Archive: January, 2021

Allure of the Seas

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 21, 2021, 10:35 PM | comments: 0

I love that Royal Caribbean has a ship called Allure of the Seas. The name of that ship describes something that has been in my blood for a long time, even if I didn't really understand it. I always enjoyed staying on my dad's sailboat when I was a kid, and I've obviously always liked spending time at Cedar Point, surrounded by Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay. But being around the ocean has intensified those feelings a hundred times over. When we took our first cruise in 2013, I was shocked at how much I loved it. A year later, taking the second one as a Florida resident, I loved it even more. To date, we've taken 19 cruises. In between all of that, we've had days at the beach, both on the Atlantic and gulf coasts.

This week, we rented a beach house via Vrbo down in Melbourne. It was super clean, with what I call "beach appropriate furniture" and a garage full of beach toys. Not luxurious the way that I typically want in accommodations, but perfectly adequate for families with kids. It was a little pricey, sure, but it satisfied two conditions: The endless sound of surf outside, and a hot tub because it won't likely be warm enough to hang out in the ocean. We made our meals, watched the presidential inauguration, grilled chicken, chased down sand crabs at night and empties six bottles of wine. It was everything that I hoped for. And for the middle three days, I worked remotely while Simon schooled remotely (I was more successful than he was). I didn't even take the time off, but when I took breaks for lunch and retired for the day, I touched sand and listened to that glorious surf.

This partial week near the ocean made me realize that the great peace that I feel when we cruise has a lot to do with just being near the ocean. In the Covid era, not spending much money and wondering what I want to do with life, I wonder if I am meant to live by the ocean. Looking into it, it's not an inexpensive endeavor. If you want to live with the ocean literally in your back yard, prepare to drop a cool million (unless it's a condo tower filled with spring breakers). You can even buy some undeveloped land for around $350k, if you have the cash. I don't see any way that we can afford that any time soon, and I'm not sure that the story gets better even in ten years. That's a bummer.

But we could still be cruising quarterly if that were in fact a thing right now. Watching Captain Kate on IG makes me even want to consider cruising with someone not Disney. Seriously, get me the vaccine, and I'll lick the handrails clean if it means we can cruise.

I dunno, I have this strong realization that the sea makes me feel so present and calm, but it doesn't seem like it's easy for me to reach a place where being near it is my standard operating procedure. That troubles me.


If MLK Day makes you uncomfortable, that's a good thing

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 18, 2021, 7:00 PM | comments: 0

I remember in 2010, shortly before Simon was born, thinking on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, how remarkable it was that we had a Black president. The normal that I knew, growing up in the age of desegregation bussing, had effects going all the way to the White House. The gaps in equality that I even a child could observe, in the late 70's and early 80's was slowly closing. Nothing was "solved," per se, but there was measurable progress.

What was less obvious at the time was that the election of Barack Obama would, in many ways, instigate a "last stand" of sorts among the people not content to see the American order involve the inclusion of people of color. For many years, especially during the Obama administration, I thought that the opposition toward anything he did was simple partisanship. While it certainly was that, it was deeper than that, as we now understand famously that the "base" that Republican politicians cater to, themselves now a minority, root their opposition not in conservative policy in the name of Ronald Reagan, but in the old order of white supremacy. That's not some divisive plotline on my part, it's observing the most ardent Trump supporters: If the goal is to "make America great again," they can only be referring to the time prior to the civil rights era. America wasn't that great then. Even when it achieved prosperity and leadership on the world stage, in the decades immediately following World War II, it certainly didn't include women and minorities.

I'm always stirred by MLK's quote from his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."

White Americans have always had the power to realize change that would result in a just and equal society among races. It's a power that was abdicated by its founders, kicking the can down the road for future generations to deal with. Wise as they were, I'm sure they never expected it go as many generations as it has. They could not have predicted that in 2021, white people would still hold the cards. There was a particularly striking infographic in The New York Times last fall, showing that in various corridors of power, from police chiefs to senators, those with the power were overwhelmingly white, and did not reflect the population of the United States. One of the annoying things about this is the people who suggest that, "The most qualified people should hold those positions, not those who fit a racial profile." Yeah? Then why do those same people insist they be Republicans, who are overwhelmingly white and male?

