2018-2019 Orlando Broadway Series review

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 15, 2019, 11:10 AM | comments: 0

To say that this was our best season yet at the still shiny Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is selling it short. This year was beyond great. We didn't get the add-on this year, which was Jersey Boys, and I'm OK with that. I saw Hamilton three times to make up for it. This is way overdue, so the shows aren't particularly fresh in my mind, but I'll do my best.

Hello Dolly

This is one of those classic musicals that I feel obligated to see, since my education needs some catching up. As revivals go, this one was selling Betty Buckley over the title. She's over 70, and won a Tony for Cats. Honestly, the most I knew about this show was the song they use in the movie Wall-E, but I knew the premise.

It was entertaining, for sure. Buckley was charming and frankly pretty good for her age. It turns out, she called out the rest of the run (Wednesday is our night) in Orlando, and word is that the understudy was pretty amazing. Still, I liked the show and it made for a fun date night.

White Christmas

This isn't technically an old show, it's just a 15-year-old show based on a really old movie. It's one of Diana's favorite movies, and I end up seeing it most years. I admit I'm not fond of old movies, but this one does convey a sense of innocence with its quaint misunderstandings and what not. The show is everything that you like about classic musicals, with lots of dancing and big numbers. It's the kind of old school spectacle that I associate with those Hollywood golden age musicals, but it's far more exhilarating when it's live on stage.

Hamilton

I called this one out and already wrote a review, because I saw it three times. First time I got what I think was the last seat, and it was opening night. Second time was our normal subscription time, then the third time was a matinee with Simon and Diana. The #PhilipTour was something special, for sure.

Fiddler On The Roof

This was the sleeper of the season. It seems there's always one non-Equity show every year that ends up being kind of "meh." This was that show. The lead playing Tevye was solid, and the two oldest daughters did OK, but that's where the skill ended in this show. The choreography was the same drill, over and over again, mostly people moving around in circles. Overall it was disappointing. Old shows don't need to be "fresh" per se, but I do expect them to be well crafted considering what ticket prices cost these days.

Broadway

OK, so this isn't technically a part of the season, but it's the second straight year that we did it, and it was awesome. As much as I know there are a million things to do in New York, it's impossible not to love going to the city and seeing as many shows as possible. I already did reviews for those shows: King Kong, The Prom, Waitress and Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Yes, Waitress was a repeat for us (played Orlando last season), but I regretted not seeing it a second time. The big surprise was The Prom, which was so, so great, and I feel fortunate that we got to see the original cast.

Dear Evan Hanson

Hanson was one of the two shows I tried very hard not to learn too much about. I knew the basic premise, but I tried hard to avoid hearing the music. I just wanted to wait and see it for myself, knowing full well after the hype that it would certainly tour. I relented the day of the show, when I listened to the original cast recording.

Without giving too much away, a miserable bully kid commits suicide, and one of his regular victims is mistakenly thought to be one of his friends. He runs with it, persisting the lie, and inadvertently takes up the cause of making sure that lonely kids are heard, so they know that they matter. It's timely given the rise in teenage suicide. The story works pretty well to a point, but in the second act you have to wait a little long for Even to be found out. The pay off comes a little late, when there's still stories to tell about the wreck that frankly all of the characters embody.

But the music is pretty great. The swelling and amazing "You Will Be Found" is worth the price of admission alone, but others like "Requiem" and "So Big/So Small" are the kinds of songs that are emotionally exhausting in a good way, that force you to feel. It's a great body of work, even if the second act needs a little work.

Anastasia

Anastasia came out in a rough year to compete, with Hamilton and Waitress, two of my favorite shows ever. School of Rock was that year as well. Calling this an adaptation of the film, which is often incorrectly attributed to Disney, is a stretch, because it only uses a few songs, in a show that's otherwise too damn long. Seriously, it needs editing because it just drags on, even after the conflict has resolved itself.

Still, it's a solid show despite the length. The performances were all pretty good, especially the lead, with beautiful sets and one of the more clever uses of video walls and projection, with probably the best blending to practical scenery that I've seen. I liked the music, even though half of it was somewhat forgettable. Like I said, the show just needs some editing.

Come From Away

This is another show where I knew the premise, but I avoided learning anything more. It's about 9/11, and the 38 planes that were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada shortly after the terrorist attacks. There were 7,000 people added to a town of 9,000, so what happened next involved a lot of stories to tell. To that end, they tell a lot of stories based on the real people and events of that week. The story is told in one continuous stride, without intermission, about 100 minutes straight (bummer for concessions at the theater). The cast plays multiple people, usually a plane person and a local from Gander, and they change so quickly that they often have costume changes right on stage, adding or removing a jacket or hat. It all works surprisingly well, and with a set that's little more than chairs.

The rapid story development keeps things moving, certainly, but it also conveys a sense of urgency, which was undoubtedly felt on the ground that day. It's surprisingly funny for a show about 9/11, but it also has some deeply moving parts where the action seemingly takes the air out of the theater. There's a brilliant arrangement for a song called "Prayer" that uses what I find is often called "The Prayer of Saint Francis," but it's mixed with lyrics in Hebrew, Hindu and Arabic, to really drive home the point about the common points of religion. Then there are other songs involving fatigue, anxiety, fear and other dark feelings. It's emotionally exhausting, even to listen to the soundtrack, but at its heart, it's a show about how people can come together in the worst of situations. There are some real happy endings though, and the finale, as the band keeps playing when the lights come up, is amazing.

This is my second favorite show of the season, and if it's still running next time we visit New York, I'm pretty sure we're going to see it again.


The horrible archetype alpha software developer

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 15, 2019, 10:05 AM | comments: 0

There was this crazy Twitter thread where some dude extolled the virtues and value of the "10x developer." I thought he was just trolling, but then he doubled down about how serious he was. The larger community called him out pretty hard, but it's still surprising that anyone would think this way. A socially challenged guy (it's always a guy) who codes 12 hours or more a day, every day, praised for "getting shit done," doesn't communicate well, feels entitled because of the volume of work that he does... that's the alpha dev. You don't want him, I assure you.

