Quality of life may be mostly perspective

posted by Jeff | Saturday, October 3, 2015, 10:34 AM | comments: 0

I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook last night when I saw a post from Shirley Manson that really stuck with me. Mind you, I guess I've been slightly obsessed with her and Garbage for 20 years, but it's funny how the things she has ranted about over that time have closely mirrored my own rants. That makes sense, as she's about three years older than me, so we've grown up in a similar time period. But she got to be a Terminator on TV, so she wins.

In any case, she remarks about how happy she is in her life, that it's exactly what she wants it to be. I can completely relate, but for me, it's certainly not something I've been able to say most of my life. As she reminds us, life has its ups and downs and can change for the worse at any time. She starts to get into the why of it all, how "life changes or devolves." It's with that in mind that I start to wonder if the quality of your life is largely measured by your perspective.

I think about how I described success or an ideal life when I was 21, and it was kind of stupid, or naive, at least. I've noticed younger friends make similar assessments at that age. At the time you think that anything else is just compromise, as if you're not allowed to evolve your perspective. As time passes, and you experience life, ideal changes.

For example, there's a dude that I went to school with who always posts pictures of himself with famous people, and he's always gotten off being around those folks (I believe there was some inherited privilege there, as he was that way in school as well). I started to experience a little of that working in radio at that time too, but it didn't take me long to see how shallow it was, and unfortunately how disappointing famous people were. (If I ever meet Shirley Manson, I hope she's not like that.) So while the dude from school is still posting those photos, I'm posting silly selfies with my kid and my wife, and I feel like that's objectively better. 20-year-old me could never have envisioned this life, but it's awesome. The other dude, well, seems sad and lonely, but maybe he doesn't think he is.

I think Shirley Manson and I are happy because our lives are exactly what we want them to be, whether we ever knew it was what we wanted or not. Life isn't an act of settling or compromise, it's an act of discovery. I didn't know that making software for a living, in Florida, with a little boy and a second wife, were going to be life as I want it. I do know that I choose every day to be happy with this arrangement, because that's my perspective.

The mobile phone business sure has changed

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 30, 2015, 10:54 PM | comments: 0

My phone is going on three years-old now. My Lumia 920 has served me extremely well, but these days the battery can be a little inconsistent. Yes, I still have a Windows Phone. Microsoft has totally failed to make a replacement I wanted, and I really like the camera. I'm not an app person, so as long as I can send and receive messages, look at a few web pages, and post photos to Facebook, I'm good. I know I'm not characteristic of most people (but especially gadget loving nerdy people).

An interesting thing has happened since I bought that phone three years ago. Subsidized phones are a thing of the past. Now, you can buy them outright or get on a payment plan that's above the cost of the service, which is a step in the right direction. This works to the advantage of a lot of people who aren't interested in being stuck in a two-year contract. It makes a lot of sense.

Earlier this year, I started to think about jumping ship to something new, just out of curiosity, and partly because I want to experiment with developing software on the other platforms. I hate the fact that everyone wants things to be an app instead of the open web, but I've gotta think about new things from a career standpoint. While I love my live tiles, I'm not above having more than one phone. I know a lot of friends who already roll that way.

Apple still makes nice phones, though iOS still isn't what I wish it was, specifically something other than an icon grid when I turn it on. But now that we're no longer in the world of contract pricing, what really gets me is the starting price for an iPhone. It's $649 for the lowly 16 gig model, and that's insane. They want another $100 for the 32 gigs, which is a minimum. Sorry, but there are too many decent phones that cost way less. Heck, Diana's Lumia 640 was $80, and while it feels a little light, it's a really solid phone. She loves it. (And by the way, it has 72 gigs of storage, because it has an SD card slot.)

I have been intrigued by the range of Android phones out there, because there is a ton of nice hardware. The fragmentation of the operating system versions annoys me to no end, but I guess there isn't much one can do about that. I have resolved, however, that I kind of want one to play with. If I do pull the trigger, it won't likely be a super cheap one, since if I'm going to carry one, I want a decent camera.

