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?


Ten years after the iPhone launch

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 30, 2017, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

The nice thing about blogging for a decade and a half is that I have my reactions to all kinds of historic things. The natural disasters and acts of war are sad, but the technological things are kind of amusing. My post about first impressions with the iPhone are interesting, as are the comments. Indeed, at the time, I was right that mobile Internet access wasn't something I would use much, as things like responsive design weren't really a thing, and mapping and finding stuff was the big win. Within a month, I used mapping with traffic to avoid a traffic jam, and that was game changing. What we didn't really appreciate at the time was the limitations.

The most annoying thing was that the iPhone couldn't send MMS. I didn't think it was a big deal at the time of purchase, but we sure waited a long time for that, considering the iPhone had a more capable camera than the previous generation of Samsung flip phones. Even Apple didn't realize at the time that photos were one of the most important features of a smart phone.

Steve Jobs famously said that the "app" was the web, which made total sense to me, and as a developer who built stuff on the web, I cheered. I don't know if it has ever been well documented about whether this was a true sentiment with Jobs or they just weren't ready to open general development for the phone, but to this day I feel pretty strongly that it was the "right" approach. 95% of the apps on my (Android) phone today are just thin wrappers around stuff that could just as easily be a web app, only it won't be updated a hundred times a year for the two times I use it. It's such a crappy, broken model that we haven't really innovated our way out of yet. A well-designed single-page app from the web works every bit as well as an installed app, if not better because I don't need to install it.

I defended the iPhone a lot in the first year, because despite some shortcomings, it was better than anything else before it. I skipped on old Windows Mobile phones because they were all cheap, heavy and required a stylus. Years later, if I'm to give them credit for any particular innovation, it's for the standard setting touch interactions that we all take for granted now. They really got that right in a big way, and the way we touch screens today hasn't changed much. It's rare to get anything that right without a lot of public iteration, and they started it out right.

My next phone, about 2 years later, was an iPhone 3Gs, which was mostly more fluid in its UI interaction, had bona fide GPS (instead of estimating on cell towers), a lot more storage and used the 3G cellular bands. By then, installable apps were a thing, but I still had relative few.

Apple still makes really nice iPhones, but they don't lead in software the way they used to. iOS hasn't evolved much in the last few years, especially compared to Android, which was a shit-show for most of its life. My third and fourth phones were Windows Phones (by Samsung then Nokia), which were really excellent, if not well supported by the app culture, which mattered more to other people. In the fall of 2015, I bought a Google Nexus phone, and replaced that one last December with a Pixel, which is easily the best phone I've ever had. I really, really love that phone. Android has become a really fantastic operating system, though it's a shame that Google can't control the entire ecosystem. On their own phones, you always have the latest build, but other manufacturers get entire whole versions behind by a year. The improvements in just the last 18 months have been substantial, with faster version updating, better battery life, a better launcher and widgets, etc. And Project Fi, their virtual carrier, is fantastic.

I still have both of my iPhones in a drawer. They still work. They're tiny.


Moist

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 30, 2017, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

I don't know if it was always the case, but people seem to really hate the word "moist." It has a kind of gross sound to it, I guess. But say it with me out loud... "moist." It's funny, right?

Moist is how I like to describe July to mid-September in Central Florida. That period of time is kind of our "winter," where you really aren't crazy about spending a bunch of time outside, because of the humidity. Mind you, it's just as bad in the Midwest, if not worse, because at least here the sub-tropical climate regulates itself to 93 or lower, and you don't get the brain-melting 100+ very often. And unlike winter, if you go out in it, you just get sweaty, not frost-bitten or dead. It's conducive to hanging out at the pool and sipping fruity drinks.

Speaking of which, it's a good time to visit the coasts, too, because said climate keeps it a little cooler, and also that's where the beaches are.

