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.


Tesla is a terrible company with amazing products

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 24, 2019, 10:14 PM | comments: 0

After two and a half long years, I finally got my "free" Powerwall to backup our power in the event of an outage. I say "free" because I didn't have to pay the $7,800 for the battery, just the installation, by way of the company's referral plan back when we bought the Model S almost four years ago. The program ended in December, 2016, so it actually took them that long to make good on this thing. It's signed by Elon Musk, Franz von Holzhausen (the car designer) and JB Straubel (the CTO).

Taking delivery of the Model S in August, 2015, was the first time since childhood that a shiny object with scientific significance completely blew me away. (That time in childhood was the first time I had a computer in the house, in case you were wondering.) Sitting in that car felt like being in a space ship, and I'm not exaggerating. Everything about the buying experience was amazing, and it resulted in driving this beautiful thing that moved my family around safely and without pollution. And I'm not even a car guy.

In early 2018, once we sold our previous house, we were next in line to order a Model 3, and I got some quotes for solar. Tesla price matched the best deal, and I wanted to go with them since I was entitled to the Powerwall reward. As they designed the system, they reached a point where they said the delay for the Powerwall would be a few months, and that time period got longer and longer as they basically stopped making them, since the cells inside are also used for the Model 3, which they were ramping up to produce. They set one poor expectation after another.

Concurrently, we ordered the Model 3. It slipped on delivery time more than once, but I tried to be OK with it. I was selling the S to my best friend's dad, who was fortunately flexible in the delivery timeframe. The person out of Vegas who did the scheduling was horribly rude when I asked them to fix their crappy CRM system, which to this day lists the alternate contact (Diana) on everything, including contracts, meaning everything ends up having to be done twice.

Taking delivery of the 3 was another big deal, but only because of the product. The enthusiasm in the store that we had from the staff for the S was long gone, and I felt like we were being rushed out. Similarly, when I had to take it in to replace the windshield, I couldn't help but feel like I was bothering everyone there. But whatever, it's still the greatest car ever made, to me. I love it.

Back to the energy business... Our solar system was installed on June 25, 2018, which also happened to be the day I started my new job. It took several extra weeks because getting the permits to me to sign was always someone else's failure, and the guy who set up the sale wasn't empowered to get it moving. But install day came, and everything looked solid and professional, but I had to wait for Duke Energy to put in a net meter. Here's where I learned for sure what I theorized in the back and forth about the Powerwall: No one at the company is in a position to make a decision and do anything. Duke finally put in the meter on July 12, put a tag on the door saying I was good to turn on the system, and so I did. Tesla was never going to get more of a notification than that, so they didn't even attempt to turn on the monitoring. I finally got a solid tech on the phone who took the serial numbers on the inverters to at least input the information into their system. It wasn't officially "on," but I could at least take the measurements on the inverters and see how much it was producing.

Except it wasn't. The daily totals were somewhere in the teens or low 20's, instead of the 40+kWh that are normal for July days. Something wasn't right. I called three times, and each time they were waiting for a notification to operate that would never come, even though I offered to send them photos of Duke's door tag, or even the meter itself. I finally got a support person with a little more of a clue, who got in touch with a field tech who was in the area on July 27. That guy came and found that the smaller inverter was not wired correctly, lacking a jumper on the inside to bridge the two channels that the inverter has. The very next day, production jumped to 41kWh. The tech showed me how the configuration worked while he was there. He also pointed out that my larger inverter, tied to my panels facing south, was only able to do 5kW, even though the panels can produce 6kW. I'll get back to that.

The next day, I was surprised to see mid-day that the larger part of the system, the 6kW (or 5 because of the inverter), was producing about as much as the 4kW segment, which faces more west, and that didn't seem right. Turns out there's a setting for parallel vs. independent, which depends on how the panels are wired in two strings, in this case. As mine are two identical strings facing the same way, it should have been parallel, but was instead set to independent. I could see the output immediately increase when I changed it.

More than a week would pass before they would turn on the monitoring, even though they quite literally had a guy touch the system to confirm it had the blessing of the utility. Why? Because no one at the company can make any decisions on anything, or call the right people.

