You don't know what you don't know

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 19, 2018, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I've had a few conversations over the last few weeks with people from past lives and various industries talking about what success looks like, and what the enemy of success is. There's an overwhelming consensus that the things that you don't know are what really get in the way. Ed Catmull talks about this a little in Creativity, Inc., where it's extra perilous in creative fields. In my line of work, it's often that experience isn't gained until you, uh, experience it. I've also seen it happen where sales people, company founders and others struggle because they don't know what they don't know, and aren't listening to the right people to tell them what they don't know.

I've made these mistakes before. In my current gig, I did the things that I always do, that have served me well, but did so without regard to the change in context. I found that what works in smaller groups does not work in larger groups. People told me it wasn't going to work, but I didn't listen. The macro changes really made a lot of sense, and still do, but drilling down to the implementation level, the changes did not. I was half-wrong, but it didn't feel good to be half-right either.

This is one of the reasons that I value self-awareness as one of the most important qualities among leaders and people I consider successful. It's a hard thing to practice because no one really feels comfortable with getting it wrong. You would also think that giving yourself a pass for the things you don't know would go a long way, but it often doesn't.

When I was about to graduate from college, I was fairly convinced, as a matter of fact, that I would pursue a career in radio, and eventually, buy a few stations in rural areas and live a fairly modest lifestyle with a mini-empire of broadcast licenses. This path was borne partially out of arrogance, sure, but it was with zero expectation that the Internet was going to fundamentally change how we listen to music. I mean, I listen to music in my car now from individual audio files coming from a streaming service over a cellular telephone connection built into the car! Not only did I not see the Internet coming in that way, but I didn't see ubiquitous connectivity as a thing. It will be coming from low-orbit satellites before you know it.

On the plus side, once you have a little bit of that experience, it can go a long way. A few years after college, I abandoned the broadcast world for the Internet that was taking over everything, and that experience helped me see a more obvious future. When I was working for Penton Media, I was telling the publishers in my group that the printed vendor guides, and eventually their magazines, were going to go away as they knew them. People were still working with dial-up Internet connections then, but I said, just you wait, it will be everywhere eventually. I mean, we had Palm Pilots then, which weren't connected, but it was an obvious future. The publishers weren't having it, because, "But you need a computer to look up the directory," and, "No one wants to read things on a screen." You know how that turned out, but Penton eventually fired almost everyone and was delisted from the NYSE.

In my own career progression, it's funny how some of the things you get by way of experience are things you don't apply directly. My last few gigs, especially when consulting, included red flags that I saw early on, and I eventually ended up issuing "I told you so's" (tactfully, of course). In those cases, you have to let the people you work with come to those conclusions themselves, which is still not super fun.

This idea that what you don't know you don't know is frightening. Seriously, who wants to engage in risk if it's the things that you don't see coming that could bring you down? Maybe the real trick is getting just slightly ahead of the scary things before you get blindsided.

Trump doesn't disappoint me, it's the people who try so hard to justify him

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 19, 2018, 10:30 AM | comments: 0

I was talking with a friend the other day, a first-generation American of Indian descent, about the election. His parents have been citizens his entire life, so while he certainly identifies with his culture, he only knows life in the United States, and he's concerned with the way racism is getting worse instead of better. I can see where he's coming from, because when I think about the civil rights struggles of the 50's and 60's, and having lived through school desegregation in the 70's, I can't understand why a half-century has passed and we haven't solved this problem.

Let me just get this out of the way: President Trump is a racist. When you make generalization about any group of people based on their ethnicity, culture or skin color, that's what that is. He's done it countless times, before and after he ran for president. When you draw moral equivalence between Nazis and the people who protest them, that's racism. When you point out an instance of violent crime by an immigrant to defend your policy, even when statistics in blatant terms show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, that's racism. When you re-tweet white nationalists, that's racism. He endorsed Ray Moore, who is a slavery apologist, and pardoned an Arizona sheriff who engaged in racial profiling, and that's racism. He called a Latina Miss Universe "Miss Housekeeping," which is about as racist as it gets. Even if Trump had any real policy driving governance, and he really doesn't, would it be worth supporting him in light of the racism?

History is ripe with examples of fascism, and fascism doesn't end well. Fascist leaders start by appealing to hate and fear that longs for the good old days, which weren't actually good. In the US, those days where white males ran everything and racial, cultural and gender minorities were all marginalized, were not good days. You can't "make America great again" because it was never greater in the past. That ideal was never real. Then you create as much division as you can, declaring your opposition as your enemy, because if you can get people to take up sides like everything is a sports rivalry, you can get a subset of the population to come along with you. Polish it off with lies and your own version of reality, which is convenient because if you can divide people, those on your side don't care about the truth anymore. And of course, reinforce it all with calls to persecute the other side, outside of law or reason. It may sound like I'm describing Trump, but it could just as easily be Hitler or Mussolini. That's not my opinion... the three men actually have these attributes in common. How can you get behind that?

But if we really want to get back to basics, which of the following would be offenses for which you would fire someone working for you? Would it be calling out racist stereotypes? Saying you could easily use women and "grab them by the pussy?" Call a decorated veteran and war hero names and repeatedly disrespect him? Or maybe just dial it back to the fundamental point that you have to actually get some kind of results because that's what you get paid for. In two years, Trump signed a tax cut that resulted in a few one-time bonuses but not generally lifted middle class wages, while increasing the federal deficit exponentially. The rest of his "accomplishments" have been a lot of executive actions ruled unconstitutional. He hasn't actually done anything.

I'm used to people in positions of authority disappointing me, and I'm sure I've disappointed others in leadership capacities. There hasn't been a single president in my lifetime that really lived up to what I expected, but this is something different. I remember how viscerally I disliked W., because his foreign policy got a lot of people killed at great financial cost, but it never felt like his intent wasn't at least grounded in some kind of moral standard, even if it didn't match mine. At the very least, he understood decorum. Today, people do mental gymnastic to try and rationalize the actions of an immoral man, or worse, dignify it by suggesting someone else would be worse (the "but Hillary" argument). How would you respond to your child if he set fire to a dog and said, "Well, at least it wasn't our cat?" That's literally the argument you're making.

