Reading the New York Times makes you smarter than reading Facebook

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Winning at all costs isn't worth it

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

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

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

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

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

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


My very favorite tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I would not have survived the 60's

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

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

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

Would I though?

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

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

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


Misogyny still isn't a deal breaker

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

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

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

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

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


The best car deal ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fear of a lack of self-awareness

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

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

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

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

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


Always be learning

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 6:46 PM | comments: 0

I've been trying to devote some energy lately to learning some new things in the world of software development. Prior to this job, I was working a ton on performance projects, and as such, I feel like the world of client-side development had evolved without me. Now I have an opportunity to jump in and try something I had evaluated for use in projects, but not been real hands-on with. This is what you do in your spare time in this line of work. As much as I didn't care for school, I love this about work.

I think that this might be an expectation that is largely missed by some folks. We've seen a subset of people who think, "I went to school, now pay me and give me a corner office." I don't see a lot of that in my work, since at least half didn't go to school for the work, if they attended college at all. But I do see it in a lot of other professions, especially in marketing and general business fields.

But think about everything from the blue collar trades to medicine: You have to keep learning to get better at what you do and stay current. I feel bad for people who don't like this arrangement, because it doesn't seem optional to me. I said in a recent talk about hiring that length of career is a surprisingly poor indicator of ability. Some people get into a spot and plateau, absent any requirement to learn or people to mentor them. Don't be those people. Enjoy the challenges that come with learning, and the joy of applying that learning to doing stuff.


A teachable moment

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 16, 2017, 3:04 PM | comments: 0

We made a quick stop into a store yesterday as a family, which is unusual because kids and stores are not generally a great combination. As we were walking into the store, Simon noticed an African-American bald woman ahead of us, and in a classic, no filter ASD sort of way, squealed as loud as possible, "What? Is that a boy or a girl?!" I was horrified. I knew right away that she heard him.

As we approached the door, she offered us a cart that was sitting there, then turned to address Simon and said, "I'm a girl!" At this point, I wasn't sure how this would play out, but I figured she was well within her right to let him have it even if it was what I would consider an autism-related comment. If he has to have those difficult moments, better now than later in life.

The woman explained that she spent many years as a second grade teacher, and her reaction was not one of anger at all, but rather one of understanding. Simon was embarrassed, but she explained that it was her choice to shave her head, that she liked how cool it felt in the summer. We also talked to him about how some people don't have a choice, with age and sometimes because of medicines that certain people have to take when they're sick.

All things considered, it was a teachable moment, and it was good.


My complicated relationship with Ohio

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 13, 2017, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

I flew up to Cincinnati yesterday for this morning's media preview of Kings Island's Mystic Timbers. It's always a little weird to go back to Ohio. I used to say that it's because "Ohio sucks," but that's not really true. It's a pretty solid state in some ways.

I left Ohio the first time in 2009, after going through the process of divorce, dating, and marrying someone else. I was about a year outside of a really solid two and a half years of career development, but lots of mediocre years before that. I was living in the same town where I went to high school. I went to college at a rural Division II school in Ohio, and I loathed the small town culture. Winter was intolerable. I moved back in part because of that damn house I couldn't sell. None of this is really Ohio's fault.

I think the more fair assessment was just that I was done with Ohio. I needed something else, and a change, and Ohio couldn't provide that. I definitely needed to get away from snow. There's also some level of regret about not exploring life a bit earlier outside of the state. That's not Ohio's fault either. I just associate the place with a less happy state, even though certainly I have decades of great memories there.

The thing I do love about coming back is catching up with all of the friends there. In fact, it's really the only serious negative about living in Central Florida, that I don't get to see those folks as often. The saying about taking the boy out of Ohio is probably true to an extent. I just wouldn't say that I miss it very much.


