Archive: April, 2017

"Liberal energy"

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 30, 2017, 11:19 PM | comments: 0

There was a subthread on a friend's Facebook post today about solar energy. It started out reasonable, in that some dude was skeptical of the economics of solar, and renewable in general. I played along, because I figured there are a lot of people who just aren't aware of what's going on in that industry. I've had people tell me for years that electrical cars aren't practical either, and we've been driving those for two years without compromise, so you expect that some people just have questions and don't know.

Then the guy referred to solar as "liberal energy," and it went down hill from there.

Renewable energy has a pretty clear future for many different reasons, not the least of which is the limited volume of fossil fuels and the environmental impact of burning them. Even BP is pretty straight on that, predicting the end of crude oil in 2066 or so, assuming constants in extraction and consumption. The harm from carbon emissions is scientific consensus at its most basic. Heck, we're now seeing the kind of crazy economic inversion that makes renewables more viable than ever. Last year's overall investment in the technology and infrastructure was down 26% but the new capacity coming online grew 9% for the year. It's also encouraging that the US military has declared climate change and the related energy issues as a top priority for national security, and global stability, and where there are military contracts there are companies ready to step in to make a buck.

The fascinating thing about renewables is that it's not a single topic about one simple thing. A lot of people think about it in terms of throwing some solar panels on your roof, and that's the solution. The reality is far more nuanced than that. I'm frequently surprised myself about the new things that hit the headlines. Solar is already turning into a combination of private, public and commercial generation, and now there is storage (mostly batteries) thrown in the mix to offset excess daytime generation for use at night. Wind is in a similar boat, since it's not constant either. The when and where isn't cut and dry either, and we're seeing the generation and storage evolve into a more distributed model that includes domestic rooftops, neighborhood "farms" and substations and the usual purchased generation from afar.

Regulation and legislation is the real hurdle at this point, because the utilities want and need to defend their business. Individual consumers, scientists and researchers don't have lobbyists, though there are non-profits stepping in to fill that need. In the US, the regulatory climate varies greatly by state. While the annual aggregate amount of new capacity is split almost evenly between solar, wind and natural gas, some states are better than others. California is growing solar, in part by necessity because they can't even purchase enough power, but then you have unlikely places like Georgia, which prohibits power purchase agreements (a strange but no-money-down practice where you buy the power you generate on your own roof). In Florida now, after a vote last fall, we have certain property tax exemptions for solar equipment which provide incentives for private and commercial generation. On the flip side, places like Nevada have become hostile toward generation because the utilities are writing protectionist legislation and influencing the rules of their utility commission.

In any case, the bigger point is that electrons are not partisan. The future is renewable, and the economics are moving in that direction at a surprising pace. The biggest danger we have in the US is that we're already falling behind China in manufacturing renewable products, which is a byproduct of politicizing renewable energy. Some mistakes are made over and over again.

Probable Puzzoni World Headquarters v2

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 30, 2017, 8:15 PM | comments: 0

Well, I guess three years in one place was too long, after moving five times in the prior four years. Not really, moving isn't fun, but we're gonna do it again anyway, about one mile. Provided everything goes OK with the financial gymnastics of building a house while living in one you want to sell, we'll likely close in early October.

That's the "probable" part, the finances. While conditionally approved, I'm fully prepared for anything. Right now the only condition is to promise to save my pennies, but you never can tell with mortgage underwriters.

After my rant a few weeks ago about house envy, it turned out that we had a lot of good reasons for wanting to have more space. Again, the primary concern was that we're a family that's home a lot, because I work from home, and Diana is now teetering on turning quilting into a business. Simon's room isn't really big enough for a non-Ikea bed and a desk. In the category of superficial reasons, mostly we wanted a big two-story living room, which is a popular feature around here in floor plans of all sizes, even town homes. Then we started thinking about timing, as rates aren't going to stay down, and these neighborhoods are building out pretty fast now. That they won't be getting cheaper is an understatement, and our realtor is fairly confident that our house will sell for about 15% over what we bought it for. There won't be better times to do this in the foreseeable future. We're looking at a base price of $102 per square foot, which is pretty good even for this area, where stuff is now moving for $125 or more. You can't get this much house for this little in very many places, and I don't feel bad about taking advantage of that. I can't help but think back to Seattle, where the same house would easily cost twice as much. I love it there, but even with higher salaries, ouch.