Next week, Microsoft will formally announce the Lumia 950 and 950XL, the worst kept secrets ever. That will be my primary phone, I'm sure. Like I said, I love my live tiles. As long as they go at a decent price point, I'll be sure to order as soon as possible.

The Model X is more of the future

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 30, 2015, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

I've been crazy busy at work the last few weeks, and I'm starting to come up for air. I totally forgot that yesterday was the launch date for the Tesla Model X, the SUV that's more or less based on the Model S. While the first cars were delivered yesterday, getting on the waiting list today will require you to wait almost a year.

The initial reservations are going to people who were content to spend a ton of money and get essentially all of the options, north of $130k. That's as "ludicrous" as the speed is, but I suppose if you're back logged almost a year, you can charge whatever you want. The going math is that the Model X will have the same pricing tiers and options as the Model S, for $5k more and without having a non-all-wheel-drive option. In theory, that means a starting price of $85k for a 70D, which is expensive, but not unreasonable for something that nice and technologically advanced.

The press is gushing about the damn falcon wing doors, which is fine I guess, but I think the bigger story here is simpler than that. They took the Model S and made more room inside, for 7 people, and now you can tow stuff. It's the safest SUV ever made, as in, no one else is even close. Oh, and it's still electric, which is Tesla's way of driving toward "sustainable transport." In the short term that means not burning fossil fuels in the car, in the long term it means being powered by the sun.

It's hard to see this car as something other than a toy for rich people, but keeping perspective, none of the people I know with the Model S are rich people. Sure, rich people buy these things, but there's a lot of enthusiasm for electric cars across a lot of segments of the population. The crazy stuff in the Model S and X is a blueprint for the future.

It's kind of funny to see Simon's perception of all this. At age 5, he lives in a house with a garage that has no tail pipes. Plugging in the car when you get home is his normal. He thinks a giant touch screen in the car is normal too (he keeps calling it the iPad). It's completely realistic that his first car will be electric.

The fun thing for me is that all of this technological excitement is also a great excuse for flag waving that we desperately need. The United States is anything but united, and people are living in fear and want to be victims of... something. But here we have a great American company changing the world. It almost doesn't matter if they're successful in the long run, with the future Model 3 and such. It's already clear they're pushing Detroit and the Germans in the right direction. Everyone wins.

It's an exciting time in automotive history.

Why some people should just stop using the Internet

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 27, 2015, 5:53 PM | comments: 1

I was all ready to write a sappy post about how much I love life right now, and how generally amazing most of the last seven or eight years has been. Then I saw this.

That's a screenshot from Facebook. Note the numbers at the bottom: 114,000 likes, 58,000 comments (most of them "Amen") and 1,700 shares. What is this?

It's a screenshot from the 1990 movie Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's about industrial corruption in a settlement on Mars, among other things, and a bunch of characters are all deformed and mutated because of bad air or something like that. Oh, and Sharon Stone is super hot in it too (spoiler: before she gets killed, anyway). And by the way, the girl grew up to be very pretty.

The Internet has empowered people in amazing ways. I think it can be argued that it has literally helped along revolutions. For the most part, it's an amazingly good thing.

And yet, this incredible power that we all have at our disposal inspires a new kind of stupid as well. People squander the power to live in willful ignorance, to indulge in their fears and mostly hold back humanity from advancement. Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that the opposite moves at the same velocity, and with just slightly more people, humanity would be screwed.

Oh, and chalk this up as another example of "Facebook activism," which in the larger scope of things doesn't mean anything.

Your parents were your first teachers in relationships, now you're the parent

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 21, 2015, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that stuck with me more than anything about my post-divorce therapy was the suggestion that your parents are your first teachers about relationships. My parents split when I was very young, and my mom and step-dad honestly never really exhibited a lot of relationship behavior toward each other in front of me, positive or negative. I suppose I didn't have a lot to go on. That said, it has been remarkable to see the impact of those teachers on the women with whom I've had relationships.

