The blessing and curse of the digital age

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 17, 2017, 8:59 PM | comments: 0

In the same day, I happened to encounter two things that got me thinking about "the digital age," in the broader sense. The first was an article in the New York Times about Amish adoption of technology. Then, as I was flying solo for the evening while Diana was working, I decided to watch Dave Grohl's Sound City documentary again. The former talks about the desire in the Amish culture to not allow the information age to short circuit their values, while the latter (in addition to some excellent music history) talks a bit about how the digital revolution was not great for the world of music. As someone who graduated from high school in 2001 and college in 2005, my coming of age story is very much coupled to this computerized revolution, and it's at the foundation of my professional success.

The Radio & Television department of Ashland University routinely held a PBS-style auction to raise money. The department had a few dozen students at any given time, but even with our lab fees, we certainly couldn't afford a ton of equipment without some extra help. The big ticket auction items ranged from big stuff like a Geo Metro car (selling for around $9k in 1992), to a computer around $1,500 (which my dad won, actually), to a ton of minor items donated. It was the last auction they ever did, sadly, but it pushed the department into the digital age in several important ways. We scored a digital "still store," a computer that served still images for use in broadcast. Prior to that, we showed still images on slides projected into a video camera. We also built a multi-track audio studio from that, 8 analog tracks on 1/2" tape, but a year later we adopted a digital audio system that stored audio on a hard drive. I think we stored our "A" and "B" rotation on that machine, in addition to a variety of stabs and ID's. It was a precursor to totally automated radio, which by the time I started working in Cleveland radio in 1995, was nearly a thing.

The Internet had been around for years by that point, but the commercialization of it was just starting to blossom. In 1994, a senior in college, I remember drinking a bottle of Zima with "http://www.zima.com" on the back of the label. After a lot of messing around on my advisor's computer to get the World Wide Web to work, I saw my first commercial Web site. I could not have dreamed at the time that this thing I was looking at would be where I would base my professional life.

In the years that followed, I would start to see the gradual transition of video to a digital medium. In the three years that I worked in government television, I started with analog S-VHS video tape, and by the time I left three years later, I was recording on digital tape and editing with a computer. A year or two after that, I was even able to do that in my home, which is not something I imagined while still in college.

In 1998, I started publishing content on the Internet, a hobby that continues to this day, and one that at times paid my mortgage during times of unemployment. A new opportunity that was unimaginable even a year or two earlier merged.

When I transitioned out of the broadcast world into the Internet world, I recall an encounter that seemed entirely inconsequential at the time. A guy I didn't work with directly had showed me something called iTunes on his Mac, and a device called an iPod in 2001. My vision of the usefulness of this arrangement was incredibly limited, in part because committing my collection of CD's to computers would have been cost prohibitive at the time. In fact, for the next six or seven years, even when I purchased music digitally, I would still burn it all to CD's.

Meanwhile, just as you didn't need a video editing suite with thousands of dollars of equipment to make video, you certainly didn't need much more than a home computer to record music. Indeed, the democratization of creation was occurring. No one would understand this more than me, when in 2005 I started recording a podcast that would eventually be listened to by thousands of people.

In 2007, the iPhone was introduced, and while smart phones were already a thing, it would lay the groundwork to transform our culture to make it more connected... and maybe too connected.

The Amish story in the NYT and the Sound City story have a common thread: A lack of constraint, enabled by technology, makes it easier to be less human. The Amish are able to maintain a level of interconnectedness in their community. Musicians in Sound City were forced to rely on creativity because tech couldn't help them "perfect" their recordings.

Let's be honest, this does sound a little "get off my lawn"-ish, or crusty curmudgeon. Nothing is more annoying than a "back in my day" story. I think life has benefitted greatly from the advancement of technology, but novelty can certainly influence how we look at its use. For example, we know that furniture made by machines is efficient and makes it less expensive. However, we appreciate and understand the value of something made by hand, to the extent that we'll pay more for it in terms of money or our own time.

