So my office recently announced that we'll be returning to the office. A fig leaf of "hybrid" is still offered - we can work from home 1 day per week. Any day we want!
The nominal reason is to foster improved collaboration by strengthening our interpersonal culture. And there is no denying that onboarding new people is very much harder when most of the 60+% of the workforce is remote on any random day.
Instead of a point-by-point comparison of methodologies and circumstances that used to work in-person versus those that work remotely, let me just point out the simple fact that nobody has been prevented from coming in to the office. Some do, but most do not. We're all very smart adults, and have clear ideas for what works best for us, and have obviously made our choices. We are not being consulted.
So, the question becomes - why do our corporate leaders think they know better than us?
Hypothesis 1: Occam's Razon
Our executives think they are in their positions because they are smarter and more capable than most others, and therefore their theories about productivity and work/life balance have implicit clout outweighing everyone else.
Maybe they're right. Perhaps we'll find out.
Hypothesis 2: Dinosaurs
It's how they did it when they were the doers, and they don't like things being different. It's scary. Plus all the people who are actively climbing the corporate ladder directly beneath them all agree!
Worth noting is that mammals have only been nominally dominant for a few tens of millions of years (ignoring the superior total mass and probable durability of insects), while dinosaurs lumbered along for well over a hundred million years. Inertia is a motherfucker.
Hypothesis 3: Insecurity
How can managers manage if they're denied most of the tools they've gotten accustomed to using? Leadership and inspiration can only work on people they intrinsically understand, and all the slackers will find ways to shirk doing their fair share.
Except, of course, as the brilliant Mark Moyes once said, "I'm perfectly capable of getting nothing done at my desk." Babysitting is a less effective tool than some might hope.
Hypothesis 4: Piles Of Beans
There sure is a lot of theoretical value in the fixed assets of these large office buildings. If they become overtly and obviously a waste of resources, it sure would be a huge loss - on paper. Watching the city repossess large buildings and turning them into affordable housing and civic spaces must be horrifying to the company accountants.
If it costs the thousands of employees an average of 5 hours per week of unpaid commuting time (plus gas and vehicular wear), that's better than the company risking losing the value of its real estate. Right?
While I haven't had a regular printer for a while, as actual need to have paper copies of things has gotten very infrequent, in a reciprocal way I've been far too slow to get a 3D printer. This has now been rectified.
Let there be random plastic thingies!
The things we like about the car (we're calling CUV's just "cars" now, right?) vastly outnumber the quibbles. It drives well, carries everyone and the dog as necessary, and has all the options we need.
And I need to accept that there are many things about the Tesla that have me both a) acclimated to a certain way of doing things, and b) spoiled.
In no particular order, here are The Quibbles:
No Battery Pre-Conditioning
This is an idiotic oversight. The ability for a lithium-ion battery pack to accept charge is directly related to the temperature of the pack. The VW ID-platform has active battery temperature management, so this is obviously possible. This makes the difference between <50kW charging and >150kW charging, which is kind of the point of having access to DC fast charging in the first place.
The APP Sucks
I mean, at least there's an app to verify simple shit like whether the car is locked or what the state of charge is. But after getting accustomed to the deep and intuitive integration of the Tesla app, this feels cheap and lazy. Ideally I'd like it to act as the key for the vehicle - in fact that might almost qualify this as a double-quibble. I don't like having to carry another chonky key fob. Especially one with a "set off the alarm now" button placed such that I can accidentally activate it by sitting down.
Everyone On The UX Team Should Be Sat Down And Told To Think About What They Did
The main inputs to driving the car - steering, braking, accelerator - are generally pretty good (exceptions listed separately). That probably has more to do with the chassis design team though. Because everything else is weak-sauce output from a series of committees that clearly hated each other and were playing stupid internal-political games.
- Why the fuck don't the motorized mirrors coordinate with the seat/user memory settings?
- Who the fuck thought it would be a good idea to interrupt the already-slow boot sequence of the infotainment to make the driver press "OK" every fucking time?
- Any control that you have to take your eyes off the road to use is totally wasted as a separate button/control. Sure capacitive touch buttons are neat - on kitchen appliances. But when I'm fumbling around for a control while I'm driving, I don't want the "looking for the control" to directly translate into "activating every fucking thing I touch".
- Having only two window switches to control both front and rear windows is the result of a deeply stupid person having too much input. Yeah - cute idea, but just no. I fucking hate accidentally bumping the invisible capacitive touch button that changes to controlling the rear. But even more, I philosophically loath that they took a simple 4-switch control with 100% intuitive interface and made it need a logic board to hilariously discover new ways to go wrong.
- The media buttons on the steering wheel are regular controls turned 90° for no good reason. Normal controller: UP = increase volume, DOWN = decrease volume, RIGHT = next track, LEFT = go back a track. But for some fucked up reason, I now get to press UP to go back, DOWN to skip forward, RIGHT to increase volume, and LEFT to decrease volume. Fuck you, VW UX team.
Creep Mode: Make. It. Go. Away.
Or at least optional, yeah? I get that it makes the operation familiar to low-skill people transitioning from shitty automatic transmissions. Cool. But for those of us who preferred manuals, and now delight in the directness and finesse of electric drivetrains, you're just making shit bad with no benefit.
Brake Hold Won't Let Go
Yes, I like it when pressing the brake a bit extra when stopped that the vehicle will continue to hold the brake for me. But in the VW, it won't let go unless I press the accelerator. This is fine at a stop light or some such. But when I'm carefully navigating down a slope this is lurch-o-matic. This is extra exacerbated by the no-option creep mode. At least the brake hold CAN be turned off by a crude intervention in the infotainment system, but really it should be able to be dismissed with a repeated brake pedal press.
