The importance of time off

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 17, 2018, 8:30 PM | comments: 0

I got into a weird place in the last year where I was working ridiculous hours and not really taking off very much time. I took off a week for Christmas only because I had to use some time or lose it. Then in the first quarter I didn't take any time off. Finally we did a New York trip in April for our anniversary, and I'm not sure I would have done it if I didn't already have it scheduled. In between jobs, I realized just how tweaked out I was, and it was because I didn't take enough time for myself.

This time, I'm trying to really pay attention. I have unlimited PTO, which sounds awesome right? I think that in some ways it will be more challenging, because without an accrual number of days or hours, relative to your time worked, it might not be obvious that you aren't taking time off. In fact, we have a vacation bonus, paying out $500 once a year for taking five consecutive days off.

I'm not sure how I got like this, because my first real job out of college involved comp time, where I got time and a half off for any overtime, even though it was salary. I took maximum advantage of that. In the poor economy and layoff years, I simply viewed work as an unimportant exchange of money for value. It changed when we moved to Florida, so it's partially a symptom of living where everyone else vacations, but also because I started to find meaning in work and responsibility. While admirable, work is still work, and even when it's fun, there's some kind of mental cost that comes with it.

My newer mode of consciousness includes the acknowledgment that we only have so many keystrokes in life, and it's important that I spend enough of them with my little guy and my darling wife. I know I let that slide earlier this year.

So I'm trying to make some plans for the rest of the year, because other than a long weekend in November, we don't have anything specific planned. It's also harder now that Simon is at the school age where we can't just arbitrarily pull him out. Also, the holidays are fine for "staycations" but kind of suck for travel because of crowds and more expensive rooms/fares. It's funny how I'm confident I can lead large groups of people but can't figure out how to take a vacation.

Video stores and instant gratification

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 13, 2018, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Remember Blockbuster, and before that, your locally owned video rental store? I guess I won't go as far as saying do you remember VHS rentals (a phenomenon caused by the fact that movies were not priced to own at first), but that was a thing, too. Blockbuster was apparently sold to a holding company, and the two last stores in Alaska are shutting down. It makes sense that these were holdouts, since high speed Internet access ain't cheap up there, so streaming hasn't had as much of an impact. That leaves one in Bend, Oregon.

There was something kind of neat about going to the video store, and coming home with tapes or discs to watch that night. By my senior year of college, I bought a VCR with Dolby Pro Logic, meaning it could derive surround sound out of the audio, so I was pretty serious about recreating a theatrical experience, even if it was with a 20" NTSC tube TV. Doing rentals in college was a regular occurrence, since an extreme portion of my lame classmates went home on weekends. Eventually this transitioned to Netflix shipping physical discs to me in the late oughts, and we didn't really start streaming regularly until 2014, when the FireTV came out. Before that, we had only engaged in some semi-broken experiences through the Xbox, mostly for tennis and the Olympics. Now, everything comes over the wire, including rentals.

I'm not nostalgic for going to video stores. Not much, anyway. The convenience to not do that is amazing. But is the act of obtaining a movie and watching it as "special?" I mean, a lot of them I don't even have to buy, they're just on Amazon Prime or Netflix. (I suppose this is like them being on HBO or Showtime back in the day, but I've never subscribed to those.) It seems like since we can come to so many things with minimal effort that the joy associated with them has been somewhat reduced. It's not just the convenience of video on demand or instant Google results to answer a question, it's also things like delivered food, same-day delivery from Amazon, etc.

Maybe all of that instant gratification will lead people to find joy in more important things, like other people and experiences.

Five years Floridian

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 12, 2018, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

Five years ago today, I rolled into Orlando after surviving a wrath-of-God thunderstorm closer to Daytona. It was hot, humid, and I collapsed on the bed of an extended stay place with the cats, exhausted after two long days of driving. It was a Friday, and I was thankful that my dear friend Kara was here to welcome me with dinner before I slept for 12 hours. It was the start of a week without my little family unit, and was exceptionally weird.

There was a lot of anxiety that week, even though I nailed down a rental pretty quickly. The new job, new town, me and three cats in a little room. When Diana and Simon made it down the next week, with a few more days in a hotel until our stuff made it down from Cleveland, I was excited to see them but the three of us in a tiny room was stressful. Being transient just isn't a ton of fun. The very next day we used the house lease as proof of residency and got annual passes to WDW and had a wonderful (and wet) time at Magic Kingdom. It felt amazing to be able to provide for my little boy in that way. It felt so right that we signed to build a house within two weeks.

We did move to a bigger house in this five years, but we've basically been in the same area for the whole time. We love it here. The theme parks are a nice perk, but they're not even close to the primary reasons for it being awesome. The weather is probably the biggest thing for me, and the three months of summer hotness isn't a big deal when 70 degrees is "jacket weather." The job market isn't bad here for what I do, even if I've spent half of that time working remotely for a Tampa company. The schools have been reasonably robust in helping us with Simon's challenges. Diana has found a wonderful place to work. There is a ton of great food here. We're an hour away from either coast, with super easy cruise access. We can see rocket launches from home. We sit in our street with neighbors and sip adult beverages.

Other than Cedar Point and some of the people there, we don't miss Cleveland at all. Seattle is more complicated, because we felt like we belonged there and should never have left. This is a slightly weird state, because we miss Seattle, but we'd miss it here too. I think we can feel both and by happy to stay put.

We made a good decision, and it all happened in a matter of weeks. This has been the most stable period of residency since we met, and it has been good.

In defense of Weezer

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 12, 2018, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

One of my friends recently tore into Weezer on the Facebook over their recent release of a faithful cover of Toto's "Africa." Others piled on, with a theme about how the band was trying to cash in on something trendy, or they don't make good music anymore, or whatever. As it turns out, the song came about mostly as a Twitter dare from a 14-year-old fan, which is to say, someone younger than the band itself. It snowballed, and then the keyboardist from Toto said they should definitely do it. So a band formed 10 years after that song was released covered the song 26 years into their career for a 14-year-old. (By the way, they also covered "Rosanna" just before that.)