The thing that I've learned is that there is a certain advantage to knowing something before and after a particular technological advancement. For example, I learned to edit video on tape, before it was possible (or economical, at least) to do it with a computer. The constraint of having to think more deeply about how you were going to cut a show, to plan it out, made for better results. I was able to take those skills to the computerized world, but the tools still enabled a new creativity by allowing for more experimentation.

Ultimately, I think our ability to treat technology as a tool is the thing that separates the blessings from curses. There's nothing wrong with using these networked supercomputers in our pockets if it means we're learning, improving our lives and the lives of others, enjoying the benefits of automation and connectivity. When we use the same tool to isolate ourselves from the world in front of us, that's not good. It's OK to embrace technology provided you don't lose context.


What I learned about hurricane forecasting from Irma

posted by Jeff | Saturday, September 16, 2017, 1:34 PM | comments: 0

Irma was our second hurricane since moving to Florida, though we ended up not being home last year for Matthew, as we traveled to North Carolina for a wedding. That storm brought my first lesson about hurricane forecasting, that you really can't be sure what to expect until the last few days. A track just 30 miles more west would have resulted in much stronger winds for us.

That uncertainty was still a thing with Irma, but only in the sense that we didn't know for sure how bad it would be. We'd get a fairly close hit regardless, and the scary variables applied more to the coasts. Being inland, we could have the reasonable expectation that winds at worst would be 80 to 90 mph, but because of the uncertainty, they could be low as 40. Power outages and water loss were probable, though against the odds, our power outage was brief and after the storm. People in neighboring areas still don't have power, almost a week later.

It was Friday night that I heard from a friend, who had a relative in one of the NOAA recon planes, that indicated the northern turn would come later than expected, pushing the storm up the gulf coast instead of the Atlantic. Sure enough, the revised track that night put Tampa at risk. That was a significant change only 48 hours out from the worst of it.

One thing that was clear: The National Hurricane Center forecasts every six hours were the critical source of truth. The text of their forecasts were pretty straight forward and offered explanations around why the storm was strengthening or weakening, and importantly, the bearing and speed of the storm. It was free of the nonsense that the local TV stations engaged in. As the storm was tracking NNW by Lakeland, one of the locals (I'm looking at you, WESH) was instilling fear by insisting that "the eye wall is headed right for Orlando!" The NHC was pretty clear about this: The storm center had been moving at about 330 degrees with every hourly update, not directly north, and "eye wall" was a bit of an exaggeration for a storm that had been dragging across land for hours. The Weather Channel was almost as bad, with about 5% information and 95% nonsense like having those assholes standing out in the wind.

Once the first bands started crossing through, there was some risk for tornados, and that's where a good radar app helped. The National Weather Service issues warnings for entire counties, which doesn't make a lot of sense for the giant counties in Florida. While the text of the warnings describes the locations of the action, the app shows the bounding boxes and tracking cones for individual cells. That helped us see that a tornado warning applied to the northeast part of the county, and we could see an extreme wind warning to the south issued in the neighboring county (which fortunately lapsed without a replacement near us).

Precipitation radar isn't the whole story though, and that's another way that TV and the feds differed. Heavy rain is less concerning when you're not in a flood prone area, but wind is important. Having a radar app that does wind as well is helpful.

We ended up topping out with sustained winds in the mid-50's, gusts up to the 70's. Some folks lost some shingles, but trees took the worst of the damage in the neighborhood. Our location is just about as ideal as you could have while still in Florida.


Review: CDX Blocks Cyclone ("the Lego roller coaster")

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 14, 2017, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

Disclaimer: Many years ago, I had a relationship with CoasterDynamix, as I built their first web site back in 2004. That said, other than a long-time friendship with one of the principals in that business, I bought these kits myself through their Kickstarter campaign, and I have no financial interest in this review. I want to make that clear in the interest of keeping it real.