It's not entirely hard to poke holes in any of our rationalizations, and that's OK, because I'm making peace with the idea that I just want something with more room for my family and nicer flooring. If I can do that without over-extending myself or being a financial moron, why not? When it's all said and done, we'll be spending only 21% of our income on housing (mortgage, taxes and insurance), and be at a pretty solid LTV ratio of 77% or better.

That said, the financial gymnastics are a lot different this time. Since I'm not contracting, the banks actually believe I make a living, instead of them pretending I don't. They are also strangely willing to let you put less down. We're only doing about 11% up front, and then when our house sells, we'll roll those proceeds into the loan, and recast it so that we're beyond the 20% threshold for silly PMI. Builders are pretty stingy these days, and they won't do a contingency at all. Some actually wanted 20% of the cost of the house up front, just to break ground, which is nutty.

After building two other houses (well, my first was 85% done when we jumped in), I know a lot more about what to look for, and I hope to be more zen about it. The upgrade costs are insane, but we managed to get what we wanted inside of our budget. There was a flooring option that was more than agreeable for us that we didn't get when they first showed us the list and pricing. The only real compromise we had to make was on getting carpeted stairs. Maybe we can improve those at some point in the future.

So there it is... we're upgrading to a bigger McMansion. I have no lofty expectations about it being an investment, I don't care what the Joneses are doing and I just want to make good on the opportunity while it's solid, because Team Puzzoni is worth it.

Reading the New York Times makes you smarter than reading Facebook

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 4:00 PM | comments: 0

Despite the Twitterer-in-Chief labeling everything he doesn't agree with as "fake news," news is still news, and facts are still facts. Journalism lives on, and I think it's being challenged in a very healthy way. Provided it figures out how to pay for itself without compromising traditionally held values in journalism, we could be on the verge of a new golden age for it.

I've been dissatisfied with the state of journalism for years. As much as the president bitches and moans about the press (mostly because it doesn't satisfy his vanity), he owes his election to the press for not asking any real hard questions or calling out his lies and gaslighting of reality. That doesn't mean that there was a total lack of journalism occurring. Even CNN got things right now and then, as did the other TV networks. The New York Times and Washington Post in particular did a solid job in reporting during the last year. In fact, I was particularly energized by the talk at SXSW from the NYT, enough that I subscribed at their 50% off rate. I've been reading it fairly regularly now for a month or so, to varying degrees.

What have I learned? More than anything, is that there are always deeper stories, way more nuance and complexity in the world than our culture seems willing to embrace. This isn't a discovery, per se, as much as it is a reminder. Americans have been very keyed into soundbites for all of my life, but they seem to be even worse in the era of "like and share." I think the press that goes deep is reasonably good at exposing all sides of politics, despite accusations of liberal bias. If you buy into that bias allegation, I would invite you to go back and look into their investigative pieces on Hillary Clinton's email nonsense, which was very thorough, even if it mostly exposed poor judgment. At the same time, the public doesn't understand the difference between "the media" and "the press."

The NYT is not infallible, but it is dedicated to truth. I think it deserves our respect as an institution. The American press is a vital part of our way of life, and so important that it is guaranteed by the First Amendment. The press does not, and should not, deliver only the things that you want to hear, and you should not have that expectation.

Science is political, it just doesn't have to be partisan

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend's marches around the world for science on Earth Day were criticized by some in the scientific community because they politicized science. I tend to agree that science shouldn't be political, as it's not a belief system or moral issue. That gravity is a thing isn't subject to belief or morals, it just is. However, there has been growing sentiment among a segment of the population that wants to challenge science with a belief system, generally in order to reject it and do potentially immoral things, like allow for pollution. So, sorry science, you're political whether you want to be or not.

Generally, it's the far right that rightfully gets a lot of shit for its incessant denial of very real science, but it's hardly the exclusive domain of those people. There's a perfectly nutty lefty segment content to reject immunization and advocate steaming your vagina. Willful ignorance when it comes to science is bad no matter where it comes from.

Using science to combat disease, better the environment and improve our lives all seem like logical things to get behind, regardless of your party affiliation. I mean, no one ever says, "I totally don't mind a little polio or rising sea levels."