We objectively live in a country where, on a per capita basis, you're at greater risk of being singled out by police with cause, being denied access to financial instruments, denied the chance to interview for a better job, etc., if your skin is not white. It's mathematically a fact, and no amount of mental gymnastics can invalidate that fact. As a moral and decent human being, there's little opportunity to be ambiguous about your position in this reality. It's not divisive to say you're for changing this, it just makes you a person who believes in the most basic tenets of human respect.

Don't be the white person who dismisses the presence of injustice.


The time you have left

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 18, 2021, 5:20 PM | comments: 0

I probably have quite a bit of time left in my life. Forty, maybe 50 years in front of me. There are always these things that I think about that seem like time has gone by fast, or slow, and in the last year, both. But as Mr. Keating reminds the boys in Dead Poets Society, we're all "food for worms," and for that reason, he encourages the kids to make the most out of the time they have. That's a weighty subject when you're a teenager, one you largely disregard, and honestly, I didn't even think much about it in my 30's, a time of particular crisis and identity for me.

Even at a young age, sometimes we do think deeply about what it is we're going to do. As in, with our lives, with our time. In that discussion that we have with ourselves, the consideration of time, and the rather temporary condition that is life, we consider the meaning of it all. There are two ways that you can go: The brevity of life can make you ask if there's any real point to any of it, but it could also incentivize you to make the most of what you have. A humble person can acknowledge that no one is going to care who they were beyond a generation, or two at best, but it doesn't mean that you can't leave the world better than you found it. I would also factor in that whatever animal instincts we have left drive us to contribute to society as a survival tactic, and for the survival of our children.

Let's be honest, there's a lot of struggle in life. Even when you have advantages, whether it be money or some other socioeconomic condition that you were born into, the challenges combined with the ephemeral nature of life make you wonder why you should fight the struggle. Hope and optimism don't come easy to everyone, but those are the things we rely on to keep moving. I think it's a good idea to help others find it, too.

Like most people, I have certain gifts and abilities. I don't know where they came from, or why I have them when others don't. I can't write a song (or sing one), or inspire anyone with athletic achievements, but I'm pretty good at other things that have a measurable impact on the world. I'm pretty good at helping others find those attributes, too. The scope of impact as it relates to my abilities is unimportant, and chances are that most people have impact, and it's just a question of whether or not it's positive.

I think that there are some basics to strive for when it comes to our time left. The blanket goal I'm after is to leave the world in a better state than I found it. This means reversing hundreds of years of structural discrimination against minorities, women and other marginalized people. I want to do my best to have a light touch on resources I consume, and show others what is possible with sustainable energy, waste reduction and the exploitation of science. I hope to show people that autism isn't a disability, but a different perspective.

What will you do with your time?


The accident "caught on tape"

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 14, 2021, 10:40 PM | comments: 0

The car accident that Diana suffered three weeks ago, as it turned out, was caught on the dash cam of the guy who helped her out of the car and made a statement to OCSO. The short story is that Diana did in fact have a green light, and the other driver turned in front of not just her, but another car as well. FHP apparently cited the other driver.

Obviously this is a relief to Diana, because like any driver, one tends to question if there was something they did to contribute to the accident, or could have done to avoid it. You can see from the video below that the other driver hit her rear quarter on the driver's side, causing the car to spin 180 degrees, then roll backward until it hit the median. (You can also see the driver in the left lane just drive away, which doesn't say a lot for humanity.) It's pretty obvious why the side curtain airbags deployed, that's for sure. The contact was pretty brutal. We watched it frame by frame, looking at the timing of it and making all kinds of observations about the time it took for the car to spin around (2/3 of a second), the time from the start of the other driver's turn to impact (1.2 seconds), etc. I think the unfortunate thing is that the driver in the left lane saw it coming, and by braking blocked Diana's sight line, so there was nothing that she could do to avoid it. Quarter-second variations in any of these factors could have led to drastically different outcomes. Had the driver been going faster or earlier, she might have T-boned Diana, probably sending her into the crosswalk sign, or worse, the signal pole or brick wall. A little sooner than that, and Diana or the left lane driver would have T-boned the other driver, which I imagine would have been worse for everyone.