A very cool package was delivered today, as the CDX Blocks Cyclone came today! Actually, three of them came today, because that's what I backed when the project was just a cool idea on Kickstarter. CoasterDynamix has sold a lot of really cool roller coaster model products over the years, but this is probably the coolest of them all because it's Lego-compatible.

You probably know that Lego's patent for their block system expired quite a few years ago, so really anyone can make bricks that are compatible. Most of these "compatible" products absolutely suck. The plastic just isn't the right consistency, they don't snap very well or they squeak. Actual Lego might be expensive, but the bricks are without question of an incredible and uniform quality. They've been making them for decades and they all still work together. It's with that knowledge that some healthy skepticism is warranted when considering anything made by anyone not Lego.

Having gotten to know the CoasterDynamix guys over the years, I know they get off-shore manufacturing, and the risks associated with it. What they've delivered, a little later than initially expected (sounds like getting through customs is hard for inanimate objects and not just foreign folks), is remarkably good quality plastic "Lego" parts. It's not perfect, but it's so close to actual Lego that I suspect most people won't know the difference.

There were two trains in the box, which surprised me, but I vaguely recall that being a bonus if they reached a certain funding goal on Kickstarter. If you're the kind of person that likes to sort all of your pieces before you start (I don't, as I like the numbered bags), you might just love that almost every category of brick comes in its own bag. The instructions are not long, and they're easy to follow. You essentially build the structure in three sections, then join them together and add the track. The only thing that wasn't clear is that there are two angled wedge sizes to bank the track, and it wasn't obvious until near the end when the same step used both sizes. The smaller ones are used in the transition to a turn, while the bigger ones are used through the body of the turn.

The only thing difficult about the build is snapping on the rails, because they're really rigid. Given my occupation, I don't work a lot with my hands, so they're not very durable, and the pressing started to hurt a bit toward the end. But if you've played with any kind of roller coaster model at all, you know that rigidity is what makes these things work. A squishy track or support system bleeds energy and it risks not completing the circuit.

The trains show what CoasterDynamix has always done well, in that the wheels are metal and low friction. There is some room there to stick some mini-figs in the seats, if you desire, and nothing would be better than putting a Storm Trooper, a fireman and ninja together.

Total build time was about three hours, and the most tedious part of that is assembling the 194 chain links. It's visually very satisfying, and would look great along side the Lego carousel or ferris wheel. My 7-year-old son has already decided that we need to build a station. I'm really happy with the end product!


Hurricane Irma and the neighborhood of McMansions

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 11, 2017, 8:27 PM | comments: 0

If there's any takeaway from HGTV, it's that a lot of people really hate big new construction neighborhoods and production builders, because of something about cookie cutters or something. Me, I'm not really that picky, because my house doesn't need to be a snowflake, I just really want to like the floorplan. My neighborhood is a Starwood development, and last count I think there were a total of eight builders, plus a series of customs on the lake, so there is actually a fair amount of variety. Actually, KB Home allowed way too many of the one model with the same front elevation, but it's not intolerable.

There is a win in all of this new construction though, in that it all had to be built to more stringent building codes that came after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the triple storms of 2004. As we're now getting closer to the completion of our second Florida house, I'm totally amazed at the way these things are built. And now that I've experienced a storm transitioning from Category 2 to 1 with its center about 50 miles away, inside of one of these houses, I don't think the building code is overkill.

To start, the first floor is made of concrete block. Rebar buried in the concrete slab is tied up through the block to the wood structure above, whether that's the roof or the second floor. Bundles of 2x4's around the perimeter and even in the middle of the house are strapped down to the foundation and metal straps secure the roof. In the new house, this was particularly impressive in the two-story living room, because you could see how one of the main roof trusses were tied down all the way to the floor. There are also some things about physics and negative pressure that apparently also contribute to keeping a roof on. And stucco is a kind of cement, so it's super durable on the outside.