I give the same career advice over and over again

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 8, 2017, 5:57 PM | comments: 0

I spoke again this year at Orlando Code Camp, for two sessions. We had an amazing turnout again for arguably one of the best community driven education events anywhere. Again, I devoted one of my talks to professional development, specifically the process around hiring and getting hired. One of my bullet points was that, as a developer job candidate, most people simply aren't good enough to do the job that the employer needs. Indeed, we suffer from a massive skill deficiency in our line of work. The response from one gentleman, was not defensive, but awesome: "What do I do to be better?"

This is a question that has many answers, but I always come back to the same advice: Surround yourself with the best people possible. I honestly believe that this is the best way to improve your skills in most fields, but it carries extra weight in software development because of the qualities it shares with the blue collar trades. Mentoring is an important way to refine your abilities. I've found in my career that it's important not just in the early stages, where a lack of experience naturally means less ability, but also later, when you have to hire people to work for you. Suck it up and get people smarter than you, because they will contribute to your success.

Seek the best people, try hard to work with them.


House envy, again

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 3, 2017, 12:00 PM | comments: 1

What follows is kind of a ridiculous rant where I explore inner conflict and the ridiculousness that comes with having a lot of opportunity. It is not intended to take a position on anything, and it's mostly a brain dump so I can think about something else.

Last summer, I was quite enamored with my brother-in-law's new house near Seattle. The lot was up against some protected land full of evergreens, it was quiet, and the air... I can't really explain how the air is different up there, except to say it's better. I remember lying in the guest bed, windows open, and thinking, "This is amazing." However, the bigger thing is that they had a lot of room to spread out, and the room he had in his office in particular was fantastic.

Now my best friend and her husband are building a house near us, and I'm getting those feelings of envy again. They have the similar situation where there is room to spread out, and more office space. I'm not hung up here on status or appearances, for me this is the issue that I work at home and sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in a little. Also, Diana is squeezed into her sewing room with the long arm machine, and Simon's stuff is just spread out everywhere. It's not that we don't have enough room, it's that the distribution of it is all wrong. We have a loft area that we don't use and it seems like the patio and porch are poor uses of space. We also complain that the windows aren't large enough, or there aren't enough of them.

The problem is that no one builds houses that have the same amount of space but fewer rooms. I suppose as a family of three, maybe we're outliers, but we don't need so many damn rooms. More room to move around is what we would prefer. Thus the house envy.

Now, "they" say that you shouldn't spend more than 28-36% of your gross income on housing (mortgage, taxes and insurance). That sounds like good advice, though the numbers seem pretty arbitrary. If you make $50k a year, that isn't very much, and if you make a million a year, frankly most of your income is gravy. We spend just under 15%. In fact, our "discretionary" income, which is what's left after all the bills and 401k contributions, is about 27%. When we replace the electric space car with the more sensible one out late this year or next, we can get that up to 32%. I've worked very hard to enable the ability to vacation like it's our job, and that's why we take lots of cruises, do fun things locally and never have to think twice about getting Simon the therapy he needs. Moving to a giant new McMansion would reduce our happy cut down to 20%, which is still substantial-ish.

Part of me still feels the sting of the Cleveland house. A dozen years and nothing to show for it, and that sucked. I did decide, even while living in Seattle, that home ownership was no longer an investment, but rather a lifestyle choice. I don't think you should assume anything about whether or not you'll ever get back what you put into it. This is reasonably liberating thinking, provided that you never land in a negative equity situation. We're at 25% now, which is better than I ever was in my first house. So again, it's a question of lifestyle more than risk, to me. House values can't possibly continue as they are, but on the other hand, we're still looking at new construction well under $120/sq. ft., which is a far cry from the $200+ we saw in Seattle.

I guess the money situation doesn't scare me, and it doesn't even take into account future raises, Diana making money from her quilt empire and other variables. The stress of going through that process again would suck, not to mention selling the existing house. Adulting is hard, and these days I feel uncomfortable being so inwardly focused.


