On moral equivalence and sports rivalry politics

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 18, 2017, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

It's been a rough week or two for these United States. We now have a president that believes that some self-described Nazis and white nationalists are good people. There aren't many things that I would consider completely morally non-ambiguous, but people who want to oppress and kill Jews and minorities (or anyone) are definitely not good people. There are still people willing to defend the president over these remarks, though it seems that most people, including the elite of his own party, will not.

For years, I've complained that many Americans engage in politics as if it were a sports rivalry. It's not particularly rational, and it certainly doesn't move us forward. I can't entirely explain why people devote their love to the Cleveland Browns, but as a Clevelander, I can in fact understand it. A sense of home and origin can bring people together. But political parties and absolute ideologies? Why would you commit to those? The idea that a group of people would all feel the same about quite literally thousands of issues is insane to me. What's worse, your commitment and sports rivalry approach now require you to dislike and work against the other side, regardless of whether or not they have good ideas. In some cases, you'll stick with your "team" even if the only thing they've got is "not what they want."

There is a deeper problem, though, in that sports rivalry politics also draw you into false moral equivalence. A common refrain from those who defend the president goes somewhere along the lines of, "But Obama!" (or Clinton, or Sanders, or anyone else identified as the opposing team). I'm not even going to get into the merits of whether or not there is moral equivalence here, because there is no objective score card that could ever make the case. But for the moment, let's say for the sake of argument that Obama, et al, are morally equivalent to Trump. You're making the argument that, for as bad as Trump is, someone else is just as bad, and therefore he deserves a pass. In what universe is that an OK position? Regardless of the depth of the flaws, you're accepting the flaws instead of demanding something better. Is that the bar to set for our elected officials?

In reality, there is no moral equivalence. Let me be clear... I'm not picking a team here. I might not agree with their policies, but I would sooner see any mainstream Republican, McCain, Kasich, Romney, Ryan, any of the Bushes in the Oval Office. Because while I may disagree with them, there is no moral equivalence between them and the man who sits there now (when he's not golfing, at least). The pre-election behavior, with the pussy grabbing and veteran insulting all should have been disqualifiers, and the pattern has not changed.

Driving EV's: You probably ask the wrong questions

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 13, 2017, 3:40 PM | comments: 1

As of today, we've been driving electric cars for two years straight. There are no tailpipes in our garage. I think I may take this arrangement for granted now, because if I put myself in the mindset of me even three years ago, I would not have guessed that this was possible, let alone our normal. That's why I probably need to cut people a break when they're still skeptical that driving EV's can be your everyday life.

We have a Tesla Model S and a Nissan Leaf, and while one costs more than twice what the other did at the time, the experience is remarkably similar. Have you ever driven an indoor electric go-kart? It's hard to get used to the insane amount of torque those things have, but that's what an EV is like. If you're sitting at a traffic light and you blast it when the light turns green, you'll be well into the next block before the car next to you has finished crossing the intersection. If you're in the Leaf, yeah, the other car may catch you, but this always available torque, and the precision that comes with it, is the joy of driving an EV.

The questions that people ask aren't really the right questions. It's different enough from driving gasoline cars that I think people overlook that you just operate differently.

"How long does it take to charge?"
Let me ask you this: Do you know how long it takes your phone to charge? Probably not, because you plug it in before you go to bed and it's charged when you wake up. This is exactly what you do with your electric car. Imagine if you started every day with a "full tank," because it's like that. You don't typically fill your tank every day, but with an EV, you've got the range you need every morning.

To answer the question, we charge the Leaf on a standard 110v outlet, which adds about 5 miles per hour. It's pretty slow, but our typical day of use involves at most 80 miles, so if you're in by 5, you're good by 8 the next morning. The Model S charges on a 240v/40a line at about 30-ish miles per hour. At a Tesla Supercharger, you can put on at least half of the electrons in 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the state of charge (like a laptop or phone, it's slower when near empty or full). And the charging rate isn't really the right question either... if you're doing road trips, the correct question is, "How long do I have to charge before I can go to the next stop?" In practice, we've been in the 20 to 30 minute range, though stopping for food almost always goes longer anyway. When the app says we've got enough to get to the next charger, we go.

"Where do you charge?"
Home. People get really hung up on the presence of public charging (or lack thereof). I don't remember what the research says, but it was something around Americans averaging 30 miles of driving per day, and the distribution of those that exceeded 200 miles in a day, as a percentage of all people on all days, was less than 1%. In other words, if you've got an EV that can do 200 miles, and you have a garage, you likely won't need public charging ever. OK, it's unlikely at least. I can count the number of times on one hand over three years that we've needed public charging with the Leaf, which only has a range of 80-ish miles. The Model S can use the Tesla Supercharger network.

Even if range and charging was a serious challenge, the fact is that I'd roll with it and rent a gasoline car for the rare instances I need one. I admit, the older EV's are limited, but the only problem with the Tesla is cost, something mitigated with the Model 3. Long-range EV's have gone from $80k to $35k in two years.

Tesla definitely has an advantage here, as they've created this great network of chargers, and they're expanding it in a big way this year. We've used 14 different locations (see map below), and it has not changed our road trip behavior in any way other than having to plan a little about where we would stop. I've never been a car guy, but it has been a lot of fun to meet people at Superchargers and talk about their road tripping experiences.

"What if you run out of power?"
What if you run out of gas? I don't even understand this question.

"What about if you're stuck in traffic?"
You'll last a lot longer than you will in a gasoline car, because you're not having an engine idling the whole time. You'll use juice for the AC, but that's relatively efficient.

"When do you have to replace the battery?"
Probably never. Now that EV's have been around for awhile, and put through some extraordinary miles, it looks like they last a really long time. Of course they will degrade some, but it looks like it's fairly inconsequential unless you have a "bad" one. Tesla warrants their batteries for 8 years and unlimited miles, and I've never owned a car for eight years. I'm not particularly worried about it.