This isn't about not liking Republicans. When being a Republican meant you wanted a balanced budget and to generally get laws out of the way of liberty and free markets, I was down with that (until it started to hurt people). The party has to find its balls and get back to that, even if it means they lose out on a few election cycles. Defending this clown in the White House is doing real damage to the founding spirit of the nation.

Parent-child pals

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 13, 2018, 10:34 PM | comments: 0

Diana is a member of the Orlando Modern Quilt Guild, and they organized a retreat up in Daytona Beach where they got a big old ballroom to hangout in and sew. Epic as this is (so many sewing machines!), it's not exactly my thing, but since there was a hotel on a beach involved, it only seemed right to invite me and Simon along for the ride. I was pretty sure that Daytona Beach was kind of a shithole (confirmed), but it seemed like a good chance to hangout with Simon in a way that doesn't involve three hours at Magic Kingdom.

He was super excited to go, to the extent that he "are where there yet"-ed us in a non-ironic or comical way several times in the relatively short drive. As soon as we unpacked the car and Diana went to setup her rig, we headed down to the pool. The lazy river was broken, which was the first of many ways that the hotel disappointed us, but the slide was functional, and he was super impressed. From there we headed down on to the beach to experience what was probably the most intense surf that he has seen. He was surprised by the rip current, so we spent a little time talking about ocean beach safety. The joy on his face though was something to behold. This is a kid who didn't even want to walk in the sand barefoot just a few years ago. I smile just thinking about how much fun he was having.

That night we hung out in the room watching Incredibles II, and I introduced him to the old game Flight Control, which I forgot about entirely, on his iPad. He expressed gratitude several times for bringing him on this trip, which is something of a developing skill for him. Living next to Disney World completely screws up your sense of normal, and empathy is hard enough for an ASD kid, so he doesn't generally recognize when people are kind to him. It wouldn't be the last time that weekend.

On Saturday morning, we headed out to the speedway to do the tour. There was some kind of minor race going on, so I knew they wouldn't take us out on the track itself, but it still seemed like a cool opportunity to go into the infield, walk around near the pits and go high up into the stands. We were a little early, so we walked around and got to talk about... stuff. Whatever came into his head, I tried to engage with him. We went up on the big foot bridge spanning the street, and talked about why the fences caged in the whole thing, what the suspension cables were for, how many people might walk on it, etc. We talked about how cars worked (gasoline is "stinky" and why aren't the cars electric?), why Toyota has their name all over stuff and what the solar panels out front do. He's curious about so many things.

We stopped briefly the day before at the Tesla Supercharger to top off a little (we didn't need to, but I wanted the "credit"), and I noticed that there was a Chuck E. Cheese there. Normally, I would consider this to be a horrible place to go, but Simon mentioned that he'd like to try some games in the hotel arcade, which I knew was coin-operated, and I never have cash on me, so this was a possible alternative. I got him to eat one partial piece of pizza, no small gesture, and from there we played $25 worth of redemption games. Where we bonded the most was Skee-Ball, proving that he's definitely my child. We played close to 50 games between the two of us, and the repetition seemed to give him some insight into the physics of the game, even though it was a cheap knock-off with non-wood balls.

As we prepared to drive back to the hotel, Simon said, "Daddy, I really love you when we have fun, thank you." Again, I'm not used to hearing him say stuff like this, and I can only take what he says at face value. He doesn't do sarcasm or try to invoke guilt, so this was a very matter-of-fact statement that he appreciated what we did.

That night, we took to the pool again, but it was too cold. He experienced dancing at Johnny Rockets, which he thought was hilarious. Later we watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, where the thing that upset him wasn't the people being eaten, but the fact that the dinosaurs all went free at the end. He cried hard on that. You just never know what's going to upset him. I only let him watch it because a friend let her son watch it, and he's all about dinosaurs.

As we packed up on Sunday morning, Simon was willing to help with the usual elevator and doors, his obsessions, and carry stuff when prompted. On the drive home, I felt like we had an experience that we really needed. I've been trying to be more patient with him and look for these pal around opportunities, because we both need something to balance out when I'm the disciplinarian or task runner. I also need the perspective that being Simon's dad, and being Simon, isn't a constant struggle. We have our challenges, but I want him to have a happy childhood as much as possible. I hope he's old enough now to remember weekends like this.

The meds aren't working, the tutoring is making for long days

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 13, 2018, 9:25 PM | comments: 0

It was only a few weeks ago that I wrote about how Simon was struggling to roll with the testing that he inevitably has to deal with. There are some other things adding to the stress. His teacher feels confident about his progress, but Diana and I don't share her enthusiasm, in part because of what we see after school.

First off is the medication situation. Simon has rotated through a number of different medications, and even with (expensive) DNA testing to see what should be more effective for him, it doesn't seem like they're helping. When he first started more than a year ago, that first thing he took seemed to have immediate impact in his personality and focus, but it didn't seem to last. He's back on another flavor of amphetamine right now, but the doctor questionnaire that his teacher filled out seems to indicate that it's not working. They may suggest a higher dosage, but the problem with this one, and even more with the previous one he took, was it caused him to pick at his skin obsessively. The experimentation with different drugs is a long process, which sucks, because he ends up cycling through an academic quarter between doctor visits. It's hard to iterate that way, and that f'ing testing is on the horizon. My concern about getting out of third grade isn't just that being held back would mess with his already fragile self-esteem, it's that doing it over would make him bored and more disengaged.

Then there's the challenge of tutoring days. Simon gets extra help after school a couple of days a week, so on those days, he gets to school a little after 8, gets home around 4, then has homework and online lessons to do. I don't know if you remember what it was like to be 8, with our without ADHD or ASD, but that's a long day to be that plugged in. I'm generally of the philosophy that a kid has to learn to be responsible, and sometimes do stuff that they don't want to do, but we can see the difference between "wants to do other things" and "mentally spent." These long days definitely fall in the second category. Even the things that he's good at become difficult for him to engage in. I've seen him on a weekend plow through a reading exercise online, anxious to get back to something else, but on a tutoring day he can't even choose a lesson. There are tears for not getting your way, and there are tears from just not having anything left.