The driver was young, just turned 18, so presumably still in high school. To that end, I can't fault her inexperience and hold no ill will because the only long-term problem we're aware of is the end of the car (injuries, I guess you never know). But in the moment, for the three hours we waited for FHP (which never did show), she made this strange comment about being "cool" about it and not a "hit and run" driver. Her mom, who came to the scene, was also kind of toxic toward her. At the time, I was just trying to get Simon to relax in the backseat of our other car, after I dragged him out of bed. But as I looked at the car, where it landed, and watched the traffic light sequence several times, I couldn't see any likely scenarios where Diana was at fault. The force to get the car to spin like that had to be non-trivial, so my assumption is that she came in pretty hot for some reason. I can't tell from the video if she was turning from a stop, but Diana had to be going at least 30 (speed limit is 40), getting back up to speed when the light turned green, for the car to roll several car lengths past the start of the median. The rear wheel took the brunt of the impact, and I think she's fortunate that the low center of gravity from the battery kept the car upright. This is why most EV's have solid crash ratings, because they have a low, heavy thing that makes up most of the floor.

So thank you, Nissan, for keeping my special lady safe. Cars may not survive this sort of thing, but they do a remarkably good job of protecting the people inside.


How free speech works on the Internet

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 9, 2021, 4:50 PM | comments: 0

The big social media companies kicked Donald Trump to the curb this week (about six years too late), and with that, the Internet is now full of self-appointed experts on free speech. Honestly, the First Amendment is not particularly complex, and there have certainly been plenty of cases that test its limits and set precedent, but it isn't fundamentally difficult to understand:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The subsequent case law that likely matters most is that "Congress" is interpreted to mean government at all levels.

When the Internet was starting to expand beyond the niche of nerds like me, the question about what this meant in terms of free speech on the Internet went through a fairly quick cycle of refinement. The thing that was settled early was that Internet services, which is to say Web sites and apps, as opposed to the service providers that have a wire to your house or radio signals to your phone, are not subject to any particular special regulation when it comes to free speech. Indeed, as someone who has operated online communities for over two decades, when Mark Zuckerberg was just entering puberty, I can assure you that we've bounced countless racists, homophobes and xenophobes over the years. The fact is, I pay the bill for hosting the service, and I'm under no obligation to allow anything I don't want there. Twitter, Facebook, Google are no different. Well, except that they make money and I mostly don't.

The First Amendment has nothing to do with these services. Those services are not government operated, and as such, not subject to the First. Is there a moral argument about the power these companies have to potentially censor people? Maybe, but isn't it a "conservative" value to be hands off and let the market decide if the product and behavior of these companies is not appropriate? Apparently, only when it's convenient for some. The fact remains that anyone can access the Internet and build their own thing to facilitate whatever speech that you want.

The president recently kept calling for the repeal of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which the dipshit doesn't really understand is probably the only reason that he was able to post the nonsense that he did. This bit of law says:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

In other words, if someone posts some incendiary shit on your service, you aren't responsible for the content of it. This is the only reason that Twitter, et al., can safely allow someone to post things that are potentially dangerous or likely to incite harm, because they can't be held liable for it. But the question about whether or not they should allow it is an entirely moral question, and it's the one that the social media services have been beat up for a lot in the last few years. Crazy assholes like Alex Jones eventually pushed them to ban the right-wing conspiracy nuts, in the same way that they would ban jihadists or anyone trying to radicalize people toward violence. Unfortunately, the president became one of those assholes, and for the longest time they gave him a pass because, as a world leader, he was a person of particular consequence. They were under no obligation to do this, and I suspect after last week, they regretted doing nothing for as long as they did.