Fascinating as this exercise is in terms of self-awareness or armchair shrinking your mate, I recently had the horrifying realization that this is now a responsibility I have for my child. There are a great many ways you want to set a good example for your kid, but setting a blueprint for working in an intimate relationship is one I suppose I haven't thought much about.

This might be something that ordinarily you wouldn't over-think, but Simon has a way of taking things too literally. Maybe it's the ASD, but he generally has no use for hierarchy or the context of authority. When we correct him for misbehaving, he corrects us for "making him sad." To be sure, this isn't him trying to induce guilt. Diana and I do not play guilt games (we're very self-aware about this), and frankly I don't think he has the capacity to understand guilt yet. So any kind of toxic behavior that we might exhibit toward each other, he's likely to accept as protocol.

I think we're generally good to each other. We hug and kiss, kind of check-in with each other periodically, hold hands (when Simon doesn't insist on cutting in), help each other out, etc. But I do find myself being impatient or short with Diana when I'm stressed out or otherwise spent for some reason (work, Simon, home maintenance), and I know he's seen that. I have to be careful about that.

I still don't know how people have kids in their 20's. There are days when I barely feel like I have my shit together now, let alone in my 20's. I would definitely not have qualified as any kind of role model then.

Sentimental music history

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 20, 2015, 9:24 PM | comments: 0

I've often described how music very much serves as a soundtrack to my life. Hearing certain songs brings back memories in the most vivid way, sometimes complete with smells and sounds to go with the visuals. I don't know if everyone's brain works that way, but even though I've always been that way, it still seems freakish and surprises me.

From the time I really started listening to music, probably around age 10, when Thriller was all the rage, I've been one to intensely listen to stuff, and then for the most part file it away and move on to the next thing. Right now I'm listening to Metric, Muse, CHVRCHES and Elle King. I know that I'm not typical in that sense, especially for someone approaching midlife.

So is it because the idea of listening to Def Leppard and Debbie Gibson makes me want to harm myself or others, or is it because of the history association? OK, maybe the high school era isn't a good example. Even though parts of college were a little difficult, I do think fondly of the R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins of that time. Right after college came Garbage, and their debut is still one of my favorite albums ever.

Because we now live in a world of playlists, mix tapes without all the work, I have yearly curated lists going back to the 90's, but I almost never listen to the older ones. I also have one called the best songs ever, with about 20 songs, but I only listen to that one when I need a pick-me-up.

I got to thinking about this today, because of a specific song I've had stuck in my head from 1990. It's even worse with music that's older than I am. I totally get why a lot of classic rock is important, and I like some of it, but I just don't have any interest in listening to it most of the time. I'm a pretty devoted listener to AltNation on SiriusXM. I guess some people love to get shiny new things, but I'm all about shiny new music.

Summer is winter

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 14, 2015, 9:45 PM | comments: 1

I'm a little relentless about relishing the suffering people endure in winter, what with the cold and the snow and gray skies. It probably makes me kind of a dick, and I'm probably too proud of myself for deciding to move to a place that doesn't have real winter.

This is our third summer in Orange County, or technically, second and a half since we moved in July. The truth is, I have to agree with some of my friends who have lived here longer, that summer can be a little brutal. I mean, it's kind of relative, because certainly Northeast Ohio gets stupid hot and humid too, though at least we have the subtropical air currents keeping us from going too high. It just lasts longer, with daily 90's starting in June and ending mid-September. That's about four months of consistent, 90+ weather, with a whole lot of rain. You tend to not be in a hurry to spend lots of time outside, but we do it anyway. Maybe that's the core thing to remember: It's hot, but it doesn't prevent you from being outside.

So it isn't suffering, but it is the season you want to get through faster. By the time Halloween rolls in, you're topping out in the mid-80's with cool sub-70 evenings. Christmas is full on jacket weather, with highs in the 70's and downright chilly evenings below 50. (And tourists still show up in shorts, as if there is no Internet to check the forecast.) Regular 80's don't start again until April.