Being this far inland from both coasts has its advantages too, in that a storm has to be dragged across land to get to us, and that limits the destructive potential to a degree, especially without storm surge. I know the talking heads on the TV (I have a lot of thoughts about that, for another post) would have you believe that all of Florida was going to sink into the ocean, but the science is such that odds are pretty low to have a storm of such consequence that modern houses would suffer massive destruction. Older homes, or those not retrofitted with more current code standards, would be vulnerable. But you know, these so-called cookie cutters can take a beating. We got to see it with sustained winds over 50 mph and gusts in the 70 to 80 range. It was fucking terrifying, but the extent of our damage is some water seepage along the floor on the southern side, where the utilities come in.

This unusual storm had a lot of energy after passing by without the moisture. I didn't really sleep much, and when I tried at 8 a.m., I couldn't. So I went for a walk, perhaps unwisely as it was still blowing at a solid 30 mph. The retention ponds were very high, and the adjacent lake was at least 3 feet higher than normal, but together there was no imminent threat of flooding. Lots of trees were down, but not broken, a phenomenon we used to see almost every thunderstorm the first year we were here. (The soil of the mature tree root balls doesn't match the sandy stuff they're put into, so they tend to rotate almost like they're in a socket joint.) Some of the houses on the hill lost some shingles, though there's some speculation about whether that's due to the builder or the location. Lots of fence damage, too. Most annoyingly, the cheap boxes where the cable company stashes their house connections were all over the neighborhood. Mine only migrated as far as our bushes. Our neighborhood has been an oasis of sorts, because we did not lose power.

Despite what seems like an arbitrary curfew lasting until 6 p.m., the people in our neighborhood were out everywhere, helping each other clean up, sharing stories and in some cases beverages. Kids were out playing after being holed up for 36 hours. I've never seen this many people out and roaming about. It was nice to see people engaging like that as a community.

Now that the worst has passed, it's sad that there are places in the Caribbean that are uninhabitable and running out of food. And the coastal impact in Florida wasn't anything like we expected, where Tampa ended up relatively unscathed, but Jacksonville got nailed. The size and scope of this storm broke all of the rules. At the end of the day, all we really lost was a night of sleep. We've got friends coming over to at least get showers and phones charged, as they're still powerless and might be for a few days. It's important to keep perspective, for sure. I'm thankful our unoriginal home kept us safe.


Our Hurricane Irma prep in Orlando has been thankfully uninteresting

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 10, 2017, 9:16 AM | comments: 0

At about noon today, we'll start to get tropical storm force winds in Orange County, which is fortunately not full on hurricane force (74 mph and up). That's not actually uncharted territory for us, because we were in Ft. Myers for Fay in 2008, shopping for wedding venues the week before. That landed with winds in the 60's, which is what our forecast here calls for. The potential for tornados on the front end is frankly more worrisome than the sustained winds.

We knew a week ago that Irma would have some impact on us, it was just a question of what that would look like. Extended periods without power and water are really the biggest issues we deal with in Central Florida, particularly if you live in newer construction. A direct hit of a storm this big from the south would result in 80+ mph wind. A direct hit from the east or west, coming straight in, could get us over 100, but this too is really unlikely, though certainly possible. As it turns out, the direct south hit almost came with this storm. The important thing to understand is that hurricanes this far inland are not the same experience as they are on the coast. They can still be dangerous, sure, but without the ocean component and storm surge, it's a different kind of dangerous. I'm not aware of this area ever having to evacuate.

And that's the crazy thing about hurricanes, but especially this one. You know a week out that something will happen, so you have to prepare for it regardless. Last year, we ended up being in North Carolina during Matthew, but had the storm moved even 30 miles west up the Atlantic coast, Orlando would have seen some serious shit. With Irma, even three days out we were expecting an Atlantic track, then the day before last, a direct hit up the middle. In the end, it was pushed up the gulf coast.