We have to hold politicians accountable. "I don't believe that" is an emotional response to something that can generally be proven and follows some consensus. Inevitably, someone says that science is easily corrupted because of a conflict of interest, or a few anecdotes about fraud against hundreds of years of legitimate discovery. Let me ask you this: If it was about the money or seeking something other than truth, don't you think being that scientist who could prove climate change wasn't a thing would be the richest and most famous scientist of our time? Think about it. The scientific method is rooted in skepticism.

I saw a great poster from the march in Washington. It said: "Every disaster movie starts with a scientist being ignored." Sometimes Hollywood fantasy is rooted in fact, too.

Winning at all costs isn't worth it

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 24, 2017, 8:24 PM | comments: 0

The New York Times had a really excellent profile on Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, and it doesn't paint a very good picture of the guy. That's a bummer, because Uber is arguably one of the more disruptive forces to come out of technology, and probably one of the most overdue, in a long time. I would go so far as to say it's even necessary.

But the profile is one of extreme bro culture and questionable judgment at every turn, in order to further the company's goals. I'm not cool with that, especially at the expense (allegedly) of blatant sexism. "Winning," whatever that means, can't come at the expense of your people, your partners or the world. That's just now how you should roll.

The first genuine startup tech company I worked for was, and it was probably an ideal first for me as far as pure technology companies goes. (Technically, it was an auto insurance agency, but in practical terms it was a software company that sold insurance.) While it ultimately got into trouble because it funded growth on the back of a what should have been an "extra" non-core revenue stream instead of the long-term, recurring revenue that was safe, it was good to its people and fostered an excellent environment. Good ideas came from everywhere, within the development team to marketing and the call center. Sure, there were kingdoms, but generally good ideas were able to come up from everywhere. When I look back at it, I was definitely critical and skeptical at the start, and definitely at the end, but that was a company full of good people focused on all of the right things. It's the reason that the outcome of our product was so great, even if the spending at the executive level had a fatal flaw.

I'm back into a startup that is bootstrapped and therefore commanding its own destiny. My boss is very keyed into the "why" for the business, which means that while growing the business and making it successful is important, there's a very explicit understanding that we're making the lives of our customers better. What makes this even more fun for me is that I've taken on more responsibility for developing our staff, and as people who know me understand, that's a big deal to me. My inner coach loves this. I have one direct report today, and another coming soon, but I've just pulled in a dotted-line report to accelerate professional growth. We're going to win because we focus on our customers and our people, and that's the right thing to do.

I'm lucky that we have a lot of options in our line of work, and if we're really paying attention, we see that there are definitely "right" and "wrong" ways to conduct ourselves. Winning isn't winning if you have to sell your soul, cheat or trivialize people. The Uber story has so many examples of what not to do, and I hope that they can turn it around, because I think it's an important service. But if they don't, it will be a good example of why it's OK to be ambitious and still have a moral compass.

My very favorite tree

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 22, 2017, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

We spent the morning of this Earth Day at Legoland Florida, which also happens to be the former Cypress Gardens. The gardens are still there, and they're an extraordinary and lush area at the park that includes a very special tree.

The banyan tree in the park was planted nearly 80 years ago, imported from India by Dick Pope, creator of the gardens, according to the park. It's a staggering structure that looks like science fiction, but it's a real organism impossibly spreading its branches horizontally in every direction. It's awesome to see what nature can do.

Human beings generally do recognize nature as a powerful force, though it often takes a disaster to remind us how awesome it is. Earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados serve as deadly notification that we're not as durable as we think. These relatively quick but powerful reminders command respect, but it turns out that we can certainly leave our mark on nature as well, with only more subtle, long-term consequences.

Climate change is real, and we're doing it. Scientific consensus doesn't come easy, but this is a settled issue. Political opinion won't stop it. You don't have to take my word for it, go read. The window of opportunity to change course or at least mitigate the damage is closing. Even the US military declares it an issue of national security.

When I was growing up, the 90's made recycling a necessary and fundamental part of our life. People resisted at first, but the cost of not recycling became a real monetary concern for everyone. Really clever government, like the county where I lived, built a processing facility that sorted the garbage from the recyclables for you. In the end, the responsible thing to do lined up pretty well with the right fiscal thing to do.

Converting to clean energy to reduce carbon output and mitigate climate change is going to be a little harder and take a little longer, because the fiscal impact isn't as obvious yet. It's getting there though, starting with rising insurance premiums for coastal property. High tide is causing flooding already on coastal cities, especially in places like Miami-Dade County in Florida. Living near a coal-burning power plant is a known health risk. Oil itself is a destabilizing commodity at the root of expensive war and conflict globally. Droughts are forcing migration and the closure of farms.