Half of our year is hot, the other half is perfect. Compared to 1/4 hot, less than half perfect-ish, and 1/3 too cold, I'll take the Central Florida arrangement, thank you.

One month driving a Tesla Model S

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 14, 2015, 7:46 PM | comments: 0

It has been about a month and 1,500 miles since we drove home the new car, a Tesla Model S 70D. It has been a pretty huge adjustment for me, being the guy who has always viewed cars as a necessary but purely functional thing. And I have to admit that my friend Gonch was right when he suggested that every time I sit behind the wheel I would smile.

We are not generally people who want or need nice things. We do have nice tools for our work and hobbies (sewing machines, computers, cameras), but we don't buy stupid huge TV's, expensive clothes or have an excessively large house. But we were motivated to buy this expensive car for science, and it also happens to be really nice. A part of me still feels a little guilty about that, knowing that it was money we could have spent on travel, philanthropy or investment. It's a little incompatible with humility. Whatever. This is my midlife thing, and it beats seeking out hookers and blow. And it's really fun to drive.

Not being a car guy, I don't really know what makes a performance car a performance car. My Tesla fetish comes from the fact that it's electric, and my electric lust started two and a half years ago when I rented a Nissan Leaf. But electric cars have some advantages when it comes to performance, starting with the instant gratification that comes from electric motors. Even the best combustion engine has the slightest hesitation when it comes to acceleration, but electric motors do not. The torque comes instantly, and it comes at any speed. Yes, the launch from a dead stop is like a launched roller coaster, and if I'm first up at a red light, you can bet I'll do it. I giggle every time. The 0-60 in 5.2 seconds is no joke (I can only imagine the 2.8 seconds of the ludicrous mode P90D). But even when you're passing on the freeway, already going over 60, the ability to make the car go, instantly, is ridiculous. That precision is just as obvious when slowly maneuvering into a parking space. Everything about moving the car feels precise and smooth.

One minor complaint: I'm not a fan of the arrangement of the control stalks on the steering column. They're just not as well arranged as those on a Japanese car. My understanding is that these are actually Mercedes parts. I have pushed the park button on the end of the shifter a few times, meaning to squirt the wipers. Fortunately, the car isn't dumb enough to put it in park at speed (or put it in reverse, which I've also done).

While the frame and body panels are aluminum, it's still a heavyish car at 4,800 pounds, more than 50% heavier than the Prius V we were driving. I hate big cars, even if they have big engines, because they don't feel particularly nimble. That's certainly not the issue with this car. As I said, the acceleration is nuts. Also consider that the battery is in the floor of the car, putting its center of gravity 18 inches from the ground, while motors on both axels turn the wheels, and you can honestly say that it "corners like it's on rails." It does what you ask, without so much a lean or tire squeal. The one thing you have to get used to is having the regenerative braking on (it does have a setting to turn it off, but I wouldn't). Instead of coasting, the car starts to reclaim energy when you pull your foot off of the accelerator, and you really only need to use the brakes in the last 5 or 6 mph of speed. Legend has it that Tesla has never replaced the brakes on a Model S.

In addition to the regenerative braking setting, there are some other things you can tweak as well, though Diana and I have left the defaults on. You can turn on the "creep mode," which causes the car to roll forward a bit when you have your foot off of the brake, similar to a gas car. I don't like the idea of that, as it's inefficient and lacks the precision I was talking about. You can change the steering to make it easier or more stiff, but we use the middle. There's also an energy conserving range mode that you can turn on to keep you from doing nutty acceleration and blasting the air conditioning, but I don't imagine it would be needed very often.