The aforementioned under-provisioned inverter is a real sore spot though. It's not uncommon that I can walk up to the inverter, and see that it's pegged at 5,000W, even though the panels feeding it could be producing as much as 6,100W. While there are some minor curves in the efficiency of panels and inverters, I know that they can hit spec. The other, west facing panels, 13 capable of doing 305W each, have driven the 4.2kW second inverter to about 4,000W, which exceeds the 3,965W they're collectively rated for. That's super frustrating. My recourse at this point is to initiate arbitration, or take them to small claims court. I'm not excited about either action.

I finally have the Powerwall today, but of course, that already has an issue. They installed the monitoring equipment incorrectly, so it thinks that the energy that I'm pulling from the grid after sundown is going from the solar to the grid, when it should be from the grid into the house. Of course they can't get it right the first time.

I love the cars, I love the energy products, and I'm all-in for Elon's vision, but the people in between are running a shit show. I think the company desperately needs a COO or someone who can focus on customer experience. If we operated like this at work, I'm certain that our investors would have us all replaced. You can't treat customer interaction like an assembly line, where someone creates the order, another gets permits, another designs your system, another installs it, another supports it, and no one is accountable to each other, or the customer. That system doesn't work.

I imagine it's just growing pains, but the company's reputation is taking a beating online for this sort of thing. They've gotta turn it around.


I finally caved and had a water filter installed

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

After five years or so of home ownership in Central Florida, I finally decided to get a water softener/filter installed. The water here meets all of the standards that the EPA sets, certainly, but they generally rely on the Florida aquifer to get most of the gross stuff out. This does actually work, relative to the ground water you'd find in a lot of other places, but it tends to have enough hydrogen sulfide to smell funny (especially in the summer), and the mineral content is so serious that it leaves a film on everything.

When I first moved here, the water smell actually reminded me of the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal, specifically the shower. I never thought it was outright offensive or anything, but it was definitely an "Orlando smell." Then I noticed that any time we traveled, my skin would clear up. Then I noticed the film that tends to get on everything, in the shower and in sinks, and I ever saw it on the stainless steel water bowls the cats use. We've had filters in our refrigerators, but we still bathe in it and brush our teeth with it. Also, the toilets get moldy in like three days, and frankly combating it in the shower is difficult.

So I finally had enough. The system we got isn't high end, and we have to add pellets to it periodically, but it does flush itself out. It's about the least interesting thing you could ever spend money on, but like your bed, it's something you use every day.

And it'll be fun while the air bubbles get evacuated from our system the next day or two.


Getting my learning on

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 16, 2019, 11:38 PM | comments: 0

I don't write code for work anymore. At the scale where you have 30+ people reporting indirectly or directly to you, you really couldn't do it even if you wanted to. At the same time, if you're going to make decisions about engineering, you should know what you're talking about, and what your leaders bring to you. I know how important this is from being on the other side (with managers who absolutely did not understand anything about engineering), and it makes a huge difference. To that end, having a project where I can always be building something serves as both a tool to keep me rooted in some kind of vague legitimacy, and also be a hobby. I also find that education in software development is super critical to the advancement of the field, and I can't just talk about it.

After Node.js came out and a massive world of front-end web tooling and frameworks started growing out of control, there was a crazy amount of specialization that started to occur between front-end people and everyone else. The specialization annoys me, because it's harder to find developers who can build something end-to-end as a vertical piece of functionality. But I'm a little guilty of this myself. Even when I was doing the consulting work a few years ago, I generally didn't get beyond some recreational basics around whatever front-end tech we were using (and in my defense, it was an appropriate level of knowledge for the job). I still never felt good about it though, because I had all of these false starts on Angular and React. A year and a half ago I toyed with Vue.js, and I really liked it, but never followed through.

For me to learn something new, I need to apply it to something in a practical way. So I decided that I would convert the admin area of my forum app into a single-page app using Vue.js. It's around 20 forms of various kinds, with some of it more interesting than other parts, and no significant validation or guard rails, because it's so infrequently used. But whatever, I wanted to at least port it to use Vue, and so that's what I did.