Secret Charger Unlock Method
It makes sense not to trust the unknown charger connector, and totally avoid any chance of an arc flash by locking the connector in place - even if it indicates that it means to disconnect. But having the method for releasing the suspicious charger connector be a secret staccato code on the key fob is infuriating when the standard glitch reset sequence for the vast majority of charging networks is "unplug and replug in vehicle".
Despite all the drama with fumbling the ability to put the epic bike rack on any functional bike-hauling vehicle, we gave up and just Tetrised the bikes into the back of the Flex to make it happen.
A warm but-not-too-warm morning with gorgeous dappled light, Simon and Violet immediately exceeded my expectations by gamely trying to pedal up the climb hill. We kept exclusively to Laura's Line and the section of Lower Hide&Seek from the power lines down to the road.
It was amazeballs. Sharing the Church of Dirt with them unlocked a spiritual sense of harmony and joy.
Violet had two crashes. The first right off the bat, and it was hard enough to knock the wind out of her and scrape her up. But a bandaid later and she was gamely riding through the rollers and berms. The second was at the very end - at the very same berm. Except that time she rolled with the wipeout, left a Violet-shaped crater, and laughed like the unstoppable monster she is.
The tradition of DQ after riding with Simon has now been extended to Violet as well, and it was good.
My only regret is not taking any pictures. I try to forgive myself by acknowledging that I was very much living in the moment the whole time.
Amy's main gift for her birthday this year was an XBOX, and she didn't want to wait for her actual birthday to start playing with it. So last week we broke it out after we dropped off the kids with their mom, and proceeded to play a whole bunch of video games. I've never had any kind of console game system myself, so it has been hilariously intoxicating to play with Amy on a bunch of games in our living room. A couple are throwbacks to my PC simulation games of yore, a hilariously frustrating puzzle game, and a couple driving games. The stand-out driving game we got was Forza 5.
We started calling playing Forza "drunk driving" both because of how bad at it we are with the basic game controllers, but also because it was funny to take turns playing while also sipping alcoholic beverages. The game is simply beautiful, with a rather good physics engine, so it's enjoyable to feel immersed in the wildly bad driving experience. Perhaps exactly because of how bad we were at controlling the vehicles meant that we often found ourselves off-road, which in turn lent itself to having better experiences with the off-road-capable vehicles. The early champion of this realm is the Ford Bronco that you start the game in.
So much fun was had tromping around in this virtual Bronco that we asked ourselves, "what would driving a real Bronco be like?" So, for shits and giggles, we set out last Friday to the local Ford dealer to take a Bronco out for a turn behind the real wheel. It did not disappoint - we both liked it a lot.
Except for, you know, reality - the price, the fuel efficiency, and the overall poor ability to meet our second vehicle needs. But while there on the Ford lot, we found ourselves facing the truth that we were sick of dealing with shitty old cars. We have most of what we wanted to have saved up for the ID.Buzz already, so starting to have a payment now could be handled without difficulty. Plus, we could trade in the hard-to-sell T4 van for sufficient downpayment on whatever we decided made sense.
After staring into the abyss of Ford offerings, we toddled over to the nearby VW dealer to see about their inventory of ID.4's. Because they share the basic architecture with the ID.BUZZ that we intend to have, so it could be an opportunity to get familiarized with that. And it just so happened that they had a lease deal that would carry us nicely until we get project:LEELOO¹.
And here we are, with yet another vehicle.
Now all we have to do is:
- Sell the stupid Flex.
- Install a 2" hitch to attach the bike rack.
- Get a home charging solution that doesn't suck.²
¹ "project:LEELOO" is the provisional ID.BUZZ name - so far
² The car comes with 3 years free charging at Electrify America, so this is actually a somewhat lower-priority need.
Today kicks off the first day of my 3-week summer break, in which I plan to...
Hm. You know, I'm not totally sure what.
Nominally, I'll figure out a way to strap the monster bike rack to the Rusty Pig and take the kids out for some adventures discovering biking. And I mean to do a bit of writing. And we plan to do a tonne of D&D. Maybe a trip up the mountain with Zora. Plus wrapping up with Amy's and Violet's birthdays.
But, really, those are possible waypoints instead of a packed itinerary.
I spent entirely too much time this past week being crushed under work stress, and I definitely don't feel free of its grip yet. That's probably the main thing I need to figure out - by means of engaging with mindfully existing in a bunch of non-work moments.
It's worth noting that on the very first weekend of said vacation, I was called by my manager asking me to consult on a testing issue. Having consulted, I'm not struggling with worry about the all-new problem encountered by the project. Goddamn work stress is persistent.
During the legitimately delightful Death Cab For Cutie concert this past week, front man Ben Gibbard mentioned that the place they just came from was Vancouver BC. While they were leaving the hotel, they mentioned that they going to Portland Oregon. To which the random person warned, "Be careful, they have Antifa there."
Ben rolled that into a hilarious battle cry, engaging the zeitgeist of the progressive front of the culture war perpetuated by the über-rich and their frightened conservative hordes. And I'm sufficiently skeptical that I found myself wondering if this was a real encounter or merely a means to an audience-connecting trope.
But there's no denying that exactly that sentiment exists. "Antifa" has become a sort of "they started it" boogeyman to counterpoint the awful shit skinheads and police do.