The basic features that come with the autopilot hardware are a little gimmicky, but still pretty neat. It uses a combination of a camera behind the rearview mirror and a bunch of radar sensors to know what's around the car. It reads speed limit signs and puts a notch on the speedometer to remind you if you're speeding, along with a picture of a speed limit sign. When someone is sitting in your blindspot, a visual indicator appears around the speedometer, and it turns red if they get way too close. If you drift out of your lane, the steering wheel vibrates and there's a chime. When you're moving slowly, it warns you of stuff near the car, and visually shows the proximity with the number of inches and a phantom wall that goes from white, to orange, to red (then it shows a big STOP). For an extra $2,500, or $3,000 after the fact, they'll give you the autopilot software, which keeps you in your lane, does adaptive cruise control, parks the car, etc. That seemed a little unnecessary.

Indeed, this is a fly-by-wire car, and everything you can do with it you do with the touch screen. I worried that this meant lots of screen tapping, but the things you use the most are actually all on one screen that you can easily tap to and from by pushing the bottom left corner at any time. It's where you find the sunroof control, door locks, trunk popping, etc. There are further tabs for things you'll set less often, like the child door locks, door locking behavior in terms of your proximity with a key, etc. I like physical buttons and knobs and things, but in this case the very simple controls on the steering wheel do most of the things you want, and muscle memory gets you there. The right scroll wheel, for example, can do a lot of things like open the sun roof, but mostly we just use it to change the climate fan speed.

The different "apps" available on the touch screen vary in quality, though we tend to leave the navigation on top and the rear view camera on the bottom. I suspect I'll leave up the energy on the bottom for long trips, because it gives you estimated range instead of rated range. Starting with the media app, you use that for music. It's kind of clunky, and I'm not a huge fan. Fortunately, we mostly just keep it on XM, and can use the steering wheel to cycle through presets. We did have to buy the upgraded audio to get XM, which is not a good deal at all, but I admit it's the best sounding car audio I've ever had. It's actually a little embarrassing to have a subwoofer. Matt & Kim's "Get It" comes on and we sound like the kid down the street you can't stand.

The calendar app isn't useful without an iOS or Android phone, not to mention giving a shit about your calendar while you're driving. The energy app will do some cool things about estimating your energy use when you have trips set up, but we haven't done that. The web browser is, well, a web browser (Tesla pays for your cellular connection). The phone app isn't something I've used much either, though we do pair our phones for calls.

The navigation is where this computer-in-a-car shines. It's Google Maps, so for one, it's probably not outdated like the average GPS. You hold down the button, say, "Navigate to Fun Spot," and it shows you where to go. It will even let you know if you have adequate power left to go round-trip. Sometimes it picks some strange routes, but as soon as you go the "right" way, it finds the better route. It will route you to Superchargers, and indeed any place that you've plugged in. What I really like about it though is that while you have the big map on the touch screen, "north up" if you prefer, the turn-by-turn 3D view appears up on the dash next to the speedometer. That is completely badass.

The touchscreen also is where you can bring up the battery screen, where you can set the charging limit (Tesla recommends a 90% cap for daily use). It has the driver profiles too, which remember where you like the seat, steering wheel, mirrors and the various driving settings. That includes a valet mode, that PIN-locks the glove box and frunk, and restricts the car to 70 mph. There's a drop-down for activating HomeLink devices like garage door openers and gates (if you live in one of those communities), and it actually appears when the GPS detects you're close to it. So on approach to our house, it appears, eager to be touched and open the garage. You can name your car, view the release notes, and connect to your home WiFi up there as well (it downloads updates via WiFi).

Climate control is along the bottom, and always there, along with the controls button I mentioned and the volume control (you'll likely use the steering wheel instead). It does driver and passenger temperatures separate, plus seat heaters. You can do a full auto, but I don't like it. I'd rather just control the fan speed manually.

The interior of the car is very minimalist, but I love the simplicity. The headliner is made of Alcantara, which is kind of a fake suede. I like it. The trim is a matte obeche wood, which we chose over the default piano black (dust and fingerprint prone), glossy wood (looks fake) and carbon fiber (too expensive). I really like the way that turned out. The floor and mats are a durable black material. The seats are black leather, but not the superawesome seat option. I think they're pretty comfortable. It just seems very roomy on the inside.