I saw examples of this pretty early in my career, and I still see it constantly. It's not just young, smart, college drop outs, either. I've seen guys who have operated that way for 30 years and are still employed. The worse flavor of it, dude was two years from retirement. They're terrible to work with, they're the only ones who know about the innards of the software, they believe they're untouchable and they rarely help out the junior folks on the team. They're also pretty much at the center of the toxic bro culture that seems prevalent at a lot of companies, and especially in the valley.

That's not to say that senior developers, true battled-tested folks who have worked in large teams on large scale things, aren't extremely valuable. At a previous job, when I was still writing code, I worked for a company that hired those folks almost exclusively (until they couldn't find any more). That was a dream situation, unsustainable as it was in terms of hiring and cost. But even when the company started spreading out with a better mix of junior and mid-level developers, those good senior devs wrote maintainable, scalable code, and they were generous with their time with the rest of the team.

Is there a multiplier for their output? You might be able to argue that, but what they provide is different. They can lead by example, in code and in process. They know how to work with people from all parts of the business. They're thoughtful about the decisions they make and the long term impact they have. They understand the balance between urgency and importance, and can advocate for the resolution of non-obvious technical challenges. Best of all, if you set them up right, they're going to train their eventual replacements.

But that guy on Twitter and his mythical creature? You don't want one of those.


Why self-help and best practices aren't

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 11, 2019, 10:45 AM | comments: 0

It's astounding at how big of an industry "self-help" has become. Ditto for the countless books about business and professional development, as well as countless consultants and bloggers, are a big deal. Even in software, we have so many experts that are anxious to prescribe process and practice for you.

I think that self-improvement is a noble and even necessary pursuit. However, if there's anything I can generalize about all of this stuff it's that it's... generalized. It's all high-level, starting points, abstract, general. Its usefulness is limited because it's not contextual. Real life has a lot of nuance.

So what do you do with that? You engage professionals who can work with you in context after you've exhausted the usefulness of the general stuff. I can read a book on self-confidence, but if I'm going to really have a shot at improving it, I need to see a therapist. I can read a book about how some CEO worked hard to be successful, but I have to consider that person is an anomaly and an exception to the rule. I can see a talk on implementing some stellar best practice at work, but my chances of success with it are higher if it's done by someone who has experienced using it in a similar situation.

The harsh reality that I've come to accept is that experience (or inexperience) plays a huge role in everything we do. I know, duh, we do really stupid things as teenagers, somewhat less in our 20's, and by the time we really have things figured out, we're closer to retirement, or empty-nesters, or unfortunately on non-first marriages. Experience seems to be the only thing really indicative of long-term success, which makes sense considering how environment becomes such a huge influence early in life.

If that reality is bona fide, then I wish someone would have explained that to me around the time I was in college. The early success in my first career came rapidly because I pursued experience, but the advice I was given was to be relentless. That relentlessness only served to make me tired, in retrospect. Today I'm back to looking for the experience, and have worked very hard to build a network of people who can help me with that. TED Talks and books aren't enough.


$90 per dose for a drug, that's totally fine, right?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 10, 2019, 12:16 PM | comments: 0

Diana's neurologist would like for her to take a drug when her migraines get particularly bad. The "good" news is that insurance will cover four doses per month, and after that, they cost $90 a hit. Wrap your head around that.

Simon has been on and off various ADHD meds, as it takes some amount of experimentation to find what works, and it changes over time since little humans are constantly changing. Some of them have been well over $100 per month. Yes, I'm complaining, but it could be worse. If any of us were Type 1 diabetics, we would have to spend far more on insulin just to stay alive. This while politicians make stupid comments about eating better or getting in shape (if you don't know the difference between Type 1 and 2 diabetes, look it up).

I'm in the fortunate position that my line of work means I can reasonably pay what I have to make sure my family gets what they need. What's annoying is that this is after I spend nearly $10,000 on health insurance per year, and my employer frankly gets an OK deal on insurance compared to some. But what does someone do who makes less or doesn't get any employer-subsidized insurance? If you answered, "They get sick and die," yeah, that's pretty much it. Even a $50 co-pay for some people is the difference between making rent or not.

The frustrating thing about this is that the people so against overhauling the health care system are the people who are likely hurting the most. Explain to me why this current state is OK?

I don't have any solutions. I'm not a clever economist, I only see people in every other civilized nation not have this problem. Huh.


Silly abstract questions in tech interviews

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 8, 2019, 7:58 PM | comments: 0

I encountered yet another Twitter post where a guy is super proud of the abstract brain teaser question he asks of interviews. Why is this still even a thing?

If you're not familiar, there is a long history of the big and famous tech companies having interview processes with all kinds of ridiculous and abstract questions. The justification for this usually goes along the lines of, "It shows how people think," or, "We want to filter out people who aren't good at critical thinking." It's usually splashed with some arrogance about how great their process and company is, and how important the job of software development is. And nothing proves that you're innovative like explaining why manhole covers are round!

Learning how to interview software people is often like learning how to exist in a relationship. So if your parents engaged in a toxic relationship, that might seem normal to you. Similarly, this interviewing process is learned behavior and I'm surprised at how often smart people persist doing things in a way that ultimately probably doesn't serve them. Microsoft used to be that way, and I know Google and Amazon often still do it. Valley startup types are known to take it one step further by testing to see if you'll even donate blood and work 80-hour weeks for a cash-out that won't happen.

I've been hiring and interviewing people on and off my whole career, and I've been a part of some really amazing, high-functioning, innovative teams (and only one of them was on the West Coast). My interviews in every one of those situations was consistent: I was quizzed on practical knowledge, applied to real situations. I was also probed for soft skills as appropriate, but never for some nebulous "culture fit," which tends to be code for "drinking buddy" or "not better than us." I was often tested for broad conceptual knowledge, but rarely for encyclopedic knowledge that was easy to look up.

