Archive: October, 2016

I'm not easy to box in politically

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 26, 2016, 9:50 PM | comments: 0

Like a lot of people (everyone?), I've certainly been frustrated by this election cycle. At first it was just the overall quality of the field, but lately it's more about the implication of some false equivalency of badness between the candidates. (Hint: One is a fascist and racist, which I consider infinitely worse than someone who sucks at information technology.) Regardless, I'm surprised at how I can't easily fit myself into a left or right box, and equally surprised that more people don't get like this with age. It seems like the logical conclusion that comes with life experience and data is to become more and more centrist, and yet that never seems to happen.

Regardless of this, I'm fully accepting that government is something I ultimately have to share with everyone else, so I'm not selfish or self-absorbed enough to think that any candidate should be exactly what I want or else. The loudest people in the electorate seem not to get this.

This can feel a little lonely at times. When you try to argue with people on the Internets, for example, you find yourself arguing against some idea or principle, but not because you believe the exact opposite. People aren't prepared for this, because they treat politics like a sports rivalry.

For example, I'm endlessly frustrated with people complaining about executive salaries. They make emotional arguments that those salaries would materially affect the cost of whatever they sell (they don't). There's a feeling that no one should make millions when they're responsible for billions of dollars in business. Some feel it's immoral to be highly paid for achieving something. Sure, schmucks and failures don't deserve to be well paid, but that doesn't mean every person with "chief" in their title is evil, incompetent or doesn't deserve what they make. On a related note, I'm tired of hearing about student loans, in part because I paid mine off, with interest rates three to four times higher than "kids today," and also because incurring debt is a choice that one makes, to assume that risk. These are very right-leaning sentiments.

I go the other way, too. I fail to see how single-payer systems, public options and the like would be terrible for healthcare. Heck, the UK is outright proud of their system. The fact that we pay more per capita for healthcare than any other country, by an enormous margin, and fall somewhere around 30 in life expectancy, sure seems like we're doing it wrong. I'm also all for immigration, because I've worked with amazing immigrants, and they've also founded some of my favorite companies, like Google and Tesla. More importantly, it's the basis for most of our nation's development, especially during the industrial revolution and following the world wars. These tend to be very left-leaning sentiments.

If those things aren't seemingly conflicting in ideology, I have even less use for the two major parties. Both have a long history of getting us into armed conflicts abroad that piss people off and inevitably lead to power vacuums that empower bad people (from the recent Iraq War to the arming of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 80's). The Republicans think trickle-down is a thing, and want to cut taxes but spend more on the military. The Democrats want to spend on entitlements and public works, though if I'm being honest, I suppose there are worse things to spend on, and Bill was the only president in my lifetime to have a balanced budget. I do lean more left in terms of the parties, but not because of any real policy issues as much as the GOP has somehow bred this nutty right-wing faction that makes it OK to hate on minorities. "Conservative" has been co-opted by hateful people, which is unfortunate.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about what I think the ideal candidate looks like, and I think it's about the same.

My next career adventure

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 25, 2016, 4:02 PM | comments: 0

Now that everyone who shouldn't find out via the Internet knows, it's safe to say out loud that I've decided after two and a half years to leave AgileThought for a new gig. I'm going to a small, local company that is about to start its largest growth spurt, where I'll run software engineering and product development.

This is easily one of the hardest decisions I've had to make, arguably harder than leaving Microsoft (which was stupid, by the way). AT has a lot of the things that people in this line of work crave: Excellent people, interesting work, fair salary and benefits, and a fair amount of stability and momentum. It's completely unusual, in a good way. I've had a number of consecutive fantastic successes, so I could argue that it's a comfortable place to be. Did I mention that I love working with the people there? Why would I leave that?

Earlier in the year, I started to become very contemplative about my long-term view. I've told the story before that when I left the broadcast world, I largely let career happen to me, instead of actively managing it. When things started to really suck in 2009, in a crappy job market, I promised myself not to do that anymore. So the contemplation led to the conclusion that my strengths really have been around executing the end to end process of making software, from vision to shipping, involving everything from technical leadership to administrative guidance. What I want to do more of is apply those skills to something longer term, something more product oriented. My biggest professional growth periods have been in product oriented situations (, Microsoft). AT operates on a consulting model, so the opportunity for building stuff over the course of more than six months is pretty rare. That's what I'm itching for. I'm not leaving because of some flaw with the company. Seriously, if you need custom bits, I would recommend them every day of the week.