"Good luck finding a mechanic."
I don't understand this sentiment either. Dealers train their people because the manufacturers require it. In the case of Tesla, they don't operate maintenance as a profit center. Still, EV's have exponentially fewer parts to break. They don't have transmissions or pistons. They don't need oil changes. Heck, the brakes last "forever" because much of the stopping power is handled by the motor, recovering energy when you pull your foot off of the gas. Even if getting maintenance was an issue, EV's don't need much to begin with. With 50k miles between our cars, we've changed the wiper blades. The brakes are barely used.

"Green? Doesn't your electricity come from oil or coal?"
There's an enduring myth that driving an EV is environmentally pointless if the power is generated by fossil fuel burning plants. This just ain't true. The EPA says the average carbon footprint of driving a combustion engine car one mile is 411g of CO2. Generating a single kWh of electricity from a coal plant generates about 900g of CO2. So using our numbers below, the Leaf at 4 miles per kWh costs 225g, and the Model S at 3.5 miles per kWh costs 257g. Already, we're at a 38% reduction assuming it's 100% coal generated electrons. Natural gas generates on average 465g of CO2 per kWh, so now we're at 116g for the Leaf and 132g for the Model S, a reduction of 72% and 68%, respectively, compared to burning gas. That's a massive difference.

And by the way, this is assuming that the power is all coming from fossil fuels. When some or most of it comes from nuclear, the carbon footprint goes even lower, and when it's from renewables, it's about as clean as it gets. We're hoping to install solar at house in the next year, and at that point our cars are powered by the sun. Not only does economy of scale allow for less carbon emission via traditional generation methods, it sets us up for zero.

"Yeah, the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process..."
This myth has been debunked countless times. Yes, the raw materials inside of an EV have a carbon cost, just as those do in a conventional car. Even if they were just as high (they're not, depending on who makes the battery), you've still got a lifetime of non-emission that would more than make up for it many times over. 

"I bet your electric bill sucks."
Not at all. My "gas" is regulated because electric utilities are regulated, so we spend around 13 cents per kWh, and that's more or less a fixed cost. The Leaf can do 4 miles per kWh, the Model S more like 3.5, but it depends on how much is on the highway. That means, worst case, the Model S costs 3.7 cents per mile to drive. If you drive a Toyota Corolla pushing 35 mpg and gas is $2/gallon, you're spending 5.7 cents per mile. A big SUV getting, at best, 15 mpg, will cost you 13 cents per mile. When gas goes back up to $4/gallon, and it will, double those numbers.

"EV's are too expensive."
This has been valid criticism for a long time, but consider this: Most hybrid cars with batteries cost very little more than their non-hybrid counterparts. Pure plug-in long-range EV's were $80k two years ago, now they start around $35k. This won't be a valid argument against electric vehicles for very long.

Electric vehicles are the future. There's no getting around it. It's not even an environmental issue, it just makes more sense, and it's a far more convenient way to drive. We won't go back.


All of the places we've used a Tesla Supercharger. Range is not an issue.

I find your lack of empathy disturbing

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 13, 2017, 10:38 AM | comments: 0

If you've seen the Internets in the last few days, you may have heard that this dude at Google got fired for writing a very long piece about how diversity efforts at the company are ill-conceived because women suffer from "neuroticism" and other apparent personality defects, and maybe that's why there aren't as many women writing code or working in technology. Certainly there is cause to talk about the absurdity of using "science" to make this case, and also the general morality of how humans treat other humans against logic, science, religion and other dimensions of our existence. We could talk about the need to pursue diversity, too. I'm not a good candidate for talking about those areas, because I'm pretty inflexible when it comes to people who disqualify subsets of humanity for anything, really. I've never been very good at finding empathy for that scenario.

So let me talk about empathy, and the single hardest thing I've had to work on in my ongoing journey as a developing human being.

My junior year of college, I was an RA on a floor with an openly gay freshman. I don't know if that's unusual today, but in 1993 at a rural Midwest school, honestly I felt like his safety was at risk. At some point, some people vandalized his door with all kinds of homophobic slurs, and I called a floor meeting. I laid into the residents with a fury of anger, with no regard to how anyone may take it. In retrospect, the vandal may not have even been on my floor. I lost half of the floor that day, because I had no regard for how people would take being accused of something they likely didn't do.

A few years later, in my first "real" job after college, I learned about a lack of empathy on the other end. I was almost three years in when I made a pitch for a raise, based on the salary of my peers in neighboring communities and national averages. As a government operation, I answered to a committee of people, one of whom was a teacher. His response was that we all made choices, being a teacher was hard, and I had to live with my own choices. Shortly thereafter, the high school principal explained that she didn't care for my strategic direction or desire to ethically shield the department from the politicians. That was fine, except that she said the root of the issue was that she saw me as one of her students. (I was 26.) These interactions clearly had no empathy, and the fact that I had hired someone myself made me more sensitive to the idea that you have to exercise empathy with your people or the good ones will leave.

I wish I could say that empathy was always at the top of my list for me in dealing with others going forward, but it was not. Nowhere was this more obvious than countless mistakes made while coaching volleyball. I realize that trying to manage and be considerate of the feelings of a dozen teenagers is potentially impossible, but sometimes it wasn't even on my radar, and I'm thankful that some of those "kids" even still talk to me.

It didn't end there. My empathetic score card wasn't great in my first marriage, and it's super hard with a kid who is wired a little differently.

Why is empathy so important? Because your words matter. We all have different experiences, and we need to be self-aware of how our words affect others. This isn't about being politically correct, because that term has been co-opted by people looking for an enemy, when originally it just meant not being an asshole toward your fellow humans.