Yet the first thing I found myself asking this supposed Vancouverite is, "As opposed to what, exactly?" Nazis? Or Nazi sympathizers? Because if you're not a Nazi, or a Nazi sympathizer, then you're technically anti-Nazi. Which is anti-fascist. Which is Antifa.
I'm curious to hear how these people conceptualize our various anti-fascist cultural heroes, like Captain America, Indiana Jones, and most of John Wayne's characters. Are they booing and hissing when they watch Indy punching every Nazi he sees? Or are they, as I suspect, grimly clinging to their own personal John Wayne-ness and dream of a glorious previous American Ideal that they do not interrogate in context of a modern reality.
Holy tapdancing fuck. I'm continually left amazed at how the ebb and flow of time management triage tends to weed out things I keep assuming I'll find time for eventually - like running, bike rides, writing, and drawing.
I know intellectually that it's a matter of making time for these things. I also know that in order to make it consistent it needs to become habitual. Now, if only knowing a thing made enough of a difference to make it so.
The continual grind of the fear machine, lubricated with falsehoods and fueled by blame, usually has a steady sickening thrum to it. A cloying call for a country that only ever existed in rosy nostalgia and westerns, and vitriolic over-reaction to anything different or complicated.
I recently heard Jon Steward say that Republicans focus on stoking culture wars because they're out of ideas. They have no solutions, only complaints and attempted blame. Which perhaps only rings true because of the total lack of resonance with me their histrionic message generally is.
Still, the recent utterances have me chuckling darkly.
The common refrain is, "People Are Fleeing Democratic Cities".
The stories tend to immediately go on to assert that people are leaving Democrat-run, high-tax, liberal-agenda hubs in big cities in favour of pro-business, conservative regions. And I'm sure we could find some individuals with exactly that motivation, but somehow I doubt it is the majority.
No, I'd be willing to wager that the vast majority of such moves are a combination of housing cost and the new-found ability to do many jobs remotely.
Ignoring for a moment the amusing aspect of the majority of the housing shitfuckery being due to "pro-business" interests, one has to wonder how much "liberal agenda" these fleeing individuals will actually leave behind. Because the long-held majority of people's votes has been held in check by conservatives by gerrymandering. But once the liberal agenda is free to exist across the spread of less-urban space, will scare tactics that work on the already-fearful willing-morons of the Repugnican party still hold as much sway.
As I said: chuckling darkly.
So... AKNOT is whole once again, and runs great.
There is, however, one niggling problem. The excellent mechanics stressed to us once again that it is extremely difficult to get parts for this vehicle. And with that in consideration, it is both hard to need to rely on AKNOT the way that we need to until we can get the ID.Buzz (whenever Volkswagen actually delivers those here) AND a sickening possible cratering of investment. As it is, we are already well past the point where we will be able to recoup all of our resources sunk into AKNOT - however awesome it is at this moment.
This lead to a brief and intensive review of our needs. Plus an uncomfortable reckoning of how much we really want a van - but that all the vans in our price range are either craptacular or not fit for purpose (moving kids and dog). After discovering that some weakly-van-like options are simply too small [AHEM - Honda Element], we stumbled on the hideous functionality that is the Ford Flex.
It's sort of a mega-wagon. Not really a van, because it's not tall enough or utility enough, but also not an SUV, because it has zero swagger and also way to low-slung. The particular incarnation that we snapped up from what appeared to be a chop shop operation has too many blemishes to mention. But should work for us for the duration.
"It was a funny moment."
I know that the nanoscopic robots will eventually clean all my fangs completely, but it's easy to get impatient.
...to be composed on a separate page...
Just to be clear, and as apology for my mouthful of alliteration of a title that made me laugh for no reason¹, the "guy" I'm talking about is Tim Urban - he's the fellow who writes the Wait But Why blog. I love that blog, because Tim has a modality where he gets interested in some random thing and then furiously burrows down to the bottom of that rabbit hole and tells you all about his adventure with bad stick drawings. It appeals to several facets of my overly-nerdy trivia-addicted likes-to-know-stuff personality.
So when he resurfaced recently, saying most of what he had been doing during his reclusion was writing a book, I absolutely knew that I had to read that book. 1) Sounds like an epic rabbit hole. 2) Direct support of a person whose work I appreciate.
It's "What's Our Problem?" - with the tag line "the self-help book for societies". Like, the mother of all rabbit holes. I girded myself, and dove in.
Both aspects of the title are... kinda wrong.
I actually finished reading it a while ago, because I downloaded it the instant it became available. But I've had to spend a little time working through my disappointment and sadness about the book, and its cascade of introspection about my own assumptions.
Much of the content includes things that I already saw in nascent form on WaitButWhy, and remain brilliant bits of thought experiment. And I particularly appreciate the way Tim's way of thinking challenged some of the ways in which I have let myself become lazy with respect to being numb to much of the Republican actions in the culture war / cold civil war.
BUT (and I actually backed up to capitalize that for effect) it falls down pretty fast and hard in the book about half-way though. Full respect for Tim, as he even flags this transition point saying that many people will be unhappy (and awkwardly alludes to there being torches and pitchforks about it). For all his forest of references and assurances about open-mindedness, Tim starts oversimplifying, cherry-picking, and false-equivalancizes (new word trademarked by me) his way to suggesting that the problem is wokeness (whatever that is this week) and a powerful cabal he refers to as Social Justice Fundamentalists.
Which is short-hand for "privileged person wants things to go back to how they were".