I spent a long time vetting the new company, as I'm sure the owner did me, before pulling the trigger. It's not that there is enormous risk in the job market, there's only risk in leaving something safe and relatively predictable. But this new gig scratches the itch, to be at the helm of something that will grow and evolve. I'm sold on what the team has done so far, and its commitment. It's going to be hard work, but it will be exciting.

So here's to the next chapter. I'm going to miss the AT people, because they're pretty amazing. Fortunately, it's a small community, and I'm sure I'll see them at the various local events.

My switch to Android, one year later

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 24, 2016, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

I was looking at my phone today, a Nexus 5X, and realized that I've had it for a year now. It seems like I bought it more recently than that. Of course, I had my previous phone, a Lumia 920, for three years, so I suppose it is relatively "new." At the time I bought the Nexus, I was thinking it would mostly be a little experiment while I waited for a new awesome Windows Phone. But after just a few days, I realized that it was more than good enough. Either that, or I now consider phones the way I have most cars, most of my life, that good enough is good enough.

Some of my criticisms from my v7 review are still valid, even with the newer release, but none are that big of a deal in the bigger picture. Actually, now that the camera app starts almost instantly, my only real complaint is that it won't read my texts to me in the car and let me reply via voice. Maybe there is something that does that, and I just don't know about it.

My concern now is that Google has brought to us the Pixel, while ditching the Nexus brand. By every account, the Pixel is an amazing, premium phone, and it's priced like an iPhone. That's a bummer, because the Nexus I bought last year is an extraordinary value at $400. Simply put, even the newer iPhone (and the Pixel) is not $250 better. My phone may be plastic on the back, but the camera is objectively about as good and the screen I would argue is actually better, or higher resolution at least. With the days of contracts and subsidized phones gone, and the real price up front and obvious, the price matters now. I think $650 is too much for a phone.

For now, it doesn't matter, because I'm fairly content with my phone, but a year from now, or if I have an accident with it, I'll certainly be looking. I'm fairly content with Android, but only if it's updated in real time and not by the whim of carriers or manufacturers. That means it's Google or nothing. I'm hopeful that the prices come down in the next year.

Getting back to the OS itself, for a moment, I'm actually thrilled to see apps adhering to Google's Material Design standard. It's a pretty good standard from the company that brought us the ugly mess that is Gmail. Seeing more apps adopt the look is a win, and it has even bled on to the web in some cases. That's all good. I can't say that I've been as thrilled with the iOS evolution (as seen via our iPads), especially the design language that makes buttons all look like text. I really despise that. Facebook continues to defy that, fortunately, with buttons and links in bold. Plus iOS still doesn't have the equivalent of live tiles or widgets that sit inline with the launcher. What year is this?

I'm surprised that I'm satisfied, but I imagine that's largely because all of my previous Android experience was with earlier, crappier versions of the OS, covered with extra crap from carriers and manufacturers. At its core, it's a pretty solid OS. I still think Windows is better, but it doesn't matter since the half-dozen apps I've grown to use don't exist there. And that's saying something, because I still contend that the browser is the most important app.

Review: Simple Forms by The Naked And Famous

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 21, 2016, 6:41 PM | comments: 0

Maybe it was just the joy of the transition of moving to Orlando, working for a theme park company, and finally being rid of my first house, but 2013 was an incredibly epic year. And while it was awesome for those reasons, it was one of the best annual playlists I've ever built. It was the year that The Naked And Famous' In Rolling Waves came out, an album that is easily one of my favorites of all time. I really liked their first, Passive Me, Aggressive You, but I was struck by the way Waves instantly pulled me in, start to finish. It's so flipping good. Having to wait three years for this year's Simple Forms was torture. By the way, they're also amazing live.

The new album didn't immediately grab me. To be fair, I love the band so much, and had such high expectations, that there's no way they could easily top an album that I consider "best ever" among my collection. The truth is, Simple Forms is really good, just not as good as In Rolling Waves. It's interesting that the leads, Alisa and Thom, apparently broke up during the making of this album, or maybe before it, so you wonder what effect that had. What's different? It's probably a taste thing on my part, but the songs pay more attention to melody, and spend less time with electronic production and texture (and wonderful noise). That makes sense in a lot of ways, because both singers are quite frankly much better than they were in the first album. They make smooth pop vocals seem effortless. This seems to result in shorter songs though, as the album is only 10 songs clocking in at 40 minutes. Waves was 13 songs at 55 minutes, and Passive was 13 songs at 49 minutes.