I can leave a little room for the idea that the ex-Google dude really believed he was making a scientific argument, but if he really wanted to discuss the pros and cons of diversity in the workplace, he made the absolute worst case for even having that discussion.

First Florida stuff

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 9, 2017, 9:57 PM | comments: 0

One of the guys on my team officially became a Florida resident this week, moving from Oklahoma City. Today for lunch I brought him to Tijuana Flats, a chain that's confined to Florida. It made me kind of nostalgic for the time when we moved. It felt like there were so many adventures to have.

Four years later, we're still having adventures. Most of it isn't particularly exotic, because this is where people come to vacation. The theme parks are of course a huge part of our leisure time, and we still don't take that for granted. Most people visit at best every few years, and we enjoy it just because we can. The local, non-tourist scene has exceeded our expectations in every way, with a wonderful downtown area and mini-downtowns in the suburbs with restaurants and theaters and county parks. We have two amazing coast lines full of beaches on the Gulf and the Atlantic. If life is uninteresting here, you're doing it wrong.

Coincidentally, my coworker lived in the Pacific Northwest for awhile as well. We agree that summers out there are a huge win, but living in two places like that would be really hard when the biggest negative there is the cost of housing. I still think that Seattle is objectively "better" than Central Florida, but the pros and cons are pretty straight forward. Cost of housing is so high out there, winter is very wet and the closest serious theme parks are in California. It's not very "pretty" here, but winter is amazing and houses are stupid cheap. It's a strange feeling, missing another place but not so much that you want to leave where you are.

Those firsts when we moved here four years ago set the tone for some really great living. Life has been challenging at times, but the challenges are definitely not a symptom of where we live. Definitely one of our better decisions.

We're taking a grown up vacation

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 6, 2017, 1:54 PM | comments: 0

We recently broke the news to Simon that we were going to take a short cruise without him. I expected tears, but in explaining he'd be saying with my BFF and her husband, it was instant celebration.

This is the first time the two of us will take an overnight trip away since, I believe, the work holiday party in December, 2015. Before that, Jeff & David's wedding in January 2015. That's really bad. We do have a regular date night cadence during the Broadway season, but that's just once a month over the course of 8 shows. Otherwise, we don't get out together, alone, very much, and that's bad.

In terms of vacations, we always felt that we could and should travel with Simon. We went on a road trip with him when he was two months old, and his first flight was at five months. His first trip to Orlando was at 10 months (a few years before we moved there). He generally can travel like a pro. That said, there have been some times in the last year or so where we frankly could have used time separate of him. Last year on the Alaska trip, there were a few instances where he was uncooperative and unpleasant. He was mostly OK on our last cruise, but I felt kind of resentful toward him that we couldn't do some of the grown up stuff.

Perhaps it's the approach of midlife, but I am acutely aware of mortality and the passage of time. I don't know how many days we have left, but I can be sure that Simon won't be young forever. He'll never be 7 again. Also, we'll never be "young" again either, and because we had such a late start at marriage and procreation, we had very little "us only" time. We don't get a lot of exclusive couple time. These two things are kind of at war with each other, because outside of work, there are only so many hours left in the day.

Regardless, married time is in short supply, and it bothers me. This is obviously self-inflicted pain. We don't prioritize us enough. Having a child will do that, I guess, and when we're constantly thinking about ASD coping, anti-anxiety meds, therapy... there aren't a lot of brain cycles left. I'm hoping that this short cruise will be the thing that sets us on a new pattern of balancing things out.

We have a new high school

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 2, 2017, 8:32 PM | comments: 1

The new Windermere High School had an open house tonight. As long as we stay put, this will be Simon's school eight years from now. It is desperately needed, because before being named, it was known as "West Orange Relief High School." West Orange has something like 4,000 kids.

(Sidebar: Interestingly, no one who actually lives in Windermere will go to this school. However, a lot of people who live in the zip code but not the municipality think they live there because people don't have any idea what "unincorporated Orange County" is. I don't know how they manage to vote or pay taxes. Sorry, but if Shaq isn't your neighbor, you don't live in Windermere.)

This new school is gigantic, though something like a fourth of it won't be used this year because kids who are seniors will mostly remain at West Orange. My high school was a typical cinder block thing built in stages from the late 60's to early 80's, but it had a vague warmth to it, I suppose because of the paint colors and some 70's green and 80's blue carpet in places. This building, on the inside, is strikingly utilitarian and cold. I might even call it depressing. No joke, they have stainless steel tables in the cafeteria that look straight out of a prison catalog.

I hate giant schools. I had 500 in my graduating class, and that was too big in some ways. The problem with big schools, and they're all big down here because they don't coincide with small municipalities and districts the way they do in Ohio, is that fewer kids get to have some of the opportunities. When I coached JO volleyball, my kids often came from a dozen different schools all on the far west side of Cleveland. There are only 20 high schools in OC total, and the county is massive. Cuyahoga County alone has more than 80 schools, and with the surrounding counties and Akron you likely double that. More kids play sports, get to be in band, show choir, clubs, etc.

I'm not suggesting that kids here don't get a solid education. They're all rated fairly well in the places where average incomes are high. I just think that high school is already a difficult time for people, so it would be nice if they were able to do more stuff.

The newest elementary school will probably not be built before Simon is done, but his was new last year, so that's OK. My hope is that the middle school is finished before he gets there in four years, because the one in our zone is also insanely overcrowded.

Interestingly, the schools here in Florida don't have to wait to pass a bond issue to build, as they do in the broken system in Ohio. They're still required to build to the eventual leveled off capacity, however, so most open with trailers. This high school took longer to start because of politics and fights with the county zoning board being pressured by assholes who really believe they live in a "rural" neighborhood. As it is, they won the fight to put the football stadium down the street, which is lame.

So here's to the Windermere Wolverines. Please make our kids read good and stuff.