Let's break it down. Hiring people is hard, because the indicators for success are really only discovered in the course of a person actually doing the job. You can usually sniff out the fakers and bullshit, but sometimes they show up and you know pretty quickly that you made a mistake. It's certainly happened to me. So your best bet is to test the ability of a developer by seeing if they can... wait for it... write code. The depth to which you do this depends in part on the career level that you're hiring for. It's not inappropriate to have a junior or mid-level developer actually write code in front of you. For more senior people, at the very least you want them to look at actual code and see if they can identify anti-patterns and ways to optimize things or design a larger system. At every level, you need to ascertain what they actually did at previous jobs, and be on the look out for "we" and "they" and no context that includes "I."

If you're a manager and accountable for a development team, then you are probably measured on things like the volume of work performed, the quality of the work, the overall execution. You aren't going to be judged on whether or not your devs know why manhole covers are round. That's not a proxy to the ability to deliver code that advances the business, so why would you assess that in your interview process? The ability of a candidate to answer abstract nonsense is only indicative of their ability to interview, not perform the job.


Return of the radio dead air dream

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 7, 2019, 11:30 AM | comments: 0

It has been years, but I had the radio dead air dream the other night. The way that this usually goes is that I'm in some situation where I'm back on the air at a radio station, and I can't find the next CD to cue up a song, so I'm transmitting silence. (And give me a break about it being CD's... that's what we had when I was working professionally as an "air personality.")

This particular instance of the dream was interesting, because it bled a little into the moving into a dorm dream, and I remember a ton of the context and feelings. I was moving into a college dorm, but apparently that already happened. I was returning to a broadcast complex on campus that was totally unfamiliar, so not where I went to school. The radio station was dormant, which makes sense since my last visit to my college station some years ago was rarely on the air during the day (and it's a damn shame). At this point in the dream, I remember now feeling very adult, that my intention of being there was to teach others. That's a little presumptuous, because I haven't been on the air in almost ten years, but dreams never make any kind of chronological sense.

So when I couldn't find the next song, or any CD's at all (ha! maybe that was the problem), I remember the intense feeling that I had to set a good example for the kids who would be learning from me. When the failure occurred, I remember calmly trying to diagnose the problem and not freaking out, much in the way that I would today approach debugging software instead of pounding my keyboard in frustration. That's a distinctive difference in this instance of the dream, in that I did not experience the normal anxiety that I associate with it.

Still, there's a lot to unpack here. I'm not sure why I still think about radio, with a decade since that last air shift for fun at my college station, and 13 years before that when I did it professionally. I'll always tell people it was a lousy, low-paying profession, full of egos and nonsense, but spinning tunes for people is fun, and I was pretty good at it.

The teaching angle makes a lot of contextual sense in my life now. Obviously I'm a parent, but I'm also in the largest scope leadership position of my career. Professional development is intensely important to me, sure, but I don't teach software developers in an instructional sense. Heck, if I'm hiring right, they should all be better at it than me. But that accountability for people getting better, that obviously weighs on me and I take it seriously. I think it's healthy to worry about that sort of thing.

I imagine there's a little bit of desire there to prove myself as well. If I had to be top technical guy at work and less of a manager, there would be some areas that I'm definitely not experienced enough even if I conceptually understand those areas. That's a minor motivator for continuing to work on my open source project, for sure, to maintain some street cred so I'm never the out-of-touch manager. I've worked for those people before and they suck.


Suboptimal vacation

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 3, 2019, 5:22 PM | comments: 0

We just got back from our annual 5-night cruise with two stops at Disney's Castaway Cay, and it didn't go well, to say the least. Diana started with a minor sore throat about a week ago, which turned into full-on bronchitis. We hoped on Saturday, while in Nassau, that a solid afternoon and evening of rest would help, but it did not. The worst part of it was that she couldn't lie down without going into coughing fits, so there was little rest to be had. We got her to the doctor within a few hours of disembarking the ship, for a treatment including a nebulizer, a steroid and some antibiotics just in case, to head off any potential for pneumonia.

I didn't really get bummed out about the situation until today, after leaving the ship. In the moment, I think I was just trying to take care of everyone. I did my best to take care of Simon (and we had some quality beach time, for sure), while Diana got to rest. Simon has become very independent on cruises, fortunately, and he largely can do whatever he wants. That means me and Diana could hang out in a bar and meet people from all over, usually, but she was obviously in no shape for that. I was really looking forward to that time together.

I'll bitch and moan, because it's the week of my birthday, and get over it just as fast. I still think that we banked a lot of vacation karma when it all went sour on the trip to Cedar Point to do a GKTW fundraiser (the great water main break), but maybe we cashed those points in on two relatively great trips to NYC the last two years. Mostly I feel bad for Diana though, because while I was splashing around in clear ocean water, she felt like barfing up a lung in 200 square feet of stateroom. She's the one who deserves a do-over.


The hate energy

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 25, 2019, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

I've seen a lot of musicals in the last six months about not hating on people. Dear Evan Hanson was about kids who struggle to fit in. The Prom was about letting go of your dislike for that "LGBQ-teen" who wants to bring her girlfriend to the dance. Come From Away best shows the ability of humans to come together in extraordinary times of crisis. It takes place in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, on the week of 9/11, when 38 planes are diverted there with 7,000 people aboard from all over the world, stuck in a town that only had 9,000 to start with. Spoiler alert: They make it work.

We stayed for a talk-back after the show when it came to Orlando, and one of the leads, who plays a gay Californian and an Egyptian man in the show, told us the story about one of his best high school friends. The friend was an all-star athlete, adored by his classmates... until 9/11. As the child of Pakistani parents, he was immediately viewed as a pariah in his community, for no other reason than his religion and his parents origin. The actor believes that playing that role, of the Egyptian that some don't wish to understand, honors his high school friend.