I can see how someone would hate this weather, and while I'm not crazy about it, I am not only happy to deal with it in lieu of snow, but I'm also a little nostalgic about it. I arrived in Orlando almost four years ago now, to stay, and I associate the 90 and humid weather with that huge life change that started with a July arrival. It was a very happy change and the start of new adventures. Heck, Simon has been a Floridian now for most of his life (though I still consider him a Seattle kid).

Also, with all of the moist air, there are thunderstorms almost every day. Who doesn't love thunderstorms?

Moist. Moist. Moist.


Building a house might be fun this time

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 29, 2017, 10:57 PM | comments: 0

The financing nonsense around our last house kind of sucked the joy out of the process. We were well qualified to buy a house, but the underwriters couldn't go off script and acknowledge that I had a job because it was 1099. We quite literally had to fight through the last few days prior to closing. Picking options, we didn't know if they would really be ours. Our construction manager was often non-responsive and kind of useless as well. KB Home did not leave a strong impression, though I was perfectly happy with the house quality once everything was resolved.

The new place is being built by Pulte, same builder that did my first house. That house was kind of cheap, and we got into the sale after the options had been picked, but the warranty work after the sale was pretty solid. Then my BFF built a Pulte this year, and they did a pretty good job. In fact, we're doing the same floor plan, only reverse and in another neighborhood. Despite the dubious rationalization, we're pretty excited to spread out in the new place, host awesome holidays, have friends stay from all over, etc.

I hated the idea of choosing options, because that's where the builders kind of screw you, but we managed to get most of the things we wanted while staying on budget. I'm anxious to see them together in real life, but I feel like we have a good mix that appeals to our style without being too trendy. We learned a lot from the experience of our current house. For example, we decided we could do a backsplash ourselves in the kitchen, but we never did. Ditto for painting. We also learned that a loft area isn't something we find particularly useful. From a floorplan perspective, the single most important thing for us was a two-story living room and as much glass between the living area and the outside as possible. Natural light is so important to us. We skipped on another builder that was way, way less because it lacked the high ceiling and sliding doors. There were far larger houses that we liked less also because they lacked those features.

I think it will be fun to decorate, too. We don't anticipate having to buy very much, because while the house is larger, it's about the same number of rooms. We'll have to buy some ceiling fans, light fixtures and some rugs, and there are some opportunities to do goofy HGTV things like accent walls. We'd love to install solar before Congress does something silly like repeal the tax credit, but the timing will depend on what our current house sells for. With more space to cool, and electric cooking and water heating, and electric cars, I really want to embrace renewables.

So far, construction seems to be going well. The manager this time was able to move the main water shut off for us, which by default was near the garage door, too close to where cars go. He seems to be very responsive to concerns, so I hope that continues. The bulk of the work will happen in the next eight weeks. From ground breaking to today, with the foundation and brick up, only took two weeks. We'll have to stay out for about two weeks, because the framing is a little dangerous until it's done and they have the temporary railings up. After that, we can make sure the rough-in makes sense, especially the electrical.

House construction is pretty cool, especially with the building codes here in Florida. This should be fun!


Healthcare reform is not this

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

Congress is trying hard right now to take on the issue of healthcare reform, but the result is not the reform anyone is looking for. If you were to define the desired reform as broadly as possible, it would likely be to devise a system that results in lower costs and better access for everyone. I'm positive that not everyone wants that, but it seems like that's what the majority of Americans want. The new legislation doesn't make it cheaper, and it reduces access. It feels like it's almost just to spite a former president that left office six months ago.

The problem is pretty well defined: Healthcare is paid for by insurance, which is generally tied to employment, which is generally tied to socioeconomic opportunity. While I understand some people adhere to a strong ideology that access to healthcare is not a right, I am troubled by this because we don't really get to choose our health. One day, we can simply learn we have cancer. When we're children, we have no choice as to who our parents are or whether or not they're in a position to obtain healthcare for us. It's like the lottery, only we're all forced to play, and the consequences are a reverse lottery slogan: We're all in it to lose it.