We have a bunch of ice made and can probably preserve food for a day and a half if we lose power. Plenty of bottled water in case we lose that, with a bathtub full in case we need it to flush toilets. (The water quality here kind of sucks to begin with, so we don't drink it without filtering.) We have plenty of battery packs to charge phones for at least five days. We can be plunged into the dark ages for a few days without too much discomfort.

If anything good could come out of this, we went to Epcot Friday night for a few hours, where in a shut down for light rain, Simon got the VIP treatment from the Test Track crew and got to walk the empty queue. Then for Saturday, we went to Magic Kingdom, where it wasn't busy, and he got to ride his favorite three roller coasters with his new buddy. When that was done, we went back to Epcot, and got to ride the three big rides: Test Track, Frozen and Soarin', in the span of three hours. It was one of the best Disney days ever.

This afternoon gets noisy, but at least I know what to expect. Probably won't sleep much.


The good old days of radio scanning

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 5, 2017, 10:44 PM | comments: 0

radio scannerWay back in my college days, I bought a radio scanner from Radio Shack. We had one in the newsroom of our college TV station, and it was kind of cool to hear when there were fire dispatches or big police actions. As it turns out, there were other interesting things to listen to as well, not the least of which was campus security and the cordless phones that you weren't supposed to have in the dorms because of the obvious bandwidth constraints at the time (cordless phones used only 10 channels at the time). I'm not sure why people thought that was a secure way to use a telephone. You could also listen to air traffic, and my favorite thing, the Skywarn nets, where people drove around reporting storm damage via amateur radio that could largely be seen on radar.

I make fun of those guys, because technologically, amateur radio isn't particularly interesting or even necessary these days. But prior to the late 90's, they definitely delivered a great public service that probably saved lives when there was particularly severe weather, especially with tornados. With the Internet and fairly robust cellular service, to say nothing of advances in radar and measurement devices everywhere, they're a little obsolete. Until, of course, some massive disaster or nuclear war knocks us back into the stone age... then the radio guys will be survivors.

These days, my scanner is hopelessly obsolete, but even the newer models are of limited use because law enforcement in particular tends to encrypt their radio traffic. I think it's outright illegal to decrypt it if there was some technological way to do so. So yeah, you could receive the signal, but you wouldn't be able to listen to it. I had been entertaining the thought of upgrading for a year, but once I finally looked up the data, I decided it wouldn't be that worth it if I couldn't listen to police traffic. Although, I suppose I could listen to Disney, but that would probably get boring quickly.

The old scanner still has one genuine use: Weather radio. NOAA will probably keep operating that service until the end of time, which is a good idea because it's inexpensive low technology that just works. Battery operated weather radios are cheap. So if we get knocked back to the dark ages after Irma, I'll at least have a weather radio.


A million dollar house

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 3, 2017, 11:20 PM | comments: 2

One of the nutty things about HGTV is that they tend to shoot their various renovation and house hunter shows all over the world. To that end, I'm always amazed at what constitutes a million dollar house in some areas. The least surprising are those near New York City or Boston, but then you have places like Vancouver, BC that are insane. This shouldn't be entirely surprising, given Seattle's housing market.

On the other hand, when they do shows in Central Florida, from Tampa on the gulf coast, across to Brevard County on the Atlantic, it's definitely a different scene. The cost per square foot is often close to $100, easily a fifth the cost of places on Long Island, for example. So if you're the type of person that would brag about having a million dollar house (which would be kind of douchey), I suppose that's only a big deal relative to where you are.

I think Seattle definitely messed with our sense of housing costs. Coming from the Cleveland area, where during the recession you couldn't really sell without taking a bath, while seeing rising costs and an uptick in construction where we were (Snoqualmie, WA), our ideas about home ownership were all over the place. Had I been able to sell my Cleveland house, and if we stayed in Seattle, it would probably have taken two more years of saving and not spending bonuses to buy a house, and it definitely would have been a more conservative place under 2k square feet. Now, in suburban Orlando with a hot market, we can buy twice the house at less than the same cost, or the same house for less than half the cost.