As terrible as 9/11 was, for awhile at least, people seemed willing to take care of each other. President Bush at the time made an impassioned speech about the need to not cast Muslims as terrorists, because, "In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect." Heck, it was kind of like that after Irma a few years ago, around the neighborhood, even though it was mostly issues of debris, down trees and minor roof damage. People helped each other out when things were hard.

Now, there's so much energy put into hate and distrust. Politicians want you to hate brown people and rich people, depending on the side of the aisle they align with. Some crazy assholes are calling for gay people to be executed by the government, on behalf of their church, no less. Racism is persisting among young people, the ones I would expect least likely to engage in such behavior. Women are still trivialized in all kinds of professions as inferior. This is all going on in 2019.

I try not to be judgmental toward these people, but it's hard not to. I don't know where they find the energy for it. First of all, I can objectively observe that none of these groups of people pose any threat to me. (Dear white, straight, men: You've always had it better than everyone else, and you still do.) Given this condition of non-threat, I see even less reason to possibly spend any time using my valuable energy toward hating anyone, with the exception of willfully ignorant people, because that's a choice. I mean, imagine how freeing it would be if you could let go of the psychic cost of expressing hate. There are no useful outcomes for expressing hate. None.


Current vs. ideal state

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 20, 2019, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

Almost a year ago, I wrote that scaling is always the problem. I had recently started a job where I had to scale, along with the business, and the team and process that I had in my charge. That continues to be part of the challenge, but I've also come to realize that problem solving is better approached by figuring out the ideal state and working backward from there. Concentrating too much on current state makes it harder to even see the ideal state.

Let's say you have to build a wooden box. You have some of the wood to frame it, but not enough to cover the sides, and you have some screws and a screwdriver, but no drill. Looking at it from a current state point of view, you have a number of constraints that make it difficult for you to finish the box. That's demotivating, for sure, but it also makes it harder to see what the box could be. You aren't thinking about hinges for a lid, or a knob, or even paint. There are elements you don't have on hand, so the ideal is further away. But if you could step away, and think, "What do I really want a box to be?" it leads you somewhere better. In this case it probably leads you to go to the hardware store and get what you need.

I think I instinctively knew this, but don't always apply it where I should. When I knew I wanted to live in a better climate, and get to a certain place professionally, I looked at the ideal and figured out what the interim steps should be. The plan changes and bends as you discover new information, but forward momentum comes easy when you know what that ideal looks like. (For the record, the locale was easy, and the career goals have evolved, but I'm headed in the right direction.)

I've defined the ideal and worked backward from it on all kinds of important things. I did it in terms of my relationship goals, professional goals, financial goals, really all the big life things, and those are all works in progress. There are day to day things that it works for as well.

So yeah, don't let current state get in the way of where something could be.


World of cocktails and fruity beverages

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 18, 2019, 10:15 PM | comments: 0

I've always had a complicated relationship with alcohol, because there's a fair amount of addiction in my family. I vaguely remember my grandparents on my dad's side basically having a bar in the trunk of their car on some trip. In college I didn't want to be around it until later in my junior year. Once I was legal, I enjoyed weekend beers but didn't have a ton of money for it. I drank a lot at parties and holidays after that, but relatively infrequently in a weekday capacity. As I progressed into my 30's, my body became less tolerant of beer, but I liked wine with dinner. Cider, especially Strongbow, became a favorite until they made it too sweet. I liked fruity vacation drinks, but never really encountered them until, well, vacations.

Moving to Florida enabled two behaviors: Frequent theme park visits and cruises. Both of these expose me to those fruity beverages on a regular basis. The thing is, other than the classic mai tai that I've made at parties for years, I've never really known anything about making drinks. Then we started doing mixology classes on those cruises.

Before that even, we did a cruise near the holidays where the drink of the day was the "Christmas cookie," and a few years before that cruise they posted the recipe online. It's a little work because of the ice cream, but it's fairly easy to get great results at home.

Another one came from a bartender that works the premium bars on the Disney Dream. It's pineapple juice, Midori and Malibu, with whip cream, shaken over ice and strained. It's so good. For a shot, we learned how to do a "mini-beer," which is 43 and a little heavy cream on top (tastes like ice cream). We learned how to do a really good margarita with George Clooney's former tequila, Casamigos, an orange liquor and a little lime juice (no "mix").

I revisited some college favorites, too. I mixed up the classic mudslide by using Bailey's, Kahlua and whip cream shaken. And since I had Bailey's, it was easy to get butterscotch schnapps for the buttery nipple shot.

Epcot had the easiest no-brainer, ultimate summer drink, I think at the Flower & Garden Festival. It's Bacardi Dragonberry rum with Welch's dragonfruit and mango juice. It's stupid easy to make.

Given my desire to share and make stuff for others, I decided to make the butler's pantry in the house super functional. I hated spending the money on it, but the options were to have that or an empty space, and it seemed kind of douchey. But now that I'm pouring for friends (and myself on weekends), I love it. I had to equip it correctly, so I bought all of the essentials, including Boston shakers, a strainer, a glass salter, a rubber mat, and I already had a little cutting board from last year's Food & Wine Festival. I also bought proper pour spouts for all of the bottles.

My pouring technique is really solid. I've had enough practice in the last year that I'm efficient and relatively precise. In fact, it was super validating on the last cruise when the bartender complimented me.

The down side of this little hobby is that it's expensive to have a lot of varieties of liquor on hand. The good stuff, like the Casamigos, is $40 a bottle. So we don't have a huge collection of things (although things like Malibu and Bacardi flavors are cheap for giant bottles), but we can make a solid variety of things for guests.