I simply don't have the energy to take the time to challenge all the ways I think he's wrong. Aside from proposing that instead of SJF having any significant power that instead some ideas of addressing institutional inequity have become actually fundamentally persuasive because rigorous insight suggest they're uncomfortably true. And I'm a little pissed at Tim for giving me hope that he would have some good suggestions about it. But no. Just fucking painting some whiney shit that agrees with his feelings and no useful ways to address anything.
Then I remembered his posts about Elon Musk. Oh, man, the embarrassing agony of how much I was sucked into that nepo-1-percenter's atrocious bullshit. And Tim helped cement that for me by writing an entire fucking serious of fluff pieces about him. How in the everloving fuck did his utter tool-ness and actual technical cluelessness get conveniently missed? Is it because, oh-I-don't-know, maybe Tim likes to wax extensively about things he wishes were so.
TL;DR - person I identified with, liked², and respected spent a sabbatical to discover that they're actually many of the things I'm frightened about myself being blind about. Boo.
¹ Other things that make me laugh much more than they should for no reason include "Joan of Bark" as a name option for our puppy. Just to put things in perspective for how utterly about my own amusement everything here is.
² That bit being past tense is perhaps a bit silly. I suspect that Tim Urban is still a pretty cool person that I like; I'm just being angsty.
If you can see the image above: Glorious, isn't it?
Well, no, but it certainly seems that way in regards to its core mission: adventure give-few-fucks van. The manual transmission driving experience and nicely german steering feel blow every other cheap van we tested completely out of the water. The chonky tires look badass, even as they give it a bouncier but better-isolated ride. The epic bike rack speaks directly to the core bike-shuttle function of the machine. Getting the passenger side mirror replaced also makes piloting it less difficult while looking less sketchy than the glued-together mostly non-functional previous mirror.
Zora dog in particular has taken to loving riding in the van, as it generally means some adventure where she gets to be with the kids. And the kids, who have distinctly giraffe-like aspects, relish the vast passenger volume they get to ride in.
Plus, it has to be said: the 5-cylinder motor makes delightful sounds that tickle my nostalgia of my 80's Audi coupé and it's inline-5.
BUT - and this is a big but - there are some serious concerns remaining and emerging. There has long been a metallic jingling sound coming from the RHF quadrant during engine load - first guess is a loose heat shield. Now, however, there is a distinct reduction in power available. First guess is fouled fuel filter, questionable air filter, and unknown spark plug condition. And a distinct smell - sometime clutch-like, other times burn oil seeming.
Fortunately, we have an appointment at a mechanic for a comprehensive inspection and to perform any work necessary to make it reliable. And, if they don't blow my van budget, maybe they can help us with nuisance elements, like the unreliable power windows, lame headlights, and the stubborn rearview mirror mount.
What happens in Fairbanks, in March, is generally pretty cold.
She's a Bernedoodle (half Bernese Mountain Dog and half standard Poodle), known for being calm, smart, and mostly hypo-allergenic. Amy loves dogs, and both kids have been wishing for a puppy for quite a long time. And Zora is a font of adoration and emotional support, for the whole family.
I've long asserted that I prefer most dogs to most humans, but have generally been too selfish with my time to become obligated to take care of a dog. But after a decade of being a dad, it feels like it might be a moot point. And holy fucking shit she's adorable.
Doing taxes is weird.
Starting from the premise that it's up to individuals to process their own tax calculations and propose how much they think they should have paid in comparison to how much they may have already paid - when then governing bodies generally already know what this should be automatically. It seems... wasteful. Why not just have the government do the standard re-alignment they do anyways, and give taxpayers an opportunity to argue with it only if they feel there is a worthwhile discrepancy?
Then there's the whole parasitic tax-preparation industry that preys upon the vast majority (including me). The fact that it has successfully lobbied the government to both increase the inscrutability of the tax system and repress the IRS from providing a standardized and free tax entering mechanism is a typically capitalistic kind of awful.
After completing the wasteful/parasitic/labyrinthine preparation process, then comes the amazingly awkward navigation of how to actually get a refund. I just want it in my bank account. Why isn't that the first option? Why isn't that an option on the very first page? Why does it have to be an exercise in futility looking for it, only to realize that the first pages are traps to lure users into another parasitic subscription or fee service.
The simple fact that we can't even avoid making the necessary alignment of taxation with the state non-horrible for most people doesn't build much confidence that we'll be able to accomplish the much harder task to improve the tax code so that the super-rich pay their fair share (again).
Update on our crappy old 1993 VW T4 EuroVan with an I5 and a manual transmission...
Things accomplished on it so far:
- managed to actually pass DEQ, get registered and plated (kind of a long story by itself)
- repaired the rear seat belts to functionality to actually have more than just one passenger
- re-connected the transmission shifter linkage that fell apart/off
- obtained updated wheels + tires
Things needing to get accomplished:
- re-re-connect the transmission shifter linkage, because the previous fix also broke - temporarily re-attached but need to put a new-new bushing in (correctly), investigate getting a new heat shield so the exhaust doesn't melt the bushing and/or a supplementary restrain feature
- get previously mentioned wheels + tires actually mounted, balanced, and installed
- remove the incorrectly installed review mirror stalk - to install the cool new rearview mirror + camera system
- replace the broken passenger side door mirror (part obtained)
- find out why the power door windows aren't working any more
- find out why water is pooling in the passenger door (possibly connected to the broken door mirror)
- replace the stereo head unit so that we can listen to music without the faceplate randomly falling out
- remove the outboard rear-face seat to facilitate loading large loads / bike / dog
- replace seatbelt for inboard rear-facing seat for bonus seating needs
- get a bike rack - because multiple bikes don't actually fit inside
- replace the "cool" aftermarket LED headlights with ones that actually work in the dark
The awkward thing, strategically speaking, is that Amy's lease Jetta is being given back in a couple months. So, in order to avoid having to shell out for another vehicle, it would be nice if the crappy old van (CODENAME: AKNOT) was reliable enough for our occasional parallel-commuting needs. Mostly kid-school deliveries when Amy has to work. The path towards reliability is not meeting our required timeline.