Unlike my false starts, I immediately "got it" in part because I didn't have to get super deep into all of the surrounding stuff that goes into modern Javascript (i.e., the bundling, transpiling and the like). I get those things because I've had to troubleshoot some CI builds, but Vue was appealing because I could just not use any of that, if I wanted.

I really enjoyed learning about Vue. I'm no Vue-master (see what I did there?), but I now feel pretty confident about how to use it going forward, in the very hybrid way that the forum will likely go eventually.

It's a relief that after 20 years at this, I can still learn new tricks.


The confidence of getting older

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 6:25 PM | comments: 0

I've seen a number of younger friends, former volleyball "kids" and just random people on the Internets express some excitement over reaching various milestone ages. I'm surprised when I see it for some reason. Maybe because I've celebrated big birthdays, but not celebrated the act of reaching an age, if that makes sense. Heck, I basically glossed over 40 because it happened just before we moved. But there is something glorious about getting older.

Growing up is a somewhat painful process, full of carnage, but it sure is fun when you level up. I've said before that it feels like you encounter a lot of change every four years or so, and for me that's been like a new graduation every so often. I'm in the midst of one of those right now, I think, understanding myself better in terms of what I'm capable of professionally and as a parent and spouse. I think a lot of it comes down to leaps in confidence, all while understanding you've got blind spots.

More than anything though, maybe not every year, but as time goes on you feel like you've got something to show for it. It's easy to get caught up in all of the things that you don't know, or wish you knew, but give yourself a little credit. You're better prepared for today than you would have been a few years ago. With age comes experience, and it's OK to lean into that.

Yes, joints crack in weird ways and things hurt for unknown reasons as you get older, but the world is a whole lot less a mystery than it was. That's why getting older isn't all bad.


Back to Universal Orlando

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 12, 2019, 6:12 PM | comments: 0

I had an annual pass to Universal Orlando for a number of years while I lived in Cleveland. The first time, it was because the math was so favorable with the hotel discounts that it paid for itself with one trip. But then there was a period where I went two or three times a year. In fact, I started going in 2002, and literally everyone I've ever dated seriously or been married to traveled there with me. All of those times I stayed at the Royal Pacific Resort, on-property, and was a platinum member of whatever Loews' crappy loyalty program was. In fact, the quality of service seemed to get worse every year, but the in-park perk of having Express entry into everything was worth it.

After Diana and I got married in early 2009, and pregnant shortly thereafter, we wouldn't return until 2011, flying in from Seattle, with Simon. That was after the first wave of Harry Potter attractions opened, and it was quite a change. In the old days, we pretty much had a run of the place, and City Walk would be so non-busy that we could always land there for dinner. The wizard made our little secret more crowded, but to be fair, there were few new attractions in the prior decade.

When we moved to Orange County in July of 2013, I figured we'd have passes to all of the parks by default, but it didn't happen. We bought Disney passes the day after Simon and Diana arrived, and got a comp and discounted SeaWorld passes shortly thereafter (because I was working there as a contractor, and a coworker generously offered). But we didn't buy Universal passes, I guess in part because we lived so close to Walt Disney World. I also thought it wouldn't be as fun, not staying there. I mean, I had never even entered the parks from the parking garages at that point. In those six years, we had visited three times, always on comps from friends who worked there, and only one of those times included Simon.

This year, they offered an 18-month deal on the passes, and we caved just before the promotion ended at the start of April. Because we bought the highest level passes, which include Express after 4 (there was no way I'd not do that), they were almost as expensive as Disney, but with 50% more time, I figured we would give it a go.

Simon and I have been twice, and Diana came along for the first time last night. Simon is surprisingly interested in the thrill rides, and to my surprise he volunteered to ride Rip Ride Rockit and Dr. Doom's Fear Fall. He also digs the big Harry Potter rides in both parks. He's still about an inch and a half too short to ride Hulk, but to my surprise he's interested in it. It's all good news, that he seems into it.