Keeping your company culture

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 30, 2017, 10:27 PM | comments: 0

Last week was a pretty good one at work. Well, it was way busier than I'd like, but the quality of the work was pretty great. We started the week with an all-day morale event at the Orlando Eye and then Dave & Busters. Our company roster is at 11, which is small, but it was half that size a year ago. It's really exciting to be there at this stage in its growth. It was the first time we had everyone in the same room since I started, since we're remote and distributed.

I've worked for a number of small companies (under 20 people), and they've all ended poorly. What's different this time? It's actually pretty straight forward. We stick to having A-players, first of all. There is a relentless emphasis on self-awareness and improvement. Strategic execution is something we always look at. Maybe most importantly, our customers are quite literally integrated into our company, which is unique.

Certainly we'll keep getting bigger over time, and keeping the culture we have will be challenging, but no less important. I've been in a number of companies that have head counts over or around 100, and those seem to be the sweet spot. What I find surprising though is that even a giant company like Microsoft can have great culture in its subdivisions. I think that's why I'm having fun in this job... I get to be part of the guiding force to create this environment. I've never had this much opportunity to flex my coaching muscles.

Book review: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 30, 2017, 9:51 PM | comments: 0

After seeing the author on a late night show, I bought Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny as a Kindle book for all of four bucks. It's a really short read. The book uses history to draw parallels between the election of Donald Trump (without ever referring to him by name) to the crumble of other democracies in the last century. The biggest example is of course the story of Nazi Germany, but also the rise of Putin and undermining of western cooperation in France and the UK.

I like the idea of using history to define potentially harmful politics, because it is fairly objective. History is history. If you put aside the fascism and nationalism of the current administration, the book is a concise history of how people were complacent enough to give up liberties and install evil regimes. I find that kind of thing interesting, because they don't cover that in high school history, for sure. I've always wondered how Hitler could become a thing.

The point of the book is that complacency and non-participation in government allows bad people to seize power and destroy democracy, and the historical record shows why. That said, there's a risk in drawing parallels between Nazism and Trumpism (if that's a thing) for a few reasons. For one, I think that most everyone alive is disconnected from history, so the comparisons may feel like hyperbole. Also, given the general disregard for truth, you probably can't change any minds that don't care about reality. Still, the techniques for fascists to seize power are pretty easy to identify throughout history, and we are in fact seeing those techniques being used today. It's not fantasy.

I think Snyder makes great points about what we, culturally, are getting wrong, and how to be responsible and patriotic citizens. He seems a bit down on the Internet as a wasteland of propaganda, but I think he disregards the opportunity that it also makes available. No sooner does he make that point that he says people only get out of politics and learning what they put in to it. So if all you do is read without regard to what's real, you haven't invested anything. You've taken the lazy way out. That hardly seems like a phenomenon exclusive to the Internet.

It's a quick read, and it's $4, and I liked it simply for the historical context. The caution of complacency, that "this can't happen in America," is a worthy story. I'm sure some people will look at it as lefty propaganda, but again, history is history, whether you believe it or not.

The problem with Obamacare is Obama

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 29, 2017, 11:04 PM | comments: 0

It's been a nutty week in Congress, as the GOP continues to be obsessed with Obama, six months after he left office. But while I'll get into the politics of the Affordable Care Act in a moment, I think it's worth talking about its effects in real terms, outside of the effort to repeal the law.

Let's first be clear about the problem with healthcare in the United States: Healthcare is dependent on insurance, which is dependent on full-time employment. Premiums have outpaced inflation, and overall, the US per capita spending on healthcare and insurance is 17% of GDP, higher than any other nation. This, despite the fact that we rank around 40th in terms of life expectancy, a sort of proxy to quality of healthcare.

That Obamacare is a disaster is a drumbeat we've heard now for seven years, and it was a key tenant of the GOP candidate campaigns last year. But is it? The numbers suggest that the rise in healthcare costs has stabilized to align with inflation. Healthcare costs were up 1.2% in 2016, same as inflation. Having nearly everyone in "the system" does align with the theory that it reduces cost. At no time in history were so few people covered with insurance, and the consumer protections, particularly around pre-existing conditions and parent sponsored coverage have been huge. On the other hand, the law has arguably also made non-subsidized plans for individuals more expensive or simply harder to get (I had this issue when we moved in 2013, because my plan was no longer written in FL). Many insurance companies have pulled out of many markets for individual coverage because it's not profitable. There are a lot of market segments that don't work well under the new system.

So the long and short of it is that it's, at best, imperfect legislation, but more people have coverage than ever before. That said, the CBO has indicated an increase in premiums over time with or without Obamacare, but worse without it. Also, within a decade, 30+ million people would not be covered at all, which certainly drives up the cost of healthcare since in most states, providers are required to provide care without regard to ability to pay, and it has to be paid for somehow. All of the plans presented by Congress in the last few weeks result in higher premiums.

The politics seem pretty clear to me: The GOP has had seven years to come up with a better plan, but all they have is repealing what the black guy with the funny name championed seven years ago. That isn't leadership. It's a huge missed opportunity. Voters aren't interested in inflexible ideology, they're interested in easily available healthcare that won't risk bankruptcy. The moral reality is that we don't get to choose much of our health. We can't control if we are prone to cancer, depression, chronic disease, etc., but our ability to deal with it is tied solely to our ability to have good jobs with good health plans. The worst part of that is that it makes us risk averse, which isn't good for the "job creation" that comes with entrepreneurship.

I probably sound like a Republican when I talk about wealth inequality and higher education, but when it comes to healthcare, I think "the system" is hopelessly broken and immoral. It doesn't help that I worked for a health insurance company for a year, and saw the inefficiency of it first hand. I think the overhead introduced by the system of insurance companies is the problem. Think about it... last time you were at a doctor's office, how many people there weren't the doctor or nurses? On my last visit, I observed my doctor, two nurses and three front-office people, and that was inside a hospital system that likely had countless people dedicated to billing. If there was only one place to bill to, it would be vastly simplified. I am all for a single-payer system.