Like I said, it's not a bad album, it's just different while still sounding like the band, which is something that I like about all of my favorite bands (Garbage comes to mind). "Higher," the first single, immediately pulled me in (which may have also affected my expectations for the album). It's classic T/N/A/F. "Backslide" is the signature male vocal track of the album, with fantastic percussion. "The Runners" actually invokes the sound of "Punching In A Dream." The album has the kind of strong finish you hope for in what I consider the strongest song on the album. "Rotten" slowly builds with one of Alisa's sweetest vocals so far, and it has one of those wonderful moody textures underneath that I love the band for. It hits the bridge, then builds several rounds of vocals layered in with noisy guitars, and it's glorious.

It took a few listens, but I love the album. It may not be as good as the last one, but that's OK. It's still really good.

Ten cruises

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 20, 2016, 7:08 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend, we did our tenth Disney cruise. It was a very nice, if somewhat short, retreat that I desperately needed. Ten cruises means we're officially platinum Castaway Club members, which comes with a few nice perks (chief among them "free" dinner upgrades to Palo, concierge check-in, first crack at booking extras and new itineraries, merchandise discounts and officer receptions). When we booked our first one for early 2013, I wasn't even sure I would like cruising. But here we are. My concern prior to that first one was the expense, because it's not cheap, and I wasn't sure I got the value. Maybe others still wouldn't see the value in it, but I'm hooked.

We finally got off to an itinerary that wasn't the Bahamas this year when we went to Alaska. I may describe that trip as life changing, but all of these trips deliver on the thing that I most want out of a vacation: Blissful disconnection and lack of responsibility. Seriously, people tell me where I need to be to eat and do stuff, and aside from posting a few photos on Facebook via a few megabytes of crappy satellite Internet, there is no outside world. I'm able to be completely present and with my darling little family. It's awesome. I'm sure that there are less expensive ways to achieve this, but this really works for me. As a father and husband, I happily accept my obligation to be a provider, because I love my little family, but having others completely take care of me in every way is a welcome thing to enjoy sometimes.

And despite some periodic difficulties with being a parent, even on cruises, we've been able to make some fantastic memories. Even on this one, our beach day got rained out, hardcore, around 2 p.m., but we had some great laughs about it. Cruises for us have been a great environment to remember to laugh more.

What's next? We're not really sure. We've been in the continuous cycle, since our second cruise, of having advanced booking placeholders set (refundable). They take a little of your money, and you get 10% off the next cruise, plus an onboard credit of $100-200 depending on the length (maybe more for longer trips, I'm not sure). That's no joke... we saved about $800 on our Alaska trip. We've got two in the queue, because often the time periods overlap when you book way out. We're considering finally doing a long one in the Caribbean next year, hopefully one with San Juan if it works out. We'd like to do a short one on the Wonder this winter, which I think for the first time will sail out of Canaveral instead of Miami. That's the ship we did Alaska on, and it's in dry dock right now getting a massive overhaul and a new Frozen stage show.

I feel fortunate for being able to do this, and I hope I'm teaching Simon not to take the opportunity for granted. He's a lucky kid.

The burden of being emotional

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 18, 2016, 8:44 PM | comments: 0

Of all the things that worried me about Simon's ASD diagnosis, none were worse than the idea that he would not be emotionally engaged in an outward way. Fortunately, that isn't how things went. He might be socially awkward in some ways, but he is definitely very emotional and has a lot of love to give. As much as I compare myself to him at that age, he is far more outwardly emotional, but at least equally intense.

In that sense, it's amazing how upset he can get, often in unexpected ways. Over the weekend, on our cruise, we saw Pete's Dragon, and there were several parts in the movie where he completely went into sob mode. On our last night, as I was tucking him in, I asked if he had fun on the cruise, and his face turned to a frown, Tiger covered his eyes, and he began to cry because we had to leave the ship. Conversely, we coincidentally cruised with the family of Simon's best friend from school, and the intense joy in his face when we encountered them was amazing.

Simon's intense emotions I'm sure will be a mixed bag for him, as they have been for me. What I do hope is that he has more room for intense interpersonal relationships, an area where I have serious limits. My romantic relationships have all been super intense, along with a handful of other friendships, but beyond that I've simply never been able to commit to lesser, more trivial interactions (something I'm sure has been interpreted as an aloofness).