My impression is a mixed bag. I remember thinking the first time I saw Islands of Adventure that they out-Disney'd Disney. The two Universal parks desperately needed something new, and Potter was a big score. In the general sense, I'm very much in awe of the themed achievement there. It's so incredibly well done, in every detail, from the paintings inside of Hogwarts to the bank lobby of Gringotts, and especially the outdoor areas. Even the utilitarian design of Kings Cross Station is amazing. The Potter rides are so well run, as well.

Everything else is so hit or miss. The operations can be glacial in some places. The food service is generally mediocre at best and the food itself kind of sucks. The restrooms are almost universally (see what I did there?) a disaster. In recent years, everything has become a screen, often in 3D. There is litter in the queues and you'll still find a lot of food stands closed in the evening (unless they sell alcohol). It's frustrating, because they're on the verge of being as good as Disney even with their goofy mashup of IP, but they just don't run the place quite as well.

The future is bright though. This Hagrid roller coaster looks like it will be amazing. Apparently they're putting in a roller coaster in Jurassic Park, which seems a little light on theme, but that's OK.

It's fun to visit Universal, even if it is a different vibe from my "younger days" without child.


Silly purchases and dopamine hits

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 9, 2019, 7:43 PM | comments: 0

I wasted a lot of money in my 20's buying crap. I always got that little dopamine hit when I'd come home from Best Buy with some CD's or movies. Sometimes I'd buy more expensive stuff, too, but I couldn't tell you what any of it was. (Except for the pair of speakers I still have in my living room after two decades... those were a good purchase.) The worst part of it is that I bought all of that crap on revolving debt, so I was paying interest as well. But I still remember the feeling, even if it was momentary.

I've been feeling that desire again lately, but generally have not acted on it. There are a lot of reasons for that. For one, I almost never go into retail stores for anything other than groceries. In a rare exception, I bought my current laptop over a year ago by going into a Best Buy, but haven't been in one since. Most stuff I buy online, which even through Amazon Prime does not have the immediacy or pleasure of buying in person. I also view money completely differently now, because I worked so hard to reverse my financial situation some years ago, and I'm behind in retirement. I rather buy an experience than more stuff, and our tenth anniversary New York trip is a perfect example of how great that ideology is. There are some big expensive things I'd like to buy, like a video camera or a pinball machine, but otherwise, there aren't many things I particularly lust after. Heck, I even struggle with all of the packaging to throw away when I have something new. I'm literally not set up to spend like I did in my 20's.

But what's missing that I'm getting the buying itch? I haven't been able to unpack that. I love my family and my job, and I derive meaning and purpose from those things. I have my share of stress certainly (maybe more than I should), but I'm trying hard to be deliberate about "me time" and such.

It might be that we've had some really uninteresting expenses. For example, we're finally going to get a water softener because we're tired of water stains in the bathrooms, the hydrogen sulfide smell, the toilets growing stuff every three days, etc. That's about as un-fun as buying something gets, but those big ticket items kind of eat into any "extra" cash.

I'm sure it's a passing feeling.


Hope is not a strategy

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 5, 2019, 6:41 PM | comments: 0

A guy that I work with, in the context of some evaluation of some technical thing being discussed, declared that, "Hope is not a strategy." The discussion was about some work resulting in some kind of outcome, and the other guy said that he hoped it would mitigate the problem. Indeed, having hope does not lead to something tangible.

I was thinking a lot about that this weekend. We all have difficult situations in our lives, and endure probably more suffering than any of us deserve. The really hard to deal with stuff is the stuff we can't control. For the things that do fall within our influence, we can get so beat down by the world that we relent and fall back on hope or faith. Neither of these things move the needle.

Life has been more challenging than I'd like in the last few years, and some of that is certainly self-inflicted pain. However, some of that pressure has been lifted by first separating the things I can and can't control, and with the former group, understanding that I can't hope my way out of those challenges. I consider this one of the empowering things in the toolbox required to keep your head up. Knowing that you have to act to improve something seems common sense enough, but pair that with other realizations (like, most problems are transient, you'll be dead soon and don't have time to waste on feeling bad, you know more than you did yesterday, people will probably be there to help, etc.), you can be confident that you'll figure things out.

Hoping for things to change will definitely not work. It's not a strategy for betterment of any kind.