The world looks so different

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 23, 2018, 3:32 PM | comments: 0

I watched Lost in Translation today for the first time in a few years. I realized though that the movie is now 15-years-old, and that may explain why I react differently to it today, compared to when I first saw it. It's not just that I'm older, I've since divorced, re-married, had a child, moved 7,000 miles and have generally seen a whole lot of life since then. Back then, I identified with Charlotte's distress over who and what you're supposed to be. Today it's more about how Bob thinks he should buy a Porsche and eat better.

The world looks different as time goes on, and it's not so much because the world is changing (though it certainly is), but because we change. When I stop and think about all of the change in the last 20 years, it's exhausting. I can't imagine what the next 20 look like, which is also exhausting to think about.

I would like to generalize that we learn a ton, and we're able to better function in the world because of it, but I know people far older than me who still aren't very good at life. It makes me wonder if objectively I'm good at it. All of that knowledge and wisdom that should come with time and experience... am I doing the right things with it? Do I use it to my advantage? Am I offering advice to others based on that experience?

I definitely go through phases with that line of thinking. When you turn 30, it's like this realization that, wow, you're definitely an adult now. You have responsibilities and there's more to life than hanging out with your friends and getting drunk on the weekends. At 40, the realization about where you are in life is more complicated, because you still don't have it all figured out, and you've got a long way to go. But I do think that, if you're self-aware, it's OK to give yourself a little more credit, and realize that, yes, you don't have all of the answers, but you've got a lot more than you used to. It's OK to be confident about that.

All of the drastic life change in my mid-30's created an interesting opportunity to reboot life, and with that, some of the milestones around marriage, procreation, career and such came later than it might for others. I'm not sure if that's better, worse or indifferent, but it's definitely harder to relate to people. The world is different, but so am I. I like my part of the world, even if I still don't always understand it.


I saw Living Colour after 30 years of waiting

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 23, 2018, 10:59 AM | comments: 0

When Living Colour's Vivid album came out, I was a freshman in high school. I think 1988 was an awkward year for music, because the best of 80's top 40 was kind of done, and rock music was getting kind of lame. We had Michael Jackson, George Michael was having a new solo career and holdouts like Genesis, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones were still filling arenas. But there was this one band, an African-American group out of New York City that were led by a guy who could sing R&B or scream, and a guitarist who could shred and blow your mind. Their lyrics were political in a way that I really had never heard before. That was Living Colour, and I never got to see them. They ended up opening for the Stones, which as a high school kid meant I couldn't afford to ever see them live.

(Sidebar: When I was in college, the "classic rock" we played was 20 to 30 years old. Vivid is now 30 years old. What do you even call that? It's also weird that popular recorded music, as a thing, now spans about 70 years.)

Living Colour had three albums and an EP in those years through my college experience, and I never did get to see them. I didn't think much about them until the last two years, when they played the Epcot Eat To The Beat concert series during the Food & Wine Festival, but I missed them both years. This year, I refused to let that happen. The band was dormant for a number of years, and Corey Glover, the singer, even did a run as "Judas" in a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is hardly surprising given his vocal abilities. Friday I got to see two of their three sets.

These guys are about as loud as a rock band can be, and easily the loudest of the concert series. Vernon Reid does things to a guitar that don't seem human, and he does it every song. Glover is as good of a singer as ever. I would have loved to have seen them do "Open Letter (To A Landlord)," but that's the only song I missed (maybe they did it in the second set). Of course they did the contractually obligated "Cult of Personality" in both of the sets I saw, but also "Glamour Boys," "Middle Man," "Funny Vibe," "Desperate People," "Memories Can't Wait," "Ignorance Is Bliss" and others I'm not remembering off the top of my head. They definitely leaned heavily on Vivid, but "Ignorance" came from 1993's Stain and felt particularly relevant today. I don't think I heard anything from Time's Up, but again, I didn't see the second set. Glover took a move from Mark McGrath's playbook and roamed the crowd doing selfies. And like other bands, they indulged in a pretty great cover, this time a very metal version of The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." I mean, it was face-melting.

It may have taken three decades for me to see them, but I'm so glad that I did. They're amazing. I realize now that they were ahead of their time. It's also frustrating that their music is so relevant today. "Funny Vibe" might as well be an anthem about driving while black this decade. Have we really not gotten past that in 30 years?

Living Colour is a bright spot from the late 80's/early 90's that are as good as ever. If they come back next year, I will make it a point to see all three sets.


A culture of (residential) fear

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 19, 2018, 7:24 PM | comments: 0

I've written countless times about how fear is everything in politics now. The right wants you to fear brown people and education, the left wants you to fear rich people and corporations. TV is filled with crime porn both in "news drama" and fiction. If these are the lenses with which you view life, then you undoubtedly feel the world is a scary place.