Being emotional is arguably the thing that most makes us human, and as much as I wish I could reduce it to brain chemistry, it's what makes us alive, if sometimes miserable. Therapists love to talk about "emotional batteries," and where our limits lie before requiring recharging. I hope my little guy has large batteries.

Our second significant EV road trip

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 17, 2016, 8:18 PM | comments: 0

The weekend before last, we took our second significant EV road trip, the first one being for Thanksgiving of last year up to North Carolina. By "road trip," I mean driving any kind of significant distance that involves staying overnight. I suppose technically that would include my work holiday party last year, which was in Clearwater, but having to stop for five minutes at the Brandon supercharger doesn't really make it an extended drive.

This trip was also to NC, for my in-laws' wedding. They live west of Asheville a bit. The tricky thing this time was some last minute changes to the itinerary. Originally we were planning to drive up the I-95 corridor, stopping in Santee, SC where there's a supercharger across from the hotel. The timing would have put us about 12 hours ahead of Hurricane Matthew, and in the middle of the mass exodus from the coast. That obviously was not going to work. So instead of leaving that Thursday morning, we left Wednesday night and went up I-75 toward Atlanta instead, well out of range from the storm. We stopped in a little town called Perry, GA, and got kind of lucky. It was sold out by the time we got there, as evacuees were even making their way that far west/north without a direct line from the coast. I guess I wasn't entirely surprised, because I couldn't find much of anything in Atlanta, either.

Our first night had stops at the chargers in Lake City, FL and Tifton, GA. The next morning we made what I consider a safety stop in Macon, GA, which we might have been able to skip if I was comfortable with the unknowns around Atlanta traffic. It turns out that this was a good move, because the traffic was terrible, and the navigation redirected us twice before getting into Atlanta proper, where we had lunch in Atlantic Station, a trendy mixed use deal north of downtown. From there we stopped only in Greenville before getting to Maggie Valley, NC. We did actually back track to the Asheville charger the next day while buying shoes, coffee and bedding at the adjacent outlet mall. That charger wasn't open yet last year, but we could top off and slow charge at my in-laws' house (we weren't staying there this time).

For the trip back home, we decided to stick to our original plan toward the coast. In retrospect, this may have been riskier than necessary, because by Sunday/Monday, parts of the coast were definitely far from functional. My biggest concern was Santee, because on Saturday the charger there was down, according to the car's navigation. Indeed, when we arrived, the hotel said they were without power for a bit. The number of giant trees down in the area was staggering, and I've never seen anything like that. The reverse exodus of people heading back home made I-26 slow, but again, the car routed us around the worst of it.

The second day, from Santee to home, also showed how rough things were in places. Kingston, GA, could be a totally optional stop for us, provided we charged very high in Savannah, to get us to St. Augustine. But we wanted to stop there knowing there were a few decent food options. Turns out they were in pretty bad shape there. Cellular service was spotty to gone for both the car and our own phones (which makes sense, because Tesla apparently uses AT&T in the US). Half the restaurants were closed or serving subsets of their menus due to a lack of fresh produce and I'm guessing water supply issues since none of them had soda, only bottled water. I feel like we were lucky that the chargers were up.

All things considered, the network did not fail us. I'm not sure why, but I expect it to be more fragile. We got to see some interesting new places, so that was a plus. We also got to see a Model X in the wild, which probably made Simon's day. The only real trade-off we've had in these trips in an EV is that we have to be specific about where we stop, and plan for it a bit. We don't stop more or less, just in specific places. Oh, and I suppose we need to have a Tesla, which is only a compromise in that it's too expensive.

Our first hurricane (we weren't there)

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 13, 2016, 8:28 PM | comments: 0

Hurricane Matthew ended up being mostly an inconvenience for Central Florida, fortunately, but it was close. At one point the odds were about 2 in 3 that the eye of the storm would cross over Cape Canaveral, which would have put 80+ mph winds through downtown Orlando. It ended up sliding about 30 miles east, and that made a huge difference. Haiti and the Bahamas weren't so lucky, and the Carolinas are still recovering from flooding.

Our neighborhood topped around 40 mph sustained winds, with gusts up to 60. Some smaller trees went down here and there, but it wasn't serious. Again, had the storm moved even a few dozen miles west, we would have had a lot more damage even in our area. The thing is, we weren't home. We were up in Maggie Valley, NC for my in-laws' wedding. The difficult thing for me is that the storm was trending toward land right up until the last day, and I felt like I needed to be home for it. We rolled the dice and it fortunately moved east, so by late Friday, I was feeling relieved.