The great thing about this situation is that the technology to solve these energy problems exists today. Photovoltaic cells are plunging in price. Wind turbines are getting easier to build. Energy storage and distributed generation is now powering entire islands in the Pacific. Electric vehicles are getting cheaper and cover 99% of most people's driving use cases. We are on the brink of an extraordinary transition.

That banyan tree is a beautiful reminder of what nature is capable of. It reminds us that nature needs and deserves our respect. Every day should be Earth Day. We have an obligation to our kids to leave them a planet that doesn't suck, so why not work on that today? We already have the ability... now let's find the will.

I would not have survived the 60's

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2017, 7:22 PM | comments: 0

I'm always late to the party when it comes to seeing movies, I guess because I'm the parent of a young child, but I finally saw Hidden Figures, a film I couldn't wait to see because, duh, space program, and also I'm fascinated by the people who were key to social change in the 60's. I can't believe that I was born only a decade and change after that period, and the overlap of the space program with the civil rights movement is something that I never even considered. It's an important movie will brilliant performances. Even Kevin Costner did OK. I'm pretty sure that Janelle Monáe could be my next Hollywood crush.

I don't know if I would have survived that environment. I mean, dudes had to wear a tie, go into an office and apparently put greasy products in their hair. Oh, and it was socially acceptable to hate people for their race or gender. This would infuriate me at all times and likely cause a meltdown. I'd be angry, all of the time.

Would I though?

There's an argument that has persisted for decades that we are a product of our environment when it comes to much of our belief system. We're born into ideologies that serve as our first lessons on nearly everything in life. (I'll again plug the notion that, as a therapist once told me, if your parents weren't good at relationships, your odds aren't great either.) This suggests that if you grow up wearing a sheet and go to Klan meetings, you too might end up a racist.

There's growing evidence that environment may play less of a role than it used to. Research suggests that about half of Americans have changed religions in their lifetime, if not abandoned it entirely. Few beliefs are as sacred as religion. Furthermore, while we may have a long way to go, objectively issues of race and gender are far better than they were 50 years ago. Progress happens despite exposure to negative things. Why? Because slowly but surely, we allow our morality to be what it is.

If I look at the attributes of my personality, assuming that many of them are in someway predisposed, then I'm going to assume that I'd be on the right side of history. And I'd be angry in the 60's.

Misogyny still isn't a deal breaker

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2017, 6:46 PM | comments: 0

Bill O'Reilly got canned today from Fox News, apparently for being involved in one too many sexual harassment scandals. As much as this seems like some kind of karmic justice for being an entertainer that profits from divisiveness and willful ignorance, the New York Times says his pay day may still be a cool $25 million. Even when he loses, he wins. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, as our president made a career out of harassing women and being generally derogatory toward them, and he got elected anyway.

I'm not sure why anyone would make this a political issue. Being an asshole toward women is never OK, and yet our culture is apparently willing to overlook it, even for important things like electing a president. Still others believe that misogyny is justified as some reaction against "political correctness," as if being enlightened and kind to others is a bad thing. Racism, homophobia, xenophobia and any other 'ism that you can think of are similarly rationalized. This strikes me as a barbaric throwback to previous centuries.

People make mistakes, and I get that. My record is embarrassingly far from perfect. That said, I believe that most people are capable of owning up to their mistakes and changing their behavior. When it's a pattern of behavior and that person is unapologetic about it, that goes well beyond being a fallible human being that made a few bad choices. Those people can and should be held accountable for their actions.

It seems absurd that we're still even having these kinds of conversations. I'm wondering if it's going to take another generation or two to get beyond this. I take a little comfort in knowing that my son doesn't have one of those openly racist, hateful grandparents, and, as I did, he goes to a racially and ethnically diverse school. Not learning the behavior is an important first step.

The best car deal ever

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2017, 1:15 PM | comments: 0

We started leasing our Nissan Leaf in August of 2014. We did a 2-year lease because frankly we were not entirely sure what getting into an electric vehicle would mean. A short lease seemed to mitigate any risk, which we may have overlooked because of our general enthusiasm for EV's. This turned out to be the right decision for so many reasons.