When in Florida, go to the beach

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 2, 2017, 1:17 PM | comments: 0

I liked going to the beach to some extent when I was a kid. We went typically while on camping trips, so it was usually to lakes in state parks. We'd spend a few hours there, I would often get a sunburn, and there would be a lot of pigging out on snacks. Ideally, there would be a nap before dinner back at the camper. I wouldn't describe it as something I looked forward to, but it was still fun.

In adulthood, I've not really spent any time at the beach. I got married on one, but that doesn't really count. I also burn easily. Then we took our first cruise in early 2013, and I was introduced to Disney's version of the beach on their private island, Castaway Cay. On our third cruise, we shared the cost of a cabana on that island, and it was the best beach day ever. It was about that time that Simon came around to liking the beach as well, getting past some sensory issues where he wouldn't even walk in the sand without shoes.

In December, we were in Delray Beach for my BFF's wedding. To get some exercise and kill a little time, we walked the mile or so down to the water. While Simon had seen the ocean at Castaway, he had never seen waves. This was an extraordinary discovery for him, and he loved it. We started to wonder aloud, why don't we go to the beach more? We live in Florida! About a week and change later, the day after Christmas, we went to the beach again.

It's about an hour and 40 to the Canaveral National Seashore, an hour and 20 to Cocoa Beach, two hours to Clearwater the other way. We have options. I'm all about supporting the National Parks, so we shelled out $40 for the Canaveral pass. It's an enormous, long beach, and if the timing is right for a rocket launch, even better. We're now equipped with a proper umbrella and chairs. We haven't figured out how to get the sand out of Simon's pants while on the beach, but we'll get there.


The ultimate immigrant story

posted by Jeff | Friday, March 31, 2017, 9:55 PM | comments: 0

Yesterday was a pretty cool day, because SpaceX managed to launch an orbital rocket for the second time. It's not obvious to everyone why this is a big deal, but it's not a stretch to compare it to the birth of commercial aviation. As a childhood space nerd that didn't understand all of the compromise and unfortunate complexity of the Space Shuttle program, I'm pretty excited about this. In a time where politics are dominated by lies, a lack of transparency and doubt about what America stands for, I'm pretty excited about this. As someone who sees the way forward for humanity as being rooted in science and technology, I'm pretty excited about this.

Under all of this is the story of Elon Musk, and if you know me at all, you know I'm a fan. I have a Tesla Model S in the garage, for which my coworkers tease me when I tell them that it's for science (as opposed to status). As long as Tesla follows through on their referral program, I'm going to have a Powerwall battery installed in my house (and we're contemplating solar). I've been out at Cape Canaveral for SpaceX launches. It's not that I have an arbitrary mancrush on Musk, it's just that everywhere he goes to be a modern day industrialist in the vein of Henry Ford, he's making something important and saving the world.

The haters will point out that all Elon Musk has succeeded in doing is create a car that you can't afford unless you make six figures a year, rockets that are for telecoms and NASA, and solar panels that are vaporware. But oh, ye of little faith... that's a half-truth. The cars have always been a way to prove the viability of EV's and to subsidize the development of the cheaper, economy-of-scale cars, and the Model 3 is coming. The rockets and the reuse means the reduced cost is about to become a reality. And the solar panels that look like roof tiles? They're going to start taking orders next month. Oh, and there's a good chance that they're not far off from being cheaper than a standard asphalt roof.

I'm not going to suggest that the results of these endeavors aren't the product of thousands of hard-working, smart people. But at the core of all of this innovation that will clearly benefit the world is a South African immigrant named Elon with lofty goals and extraordinary vision. I would encourage you to read his biography. His story is the American dream, through and through. Landing on our shores has led to the creation of billions of dollars in value to a number of companies and tens of thousands of jobs. And if that weren't enough, his vision for clean energy is quite literally changing the world. Tesla energy products are now powering entire islands, while EV's are reducing emissions and making driving safer than any time in history.