I don't know what the solution is, and the Affordable Care Act only partially solved the access problem, but did little for the cost problem. Repealing the provisions that at least partially address the access problem, reducing the insured by 22 million, is not a win. I don't think our lawmakers really understand the economics involved here, because they see them only from the view of government expense. However, the poor get poorer when they can't afford care, and frankly even the well-off risk financial ruin when they can't pay. There are a hundred ways that the poor drag the economy, and that affects everyone. Further, think of the missed opportunities: People may stay in a job that they're not well suited for only for the health insurance, or worse, are unlikely to risk starting a new business that could have a ripple effect of growth for others, because they are too scared to leave their job for the health insurance.

Other nations, most of them even, have taken a more hands-on approach that results in higher quality care at a lower cost, particularly if you measure that care by life expectancy. The US spends the most per capita but ranks in the 40's for life expectancy. We don't get "better" for our money. Everyone else has some variation on single-payer systems (consolidated risk pools), national administrative systems, etc. Opponents describe these as broken, expensive systems while failing to acknowledge that we have a broken, and more expensive system. That seems intellectually dishonest. If we can't even have the conversation about the way others do it, then we aren't having a debate. We're only killing the conversation on the basis of high ideology that today offers no solution.

We can't innovate in the US either, because of existing regulations. There was a time before the Great Depression when you could pay a flat fee to a local co-op of doctors and hospitals, all of whom shared information and managed your care, but you can't do that now because it would run afoul to insurance regulations. We know that the inability to coordinate and share information is part of the problem, and this would help, but you can't do it.

What's most disappointing is that after seven years of saying that the ACA is a disaster, without qualifying what makes it a disaster, the GOP leadership has completely failed to architect an alternative that works for everyone. It's an enormous missed opportunity. They've been so busy pitching a way to save us from the past administration's signature legislation that they've completely neglected a way to save us with something better. That might appeal to the base that just wanted to stick it to the former president with a funny name, but it's not leadership.

As long as we fail to debate ideas in favor of supporting politics as a sports rivalry, we will get nowhere. Demand more from your government.


Silicon Valley bros and broken culture

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 25, 2017, 12:52 AM | comments: 0

The CEO of Uber is finally out, though as a huge stakeholder and board member, he won't be very far away. If you haven't followed along, this is the guy who went nuts on an Uber driver who complained the company was hostile toward drivers, all while a female engineer described a "strange year" of HR violations and another account puts the executive in an escort bar in South Korea. To say that any of this is not cool is an understatement.

I've worked in technology most of my adult life. My experience ranges from gigantic Microsoft to startups. I've seen success and failure up close. In every situation, the reward has been the chance to work with awesome people. Sure, it pays well, but it's not hard to get excited about building something cool, virtual as it may be, with people who share your passion for changing some part of the world. Those people include men and women, people from everywhere from India to Russia to China to Serbia to South Africa, people gay and straight. The diversity is fantastic.

But the stories out of Silicon Valley like the Uber situation are not uncommon. Tales of misogyny aren't the only recurring theme though. There are also tales of extraordinary burnout caused by unsustainable expectations and impossible work weeks. Investors throw gobs of money at long shots, looking for that one unicorn that will pay off. People shout cheers about innovation and fast failure, but the only thing they're trying to build is an exit and a payout. Seriously, how does a company like Uber lose $800 million in one quarter?

Silicon Valley is not the center of the universe. It's not reality.

Sure, we've seen a few exceptions in the last two decades of extraordinary new companies born in the valley, but Google and Facebook are those unicorns. The popular stat is that 90% of startups fail, and of those, often half of them die because there's no market for what they're selling. Think about the arrogance there: Founders so convinced that they have thought of something so great that people don't even know they need it.