I'll get back to that in a moment, about why that's cool, but allow me to aside (as a verb) that it's weird how so many bands I listened to in the 90's continue to tour, and many still make new music after two decades or more. By contrast, very few of the bands in the 90's had been making music since the 70's, with a few exceptions here and there.

Here's the thing... Weezer has been around a long time. Honestly, I've liked them from the start, but always found their albums to be a little hit or miss as a whole, but with great songs on each one. Their popularity to date is largely based on longevity in that sense. You make enough good music for long enough and you'll have a huge following. It's different than, say, someone like Def Leppard who made three great albums and then... didn't. They're still touring on the strength of those records.

Weezer's longevity also invokes a lot of hipsterism, and has from the start. You get a lot of, "I liked them when 'Buddy Holly' and 'El Scorcho' were out." Look, I identify with hipsters. They're kind of my people, but that kind of "ownership" over cultural stuff is stupid, in the way that wearing a knit cap in July in Orlando is hipster stupid.

My feeling is that Weezer has put out a ton of albums, even more singles, and has been doing so for two and a half decades. I think they've pretty much earned the right to do whatever they want, even if it's a note-for-note cover of a song from the 80's. It's not a reflection of their character or ability. Bands have their influences and likes, and it seems appropriate to pay tribute to those. I saw 10,000 Maniacs cover The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" last year and it was awesome. Do they suck too? Of course not.

Things are better than ever, but it feels like the backslide risk is high

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 6:54 PM | comments: 0

The world has generally been on a path of continuous improvement of my lifetime. Objectively, using data like the stuff found on Our World in Data, we can prove this. For example, fewer people over time are hungry  and extreme poverty is on the decline even while population continues to increase. Ozone depleting substances have been reduced in use while the hole slowly recovers. Homicide is down globally (though relatively high in the US).

The last two years have felt like we're on the path of a serious backslide, however. In the United States, we've seen an unprecedented return of racism (maybe an empowerment of racists more than a return). People engage in willful ignorance over science for a hundred illogical, and frankly stupid, reasons. In the UK they've voted to willingly leave a union that is in their best economic interest to remain a part of, all in the name of a misplaced sense of pride.

This gets us to the topic of critical thinking. There is enough information out there now that you can certainly accumulate it and shape it to fit any narrative that you'd like. However, as a responsible human being, it's your job to understand where the information comes from. Even with recorded history, you should always consider where the information comes from and what their motivation was for recording it. Apply this a hundred times over with anything that comes to you via electronic means.

So what do you do with this? First of all, I think it's reason enough to be optimistic, while cautious. Our trajectory in a broad sense is positive, but there are human forces that threaten it every day. In the US, this has been our history, repeating over and over again. The moral and just direction has always been on the radar, in terms of abolishing slavery, allowing women to vote, civil rights, etc., but there have always been incentives to keep the immoral status quo in place. We can't be a party to that.

Remembering Dick Feagler, the OG pundit

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 2, 2018, 11:33 PM | comments: 0

If you grew up in Cleveland, and read its newspapers, or watched local TV news, then you probably knew Dick Feagler. He died yesterday, just short of his 80th birthday. While he certainly had his place as a journalist, what he was best known for was his commentary and editorial. In the context of my life, he's the O.G. of television pundits, decades before cable "news" was a thing.

In my teen and college years, I knew Feagler as the grumpy old guy who got the last few minutes of the newscast to tell everyone what was on his mind. He occupied a space that I associated with Dorothy Fuldheim, a feisty woman who also offered commentary at the end of the news when I was very young (she in turn reminded me of a grumpy old version of my great grandmother). Even if you're in your 40's or older, you may not remember that this was a normal part of the local evening news. Newspaper and television journalism in those days was something of a public trust, and it was taken seriously by the people who served in that role. To that end, they'd always put up the commentator's name in the lower-third with "commentary" spelled out below their name. There was no question where the news stopped and the editorial started, and in fact these pieces generally aired after a commercial break and before the g'nights.

Feagler would certainly talk about national issues, but what stood out to me was his engagement in local politics. He knew the various mayors and city council members, along with business and community leaders. He was absolutely disgusted by failures in local government, and Cleveland had plenty of that to go around in the 70's and early 80's. He would also rant about relatively benign social or cultural observations, which is why I apply the "grumpy old guy" title.

In fact, in retrospect, I think he generally could be categorized as politically "conservative," but only as it applied to those earlier decades. Unlike much of his generation, he was not racist, and in the early oughts he was writing essays about the need for equal rights for gay people. He may have longed for the "good old days" before computers and the Internet in his writing, but those days weren't about being toxic toward other humans on the basis of their genetic and ethnic identity. But he was also too smart for his own good, because like a lot of people who exist in a diverse environment, he felt that any forced embrace of diversity was stupid because, in fact, the environment was diverse regardless. He had little use for things like affirmative action or hate crime laws. It wasn't that he didn't have empathy in his writing, it's that he had moved on as if the institutionalized cultural challenges had already been solved. He wasn't wrong, he just wan't right, if that makes sense. Today he'd likely just be another old white guy on TV, but he wouldn't be one painting himself as a victim. At the very least, he understood the advantages of being a white, hetero, Christian male.

I related to Dick Feagler in two ways. First, he graduated from the last Cleveland school I attended, John Adams, where I went for a half-year. (That school was eventually demolished and rebuilt.) Second, he spoke at Ashland University during my freshman year there, and he was particularly gracious with his time, talking with a number of students outside in the parking lot about the TV business we were eager to be a part of. During his talk he demonstrated his ability to tie stories together into a complete narrative, starting and ending with a joke about how to end a newscast (apparently by lowering the anchors into the floor behind the news desk).

What I most respected about Feagler wasn't his position, because despite literally leading a gay pride parade in 2004, he tended to intellectualize issues of race and identity almost to a fault, but it was his authenticity. He didn't pander to an audience, as some of the things he would write about probably pissed off everyone. But there was something he scratched the surface of that made sense, that our desire to recognize the inequality and injustice among subsets of Americans was necessary but would drive us further and further apart before it would bring us together.