History and nonfiction narrative

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 17, 2019, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

I hated all of the literature classes I had to take in college. Well, I didn't have to, but the difference between minoring in journalism and being a double major (with radio/TV as the first) was three or four English classes. As much as I question the place and value of college, I'm glad that I sucked it up and got it done. But the literature, ugh, I found it boring. I wanted to be a writer, not a reader, and back then I didn't see the value in being critical of guys who had been dead for decades.

But there was one class that I absolutely adored at Ashland University, and that was Dan Lehman's class on nonfiction narrative. We were his guinea pigs on the subject, and it's one that he literally wrote the books on years later. It was of interest to journalists, because it isn't uncommon for people observing a story to be entangled in it. Certainly there are varying degrees to this, and the questions about how or if you bend the truth to facilitate story telling. Hunter S. Thompson was arguably the most notable of the people practicing "gonzo journalism," where the writer most certainly has an angle and isn't particularly concerned about objectivity. It's written from a first-person perspective, it has an opinion, and it's not apologetic about it. There are also questions about whether or not this is a particularly narcissistic endeavor, but you also can't ignore the fact that objectivity is difficult to achieve, and modern journalists, the few we have left, are frankly so preoccupied with objectivity that they forget truth is often more important.

I'm sitting on about 20 years worth of news soundbites, interviews and first-hand accounts of changes in the amusement industry. That's probably not that interesting to most people, but I sit in a unique position to piece together all of that information. To that end, I've been jotting some notes down, writing some fragments and piecing together some things. What's remarkable is that the research is all there in plain sight, in my email, in forums, in audio and video clips. I was able to piece together with great detail the start of my little hobby sites. Next I started compiling notes that tell a tale of two CEO's (you can guess which ones), and the richness and texture in the detail is surprising.

Does any of that make for an interesting writing endeavor? I'm not sure, but I'm going to write a few chapters and see where it takes me. At the very least, it will make for some features to post online. At most, it could be a book a few dozen people would buy. I'm interested to see where it leads.


Early parenthood went by way too fast

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 13, 2019, 10:47 PM | comments: 0

The other night I was checking on Simon before I went to bed, and wondered why I still do it, or what I'm really checking for. I tend to cover him up if he's squirmed out of the covers, but for all I know that was intentional. I was kind of shocked at how enormous he looked. Then I saw an old video of him, when he was 2, dipping tiny pieces of non-choking hot dog in ketchup and saying, "Dip, dip." His baby laugh and "Simonese" were adorable.

We'll never experience that again, and this reality causes great sadness for me. I've generally taken entering my 40's in stride, and even feel that it has some advantages, but this thing about my kid growing up fast is hard. He's half way to high school graduation in terms of age, 9 down, 9 to go. We already got a late start, and additional children (likely by adoption) would push parenting into our 70's, which we don't want, but it's still sad.

If there's any particular thing that stands out about the early parenting, it's how no advice that anyone gives you is useful, and any preparation for it landed somewhere between pointless and useless. The day that little creature enters your life, you're pretty much on autopilot and you do whatever instinct suggests you need to do. Then as soon you figure something out, there's enough change in the next week that you have to figure it out all over again. This cycle repeats until at least 5 or 6, and soon the physically exhausting ass-wiping and barfing is replaced with the mentally exhausting thing about your little person having opinions and strong feelings.

Simon got sick tonight, pushing a fever of 100 degrees, with a cough that wouldn't quit. My often adversarial little boy just wanted me to help him feel better, and for now he needs someone who will rub his back and tell him that he's going to be OK. Those days are numbered, I know, and for me it causes a lot of anxiety about being a better dad while I still have time. There's just so little time.


Critical thinking and deep thought

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 11, 2019, 8:12 PM | comments: 0

One of the things that I've come to realize lately is that there are a lot of things that you need to just stop and think deeply about. For example, your kid may have a recurring behavioral pattern that you have to correct, and the resolution is deeper than, "Stop doing that!" Or at work, there's a problem that has to be solved, and the scope of it isn't just making a decision or delegating it.

The problem is, it's so hard to devote the time. There are never enough hours in the day, so you tend to fire away at the next thing and move on. You can get away with that in a lot of cases, because life tends to have a lot of small things that don't require a ton of attention. For the things that do require more of you, you just have to make the time. I'm not suggesting that you throw your hands up and cry that things are hard, I'm suggesting that you make time by prioritizing.

I get a lot of deep thinking done in the shower, and would get more of it done if I didn't run out of hot water. When I had a hot tub, I almost always saw the world with greater clarity when I got out. (Maybe being naked outside had something to do with it as well, I don't know.) Lately I find that a solid half-hour nap on the weekend helps. "Me time" mornings when I see a movie help. The key point though is that I need to make the time and be deliberate about it. It won't organically happen.

There's a bigger problem though, and it's cultural even. We don't engage in critical thinking as much as we should. Some people clearly don't at all. They absorb what they see, and in the age of algorithms, what they see is reinforced with what they want to see. It's cyclical validation of what you already believe to be real and true. There was an article in the New York Times last week about a guy who was mostly apolitical, and got sucked into the alt-right scene hard. When he finally broke out of the cycle of reinforcement, he started to swing hard left. His behavior was to simply be told what to think, and not think critically for himself.

When Bill Nye visited Orlando a year or two ago, he had a running joke about how "Critical Thinking" would be a great name for a rock band, but he was fundamentally frustrated with the lack of it in our society, especially when it comes to science. Flat earth people, anti-vaxers and climate change deniers don't think critically at all. It's one thing when willful ignorance just affects the ignorant, but often the consequences do affect others.

So take time to think. Think about the problems you need to solve. Think about bigger problems in a critical way so you can be a part of solutions.


A year in with Model 3, closing in on five years of EV life

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 8, 2019, 11:27 AM | comments: 0

In August, 2014, we replaced Diana's Hyundai with a Nissan Leaf. A year later, we replaced our Prius V with a Tesla Model S. We're closing in on 4 years gasoline-free. A year ago today, we replaced the Model S with a Model 3 (last fall we turned in the Leaf for a newer one).