The truth is that the valley culture is broken and full of money. The lack of constraints doesn't force any kind of creativity or establish a solid "why" for any company to exist. More to the point, there are real, sustainable technology companies all over the world that are making the world better, regardless of actual scope. Most of the technology world is not by the bay.

The most unfortunate thing about Uber is that it has an actually great, disruptive idea coming out of San Francisco, and it's largely obscured by all the things wrong with that valley startup culture. It's an (allegedly) $70 billion company, but at what cost? I wonder if things would have turned out differently if it was started and lived somewhere else.


Forever things are not real

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

We're in a bit of an HGTV thing at our house, I guess because we're planning to move yet again. There's nothing quite like feeling great about a move when some couple in California is spending a million dollars on a 1,500 square-foot dump, and feeling negatively uppity when a nice family fixes up a place that only cost $50k. Simon is fascinated with the tiny house shows, until we explain to him that having a tiny house would require him to give up pretty much everything he owns (which isn't even that much to begin with).

Aside from the hilarious and often ridiculous expectations of house hunters and renovators, I'm struck by the number of people who say that they're looking for their "forever home." That's the strangest damn thing I've ever heard of. Granted, pre-2009 me felt really stuck, and I suppose a crappy economy and years of non-acknowledgment that being a grown-up meant I could move caught up with me. But from that year, I went on to move five times in four years. What brought me happiness wasn't the idea that I could run from a bad situation, it was the idea that I could move forward to whatever it was that might make me happy and create a better situation.

One of the great truths in life is that we just don't know what tomorrow will bring. We make our own future as much as we can or are willing to, and in doing so we're free to change things. And while it might be sad or scary to think about, we also don't know how much time we have. More to the point, we can definitely steer our lives toward intended outcomes, but the variables make the specifics impossible to predict. I mean, I have some clarity on where I want my career to go, but some random thing could come up that leads me to a different, maybe better path.

A friend of mine put this more succinctly on Facebook: "I often have to remind myself that this is not the last home/car/beach umbrella I am going to buy in my life. Pull the trigger. Do the best you can. Move forward."

This is the truth. Things happen, good and bad, and we move forward. The idea that I would move into a "forever home" is quite frankly morbid to me. I don't want to choose the place I die because I'm not even half way there. The amount of adventure available to me is infinite, and I'm not going to miss it.

Now excuse me while I ironically get the words "nothing is permanent" tattooed on my body somewhere.


Making tangible things

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 17, 2017, 7:38 PM | comments: 0

One of the great things about my job is that I make things. Well, at this stage in my career, I'm half collaborating among people to get things made. I believe that this is what I was built to do, and while it's different from the things I got to make in my TV days, there is something there as a result of my job. That's very satisfying.

A friend of mine that I met almost 20 years ago is in town this week for work. His company, along with his partners, quite literally make roller coasters. They're building a new ride here in the Orlando area, so he invited me to bring Simon and Diana down to the site and see the almost-finished project. When I was standing there in the coaster train that he designed, with inverted track overhead, on a wood coaster, I thought back to the time we first exchanged email, while he was still a college student. I'm not sure why that struck me as so remarkable, except that it demonstrates how you can grow up to be a person that does something very cool.

It wasn't just his career progression though. That thing I was standing in exists today because of the sheer force of will to create something. The stuff that I make, thousands of people virtually "touch" it every day on screens, sure, but this thing made of steel and wood... it has weight to it. It just feels different than the bits that I make.

When I think about what I want to do in my spare time, I'm drawn to the idea of making more tangible things. Perhaps after we move, when I have more room, I can take up wood working or something. The challenge is coming up with something to build, because I definitely learn by way of doing. I'm already starting to think about house "mods" and plan to fully photograph the place before the drywall goes in.


Making software is hard

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 15, 2017, 7:34 PM | comments: 0

I run the software development operation for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. The product is fairly young, and the thing that makes me most anxious is staying in front of the crazy high potential we have in front of us. That's not really a complaint, because honestly this is precisely the role I've been looking for since, well, probably the last decade. It could be a very exciting ride.