Still, in the greater sense, it's important to remember him as a part of a time in journalism and news gathering where commentary was not news. It was a time when we respected the institution of the press, and it respected us. I believe that's still possible, but only if people will be willing to hear what they need instead of what they want.

Learning to work again

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 30, 2018, 2:18 PM | comments: 0

I started a new gig this week, after a somewhat excruciating job hunt. This one will be challenging, with some organizational stuff up front to sort out. I've got about the same number of direct reports that I've had in previous positions, but a bunch roll up to them so it's a big org. I'm going in feeling confident but cautious and with humility. I think that's the ideal way to approach any new job.

I feel like I have to learn how to work again, for a number of reasons. The biggest thing is that I'm mostly on-site for this one, something I haven't done in four years. I'm sure there will be days here and there where I work from home, or maybe even a regular rhythm, but I doubt that will be the case in the near term. As such, that means having to plan for the commute, which as I used to do, I shift early. It means no more showering around lunch time, or Epcot lunches with Diana. I'm sure I'll miss Simon coming home from school the most, but I'll manage.

The flip side to this arrangement is a certain amount of awareness that I most certainly lost working remotely. I was putting in pretty ridiculous hours (that sure was stupid), and that added to stress. I should have taken the hint when Simon would knock on the door at 6 and ask when I was going to be done, 10 hours after I started, but for some reason I just let myself get into that mode. When you have to drive somewhere, and you're optimizing the drive to avoid the worst parts of rush hour, it definitely changes your awareness around how much you're working. The ride home in particular almost seems to firewall you between work and life. I only cracked open my work computer once at home this week!

The harder part is going to be figuring out the activity level. Again, with no drive, it's easy enough to take a lap around the neighborhood before you start. I did lap Lake Eola once this week, but I'm not sure if that counts (and walking at noon in summer in Orlando is a little rough). I also have to rethink lunch, since I don't have my own kitchen at my disposal.

Remote vs. co-located is not controversial to me, and I would only slightly give the advantage to remote for various strategic reasons (real estate costs, recruiting geography, distraction rates). They're just different, and I'm good doing either one. Part of my shock to the system might also be not working for two months. That sounds awesome, but it gets a little boring.

Review: Lego Roller Coaster

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 28, 2018, 7:36 PM | comments: 0

I figured it was only a matter of time, but Lego finally delivered a bona fide roller coaster model of its own last month, and it's very cool. After two carousels, a Scrambler and a Ferris wheel, this was an obvious choice.

The roller coaster is another huge set, weighing in over 4,000 pieces and retailing for $380. I think it was last year that they released a Joker/Batman themed set with track around it, so I wondered if they would go all out, and they did. There's also a smaller 3-in-1 pirate coaster they recently released, so they're going to get mileage out of these new track molds. This set does not include a motor, though I bought one for the carousel, so I had one handy. Simon prefers to use the manual crank anyway.

Mechanically, this is another interesting model without being super complex. A crank on the front of the station connects to a shaft that pulls the chain at the bottom of the lift, with an elegant tensioning mechanism. A gear at the top of the lift then drives a series of three kicker wheels that move the train around the first turn toward the drop. A proper storage track sits uptrack of the station, sliding back and forth (missed opportunity here for a maintenance shed!), and another crank is one-way geared to a kicker wheel to drive the train out of the station. The wheel slides out of the way, so you can let it keep cycling under power, otherwise it acts as a station brake.

There are a ton of minifigs in the set, including the ride operators wearing Lego logos and charging $100 for a ride, or an on-ride photo. Many of them have the two-faced heads, so they can be happy or scared. They can navigate a beautifully themed queue that twists under the structure. After passing by the ticket booth, there are garbage cans, a water feature and a juice bar before the stairs leading into the station. There you're greeting with a control panel and air gates for each of the three cars. There's a very extensive series of "no" signs in the station as well, which seems kind of negative. The ride itself has a nice sign, flags, an on-ride photo camera and landscaping around it. There's also a cotton candy cart with a creepy old man and his $100 bill next to it, where the one minifig that's too short to ride hangs out. Those are weird choices in the instructions.

The build took me close to 8 hours, I think, but I really took my time on this one. The column building can feel slightly repetitive, but it goes fast. There's a lot of variation in building the station, mechanical bits and scenery, so it doesn't get to be as tedious as, say, the decorations on the carousel. Again, the mechanics aren't super complicated, but it's really satisfying to see them come together. You will want to count out the chain links, which as a last step is agonizing, but it's important to get it right so the tension is correct

It's a great big set, and quite lovely. Honestly, I look forward to building it again, even though that means I'll have to tear it down.

The open sores of my open source

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 26, 2018, 8:49 PM | comments: 0

I've mentioned in many posts how I finally got to the finish line with regard to a new release for POP Forums, my little forum app that powers my sites. That project is open source, which if you didn't know, means you can get the source code for free and use it for free, and I'll even take contributions back into it. When you have a community around an open source project, and people make meaningful contributions to it, that's awesome. For my project, I haven't had a ton of contributions, but there were some really important, non-trivial efforts to translate it. It's available in a total of six languages.

My priority has always been to build the app for myself, for my communities, but making it open source means I get to share it. The source gets downloaded about 50 times a month, which is surprising, but presumably someone is using it. For that reason, I've tried over the years to make it easier for people of moderate ability to spin it up and use it. That means I added some setup stuff, and I've done a bunch of stuff for the sake of scale that I don't personally need. There are also concerns about how someone might integrate with the app.

It's the extra stuff that proves time and time again to be... extra. The app, right now, works exactly as I need it for my use. However, the setup is absolutely broken. It's broken in part because of the way that I decided to implement loading user information, logging, etc. This prevents me from doing a formal release, because frankly there's some friction to getting started if you don't have some knowledge about how it all works. You can imagine how motivated I am when it's not something that benefits me, but I'm still haunted by the idea that I may not be doing something in an ideal fashion.