Now, the party of victimhood and constant grievance (and the people that follow them) insist that it isn't fair, or whatever, even though they are the party who champions free market capitalism (which they understand about as well as free speech, it seems). If you're a "real" conservative, you don't try to regulate these companies, you let the market sort it out. What I love about this is that the right-wing conspiracy nuts could certainly have their own social networks, but they are niche in interest and hard to fund with advertising, since advertisers mostly don't like to support the white nationalists and insurrectionists that the niche has been hijacked by.

It's also important to recognize that free speech doesn't mean that speech has no consequences. Sure, you're free to shout fire in a theater, but it's still a crime. Defamation law has a pretty clear test where you will lose if you knowingly say things about someone or some company that isn't true, and their reputation is harmed in the process. It seems like there's a lot of entitlement around saying whatever you want, and so you have professional lives ruined because people get online and say racist things or support racist politicians. This seems like a pretty horrible time to commit to doubling down in support of Trump, as the Internet doesn't forget, and your words are one search away from some future employer.


The faithless at the direction of the aggrieved failures

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 8, 2021, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

This has certainly been the most bizarre week in my lifetime when it comes to the operational integrity of our democracy. But what's increasingly obvious about it is that it's an entirely manufactured problem. It comes down to two fundamental issues: The leaders who do not accept responsibility for their failure, and those who stoke faithlessness that they created. Let's dive deeper.

I've been in leadership positions for a very long time. Most of my professional career, I've had to "manage" something or someone, and I've had to deliver things. I can say with almost universal certainty that at no time was it possible for me to attribute my failures to others. I mean, that's what being a leader is fundamentally about... it's your position to reach an outcome as charged by the nature of that position. I've dropped a lot of balls, to use the sportsball metaphor, and while there have certainly been times where I was not easily positioned for success, it doesn't change the fact that it was on me to deliver it, and I didn't. Sure, I've had legitimate reasons, not the least of which is not having the right resources to get the job done.

The GOP has been cultivating a world of scapgoating back to the Reagan days. On one side (theirs), you had people who were pulling up their bootstraps or whatever and doing the hard work to maintain a quality of life and deliver on the American dream. Even two decades ago, the people who were getting in your way of that were mostly politicians spending money on things that the "lazy" took advantage of, especially the entitlement programs that intended to lift the disadvantaged out of poverty. They rarely acknowledged the causes of the poverty, and usually attributed it to character flaws. As you might expect, these were mostly, but not all, people of color and minorities who were living a world of systemic racism that persists today.

In the Trump era, the gloves came off and he went right for the people that were always the intended scapegoats, among them, Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants and Black "welfare moms." The thinly veiled racism was gone at that point. And now, as Donald Trump, in four years went from a Republican majority in both houses of Congress and the White House, to losing it all on his watch, he blames the system. This is the system that was largely uninhibited for the first half of his term, during which the only meaningful thing he did was get a tax cut passed that benefitted primarily the wealthy and people who made six figures or more. There is no objective fact behind this failure. No one cheated, the voting public just wasn't having it.

Then, in November, about 7 million more people voted for Joe Biden than did for Donald Trump, and the next president was chosen. After a run-off election in Georgia, it also came to the point where Senate control flipped to Democrats. The election was litigated in the courts, often by the judgment of Trump-appointed judges. Not a single case brought by the Trump campaign won. The Supreme Court wouldn't even hear a case brought by Texas, which wanted to sue Pennsylvania for the way it ran its election. The facts are that the election was secure and fair, something that the appropriate agencies even in the federal government confirmed.

But the sycophants that supported Trump with blind loyalty, including a nontrivial number of congresscritters, insisted that the election was ripe with fraud. They beat this drum daily, for two months. Now they insist that a significant portion of Americans, almost two-thirds of self-identifying Republicans (which equates to around 15% of the population) believe that the election was not free and fair. But let's think about that for a moment... who has asserted that the election was not fair? The very people who now assert that a 15%-ish of Americans say it wasn't fair. What a nutty, cyclical predicament! It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. This assertion has no evidence. The dipshit lawyer who keeps blaming the voting machine company is now getting sued by the voting machine company, because free speech is free, but it has consequences.