This line of thinking may have lured me into a sense that a house can be something of an investment, which my previous experience completely invalidates, but this time around we're expecting it to be a 14-year commitment unless something really compelling moves us again. Our current house has appreciated about 5% a year, which is hardly a recent 401k return, but it's not a negative number. At the end of the day, it's still a lifestyle choice.

Housing, to me, is one of the most interesting factors in socioeconomic opportunity, because it varies so wildly by location. Of all of the cost of living variables, it seems the most erratic. It's also not linear in terms of income requirements. I mean, housing may cost twice as much in Seattle, but I wouldn't have to make twice as much to live there. (About eight grand a year would cover the difference for equivalent property, interestingly enough, if you don't consider the amount you need to put 20% down on a house.) The bigger variable is where the jobs are, which should matter less and less for white collar jobs, but traditional blue collar and service work varies a ton.

Also, the views are better in Seattle.


It's not a party without you

posted by Jeff | Monday, August 28, 2017, 9:56 PM | comments: 0

We had a party last weekend to celebrate the end of summer, which it won't really feel like until late October, because Florida, but still. It's been at least a year since we've had a broad group of friends, coworkers and such over. We've acquired a surprisingly large group of friends and neighbors since moving here, and I feel like it's important to maintain that, and mix them up from time to time in the same spot.

I've been having parties for a long time, for as long as I've had a place to live bigger than 500 square feet. I think at first, my motivation was just that I didn't think I should wait for other people to decide, "Let's get together!" That may seem obvious, but as socially inept as I was in high school and college, it was a discovery for me. But as time went on, I found that people moved, changes jobs or simply fell off the radar (which was easier prior to social media). My motivation changed and it became more about appreciating time spent with your friends while you could. Since those earlier days, I've done a lot of moving myself, and some friends are no longer with us. Midlife seems to make celebrating the people in your life even more important.

You never know who is going to come to a party, but we had more than 40 this time, and most were here at the same time, which was a little challenging. We decided to get catered food from Tijuana Flats this time, which was great for ease of execution, but I probably should have looked at the cost before committing. Fortunately, the meat was gone before the last guest left, and we were mostly left with a metric ton of chips and salsa, cheese and some of the toppings.

Funny how small worlds happen. One of my current coworkers knew a former coworker, and his wife's father conducts the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, where one of Diana's friends works and sings in the show. One of our neighbors works at Universal, and she's occasionally in meetings with one of my roller coaster nerd friends. My direct neighbor is a teacher, and Simon's first grade teacher were here, and another current coworker's wife was a teacher before they moved here recently. And then she also had a conversation with another neighbor who previously worked for Disney and shared information about some of the education programs. It's also interesting that the coaster circle includes a bunch of us that all came from Ohio/Michigan area, and now we all live here.

The world is as big or small as you want to make it. I'm grateful to know so many excellent people from so many places. I almost had high school and college people represent, but both couldn't make it. That would have been wild. Still, happy to be here, and I feel fortunate to have the friendships that I do. Never take that for granted.


The desire to nerd harder

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 25, 2017, 9:44 PM | comments: 0

Earlier this week I finished up a story (that's a unit of work in agile software development) that I didn't finish the previous sprint (the unit of time between our releases). It was a performance refactoring thing that ended up taking longer than expected, and while not terribly difficult, it was pretty satisfying to get it done and see the results. Today I got pulled in a lot of directions, but later in the afternoon I started down a road looking at new things, and kind of forgot it was Friday night and I should, you know, spend time with my family.

I love my job, because it appeals to what I think are my strengths, and I've been fortunate enough to be in this sort of career appropriate mode now for about four years. Guiding a team, processes and filling in the blanks is a good fit, but while I enjoy the administrative duties, I like to get my hands dirty, too. Not only can I still do that, but I have to because we're not big enough for me not to.