Our founder said to me the other day that, "Making software is hard." He was half making a joke, but he was also serious because it's true. There are a lot of little decisions that you make every day that often have a bigger context. Business rules change constantly. You minimize complexity but encounter complex problems. And because it's never really "done," especially with a SaaS product, it never really ends.

But today was a good day, because the feedback we got from one of our customers demonstrated that the product will pay for itself many times over. That's awesome. We're fortunate to have a core group of early customers who are bona fide stakeholders, so we're very much building the right thing. (Sidebar: This always takes me back to my second position at Microsoft, in a group that never shipped anything, where my manager insisted, despite my protest, that we knew better than our customers in terms of what they wanted and needed.) Software might be hard, but it sure is awesome when you're making life easier for the people using it.

I've known this for a long time, but to this day I'm still amazed at the impact that having the right people makes. One of my strengths is guiding the process, but that's just a framework without people who can kick ass. You know you're doing it right when you can challenge people and they own the task and exceed expectations. I see it every day. Another strength I have is mentoring, but that's also not useful without willing and motivated people. The whole horse-to-water thing holds true.

Making software is hard, but even with daily challenges, is sure is satisfying when you get it right.


Looking back at our 2016-17 Broadway season

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 10, 2017, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

We finished up our Broadway Series season this week, after seeing seven shows. I really enjoyed myself, as did Diana even though she also works those shows. It's not an inexpensive endeavor, and I wish more people could see live theater, because there really is something very special about talented people coming together to create, support and perform a show. And to do so in such a beautiful new building is icing on the cake. I love going downtown for dinner, then spending an hour or so just hanging out with drinks on the patio there. It's probably the best kind of date night we can have without leaving the area.


The Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts in Wicked green. Frustratingly, they don't play with the amazing architectural lighting they have in place very often. The third theater, the acoustic theater, is now under construction in the space on the left.

I wanted to write a quick recap of the season, by show. We sold our tickets to our neighbors for the first show, The Illusionists, because we weren't really that into the idea of seeing a magic variety show. For the most part, this was a really strong lineup, and better than the previous year (we weren't subscribers, but did see a few shows).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I mentioned this show back in November because, quite obviously, a show about a kid with autism is going to generate a brain dump. It was the only non-musical show of the season other than Illusionists, and I thought it was brilliant. The material is challenging because you have to try and convey what it's like for a kid who is wired differently, and create empathy for that different view on the world. And if that weren't enough, the production design did a remarkable job of helping tell that story, without being too gimmicky.

An American in Paris

If you like classic Gershwin tunes and singing and dancing in old Hollywood musicals, this is all of that on stage. I don't think I ever saw the film, but I had a basic idea of what to expect, and it was definitely entertaining, if not the deepest thing I've ever seen. It was a bit long, and probably could have ended a good 10 minutes sooner.

Wicked

You know, Wicked is one of those cultural phenomenons that I knew I would eventually see, and to that end, I tried for years to not really learn too much about it. (I was going to do that with Hamilton, but failed entirely.) I only knew the music through peripheral contact, and the stars of the original Broadway run by way of what they did after. So beyond high expectations, I managed to go into the theater without knowing too much other than people love this show.

It definitely did not disappoint. The hype was all justified. It's a great show, start to finish. The music did not entirely grab me at first, but the more I heard it around the house, the more it has grown on me. I think I'd like to see it a second time, because there are things I'm sure I missed. The thing I walked away with the most is what a slamming critique it is of our society's tendency to fear the people we don't understand. It's not even subtle.

As a bonus, we made a new friend in the show who went to high school with a former girlfriend, and it's been fun to see him document his adventures on tour around the country. He showed us around backstage, and silly us, we didn't get a selfie with the Wizard of Oz. It's also crazy to see how much heavy stuff they fly in that show.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

Another show that I didn't know anything about other than seeing it on the Tony's one year, but it ended up being fairly hilarious. I think you can often get away with cheap laughs in theater, and there were plenty, but it was also clever. You'd think that reviewing clever ways to kill people wouldn't be that funny, but there it is.