Most days, the worst of the drama associated with this has run its course by the time I get home after work, so not only do I stress about Simon's state, but also Diana's since she's on the front line. I don't know what to do to help two humans feeling defeated, especially when I'm a little spent myself from work. I can be supportive, but it doesn't resolve anything. What I feel like I need but can't provide is a faster iteration cycle around the drug experimentation (and I'm not an expert to say that it can even go faster) and the right kind of home instruction approach to get the boy feeling confident about simple things like remembering multiplication facts. And by the way, that's something to fit into the two and a half hours every evening that I'm there before he goes to bed.

I don't have any particular conclusion to reach for with this post... I mostly just want to get the words out and remember what this feels like. Simply talking about problems out loud helps me. Maybe tomorrow something will be more obvious.

Me, the HOA board member

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, November 13, 2018, 8:30 PM | comments: 0

On November 1, I was elected to my community's homeowners association, as it was turned over from the developer to the actual members. I wasn't sure if I was going to actually run, and initially volunteered for the transition committee to get things started prior to election of the board, but there were so few people overall interested that I figured I'd give it a go in the HOA's formative years. I figure my experience managing budgets, delivering on stuff and even the government work early in my career might be a good fit. I don't know if I'll still be interested after two years, but it feels like a good idea to serve our community of 315 units right now.

There probably won't be much for me to write about beyond this, partly because most people wouldn't care, and partly because the board has only met one time, and it was a closed session with the attorney to iron out some legal things up front. This is the third place I've owned a home in an HOA. The first time was a joke, as the association had very little teeth and no interested leadership. The second time was pre-turnover in a build-out that spanned more than eight years (it still hasn't turned over), and that one seemed headed for mob rule by people who weren't good at anything. This one, honestly, seemed to be filled with reasonable people who wanted to do right by the community, and I think that's what we got.

HOA's are like little mini-governments, but this is about as close to politics as I think I want to get. I think legislative bodies (councils, commissions, boards, state and federal legislatures) are where most of the real work gets done, especially at the local level, so this at least aligns with what I see as the more valuable part of these governance structures. HOA's are actually non-profit corporations, which is a little weird, but they work similarly to school boards and county commissions in many ways. They need the members to approve rule changes, but otherwise have the discretion to set budgets, manage vendor contracts and such.

I'm the "at large" member, so mostly I just need to understand what we're discussing, contribute where I can and vote on issues. We're fortunate to have retirees who have been CEO's and even run association management companies. There are plenty of opportunities to learn from them about what makes a well-oiled HOA work. I look forward to helping run something that isn't technology related for a change.

Our developing solar economics

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 10, 2018, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

One of the big considerations around installing residential solar is the issue of return on investment, or the time it takes to make back that money with "free" electricity. The calculation is pretty simple: Take the system cost, subtract the federal tax credit, and add up all of the electricity generated until it totals that amount. For us, that means about $24k, -30% to get $16,800 for the net cost.

We're producing just under 1,200 kWh per month, and we would normally pay about 13 cents per kWh. That's about $156 worth of power every month. It doesn't matter how much we actually use... we're just trying to calculate the time to pay back. At this rate, we're looking at about 107 months, which is just under 9 years. The system should last around 30 years, so after 9, it really is free power. Twenty years of power, if the rates stay the same, is $37,440 worth of electricity. Not bad. Don't forget that it's cost we theoretically get back if we ever sell the house, too.

Hours of daylight in Orlando bottom out in mid-December, as they do anywhere in the northern hemisphere, with two less hours even now than we had in August. The trick is just how sunny it is or isn't. We still get decent production unless it's super overcast, like Ohio winter style. The problem in July and August is the almost daily afternoon thunderstorms, which cause a sharp drop in production. To that end, it sounds like April and May might be the best months for production.

Putting the ROI aside, the more interesting, monthly impact is just around cash flow. With two electric cars, we use around 300 kWh per months just to get around. (If you're wondering, it comes out to around 3.25 cents per mile. Even if you have a gas car that gets 50 mpg, at current gas prices you'll spend at least 5 cents per mile. At 20 mpg you'll spend 12.5 cents per mile.) Our biggest problem though is air conditioning. Even a new, energy efficient Florida McMansion is hard to keep cool, so despite a slightly cooler October, we still used almost 2,000 kWh. That would normally flirt with a $300 bill, but with the solar, we only paid $116. Based on last year's usage, with inadequate insulation as we later discovered, there's a good chance we could get close to a credit this winter, as long as it's generally sunny.

If I knew I was going to be commuting again, I would have installed a slightly larger system, but it's still great to see where we are. The technology exists today, and sustainable energy is a solvable problem. It doesn't make sense that we culturally can't grasp that, and worse, hang on to powering stuff with dead dinosaurs.

Getting unexpected praise, in print

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 8, 2018, 10:00 PM | comments: 0

My PointBuzz partner Walt and I have been at this Cedar Point fan site thing for 20 years now. That still sounds weird to say out loud, because what does anyone do in their spare time for that long? In "Internet time," it might as well be a hundred years. The enthusiast crowd tends to be, let's say a little entitled, but we've tried to stay pretty realistic about where extreme fandom fits in the bigger picture. We've never expected much from the park, and we've helped them out when asked and it was appropriate, so they've been good to us. I don't think we fit into any kind of historic narrative about the park.

So imagine my surprise when Walt forwarded some text from a new book about Cedar Point that recognizes us and PointBuzz. John Hildebrandt, who worked at the park for most of his adult life, eventually retiring as its general manager, just published his memoir, Always Cedar Point. Like I said, I don't figure that we would even be on the radar as far as park history goes, but he wrote this:

Other fan sites devoted to Cedar Point cropped up over the years, some quite good and others very amateurish, but in my opinion Jeff and Walt's site has always been the gold standard.