Either I need to stop being driven to becoming a quivering wreck by work stress so I can make shit happen, or we need to find a mechanic to deal with some of our list.
Amazing adventure with Amy, staying at the Empress Hotel, and spending most of a week with Dave and Bonnie. Complete with a hike up Mount Doug and visits to my nominal favourite restaurant in the universe - Pagliacci's.
Team ClaAmy™ is now a legally recognized partnership. ❤️🫀
Last Wednesday (2023.01.04) I was standing at my desk at work when I noticed an un-ignorable ache in the upper-left quadrant of my chest. I rolled my shoulders and arms, to see if I could stretch out whatever kind of muscular knot it was, to no effect. Instead, I started feeling dizzy.
Now, I'm a 50-year-old man who takes medication to avoid having my blood pressure cause heart/brain to explode, so this is a constellation of symptoms I'm pre-disposed to be wary of. So I did what any neurotic out-of-shape health-conscious person would do while in their employer's high-density working lot: I Googled that shit.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Sentient beings of all sorts: the online search results were not reassuring. Quelle surprise.
So I lowered my powered standing desk, plopped myself down on my chair, and started to feel really dizzy - complete with tingling in my hands and fountains of cold sweat. I turned to my trusty design partner - Meredith - and told her vaguely that I didn't feel well and might need some help.
I put my head down in my hands on my desk and proceeded to feel very poorly indeed. Meanwhile, Meredith went full rockstar and called 911 to talk with the operator while also coordinating folks in the vicinity to check for possible supplies and facilitate the EMT's showing up. I feebly sent a barely-coherent text to Amy, and managed to copy/paste her number to my boss to keep her informed.
At no point did I pass out, but I definitely was not highly responsive and quite frightened. The EMT's showed up, and the whirlwind got underway in earnest. It was weird to be rolling out of the office on a gurney, with people staring.
They determined that I was not actively having a heart attack, so there was not a mad rush to the hospital. An IV was inserted for ease of access to my circulatory system, and an ungainly array of patches had been shaved on my chest to facilitate sticky EKG leads, plus my old friend the pressure cuff. Once at the hospital, in additional to constant electro-potential monitoring, blood oxygen saturation, and regular blood pressure monitoring, I also got a several rounds of blood tests (one lost, just to keep it interesting) and some x-rays.
The sum of the efforts determined reasonably conclusively that I did not have any sort of heart attack. And, technically, I appear to be in relatively good cardiovascular health - even my pre-hypertension appeared to be under better control that I had thought.
So, what happened?
Well, first and foremost, I had symptoms that one does not fuck around and find out about.
But in a more direct manner, there are several related elements that might be sufficient to explain everything. The chest ache showed to be very proximal to some broken ribs I suffered just over a year ago, so they might have acting up for the first cold snap since they "healed". The dizziness is very similar to one of the side-effects of the hydrochlorothiazide that I take for high blood pressure - and the night before I had taken a double dose, because I had missed one. The bonus shaking sweats and apparently lack of circulation might have been a panic attack brought on by my fears, and my generally high baseline of work stress.
From here, I need to get on with finding a new Primary Care Physician - so I can do a follow-up. There's going to be some unpleasant amount of fuss going forward at the office. So it goes. It also seems like a timely prompt to keep my wellness as a priority.
Reflecting, 2022 was pretty good for me. And for most of the world, as long as you gloss over Russia's shit-fest invasion of Ukraine, and several awful climate disasters that are a taste of how things are likely to be from now on.
Looking ahead to 2023, there are a few things flagged already:
- getting married to Amy
- weakly honeymoon thing meeting up with Dave/Bonnie in Victoria
- driving around in our old 1993 VW T4 van like a boss
- Death Cab For Cutie concert at Edgefield
- Whistler trip with the Bike Crew
- Middle School for Violet
- High School for Simon
Today is the annual remembrance of my Dad's birthday: Fredmas.
It's also the negative 1-month mark for Amy and I getting married. I think he would have really liked her, and there is some complicated deconstruction to do in my head about what I think he might have thought about getting re-married. But maybe I'll save that difficult bit for some other Rant™ and just focus on the happy part about marrying Amy.
Except that today I finally found out the technical details of the Helion fusion reactor, and I'm very busy having my mind blown. I thought tokamak's were pretty cool, and stellarators were amusing, but this pulse fusion technique is genuinely thrilling.
The main elements that blow my mind (in order of mind-blowing-ness):
- direct output of electrical power - bypassing the need to crudely use heat to run something like a turbine
- simplified fuel - use of relatively-common deuterium and helium instead of ultra-rare tritium (or plutonium, ick)
- massively reduced radioactive byproduct - even compared to tokamaks, and removing the need for beryllium layer
- a demonstration reactor to supply output power in 2024
A couple of half-ideas I scribbled down as notes meant for contemplation and possible inclusion in my as-yet unrealized management theory book.
profits : bonus
The tendency to make an association between a business's profits and employee bonuses is entirely understandable. Both in positive ways and negative ways. The positive association is the idea that when a business has good fortune, that is then trickled down to the employees. The negative association is that a business keeps all the profits, and the employees do not get to share in that extra success. Both viewpoints have their arguments, couched in terms of "fairness".