First off, the Leaf hasn't been great about retaining value. I think sticker was around $34k at the time, before the $7,500 tax credit. They haven't retained value very well, not because of any issue with the cars themselves, but because a bigger battery variation of the car has been in the works or rumored for at least two years. Ours has a 24 kWh battery, rated for around 80 miles but in practice can do 100 if you're not doing all highway miles. Last year they bumped it to 30 kWh. To be clear, this is more than adequate for 98% of our driving scenarios because you wake up with a "full tank" every day. (We even charge on a lowly 110v household outlet!) Still, battery costs have come way down while power density has gone way up, so everyone fully expects the next version to have capacity that enables 200 miles, presumably something around 60 kWh. We're totally winning by not owning the car.

At the end of our two years, we were actually not at all ready to see it go. I thought a compact Toyota was crazy low on maintenance, but this little EV takes it to another level. Without oil changes, there's nothing to do. We're closing in on three years now, and there's literally nothing to do except rotate the tires now and then. So Nissan was good about extending the lease for another year, and by the way, take two months off of paying. That gets us to August 2017.

Second, did I mention the delays in introducing a follow up car? Chevy finally got the Bolt out into the world, but the rollout is slow and production numbers aren't great. We don't know if we'll see one in Florida in the summer or not. Dealers don't have any idea how to sell them, because dealers are worthless middlemen continuing a process that no consumer likes. But at least Chevy has something out, while Nissan has been quiet. Lately, car enthusiast sites are finding "spy shots" of a camouflaged new Leaf driving about.

Nissan doesn't want our car back, they want us to buy another one, and so they've offered to extend the lease another seven months, and by the way, have three months off of paying.

This gets us to 43 months total at $106, and 5 of those months were non-paying months. I think we got $5k for Diana's trade, and used that as the down payment. That's $4,028 in lease payments, and $5,000 down, making the total cost per month to have that car $210. I've not had any new car, out of 9 total (including Diana's), that were that cheap in terms of total money put into having the car, purchase to sale/return. And by the way, the cost of driving it works out to 3.5 cents per mile. A gasoline car that does 30 mpg at $2/gallon costs 6.7 cents per mile. An SUV at 15 mpg will be 13 cents per mile, or 3.7x what it costs to drive the Leaf. As gas goes up, so does the cost, while ours comes from a regulated utility. And by the way, it's like driving an electric go-kart and it's super fun.

Just imagine what's going to happen when sub-$30k EV's are a thing in a few years.

Fear of a lack of self-awareness

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 20, 2017, 12:51 PM | comments: 0

Today at work we had our every-other-week sprint review and retrospective, and it was super positive. We've executed like a (mostly) well-oiled machine now for three or four sprints, and when you get to the part where you talk about what went well, what didn't, and what to change, the last two-thirds of that discussion get awfully quiet. Virtual high-fives among our distributed team are great, but I always fear that we're not being self-aware enough. It's not that I want to be a poopy-pants, I just don't want us to get so comfortable that we overlook our own flaws.

As it turns out, this is a healthy kind of fear, because it does move you forward. I often think about the time I was at Microsoft, because it was a time where the company culture, as diverse at it was from one area to another, was largely oblivious to its shortcomings. Maybe 40-60 in favor of oblivious when I started. When I switched teams mid-way through my time there, I went from the 40 to the 60. There was a lot of attachment to the status quo, about "how we do things," and the worst part was that one of those things was an arrogance about "knowing" what customers really wanted, without asking them. It was completely strange to me, and other than being a squeaky wheel, I was ineffective at changing this. After I left, not surprisingly, they never shipped anything.

That was a good experience to have, in part because it reminded me not to get comfortable, and face the flaws of me and my team outright and directly. Admitting that you have a problem is in fact the first step to recovery.

Still, it's OK to have a little celebration. I reminded the team today that the level of collaboration and communication we enjoy isn't all that common, and we're even a distributed, remote team. My last co-located gig couldn't touch the level of collaboration that we have today. (Some day, companies like IBM and Yahoo will learn this. OK, well not Yahoo, because it's toast.)

Always be learning

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 6:46 PM | comments: 0

I've been trying to devote some energy lately to learning some new things in the world of software development. Prior to this job, I was working a ton on performance projects, and as such, I feel like the world of client-side development had evolved without me. Now I have an opportunity to jump in and try something I had evaluated for use in projects, but not been real hands-on with. This is what you do in your spare time in this line of work. As much as I didn't care for school, I love this about work.