That said, if my idea isn't universally palatable, I get that. The opposite extreme, of saying "fuck it" because they don't want to acknowledge anything good about a law that came from an administration from the other side, is not acceptable. Just don't call it "Obamacare." The ACA is absolutely flawed, but to repeal it just because it wasn't your idea is so universally stupid and lazy that it doesn't move us forward. The GOP defectors in voting against the repeal were right, because the goal isn't supposed to be "the opposite of anything Obama was for," it should be to make sure people get healthcare. Giving them tax credits when they're poor does not achieve that.

Tesla Model 3 hysteria starts now

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 29, 2017, 7:59 PM | comments: 0

Last night, Tesla delivered its first Model 3 cars, marking the start of production for the new car. They also revealed the stats, and while it's supposed to be a "less luxury" car compared to the Model S, it's still a pretty great car for the money. It's the car we would have waited for if we didn't have to wait so long.

So our number comes up before the end of the year, which is way sooner than I expected. That isn't a bad thing though. The way I largely justified building a bigger house was by thinking we'd trade the Model S by the middle of next year for a 3, so having it come in close proximity to the new house is actually fantastic. I love the Model S, and I never loved a car before. But whatever justification I had for buying it two years ago, I definitely would rather not have the car payment, even "for science," as I'm known for saying. It doesn't create a hardship, but man, it just feels like putting that money toward something else, even if it was just saving it, seems like a better idea. Putting some of it toward the place I spend most of my time definitely seems like an improvement. We've actually got a little equity in the car. They depreciate a lot, but not as much relative to most other cars.

I'm excited about the Model 3 not because it's cheaper, but because it's smaller. This one is a foot shorter and 10 inches less wide. Again, the Model S is a great car, but it's way too big for my tastes. We'll get more range (because only the long range version is available at first), though 240 miles of range has yet to be an issue for us after driving all over the east coast. It will actually gave slightly faster acceleration compared to our 70D. We'll also get this order in before the $7,500 federal tax credit runs out for Tesla. We'll roll that money back into solar next year.

This is it... I think this is the point where EV's get super real. They have confirmed that total number of reservations is now over a half-million. That's not a niche, that's pretty mainstream for a car that is expected to average $42k in final cost. After two years of being an all-EV family, I can assure you that there are no compromises made by having electric cars.

Explaining Donald Trump to your young child

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 27, 2017, 7:42 PM | comments: 0

Much of the world seems intent on spreading dicketry and hate, which is another challenge on top of the usual pile of parenting bliss we all have to deal with. In some ways, we're lucky that Simon lives in a place where he's exposed to diversity. The kids he goes to school with follow different religions, have different color skin and many speak different languages. We're also careful to make sure that he's respectful of all people that he encounters, whether it's the guy selling our house or the one cutting the grass. We're trying hard to make sure that he understands the importance of kindness and giving.

Inevitably, he sees Donald Trump on TV, shouting at people or calling them names, and on one occasion even mentioned, "He's not being nice." I really started to think about this after the bizarre scene with the president and the Boy Scouts, which disturbingly looked like a white power rally. The scouts have rightfully taken a lot of heat the last few years over discriminatory policy, but they have since put their house in order. Now they're exposed to a narcissistic, partisan tirade by a sitting president instead of a pep talk about the values of leadership and contributing to the world. As the Twitterer-in-chief would say, "Sad!" And that was only one of many shit-shows this week, and it's only Thursday.

This is why Trump is different. It's hardly a secret that I was no fan of George W. Bush, because his foreign and economic policy was a disaster. That's not even my opinion, really, because the outcomes were pretty clear. But no matter how much I may have disagreed with his policy, at no time would I prevent my offspring from seeing him in person or on TV. I would have jumped at the chance to see him speak in person, and I still would. (Still haven't seen a president, but did see a VP this year, former VP Joe Biden.) Regardless, when any other president in my lifetime lined up for a group photo among world leaders, I could be sure he wouldn't push his way to the front. The problem with Trump isn't his policy, because honestly he hasn't really done anything or led the charge on any meaningful legislation. The problem is that he's a genuinely terrible person that has enabled a level of toxicity I've never seen among people. Obama, Bush, Clinton (if you can overlook him humping interns), Bush, Reagan, Carter all set an example with their words. They gave great speeches and at least tried to inspire people.

I want my kid to have heroes. As much as I want to be that to him, I'm too aware of my flaws to have that expectation. I hope that he continues to have excellent teachers, kind peers and everyday people who can fill that role. Heck, the average ride operator at Walt Disney World probably qualifies in his eyes. Unfortunately, for now, he won't have anyone to look up to in the White House. By no measure is a man who "grabs them by the pussy" or believes he could "stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody" a role model. That goes well beyond being non-presidential, it's just being a despicable human being.

Book review: This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 27, 2017, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

Garbage bookThere isn't any band in my lifetime that I've followed as long as I have Garbage. When they disappeared for seven years, it was sad, and it didn't help that the world seemed content to settle with bland pop music and kind of forget about alternative rock. Fortunately, when the band returned, the fans did not forget.

After more than 20 years, Garbage has released a book called This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake. It probably doesn't contain anything that hard core fans don't already know from years of interviews and articles, but it does pull everything together into a compelling narrative. On paper, I'm not sure that this is a band that even makes sense, but there's no arguing with the critical and popular reaction to the bad over the last two decades.

Where the book really shines though is in its account of the decline of the music business, which is very much intertwined with the story of how the band stopped getting along and stopped having fun. I think that too many people put the decline of the business on the transition to digital distribution, and while that's certainly a part of it, the problems are much deeper than that. The band quite correctly describes an unrealistic expectation of hit streams and interference from people who aren't really artists. Absurd spending on studio time, producers and touring certainly didn't help either.

