Archive: July, 2017

In the interest of self-care

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

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

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

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

Take care of yourself.

An open letter to people selling MLM products on social media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diminished recreational coding habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Lego Carousel (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now is not the time for political apathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not the time for political apathy.

Age is glorious

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bookshelf speakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The essential role of mentoring and coaching

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

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

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

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