That's high praise for something we did for fun (and a few bucks) out of love for the park. John served as the marketing boss when we started in 1998, and I/we got in trouble a few times for spilling the beans on stuff accidentally posted to the official site early or otherwise learning from leaks about plans. But the real challenge for the park, and John as a marketer in particular, is that there was this new medium with a growing audience that couldn't control the messaging about the park. John writes:

It was great seeing so much information about the park being shared with so many fans, but it had a dark side, as PointBuzz provided a forum for everyone or anyone who had any kind of beef with Cedar Point. We knew we weren't perfect, but we were surprised to find out we were that far from perfect. PointBuzz predated Facebook by several years. It was really our introduction to social media... To their credit, Jeff and Walt created guidelines for posting which discouraged bad internet behavior and have continued to refine those guidelines.

There's so much validation in that passage that I don't know what to do with it. I've told people we were social media before the term was even coined, and usually (and maybe rightfully) I get eye rolls. But the bigger validation is more that we've chosen to moderate it from the start. We don't discourage differences in opinion, and frankly let that get borderline aggressive, but we've never allowed racism, sexism, homophobia or any similarly despicable behavior. Heck, we've insisted on the use of real grammar, and the community has largely been self-policing in that regard. We don't have to bounce more than one or two people per year, generally, and we've been told literally since the start that this strategy would be our end. It's still running, two decades later.

John and I first met probably in 1999, a year or so into what was then called Guide To The Point. I was just transitioning into my software career, but I admired John because he already had a ton of experience vaguely related to my former broadcast life, and he understood writing and why it was important. Being a know-it-all 20-something with all of the answers, I wasn't always open to seeing experience for what it is or why it's important, but this was different. While I didn't always agree with John, in marketing or as a general manager, I did respect him. When he eventually took over the GM role, and I visited him in his office off of the ballroom, I felt reassured that he was the right guy to oversee the park. He literally embodied the spirit and history of the park and took it seriously.

If that weren't enough, he had on a number of occasions looked out for me as a customer. We had a rough experience one late-season weekend staying in the cottages, and when I told him about that the next year, he gave me his cell phone number and asked me to call him if anything wasn't right. We did have some housekeeping issues, so I called him, and they were taken care of right away. We were just one family, but it was important to him that we had the best experience. How can you not respect that?

People you look up to professionally, and I do consider this a quasi-professional relationship, often let you down. But I liked John and the chance to talk with him every time, right until he retired. He was always gracious with his time, and he didn't owe me that, and he certainly wasn't obligated just because I ran a goofy web site. I was honored to call him a friend, and I hope he's enjoying retirement after not having summers off for decades.

One year in the Puzzoni McMansion

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 2, 2018, 11:03 PM | comments: 0

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the day we closed on our current house. Yes, I still use the slightly mocking name because it's a little absurd to live in a big house when there are only three of us. But you know, between Diana's quilting, my periodic telecommuting and our relative perceptions on value (stuff costs half as much here than it did in Seattle), it still felt right.

I'm honestly just getting to the point where I feel like this is really home. The ridiculous year we've had has made it hard to enjoy it. The first wrinkle was the fact that the first buyer on our previous house fell through. It was ridiculous for the mortgage company to even approve them in a provisional way, and the only non-refundable part of the deposit was $1,800. They strung us along for a few months. We ended up going five months with two mortgages. Right after that I lost my job, and I needed to juggle the cash for the car replacement and solar that were already in play. As a result, I still haven't recast the mortgage, but I'm only a few weeks away from that, finally. I should have known better than to try to do all of those things at once, because in the end it basically erased a year of savings.

We're enduring a backlog of warranty work right now. Our upstairs hallway wasn't entirely level, there were trim problems I didn't see until we had been here awhile, some stucco issues outside, screens that didn't sit well, mostly minor things. Pulte's warranty guy wanted to fight me on some cabinets that we started to notice appeared scrubbed with an abrasive, once the sun started shining on them at dinner time, and he tried to pin it on us. Then, all of those photos I took during construction came in handy when one appeared on Facebook, showing the damage. They're replacing those now. The carpet is total shit, and I expect we'll have to replace it in a few short years.

Now I'm working again, the car and solar project are done, and our overall cash flow is almost back to where it was a year ago, I can finally enjoy the house instead of having it remind me of all the problems surrounding buying it. This is the first place I've lived that it felt like I was really comfortable, and could see a future in it. I mean, I'm never going to call it a "forever home," because if career doesn't take me away before then, we'd like to live near the ocean after Simon graduates, and that's only a decade out. But I like the idea of staying put and making this the base for what I expect to be some intense years of parenthood and work. The last place, at three and a half years, was definitely an "ours" place, not rented, and not with history, but in retrospect we probably should have gone a little bigger in the first place.

Getting the place settled is still an ongoing process. I just finished installing cabinet hardware in the bathrooms a few weeks ago. The living room went without a rug for about 10 months. Stuff has very slowly made it onto the walls, and the only room we painted was Simon's. Even the chair in the living room is a recent addition. I'm so glad that we sucked it up and got the hardwood floor downstairs and the iron railings, because being slow decorators, those features are already something nice we didn't have to do. This ridiculous 20-foot wall in the living room desperately needs something. I love the sun coming in every evening, but it points out how remarkably featureless it is.

I love my office, and it pains me that I'm not working from it very often. Since the job change, I've worked from home I think three times. It's really comfortable, but it doesn't make sense for me to hangout there because I'd be in there alone. The playroom has become a cozy spot, especially since I bought a cheap TV for that room on Prime day. Our bedroom really is a retreat, but we don't really spend any time there not sleeping. The patio is wonderful, and I like to spend time there even when it's 90 outside. Then during the half of the year that is non-swamp-ass, we can open up that big sliding door and it's like adding square footage. Oh, and the fireworks every night, reflecting in the pond, that doesn't get old. Independence Day and the New Year are particularly epic.

Of course, what makes any place special is the people. We have pretty great neighbors, and there are a ton of kids in the neighborhood on what is essentially a cul de sac (once the construction is done, at least). We've only had two parties, but have been grateful for the friends and family who have visited us. Sometimes it's just nice to have my darling wife here, cooking something with garlic, or Simon cuddled up to watch a movie. It feels warm with the people.