I think that this might be an expectation that is largely missed by some folks. We've seen a subset of people who think, "I went to school, now pay me and give me a corner office." I don't see a lot of that in my work, since at least half didn't go to school for the work, if they attended college at all. But I do see it in a lot of other professions, especially in marketing and general business fields.

But think about everything from the blue collar trades to medicine: You have to keep learning to get better at what you do and stay current. I feel bad for people who don't like this arrangement, because it doesn't seem optional to me. I said in a recent talk about hiring that length of career is a surprisingly poor indicator of ability. Some people get into a spot and plateau, absent any requirement to learn or people to mentor them. Don't be those people. Enjoy the challenges that come with learning, and the joy of applying that learning to doing stuff.

A teachable moment

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 16, 2017, 3:04 PM | comments: 0

We made a quick stop into a store yesterday as a family, which is unusual because kids and stores are not generally a great combination. As we were walking into the store, Simon noticed an African-American bald woman ahead of us, and in a classic, no filter ASD sort of way, squealed as loud as possible, "What? Is that a boy or a girl?!" I was horrified. I knew right away that she heard him.

As we approached the door, she offered us a cart that was sitting there, then turned to address Simon and said, "I'm a girl!" At this point, I wasn't sure how this would play out, but I figured she was well within her right to let him have it even if it was what I would consider an autism-related comment. If he has to have those difficult moments, better now than later in life.

The woman explained that she spent many years as a second grade teacher, and her reaction was not one of anger at all, but rather one of understanding. Simon was embarrassed, but she explained that it was her choice to shave her head, that she liked how cool it felt in the summer. We also talked to him about how some people don't have a choice, with age and sometimes because of medicines that certain people have to take when they're sick.

All things considered, it was a teachable moment, and it was good.

My complicated relationship with Ohio

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 13, 2017, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

I flew up to Cincinnati yesterday for this morning's media preview of Kings Island's Mystic Timbers. It's always a little weird to go back to Ohio. I used to say that it's because "Ohio sucks," but that's not really true. It's a pretty solid state in some ways.

I left Ohio the first time in 2009, after going through the process of divorce, dating, and marrying someone else. I was about a year outside of a really solid two and a half years of career development, but lots of mediocre years before that. I was living in the same town where I went to high school. I went to college at a rural Division II school in Ohio, and I loathed the small town culture. Winter was intolerable. I moved back in part because of that damn house I couldn't sell. None of this is really Ohio's fault.

I think the more fair assessment was just that I was done with Ohio. I needed something else, and a change, and Ohio couldn't provide that. I definitely needed to get away from snow. There's also some level of regret about not exploring life a bit earlier outside of the state. That's not Ohio's fault either. I just associate the place with a less happy state, even though certainly I have decades of great memories there.

The thing I do love about coming back is catching up with all of the friends there. In fact, it's really the only serious negative about living in Central Florida, that I don't get to see those folks as often. The saying about taking the boy out of Ohio is probably true to an extent. I just wouldn't say that I miss it very much.

I give the same career advice over and over again

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 8, 2017, 5:57 PM | comments: 0

I spoke again this year at Orlando Code Camp, for two sessions. We had an amazing turnout again for arguably one of the best community driven education events anywhere. Again, I devoted one of my talks to professional development, specifically the process around hiring and getting hired. One of my bullet points was that, as a developer job candidate, most people simply aren't good enough to do the job that the employer needs. Indeed, we suffer from a massive skill deficiency in our line of work. The response from one gentleman, was not defensive, but awesome: "What do I do to be better?"

This is a question that has many answers, but I always come back to the same advice: Surround yourself with the best people possible. I honestly believe that this is the best way to improve your skills in most fields, but it carries extra weight in software development because of the qualities it shares with the blue collar trades. Mentoring is an important way to refine your abilities. I've found in my career that it's important not just in the early stages, where a lack of experience naturally means less ability, but also later, when you have to hire people to work for you. Suck it up and get people smarter than you, because they will contribute to your success.

Seek the best people, try hard to work with them.

House envy, again

posted by Jeff | Monday, April 3, 2017, 12:00 PM | comments: 1

What follows is kind of a ridiculous rant where I explore inner conflict and the ridiculousness that comes with having a lot of opportunity. It is not intended to take a position on anything, and it's mostly a brain dump so I can think about something else.