They're both wrong.
Ever get the feeling that you've done nothing wrong, and more than a few things right, but that it makes no positive impact?
Recently watched Simon Sinek talking about some generational shifts in the workplace. The whole reason I watched it is because I'm nominally a fan of his book "Start With Why", particularly with the concept of inspiration over manipulation. During the talk, he presented a hilariously rose-coloured remembrance of how things were. Where we got our "purpose" from going to church, our "community" from interacting with neighbours, and our "socialization" from [check notes] bowling clubs - and he goes on to lament that these have all faded away such that we're now expecting these things from work.
In the same talk, he also described a sense of loss of trust between employers and employees, bringing up the symbology of the "gold watch". He mentions it to lament how people could feel certain their loyalty would be rewarded, nominally by getting a valuable watch from their employer at an advanced stage of their career. Except that, from what I can tell, the gold watch was always a symbol of disappointment - that "I've given my whole career to this company, and all I get at the end is this watch" at retirement. But this may be tangential.
Clearly this is an emotional expression by Mr. Sinek, utterly unsupported by the long and complicated history of worker's rights. But even more interested to me is how it seems to fail to recognize the aspect in which companies actively try to insert themselves into employee's identity, and are perfectly happy (HR statements taken as "just words") to have other aspects of employee lives atrophy in favour of work focus.
From there, he seems to conclude (or deduce?) that "millennials" are less capable of handling stress (presumably than gen-X or boomers).
Maybe this is intentionally done to build sympathy with tropes that his management-fad target demographic tend to cling to. But it seems that an unwillingness to put up with bullshit is not the same as being less capable of handling stress. Indeed, the accurate recognition of the importance of dealing with stress and not treating having feelings as taboo seems like one of the triumphant elements of the progress of society as a whole.
But maybe Mr. Sinek is falling victim to the all-to-common tendency for seasoned adults to have increased rigidity in their thinking, and to start treating anything that is different as being less good than how they were before.
Maria Popova has been collecting and curating all kinds of eclectic interests and wisdom she shares on her subscription:
This latest edition particularly resonated with me.
I meant to write something - mostly some added work on a story, instead of making myself read too much more of the molar-gnashing (and award-winning) sci-fi I'm currently struggling through.
Fail. Just zombied instead.
Dave and I have had a long-running Game Night, allowing us to keep playing AIF even though we lived in different cities - and then different countries. But last year, after [checks math...] 25-ish years, Dave asked for a break for a while.
Which made sense. It had been a long time being weird loner nerds playing our ultra-violent RPG, and a long list of various life stuff had accreted over the years for us. Taking a breath from long-term time commitments is a chance to re-assess what's healthy for ourselves.
Except for the obvious aspect that Dave is my best friend from the depths of deep time, and having the ability to semi-regularly hang out with him is kind of emotionally important to me. And outside of our "game night", there's just not much of that really going on. We did manage some occasional brief chats in the same time slot as the Game Night, when we were both online, so that's something. But not quite the same mojo as actually doing something creative together.
I managed to drag the kids and Amy up to see the family in Canuckistan this summer, and while there got to visit Dave (and Bonnie) in person. This gave more opportunity to see how Dave was doing, and to plumb the idea of re-starting Game Night. The hook on the lure was to suggest a couple things:
1: Try Dungeons & Dragons 5E, so that Dave could sample it firsthand.
2: Include more people in the game, to improve upon the endless cycles of 1-player games we had been grinding through for decades.
The 5E part wasn't too hard; I had a metric shitte-tonne of unused D&D game ideas too violent to include in the kid games I've been DM-ing. So I kitchen-sinked those all together to make a chimera horror adventure gestalt. [insert pantomime of job-done hand clap-wiping motion]
The "getting more people to play" aspect was the thing we had classically had stumbled on. We met, and agreed on a sort of shotgun approach - meaning just ask everyone who we could think of to play with us. Which, admittedly was a pretty short list.
Amy volunteered immediately, so that was a great relief. Both Dave and I talked about inviting Lou, but both of us independently contemplated it and chickened out, being reluctant to face the rejection directly. I still mean to ask him at some point, as a matter principle. Lou is super cool, and even though I know he's simply too busy to play with us (or do much of anything with us), I'd still like for him to know that he's still welcome join in.
The main win, though, was getting Ulrich to agree to play with us. Finally hearing his voice again, after years of purely text correspondence, was pretty great.
We had a session-0, where we finished off the character generation, and had an initial encounter. It was hilarious goodness. I'm genuinely delighted to have this personally-curated crew of alpha-nerds to play with.
Link might not work for people who are not awesome enough:
Whistler Photo Dump
A long pandemic later, finally managed to make it back to Whistler (and Squamish).
Holy fucking fuck coastal BC is gorgeous.
This kind of adventure is only possible by riding on the coat tails of more dedicated and more prepared friends. Shout out to @gnarthaller for setting everything up, including arrange for a sweet condo to stay, driving most of us up in his sweet adventure van, and being B-Squad leader.
Getting old sucks. I mean, I know I could be in better shape in general, but the difficult realization is that staying in shape went from being effortless in my 20's (when I had time to do it, but didn't really) to being nigh impossible and scary (when I don't really have any spare time, but try hard to work it in systemically).