One of the best parts for fans is the photos, and it's something you might take for granted until you realize that so much of what they had came well before digital photography was a thing. Shirley Manson has had many looks over the years, from the redheaded goth chick, to the short blonde hair (which she describes as a reaction to her personal loathing and chaos) to the pink bob. I think I realize now that the thing that has always made her attractive is not so much her look (well, to the extent that redheads are kind of my thing), but her confidence is something that comes through every time you see her, and unless you're turned off by that sort of thing, it's an incredibly attractive quality in a person. It's a recurring theme with her, that she's hyperaware of her flaws and issues, but in no way will she be apologetic about who she is.

There's a lot more from "the boys" here, too. Butch Vig has had plenty of words in the press over the years, given his A-list producer credits for some of the best albums ever made, but he spends a lot of time talking about he didn't want to be the "Nevermind guy with two other dudes and a hot chick." We also get a lot of insight into the creative dynamic of Manson, Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson. Despite the discomfort of the time leading up to their hiatus, it's amazing how much they seem to really like each other, and the collaboration is intense.

We know how the story ends... they get back together at the start of this decade, and they've since created two new albums and re-issued their first. Their fan base is as devoted as ever, they have their own label, and they continue to do things on their own terms. The live comfortably doing what they love. I have a lot of respect for that. There's a wonderful story in the book about when Shirley invites Steve's daughter on stage to sing the chorus with her from "Not Your Kind of People," as she's one of the child vocals on the recorded version.

Certainly this book is for fans, but I think that anyone interested in the history of popular music or the continuing evolution of music as a business will enjoy the read. It has a lot of fun anecdotes and sidebars that include drink recipes and a full list of all tour dates ever.

In the interest of self-care

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 23, 2017, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

Wednesday, night, I started to feel something gross in my head, like a sinus infection. I woke up Thursday feeling pretty crappy, and by late afternoon, bailed on work. I was intent to just go back to it later after a nap. I woke up three hours later with a fever. Friday I woke up again, thinking I could work for a bit (this may be the curse of remote work, by the way), and realized upon getting out of bed that there was no way.

When I finally woke up, after 11 that morning, fever still kicking my ass, I realized at that moment that I had been neglecting to take care of myself. In fact, I had the bigger moment of realizing that I had fallen into the bigger pattern of putting most other things in front of taking care of myself. I should totally know better.

One of society's least endearing beliefs is the one that insists you put everything else in front of your needs, because that's what makes you a good person. That's total nonsense. There is no doubt that being a selfish dick isn't good for you, and definitely not others, but it doesn't mean that you can't take the time to put #1 at the front of the line. If you're totally selfless, I can absolutely promise you that a time will arrive where you start to loathe and resent everyone and everything around you. That means family, friends, work, chores... everything. There are perfectly acceptable times to let everything be about you.

Take care of yourself.

An open letter to people selling MLM products on social media

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 22, 2017, 2:33 PM | comments: 0

I've been trying for the better part of two years to figure out how to write this post, and honestly, there's no delicate way to put this. And as much as I'm kind of a hater around this issue, I mean to say this with love.

Marketing your MLM "business" on Facebook is the worst idea ever.

While Amway is the quintessential MLM company completely full of shit, the others are really not any better. 

One of the fundamental problems is that you, as a "distributor" of product are incentivized to love the product. After all, the best way to get others to sell it is to gush over it yourself. What's worse is that even the terminology invites feelings of rainbows and puppies. I mean, after all, Beachbody people are "coaches," right? They just want to improve your life (which you can do without buying product). Rodan+Fields people just want you to look better, and what's the harm in that? The problem is that you're pursuing a revenue opportunity based on the shortcomings of others, who are too fat, too old, too poor or whatever. That seems like a moral issue to me. It's predatory, and about as bad as the payday loans business.

Then there's the problem that the products simply aren't necessary. Ask any bona fide dietician if you need Shakeology (they'll say no) when your average GNC has comparable products anyway. It Works! has zero scientific basis (it doesn't work). Herbalife, I don't know, what the fuck does that even do? Is Rodan really any better than drug store product (no)? And of course, Amway in the era of Amazon and Costco is totally absurd.

There are a few brands that seem to just be nice spare time endeavors where people like the products, and I think that's OK if it's not the only thing they talk about. People have 31 or Tupperware parties and they move on with their lives. They don't pretend that they're in "business" or whatever. They sure as hell don't post about it every fucking day on Facebook.

Let's also do math. The last numbers that I recall puts the average friend count of adults at around 400 people, and of those typically only 20% engage as regular users. So at that point, your "useful" friend count is about 80. The product you're pitching may appeal to half of those friends, if you're lucky, which gets you down to 40. Some portion are going to start hiding your posts because you're selling shit instead of posting photos of your kids, cats and food porn. Anecdotally, I'd guess you're left with a remaining half, which gets you down to 20. So now you've annoyed 60 friends, and probably a good portion of the infrequent friends from the other pool of 320. And for what? So you cover costs on products that serve only to make corporations rich?

I have to ask myself why I care at all, and I suppose I'm not entirely sure. I think part of it is all of the contrived positivity that goes with it, and the self-serving defense that comes with it. All of the talk of "fulfilling your dreams" smells like bullshit, because it is. You aren't really working for yourself, and you aren't not working. You're definitely not printing money and buying a boat. There is no shortcut here.

Please, watch John Oliver's show below. He gets even deeper into the numbers that show the ethical and moral shortcomings of this stuff.

Diminished recreational coding habits

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 18, 2017, 6:59 PM | comments: 0

My renewal request for a free Resharper license for use with open source software projects came up this week. Resharper is a thing that helps you refactor code in Visual Studio, and it's a fantastic tool. If you maintain an open source project, like POP Forums, you can request a free license to use maintaining that project. Though I would gladly buy the software anyway (it really is that essential), I was a little concerned that they may not approve me, because my commit history graph for open source projects in the last year, or at least in recent months, has not exactly been robust. I haven't been writing code for fun much.