These are the sores of my open source, and it's not easy to find the time to heal it and do it right. These sorts of issues typically lead to resolution when I get away from them for awhile, and in this case, I suspect that'll happen because my bandwidth is a little constrained at the moment.

Results of two intense months

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 26, 2018, 7:45 PM | comments: 0

I went back to work Monday, about two months and change after I found myself suddenly looking for a job. It was rough at times, awesome other times, and surprisingly not that restful for a period of non-employment. A lot happened though, and I did spend a lot of time in my head. Prior to this, I haven't really had the mental bandwidth to be reflective, but it was good.

First off, the achievements:

  • I subscribed to MasterClass, and it's awesome. I finished the Aaron Sorkin class, and I'm about half way through the Ron Howard class. There are so many others I want to do, but it's hard because it's a serious commitment. There's a lot of content to watch in each one, and it's pretty great. I think $180 a year is a steal.
  • I was able to spend 24 hours in Cleveland to open Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point. Yeah, it's probably the world's greatest roller coaster, but the greatest value was connecting with people I just don't get to see very often. Funny how that park continues to be the connective tissue of my wider universe.
  • We cruised twice. The longer 5-night trip we've had planned for a long time, but the 3-night taken two weeks earlier was spontaneous and in response to the idea that I didn't know what my time off situation was going to look like. We had gone about eight months between cruises, which is a first in four years. The ports are familiar, as are the bartenders and menus, but it's still my happy place.
  • The financial chaos around the house sale is almost done. I kind of unwisely set a lot of things into motion at once, all of which required that our previous house would sell. When it fell apart in January and delayed it all, this meant not being able to recast the new mortgage (by rolling proceeds into it to get into that 20%+ LTV ratio and make the PMI go away), not having the money for solar, and not having cash to clear the title on the Model S so we could sell it and buy a Model 3. It took six months longer than expected.
  • After two years of waiting, we have an actual production Model 3, with a VIN just short of the 20000 range. It has exceeded my expectations, and it's great to see an American company building something so amazing. I like it better than the S, because it's smaller, and everything feels more refined (if not technically as "luxury" as what you'd find in the S).
  • I installed kitchen cabinet hardware and a new faucet. Funny how this is something I did before we even moved into our last house, but it took me eight months to get it done this time. It suddenly feels like the kitchen is something complete, and better than it was, and for little more than $70 in hardware. It's the little things that make a house feel like a home.
  • After three years, I finally ported POP Forums completely to .NET Core, which is now at v2.1, and CoasterBuzz  with it. Most people won't appreciate why this is a big deal, and that's OK. I wrote elsewhere about it.
  • I saw Bill Nye, and he called Neil deGrasse Tyson live on stage and blew everyone's mind.
  • We finally used the neighborhood pool.
  • The Lego Roller Coaster was released and I built it. Weird, I never did a write up on that set. I'll have to get back to that. What a great build.
  • Obviously, I got another job, which is no small achievement.
  • I read another third of Ron Chernow's Hamilton. Look, I love the musical, and it's great entertainment, but the book is a dense biography. In many ways, it's more of a history book than biography, because it just happened that Alexander Hamilton happened to be a part of virtually every important part of the founding of this country. Despite my love for history, it's hard to consider it pure pleasure reading. But I'm gonna get it done!
  • I'm on track to nearly complete Lego Incredibles on Xbox. Like, 100% and all of the achievements.

Points of discomfort:

  • Obviously looking for a job is mentally and emotionally taxing. I've generally been zen about work and how it fits into life for the last decade, but in the never ending desire to feel that life has meaning, I'm not sure it's possible to ever really distill it down to a simple business arrangement. It gets to be an emotional issue.
  • We lost Gideon, one of our cats, to cancer. His last two months were comfortable, and we spoiled the shit out of him while we could. The pride is down to two.
  • I had some real parenting lows, especially after school ended. ADHD and ASD together add a lot of complexity to parenting, and it's not always easy to remember how these conditions can affect the personality of your kid. My disappointment is mostly with how I've reacted more emotionally to situations than I should.
  • I was really sick for 36 hours.

Realizations and other thoughts:

  • This has been a difficult year so far, more in aggregate than any specific things. I say this not to seek a sympathetic audience, but more to remind myself that everyone has something, and it's important to remember that.
  • Job hunting is not straight forward like it used to be, and it takes longer at this career stage. It's true that there's no shortage of jobs in software, but it's more complicated than that when you're in the leadership career band. It's mentally exhausting, especially if you're confident that you understand the path you want to follow and are willing to wait for "the right thing."
  • I'm ready for challenging work, but very much would like the rest of life to be kind of boring for awhile.

I'm more than ready to get back to work. In fact, while long periods of leisure and exploration are soul enriching, I'm starting to wonder how people can be retired. 

About that dead cat

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 23, 2018, 4:41 PM | comments: 0

Yesterday, Simon saw a photo of Gideon, our recently deceased cat, on the TV screensaver. He responded that he missed him, and we had to explain that he was dead. A very emotional meltdown occurred.

Here's the thing, I'm not opposed to talking to my kid about death, what people believe or anything of that nature. He knew that Gideon was dying as the tumor grew, finding it harder to get around on his gimpy leg. But what we told him the day he died, before he went to school, was that he was going to stay with the vet because they could take better care of him until he died. I don't think that this is unreasonable, because while talking about death and the circle of life is something I want him to understand and learn to deal with, I can barely reconcile euthanasia myself, let alone explain it to an 8-year-old with ASD. All I need is for a kid who takes everything literally to think that maybe he, or one of us, won't come home from the doctor's office one day.

It is a strange practice, this practice of killing our pets, even if I do accept the moral premise of it. I mean, we also eat animals to survive, so it's not like I can't understand that we necessarily place different values on different forms of life anyway. It's just that pets have personalities and relationships with us, so it's different. If anything, it makes me think that the right-to-die controversy among humans is not nearly as horrible as its opponents make it out to be. The morality doesn't strike me as that different. I've never really thought much about it.

The other two cats are 12 and 16, so I imagine it unlikely that we don't have to say goodbye to another within a year or two. Maybe I'll have some clever way to explain what's really going on by then.