We do have a couple of complaints though. There just isn't any significant storage inside beyond the small glove box and a small cubby under the touch screen. There is a big trough in the middle with rubber rails in it, so you can put stuff there, but I like to hide stuff. There are only two cupholders, both in a somewhat awkward position in the center console, revealed by pushing back the armrests. Also, in order to use Simon's booster seat, we need to put the belt into the center buckle, meaning the button is on the inside. It's awkward. Oh, and the seatbelt height isn't adjustable, which is a weird oversight. I've found a sweet spot finally, but it was by moving the seat around to a good position.

The exterior of the car is beautiful. I'm really glad we did the pearl white, as it looks amazing in the sun, and not like every other black Model S. I've had black and white cars, and unless you go for really long periods without washing, I happen to think white is better. It's a pretty car, and I've noticed that people look at it. (Attention I would rather not have.) For what is essentially the ultimate family sedan, it's low and aggressive looking. The recessing door handles might be a gimmick, but it sure looks cool. I like that the mirrors close in automatically, but it does detract from the appearance a little.

I'm not entirely crazy about the size. Like I said, I don't like big cars. It looks lovely, but it's long and wide. It's a tight fit in the garage, and I still can't really park it very well. On the plus side, the trunk is flipping huge, and with only the rear motor and inverter under it, there's an even deeper well. If that weren't enough, you can put stuff in the "frunk" as well. Because this is a dual-motor car, the front trunk loses some space to the front motor. Still, the front of the car is mostly crumple zone, thus has the best crash rating ever.

Charging and range are completely a non-issue. I mean, range almost doesn't matter in our Nissan Leaf, for 95% of our driving. Regardless, I think the perception of electric cars by most people is completely wrong. Having to charge a car isn't an inconvenience, it's the biggest win of EV's. You leave the house every day, completely ready to go, with the most range possible. You never have to stop at a gas station, ever. The 70D is rated for 240 miles, and my observation is that real life, when it's mostly highway miles, would be about 225 if I'm to believe the energy app.

We had a 240v, 50 amp NEMA 14-50 outlet installed in our garage, and it charges at 40 amps to put about 30 miles of range on per hour, though it runs slower in the last 10% of charge. We set our charging limit at 80% (about 191 miles), unless we're going to one of the coasts or to see my mom in The Villages. Public "level 2" chargers put on about 20 miles per hour. The Tesla Superchargers, which are free, do some insane 100 amps and when ramped up add 300+ miles of charge per hour. They do slow down in the last 10% as well. The distance between superchargers tends to be around 170 miles, so depending on the load at a typical station, getting up to 200 or so miles of range, around 85%, should take somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes. That should make road tripping practical, as one tends to make stops every three hours or less anyway. I'll write when we've done it.

Again, in practical terms, the car has more than enough range for most driving scenarios. There is no anxiety for us to drive to Port Canaveral, Tampa, The Villages, and I look forward to doing some longer trips. And by the way, the cost per mile for us has been around 3.8 cents per mile (averaging 13 cents per kWh between home, public charging and free at the supercharger). Even if your gas car gets 30 mpg and gas is $2/gallon, that's still 6.6 cents per mile. EV's are stupid cheap for energy. Heck, the Leaf costs 2.8 cents per mile to drive!

So me, the non-car guy, really likes driving all of a sudden. We don't have flying cars, but electric cars are definitely close enough. The Leaf already made it fun, but the Model S makes driving super fun. It's a ridiculous indulgence, sure, but I think it's exciting to be a part of this revolution. Electric cars are where we're headed, I can guarantee it. I find it exciting that an American company, a new company that's not in Detroit, is pushing the technology and getting us there. I look forward to many years with the space car!

Coding as a hobby is getting harder

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 8, 2015, 8:34 PM | comments: 0

I've noticed in the last few years that it's getting harder for me to write code in my spare time, as a hobby. Yeah, I have this hobby "business" that I've been at for closing in on two decades, and I've always enjoyed it. There have been those fun instances of finishing up a new feature after several hours of work, then a late night deployment, and the satisfaction of seeing it all out in front of tens of thousands of people.