Some of this is certainly my day job. When I switched in November, I was writing a ton of code for work, up from zero in the last project I had in my previous position. On top of that, I was also hiring (a process that finally ended in early June). Going into heads-down coding mode, for me at least, gets to be mentally exhausting, and I was doing that while trying to build a team and develop a long-term blueprint. I'm not complaining, because this is exactly the responsibility I was looking for in a job, but throw in the challenges of parenting and having a home life and there aren't a lot of brain cycles left over. Coding for fun fell off the list.

The last official release of POP Forums was in February 2015, more than two years ago. After that, I began the slow transition to .NET Core, which was kind of a mess for the better part of those two years because of constant changes in tooling and project files and "missing" stuff to handle some of the things I needed, like sending email and resizing images. By last fall, I technically had a working solution, but no documentation, so I could have done a release then. Instead, I started to work on some of the scaleability features I wanted, and I even did some load testing. I could confidently handle 500 requests per second, which is absurdly high for anything that I do.

I want to really look at it, evolve it into something modern, but it doesn't feel like it's in a place to start that process. There are still a ton of unit tests not ported to the .NET Core version. At the very least, what I should be doing, is running it on my own sites. For better or worse, .NET Core has been out for more than a year and only my blog is running on it. It might be years before I can realistically use .NET Core at work, but I don't want to get left behind.

A lot of this is just decision paralysis, and also an irrational desire to make it easy to use the forum as a package in any app. I need to get out of that mode.

I also need to just prioritize differently. I want to spend more time on this, but I simply don't choose to.

Review: Lego Carousel (2017)

posted by Jeff | Saturday, July 15, 2017, 2:29 PM | comments: 0

Back in early 2010, just before I became a dad, I treated myself to the Lego Carousel (video). After moving cross-country and being generally stressed out in a new job with a kid on the way, I needed something to kind of lose myself in. I remember going to the Lego Store in the Bellevue Square mall and being giddy about buying it. It brought back a lot of the joy I remembered as a kid, even if the price of such things were not for kids. I've bought a few of those big sets since then.

I was surprised this year when they released a new carousel, with about 600 fewer pieces, but since I have the ferris wheel and the scrambler, it only made sense to add to the collection! This one is a little smaller, but visually I think a little more interesting. The animals, none of them horses, are very cool, and I particularly like the frog, as its legs extend and retract as it moves. Because it's smaller, it's less repetitious to build.

The drive mechanism is also better, relying on a gear ring under the platform, instead of the friction tire around the outside, which is how the other one worked. Unfortunately, this one doesn't come with a motor, so if you want that, you'll have to shell out an extra $35 or so for the motor and battery pack. You can crank it by hand, but it moves too slow.

I am a little disappointed in the playability of the model. Simon is 7 now, but he still doesn't like motors on toys, as he's still sensitive to certain sounds. He prefers to manually move it around, and the platform isn't robust enough to handle that. To make it round, it uses a number of joints at the center, under the higher platform, and around the edge. Moving it from anywhere other than the internal gear pulls on the ring and causes it to come apart, and the only way to fix it is to take off the top and then attempt to get it back together by sticking your fingers under it. I'm actually surprised it's strong enough to pull the top around with it, because the only connection is the vertical poles on the perimeter. There is no shaft in the center.

It's a pretty easy build, and fun, but I do wish it wasn't so fragile. The best dynamic amusement ride is still the ferris wheel. It's mechanically elegant and robust enough for my kid to play with it.

Now is not the time for political apathy

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 14, 2017, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

Pete Souza, the former White House photographer for both Reagan and Obama, posted a flashback photo on Instagram of his latter boss reaching over the shield at a Chipotle. That was funny because I remember when it originally made the rounds in the press. It was about as big of a scandal as you had during the Obama years. He had more than his share of questionable legislative efforts, policy decisions and ugly decisions by his underlings, for sure, but those are not things I would count as scandal. The Benghazi attack demonstrated poor judgment on the part of decision makers, but he really owned it. W. may have gone to war on false pretenses, but I'm not convinced he acted in poor faith. Clinton humped at least one intern, so that was a bona fide scandal. H.W. Bush was OK. Reagan had Iran-Contra. Carter and Ford weren't strong presidents, but relatively scandal-free.

Then we have President Trump. Americans have become so partisan that they would cast aside their own morals and beliefs to vote for someone who said he could "grab [women] by the pussy," insult a former POW like John McCain and then a gold star family, make fun of a disabled man, and spouted thinly veiled racism constantly. And mind you, this was before the election. At this point, I know those who defend Trump start pulling the "but Hillary!" card, but you can't logically arrive at any moral equivalency here. She was unremarkable, and probably unlikeable, yes, but being ignorant about IT and dismissing a non-conspiracy like the Benghazi attack (that was investigated three times by Congress) is not on the same scale as someone with total disregard for entire classes of human beings. None of us would hold a job in the private sector if we had Trump's record.

However, political apathy got the best of us. When Clinton failed to delight or inspire, we got lazy, along with her campaign, and while Trump didn't even have a majority of the votes, in the end it didn't matter. We didn't do enough.

Now we have a president that is more concerned with being popular than governing. He reportedly spends more time watching TV than he does consulting with smart people who aren't related to him. He lies about completely benign things that are easily refutable by his own previous statements or anyone with a basic sense of curiosity. He's the least transparent of any president in our time, when he has so much to gain personally from his position. He shuts off access to the press and hides the White House visitor logs. There are ethics questions at every turn. Nepotism and croneyism are the new normal. Senior officials keep getting fired. And for the better part of a year, we've had a man who is so cavalier about the Russians that he simply doesn't care if they interfered with the election.

