, the day after release, I learned that Microsoft put out an executable you could download to create installation media (like DVD's or USB drives), but it also facilitates a forced download and install, so I used that. Once it was done, and I turned on the full-screen start, it was like a very heavily tweaked version of Windows 8 as it appeared on tablets. It makes sense, and it runs incredibly well even on the sort-of-weak hardware. Probably the best feature is the Edge browser, which is a little snappier in Javascript-heavy web apps.

Overall, I dig it. It's a good release. I look forward to seeing what the last part of the equation is with the mobile version.


Weather depression

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 28, 2015, 5:48 PM | comments: 0

I know I've said it many times, that the struggle was real with seasonal affective disorder when I lived in Cleveland. It's why we didn't even last two years after moving back there. Even in Seattle it wasn't an issue, because despite the rainy winters, you could generally see the sun somewhere, at some elevation, most days.

We've had a weird series of days in the last week here in Orlando that have been Cleveland-like in their depression-inducing quality. Lots of rain coming from a flat, featureless gray sky. Combine it with some other frustration, something work related, or maybe Simon being difficult to manage, and I've been just spiraling down into a place where I blankly stare at HGTV to pass the time. I totally don't feel like myself, and it's pretty weird.

It's hard to say if it will continue, because the forecast in the summer always has rain. But usually it's the afternoon thunderstorm, with sun before and after (and sometimes during). I sure hope we get sunshine in the sunshine state soon.


Keeping the Seattle connection

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 25, 2015, 10:10 PM | comments: 0

One of our friends from Seattle was in town last week for a massive Microsoft (internal) conference, and we got to hang out a bit before and after. He was here with his family just a few months ago. It's fun to talk about Seattle and Microsoft and the old neighborhoods and such.

Moving to Seattle was a bit stressful, especially since at that point I had not really done any serious moving ever other than in high school. Plus the move involved a new job, a pregnant wife, selling two houses, and a completely unfamiliar part of the country. I don't think the stress really went down until Simon was born, and at that point, I was frankly too exhausted most of the time to be stressed.

But the thing that made it easier was having my brother-in-law and his family there, and our PEPS group. Having no social circle at all is rough, but here we had an instant pool of friends, all going through the same thing (new parenthood) at the same time. There were a lot of parties because of this, and it was pretty awesome. I missed that immediately when we moved back to Cleveland for that damn house. (Yes, I still can't let that go. I'm trying, honestly.)

We're still Facebook friends with most of those folks, fortunately, though it pains me that Simon hasn't been able to grow up with those kids, and especially his cousins. And talking about Microsoft makes me a bit nostalgic, too, especially with all of the change there in recent years. It has definitely turned a corner, and I do miss being a part of that.

The truth is that I don't imagine we would move back to Seattle unless The Perfect Job® came along, with relocation. We really like it here. Microsoft is probably off the table too, because they don't hire a ton of remote people, and I do like where I work now. Still, it's a beautiful place to live, filled with smart, wonderful people, and a pretty crazy technology scene. I miss it every day.

At this point, we've lived in Orange County longer than we did in King County, but it's socially a different animal. I was lucky enough to have my best friend living here, but beyond that the social circle has been slow growing. On the plus side, everyone visits eventually because of the theme parks, and it surprises me that a number of people from my very distributed circle of friends have moved here (friends in the broader theme park and related businesses). Changing jobs mid-way, since the first was contract, created a disruption for me, and with Diana only recently going back to work, it has been a slow build for her too. We've made some friends in the neighborhood after we moved, but one immediate neighbor moved, and now the other one is too. Hey, on the plus side, I already knew Orlando reasonably well, and it's pretty much a big grid with some lakes in the way, so it isn't hard to get around.

We haven't been out to Seattle since 2012, which is crazy. Well, I went back in spring 2013 for an interview (for a job that was so not a good fit), but that was just me. Next year we're planning to cruise out of Vancouver, but not sure if Seattle will be a part of that trip. I'm very excited that we're going to do a cruise with my bro-in-law's family. That will be super fun. I do look forward to seeing Mt. Rainier again, I just don't know when that will be.