Social media of course amplifies this. If you live in a community that uses a Facebook group or Nextdoor, you likely have seen neighbors who believe that everything is so bad, and everyone suspect, that there's little to do but barricade yourself in your house and never come out. At our last house, we had a neighbor who said the development had turned into a third-world country (shocking news I'm sure for the people living there that actually immigrated from a third-world country). In the current place, a neighbor suggested you shouldn't answer the door when strangers are there, because they might push their way in, take your children and everything you own. I'm not exaggerating.

How did we get like this culturally? Maybe it's because I grew up in a rough neighborhood (though I never knew it at the time), but life in the suburbs is relatively safe and easy going. There are certainly crimes of opportunity, as there are anywhere, but I can't imagine operating as if I'm inevitably going to be a victim of something heinous. Statistically, it's extremely improbable that some stranger is going to kidnap your children. And we know that being out and about in your neighborhood and knowing people is a huge deterrent against those crimes of opportunity.

What's particularly frustrating is that you can't reason with people with... reason. Crime in our county is down year over year. Nationally it has been trending down for decades, some regional exceptions aside. Immigrants (legal or not) are less likely to commit crimes than natives. You're more likely to be struck by lightning than be a victim of terrorism. Kids are rarely abducted by strangers. These aren't my opinions, they're facts. So much of the fear is irrational.


There's nothing good on TV anymore

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 18, 2018, 7:26 PM | comments: 0

If you watched the prime time Emmy Awards this year, you may have noticed that most of the winners aren't even technically on in prime time. They're streamed, which means you can watch them any time you want. Still, they're all lumped together, and the old TV networks were barely recognized. For the broadcast awards show, the only winners were SNL for NBC, in a category where it has almost no competition, and the Oscar telecast on ABC. Everything else was on the streaming services and pay cable channels. In fact, if you count the creative arts awards given the weekend before, the Oscar show was the only thing ABC won at all. It's hardly a mystery why Disney wants to launch a streaming service not bound to the broadcast model. Fox had 3 awards, CBS 2. Only NBC made a dent, with 15 awards total for SNLWill & Grace and Jesus Christ Superstar Live.

For us, we kind of gave up on network TV this year. Even during periods of time when we didn't have cable, we had at least four or five shows we kept up with via Hulu. This year, it came down to NBC's This Is Us and ABC's Designated Survivor, which went nowhere in the second season and was cancelled. We had high hopes for Rise on NBC (because musical theater geeks), but they killed that pretty quickly too. There's nothing good on network TV.

We made some great discoveries though on the streaming services. Diana has been into a few different series over the years, but this year she did the horrifying Handmaid's Tale. I couldn't watch it because it's too awful. I did watch Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is frankly the best thing I've watched in years, and it deserved the awards. It's really fantastic. I also enjoyed Jack Ryan, which like 24, took a solid approach toward terrorism and how not simple it is. They also have Catastrophe, which has three short but wonderful seasons. Over on Netflix, Simon has enjoyed the Voltron and Magic Schoolbus reboots.

So why are these services making better TV than the networks? The first thing is that they're not competing for advertising budgets. This is a wholly broken model because it creates the chicken/egg problem around having a blockbuster to attract the audience, and therefore the cash. The networks want a quick return or they'll bail. The artistic value is irrelevant, and that's what wins awards. There's no way to win here, because you want to create something that is safe enough to have broad appeal, which often appeals to no one.

The streamers, and to a degree HBO, aren't constrained to a few time slots per night, broad appeal to attract ad dollars or even broadcast standards for language. So if you're Amazon, and the writer of Gilmore Girls pitches you a story about a 50's New York society Jewish girl who gets drunk and does brilliant and raunchy standup comedy after her husband leaves her, you can throw money at it and a bunch of other diverse projects and potentially end up with a winner. This show would never have been made for network TV.

I think we're in a strange new golden age for TV that isn't really TV anymore. I'm wondering if there's something that could ruin it for us, but so far, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and eventually Disney are complimentary and not at risk of killing each other at the current costs. I'm pretty excited about what comes next.


My relative lack of cultural identity doesn't make me less of a person

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 11, 2018, 7:16 PM | comments: 0

If there's one thing the Internet can show you, it's that people are exceptional at being assholes to each other. The latest example of this is the Serena Williams controversy, which has yielded little constructive conversation. I already wrote about my feelings on it, but if for some reason you think I'm unqualified to have an opinion (I'm getting to that), then take Martina Navratilova's opinion. She's among the best players ever, and did so while being openly gay in the 80's. I think what she says carries significant weight, and I agree with her.