One of the minor lessons I've learned about hiring people, in a company that is mostly remote, is that I would be overlooking literally hundreds of good people if I limited my search to those geographically close. Our political climate now values fear of a few bad people over hope that a revolutionary innovator could make us stronger. This has to change. Our nation was founded by immigrants and their children, and the cliche may be that immigrants built the railroads, but I can tell you first-hand that they also built my neighborhood. We have to move beyond fear and embrace that people of all nationalities, ethnicities and religions make us stronger. This is our past, and it must be our future.


My video camera history, and 4K cameras are finally getting interesting

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 9:12 PM | comments: 0

Way back in 2006, I bought my first pro (or semi-pro... let's call it not cheap) video camera, the Panasonic HVX200. I should qualify that... I bought a lot of pro gear when it was my job, but that was six years before that. This was for me, on my own dime, because I had no one to answer to and I wanted it. It's crazy to think about what it was and what it could do, but the big problem then was that no other camera under $10k could record 1080p at 24 fps on solid state media. The old P2 storage the camera used was crazy expensive, and I spent about $8k on that camera. That's nuts. Still, I recorded some memorable stuff with that camera, and one of the last things was the Matt Ouimet interview that I did in 2012. It didn't have interchangeable lenses, but it was a great ENG camera for me.

Three years later, I picked up a Canon 7D, and while it was the camera I had in hand while documenting the early months of Simon's life, the ergonomics of it weren't great, and not having built-in neutral density filters is a drag (it continues to be the thing that separates "real" video cameras from SLR's, as far as I'm concerned). Still, it could make some pretty stuff that looked like film.

In 2012, I sold the HVX200 and bought Panasonic's AF100. What a difference, as that camera was less than $4k without a lens, and it records on cheap SD cards. In addition to slow motion animals, I've shot a bunch of roller coaster porn, a short talking heads doc about a roller coaster and even a goofy little music video that I shot all in one day, without worrying about the technical quality of it. I even sold a little video to a production company for a Discovery Channel doc. I can use my whole range of Canon lenses on it, with a somewhat cumbersome adapter that powers the iris. Ergonomically, it still leaves some things to be desired (especially when using Canon glass), and I've never made anything with it that I would call "art," but it has served me pretty well.

These days, I mostly shoot video on my Pixel phone, and sometimes on the Panasonic GF7 I bought two years ago (it shares a lens with the AF100). Heck, the phone can shoot 4K, though I've never tried because, seriously, it's a phone.

But I do get the itch now and then, even though I may never actually make the movie I've talked about making for a decade. (That's gonna make for some regrets, I'm sure.) There is a lot of interesting action now in the sub-$10k space with 4K cameras, which seems like the next logical step. Although, honestly it would be cool to even have Canon's "lowly" C100 cinema camera, because it's small, uses my lenses and is a proper video camera, even if it's "only" 1080p, vanilla HD. I saw those things everywhere at SXSW a few weeks ago. Canon makes the generally liked C300 Mark II that does 4K, but it's still $12k. The fans are hoping for something new at NAB this year, but it doesn't look likely to happen.

Sony has captured a lot of attention with their FS5, because it's flexible and small, and there are really good adapters to use with it for Canon lenses. It gets mixed reviews because of the Sony menu system and somewhat aggressive codecs, and you do need to buy the adapter to use the Canon stuff. Sony was the default for broadcast gear back in the day (their 3/4" tape machines were indestructible, and Betacam was the only ENG format that mattered), so it's good to see them getting some attention with attainable gear.

Blackmagic Design is stirring the pot again with their new URSA Mini Pro, a next generation camera that appears to correct many of the complaints of the previous Mini. It has lots of real switches and buttons and stuff! The reviews are generally very positive outside of the audio input knobs not being actual pots (they spin infinitely). The question many will have is about the pattern noise seen in many of their cameras. The base camera doesn't include a viewfinder or batteries, so fully configured (with your Canon lens natively connected), it's almost $9k, but given what it can do, that's pretty remarkable. It even comes with DaVinci Resolve, the color grading software.