I still don't view home the way that the freakshows on HGTV do, but this one does make me feel comfortable and happy. I feel like mostly good things happen here. It feels like home.

Giving it all to social networks

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 30, 2018, 9:35 PM | comments: 1

In 2003, I started a site called The idea was that people would give me money, and I'd give them a place to put a blog and host photos, and even upload them from their crappy flip phones of the time. On the home page, there was an activity feed of the latest posts that you could click through to. It was focused on college kids, who seemed open to sharing this sort of thing, and if you could refer enough people to signup, it would be free for you. I made a couple hundred bucks a year for two or three years, and we had a nice little community.

About a year later, some little shit at Harvard came up with a similar idea, but gave it away, and that little shit now basically owns half the Internet and 2 billion users.

This is not about my inability to execute on that idea. I was almost eight years out of college, the Iraq war was happening, I had a job that I didn't like, and I guess even then I subconsciously knew my marriage wasn't going well. The problem with that whole idea was mostly that I wasn't in college at the right time, when the Internet could have made me a whole lot of beer money. (Side note: Last year I hired a guy who did make some solid money back in the day on the Internets during his college years, and I have crazy respect for that.) Also, people were starting to steal music, so those weren't good times to ask for money on the Internets.

What this is really about is the fact that we don't really own what we share on social media. Sure, Facebook will let you export the data, but the format of that package is generally not very useful, and there's no way to relate it back to other real life people. It's just a dump of photos and text. But realistically, what else can people do?

In the oughts, with a little bit of easy to learn technical expertise and a relatively little money, you could set this stuff up yourself. You could own your own domain name and all of the data of stuff you posted up there. Hopefully you knew how to back it all up and such, but it was doable. I definitely don't miss maintaining servers and such, but I literally had a T-1 connection to my house and a server under the desk for a few years (at horrendous cost). That's the reason I have almost two decades of really immature nonsense still living on my blog, and it demonstrates how far I've come (or regressed) since my 20's.

The real benefit of something like Facebook is reach relative to effort. I have a friend that largely retired his own blog to post stuff on Facebook. His domain name just redirects to Facebook, where he posts stuff publicly. I kind of hate that. I mean, it's cool in that we can share a place to converse, and there are notifications and stuff to facilitate conversations, but his own content isn't really his. As people seem to be less interested in the big social networks, they'll eventually move on. Then what?

Sometimes I think about revisiting the CampusFish model, only private. Facebook has a pretty creepy business model around advertising, and their trust is in the shitter with the Cambridge Analytics scandal and the countless foreign state trolls trying to manipulate people. They can't do that if the only purpose of the network is to share stuff privately with a specific group of people. Sure, you would still be using a social network for all the things, but at least you would be a customer of that network and not the product.

How many stamps did Angie use?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 30, 2018, 7:41 PM | comments: 0

Angie put 1 stamp on each of 7 envelopes. How many stamps did Angie use?

This is not a hard word problem. It's obviously 7 stamps... to most of us.

Simon knows it's 7 stamps, too. But imagine that the answer is so obvious that you're convinced it isn't right, that there's some kind of trick in play here. You're so convinced that you're going to get it wrong and that you're being tricked that you can't even move on. That's where Simon sometimes goes, and I remember having exactly these same conversations in my head. I mean, it's multiple choice, which in some ways makes it worse. Why would they give so many options for something so obvious?

The testing system mandated from on high to local school districts is so ridiculously broken. The teachers know it, probably anyone who engages with kids who have special needs knows it. The effort placed on successfully taking the tests should be a pretty good indication of how ridiculous it is. You could logically conclude that you are somewhat evaluating the child's ability to perform academic tasks, but it seems mostly like you're evaluating their ability to take a test.

I'm actually one who might want to argue that standardized tests are good. After all, the year I took the ACT (generally accepted as much as the SAT, especially in Ohio at the time), I scored in the top 2% of all kids nationwide, while getting a pretty mediocre GPA, even with weighted "honors class" grades. To me that says the way we evaluate kids academic development was broken then, and it's worse now. This is particularly true in the grade school years. We've seen Simon get ahead and behind in the same year on different skills. I've seen research suggest that kids don't really level out to more consistent standards until at least 10th grade.

I see how he gets stressed, and it stresses me out. I'm worried about him.

Just another Sunday in October

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 28, 2018, 11:00 PM | comments: 0

The last weekend in October used to be a special time for me. I'll get back to that.

Today was the kind of awesome family day that we desperately needed. The daily challenges of life have made it hard for us to just live in the moment and enjoy each other's company lately, even for Simon. The forecast was for 73 degrees and sunny, bona fide jacket weather in Orlando, and we nailed down some last minute Fastpasses for Magic Kingdom. I haven't been there in four months, which feels weird, living 11,000 feet away from Cinderella Castle. They do a nice job dressing the place up for Halloween, and with only a few days left, we wanted to make sure we got to see it.

We ended up doing seven rides via Fastpass, plus a lap on the People Mover, with lunch and Dolewhip in there as well. We did all of that in under five hours. There was no drama or behavior issues. We even mixed it up and took the ferry back and forth to parking, because Simon wanted to see how the ramps at the docks worked. Back at home, we were still able to open up the house and enjoy the fresh air. (The solar produced 48 kWh of electricity with the AC off, which is an extraordinary net win... always thinking about energy.)

The cooler temperatures and a trip to our local theme park is the closest thing we get to closing weekend at Cedar Point, a tradition that I stuck to for a decade or so. Last year, I didn't make it up there at all, while this year I did at least get up there for media day. Starting I think in 1999, Stephanie and I would go up every closing weekend, and stay in the hotel or one of the cabins. I kept doing that through divorce and dating, sharing a room with various friends from Chicago and Nashville. The weather was unpredictable. Some years it would be rainy and cold, others sunny and warm. There was something to waking up to those train whistles and the sounds of roller coasters climbing the lifts on test runs in the morning.