I still enjoy that process, but it has been harder and harder the last few years to really engage in it. Parenthood is a huge part of that, of course, and it has in some ways become harder. When Simon was tiny, sure, I was physically tired, but the challenges he faces these days result in more emotional and mental exhaustion. Throw in cycles at work where I am very much in the weeds of complex software (this varies a lot because of my career stage and differences in scope of the various projects I'm involved in), and it gets harder to have anything left over for the hobby.

There isn't really a lot to give. I just try to squeak stuff in where I can, because I don't know that I can really realign priorities much. I don't think I'm complaining exactly, I just wish I could figure it out.

Kindergarten launch

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 4, 2015, 9:54 PM | comments: 0

Simon just wrapped up his second week of kindergarten. I think we were all very much ready for him to start, and he definitely needed the stimulation and experiences because it's hard keeping that kid entertained when he's not entertaining himself!

At this point, we're pretty confident that he'll be off the charts great academically, which is what his teachers last year expected. The list of sight words he's supposed to know, by quarter, he can already read. He's a smart kid, and we've observed this a great deal in the last year.

However, we do have some concerns, not the least of which is his inability to consistently eat his lunch. The first day, he came home with all of it except the cheese poofs. The second day, Diana gave him fewer choices and numbers things, and he ate it all. Then he came home with everything. After spying on him, she found that he spaces out, which he does at home, and he also just up and went to the restroom and disappeared there for a bit. We're working on that.

I'm concerned about his writing ability, but he'll get a lot more practice in kindergarten. His social skills seem like they could go either way. He's got a lot of personality, and kids seem to like him. At his age he can be a little different without necessarily standing out.

Maybe the hardest thing for us is that we don't get nearly as much feedback as we did with his previous teachers, especially in his "special" class. That's obviously how things will go forward, so it's an adjustment. His teacher and the school staffing specialist have been pretty good about keeping us in the loop. It's just different.

I'm sure he'll do well, and I'm sure there will be challenges, but I'm excited for our little guy.

The white racial disconnect

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 7:30 PM | comments: 0

No one seems to care about context. This is especially true if the context makes them uncomfortable, maybe doubly so if it's about race. Look, sometimes there are real problems that may put white, heterosexual Christians at the wrong end of history, but it doesn't mean that you, as a white, heterosexual Christian are the problem. You aren't obligated to feel guilty or bad about it, but at the same time, it doesn't mean there is no problem.

For example, a popular response to #blacklivesmatter is to suggest that all lives matter. Well yeah, of course, but that response completely trivializes the fact that there is a real socioeconomic problem that puts a large population at risk. "All lives matter" suggests that the problems don't need to be addressed or don't exist. Objectively, with data, we can logically conclude that a million different factors put people in a cycle of poverty, poor education and violence that is difficult to break.

This doesn't mean that people are at war. No one is suggesting that a pattern of abuse and racism on the part of some police departments means all police are evil. I've known a lot of police, and all were professional, excellent people. These are not mutually exclusive categories of people: Both can exist.

So yes, I get it. It is vitally important that we partner with and support our law enforcement. But as soon as you view that support as a side that is diametrically opposed to bringing up the real problems that many communities face with their local police departments, you're sweeping a civil rights problem under the rug. More division gets us nowhere. Two centuries of racial inequality is a very real, unsolved problem. Don't trivialize it.

The company man

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon might be awful, and at the same time not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruise report: Disney Dream, August 14-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't confuse cultural evolution with political correctness

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

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

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

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

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

We are evolving. That's not being PC.

Tesla buying experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selling the Prius V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Framing the debate on your life

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

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

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

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

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

The 80's tapes

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

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

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

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

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

Organize business to your strengths, not arbitrary ideals

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

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

Most of the time, they're totally wrong.

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

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

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

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