To review, people charged with leadership failed, and blamed everyone but themselves. Then the failed leaders stoked feelings of unfairness, without evidence, and cited the very feelings of unfairness that they created to attempt to legitimize their failure. That's sad.


The assault on the Capitol

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 7, 2021, 11:00 AM | comments: 0

I watched more continuous TV yesterday than on any day since 9/11. It was the second time in my life that I didn't recognize the nation that I've always lived in.

I'm often frustrated with America's inability to shake its original sin, the one where it declared that "all men are created equal," but didn't really mean it. It still doesn't really mean it. But it has been trying hard for almost 250 years to correct that, to varying degrees of success. It eventually relented and allowed women to vote, then Blacks and other minorities, though it regionally did its best to stifle that, and that practice continues today. Elections are the process by which we improve things. It's a slow process, but it has been consistent.

In November, we engaged in this process as we do every four years to elect a president. It was a little different this time in certain places, as the pandemic shifted voting to mail. I've been voting by mail for most of the last 30 years, so it's certainly not novel to me. When I lived in Washington state, I didn't even have to do anything other than get a driver's license. In those 30 years, I've only missed one election (in 2011 when I moved, and I missed voting on a local road tax that unfortunately failed due to the short-sightedness of other city residents). I take this civic duty very seriously.

The election was close in certain states, but it ultimately named Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Donald Trump mounted legal challenges, and he lost all of them, often in courts with judges that he appointed. His campaign continued to fabricate the lie that the election was "stolen," and the president himself went so far as to call the Georgia Secretary of State and suggest he "find" more votes. A relatively small number of congressional Republicans insist there was widespread fraud without evidence, too, despite the fact that it had been litigated, legitimately, in the courts, and now former members of the administration have declared publicly that the election was secure and fair. The outcome of the election, objectively, and without much need for critical thinking, is legitimate.

But Trump wasn't having it. He encouraged his fans (I'm not sure what to call them, but being particularly attached to any politician seems odd to me) to protest and riot, repeatedly, finally suggesting they march right up to the Capitol. Then when people asked him to make a statement to calm them down, he threw more gas on the fire, suggesting they were righteous in their pursuit (but don't hurt the police!).

It was disturbing to see a guy wrapped in a Trump flag taking selfies in the Senate president's chair, along with the countless other images made yesterday. Worse, it further demonstrated that there are two Americas, that our original sin is prevalent as ever. We just ended a year where we deeply understood the role that race plays in determining not only your fate, but the consequence of your actions. In Louisville, police emptied 32 bullets into the apartment of a woman, Breonna Taylor, in what might be charitably described as a botched raid in the wrong place by poorly trained officers. No one was truly held accountable for that. And yet, thousands of entitled white people broke into the Capitol, while both chambers were in session, seemingly without consequence. And for what? Because their guy fairly lost an election? The saddest part of this is that, like the morons they were, all they could do once inside was take self-incriminating selfies and post them on the Internet. They had no demands, or plan. They're just common criminals. The cowards were driven out and largely dispersed shortly after nightfall, and the Congress returned to finish its work.

Some members of Congress were clearly shaken by the incident, and realized that they had gone too far. Some reversed their position to object to the electoral count, which was little more than a symbolic time waster anyway. Those sticking to their position insisted that there were "irregularities" and acts by the states that were "unconstitutional," even though those issues had their days in court, and again, were struck down in part by appointees of the aggrieved president. The process worked as it has for hundreds of years. This year was no different.

The Internet has made the division more obvious than ever, as a small number of white people insist that there's a double standard: It's OK to endorse the Black Lives Matter movement, but not... whatever the MAGA people want. These moral equivalence arguments are the core issue that plagues us right now. Black and brown people do not enjoy the same safety and opportunity as white people, for complex reasons rooted in hundreds of years of systemic discrimination. We can observe this, objectively, in a hundred different ways. To draw some parallel between the a centuries-old struggle for civil rights and aggrieved white people butt-hurt about their candidate losing is wholly absurd.

At the end of the day, Joe Biden will still be president, and now he will have a congress to work with that is friendly to his agenda. In four years, Trump ruined the GOP's dominance. I'm not sure what they'll get done, but America has spoken up, and no amount of lies about the election will ever change that. Congress did its job, exercising the will of the people. It's time to move on.