We put 12,503 miles on the Model 3, and it's certainly the best car that I've ever had. That probably doesn't mean a lot coming from me, because I'm not much of a car guy, and have driven Corollas and Prii my entire life. But despite my aversion to expensive cars, it felt important to get to an all-electric world. The convenience of it alone has been extraordinary. I didn't quite realize just how annoying stopping at gas stations was. Driving this powerful thing with instant torque also makes it seem like burning dead dinosaurs and generating pollution to get around is a barbaric, low-tech process that we should have abandoned a long time ago. Even an expensive, hand-built gasoline car, with thousands of parts, seems like an inelegant solution for transportation. That may sound uppity, but that isn't the intention. Objectively, an electric motor is a relatively simple device with few moving parts.

Think about where we've come in a short period of time. Five years ago, a viable, long-range EV cost almost $100k. Now you can get one for $35k. Heck, the leaf starts at $30k, and if we're being honest, 150 miles of range is enough for 98% of what most of us need in any given day. (Seriously, I've driven one day this year over 100 miles.) When you realize that you leave each day with a "full tank," and therefore don't need to charge anywhere but home, you realize that your car is more like a cell phone in the way you use it. We've only used a supercharger once this year (round-trip weekend from Orlando to Sarasota), using about $2.30 of power. Our cost per mile is about 3 cents on average.

As for the improvements of the Model 3 this year, they've been interesting for sure. Real world track measurements put the car at 0-60 in about 4.9 seconds, and a recent update tweaked up the power by 5%, so it's possible it may have gained another tenth of a second. They've added the "dog mode" to run AC when you leave a dog in the car, with the temperature displayed on the screen so no one freaks out. They turned on sentry mode, which starts recording on three of the cameras when someone or something approaches the car. They also have dash cam operation enabled now. Unfortunately they still need to make it so you can clear the USB stick of video files without plugging it into your computer, because right now the recording functions just stop working when it's filled. They've made improvements to summon, which I don't use. Navigate on autopilot is pretty amazing, because it can actually do a freeway interchange by itself. It's a pretty crazy world where a year passes and your car does more than when you bought it.

While Tesla wasn't impressive in the buying experience, and our one service experience was mediocre (had to have the windshield replaced), Tesla isn't as crappy a company on the auto side as it is in the energy business. It looks like demand is still strong this quarter, and I look forward to seeing the Model Y in a few years.

EV life is just normal for us, and it's better in every way compared to gas cars. We'll never go back.


The politics at the ends

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 5, 2019, 8:14 PM | comments: 0

We're quite a ways off from the next presidential election, and already I'm disappointed with everything about it. On the GOP side, there's the total unwillingness to admit that they have a fundamentally terrible person in office who lies, contradicts himself and has no decorum fit for the office, let alone respect for the Constitution, relative to any president in my lifetime from either party. (There is also the cognitive dissonance of his supporters over those same things that would easily disqualify any of us from any job ever, but I'll never solve that mystery.) On the Democratic side, there's a growing movement to swing the pendulum in the other extreme direction, which also sucks. Mind you, if it comes down to suffering through free college or dealing with policy that instills hate against women and every kind of minority, it's not a hard choice. There is no moral equivalence, but it's still a crappy choice to make.

The post I wrote three years ago describing my ideal candidate is unchanged. I'm not really into labels, but being socially liberal and fiscally conservative is a thing. They are not incompatible ideas, because when combined they usually result in common sense positions that tend to fall somewhere in the middle. You're at your most flexible when you stop trying to fit everything into an ideological box. My experience has been that, with age, this is a natural destination, but it seems like most people are hell bent on joining a tribe and not deviating from it as life goes on. I didn't really know anything in my 20's... why would I think like I'm still that age with everything I've seen since?

We have to do better than this.


The moving into a dorm dream

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 3, 2019, 10:52 PM | comments: 0

I can't tell you the last time that I had the dead air radio dream, where I'm on the air and I can't get the next song cued up in time because I can't find the next CD, resulting in dead air. I put that one to bed I think after I went back to my college station in 2009 and did a few shifts. Also, CD's in radio aren't really a thing anymore. Heck, live on the air is barely a thing anymore. But I do have a recurring theme for another series of dreams: The moving into a dorm dream.

These come in a number of different flavors, but generally speaking I'm a resident assistant, and there are a bunch of people moving in. There's often a sub-theme about worrying about my stuff getting stolen, probably because a dude pillaged our room my freshman year and took a bunch of cash while we were in the shower (never left it open after that). The bigger theme though is about anxiety revolving around my leadership and authority in the situation. For the two years I was actually an RA, the truth is that I wasn't very good at it. I didn't have many shits to give about the general well-being of my fellow undergrads, and really I just wanted room and board paid for. It didn't help that I wasn't a very happy person those years, for a lot of reasons that were mostly immature. The weird irony is that I had a reputation for being a hard ass about quiet hours and busting people for alcohol. The reality is that it didn't happen very often, but I probably didn't handle it in a very good way.

In the many years since college, this dream started to happen when I started gaining more responsibilities in my jobs. You don't have to be a shrink to get this, certainly. Anxiety manifests itself in obvious ways. In earlier years, like a decade ago, the dreams were always in chaotic environments, with loud people, discoveries of destroyed furniture, my computer stolen, people being angry at me for whatever reason. I didn't wake up with good feelings.

This year, the dreams changed. I recall having one a couple of months ago, and the people and environment were generally stable. The anxiety shifted to things I had to do, like making staff meetings and missing late night rounds. Then last night, I had arguably the best version of this dream ever. In the dream, I remember checking a calendar on my phone (which had a monochrome screen, like an old school Palm Pilot), and it had all of the round schedules. I also met a resident moving in, who was actually a woman in her 20's, professional, not unlike some of the people I work with, and I was giving her advice about how best to arrange bunks in her room before her roommates arrived. In other words, I was confident in my organization and ability to lead. That's uncharted territory for me, and it's especially weird for a dream to result in something not borne of anxiety. I think the dream reflects a me that is more confident.