Epic body implosion

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 19, 2018, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

Starting early Monday morning, my body entered into a total implosion. I haven't endured anything like that in about 17 years. I'm talking the barfing, the diarrhea and the fever. Gross, right? I generally don't get sick all that often, and seemingly less so since moving to Florida, but it's usually the generic fever/ache thing, sometimes with the respiratory crud. But this was many magnitudes of more awful.

My brain gets into these weird loops of things that aren't real when I have a fever. This time, it was some weirdness about how my blankets were... something related to the music I had playing. It's so not really a thing that I can't explain what it is. There was something else about certain colors not reacting to other objects of the same color, and between these two things, I couldn't sleep.

There are other slightly more logical, if not rational, things that come up. This time, I was fixated on an interview clip I saw from Kevin Smith recently, talking about how he didn't have any of the typical heart attack symptoms, but he threw up a bunch before they took him to the hospital. So my brain was in the mode of, "Crap, what if I'm having a heart attack (for six straight hours)?" And that was coupled with the fact that I'm not insured until next week, so that created even more anxiety.

Does everyone have this kind of thing with fevers? I'm sure that some of it is caused by dehydration, and boy did I lose a lot of water (down five pounds in 48 hours).

I think I've been relatively lucky in terms of health, and that may add to my anxiety over the idea that something more serious could come up. My weight, cholesterol and blood pressure have been a little higher than normal the last few years, but at least the latter two have improved. The heart disease thing really makes me nervous, even though I've never exhibited any specific risk conditions beyond the above numbers and some family history.

Simple home improvement joys

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 15, 2018, 10:16 PM | comments: 0

It seems like I've had intermittent home improvement spurts over the last few years. When we moved back to Cleveland in late 2011 I did the great fake brass purge of door knobs and light fixtures. In 2014, when we moved into our first build in Orange County, there were many ceiling fans and such. Then again late last year, with OC house v2, it was the fans and curtains and light fixtures. But I kind of stopped there, and didn't install any kitchen hardware, or replace the crappy cheap kitchen faucet that the builder installed.

Eight months later, I finally got the hardware in and the faucet. Mind you, the hardware delay was at least partly the result of indifference toward everything we saw. I was ready to just do the same thing we had at the previous house, but then Diana found something we both liked, and for $73 we magically obtained what the builder would have charged us a grand for, if they would have even had it as an option in the first place (they didn't). This covered 19 drawer handles and 25 door pulls (or something like that), for which drilling gets pretty old after awhile. It's not complicated, it just takes a few hours and careful attention so as not to make some holes you'll regret.

The faucet probably only took a half-hour to replace, and most of that time was spent trying to figure out how to route the hose so the counterweight didn't catch on the horribly placed plumbing. (Sidebar: All of this plastic plumbing in Florida houses bothers me for some reason.) But alas, I disposed of the hideous chrome cheap thing, and all is right with the kitchen.

I'm surprised at how much joy it brings me to enter the kitchen now. I mean, the work wasn't particularly hard, the result isn't really fancy, but every time I tug on a drawer now or wash a dish, it feels like I made some meaningful contribution to the place. This is the kind of home improvement work that fits best in my skill level, which is to say it's very, very low. It's gratifying and simple, and it's nice to have simple victories.

Bartender, I'll have another

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 11, 2018, 9:43 PM | comments: 0

My relationship with alcohol has always been, let's say, cautious. My family tree has enough alcoholism and addiction in it that it's only prudent to be a little careful with the stuff. Even in college, I generally avoided it until late in my junior year, and after college, I largely limited consumption to parties, family gatherings and vacations. These days it's much the same, though I'll enjoy a few beverages on date nights, too. At the same time, what I'll drink has been reduced. Some years ago, beer started causing me great gastrointestinal distress. I took up cider, but then all of the American varieties started adding tons of sugar, so I shifted to dry white wine (I feel like you can't go wrong with Riesling). I've generally not messed with liquor beyond the mai tai recipe I make for parties once a year, and perhaps a rum and Coke before a show at the theater. The bottom line is that I'm just not much of a drinker.

Then last fall, when Diana and I finally embarked on a no-child cruise, we met this guy, Bonny, a bartender from India, and man could that guy mix a drink. If that weren't enough, his history and knowledge around spirits of all kinds was extraordinary. We learned that his drinks were not for slamming, they were for sipping (unless you wanted the next day to be a little difficult). And you definitely wanted to enjoy them, anyway. Sure, these beverages make you "happy," but they're not for getting drunk.

To that end, I'd like to experiment a bit with trying to recreate some of the things we encountered in the mixology class we took on our last cruise. Not all of them, because liquor is expensive, but I'd like to try two or three of them. For example, he did a drink that was equal parts Malibu, Midori and pineapple juice, with whip cream, shaken over ice and poured. It's crazy delicious.

Mixed drinks can be a fun, social way to spend some time with people, or even a night in.


There aren't silver bullets when hiring software developers

posted by Jeff | Sunday, June 10, 2018, 6:48 PM | comments: 0

I'm not sure why it has been such a hot topic suddenly, but people are all atwitter on the Twitter about using GitHub as a measure of software developer awesomeness in the context of hiring. (Perhaps it's because Microsoft just bought GitHub, which has generated a lot of emotional reactions reminiscent of 1999.) Some people insist that this is an important thing to look at.

My take is that it is important, it's just not the only thing. If you just anecdotally look at various profiles, including my own, you'll see a very spread out and inconsistent graph of contributions. I'm at 69 as of this moment, and 19 of those are just in the last month, when I've had unanticipated free time. I also haven't been a full-time heads-down developer since a short contract in 2013. So what does that graph really tell you about me? Now consider someone who works for a bank or in defense. It's not likely that anything they do in their day job will end up online, and they may even be prohibited from contributing to open source as part of their job. Does that make them substandard developers? Of course not.