Car stress

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 5, 2021, 9:51 PM | comments: 0

Progressive declared the car a total loss, so now we're trying to figure out what we do next. We finally got a rental as part of our insurance last weekend, which took longer than expected because apparently even during a Covid Christmas, cars were hard to come by in Central Florida. We'll have that for 30 days, and then I'm not sure.

I'm surprised by the basic anxiety that I have now when Diana leaves the house. With Simon returning to school, she has to drive him everyday, not because buses are high risk (though I wouldn't want him on one), but because technically he was supposed to switch schools again this year, so the bus doesn't go to his. We've got new buildings here practically every year. But even when she goes out for groceries or some other appointment, it makes me nervous because of the accident. It's an irrational fear, yes, but it's one I've been feeling really since the great crash in Bristol, Tennessee. I believe every drive has some inherent risk to it.

As Diana's arm and belt line return to a normal color, now the new stress is figuring out what to do next. The Leaf was a leased car, so we fully expected to replace it in August. Part of that expectation was that we had another six months to save for a reasonable down payment on the next car. In fact, we've been trying hard to figure out a way to get down to just one car payment, because financial makeover me would very much prefer that. That's not as easy since our choices after going electric are more limited (and we're never going back to gas).

To be clear, mostly this amounts to inconvenience more than anything else, but the uncertainty about how this year and the economic recovery will go makes me cautious about everything because we really don't know. I don't want to do anything that will undo a decade of discipline, because I only have so many keystrokes left on the keyboard of life and I can't make up the time. Our "out" in this case is probably that we're going to get a little money back from the refinance of the house, basically a month's payment, just because of when in the month it closed.

Realistically, we could probably go without a second car, for awhile at least. And since I'm being irrational, you know what the down side of that is? Not having a second car to run out and pick up the other if one of us is in a car accident, as we did two weeks ago. That's the weird place my head is at. Sure, you can Uber, they say, but they didn't hear about the nightmare of getting a 10-year-old with ASD out of bed in the middle of the night to drive by a wrecked car and pickup mom.

I have to remind myself that the worst part of this was really a bruised wife, and we had a nice Christmas anyway.


The art of hiring software people

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 5, 2021, 9:05 PM | comments: 0

A friend of mine recently asked for advice about hiring, suggesting that I had a "pretty successful record" of hiring. I suppose that he's partially correct, but he isn't familiar with the times I crashed and burned back in the day. I haven't really thought about it deliberately, not in recent years at least, because early in my career I treated it more like a technological problem where I just had to match the right keywords and like magic have an awesome team.

Mercifully, this year I only had to hire two people, but the search was pretty long. Being able to use the pool of an entire nation as a remote organization sure helped, but in some ways it also made it harder because you attract more noise that way. By sheer coincidence, I hired two people out of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so not local to me or the mothership.

My last hire fail was a few jobs ago. It was a remote person who ended up having the mistaken impression that being remote meant you didn't have to collaborate with the team. He lasted two days before he quit voluntarily. My biggest mistake ever was a in the midst of a consulting contract many years ago, where I had to put together a small team for a three-month project. I hired a guy who would bill 10 hours a day, but his output volume was terrible. It was technically correct, but we weren't going to deliver anything useful on the budget we had, and I let that go for weeks. Lesson learned.

So what's the real "secret?" I would narrow it down to a few simple things:

  • Do the gap analysis. What can't your team do that you need it to do? Now plus it a bit. If you need someone with deep experience in a certain framework, look for that person, but with extras. The soft skills are the best extras, and peripheral tech skills help too. It's OK to aim high here.
  • Always ask in the phone screen about their learning process. You'll sniff out the fakers quickly this way. Anyone who can't describe how they learn a new thing isn't evolving. Learning is the first stage in problem solving, and if they can't convince you that they're good at that, run the other way.
  • Understand their mentoring relationships. If you're hiring a newbie, find out how they have taken advantage of people willing to teach them. If you're hiring an expert, find out how they make people around them better. What you really don't want is the person who goes heads-down and just churns through assignments without interaction.
  • Value business and customer empathy. I know that the stereotypes of technical people imply all kinds of nerdy constructs that lack social skills, but that's nonsense. The best software people want the "why" in what they do, and want to connect to it. This makes for better outcomes every time.
  • Be thorough in the technical assessment process. Most medium to larger companies have a process for this, but if it's small or a startup, you'll have to design that process. Don't do the bullshit brainteaser dotcom nonsense, because you're not a psychologist qualified to see "how people think" in a way that usefully improves outcomes.
  • Above all, the most important advice ever given to me was, "Don't settle." If I look honestly at my bad hires, this is where I really failed. Look, I realize the market favors the workers, but you need to work harder to sell your team to the people who will really improve it.

I don't think that any of those points are unusual, controversial or difficult to arrive at. The environment that you work in definitely makes a difference though. Companies that are not software companies (well, a lot of the time they are and they don't realize it) tend to look at people as interchangeable cogs, which of course they're not. At a company that nerds hard, you don't have the pressure of simply filling seats.

This is my art, yours may vary. Be patient, don't cut off your ear.

(Disclaimer: These are my opinions, and not any kind of official platform of any employer, past or present.)


What I did for Christmas vacation

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 3, 2021, 10:16 PM | comments: 0

I took off starting Christmas Eve for 11 straight days of not working. It's the most continuous time I've taken off of work in more than four years. Ordinarily I wouldn't take off that much time unless I was traveling somewhere cool, but I had to use some days or lose them, and that wouldn't be OK. This year I took off a week in July, but only a few long weekends since that time. It seems a little easier to go that long when you like your job, but you need to get away from it from time to time. I can quite honestly say that I go back to work tomorrow feeling refreshed.

What did I do? I guess the biggest thing is that I finally got SillyNonsense on the air. I'm not sure if what we put together is any good, and I'm even less sure that I care, because it just feels good to make things. And the YouTube channel only needs 995 more subscribers before I can start making tens of dollars! I've got video to edit for another 11 episodes, and some ideas for others. I think I want to commit to making 26 for the year, and see where that leads.

The first thing I did on vacation was pick up Diana from a car accident, and that wasn't a fun start to things. Still haven't heard back about whether or not the car is totaled, but it took a few nights before I could sleep continuously, not thinking about what would have happened if it was more serious. Diana is what keeps shit together around here, and Simon and I love her very much, as one would expect.

I did a ton of reading. I bought a Javascript reference book, actually on paper and to replace the edition I had from 15 years ago, so I could catch up on all of the stuff I fake my way through. I've got a new hire starting this week who is fantastic and a front-end expert, and I don't want to be a total ignoramus around him. I read a few papers on Keynesian economics, believe it or not, because I'm fascinated by the theories around the government's role in stabilizing economic systems. I also started plowing through Obama's most recent book. Unlike the memoirs published by his predecessors (Clinton's rambles aimlessly, Bush's is a bit of an indulgent sorry-not-sorry interpreted by a ghost writer), Obama is a surprisingly good storyteller. He's very self-aware and confident at the same time.

I wrote very little code, just enough to keep up my weekly contribution streak. I have some ideas for my next big project, but it probably won't be another open source thing. We'll see.

I finally built the Lego Star Wars Mos Eisley Cantina. It's very cool, and has a ton of mini-figures. Of course I time-lapsed it, so I'll post that eventually on the new channel. Maybe I'll try to bang that out this week.

We had a strange Christmas, where we put up a Zoom link and kept it open all day, inviting anyone who wanted to drop in to do so. Our Seattle counterparts were on with us pretty much for five straight hours, and my friend from DC dropped in for a long bit as well. On a different day, we opened Zoom while playing a four-way Halo slayer session, with me and Simon here in the OC and my BIL and nephew in Seattle. Microsoft had a sale on Xbox Game Pass for $1 for three months, so I actually spent some time playing a few different games. Forza Horizon is a lot of fun, in fact.