I'm a white, straight guy, brought up in a middle class, Christian, Midwest environment. I have no real ethnicity or nationality to identify with, though my grandfather was 100% Polish, so I guess that puts me in the 25% bracket, and there are jokes about that I don't really get or find offensive because I have no context. My socioeconomic background could not be any more generic. I went to school in Cleveland during the court-ordered desegregation years, which meant that I was bused to the primarily black east side half the time, and the other half went to local schools in white-ish neighborhoods that were mostly Latino and Eastern European while black kids were bused to the west side. This entire arrangement to me as a grade school kid was meaningless, and I only understood it to be "busing" without intent. At that age, we were just a bunch of kids learning to read, write and do math. I kind of knew that I was a minority, but I couldn't think of any reason that it mattered. The world was pretty simple in my eyes, even if I didn't understand the racist jokes my grandfather made all of the time.

In high school, I moved to a mostly-white suburb, and it all made sense. In college, it made even more sense, and I spent a lot of time being angry at people for being stupid around issues of race and sexuality. After college, when I started coaching girls volleyball, I became angry about the inequality of women. I've spent a lot of time being angry, despite not having any real skin in the game, only because it felt like, morally, it was the right thing to do.

These days, it seems like the discourse is reserved only for the people who are aligned with the people disadvantaged. Men are routinely dismissed as "mansplaining," and white people are disregarded for their privilege. This totally goes on, for sure, but more and more, this judgment is rendered early and without context. That's not OK.

I've been an advocate for other human beings my entire life. I'm not looking for recognition or congratulations for that, but I do expect the courtesy to offer an opinion and not have it rejected outright because I'm a white dude. Not everything comes down to two divisive sides. Sometimes there is plenty of nuance, or seemingly opposing things that coexist. The Serena situation is a perfect example of this: We can and should talk about sexism in the sport (and silly coaching rules), but we can also expect that our greatest athletes conduct themselves with exemplary sportsmanship. I may not have much obvious identity to connect to, but I am a parent and a coach, and I feel strongly that it's not OK to damage your equipment or yell at officials, no matter how right you are.

We can be angry at the situation without declaring everyone as with or against you. That m.o. is the campaign that got the guy in the White House elected. I don't expect that we can ever go back to the naiveté of my grade school experience, but we don't have to shut down conversations because others don't think they're as simple as you do.


Sportsmanship, by example

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 9, 2018, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

I've never been much of an athlete, but for most of my life been involved in sports in one way or another. This despite the ongoing jokes with coworkers about my general disregard for "sportsball." I mean, I lettered in girls volleyball in high school (manager), spent plenty of time line judging, running clock, announcing players, etc. In college I played club ball and did some officiating, then after college I coached for something like ten seasons. Eventually I picked up tennis, took lessons and even did a USTA season. In other words, I've been directly involved in literally hundreds of contests, and I've seen a lot as a participant. I know what sportsmanship looks like, and it didn't always come easy.

I'll never forget having to hand out a yellow card as an official. I only did it once, but it was uncomfortable for me, as I'm sure it was for the player. The dude had put up a block and tagged the net pretty hard while the ball sailed over the block and out of bounds. It was a pretty obvious call, and he was pissed. It was actually the second straight time he did it, but I didn't make the call the first time because I was new, and unsure of myself. I kind of just let him be pissed and rant about the call, until he made it personal and told me to "open your eyes." It was at that point that I busted out the yellow card. He didn't made any more rants (or net violations) the rest of the match.

My next encounter with cards came in my first year coaching 17's, which is kind of the varsity of the club circuit (better, in my opinion, because that's where the kids get recruited). It was my fourth season coaching, and I felt like I had a lot to prove, with a bunch of small kids, some of whom were second string on their high school teams. In my second tournament, I had a seriously poor official in the playoffs. She had a ball come off of one of my blockers and land plainly on the other side. The line judge, a kid from a sitting team, called it out without being able to see through the defensive player and the two blockers. I wasn't going to yell at the kid certainly, but the official was literally looking at the floor where it happened and should have made the call. Like I said, my kids weren't that big, so getting a big block was a treat and I yelled up to the official asking how she could not override the call. I was pissed, and I felt like I was advocating for my kids. She yellow carded me. Later, after the opposing setter was catching the ball, double-hitting, just making a mess for a 17's tournament, I laid into the official again. One of my kids was actively trying to get me to chill out, but I persisted, and I got redcarded. I might have thought I was advocating for the kids, but I lost a little of their respect that day, not to mention that of the parents.

Which brings me to the US Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. By now you know what happened. The official gave Serena a warning for receiving coaching, which the coach admitted to but she denies. There's definitely a healthy debate to be had about the rule and how arbitrary its application may be, but that's not the place or time. Her second code violation came when she broke her racket after Osaka continued to put on the pressure. That meant giving Osaka a free point. Serena then started to lay into the official over the penalty caused by her throwing down her racket, which went on for awhile, until she called him a thief for "stealing" the point away from her. That's when she had her third code violation and gave Osaka a game. Osaka went on to win, but even without the penalties, she was beating Serena in most of the stats.