I'm also surprised to see Panasonic delivering a new mirrorless camera, the GH5, that on paper appears to make extraordinary video. Sure, it's a smaller sensor (micro-4/3), and there are no ND filters (now I'm asking why electronic ND, like the one on the Sony FS5, isn't in these SLR's and mirrorless cameras posing as video cameras). They even have a pro audio attachment available. I look forward to seeing more test footage.

It's great to see these tools that can help make better stuff. The true video cameras are still better, mostly because experienced people do better work with them. (Please, for the love of all that's good, put ND on your SLR if you're gonna shoot video, otherwise everything you shoot has a high shutter speed and makes it look like a shitty Michael Bay movie.) More pixels is exciting, though I wish the low light sensitivity would come as fast as the pixels.


Why regulation of ISP's is justified, and why the GOP needs to crack a book

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 28, 2017, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

Today, Congress made it OK for ISP's to sniff your browsing history and sell that data as they please. The Twitterer-in-chief will likely sign the bill because he barely understands how the Internet works. It's clear that the GOP doesn't understand how the Internet works, and so they compare this to the kinds of things that Facebook and Google do (more on that in a moment). More importantly though, they don't understand why regulating ISP's is a justifiable thing in light of their absolute ideology of free markets.

Facebook and Google are able to track what you do by way of having ads and widgets ("like" buttons, analytics tracking, etc.) and things on the sites you visit. If you don't have accounts with either of those companies, then whatever they're doing is essentially an anonymous number associated with you visiting CoasterBuzz or where ever you waste time. If you do have an account with them, then they can put together a more composite profile associated with the real you, and they use that to serve you better advertising. Here's the thing though, they're reasonably transparent about this and allow you to opt-out. Facebook has instructions, and Google goes very deep and shows you the specific data points it has collected. Of course, you don't have to use their services at all, and at the end of the day, you can block any data going to them from your browser.

The tech-illiterate GOP thinks this is unfair, that the FCC had previously adopted rules that would prevent ISP's from doing similar tracking without you opting in. They argue that Google and Facebook shouldn't have all the fun. However, there are two problems with the legislation they just pushed through: There is no transparency or required opt-out mechanism, and ISP's are not something that you can simply switch. In fact, the vast majority of Americans don't have a choice at all in wired broadband providers.

The FCC has served in a somewhat unglamorous if important role in American history. Its regulation has been justified in decades of case law rooted in scarcity, which is the concept that a scarce resource like a broadcast license or a natural monopoly like a cable company should be regulated because of a matter-of-fact condition that prevents competition. The use of broadcast licenses were heavily regulated to serve the public trust, via the Fairness Doctrine and other rules, because over-the-air bandwidth is an extremely limited resource, and therefore considered "owned" by the people. You had to prove that you were serving the public when you had a broadcast license. Similarly, cable franchises were subjected to many restrictions and rate regulation, because the capital expense required to build a new system was extreme, causing a natural monopoly.

Deregulation, in the spirit of deregulating everything, has proven time and time again to be a toxic decision rooted in an ideological platform that doesn't allow for logical exceptions. In the case of broadcasting, it meant lifting ownership limits and relaxing local content expectations. That's why local radio is no longer local, and most of it is owned by iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel). Admittedly, this matters less now with the Internet, but the shit show of deregulation and consolidation started 15 years before this change came about. The industry I trained to work in became a disgrace.

Regulating ISP's, however, is more justified than ever. The natural monopoly is still a problem in most places, as I mentioned, while the wireless ISP (that's what the mobile companies really are), are still somewhat constrained by radio spectrum allotments, technology and the extraordinary capital investment required to build a network. If that weren't bad enough, these companies have merged with media companies (Comcast with NBCUniversal, Verizon with AOL and Yahoo). When there is little to no competition, logically it's valid that the government should have a place in regulating these services.

This is another reason why adhering to a strict ideology, devoid of any deeper understanding or thought, is bad for politics, and bad for consumers. Deregulating the banks clearly wasn't good for us, and the result made it worse with fewer, bigger banks. You'd think we would learn.