My first real tropical experience was in 2008, when Diana and I were running around the gulf coast near Ft. Myers, shopping for our wedding location. Fay landed on the coast barely down to a tropical storm. It was interesting for sure. No long-term power outage for my father-in-law's house, where we were staying.

Being inland reduces risk, and with new construction, our house is intended to withstand 140 mph winds (the low end of a category 4 direct hit), but I'm not interested in experiencing that. Hurricane Charley hit Orlando directly in 2004, and I remember flying in after and seeing the tarps on roofs. Fortunately that's unusual, but it's certainly possible.

My happy places

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, October 12, 2016, 8:22 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend, we were up in North Carolina, specifically west of Asheville, for my in-laws' wedding. We've been up there for Thanksgiving or Christmas for most of the last four years, and it's a beautiful place to visit in the fall. We only had a small taste of fall color this time, but even with the misty rain, it was a beautiful place to be. I particularly like my in-laws' place, as it's always warm and inviting, though for obvious reasons we didn't stay there this time.

It got me to thinking about what I consider my "happy places," where I'm most at ease, relaxed and happy. I do love where I live, but it's not really somewhere I can retreat to since I also work there. I actually love being in my home office, but as is the case with anyone, there are days where you just don't want to engage with work. So for me, that place in the neighborhood of Blue Ridge Parkway is an annual retreat, and place of peace.

In recent years, I've come to really love being on a Disney cruise ship. Seven of our cruises have been the same itinerary, the 3-night loop to the Bahamas (and one for 4 days, with the extra day at sea). This is admittedly not very exotic, but it's enormously convenient since we're an hour from Port Canaveral. One trip was out of Vancouver to Alaska, and it was one of my best vacations ever. Once onboard, I don't really have to think about anything. People will bring you stuff, you're entertained as much as you want to be, they tell you when and where to eat... I feel taken care of in a way that you can't in everyday life. It's fantastic escapism.

I also love Hawaii, and kind of hate myself for not going back more frequently than my honeymoons. That's one in 2000 and one in 2009. The second time was actually suboptimal because of the ridiculous cold front and rain that hung out there, and I had a minor fever/flu thing going for like 36 hours. Still, it's the most beautiful place I've ever been to. Kauai in particular is nothing short of breathtaking, everywhere. It's not really the cost that has made it hard to go back, it's the distance. I want to go back, maybe in another year or two, when Simon is a little older.

Back in the mainland, visiting Cedar Point is a happy place, more so now because I no longer live close to it. I don't care about the rides really, I just like staying there on the property, and watching Simon do his thing. There are also many opportunities to see great friends that I don't see very often.

Believe it or not, even after more than three years of living next door, visiting Walt Disney World is still special. I still don't take it for granted, and as Simon gradually agrees to ride more things, it keeps getting better. I'm still a sucker for seeing Illuminations at Epcot, getting Dolewhip at the Polynesian, and meeting friends from all over the country as they descend on Orange County.

The hard thing is finding the happy places I haven't seen yet. I'm very intent to travel to more places I haven't seen, but in a minor holding pattern because I have a young child.

I'm thankful for having the opportunities I have to be in these great places. I need to spend more time in my happy places.

Giving in to the struggle

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 4, 2016, 7:21 PM | comments: 0

I was talking with a friend today about how it seems like we get into ruts in one part of our life or another, where we seem to fight and struggle against forces on a daily basis. The struggle sucks the energy out of you and you end up being mentally exhausted. I associate it with those scenes in movies where someone is drowning, and finally they just let go and give in to it, and momentarily find peace. (Spoiler alert, they also die, which is a real drag.)

It's not easy to stop struggling, because it's like admitting defeat. Worse yet, our culture has always put a totally strange value in struggle and suffering. It only "builds character" if it doesn't completely bring you down. Struggle is overrated. It should be avoided, not celebrated. And if you have to, maybe the drowning isn't so bad. You know, if you don't die because of it.

I know, this totally sounds abstract, and you might imagine that I, or someone I know, is currently struggling against something. Someone is always struggling, and for the most part, the struggle fades and we move on. But there have been a few times in my life where I finally gave in, stopped fighting. Well, maybe it was twice. Both of those times, I was in a bad place, and I gave up. There was an immediate feeling of relief, followed by a grieving period around the things I felt that beat me. (One personal, one professional issue, at various times, both well behind me now.)

Seeing people struggle is hard, and I certainly don't enjoy struggling myself.