So it's fun to nerd a little harder. I need some of that. In my spare time, which feels scarce at times, I'm trying to spend time with a new technology or framework I haven't messed with before. Orchestrating the success of others is satisfying, but making stuff yourself is too, in a different way. I need to remind myself to do that more.


Social contracts, amphetamines and Planet Coaster

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 22, 2017, 9:29 PM | comments: 0

It has been awhile since I've written about parenting. School started last week though, which has frankly been a relief for us, and especially for Diana. Summers are hard, because his neighborhood friends are mostly in daycare, so he doesn't see other kids as often as he does in school. And as much as we try to keep him busy, it's not always easy with the daily summer afternoon thunderstorm.

Parenting has been challenging. Last year's ADHD diagnosis was rough. While the amphetamine they prescribed definitely helps him in school, we think it causes his concentration to also reinforce his finger picking habit. It's not a great feeling when the school calls you and they say we need to do something about his bleeding fingers and constant need for bandages. And it's not his nails, it's the pads of his fingers. He can't control it. He has to wear socks at home so he doesn't do the same thing to his feet.

We strongly feel that Simon needs therapy along with the drugs, and one of his doctors agree, but the other problem he has is extraordinary anxiety. Because of that, working with him to develop coping strategies is a non-starter when he's anxious about success and doing the right thing. The doctor prescribed a drug that didn't work, but she recently switched to another and it seems a little better. As much as I am all about talking about these challenges openly, I hate the idea of all these medications. Fortunately, I don't think they change his personality

One of the doctors or therapists that he met with didn't feel he was dealing with ASD, which is a pretty ridiculous assessment after spending 15 minutes with him. Simon is still struggling with social contracts and you can see the frustration and energy he expends trying to reconcile the unreconcilable. For example, he interrupts with an "excuse me!" when we're talking, and despite correcting him and asking him to wait, he starts to get frustrated and angry because to him, he followed the rules. In more serious conditions, he loses privileges because he didn't follow directions, and he can't reconcile the punishment. To him, a "sorry" makes it better because that's what we taught him. So when we take away his favorite computer game for a few days, the frustration, and physical manifestation of it (a lot of shaking and convulsing), comes up every time he wants to talk about it. I used to think it was just him not getting his way, but the frustration is so deep and intense. He truly can't reconcile the cause and effect.

That favorite computer game, by the way, is called Planet Coaster. It's not so much a game as much as it is a construction kit for virtual theme parks and roller coasters. He's obsessed with it. He uses a combination of wood toy tracks, cars and blocks in the playroom to build "rides" patterned off of actual rides, and while he really uses his imagination, the constraints of the physical world sometimes frustrate him. But in the game, he can do whatever he imagines. If that weren't enough, he's able to operate a theme park, and he makes little announcements to the guests and analyzes every little 3D inch of the rides. He's even getting physics a little.

Aside from the fact that it's not a social activity, I can't think of any good reasons to keep him away from the game arbitrarily. We limit the time, but I won't forbid him. It brings him a lot of joy and I see the quality of what he's building improving. I also have the baggage that not only did adults not encourage me to use computers, many actively treated my interest as a nuisance. I can't repeat that history.

Simon is still a sweet kid most of the time, even though he has learned already to declare that he hates us from time to time. He's funny and charming. I'm acutely aware that the window for him to be my little boy is quickly closing, and that's the thing that reminds me to be as patient as I can.


The ups and downs of the open source world of .NET

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 20, 2017, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

We're now closing in on nearly three years since the announcement that Microsoft's .NET platform was going open source. I was pretty excited about that announcement because I imagined that the bits would come to be in the open and subject to feedback from the whole world. This has indeed been the case, but it's been something of a mixed blessing as .NET Core became a real thing.