The discouraging value of page views

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 21, 2015, 9:02 PM | comments: 0

The Verge recently posted an opinion piece that asserts that "The Mobile Web Sucks." It's a rant, to be sure, but it makes some points that I can identify with as a software developer. I think the core bit about the desktop web being awesome and the mobile web sucking (and fostering the app economy) is something I feel. The piece mentions advertising in passing, but it's part of the pain I feel as well.

Before it sounds all whiny, I started the sites first to share content. Then I kept going because it was the path that led to a career in software development. Heck, it's still the way that I keep current, because you rarely get to use the latest tech in your day job. At first I started to make money for fun via advertising, but as the sites got popular I made money to cover the ridiculous costs. I've written about it before, and costs have come down, and mostly I'm content to cover the costs and the stuff like computers, software and cameras that I use to build the stuff.

Still, what's discouraging is that traffic isn't worth what it used to be. Getting paid for what you do I suppose is a kind of validation, and it's especially cool when it's something you do in your spare time or as a hobby. It's hard to put a value on anything transmitted via electronic means these days, which might be the reason that so much of it is crap. The rise of shitty inventory created by sites like BuzzFeed and others cheapens it for everyone.

A part of me believes, and maybe I'm naive, that this is cyclical. The only evidence I have to back it up is that we saw dips in the mid oughts, again as recently as 2012. It's just that this dip seems particularly gross.

Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of what I've stayed with for 17 years now. I was at a wedding early this year where the common thread many of us had was the sites, and that was pretty cool. Trying to figure out ad-supported content as a business is something that I'm glad I don't have to do for a living, because I don't know how we innovate our way out of this declining value. Even if you cover a niche (which in our case, is probably smaller than it was 10 years ago), you're brought down by the larger Internet average.


Simon lost his first tooth

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 20, 2015, 7:12 PM | comments: 0

It finally happened today. Simon lost his first tooth. We don't know where it went. He was eating lunch, and because he ate so well, he earned a doughnut. When his face was full of chocolate, his mouth was down one tooth. I suppose he swallowed it.

The funny thing is, the doctors suggested that he would lose his baby teeth relatively early, because they came in so early, but I think he's kind of average so far. The closest comparison I can make is to his neighbor friend down the street, and hers is only loose, not gone yet.

I'm not going to get all misty, but it feels like this milestone came really quickly. I mean, maybe not, it seemed like potty training took forever, conversational speech took forever, all kinds of developmental stuff took forever (and some of it is still taking forever). But the thing that is the weirdest of all is that he won't be holding our hands in the theme parks, or asking us to lay down with him at bed time forever. He'll be driving in no time. As much as he can be a struggle at times, there's no question that we have to value this time with him. He's not going to get younger.


Where is my passion these days?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 19, 2015, 7:50 PM | comments: 0

I've noticed that in recent months I haven't had much desire to write. I started to wonder why, and had to ask myself what it is that I'm most passionate about. A month ago I even wrote that I was bored. Am I just lacking the fire lately?

Passion can be exhausting for sure. I look at various periods of my life where I just had so much mental energy into things that it was hard for me to put time into anything else. When I was coaching, for example, it was the thing that defined me to an extent. That level of passion makes you feel alive and it gives purpose to your movement. It also comes with some risk, because anything that you're that into is going to hurt like hell if it fails. Apply it to a failed relationship and you get what I'm saying.

I don't think that I'm particularly risk averse right now. I joke about the fake midlife crisis thing, but I am at a place in life where I do generally understand that we never know how many tomorrows we have.

I think I'm in a place of transition. My passion for some things isn't what it used to be, and it's shifting to other things. Combined with a reduction in available mental bandwidth by way of parenting, it doesn't feel like I'm "all in" on very many things. I'm definitely committed to moving around at least four miles every day, EV's are my new obsession, and I think about traveling quite a bit.