I didn't do it in 2009, because we were packing for Seattle, and the year after we had just moved again, this time to Snoqualmie, so 2008 was the last year. We did stay an October weekend in 2012, a few weeks before close, so that was at least a similar experience. I don't get that nostalgic about many things, because frankly there haven't been many times in my life that were consistently awesome, but those closing weekends certainly were.

Now, the last Sunday in October is just another day. We don't have seasons here for theme parks. I'm sure Cedar Point as a location had something to do with my strong feelings for closing weekend, but mostly it was the people. Year after year, even in difficult times, I got to spend quality time with people from all over that I didn't get to see that often. Fortunately, a lot of those same people do make it down here to Orlando. Everyone comes here, eventually.

So to my friends closing the park today, I hope you had fun. It doesn't look like the weather was very good. We can go to our "home" park again tomorrow, if we want, but we made today feel like those great fall days at the point, even if our friends couldn't join us. We hope to see you soon.

More date nights

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 23, 2018, 8:47 PM | comments: 0

Diana and I went out for dinner tonight. That doesn't sound miraculous, but we just haven't done it much. During the Broadway season, we have about one date night per month at a minimum, and we go all out and get the babysitter for six hours, but since the last season ended, we just don't go out much. This has been a difficult year for a million reasons, but our relationship hasn't been one of the problems. You think given that scenario, we would care for it more.

We have an incredibly low maintenance relationship, which is surprising because if I'm being self-aware, I know I can be a serious pain in the ass. But generally it's an easy going thing and we roll with any interpersonal challenges with relative ease. Any instances of annoyance toward each other is short-lived. Still, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't exercise a little more care for us. We love our dear child, but there are times when we just need to do couple stuff, since he came to us less than three years from our first date. We don't really remember a time together without Simon.

In fact, we didn't really do a lot of "adventure life" in our early adulthood, and there's some minor regrets around that. Diana definitely did more than I did, moving to New York to work in theater, but as much as that city lends itself to adventure, she spent most of her time working in dark theaters and not having adventures. I couldn't see outside of Ohio in my 20's, and I wasn't inclined to travel unless it involved an amusement park.

We're trying to make up for lost time, and to an extent we have done a little of that in the least painful ways possible, often with Simon. Taking an epic cruise to Alaska or the Virgin Islands is relatively low stress with a young child, but Europe seems a little out of reach still. Road trips aren't super fun with ASD in the back seat, but the beach is easy. And there's a shocking realization to consider: This summer, Simon will be half way between birth and high school graduation. That's nuts.

We only have so many keystrokes left, and you never know exactly how many. We need more date nights, and not just when we have tickets.

Digital wellness is the truth I don't want to know

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 22, 2018, 10:27 PM | comments: 0

Apple and Google have both introduced counting mechanisms into their phone operating systems, the idea being that you can check out how much time you've spent doing stuff. I assume that this sort of existed in Android, since you've been able to see what apps are sucking your battery or data usage. Now there's a user interface around it all, so you can let the phone give you the cold hard truth about what you're doing with it.

The numbers aren't great. I tend to spend on average about two hours per day looking at that damn thing, though I can reasonably assert that at least half of that is in the evenings when I'm hanging out, or winding down before bed. On weekdays, I get a staggering 150+ notifications, which I'm sure are mostly email and Slack (which I'm starting to realize is the new email, but maybe even less useful). I unlock the phone way less than I would expect, averaging around 30 times per day.

The actual time per app though is what really frightens me. How can I spend 20 minutes in a day looking at Instagram? (Answer: dr.woo and #bluehair.) I don't even follow that many people, and I don't post everyday. Facebook is another offender, but usually only on days when I'm out posting selfies with my family and we're doing stuff. I have notifications for all social media turned off because I don't need the distraction (Slack might be coming next). I don't play games very often, but when I do, they're just time wasters before bed or doing my business. Those often account for 15 minutes or more, but let's say those runs are relative to, er, runs? Gross.

To my credit, I have become better about not pulling out the damn thing every time I risk being bored for 30 seconds. Like if I'm in line to buy a burrito, I'd rather people watch, or when I'm really challenging myself, to other humans. About burritos. I'm very conscious about having it out around Simon when we're doing stuff, like a father-son theme park trip. It's starting to become less about being present, and more about the realization that nothing on the phone is really enriching my life. I don't get people who spend half their day arguing with people on the Twitter about how wrong they are.

Smart phones are definitely important tools to have, but they're also time sucks that prevent one from interacting with life as it happens around you. I see it with people at restaurants and at theme parks, and it makes me sad. I use mine to take photos a ton, and from there I get in, do what I intend, and get out. I hope others do the same.

The awesome season

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 21, 2018, 7:23 PM | comments: 0

As if by magic, today brought the perfect weather that makes up half the year in Orange County. Starting in late May, we start to sweat our balls off, typically through September. I don't think it's horrible, but the electric bills (even with solar) got to be a little extreme with all of that air conditioning. Even when it's 90+, I like being outside on the patio, at the theme parks or even doing a lap around Lake Eola downtown. But when it's not that hot, it's awesome.

Fall brings highs around 80, and for us at least, that's only 5 degrees higher than what we typically set the AC for. The high today was about 80, with a nice breeze all day, so we opened all of the windows and the three-section patio door to let the fresh air in. It has been glorious. I'm sure that this was the first day we generated more electricity than we used (45 kWh, if we're counting).

Last winter was pretty weird, because we had a weird cold snap in December and January, and we actually started using the heat. That's when I learned that we had a heat pump system, which is a little slower to heat because it efficiently sucks heat from the outside instead of using resistance coils, though we have those too. We seemed to not have the ideal temperature range for open windows very long, so hopefully we do this year. The forecast for the next 10 days sure looks great.

But the other thing that makes this the awesome season is Christmas. It's a glorious thing down here, and I'm already over not having snow. There's nothing more lovely than walking around the decorated downtown areas or the theme parks this time of year, and it lasts a full two months. Last year, Diana put up lights and trees in early November, and I loved it. It didn't feel too early. We only got to see the lighting at Cinderella Castle once last year, and I'm sad about the loss of the Osborne Family lights they used to have at Disney's Hollywood Studios. SeaWorld has a nice display as well.

