Archive: August, 2017

On moral equivalence and sports rivalry politics

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

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

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

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

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

Driving EV's: You probably ask the wrong questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I find your lack of empathy disturbing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Florida stuff

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

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

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

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

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

We're taking a grown up vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have a new high school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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