I'm fascinated by dreams. A lot of people, and even the metaphor "in your dreams," seem to imply that this brain function serves you with things you can't have in real life. That's never been the case for me. Dreams have almost always been the manifestation of my fears and anxiety. Somewhere in my mid-30's, sometimes dreams would be positive, and these days they're mostly, but not always positive, regardless of the subject. The completely bizarre combination of contexts from different people, places and times is hard to explain, but they're mostly positive dreams.


Writing what you know vs. writing complete fiction

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 3, 2019, 10:23 PM | comments: 0

I've had some conversation lately about writing with other authors, as well as some good reads of interviews for all kinds of writers (including screenwriters), and I'm surprised at how much I read about the perceived legitimacy about writing from experience and writing totally made up stuff.

I will freely admit that when I've sat down and written scenes, I draw very heavily from real-life. The reason that I have so many fragments is that I struggle to write the things that tie them together. I have some solid outlines and story arcs, but it's hard for me to make up something completely original that never happened. It's downright discouraging to think in that context, that all I could potentially do is write about anecdotes from my own life. If that's all I've got, I'll run out of good stories pretty quickly.

My more rational self of course understands that this is nonsense. Historians can be great writers, and "all" they do is compile facts into an understandable and cohesive narrative. Journalists write about facts in short, easily understood narratives.

A really big component of those conversations and interviews though come down to a more fundamental question: How much of what we do in any creative or artistic endeavor is derivative? We value originality, but unless you live your entire life in a closed off box, it's impossible not to be influenced. In music we've had a remix and sample subculture for decades and we seem to be OK with it. Hollywood and Broadway keep recycling stories.

Still, I get it, this idea that you can be a force of sheer creation to make something that did not exist before and people haven't seen it. Experience does make us who we are though, and I do suspect it can enrich the things we create.


Measuring energy usage is my new obsession

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 31, 2019, 3:25 PM | comments: 0

One of the cool things about the installation of the Powerwall last week is that we now have total energy monitoring. The solar by itself includes aggregate reporting about generation, but without matching it against actual usage, the overall story about how and when we use energy is not complete. At best, I have the electric bill that shows how much we pulled from the grid, and how much we put into it. That isn't that interesting at the macro view of a month.

So a little about what the installation changed. The Powerwall is just a big, 14kWh battery. You can use it in two ways: Either to back up the house when the power goes out, or to shift power generated during the day to power the house at night. If the difference between your generation and usage is the amount of the battery capacity, then the latter scenario makes sense. But we don't have the generation or storage capacity to cover it, so it doesn't make any difference if we net-meter our excess day power back into the grid and pull at night. Not only that, but in the case of power outages, you can't keep the lights on if the battery is just time shifting the power for you. I like to keep "exercising" it, so I let it discharge down to 90% during the day instead of keeping it topped off at all times.

The key ingredient here is that the ancillary battery hardware includes the gateway, which will disconnect the system from the grid in an outage. You don't automatically get that with a solar system, but you need it because during an outage, you don't want to be feeding power back into the grid and electrocute a line worker who doesn't expect power there. We also had to shuffle our loads around, because the whole house can't be powered off of the battery, which has a maximum output of 7 kWh. The house was wired with two 150a panels, plus one of the two heat pumps (no idea why it isn't both) feed directly from the main box. So inside, they grouped all of the big stuff, the oven, range, AC, car charger, water heater into one, and everything else, including the fridge into the other. The "other" is what gets backed up. It collectively uses around 300W for the most part, meaning it could last almost two days without sun. During the day, there will be so much excess power that I can invite a neighbor to plug in some fans or something. So yeah, we'll have no air conditioning in an extended outage, but the alcohol will be cold and we'll have ice forever.

The battery came online at a time when we're in the middle of crazy hot, dry weather. We normally top out at 92 during the middle of summer, and only briefly because of daily afternoon thunderstorms (it's even cooler on the coasts). For whatever reason, we're into the second straight week of hitting 100 with no rain in sight. We're in our worst-case scenario for energy usage. Just last month we only took about 350kWh from the grid (around fifty bucks). It'll be way higher now.

You can stare at the app all day to see how you're doing on an instantaneous basis:


Here we are using solar and the battery to power the house.

Here's the ideal: generating so much power that much of it is feeding back to the grid.

Here we are sucking power from all three sources.

Also revealing is the overall draw pattern on a particularly hot day:


Overall consumption

Solar generation

Grid draw

There are all kinds of things you learn about this data:

  • Our peak usage borders on an extraordinary 100kWh per day (I've seen 103) when it's this hot. Our cars account for 10kWh in a round trip to work downtown (about 44 miles round-trip, at a cost of about $1.25). For reference, I think our lowest daily usage is around 45kWh per day in March/April, including a commute trip.
  • We keep the AC down to 72 overnight, and it runs a lot. You can see at 7 we let it go up to 75, but cooking breakfast causes a usage spike. If the weather were any hotter, we couldn't keep it cool. Nest says upstairs has been running as much as 17 hour a day, downstairs 6.
  • When I get home on days I commute, I plug in the car, we start using the oven or range, the sun starts heating up the house so the air comes on. That's an extraordinary draw.
  • Solar generation isn't bad for a 10kW system, though it could be higher if they hadn't provisioned a 5kW inverter for the 6.1kW segment of the system. Our daily record is 61.8kWh, set in April. I'm not sure we have enough roof to add more in an effective way (the attic, sewer and bathroom vent placement is the real problem). This is why I feel strongly about the potential in distributed generation.
  • I'm surprised at how much power electric appliances use.
  • Getting to net-zero on a yearly basis here would probably require about 14kW of solar, with two electric cars. The difference in usage from spring to summer is extraordinary.
  • As we close in on a year of data, it's pretty clear that our ROI period for the solar will be about 9 years, give or take a few months, and assuming no increases in utility cost. That's a pretty good return, and it's money baked into the value of the house (but not it's tax-assessable value) regardless.
  • There are plenty of anecdotes in the forums I watch where people in cooler climates have no problem reaching net-zero for electricity, which surprises me because I thought that would be the exclusive domain of sunny places. The More You Know.™

We live in the future. Residential storage was not even practical a few years ago, and solar ROI used to take 20 years.