Of course, I love to see developers to contribute to open source, but you'd have to be a little crazy to overlook someone because they haven't, or can't (or simply don't have time) contribute. There are a lot of reasons not to disqualify people, but many reasons as a whole to let someone pass deeper into your hiring funnel.

There's one other disqualifier that bothers me, and it's not limited to my industry. Sometimes people set up abstract scenarios or role playing in an interview, with the intention of finding a specific "right" answer. This is dangerous, in part because abstract and contrived situations can't possibly result in real life interactions, but worse, if you're looking for specific answers to abstract situations, what you're saying is that you're not interested in people who may bring something new and different to your organization. Few things can cause atrophy like hiring clones. The world and your business will change whether you want it to or not, and not bringing new ideas by way of new people can result in a lack of self-awareness.

The bottom line is that there is no silver bullet that can predict who is best for your team, or what is indicative of success. You can't distill it to one thing, so you have to consider many things. A GitHub profile is just one of many things to consider.

Tesla Model 3: First impressions

posted by Jeff | Saturday, June 9, 2018, 8:40 PM | comments: 5

Yesterday we took delivery of the Tesla Model 3 that we reserved more than two years ago. (We also sold the Model S the day before.) We were eligible to order one fairly early in the ramp up, because we were previous owners, but with the delays in selling our previous house, we had to wait until everything settled so we could shift the money around and clear the title on the previous car to sell it. Unlike the Model S, which we had a chance to test drive, we never drove a Model 3 before we took delivery. Heck, the first one we got to see up close was just two months ago when my BFF and her husband got theirs. That's all fairly absurd for a big ticket item like this, but when the first reviews came out late last year, and they were largely along the lines of "drives like a Tesla," I wasn't horribly worried about it.

A lot has changed in three years. After being enamored with the Nissan Leaf we leased (and still have), we labored over the decision to buy the Model S but we were so into going all-EV. Tesla has since sold around 200,000 cars, closing in on the 250k sunset of federal tax credits, and most of those cars were the $75k+ Model S and X. The data and reporting seems to suggest that a lot of people buying those were like us, and not ordinarily customers who would spend that much on a car if it wasn't an EV. The promise of the Model 3 was to open that market further by introducing a $35k car, but Tesla has only sold it so far with the premium upgrades and larger battery, meaning there was just one configuration: The $50k version. You pay an extra grand for anything not black, and may buy bigger wheels, but that's it. The reasoning makes sense, in that having one configuration means a simpler manufacturing ramp up, which they need because of the approximate 400k reservations they need to build. Because of the tax credit, there's little reason to not buy now and save that $7,500. The 2009 version of me would still find a price tag of $42,500 for a car absurd, but after justifying the Model S, to be a part of the progress and science of EV's, this one was way easier. Three years of not going to gas stations is a lifestyle change you don't reverse.

Our Model S was an amazing car that performed flawlessly, and we covered a lot of ground from North Carolina to Florida in it. My only serious complaint about it was that it was too damn big. I think I just got comfortable parking it after three years! The Model 3 is smaller and about a thousand pounds lighter, and you can feel it. Having driven Corollas and Prii for 18 years, I prefer smaller cars. The 3 still isn't a compact, but it's a really great size for my perferences. It has a much smaller "butt" than the S.

The driving feel is very similar to the Model S, in that you have the always available torque and the regenerative braking. You don't need the brakes beyond the final stop. The cornering feels different because this one isn't AWD like the other one. It doesn't slip in a turn, but accelerating out of the turn feels less controlled. That's all new to me, because I've never had a rear-wheel drive car. I've only done a launch twice, and the first felt weaker because it was slightly up hill. The second felt "different" than the S, presumably also because it's not AWD. On paper, the 70D did 0-60 in 5.2 seconds, and the 3 does it in 5.1, though some measured track times have reported 4.6. Considering the car only had 9 miles when we picked it up, I bet the battery has no calibration or algorithmic "break in" that I'm sure it has to do.

The design is a similar to the S, though with a shorter body, the cargo area is not as large. They ditched the motorized door handles, which reduces cost and number of things that can break, but the new ones are still flush with the body, and they trigger an electronic release. Opening from the inside is push-button, though a well disguised release lever is also there. The mirrors still fold in when you exit the car, but annoyingly, they only tilt down but not in when going in reverse. There is no sun roof, another "downgrade" for us, but I learned that opening it in Florida mostly leads to sunburn. Still, it's glass, front to back, and it's part of the reason the back seat seems so enormous. The front of the car is similar to the newer S cars and the X, and I like it, though I came to like the "black bubble" of the "old" S as well. The wheels are alloy, but have covers that make them more aerodynamic and add significant miles to the range. They're nerdy, and I like it.

The inside of the car is super comfortable. It retains all of the adjustments we had on the S that pair with a driver profile, so no matter who drives it, I can always get the seat and steering wheel to exactly where I had them. They added a seat belt height adjustment, which I like because I felt the S was a little high. They're using a fake seat leather now that is super convincing, but no alcantara on the headliner, only a section of the doors. The back seat is pretty roomy for average size adults, and they added USB outlets on the back of the center console. You also get three individual heated seat zones, and all have weight sensors to nag you about unbuckled people there. The doors and seat backs have pockets. The only button not on the touch screen is the hazard lights, which is overhead between the lights. The mirrors on the sun visors are covered by an iPad-like magnetic cover that, when pulled down, turns on lights.

The trunk is a little smaller, and it's not a true hatch like the S. The only thing I can think of that I've put back there in the last three years that wouldn't fit is the 4-foot beanbag chair I moved a few times. It still has plenty of room for suitcases, and the well is slightly larger than before, while the side cubby to stow your cable no longer empties into the well. The frunk is just slightly bigger than what we had before, but I suspect the area behind it is just open space where the forthcoming AWD model will have its second motor. Again, consistency in manufacturing keeps the cost down.

