Archive: August, 2018

Clinging to John McCain

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

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

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

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

Enabling who you are

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting struggle behind you

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

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

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

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

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

Buying cars is still terrible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EV life round 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

The morality of censorship by non-government entities

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

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

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

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

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

I don't have to be 100%

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three years EV: It's your future

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

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

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

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

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

Scaling is always the problem

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

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

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

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

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

Passive entertainment is OK

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

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

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

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

The work as summer camp experience

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

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

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

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

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