One year in on the best hardest job I've ever had

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 26, 2019, 10:08 AM | comments: 0

In my previous job, I was straddling the line again between hard core manager and software developer, and again I realized how hard that was. Following the "involuntary separation" of that gig, I felt like I had to make a choice about being deliberate to the next level. Someone from the investment firm that bought my current employer found me somehow, and encouraged me to apply, and eventually the rest became history.

I'm a year in now, and when I look at everything that I've done (because one takes inventory when writing a self-evaluation), I'm surprised at the volume of the work. I'm also a little frustrated with the number of mistakes, but I have to give myself a little grace there because this is the largest scope of people and process that I've been responsible for. In fact, that's the real challenge: I know what the right thing looks like, and I've been able to successfully apply it to smaller teams. Now I have to figure out how that works with what will be at least 35 people in my reporting line before the end of the year. That's almost three times my previous record of 12!

Hiring takes an extraordinary amount of time, and because the market favors the workforce, I find that I have to prioritize it even though it's dynamic in its demands. You can't control when people apply or can interview, but you can't move slowly because you might lose the unicorn that you're looking for. I'll close on six hires soon, plus the screening for my product peer, and I've looked at more than 500 resumes this year. While it feels like frenzied work, it's one of my favorite aspects of the job. I've got a pretty good track record of team building, able to see the gaps and match the skills and personalities to fill them. This is one area that isn't that different at this scale, though I suspect it would get harder toward the org size of 50 or 60.

The rest of the job got easier when I realized six months in that I couldn't realistically get in the weeds on everything the way I was used to. I had to delegate and hold accountable my direct reports, and it was like someone flipped a switch when I finally embraced that. I guess I always knew that's what scale required, but I stubbornly thought otherwise. Not only was that change in behavior more effective, but it also gave me a lot more time to look at the bigger strategic problems and give them time. Now I've got a blueprint about where the risks and opportunities are, and can spend time thinking about the tactics to move forward.

And that's why this is so exciting... because just the next year alone is full of really cool stuff that you can only do in a growing company at this stage. It's challenging, for sure, but in all of the right ways. I'm surrounded by excellent people, with a proven business model and a whole lot of potential. The technical challenges are becoming well defined and more of a function of time to solve than difficulty. It checks a lot of boxes, and I'm super excited about it.


Third grade and the horror of the FSA test

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 24, 2019, 11:18 PM | comments: 0

Simon is officially done with third grade, in what has easily been the most difficult year of school for him, and us (and especially Diana). There was an unnecessary amount of suffering in no small part because of the ridiculous Florida Standards Assessment, or FSA, and his psycho principal that sees it as the most important thing in the world.

The good part is that his grades were A's for math, science and social studies, and a C for reading. His FSA score was a 3, which is the minimum to automatically be promoted to 4th grade (less requires a portfolio review and a lot of bureaucracy). He continues to be on an IEP (individual education plan) to help him with his social skills and issues related to ASD, ADHD and anxiety. He actually had the same teacher two years in a row, and she was amazing, though I wish he had a different set of classmates the second year as he never really found a niche.

As I said, this principal likes to brag about having the best test scores in the district, which she gets because frankly she mentally abuses the kids until they submit to a reality that they must do well or be held back in third grade. This is coupled with endless amounts of required teaching about how to take the tests, instead of teachers being able to teach real, useful things like more math and science. The kids are all tweaked out over it. That photo below? That's Diana trying to talk Simon off a cliff the night before the test. He was a mess. I was so fucking infuriated by this that it took every bit of my being not to call the principal and tell her to shove the test somewhere. I already knew of her tactic from two years previously, where they pressured the kids to pressure the parents to order Papa John's for a fundraiser, which of course Simon interpreted as required, and cried and thought he would get in trouble when we didn't. She blew me off on that concern, and frankly I haven't cared for her since.

Outside of the testing, Simon struggled a bit socially. Some of it was his misunderstanding of social contracts, certainly. If kids didn't laugh at his jokes, then he believed that they didn't like him. But as I said, he never really felt included in this class, and lacked a "BFF" like the one he had in first grade. It doesn't help that some of the boys in the neighborhood are, well, boys. This hasn't been a great year for his self-esteem. Extra tutoring and being taken out of class periodically for special education makes him feel different, too.

And with all of this adversity, maybe more of a share than he deserves, I struggle as a parent because I don't want to entirely shelter him from it. I don't want him to be one of those sad kids who graduates high school (and college) only to rely on us for the most fundamental things. (Seriously though, I keep encountering people in their early 20's who don't understand getting their own place, doing their laundry and getting and keeping a job. If he ends up that way, I will have failed completely as a parent.) But as much as I don't want him to grow up to be a co-dependent asshole, I do want him to have a happy childhood. Taking him to Disney isn't what does that... he has to feel supported, engaged and part of the scene.

Simon is such a smart kid, and a potentially brilliant mind for technical things. The expressive abilities are behind, but they're getting better. He actually is getting funnier, even if that's not the stick with which to measure his likability. Even tonight, I felt like I had a breakthrough with him, understanding him when he didn't entirely make sense to me. The specter of homework and high stakes testing are behind us for now. I think we can spend some time together now just doing kid stuff. And as for next year, well, "FSA" isn't even an acronym in his new principal's vocabulary. Also, his special ed help will be in-place, with the teacher coming to the classroom instead of pulling him out of it.