The Little Mermaid

Let me get right to it.. the nostalgia wore off by the intermission. I tried in my mind to even defend the show for a few days after that, but it was pretty fucking terrible. I saw Disney's Lion King in Vegas some years ago, and it blew me away, so I expected they wouldn't screw up a classic. But alas, they did. The production looked cheap, the humping mermaids were weird choreography, and the new songs didn't really improve the story. The actor playing Sebastian got some good laughs, but that was one of a small number of bright spots. The plot changes from the film were more filler than anything, and an excuse for the lead to sing what was in her mind when she has no voice.

Matilda

I adored this show and it surprised me. I didn't know the underlying story from the book or movie in any detail, so the storytelling inside the story and how it became another character's story was brilliant and surprising. The abilities of the child actors were staggeringly amazing. They were so good. This was also the show that I felt had the best scene and lighting design (sorry, Wicked), as it served the story perfectly without being a spectacle. This was my favorite this season, and I'd love to see it again.

Finding Neverland

Our last show, just this last Wednesday, the same day we returned from our 5-night cruise. I knew more about what to expect in this show in terms of plot, and I can happily report that it delivered. Again, the children were great (as was the dog), and there were plenty of laughs. It's another one of those musicals where the music doesn't particularly leave an impression, but it's contextually entertaining. Like all of the Peter Pan fiction that has come since, it goes pretty deep into the exploration of mortality, and there are some moments that are very serious. In fact, there's a beautiful "death scene" in this show that is beautifully elegant, and I'd high five the production designers if I could.

Overall, I'm sad that we're done for the year, but the next season begins in September. There are more shows, nine total, but it's more of a mixed bag. I'm not that interested in On Your Feet!, and we're already groaning about the Phantom sequel (which we'll see if only to confirm the groans). Rent is coming, which I like as a story but have never understood the love for it or the music. Also, we'll see The King and I, which is a classic, The Book of Mormon returns and I'm stoked about that, School of Rock, The Lion King, which I've seen before, Waitress and Something Rotten. Being a subscriber this year means you'll be there for Hamilton the year after, and I imagine we'll do our best to see that more than once.


Cruise XII: Disney Dream, 5-night Bahamas with two Castaway Cay stops, June 2, 2017

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 8, 2017, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

I'm not going rehash all of the stuff I've written about before, because at its core, this is the itinerary we've done eight other times, with extra days. The important distinction here is that this one stopped at Castaway Cay twice.

It was about three years now that we sailed with our friends from Chicago, and we shared a cabana for that trip. I declared it the best beach day ever, which doesn't even capture how great it was. The bigger pile of awesome though is that it's hard to beat a day at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. You've got an enormous beach with twice as many chairs as there are people, two barbecue locations, tons of activities, bike rentals, stuff in the water to do, an adult beach... we've barely scratched the surface and that's after spending 12 days on that island. It's a beautiful place to go.

Our stops on the island were Saturday and Monday, with the stop in Nassau in between. The cruise was, as best we can tell from talking to a former server, the most booked of our experience, with well over 3,000 guests. You wouldn't know it on the island, because there's so much room to spread out. Also, maybe the threat of rain deterred some people, but it was flawless, with just enough cloud cover to make it more comfortable than usual. That first day, we were in the sand by 9:30 and didn't return to the ship until a bit after 2. Simon played in the sand, Diana and I had some beverages and stayed cool in the water... it was everything a relaxing day should be. Simon got a private tour of Scuttle's Cove, the island version of the kids' club, and he ended up spending about 90 minutes there. It was another fantastic example of how good the youth counselors are on these cruises. I really think they understand my kid better than I do at times.