There has been a lot of anger over the whole affair, with accusations about sexism, double standards and the validity of the coaching rule. I think those are all valid discussions to have, and they're very important. But Serena still made a choice when she slammed down that racket. Even if we make the argument that someone else can get away with it, does that make it right? This is a professional athlete we're talking about. There is responsibility that comes with that, especially when you're arguably one of the best in history. I immediately thought back to the 2009 tournament against Kim Clijsters, where Serena threatened a line judge over a foot fault after slamming her racket down.

The stakes are higher when you're a professional, and one of the best. I let down my kids and parents, and I was just coaching a bunch of high school kids. Serena is an athlete at the highest level, representing women, moms and the United States. Slamming your racket when you're getting beat isn't OK, and debating the outcome of that by berating the official isn't OK either. The circumstances around rules and sexism matter, but it isn't right to simultaneously chastise others for bad behavior and use it as an excuse for someone else. It's like the right accusing the left of immoral behavior to justify their own in politics.

If someone plays sportsball, it's important to demonstrate sportsmanship, and be an example. The higher we go, the more of a responsibility that becomes.


Our little talks, wanting to belong

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 6, 2018, 6:50 PM | comments: 0

I haven't written about parenting lately in recent months, I guess because I'm often not sure where to go with it beyond, "I don't feel like I'm doing it right." Not only that, but when so much of your time is spent thinking about ASD or ADHD, you can't help but feeling like you're spending too much time on what's "wrong." That's definitely not something I want to do, because I do have some great times with Simon. He can also be pretty funny, though sometimes unintentionally, and with a kid that socially struggles, that's certainly a good thing.

While I get frustrated with the fact the he's not always showing empathy, or even appears outright selfish at times, I can see very clearly that he's very emotional, and that emotion can come flooding out at times. Even at 8, it's still very important to him that we lie down next to him at bed time to talk before bed. Diana and I take turns at this, and we've been trying to get him to talk more about what he feels. There's a secondary motivation here, that academically he sometimes has issues composing things into well formed thoughts and sentences even when he understands internally what he knows. It's odd how he can see numbers and all of the math shortcuts, and can read all day, but still finds expressive language challenging.

We've very suddenly been hearing things from him, in a good way. He's starting to share, though he's more apprehensive about doing so with me, probably because I'm pretty brutal about him being accountable for what he says and does. But last night, he first expressed that he got into trouble at school for doing something that a classmate was doing (he didn't say what). I asked him if he did this because it helped him feel like he belongs, but he had trouble understanding what I meant.

From there we went on to other subjects, and he expressed that no one liked him at school. That's a heartbreaking thing to hear from your kid. I asked him why he felt this way, and he said that it was because no one laughed when he was funny. This was something of a relief, because I suspect this feeling was based on his misunderstanding about a social contract. I explained that being funny wasn't really an indicator about how much people like you, which he seemed to partially accept. He has all of the same kids in his class this year, and I can't believe they don't like him. He's having some trouble on the bus with some kid (and an inattentive driver), but I know some kids like him.

We talked about making friends, and how to get people to like you, and I brought up the example of one of the neighbor kids, a sister that is a few years older than one of his peers. She routinely defends Simon and calls out some of the other kids when they aren't being very nice. I asked Simon if he thought that she liked him, and he said yes, and we talked a bit about how she's nice to everyone, and that really makes her likable. I asked if he could do that, and he said it would be too hard.

A minute later, as sleep was catching up with him, he said that he would like to try that, so we had a deeper conversation about the haters and how you can't really win them over, so it's best to ignore them. I don't know how much of this really sunk in.

The thing that was most painful about this conversation was how I related to it, from my own time in grade school. I was the "weird kid" as well, and I did not fit in. Kids are dicks, and I remember that in painful detail, though I had mostly forgotten because, well, I'm over 40. Simon brought it all back to me, which made it even harder to hear what he was telling me. But I get how intense his feelings are, and how much he wants to belong. You can't think critically about your own self-worth at that age.

I know my kid is going to suffer at times, and I struggle with the extent to which he has to endure it as a developing human being, and how much I should try to protect him. It doesn't feel good.


You're leaving Facebook, neat

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 3, 2018, 2:18 PM | comments: 0

I was reading a blog post by Om Malik about how he's leaving Facebook, and it's a declaration that a lot of people seem to be making lately, especially in technology circles. I respect Om and his writing, and I think he was a solid journalist, and I loved his writings about his recovery after a heart attack. But I think his generalizations about why and how people use it aren't very good.

Let me first say that Facebook is most certainly on the hook for questionable behavior and some adverse effects on society. Along with Google, it has become a gategeeper to the Internet, which sucks when that kind of power is concentrated. That social media companies largely reinforce echo chambers and allow ill intent to occur on their networks is definitely not OK.