I view the world through two lenses: work and POP Forums, my open source forum project. At work, there hasn't been any time where we've embraced .NET Core for a number of reasons. Either I was working on projects that were on long living code bases that couldn't be easily ported, or there was too much apprehension about the state of tooling and framework maturity to commit to it. That's unusual, because in the previous world of "closed" .NET, we'd usually move to the new hotness in a month or two, almost without fail.

POP Forums has been something else. I started to move to ASP.NET Core in September of 2015, during the preview phase, and I wanted to go all-Core, without relying on any of the "legacy" framework. It was pretty rough. Out of the box, I had to find something not in the framework to handle the sending of email via SMTP, and eventually settled on MailKit. I also needed something to resize profile images, since I previously relied on WPF classes. I eventually settled on ImageSharp, but after a few years, great as it is, they haven't done a general release yet. (Side note: If I did math good and understood image manipulation, this would be the first project I'd contribute to.) SignalR, used for the real-time updating of stuff, hasn't really made the journey with the rest of ASP.NET Core, but they're scheduling a release to come before the end of the year.

Then there was the constant churn of bigger picture things, like the project files. They changed those almost continuously. The CLI tooling mostly worked most of the time, but the visual tools did not. The Resharper test runner is broken again against Xunit tests. VSTS has never been able to keep up, so my CI builds are broken more often than they're working. Despite being in v2.0 now for .NET Core, the ecosystem really isn't very stable yet. The long and short of it is that I used to do forum releases almost simultaneously with framework releases, but my last release, for the legacy framework, came in February 2015. I haven't been at a point where I felt comfortable making a release just with feature parity. Every update to ASP.NET Core breaks stuff, and I spend a ton of time just updating references and fixing stuff.

All of that said, I do feel like we've turned a corner. It's not that it wasn't possible to ship stuff running on the platform (my simple blog has been on it for awhile), it's just been hard if you had a lot of moving parts, or you had dependencies you couldn't get. SignalR will be a solved problem soon, and it looks like the ImageSharp team is ready to a bona fide beta. With those two things in place, I'll be ready to finally get out a feature parity release to the old ASP.NET MVC (the version of which I no longer recall). I did some load testing on it last year, and whoa, it's not easily crushed.

Being open source, when something seems like a bit of a mystery, you can poke around the covers and find out how things work. Sure, sometimes I just wish there was better documentation, or I happened to read the announcements about an architectural change, but some things are pretty simple to dig into. You also get the kind of interaction with the developers that you didn't get when the code was mostly written in a bubble. (Though in early versions of MVC, I did have that interaction because I worked in the bubble.) I stumbled across a bug in 2.0 that is already on the list for getting fixed in 2.0.1, and you can see all of that happen right in front of you.

Oh, while not something I care that much about, it's admittedly pretty cool that I could build and run the forums on a Mac using JetBrains' Rider. That's pretty crazy.

It's been frustrating at times, but going open source with .NET has demonstrated that the stakes are very different for something that is quite literally at the core (pun intended) of everything that everyone using it wants to achieve. The two people that use the forum (OK, it's more than that) can generally roll with whatever I do, and fork it for their purposes, but .NET Core is subject to huge scrutiny. On one hand, you want to move quickly and be iterative, but significant changes cause a lot of pain. On the other hand, this was an enormous opportunity to break with more than 15 years of legacy, so the volatility is probably worth it in the long run.

For me, I look forward to eventually modernizing the forum app (the client side is stuck in 2012), and a year from now perhaps we can migrate the product at work to Core.


On moral equivalence and sports rivalry politics

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

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

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

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

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


Driving EV's: You probably ask the wrong questions

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 13, 2017, 3:40 PM | comments: 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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


I find your lack of empathy disturbing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


First Florida stuff

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

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

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

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

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


We're taking a grown up vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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


We have a new high school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Keeping your company culture

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The problem with Obamacare is Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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