On the second visit to the island, Simon went right into Scuttle's Cove. The timing was good, as we got to the island a bit late because we all slept in, and some of the aforementioned behavior issues influenced our morning. We needed a break, and we got it. Simon never even made it to the beach proper. He didn't communicate his needs very well at lunch in the club, so he didn't eat then, but we actually had a nice family lunch. I do love the spicy chicken sandwich they have on the island, and it seems to be better than the one they used to serve (it seems to have a more natural breading color, too). After lunch, the boy went back to the cove, and Diana and I finally did the walking trip out to the observation tower. It's about a mile each way from our usual "camping" spot, and I actually did it in flip flops without issue. It was very humid that day though, and a bit oppressive given the dehydrating substance I had been drinking. Disney thinks of everything though... there were water coolers along much of the route.

The most important thing about our aquatic adventures though was that Simon finally got on the Aqua Duck, the kind of boring water coaster that circles the upper decks. He did it with Diana while I was getting a massage on the Nassau day (we never go ashore there), and was quite proud of himself. He wanted to ride with me at night so we could check out the lights, and so we did. We did one final lap on the last day (at sea), and we've got ourselves a fan.

Speaking of that massage, it occurred to me now that every single massage therapist on every ship has been a Filipino woman under five feet tall. That can't be a coincidence, so why does the spa company hire that way? As an aside, I would like to mention that while I will generally suck it up and pay the crazy prices for a massage, I hate how they play a lot of games with the rates. They generally offer some kind of special for embarkation day only, but then they dick around and offer some lower rate a day or two later. I also get tired of them trying to sell product or acupuncture. They look at me like I'm an asshole when I say no thanks, because science.

This was the first time that our dining service team wasn't excellent. They were just "very good," as the surveys go. They weren't what I would describe as disappointing, but our previous teams have just been so good that the bar is incredibly high. In fact, we've seen them around quite a bit on the various ships, and this time we ran into our favorite and talked to him for a bit. We had one disappointing instance where we sat outside for lunch in port at Nassau, because the dining room was pretty full. They were discouraging people to sit there because of birds, literally with people standing at the doors, but what we quickly found is that the birds were only a problem when unbussed tables sat there with food. I complained about it, and the response was largely one of inaction. It made me realized that being a customer-focused organization isn't necessarily about resolution, it's about taking action and owning a problem. Rare dropped ball for DCL.

We went to three shows this time around, including a magician the first night. Simon was surprisingly engaged for that show. We saw Villains Tonight, which has never been a favorite, but there was new stuff in that one. We closed with Disney's Believe, one of my favorites because it has a few original songs, pretty good dance numbers ("Step In Time" from Mary Poppins and "Dig A Little Deeper" from Princess and The Frog) and interesting scene design. My frustration with a lot of the onboard shows is that the tracked choruses are jarring and sound fake, when they seem to have enough vocal talent to do it live. The older the show, like The Golden Mickey's, the more obvious this is. If the newer, modern shows like Frozen and Tangled have a lot of tracked vocals, it's at least not obvious.

Also, and this might be because I married a bona fide theater professional, I don't like that there is no recognition for the performers or technical staff at all. I realize that they're not identified in the theme parks either, and I'm not expecting a Playbill, but come on, even regional park chains put up the names of their performers on the venues.

Other notes... I think the "cellular at sea" network works with Project Fi, because I had a pretty solid signal away from ports most of the time. Granted, traveling around the Bahamas usually involves close proximity to one shore or another, but still. I did a lot of Facebook sharing when I thought we were out of range. On the beverage front, I was relieved to see proper British Strongbow onboard, without all of the sugar. A US Coast Guard helicopter buzzed the ship 20 miles north of Nassau, for some reason. You know you're on a ship with children when FunnelVision shows an episode of "Nina Has To Go." We've never seen the adult areas this busy. I did the design tour for the ship, finally, and it was very cool. I mostly stuck to my "no elevator" rule to counter all of the gluttony, and over five days walked about 30 miles.