Here's where I think Om has it wrong, and he's frankly saying the same thing that a lot of valley types are saying:

I left because it was making me someone I am not — someone who lives life through the eyes of others. There is a hard edge in Facebook life. People are always fronting — putting their best life forward.

I find this to be a silly generalization. Maybe that is how valley people are, but not so much everyone else. It begs the question about whether or not online life is just an extension of how people act in real life. I can tell you that I, along with the people I generally see as active on Facebook, aren't fronting. Quite the opposite, we share about the struggles, the frustrations, the pain and the parts that are not the best. We don't live life through the eyes of others, we live life seeking empathy and friendship with people we can't always see in real life. (I might add that, anecdotally, this is more true for people who have moved around a bit.) It's an online kind of authenticity that, at the very least, matches how we conduct ourselves in the world, with all of the confidence, insecurity, joy and sadness that goes with it.

So if you leave Facebook because you think it makes you different, is it because you are putting on a show? Social media in general seems to produce these weird "celebrities" who gain notoriety for not really doing anything. Are you trying to be that, or just keep in touch with people you actually know? If it's the former, then cool, I guess Facebook really isn't for you. Just don't project that on the rest of us.


Clinging to John McCain

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 30, 2018, 6:47 PM | comments: 0

I remember in the primaries leading up to the 2000 election, I found Bill Bradley and John McCain as infinitely more interesting than Gore and Bush. Bradley was a bit more liberal, but McCain just seemed less... Republican status quo. Over the years, I can't say that I was happy with his policy positions as a senator, and picking Sarah Palin as a running mate was bowing to the gradual hijacking of the GOP, but he was usually able to be a respectful human being and assume morally decent positions. He wouldn't accept the Obama birther nonsense, he was against torture, he could be a war hero but call out wasteful defense spending and mostly came on the right side of immigration. He was entirely too aligned with his party on most other issues though.

I think that the reason people liked McCain, even his opponents, is that he was a decent person. His party has been hijacked by people who are not decent, and who feed on fear and hate. I'm not saying that McCain wasn't a party to this (at the very least he was too frequently silent about it), but I'm always drawn to the moment where he shut down the birther woman in a town hall and expressed respect for Obama as a person. I feel like you won't get that from a lot of sitting Republicans right now.

I do hope that people in his party can honor his memory by trying to be more like him. I might not agree on policy, but politicians don't need to be assholes to each other, the press or the public.


Enabling who you are

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 23, 2018, 8:18 PM | comments: 0

I was listening to the most recent Hamilcast podcast in the car today, where the show's designer was the guest. He mentioned an instance where he was having dinner with the other principal Hamilton collaborators and thought about how they were all great people, and that their success just further enabled who they were from the beginning. In other words, people who suck will always suck, or kind people are always kind.

I have no doubt that this particular group of people are wonderful, and the public perception of them certainly suggests that they are the kind of people where "you could have a beer with him." (Hamilton fans will see what I did there.) Success most certainly enables you, too, in most every way. But I don't agree with the idea that you are what you are regardless. Environment and experience greatly shape who we are, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Sure, fame has enabled and changed Lin-Manuel Miranda, but as far as we can tell, it has been mostly in positive ways. Our culture has countless examples where fame ruined people, and I don't think that's indicative of who they always were, or meant to be, or even who they potentially could be.

We all aspire to be certain things. Environment can enable or restrict us. The hard thing is trying to make the environment something that benefits us and others. This is still a country where the birth lottery still heavily influences our outcomes, and we can't control that. I wasn't born into wealth, but I was born white and that has worked to my advantage. I've found it relatively easy to change my surroundings to make life more like I want it, personally and professionally. It's how you choose where to live, the people you surround yourself with and the work you do. You must make your environment and not simply let it happen to you.

But enabling your ideal self is also influenced by experience. I think this is where we get into trouble. I've told the story before (I just told someone about it today, in fact), but when I was seeing a therapist after Steph and I split, he said that your first blueprint for relationships is your parents, and if yours are divorced, that's not a great example. Apply that to almost everything we learn... we only know what we know. I had to unlearn a lot of professional behavior after things I witnessed in college and then local government, because they were horrible examples of how to conduct yourself at work. I almost got fired for something I said at my first corporate job because of that. Being my best me was somewhat inhibited by poor experience. That's a lot harder to correct, because even if you want better experience, it's not always obvious when you don't have it.

Enabling your best self is hard. It seems like things are stacked against you. People still figure it out, and they definitely aren't predisposed to sucking.


