Archive: December, 2019

Cynicism is a cop out

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 12, 2019, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

I think there's reason enough to be cynical about, well, everything, given the current political climate. We have a president who asks a foreign government to influence the election and people who defend it, people treat science as if it were something to believe in and seemingly everyone who aligns with a faction is a victim. It's exhausting.

But I think that cynicism is the easy way out. It requires no commitment, no action, no accountability, no further conversation. It's a cop out.

Professionally, I've seen this more times than I can count. One gig in particular, I remember a guy who was cynical about everything we asked him to do, as a means to improve the quality of his work and the team's as a whole. He didn't try it, had no alternative suggestions. It's easy to write something off when you don't participate. It's like people who believe that voting doesn't matter. When enough people are apathetic, assholes get elected.

Or look at the completely bizarre backlash by full grown adults against the 16-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg. Even if for a moment you think that judging a teenage girl on the autism spectrum is constructive or OK, it's fairly insane to write her off as a self-serving attention whore. I don't even know how you get to be that cynical, let alone forget how everything is a high alert emotional issue when you're 16.

There aren't many personality traits that really put me off, but cynics are the worst. Mind you, there's a difference between cynicism and healthy skepticism. The latter likely means that you're willing to at least consider a scenario, not blow it off and refuse to engage.

I think it's reasonable with age to become more pragmatic, but also self-aware enough to see that everything is subject to nuance. Most people, it seems, instead get more ingrained in their thinking and shut off themselves to new input. Cynicism is where your open mind goes to die.


My job is hard, but it ain't show business

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 10, 2019, 6:25 PM | comments: 0

There are definitely days and weeks where I feel like my job is difficult to the point of mental exhaustion. But as I've gotten to know some of Diana's friends still working in theater, and indeed social media stalking (figuratively) various performers from shows we've seen, it's clear to me that my job is a piece of cake by comparison. The fundamental difference is that I don't have to continually convince others of my worth just to work.

I'm talking about auditioning. Few jobs, if any, are really permanent in show business. Even if you land a gig in a long-running Broadway show, you have a contract that will not last forever. Maybe you get in early on a show, and you get to workshop it and do an out-of-town preview, and then the show runs nine months and ends because it's not making enough money. And as Diana will tell you, that's not just the on-stage performers, that's everyone, including those Equity stage managers and IATSE guys back stage.

As each gig ends, you have to then fight for the next. Yeah, the technical jobs are hard enough, but performers need to stand in front of people, look their best, convey a personality, potentially sing and/or dance, and hope to be "better" than a hundred other people that they see. And some of it might be on totally superficial attributes, like your weight, your abs or how pretty you are. Most of the time you don't get the job, which probably hurts more than usual, especially if you imagine it had something to do with your appearance.

I admire the people who can do it and stick with it, because constantly feeling kicked in the balls, seeing a therapist and trying not to take it all personally would be exhausting. On the flip side, as difficult as it is, I'm always taken by the way the folks in that industry express all of the feels that come with collaborating with people and doing something that can deeply move others. Heck, sometimes that feeling is at its most intense around the time that it ends. You don't get that in most jobs, and it sounds amazing.

I deeply appreciate the people in performing arts who are able to share their gifts with others. I just hope that the constant rejection is worth the eventual pay off for those who make it and are a part of something amazing.


Building out a new product

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 8, 2019, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

About two months ago I wrote that I was working on a hosted version of my forum app, for fun and profit. Naturally I hate on myself a little because I haven't made huge progress on moving it forward, but when I look at the commit history, I've actually done quite a bit. The recurring charge stuff is working, and it's sending email about purchases, too. I got an email last night for a test forum that I "bought" a month ago, and the test charge was logged with the payment processor. Neat!

As I've written a hundred times, my hobby business happened by accident, and ad-sponsored content doesn't pay anymore. Heck, PointBuzz has slightly more users than last year, but they look at less stuff and what they do look at is mostly on mobile devices, which doesn't pay. But I like having a side hustle, I just liked it better when it could pay my mortgage with it! So I've dusted off the experience from a number of different jobs over the last two decades and started applying it. The product side of any business has always been something that I've kind of half-assed in terms of my role, with varying degrees of success. Even in my current job, there were some obvious structural things I could see that needed to change when I started, but I was relieved when there were people dedicated to the cause of product development. The fun part for me is still nerding on technology and building teams.