Mountain biking is very much my adrenal pathway to zen. Even though, in comparison with everyone I ride with, I'm not very good. And even though it is a non-stop lesson in humility. The emotional space the riding creates helps me with pretty much every other facet of my life. It gives me resilience to face difficulties at work, and patience to enjoy time with my kids instead of murdering them, and insight about how savour my life while I'm in it.
The 20-km black-diamond technical climb-ride up to and back from Comfortably Numb was so gorgeous that even though I couldn't appreciate it at the time because of how hard it kicked my ass, it squats in my memory like a nugget of masochistic joy.
UPDATE: there are a few challenges with the yet-to-be-officially-named VW van.
- It did not quiiiiite pass DEQ, so it has a date the The "Fix-Um Haus" to see if we can tweak the tune to reduce the CO2 by 2%. After which we can properly register, plate, and insure the damn thing.
- Then there is the fact that I need to fix a bunch of seatbelts...
- Also, I'd like to pull out the rear-facing jump seat next to the sliding door - to better facilitate the loading of my giant-ass bike into the insufficiently-folding rear bench seat area.
- Then we get to do fun upgrades like wheel/tires and a bitchin' bike rack.
My work To-Do list involves temporal paradoxes.
So, now that we've sold VANTACULUS (the Wee Van), we've been contemplating what we should be getting for Operation DEATH BOX.
Ford Econoline E350
The big chungus option, assuming one can find an acual passenger version. The work van version is much more plentiful option, but even though I could technically bolt in seats for the children, it would absolutely suck for them for road trips. While the full size van would rock the utility function in perpetuity, the thirsty V8 (and occasionally, V10) would mean some serious struggling for the short term need for commuting. They look like bricks, but not in a good way.
STATUS: Still technically in contention.
In all honesty, this was my frontrunner when starting the search. Japanese reliability, plus Honda driving dynamics, and I think they look rather smart. Then we went to look at one, and things went wrong. It was discovered that the Oddessey has "touchy" power sliding side doors, which would definitely go wrong for my little idiots. Then we found that the second row seats can't really fold out of the way enough to fit the mountain bikes. In fact, there is some significant doubt about 3 mountain bikes fitting at all.
STATUS: Not currently being considered, and somewhat bitter about it.
The more-reliable near-era Japanese option. I've superficially been not looking for these because A) I think they're ugly, and B) the ex-step-MIL drove one and it scarred me forever. Dimensionally, this van should be approximately the same interior space as the Oddessey, so there is doubt about its ability to accomplish the bike-hauling mission.
STATUS: Technically still being considered, but possibly as a last option.
I know. I KNOW. Shitty Chrysler product is like deciding to buy some lucky mechanic a new boat, and to abstain from joy while doing it.
BUT, here me out. These horror-filled boxes of poorly-considered cheap plastic have considerably more room inside, thanks to the Stow-and-Go™ capabilities. Plus, because they are generally considered to be shittier, it is possible to get a much newer specimen, which would allow some increased modern amenities - like back up camera and bluetooth. And while I can't stop seeing the design-by-committee, Amy likes how they look.
STATUS: Probably, unfortunately, the frontrunner.
These are all older, and due to their charm, much more expensive for what they technically are. However, they are bubble-era Japanese builds, which is famously high quality. They would be fun(ner) to drive, thanks to the rear wheel drive. And the funky way the rear seats fold up and the second row swivel to face the rear might - just might - provide enough room to haul all the bikes and kids.
STATUS: Hopeful saviour from Chryslery Doom.
Haven't been biking enough this year because of stupid reasons - mostly just insufficient free time and too many obligations. But managed to go up to Sandy Ridge today with the Friar and the Send Bro. It was so fucking good. I'm slow, and I'm weak, but thanks to the magic of the e-bike was able to not kill myself on the climbs and volunteer us for a second excellent lap.
Which reminds me - I still need to reserve a DH bike for Whistler in a couple weeks. Yikes - I'm so not ready for that.
Sold the kei-class Mitsubishi Minicab Bravo today.
It's possible that it is actually a victim of its own success. The nominal purpose of the wee van was to haul mountain bikes, and if getting to ride in the wee van meant riding mountain bikes, both of my kids wanted in on the action. Unfortunately, the wee van only has room for 2 people + 2 bikes. So the wee van just isn't big enough to carry us all.
Plus there is the small difficulty with travelling at freeway speeds. And a total lack of safety equipment. And an inability to start in cold weather. And a lack of basic creature comforts.
Anyway, there needs to be a replacement crappy van to suit the increased crew + cargo requirements. The hunt begins now for Project: DEATH BOX.
I really like Portland. Lots of fun people, great food, and ready access to outdoor fun. But there are definitely two things that Munich Germany does so well that it makes me wish there was some way to import to where I live.
First: the subway system. It's goddamn magical, how well-integrated it is and magnificently run. Unfortunately, to have such a thing in Portland would involve an order of magnitude more investment than what we already struggle with to make our half-assed MAX system run. But I really do think that if we had something as fundamentally wonderful as das Münchner U-Bahn-System, we Portlanders would find the value in it.
Second: German drivers in general. Aggressive but capable. More than a few assholes, to be sure, but at least they're gone fast. My very first driving experience back in Portland was an enraging reminder of how fucking unskilled and oblivious Portland drivers are. Not really anything to be done easily about that either.
Amy and I love our house, because of how perfectly it fits us and the kids, with a great walkable neighborhood, and a huge list of facets that make it lovely. Except, as every homeowner knows, houses are not static entities - they're a constant grind of repairs and improvements fighting against the endless tide of entropy. And when we bought The Battery (nickname brought to you by a dubious concatenation of initials) there was one big upgrade we intended to do: solar panels.