This is just six months in. There have been more shit storms in 180 days than in any presidential term in the last four decades.

How can anyone, of any political leaning, be OK with this?

This is not about policy. As inept as I believed that George W. Bush was, his record wasn't without objectively solid wins, and at no time did I believe that he wasn't well-intentioned. (Now, Dick Cheney, not so much.) For years I've said that a two-party system tends to keep things balanced, until recent years when both parties have pushed further into ideological extremes. Trump has no policy. He never did. Every politician says they're going to promote economic growth and save us from the bad guys, but it's all talk without specific action in mind. "Build a wall" and "create unbelievable jobs" are not actions.

Because there is something new almost every day, we've started to get comfortable with the idea that this is routine and normal. It's hard to be concerned or angry all of the time, so when the next thing hits tomorrow, we brush it aside.

And again, we will continue to get the government we deserve.

Contact your senators and representatives. Let them know this is not OK. This is bigger than you or me picking a team and standing by it. You can't defend a person who punches two people in the balls by pointing to some other politician who gave someone the stink eye. There is no moral equivalence going on here. This is your nation, and it's being run by a man-child who embarrasses us on the world stage and puts our future at risk.

This is not the time for political apathy.

Age is glorious

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 7, 2017, 8:30 AM | comments: 0

As anyone who knows me well can appreciate, the band Garbage has been a fixture in my life for more than 20 years. Now they have a book (I'll do a write up on it when I get through it), and there were some interviews with Shirley and Butch on Yahoo. In the last segment, about the most recent Strange Little Birds album, Shirley goes on a bit of a rant about the "truth in power" of representing yourself as a 50-year-old and embracing the age that you are. While we can't all be Shirley Manson (she did briefly play a Terminator on TV, after all), we can own our age.

Here's the thing, I'm tired of the cultural expectation that anyone over 35 has nothing to offer. I hate that marketing is designed to convince you that you look too old, you need help getting a boner, you just need to lose a little weight, and you need to cover up that gray. Seriously, fuck all of that. We are all going to get older and die. That's reality. Embrace it.

You see, a funny thing happens before you die: Life. Experience is an extraordinary thing that I think too many people squander. We go through so much shit in life, and so much happiness. We can learn from that, and that education can give us confidence. Confidence doesn't mean that we should feel infallible, but it does mean we can truly believe that we can figure stuff out and contribute.

I've got a ways to go before 50, but I bring up 35 because that was a pivotal year for me. I got laid-off, the economy was taking a dump, but it was the first time in my life that I realized that the things that I could control were in fact things I was addressing. I was pretty good at stuff. Life, to that point, had given me the experience I needed to believe that I could kick ass, that age was an asset.

So yeah, I miss my dumb skater hair, but in its place I've found some level of wisdom and peace. Life is still hard, but I know I've got this. I also know that I have to share what I know, and never stop learning. My 20-year-old self could never have understood that.

Bookshelf speakers

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 6, 2017, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

Way back in college, my dad gave me his old receiver, and I parked it in my dorm room. My academic advisor bought a nice pair of bookshelf speakers, and gave me his very old Radio Shack speakers to use with the receiver. I had to glue the cone back into the driver once, but otherwise, these beat up old speakers served me pretty well and sounded pretty good, even loud. The receiver was pretty old, but it had this satisfying knob on it to tune the radio. It was really heavy, and when you gave it a good whirl, the momentum carried it half way across the dial.

That receiver started to cut out on one side after a year, but I had the speakers for another three years before I bought a nice pair of Bose bookshelf speakers. They've made variations of the 301 series for decades now, and I've had mine for about 20 years. They sound fantastic to this day, and I think at this point they've been connected to at least four receivers. I also have a nice center channel speaker that sort of matches them, and that one is probably 18 years in service.

These days, TV's are gigantic, and the size of the picture always seems to be a stronger consideration than the sound. Thin TV's generally have crappy speakers, and despite some bending of physics to help, they never sound very good. But people don't typically buy big tower speakers or "sound systems" anymore either, because you don't need a rack of components as you did back in the day (receiver, VCR, DVD player, cassette deck, CD changer, etc.) since your media all comes from a little box you can pretty much hide out of sight. At best, people are buying these sound bar things, which sound OK, and try to fake directional surround sound by phase tricks. That works OK if you're sitting in just the right spot, but these devices still can't match the directional sound and range that larger, dedicated speakers can.

For me, once every device I had to plug into a TV supported HDMI cables, that was the point at which I bought a receiver that could switch on those cables and I watched and listened to everything via amplified sound to my old reliable 301's (and a subwoofer, of course). When we built this house, we had them install a couple of rear channel speakers in the ceiling, which sound OK.

The reason I'm thinking about this is that I'm sure we'll have an opportunity at our next house to decorate again, but it's still important to me to have my bookshelf speakers. Tiny speakers and sound bars just don't sound as good, especially when watching movies or listening to the Hamilton Mixtape.

The essential role of mentoring and coaching

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 5, 2017, 10:00 PM | comments: 0

I had another new hire start today. Hiring is a terrible, soul-sucking process that has no shortcuts, but when you do get it right, it's like magic. I've said it a hundred times that much of success is just surrounding yourself with awesome people.

Art has a funny way of giving you focus and making you think. A number of songs, movies and plays and musicals that I've seen lately have drawn attention to the fact that your impact on the world is often measured in your interaction with others, and not necessarily by the things you create. So combined with hiring and otherwise mentoring my existing team, it kind of gives me a charge to think about it. I know from experience how important this is. Even before I had any professional momentum, I could see the impact that coaching teenagers had (and hopefully that impact went beyond better high school seasons).

You have to invest in people. Yes, it's very possible that you could turn mediocre people into great people, and then they'll leave. But what if you let them be mediocre and they stay?