This hosted forum app has gone largely as I expected. The 80/20 rule is as present as ever, where 80% of the work goes toward 20% of the value, and vice versa. Indeed, that first fifth of work lit up most of what I needed to make the project a product. Now I'm trying to be ruthless in deciding what parts are really necessary to ship, and what can wait. As I look at my backlog, there is a ton of stuff that definitely adds polish and shine, but I don't need it. I can already take money and automate the provisioning for customers. I can even prove they'll get charged monthly.

The rules are different for where you are in the lifecycle of the product, too. Seeing as how I currently have zero customers, I'm a long way from even proving that anyone wants this. Later on, when I have a few and they can tell me what they need, I can respond to that and have a great deal more focus. If I can score 75 customers, I can bring on help. At that point, I can also generate large data sets to really understand how people use it, and be even more focused on what is working and what isn't.

For now though, I'm starting from nothing, and that's kind of fun. It's also simple, which makes it ideal for a hobby. There are plenty of hard things to tackle in my day job.

Next up on my agenda, I need to cancel recurring payments, allow users to update credit card info, and allow the customers to choose a theme or insert their own style. None of these are terribly hard, they just require time. It feels like a legitimate thing though that I can bring to market. I don't have expectations for it, which might be a mistake, but if a dozen customers sign up, at least I can cover the car payments. That's not a bad hustle.


Our energy consumption in the last year

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 5, 2019, 11:15 PM | comments: 0

I think about energy a lot. In most of the world, energy consumption is connected to carbon emission, which is causing climate change at a frightening rate. Science gives no fucks about whether or not you believe this. Facts are still facts. If you trust politicians over scientists, I question your judgment. We've been on something of a quest to see if we could change our own contribution to this mess, and unintentionally have done so in the context of not significantly changing our lifestyle.

This experiment is largely attached to the bigger things in our immediate control. For example, I can control decisions about having solar and electric cars, but I can't control the carbon impact of the supply chain that gets groceries to Publix. I'm not convinced that it's possible for individuals to have massive impact in this way, and that it takes a wider effort with a carbon tax or other disincentive to do things in a non-sustainable way. (If you don't believe that would be effective, tell me about how tobacco use has gone the last half-century.)

Our first change began more than five years ago when we leased our first EV. We fully committed nine months after that, and we bought our last gallon of gas about four and a half years ago. The price of electric vehicles has decreased continually in this time. Looking at it strictly from a range perspective, our first Nissan Leaf in 2014 cost about $642 per mile (if you were buying outright and there was no tax incentive). In 2018, the Tesla Model 3 cost about $161 per mile. That's fairly radical change in a short period of time. Economy of scale will keep forcing that down. I've written elsewhere about why driving an EV is something we can all do if cost was not a factor.

In the summer of 2018, we installed solar on our roof. We felt this was pretty necessary because it's an unnecessarily large house for three people. Mind you, it's very lived in, I work from home some percentage of the time, Diana has her quilting studio and Simon spreads out because he's 9. But still, we could live in less. All that space requires a lot of air conditioning, and we use as much as 2,500 kWh during the hottest months (about 400 of that is for the cars). It's a 10kW system, which isn't enough to cover our usage over the course of a year, factoring in net metering. (What that means is that the excess we generate during the day feeds back into the grid, and we're charged for what we pull minus what we push.) We have a good snapshot now of what our yearly cycle looks like. The red is net pull from the grid, the blue is the solar part.

This works out to about 57% solar. If you removed the car component, which is about 5,000 kWh per year, we would cover 75% of our usage per year. Realistically, we could have spent more on a 12 or 14 kW system, but our roof angles aren't ideal enough for that. Buying a smaller house would have been the better play! Still, given current electric rates, our return-on-investment period, basically the time required to recoup the cost of the solar system itself by the power it generates, is about 9 years and 4 months, after which the power is "free."

It's a little tricky to figure out the impact of driving the EV's relative to the electric generation, but consider this. An EV already reduces the yearly carbon output by 3 or 4 metric tons per car, and we have two of them. Now, a little less than half of the electrons going into the cars comes from the electric utility, which is at least 85% powered by fossil fuels. However, as I've written previously, economy of scale for that electricity generation results in at least two-thirds less carbon emissions per mile, so accounting for our solar generation in that, we're looking at a reduction of emission by at minimum 85% by driving EV's that get more than half of their power from the sun. That's huge.

The biggest takeaway from all of this is that the technology exists today to live our lives on sustainable energy, and the cost difference to do so is closing so fast that the only thing preventing us from getting to 100% is the utility and fossil fuel lobby. Our next door neighbor, Walt Disney World, is now 50% powered by solar. Kauai gets 90% of its daytime power from utility scale and individual solar, and with battery power and more installations, improves every year. The change will happen, it's just a question of whether it will happen fast enough to change the path of climate change that will put Miami under water and Europe into longer winters.