Overall, it was a great chance to unplug for a few days, and I loved the 5-night, 2-Castaway stop itinerary. It wasn't particularly adventuresome or different for us, but that was kind of the point. Now we just need a chance to do one without our little guy. Mom and Dad still haven't used our "free" credits to dine at Palo as platinum members.


My vacation wasn't as perfect as I let on

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 8, 2017, 7:31 PM | comments: 0

I found it appropriate that yesterday my blog post from last year about how "your online persona is a lie" came up in my Facebook "on this day" feed. It was also funny that my best friend asked me today how my cruise was last week, as if she didn't know by all of my Facebook posts. But no... it was far from perfect. There were some real struggling moments we had as parents, to say the least. I suppose that's what parenting is, but usually you hope that a vacation is relief from the things that stress you out.

I'm not going to sit here and say that our five night swing through the Bahamas was bad. We did have some extraordinary moments, and it was the most human I've seen Diana in the last six weeks following her extended battle with constant migraines. It was nice to not think about computers during that time, too. But we did have a series of challenges with Simon's behavior, particularly at dinner time. I think the biggest realization that we had is that we've not had a night away from Simon in more than a year, which is pretty bad. We love our little boy, but shit, it's not normal to be plugged in that long without a break.

Anyway, I'm rambling, but my point again is that you should never take what you see about a person online at face value. We all have challenges and our share of shit. I may proclaim gratitude and thankfulness for having a charmed life, but it's not all charming. I just don't think family and friends are interested in seeing or hearing about the crappy parts.


I met Diana 10 years ago

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 31, 2017, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

I know I write about this almost every year, but May 31, 2007 is the day that I met Diana. I have "firstdateaversary" set as an annual recurring event on my calendar, because in many ways, this is a date more important than our wedding anniversary. On the wedding day we made a commitment, but aside from making it legal, nothing really changed from one day to the next. As things have happened so quickly in our lives together, I think of the first date as the most important.

That was a crazy couple of weeks. I had just returned from visiting Kara in the Twin Cities, where she started work at Valleyfair. That next weekend I was going to Hersheypark for an event we did there, with Catherine, who was by then my ex-girlfriend, but traveling partner, and we went to Orlando shortly after that. The day I met Diana, I had been at Cedar Point at 5 a.m. for Maverick's media day, though I had already been on it a few days before that. I was busy all of the time.

Diana and I had connected on a dating site months before, but she spent time in Florida caring for her mom in the last few months of her life. Then my goofy schedule, and one cancellation from her due to allergies, put our first meeting off even further. When the day finally came, with drinks at a little dump called the Ice House near her work, we talked for a few hours while the Cavs played on TV's. We exchanged stories of working in radio and theater. She was a big nerd about some things, and I thought that was cool.

We had dates about a week apart after that, and it wasn't entirely clear where it was going, but it was going slow. There was no romantic first kiss, just an agreed desire to get it over with, and so that happened in the hot tub. After a few weeks, we realized that we both thought the other wanted a lot of tongue when making out, which was incorrect. We took our time, which is to say that it took at least two months before we were one of those gross couples that are always touchy-feely.

Diana moved in with me at the end of the year, and we got engaged in just under a year, married in less than two. Pregnant in a little over two, moved 3,000 miles in two and a half. Baby before 3, more moving, etc. Life has been a constant adventure, and while we've had difficult times, the difficulty has rarely been about our relationship.

The first decade went so fast, but I'm sure we have many more to go. Sometimes I'm frustrated we didn't meet a decade sooner, but we've definitely made up for lost time. Having a great copilot to rely on is a great feeling, and it sure makes parenting easier. I'm always amazed at the way she adapts and changes, and continues to be the strong human that backs me up.

So here's to our first ten years together, Red Delicious! We should totally do something cool this weekend.