It took a little while to arrange, but we settled on the Tesla solar system with a powerwall battery backup for the house (and a grateful nod to the federal 10k$ tax rebate to make it happen). Significant delays were incurred as we waited for planning and approvals, but finally we had the system installed! Except, not yet commissioned because it needs final inspection for powering up by PGE (our local power utility). Annoyingly, PGE never got around to upgrading our service meter to allow for 2-way power delivery, but the resourceful installers at Tesla installed a parallel meter system that should work. However, this required completely re-wiring our breaker box - and it got pretty cramped. Still, everything worked just fine - or so it seemed.
A couple days later, apparently some yahoo crashed into a power pole a couple blocks away. This knocked power out for the neighbourhood, but also sent a power bump at the same time. The powerwall tried to cover for the lost power, but encountered problems. The problem became clear when the main power came back on later that day - three of our circuit breakers were unable to be reset. Along with it we were down the section of the house that powered the internet modem, our furnace controller, and dishwasher.
Some frantic calls to Tesla later, we were told they would get to us as soon as possible - after the weekend. So we limped through a warm weekend without AC, washing dishes by hand, and running an extension cord to power the modem. Monday came, and they verified that the breakers themselves needed replacement. But they could not get parts until the next day - but they could re-purpose one of the working breakers to run whichever circuit was needed to make the HVAC work again. So by trial and error it was determined that it was... none of them. Something else was wrong with the HVAC, and the dishwasher.
After the technicians left, we did some frantic research on what could be amiss. Everything we could find was fine - breaker on, reset switch reset, circuit board fuse was fine. So thought we had deduced that we had fried our smart thermostat controller. I rolled to the only store locally claiming to have the same model, so that I could just plug-and-play a replacement, and they didn't have one. They did have an upgraded version, though that required re-wiring the controls. Screw it - whatever. Bought it, installed it. Still didn't work.
We hoped that it was a combination of a fried control unit AND an unpowered circuit. Those hopes ended when the Tesla technicians showed up bright and early and replaced power to the whole house. Still no joy for the HVAC, or the dishwasher. They were not really permitted to do anything beyond the power distribution system, but did us the favour of testing the high-voltage fuses for the AC - which turned out to be blown.
So we went to an electrical supply store to purchase some replacement shotgun-shell-sized fuses. And the HVAC still didn't work. So we were left with having to call HVAC technicians, and the earliest available appointment was two weeks out.
Luckily, Pyramid Heating & Cooling called a couple days later to say that they had a cancellation, and they could come immediately. Well, not immediately - because it was the afternoon and since our furnace is in the attic it would be horrific. But they did swap us with another customer the very next morning.
In the meantime, we got to work on the dishwasher, with the working assumption that it had a fuse of some kind that was also borked. So we disconnected it and pulled it out to find that it has no such protection feature. Time for a new dishwasher. Which was fetched in the uber-charming wee van, to the delight of the Home Despot workers who helped us get it. Which in itself is a minor miracle, because it turns out that Home Depot doesn't stock appliances - except that happened to have accidentally been shipped the exact one we wanted. Which was fun. Brought it home, installed it, and it works great.
Pyramid technician shows up and listens to our tale of woe. He said, "I have an idea". A few minutes later, "YEP - your transformer got burned out." Replaced it handily, and our HVAC comes to life and was working great. The feeling of relief was a welcome change.
Which lasted for a few days. Then yesterday we noted that the AC was not actually able to cool the house. We futzed with sensors and settings, but the awkward truth is that it is running the AC and the blower fan and we're getting an insufficiently-cool draft.
Time for another call to Pyramid. When they open on Monday. GAH.
This was the first week of vacation, which I'm taking in alternating weeks while I've got the kiddos. And we got to spend all of it doing all the things as well as lots of down time. Bike riding, D&D, walks to the park, playing Magic, learning Python, beach trip, yardwork, and lots of naps.
The week was somewhat impaired by a power bump and outage that revealed a flaw in our newly-installed solar+battery system (not yet commissioned) which left part of the house without power - so we've had to improvise powering the internet, be mindful of regulating the house temperature with airflow, and washing lots of dishes by hand.
The crescendo of the week was last night - as the Spice Girls (the party name for the D&D characters) stumbled upon the secret base of a vampire pirate ship. In its entirety, the Pale Prow with its vampire spawn crew and its elven-vampire captain would have been wildly overpowered for the Spice Girls. But they happened to poke them before sunset proper, which allowed them to face the crew separately from the master, and with a couple Daylight™ spells was enough to let them prevail.
We perhaps ran a little too late, but fuck it - it's summer time and they would be stuck in a car all day on a trip to Canada with S. They get to camp in a fun tent trailer, but are completely insistent that they can't do it because of the impossibility of being civilized to each other. I struggled with how to ease this ridiculous impasse, and ended up outraging Simon by belittling the difficulty. Here's hoping he gets to sleep in the car.
And now they're gone for a week. And I'm am heartbroken. I just immediately miss them a ridiculous amount. I can't wait for our next week off together.
It really puts the foolish work anxiety in to context.
That sure was a lot of scrolling you did without prompting. Perhaps you have read some of my other throw-away bits hidden down here, or perhaps you are just naturally curious. But I hope you feel, as I do, that the immersion of the moment is the key part of the experience. The existence of the chain of thought: "I wonder what's down here" - searching for signs of what this scrolling expanse is yielding - and then "OH, that's all, I guess."
But, really, that's all most places and moments are. Look around, literally and figuratively, and sense wherever you are.