Last summer, I was quite enamored with my brother-in-law's new house near Seattle. The lot was up against some protected land full of evergreens, it was quiet, and the air... I can't really explain how the air is different up there, except to say it's better. I remember lying in the guest bed, windows open, and thinking, "This is amazing." However, the bigger thing is that they had a lot of room to spread out, and the room he had in his office in particular was fantastic.

Now my best friend and her husband are building a house near us, and I'm getting those feelings of envy again. They have the similar situation where there is room to spread out, and more office space. I'm not hung up here on status or appearances, for me this is the issue that I work at home and sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in a little. Also, Diana is squeezed into her sewing room with the long arm machine, and Simon's stuff is just spread out everywhere. It's not that we don't have enough room, it's that the distribution of it is all wrong. We have a loft area that we don't use and it seems like the patio and porch are poor uses of space. We also complain that the windows aren't large enough, or there aren't enough of them.

The problem is that no one builds houses that have the same amount of space but fewer rooms. I suppose as a family of three, maybe we're outliers, but we don't need so many damn rooms. More room to move around is what we would prefer. Thus the house envy.

Now, "they" say that you shouldn't spend more than 28-36% of your gross income on housing (mortgage, taxes and insurance). That sounds like good advice, though the numbers seem pretty arbitrary. If you make $50k a year, that isn't very much, and if you make a million a year, frankly most of your income is gravy. We spend just under 15%. In fact, our "discretionary" income, which is what's left after all the bills and 401k contributions, is about 27%. When we replace the electric space car with the more sensible one out late this year or next, we can get that up to 32%. I've worked very hard to enable the ability to vacation like it's our job, and that's why we take lots of cruises, do fun things locally and never have to think twice about getting Simon the therapy he needs. Moving to a giant new McMansion would reduce our happy cut down to 20%, which is still substantial-ish.

Part of me still feels the sting of the Cleveland house. A dozen years and nothing to show for it, and that sucked. I did decide, even while living in Seattle, that home ownership was no longer an investment, but rather a lifestyle choice. I don't think you should assume anything about whether or not you'll ever get back what you put into it. This is reasonably liberating thinking, provided that you never land in a negative equity situation. We're at 25% now, which is better than I ever was in my first house. So again, it's a question of lifestyle more than risk, to me. House values can't possibly continue as they are, but on the other hand, we're still looking at new construction well under $120/sq. ft., which is a far cry from the $200+ we saw in Seattle.

I guess the money situation doesn't scare me, and it doesn't even take into account future raises, Diana making money from her quilt empire and other variables. The stress of going through that process again would suck, not to mention selling the existing house. Adulting is hard, and these days I feel uncomfortable being so inwardly focused.

When in Florida, go to the beach

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 2, 2017, 1:17 PM | comments: 0

I liked going to the beach to some extent when I was a kid. We went typically while on camping trips, so it was usually to lakes in state parks. We'd spend a few hours there, I would often get a sunburn, and there would be a lot of pigging out on snacks. Ideally, there would be a nap before dinner back at the camper. I wouldn't describe it as something I looked forward to, but it was still fun.

In adulthood, I've not really spent any time at the beach. I got married on one, but that doesn't really count. I also burn easily. Then we took our first cruise in early 2013, and I was introduced to Disney's version of the beach on their private island, Castaway Cay. On our third cruise, we shared the cost of a cabana on that island, and it was the best beach day ever. It was about that time that Simon came around to liking the beach as well, getting past some sensory issues where he wouldn't even walk in the sand without shoes.

In December, we were in Delray Beach for my BFF's wedding. To get some exercise and kill a little time, we walked the mile or so down to the water. While Simon had seen the ocean at Castaway, he had never seen waves. This was an extraordinary discovery for him, and he loved it. We started to wonder aloud, why don't we go to the beach more? We live in Florida! About a week and change later, the day after Christmas, we went to the beach again.

It's about an hour and 40 to the Canaveral National Seashore, an hour and 20 to Cocoa Beach, two hours to Clearwater the other way. We have options. I'm all about supporting the National Parks, so we shelled out $40 for the Canaveral pass. It's an enormous, long beach, and if the timing is right for a rocket launch, even better. We're now equipped with a proper umbrella and chairs. We haven't figured out how to get the sand out of Simon's pants while on the beach, but we'll get there.