Distributed generation is such an obvious future. I wish states would incentivize developers to do solar and battery plots in each new subdivision. Can you imagine how robust power could be if it didn't require thousands of miles of wires to get power to you? We've got the transportation thing figured out, even if it isn't widely adopted yet, so widespread renewable generation is next. Costa Rica gets nearly all of its electricity from renewables, but unfortunately hasn't cracked the oil consumption from transportation.


Cameras haven't changed much in two years

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 1, 2019, 11:35 PM | comments: 0

I spent a good portion of the holiday weekend working on my hosted forum project. With my recent anxiety issues, it was nice to dive into something that I enjoy, and something that felt like a new chapter in my hobby business instead of the same thing I've been messing with for 20 years. It made me realize though that I haven't done much of anything with my old video hobby in a really long time. The last time I really geared up my camera was more than two years ago. One of the big problems is that my lens mount adapter stopped working (a Redrock Micro thing that was never that reliable), so I'm limited to just one lens.

Earlier in the year I was looking at the gear out there, and circling back, I'm surprised to find that nothing much has really changed. The cameras I liked are cheaper now, but they've been around for two years now and nothing has replaced them. There are some expensive 6K and 8K cameras available, but right now there's no realistic reason someone like me would ever need that many pixels. I'm still pretty in love with the Canon C200, which I got to touch and play with at B&H when we were in New York in April. I just don't see any opportunity to buy one. It seems like there are always big expenses we're incurring the last few years, or I'm intent on saving.

My old Panasonic AF100 is over seven-years-old now. I think it can make pretty pictures, but a new lens adapter would cost $650 and I don't think I want to sink money into something that old. I think they stopped making it four or five years ago. Maybe we'll see another price drop in the near future.


The anxiety is serious

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 1, 2019, 2:30 PM | comments: 0

One of the great realizations of my life came to me after my divorce, when I realized that my career, and really life in general, had generally just happened to me without much in the way of deliberate action on my part. The reason that this felt problematic at the time seemed pretty obvious. I had not accounted for any future financially, I bought a house and got married because it seemed like the next things to do, I wandered into a career somewhat accidentally, and I certainly had not taken very good care of myself physically.

Over the next few years, I could see how the passive approach to life was not ideal. I worked in a job that had limited opportunity for growth, impulsive spending in my 20's put me in a fragile position and I dated ambitious women who had goals. I was limited only by myself, and that wasn't a good feeling. It was a turning point where I tried to be more intentional about things. There were definitely some mistakes here and there, but none of them were permanent.

The funny thing about being intentional about your life is that, unlike letting it happen to you, anxiety comes easier. Keep in mind, I'm about as far from a Type-A over-achiever as possible. I'm not a box checker or obsessed with winning or even the appearance of winning. But becoming a parent in particular changes your priorities, since it isn't just you that you have to look out for. Then age creeps up on you, and you have to consider how much time you have left. The age also changes you physically, starting with annoying ear hair and then messing with your cholesterol and blood pressure. Oh, and staying healthy isn't just for you, it's for your family. Work gets interesting if you've gone from maker to manager, because then you're responsible for others. I add an additional layer to it all by wanting to create things in my spare time that have value.

In the last two years, I've found that the anxiety that I've been experience is taking a toll. I don't recognize myself sometimes. I don't allow myself to indulge in many things strictly for me, and I worry about a hundred things that are not in my immediate sphere of influence. The worst thing is that I will beat myself up over taking a nap on the weekend, that most glorious 30 (or 40) minutes where I actually can turn my brain off and relax, because I'm not doing something more "productive."

I've had enough therapy over the years to know that the best way to combat this is to be present in the moment (there's a whole future post about that). Heck, that's even the focus of Simon's therapy right now. This used to come so easy to me, where I could just sit somewhere and tune out. Now I have to pull myself out of the usual environment to make that happen (cruises are good for this), or enter one so over-stimulating that I have to pay attention (theme parks, especially with friends). All I know is that I'm often in the midst of a non-remarkable day and my body and brain is on high alert, and that's exhausting.

The long Thanksgiving weekend has given me a little perspective that was sorely needed. Mental health is a product of environment, chemistry, genetics and choices. Some of those are easier to change than others, but importantly, you have to know that you can act on them. I resolve to spend more time being present, which by sheer math leaves less time to be anxious about things.