Putting struggle behind you

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 21, 2018, 7:25 PM | comments: 0

This year has been challenging. I felt like there was a constant struggle, at least, relative to how life typically goes. That's generally how life rolls, with peaks and valleys in terms of difficulty. I started a new job in June, and while it's definitely challenging, I feel like I'm well supported, making forward progress and otherwise set up for success. At home, there are the usual parenting challenges, but otherwise, our season of financial chaos (the delayed house sale, interruption in income) is getting closer to being resolved, and I feel like I've been able to take a breath and feel comfortable and at peace for the first time since last year.

But humans being human, it's not easy to let go. I find myself harboring resentment, focusing on the suboptimal situtation and otherwise losing perspective. One of my longstanding issues is the inability to cope with being wrong, or feeling that someone has wronged me. I do it better than I did a decade ago, but sometimes it still gets the best of me. I try, but don't always succeed, in trying to redirect my feelings toward humility and kindness.

Tonight I'm sitting on my patio with darling wife, as thunder rumbles in the distance, and it's a really, really good feeling. The only thing I could be truly critical about in my life is the lack of mountain views, and even then, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain are hardly the worst mountains to live near. The only thing that keeps me rooted in struggle right now is me.

When I look at the various periods of my life, marked largely by moves, relationships and even school, there is an obvious cyclical pattern that adds something new to who I am, every time. As the band Garbage once said, "You should see my scars." The struggles contribute to our composition, but they do not define us, and they do not dicatate who we must be at any given time. Indeed, what we should choose to be is happy, whenever possible.


Buying cars is still terrible

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 19, 2018, 11:41 AM | comments: 0

Yesterday's acquisition of our most recent car was, again, a relatively horrible experience. It was better than last time, but still not great. The big difference this time is that we were able to negotiate entirely by email. I was super direct in initiating the conversation:

"Don't call me. Please quote me on [dealer stock number] for a 3-year lease, [money down], and include the payment with tax. Also disclose the net capitalized cost, the residual and the money factor used in calculating the payment."

What I can't deal with is the bullshit around the emotional things that salespeople pitch. It just grinds on me and insults my intelligence. I'm sure a lot of people buy cars emotionally, but I do not. Give me the numbers, because at the end of the day, everyone knows what the real cost is, what the rebates and incentives are. The Internet is good like that.

I started this conversation with five Nissan dealers, including the one where we purchased the previous Leaf. One didn't respond outside of an invitation to come to the dealer for a $25 gift card. Another responded an entire day later (after we had our deal) asking if we wanted to come in and test drive. Another didn't respond at all. That came down to two who gave me the numbers I asked for, and the losing dealer apparently wasn't aware of the extra incentive for repeat customers. The winner got us about where we wanted to be, once we understood what incentives were available. We had not stepped foot in a dealer yet when we had a deal. We did not play the "let me talk to my manager" bullshit game.

We arrived at the dealer with the car already sitting out ready for us, but it still took us almost two and a half hours to get out, which is super fun when you've got Simon along for the ride. The problem had to do with getting all of the finance stuff worked out, and then a further delay when the Florida DMV was offline and couldn't process the registration transfer. Why is there so much waiting and inefficiency?

Tesla has this figured out. You order the car online, you make you down payment online and the financing is even figured out ahead of time, all online. On the day of devliery, you sign a few things and you're done. It literally takes five minutes. Who doesn't want that? If you believe the dealer associations that are trying to push Tesla out of various states, they insist that people like and want the dealer experience. Who are these people?


EV life round 2

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 18, 2018, 8:39 PM | comments: 0

Nissan finally stopped letting us renew the lease for the 2015 Leaf we bought in 2014. We turned that 2-year lease into 4 years at a ridiculously great rate of $106 per month. I did the math, and with the free months they gave us for renewing, the total cost to own it (money down plus monthly over the entire time we had it) was insanely low. But all good things come to an end, and as much as we probably could have kept driving it for another four years, we had to give it back.

The deals aren't quite as good this time around, because there's actually some demand for these cars now. The new Leaf has a better range at 150 miles, up from 90-ish. We never had any significant issue with the other, but there were a few days where we simply had to limit the driving, even locally. That's a non-issue now, for sure. Nissan has done a nice job refining the Leaf, and it's a far more attractive car. They also have real regenerative braking now, so it drives more like a Tesla (though, annoyingly, you have to enable it every time you turn on the car). I think it's the ultimate commuter car now, and loaded with neat technology. The buying process from a traditional dealer was better this time (negotiated entirely by email), but the delivery end of things is still not ideal. I'll write about that another time.

With the delivery of our Model 3 in June (boy have we put some miles on that car), we're now in our second round of plug-in electric vehicles, for a total of 75,000 miles or so of non-tailpipe driving. Four years have made a pretty big difference. Combined, the cars average 50% more range, while cost is down a little for the Nissan and a lot for the Tesla. The Model 3 is still too expensive to be a "mass market" car, at least until they start shipping the $35k version, but it's progress in the right direction. People are still asking the wrong questions about EV's, but the interest is higher, the sales are higher, and it's less of a novelty to see an EV. I know we constitute little more than an anecdote, but going electric has no in any way limited or inconvenienced our lives. In fact, things are more convenient. We haven't gone to a gas station in more than three years. Now we're even starting to power the cars with solar!