The center console gets all its own discussion, because Tesla finally figured out how to balance functional space with minimalist appearance. Our S just had a big pit there with some rubber strips to keep stuff from moving around, while individually sliding armrests slid back to reveal cupholders in a totally awkward place. Now there's a substantial single armrest with storage under it, always available cupholders in the perfect spot, another pit covered by a door, and a door that reveals a no-look place to dock your phone, which is amazing. It shipped with one USB-C and one Apple Lightning connector, but I've already ordered a replacement so we'll have two USB-C connectors in there for our Pixel 2 phones. The whole thing is really elegant, though the top surface is that "piano black" surface that I'm not fond of. There are some nice 3M wrap products I may consider to cover it.

The Model 3 has no keys or fobs, and instead uses either your phone or a card to unlock and start the car. The card works by holding it up to the B pillar, then placing it near the cupholders to start. Otherwise, it uses the Bluetooth of your phone, along with the app, to unlock as you approach and lock as you walk away, and operate the car when you're inside of it. This generally works pretty well, but the Android version (on the Pixel using the Oreo version of the OS, at least) requires that you make a tweak to the power settings so the OS doesn't try to "optimize" energy usage, otherwise it doesn't work until you unlock the phone and start the app. I was concerned about how this might affect phone battery life, because you can never really get away from the car while in the house, but the OS reports only 1% usage of Bluetooth throughout the day.

The controls have been a source of controversy since the start, but software updates have mitigated some of those complains. The S and X used stalks for shifting, turn signal, cruise/autopilot and windshield wipers. The latter two are gone. The wiper control is now on the touch screen, if in fact you want to pull them out of auto at all (we'll see how that goes... the S could mostly work that way). I think the muscle memory will build fast enough, but it's still a strange choice and potential safety issue. The cruise/autopilot is less of a big deal. Tap the shifter down once to engage cruise control, twice for autosteer. Once there, the right dial on the steering wheel scrolls up and down to adjust speed, left and right to change adaptive distance to the car in front of you. What I don't like is that the right dial on the S controled fan speed for climate, which I liked, but maybe the auto on that is better too.

The rest of the setting and control tweaks are organized similarly in menus to the S, though some things are arbitrarily hidden behind a settings menu opened by a gear in the upper right. Because of the single center screen, the left third always shows what used to be in the dash. As a former Prius driver, having the speed there doesn't bother me. The rest of the screen defaults to navigation, though you can pull up the read camera any time, or slide up the audio player from the bottom. The bottom still has "hard" screen buttons for temperature, front seat heaters and front and rear defrosters.

If there's anything totally weird, it's the dash vents that you can't see. There is a UI you can open up to change how they blow on you through the series of slits and channels, but honestly they still don't make a lot of sense to me, and I can't tell that it's even changing outside of the sound. Will have to play with those more.

The navigation isn't that different, but the tweak that I do like is that all of the background colors, including the bodies of water, are shades of gray. That leaves a red arrow for you, blue lines for direction, and the usual thin lines for traffic. It's subtle, but it really does focus on the visually important data.

The radio is a sore spot, if only because it doesn't do SiriusXM. The built-in streaming services are OK, but it's not the same. I've always liked AltNation and Lithium, with DJ's. It was annoying in the S, too, because you had to get the sunroof to have the antenna for XM. On the plus side, the sound is really, really good. The subwoofer is clean and the speakers really blend in.

Even with the 240 mile range of our S, we never had range anxiety. 310 is absurd even. We set it to charge at 80%, and on Diana's first commute, she arrived with around 220. In practical road tripping terms, the high range means we can not only visit either Florida coast, but have ton of cushion. Drives up the Atlantic mean skipping superchargers. And remember, these are the edge cases, since 99% of your usual driving is local, so you leave the house with a "full tank" every day.

The charging at home still puts on about 30 miles of range per hour, even though it only draws 32 amps instead of 40, like the S. The battery is 75 kWh, so to get 310 miles is a huge leap in efficiency compared to our S, which did 240 miles on 70 kWh. I'm pretty excited about how this may all play out once we have the solar installed, because I think in the summer we may avoid any grid draw if I'm getting home at a decent time. Our average price for electricity right now is 13 cents per kWh, but only because everything over the first 1,000 per month is more expensive, and we're flirting with 2,000 per month now (because air conditioning). This car doesn't have the "free" supercharger access that the S did, and Florida chargers are priced at 22 cents, far about the retail price, or even a lot of the Chargepoint spots that do 12 cents. It's still way cheaper than gas, and public charging is still the 1% scenario for charging.

Overall, the Model 3 strikes me as just as capable as the S, though for performance and wet road driving, I still wouldn't mind having the AWD version instead. It's mostly a silly want, not really a need, but it won't reduce my enjoyment of the car. We're looking for an excuse for a little road trippin'.

Vacation as therapy

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 7, 2018, 11:39 PM | comments: 0

We did another cruise, this being the planned 5-night we booked months back. Some parenting challenges aside, it was among the most relaxing days I've had in awhile. It really gave me time to think and be present.

If you know me in real life, you know that I've endured a fair amount of stress the last few months, for a lot of different reasons. I was starting to feel it physically manifest itself, which is something I've only really experienced a few times in my life (9/11 and divorce, basically). I'm not sure how to describe it, except to say that there was a feeling that my body was becoming intolerant of the stress. It wasn't my blood pressure, because I was checking it, but something just didn't feel right.

In any case, I've been able to manage it, and in the last two weeks have felt a lot better. While sitting on the beach, tropical breezes blowing between me and a big umbrella, I enjoyed some moments of presence that I've honestly not practiced much in the last few years. I'm proud of this, because I know a lot of people can't do it in the best of circumstances, let alone when they've encountered difficulty. Maybe it's a variation on mediation, but to be somewhere, and feeling your environment without the mind storm of pressures, lists and challenges distracting you... that's an amazing feeling.

You may laugh about this, but I had similar experiences when we were in New York in April. I remember walking down 42nd toward Grand Central, and despite being in this ridiculous city with all of the noise (and cold), nothing about life intruded on that experience.

Vacation can be a useful therapy like that. Sure, if your life is generally so terrible that you feel like you need to escape it, you probably need to make some significant changes. But life can still have very challenging waves that prevent you from living in the moment and gaining the perspective you need to be a smooth operator. I think part of it is that vacations grant you a personal exemption from having to provide for and prioritize others. That's generally the thing that makes you a good human being, but you do need to look out for yourself.