Leadership is knowing when you're wrong

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 28, 2017, 6:45 PM | comments: 0

I've written more than once about how I strongly believe that humility is a treasured quality in leadership, and indeed in life. Another important leadership quality is knowing when you're wrong. I suppose that one is even harder, because getting things wrong generally doesn't feel good.

This is a lesson that I'm still learning, because I grew up in a somewhat toxic environment where I wasn't allowed to be right about anything. In that sense, I feel like I've come full circle. I'm wrong about a lot of things, a lot of the time, and professionally, it's one of the reasons I do my best to surround myself with really smart people. If I can't be right all of the time, at least I can be right about hiring people who can correct my mistakes! It's the first thing that I can be confident about being right most of the time.

Politicians are obsessed with being right. If they're not right, that means that they're wrong, and that's perceived as a weakness by those that oppose them. And since people treat politics like a sports rivalry, they pile on, shout, "Go team!" and align themselves with one party and against another. There is a seriously damaging side effect of all this: Being wrong doesn't mean taking corrective action to these folks, it means doubling down and sticking to the wrong thing. Can you imagine doing that in your professional or personal life? It wouldn't get you anywhere.

One of my professional heroes, Matt Ouimet, the CEO of Cedar Fair, told a great story at the IAAPA trade show and conference a few years ago. When he took over the Disneyland Resort, he was doing a walk around the park with his staff, when he noticed a churro cart in front of the castle. He thought it seemed like a bad idea to have the cart there, in a place where thousands of people would take pictures, so he asked someone to make a note about moving it. Not long after that, a middle-manager asked to talk to him about the desire to move the cart, and he explained why he wanted it moved. She explained that it sold hundreds of units every day, worth a million dollars annually. They tried moving the cart off to the side and it made a fraction of the current sales. Needless to say, he was wrong, and the cart stayed put. As he put it, it's important to listen, and accept being wrong.

Leadership certainly requires vision and a stomach for risk, but when you're wrong, you're wrong. It's OK to be wrong. Suck it up, admit it, and do the right thing.


Poor financial decisions are not the exclusive domain of the poor

posted by Jeff | Sunday, March 26, 2017, 11:05 PM | comments: 0

Americans have an expectation problem when it comes to quality of life. I'm not exactly sure how we got here. I can say that when I was in my late 20's, I made all kinds of stupid decisions about how I spent money, and I still had a pretty good quality of life. It was the turn of the century, and that was a time where I made $40k a year and my previous wife made a little part time cash and a graduate assistant stipend. We had a nice apartment, ate out once a week, made frequent visits to amusement parks, had nice computers, spent lots of money on video games and DVD's (they were hot then), and maintained a healthy balance on our credit cards. We both had new economy cars, too.

Now I know that we didn't need to buy a lot of the crap that we did, and carry the credit card debt, but we still managed to not do anything colossally stupid that would have prevented doing the fun stuff. We didn't try to buy even $20k cars or buy a house until we had something worth putting down. The bottom line is that we lived within our means, mostly.

Somewhere along the way, our culture decided that this wasn't enough. People started buying more house than they could afford (and let's thank the banks and the feds for allowing them to borrow, that worked out really well in 2008). Bigger and more expensive cars were necessary. Eating out frequently, after filling our shelves with stuff we didn't need, became normal. Oh, and spending five years in college on loans and expecting a bachelor's degree to be a license to print money was a thing, too. If you can't achieve this by the age of 30, then it's not "fair" and the system is broken.

While I get that the working poor have a more legitimate case to make in terms of not being able to get by (though I'm convinced that my family of three could easily get by on $25k/year each parent living in Central Florida if we made certain concessions), it seems like some well-off people can't figure out how to manage their money either. Like this pile of dipshittery who "scrape by" on a half-million per year living in NYC. There are so many ridiculous items in their budget that I don't know where one starts.