Growing up in Ohio, fall meant jacket weather, and that was nice, but it wasn't indicative of impending gloom. Here, it means several months of jacket weather, no more daily afternoon thunderstorms and insane amounts of sun. I'll take it.

Adapting to office life

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 19, 2018, 7:02 PM | comments: 0

I worked remotely for about four straight years before taking a non-remote job this summer, which puts me at five years total of working remotely. As a percentage, that's about a fifth of my adult life, five of the last six years. I love it, and I generally think it's an extraordinary and efficient way to work. There are some pros and cons either way, and this is a brain dump of those thoughts.

First, let's be real: Commuting sucks. Getting in your car and spending time driving to a place and back again is a serious quality-of-life issue. It's not easily solved by declaring that you'll live near where you work. Even if you do live close to where you work, the longest part of the drive is the part near where you live. The 12 minutes I cover 14 of my 24 miles are book ended by almost 10 minutes a piece of the last few miles to work or home. Every day I worry that I'm going to get into an auto accident, and I don't even live in a place where you have to contend with snow. I lose about six hours per week sitting in my car.

That said, the drive creates a certain separation between work and life that I didn't have before. When I'm working at home, I'm typically plugged in before 8, and it's easy enough to do just this one more thing before I end the day if I don't have to try and beat out the traffic. I found I was working an extraordinary number of 10-hour days, when Diana or Simon would come knocking on my door to see if I was done yet at 6. That's no good.

It's also nice to be among actual humans. I don't go out to lunch with people as often as I thought I would, mostly because I end up inserting lunch to whenever it's most convenient. I'll either bring something back to the office or just eat by myself. But I do end up among people and talking a lot. There are some other decidedly dotcom perks in my case, too, like the chef that makes breakfast Monday mornings and lunch on Wednesday, and the free massages every few weeks.

But when you have a truly remote culture, you don't lose the alleged "opportunity cost" around co-location. I developed rich friendships and deep understanding with the people I worked with remotely, in part because you always used video when you called, so non-verbals are still visible. People use Slack or Teams as a crutch, but anything not easily explained goes to a call with the right people quickly when you're doing remote right. In fact, I would argue that interruptions are minimized and communication is at its most efficient in the remote situation. It forces communication to be deliberate and focused.

I've said before that taking geography out of the equation leads to better hires, and I still believe that.

I'd like to work remotely more, because we're set up for it even if our culture isn't necessarily wired for it, but it would be hard in my position at the moment. One of the reasons we moved was so I could have more office space, and I miss spending time in there. One thing at a time though... building remote culture is not a priority at the moment. I did like the way we would do at least two half-days downtown at a previous job. That was an excellent way to get the band together without feeling all of the negatives around commuting were overwhelming.

My smart little boy is at risk

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 18, 2018, 6:38 PM | comments: 1

Third grade is a fairly awful time, we're learning, and it's especially difficult for Simon. This is the year that they start doing all of the ridiculous testing. To say that it's not good for a kid with ASD and ADHD is an understatement.

What I'm seeing right now, just from the homework angle, is that he's spent by the time he gets home. For basic math, he's not receptive to problem solving strategies, and outright memorization of facts is beyond him. But I've seen where he gets it, and I know that some of the time he gets it. Reading comprehension seems to be more of a bona fide problem, but again, it seems to depend on the circumstances. When it's morning on a weekend, doing the online lessons, he seems to get it, but forget it after school.

I'm often astounded at his ability to get how mechanical things work, and he can soak up and understand spacial relationships all day long. He can recite book passages when it's something he's interested in, and as I mentioned, math is no problem if he's in the right spot. My perception is that he's a brilliant kid when the learning method works for him. He also gets tutoring, which probably contributes to his exhaustion. His self-esteem is hurting a bit, because he thinks tutoring means he's stupid, and the homework situation aggravates this. But the testing could hold him back a year, which I think would screw him up long-term.

I give his teacher all the credit in the world, because I think she's generally trying very hard to reach him in his way, but I worry every day that "the system" is not built to measure him in the right way, even if it is intended to accommodate him the rest of the time. I don't know what I can do about that, and it stresses me out.

Basic civic engagement

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 17, 2018, 8:47 PM | comments: 1

While I'm generally frustrated with the lack of engagement among voters, and the fact that we don't send anywhere near our best people to Washington, I think I'm ten times as frustrated with people who can't commit to even the most basic civic engagement at the local level. I can see how you might feel that you don't have any influence at the national level (and you're wrong, and that's why we have asshats there), but the impact on your life at the local level is visible and quantifiable.

It really starts with knowing what you're a part of. You probably live in a municipality or an unincorporated area in a county, and so you have elected leaders and issues maintaining your roads and providing your police and fire. They have budgets and zoning and taxes, and you should understand what those are. I happen to live in an unincorporated area, so we're in a county jurisdiction, and I'm shocked at how few people understand that the city in their address is little more than the zip code. Heck, we're eight miles from the city that shares our zip code. I don't think knowing who you elect and who you pay your taxes to is a particularly high bar to expect.

There are other taxing districts that you live in, chief among them a school district. Do you know where their revenue comes from? Do you know how they decide to build schools and fund them? In a lot of ways, these issues may affect your property value even more than municipal concerns, because crappy schools lead to crappy property values.

Right now I'm thinking largely about our HOA, which is like a mini-government that has jurisdiction over your neighborhood. Some people don't like HOA's, but I do because they hold your neighbors accountable to certain standards, and in our case, it cuts your grass so you never have that one lot on the street that looks abandoned. It means you can share a pool and other common areas. You should care about those things.

I don't think basic civic engagement is a high bar to hit as a member of a community. Know where you live, who's in charge, what's going on.

Dear young people, please vote

posted by Jeff | Sunday, October 14, 2018, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

In politics, we've seen a new level of acceptance for coded racism, reversals on civil rights and outright rejection of observable facts. It's not like the "good old days," where we endured constant spin instead of lies that would suit a particular narrative. On the surface, given the small margins between these sides, those that embrace this deep level of bullshit, and those who do not, it appears as if the nation is solidly spit right down the middle.