We started going down this path four years ago with some degree of healthy skepticism, but I think this will be the last EV that we lease. I think they've now moved beyond proof of concept in the market to a bona fide option. The cars are getting less expensive, while we spend half as much compared to gasoline in the best case, Prius scenario. More importantly, we're able to do our part to reduce carbon emissions. We're on pace, with the cars and solar, to reduce our carbon emissions by 25 tons per year. Every little bit helps.

Actually, if I'm being honest, none of that even matters when you consider the fun of launching the car when the light turns green. Four years into this endeavor, that never gets old.


The morality of censorship by non-government entities

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 16, 2018, 7:14 PM | comments: 0

Twitter is in the news for being the last social media company to not pull the toxic trash of some wacky conspiracy theorist. Twitter is the Mos Eisley of social media, frankly, and would be better if it had more cat pictures and less of people posting crap on there. The arguments have been pretty thin, deferring to others to invalidate those who spew nonsense, and asserting lofty ideals around not being the arbiter of legitimate conversation.

I wrote previously about the idea that neutrality is not as essential as truthfulness. Heck, it's not really my idea, it's just one I strongly agree with. But let's create some clarity on two points. First, Twitter is not the government, so those high ideals around free speech don't apply. They can do whatever they want. There is no obligation for free speech when it comes to a private entity's platform. Furthermore, even free speech has consequences. You can't shout fire in a theater, you can be sued for defamation or inciting a riot.

Second, this is not about silencing dissent. There is no slippery slope in this case. When someone suggests that murdered kids are all an act, or there are calls to harass people, that isn't dissent, that's potentially causing harm to people. The difference is clear, and morally unambiguous.

Government is pretty disfunctional, especially with two factions that won't compromise. I get that, and I'm all for that dissenting opinions. Honestly, there isn't much real discussion going on, but dissent is OK and I don't think anyone should get in the way of that. It's not OK to bring harm to others though by way of the things you say, and Twitter is in a position to limit that.


I don't have to be 100%

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, August 15, 2018, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

I've told the story many times about how I started to actively manage my career, instead of letting it happen to me, around the time I was working at Microsoft. I happened to have a child at the same time, which may have driven the career decision, and collectively, I would say that I changed into something of a more purposeful and deliberate person.

That was about the time I started to see something of a transformation in my overall drive, and in recent months I've been exploring that outcome and what it means. The short version of the story is that I have built an expectation of myself to always be switched on, giving everything I have, but feeling like I'm often falling short. No one likes to feel like they're failing.

The expectation to be switched on, all of the time, is not realistic. We all have limits, and it's just physics that you can't give more than you get. I've spent a lot of time feeling spent, and that's not sustainable. It came to a head in my last job, and I'm being super diligent about it in the new gig. Same for my personal life, and especially for parenting. I love my child dearly, but I can't be everything to him at all times without building resentment. As such, I'm getting better, sometimes, at letting his challenges toward me go if I can't constructively respond to them.

Where does this come from? I'm not a Type-A overachieving box-checking type of person. There is certainly a cultural pressure to keep up, I think, to anyone who must act in a leading capacity, whether it's in your personal or professional life. But I think my pressure is more deeply rooted in my life experience. I have a long history of exposure to people who have failed me, personally and professionally, in non-trivial ways. That grinds you a bit, because you obviously don't want to be those people. What kind of person would you be if you failed similarly?

Real life, however, requires that you give yourself a pass now and then. You can't be everything to everyone at all times. It's a fool's pursuit. You've gotta hold on to some of your time for yourself. The world most certainly could function without you entirely. It'll be OK to let it function without you intermittently.


Three years EV: It's your future

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 11, 2018, 3:10 PM | comments: 0

About a year ago, I wrote a well-visited post about the questions people have around driving electric vehicles, which means we're now at about three years and 70,000 miles of being an all-EV family. This despite the arguments I read online about why having an EV is not practical. Admittedly, there are still two impediments: the cost, though this is even less of an issue this year, and access to a garage, which is mattering less depending on where you live and who is willing to put a plug in rental community lots.

The most striking thing to me, when thinking back to driving gasoline cars, is not going to gas stations. Even though I find myself less in a hurry to be finished driving (because the Model 3 sure is fun to drive), I still remember how much I hated having to go to gas stations. It delayed getting where I wanted to go. In other climates, I had to get out into the cold and snow.

Now that I'm commuting to work again, I also appreciate not buying gas. My commute would cost twice as much, and that's assuming I'm driving an efficient car like a Corolla or Prius. Does the difference in cost make up for the cost of the car? Obviously not, but depending on where I "allocate" my electricity generated by solar, you could in theory say that my cars operate for "free."