Here's the thing... I know people who are perfectly content and happy selling stuff on Etsy and being artists. They spend and live appropriately for the amount of income that they can generate. Their expectations match the nature of their work and lifestyle. Why is this lost on people who can make ten times as much?

I remember first learning about budgets in grade six. I don't know when or if they still teach this stuff, but they should. Basic budgeting with expectations relative to the work you can perform shouldn't be that hard. I made $38k my first year as a professional (in 2017 dollars), and I felt rich. In fact, sharing a place to live, even with a "poor" grad student, that's exactly how I felt. Expectations are everything.


You can't afford my healthcare

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 25, 2017, 5:51 PM | comments: 0

Healthcare, and the cost of insuring people to have it, sure was the hot conversation last week. The effort to change the law failed, to my surprise, as a combination of not going far enough, and others saying they were looking out for their constituents. What do you know, governing really is more than just being an opposition.

The United States, as you know, spends more on healthcare per capita than any other nation, yet ranks 31st or 43rd in life expectancy, depending on whether you believe the World Health Organization or the United Nations. I'm not here to tell you that there are simple explanations or solutions to this problem, I'm just laying it out as it is. That anyone would be opposed to exploring the reasons or solutions despite these facts strikes me as absurd.

When it comes to politics, this is an area that I'm not even remotely centrist about. I strongly believe that given the extraordinary advancements in science and technology, there is no reason that every human shouldn't have access to proper healthcare. It's just the human thing to do. This is especially true for children, who have no choice about where they are born. I don't understand why wanting to care for other humans is something anyone is morally opposed to.

I was skeptical of the ACA for a lot of reasons, and was bothered by the individual mandate. I came around to that later because, logically, you can't reduce cost without including everyone in the risk pool. The only real flaw in that thinking is that it works better if it's the same risk pool, which is why it only reduced cost for a short time and only for certain insurers. But it did subsidize costs for a lot of people at certain incomes, which I think is a good thing, despite the cost. This is why replacing this subsidization with tax credits struck me as insane: A tax credit is useless if you don't make enough to pay enough taxes. The ACA is imperfect, given my position, only because it didn't go far enough, but the consumer protections should be non-negotiable going forward.

So let's talk about my healthcare. I want to bring this up because I do OK financially, as is the case for most people working in software. My out-of-pocket costs have ranged from about $2,000 per year to a little over $6,000 since I became a parent. There are only three of us. My portion of the insurance cost has ranged from zero (when I worked at Microsoft and they paid for all of it, in 2011) to almost $10k when I was a contractor. And keep in mind, I was looking for the sweet spot between deductible and cost. Most employers pay a portion of your premium, and if you have family, you have to pick up the rest. Ironically, this arrangement was the worst when I actually worked for a health insurance company.

Some of our costs are higher because we've paid quite a bit for therapies for Simon, to counter some of the developmental delays associated with ASD. I don't regret spending that money at all, because it made a difference for him. Yet I'm left wondering how that goes with someone working at $12 an hour. $6k out-of-pocket would be a fourth of their total income, and that's assuming that they're not already paying an enormous amount toward premiums. If they had a child with the same challenges as me, I doubt very much they would get the therapy that my kid did. To me, that's not OK.

I don't know if my healthcare requirements are typical, but it doesn't matter. They could be worse, and involve cancer, major disabilities, etc. The point is that it's largely out of our control, and it's troubling that 40 other countries that spend less have people living longer. As long as we continue to hide behind the ideologies of our red or blue sports teams and not have the conversation, people are going to go without the care that we are capable of giving, and I find that immoral.

I read an interesting op ed from one of the original investors in Amazon, a guy who has his own jet. He made the point that some level of income inequality is to be expected in a capitalist system, otherwise there would be no incentive to work hard. He also said that there's a point where inequality of all kinds, when they get extreme enough, lead to downfalls of governments and societies. History lacks even a single counter example. If he's right, then perhaps this is a good place to start. Healthy people are certainly more likely to contribute to society.