The reality is not this at all. The reality is that extraordinary numbers of people simply choose not to get involved. They're so disenchanted by the bullshit that they simply don't vote. If some people don't vote, and the some people will believe the most ridiculous non-facts to suit their beliefs, it's not hard to understand how we got here.

The thing is, it wouldn't be hard to bring some sanity to this if young people voted. Compared to other demographics, people in their 20's are least likely to vote. They're leaving their future and governing of their country to people who will mostly be dead soon. I'm not sure why they don't understand that. Y'all have to vote. We need you, and you need to if you want to have any say in your future.

The impact spectrum

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 11, 2018, 10:37 PM | comments: 0

I can't find the post that I wrote at some point in the last decade, but I know I've written about the range of impact that you can have at your job and on the world in general. For example, one might aspire to establishing new industries, like commercial space flight, but can you really say that this is more impactful than educating children? It depends entirely on your frame of reference and the circumstances. If you're the teacher that influenced the industry creator, and improved the lives of hundreds of children, then I think you can argue that the teacher had the greatest impact.

Work is like that, too. Back in Microsoft's old days (OK, it was only a few years ago), the company was obsessed with promotion to the point that it penalized "stagnant" individual contributors and anyone not ascending to leadership positions. That obviously created a lot of toxic situations between people, since it was a disincentive to help out your teammates, but it also implied that banging out quality code for 40 hours per week also was less impactful in the long run. You don't have to work in the business to understand why that's silly.

In talking with a co-worker this week, I also realized that the wide spectrum of impact, and the desire to have it, has a compatibility matrix with company size, role and context. It seems like there are infinite combinations of circumstances that define impact scope. Going back to Microsoft, you could be the guy that wrote the algorithm to SUM a series of cells, and at this point, millions of people have used that functionality billions of times. But most people working on Excel will do mundane things that are totally necessary, and likely completely unrecognized by end users. I never worked on anything that big, but it's kind of cool to see the reputation system on MSDN has gone largely unchanged since my team of 3-ish developers built it and watched it process 100 million transactions per month in the first year.

Working in a growing company, I see that there is definitely a transition that people make in terms of impact breadth and depth. In a small shop, everyone takes out the trash, I like to say. That means you're forced into a situation where breadth puts you on many different problems at once, and the best you can do is find adequate solutions and move on. In a bigger shop, the problems become more complex, and typically many people have to engage with depth in more specific things. Managers actually get into the reverse situation, where as a company grows, they have to avoid depth and do their best to solve one problem at a time and quickly move on to the next. All of these situations lead to people being impactful, but the shape of that impact varies a ton.

Why does this matter? I think it's because teams have to understand how the breadth or depth of impact translates to being effective. If you're working in the world's largest software company, you can't be concerned with taking out the trash. At a small startup, you can't not have that concern. Effective people have a clear understanding of where they necessarily have to be on the impact spectrum.

I don't think generational stereotypes are that useful

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 9, 2018, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

I'm a member of Generation X. You know, the slacker generation. I remember the fairly widespread dismissal of my people when I was in college, and in the years after that. It was all the stuff about us being generally disenchanted and never going to amount to anything. At the time it seemed we were supposed to be limited to the "kids" that were in high school and college in the 90's, but the wider definition suggests that we can be a little older than that, and as much as a decade younger.

It turns out that my generation has a mixed record on moving the world forward, but we are largely responsible for the Internet economy, a significant push in entrepreneurial business and we elected the first African-American president. We had great music. We did OK overall. But let's not forget how we used to be, allegedly.

First, let's talk about Millennials. The stereotypes suggest that they're entitled, narcissistic, lazy and naive. Is there truth to that? I suppose it's true for some of them, but I'd hesitate to paint any group with that broad of a brush. I coached them (volleyball) when they were in high school, and they've grown up to be extraordinary people. The thing is, those of us in GenX weren't all that different. I mean, is it really hard to think about how we were just a decade-ish ago? I know that when I was in my late 20's, I was pretty sure that I knew everything, everyone older than me was dumb, I was important, I had better ideas and how dare you tell me that I just need to gain a little experience before I can reach my goals!

What about all of the studies that insist that Millennials adhere to the stereotypes? Is it not obvious about why they're pointless? They aren't old enough yet to make generalizations about how they roll! As they all enter that late 20's, early 30's range, they don't have the life experience and aren't at the same place in terms of career and personal lives that the previous generation is. But they aren't fundamentally all that different than we were at the same age. The biggest difference is that they're more public about how "older people" are full of shit. Because of Twitter and whatever. We didn't have social media at that age, but it doesn't mean we weren't doing the same thing.

Look, telling the younger generation "get off my lawn" is a time honored American tradition. It's perfectly normal to sigh at the way younger people (or older people) behave. But it's also important to be self-aware about it, at least, when we're older. You don't know what you don't know, but I don't think you know that until you know it, you know? I remember being in the height of the dotcom boom, in 2000, surrounded by Boomers at a corporate off-site meeting, horrified about how these "old dudes" just didn't get it. You could never convince me that I was wrong about that, but I certainly was. (That might be a bad example... there were "old dudes" who "get it," but most went to work elsewhere soon after that meeting.) If you think Millennials are not like looking back in time at ourselves, you don't have a very good memory.

Are there real cultural differences between the generations? Of course there is. I think there's some truth to the idea that participation trophies, helicopter parenting and this "safe space" nonsense where people don't want to be exposed to any ideas that upset them put Millennials at a disadvantage initially. However, I don't think that it takes a decade of life experience to overcome that. Like I said, everyone has idealistic and naive expectations in their 20's, but most adjust because they have to. GenX believed college degrees were a shortcut to success and a corner office too. Sound familiar? How's that working out as we approach midlife?

I'm a little disappointed that GenX hasn't really tackled the big problems, but I think there's still time. We're not that old yet. I'm actually really impressed with what we've done, and how far we've come. Millennials will follow in our footsteps and they'll stereotype the "Z's" or whatever they end up calling them with all of the same attributes we gave them. They're not special, and neither are we.