What I'm getting at is that all of this technology exists today, it's awesome, it's clean and it's absolutely our future. It should not have taken this long to get here, but incumbent industry has been holding us back for decades.


Scaling is always the problem

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 9:39 PM | comments: 0

If I had to rank the things that I was excited about for my new gig, the idea that I'd have to scale people and process at new levels would rank pretty high. In the last few years, I've done a lot to scale the technology itself, but applying all the soft skills and process knowledge to a growing organization is a great challenge.

Then I started thinking, you know, all of the problems are about scale. I mean, not just work, but life in general. The challenge with life is always to scale it. When you say things like, "If I only had more time to..." you're talking about time management which is scaling your life. I certainly still believe that you should embrace your limitations, but it doesn't mean you can't optimize. Scaling is optimizing your action.

One of my favorite things to say is that, with time, it's not that you change necessarily, but you do become more things. I disagree that becoming a parent changes you. I think that you can largely be the same person, but you become this new thing as well. That's an important distinction, the addition instead of change. Some things about you are immutable, particularly your past, so it only makes sense that you become something more with time. The more you become, the more you have to learn to scale. I still care about the things I cared about 15 years ago, but I also care about being a dad, a husband and a guy with a career. To scale, I have to figure out how to pay attention to all of these things.

Science, industry, even politics, all have scale problems. How do you deal with things that get bigger? While it's an interesting observation, that everything seems to be a scaling problem, I only wish that the solutions were all similar.


Passive entertainment is OK

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 5, 2018, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

At some point in my life, probably when I was between jobs and stir crazy, I got into this mode where I felt like spare time had to be some kind of maker time. In other words, I couldn't be passively entertained, I had to be doing something that had some kind of output. Down time had to have production.

As I transitioned into this new job, I found myself feeling a little mentally spent by the time I got home, probably a combination of spinning up all kinds of new things and then commuting, which I haven't done in four years. The TV would come on, and at first it was just HGTV to occupy my time between Simon's bed time and my own, but then I started discovering all of the streaming stuff that has been intriguing. I have to tell you, I've really been enjoying this stuff.

I've also been reading a bit more, though my recommended list is entirely too long and I'm not making any headway there. I've found several opportunities to listen to music and just close my eyes, too. The point is that I've made it OK again to engage in passive entertainment. I'm not sure why I seemed to be unintentionally against it.


The work as summer camp experience

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 3, 2018, 7:49 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I find interesting about people who work in creative endeavors like film, touring theater and live music is that they seem to have these intense, concentrated, experiences. When they're over there is this enormous sense of pride, relief and an afterglow. You see this all of the time in movie special features, social media posts, etc. I crave an experience like that... sort of.

My closest analog was probably some of the government TV work I did right out of college. I had almost no office space, and I mounted all of my TV gear in anvil cases so we could travel with it. So whether we did something boring like televise a city council meeting, or cool like a high school basketball game, we'd set up early, shoot the event, and tear it all down and exchange high fives.

In all of my work since, there is generally a routine to adhere to, and you're always working towards the next thing. It's incredibly rewarding when you work with the right people, and in the right place. Given the long term nature of this work, intensity isn't something you want as a constant. In fact, I find that I devote a lot of energy toward balancing life out and unwinding. I have a family and stuff, and that's important too.

But man, that buzz of wrapping on a movie or seeing your first show finish to applause... that has to be amazing. I'm not sure if I'll ever get to do something like that.


Lego sets, after the build

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 29, 2018, 4:52 PM | comments: 0

As an adult, I've been able to periodically buy gigantic and expensive Lego sets, which I started doing just before Simon was born. The joy in those is the construction process. I would never be interested in building one of these sets and sticking it on a shelf somewhere. I'm not that "Lord Business" from The Lego Movie.

Well, not exactly. I am careful in that I want to maintain the integrity of the sets. I also want it to be reasonably easy to build them again. Someone asked what I do when it's time to disassemble them. Basically, I take them apart by following the instructions in reverse, to numbered bags, as they were when I opened the box. The time varies a lot, but it's usually not more than 25% of the original build time. Some sets go a little slower if the division between bags isn't clear, but some go faster. The Disney Castle, for example, is completely sectional, and the 4,000 pieces come down pretty quickly outside some of the detail work. Probably less than two hours. The new roller coaster (pictured below), took a little longer because it's not obvious where the bags split, and there's a lot of detail work with small pieces in the scenery.

Yeah, it's extra work, but it's worth it. The kits that are particularly mechanical in nature are really fun, and engage my brain in a pleasing way. The Ferris wheel in really cool. The castle ins't mechanical, but it's architecturally neat. You can't roll with too much chaos for 4,000 or more pieces.