When your hobby is like your profession, but isn't fun

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 31, 2018, 3:28 PM | comments: 0

If I go far enough back, to when I was in middle and high school, I "played" with computers for fun. That mostly meant making goofy little BASIC programs to do random stuff, and it was rewarding to see code turn into something useful. Before I got to college, I became totally infatuated with broadcast work, radio and TV, and mostly let the computer interest subside or sit in the background, even as the machines started infiltrating all of the broadcast equipment. Obviously I went back to computers when it was clear the Internet wasn't going away (and felt like another form of media to me), and within four years out of college, I learned enough to make software my profession without the formal education.

That fun hobbyist approach led to the sites that have been with me for two decades, and I've always worked on these on my own time. It was always supposed to be a fun distraction, but also a natural way to keep up on new technology that I might not get to work with in my day job. This became really useful as I started to pivot away from heads-down coding jobs, because at many points in the last six years, I've written as little as no code as part of my job, and in others, was there largely to validate and guide the work of others. You keep street cred when you're still in it in some fashion.

For most of that time, I was able to use a combination of my forum project and the sites to stay at the very latest versions of Microsoft's dev stack, even when we might be behind a version or two in my work. But about four years ago, two things started to make it hard to keep up in a fun way. First, Microsoft basically rebooted their entire platform, which was good because they were open sourcing it all, but bad because it was a constant moving target. Every few months they'd change things enough that trying to get any non-trivial project into the current preferred state was a hassle. There were also a lot of things missing. Concurrently, front-end technologies were changing just as fast, and there were (and still are) several dominant frameworks that are competing for your attention. I think I've been involved in evaluating those at least three times in the last few years, and while I have a cursory understanding of them, I'm not fluent in any of them.

In my day jobs, the amount of context switching from business execution to technical overlord (I kid, it's not like that) gets to be a little exhausting at times. As much as I've tried to focus my career on the execution and leadership angle, company and/or team size has often required that I also be technical and write code. So combine that situation with all of the rapid change, and it shouldn't be surprising that trying to maintain my own stuff, the stuff that's supposed to be fun, isn't really very fun. I suppose maybe that's why your hobby should be different than your work.

But during my period of involuntary non-employment, I had some time to get back to it, and the platform has largely stabilized. In recent weeks, I was able to get the forums and CoasterBuzz up to the latest bits. This means I can probably do a real release of the forum app soon, which is really just a port from the old platform, and not modernized, but it's a step in the right direction. I can't even tell you how good that feels, because for the first time in years, it's fun. It stopped being fun because it was hard to move it forward, but now it's moving again, and that's exciting. Even the build automation behind it, which I rarely ever messed with for my hobby stuff, is working. That's pretty cool.

I've had some serious challenges lately, and I needed something to be fun and winning. The timing is excellent. There may be some truth and wisdom to varying your hobby from your work, but I think it's just different enough that both can be awesome, even if they are related.

Star Wars: Too much of a good thing

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 29, 2018, 10:45 PM | comments: 0

I haven't yet seen Solo, the latest Star Wars movie, but probably this weekend. The movie had an opening weekend that wasn't as epic as Disney would have liked, though director Ron Howard said it's a personal best for him. The entertainment press is asking if Disney has lost their mojo or something, but I think it's very simply an issue of saturation.

We're just coming off of Episode VIII, which came a year after Rogue One. When Disney bought Lucasfilm and talked about doing the mythology films every other year, in a set of three, that seemed pretty cool, and fans were ready for it. Then they added the origin stories to intersperse, which sounded like a good idea, but now it's starting to feel like there is so much out there that it's just not as... special. The prequels were not great in retrospect, but we overlooked their shortcomings because 16 years had passed and we wanted something new. Then we waited a decade for something new, eager to right the ship, and it was awesome.

But I can definitely see how there's a scarcity benefit. That's why I kind of tuned out from the Marvel movies, because there were so many. They're less special if there's always one in the theater. The scarcity might be a thing that helps most forms of art. I wonder, would I like Garbage as much if they put out an album every year? Would Monet be cool if everyone could have one in their house?

Maybe Disney should slow down on the Star Wars movies.

The limitless promise of graduation

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 24, 2018, 10:30 PM | comments: 0

There are a lot of college graduations in the books for this year, and the high schools are finishing up, too. Every year, these events yield some great speeches, and a lot of sentiment among the graduates about how anything is possible.

I remember that feeling, particularly in college. I was feeling very done with school and was ready to be successful in real life. I wasn't entirely sure what that would look like, but it was a feeling that stuck with me for a number of years, even into my career change four years out of school. There were some struggles in that time, and my confidence was up and down, but the possibilities were in fact endless.

I wish you could bottle that feeling. I thought I had it again when we moved to Seattle, but I think the stress of extended "self-employment" and having a child put me largely in survival mode and I wasn't thinking much about what could happen. On the other hand, the move to Orlando, when we started planning it five years ago, did feel like there was limitless potential for our future.

There are times when I'm probably naively optimistic, and while I can't always keep up that attitude, I do cling to it because the opposite state would be a miserable way to live. But while optimism is good, that feeling of embracing the unknown, and excitement over limitless possibilities, that's harder to capture. There's something about life as it progresses where the stakes seem higher, change gets scarier and uncertainty carries a lot of mental weight.

But is any of that really true? As I said the other day, we only have so many minutes. As time moves forward, the stakes aren't as high, the change is less permanent, and there is one thing that becomes all the more certain. I'm not exactly sure how to phrase it, but while time does restrict the limitlessness of our future possibilities, it also creates urgency to consider those possibilities.

Right now, I'm trying to share in the feelings of limitless promise that graduates are feeling, because there's a lot of potential to embark on new adventures in the very near future. If anything has changed since I graduated (and to be clear, everything has changed), it's that my view on what is possible is way more flexible than it was when I was barely old enough to buy a drink. Our limitations are often self-imposed.