Maybe most importantly, I took some naps, and several times, put on the noise-cancelling headphones and just closed by eyes and got lost in music. Those are such great ways to relax and recharge.

Last night, we went out to Give Kids The World Village to check out their holiday lighting, the weirdest fundraiser in the weirdest times. They had to close the village earlier in the year because with the theme parks closed and not having any idea how to safely host families, many of whom have immunocompromised kids, they really couldn't operate. So Disney donated lights and their furloughed employees donated time to dress up the central buildings and villas with 3 million lights, and they invited people to buy tickets and see the place. Think about it, the public generally can't just stream into the place when families are staying there, so it was a unique situation. They're going to resume partial operations, with tons of consultation from our local children's hospital and the safety advice of the parks, in a few weeks.

It was a solid week and a half, if you don't count the accident. We're going to do a "working" vacation at a beach house soon, meaning Simon will remote school and I'll still work, but with an ocean view. In the April time frame, I hope we can do something similar. In the summer, if the vaccine rollout makes significant progress, maybe we can finally do something resembling normal travel. Wouldn't that be nice?


Canon lens mount change

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 3, 2021, 5:19 PM | comments: 0

I can't even tell you how much computer stuff I've cycled through in the last 25 years, and technology stuff in general. What has lasted for more time than I ever could have expected though is my Canon camera lenses. The trusty EF mount has been around since 1987.

And it might soon be obsolete.

I bought my first Canon camera, the Elan IIe, a film body, around 1998-ish, I think, and it had an EF mount. I had two different digital bodies with crop sensors until I bought the full-frame 5D in 2008, and the crop 7D the year after (because it makes video). I still have both of those cameras, and with them I've shot thousands of photos. I've done vacations, landscapes, engagements, 5K's, parties, babies and even my own wedding (well, a friend did the shooting with my gear). Now, 12 years later, I still have those cameras and I still use them. What other technology lasts that long?

Back to the lenses... Canon's best lenses, the faster ones that are sharper and more versatile, they designate with an "L" in the name. I bought by first L lens, the 70-200mm f/4L, in 2006. In retrospect, it was a steal for $600. I bought the 5D body in a kit with the 24-105mm f/4L IS, easily the most versatile and awesome lens ever made, in my opinion. It has spent more time on my cameras than the other lenses combined. Again, what else can I get great use out of after 12 years?

In 2013, I bought the 17-40mm f/4L as a gift to myself for working a ridiculous contract job as long as I could stand it, but also so I could experiment more with wide-angle video and landscape photos. It's just extraordinary when used with the 5D. It's neat to stand in front of a tall building and photograph the whole thing so close.

My least-credited lens is my trusty 50mm f/1.4, which is not an L lens (it feels kinda cheap, in fact), but it makes those pretty portrait photos with short depth-of-field in a way that still looks far better than the algorithmic simulation of that look by Google and Apple on phones. You can't quite fake it accurately.

All of that gear definitely appears a little weathered, but it all still works. In fact, I bought my video camera in part because it works with those lenses. My old video camera even works with those lenses (with a mount adapter). But after a 33-year run, it looks like Canon will not be introducing any new EF lenses, as they appear to be transitioning to the RF lens mount for use with their new mirrorless cameras. The flagship of that line is the R5, a body that has a crazy 45 megapixel sensor and can shoot 8K video 10-bit video (until it overheats, at least).

If I ever flip to an RF camera, and I don't think there's a lot of hurry for that, there are adapters that let you use your EF lenses, official and made by Canon. My aging lenses can easily go another decade! But it definitely is something of a new era, that's for sure. It also makes me wonder, OK, what would I buy going forward?

This is where the Internet gets in the way of opinions since I'm only a hobbyist. I deeply admire Philip Bloom, because the dude can make great video from almost any tool. I mean, he made a short film with a Barbie doll camera. But because he does this for a living, he doesn't really have to choose between his Canon, Sony, Fuji and whatever gear, because he has it all. He's gone all-in with the new Canon gear, and he has a whole lot of EF lenses. I don't have that luxury, because I can't easily justify spending on a bunch of gear that's just for the hobby.