Is an increase coming for Electric Bills

Over the last 18 years, we’ve investigated putting solar panels on our house many times. Unfortunately, there are many reasons we have not installed them:

  • The house is facing the wrong direction, we can get around this by putting the panels at an inclined angle, but living in the Hurricane state, this would be like putting a sail on the house. When high winds come in, it would rip off our roof (not an attractive option).
  • We have too many trees, and we don’t to lose them.  We could cut them down, but see the first bullet.
  • We have been talked out of it by our general contractor. He claimed to have been a big supporter, but lost so much money in the 90’s that he could not support installing them anymore.

Well, North Carolina is one of the top states in the country using solar.  I believe one reason is Apple built a new data center in the state, that uses solar.

One of the things we see around the globe is that the costs for the electric grid are spread out over years and consumers.  As Germany has installed tons of solar, the existing grid is being impacted by lost revenue.  When I saw the report today that Amazon is starting to put solar panels on all their warehouses, I had a crazy thought.  As more and more businesses install solar panels, their use of the Grid will drop.  As their use drops, the consumers will be burdened with more and more of the fixed costs of running the grid.  Raising our basic rates.

Somehow we need to accelerate the adoption of solar by home users.

Freedom of the Press

This will be a biased blog post.  The bias will be mine.  The bias is formed by my life, my education, and my beliefs.

When the United States was young, very young, we wrote a document called “The Constitution“. The purpose of this document was to correct the many problems that were identified by our first attempt at starting a government with “The Articles of Confederation“. (For those who don’t remember these, they were an attempt to make the states the center of the country and to grossly limit the powers of the federal government).  Part of getting “The Constitution” accepted, was the creation of a the first 10 amendments.  These amendments are know as “The Bill of Rights“.  

The “First Amendment” was created, in my mind, as the MOST important amendment.  While the NRA and other gun rights supporters may feel that the “Second Amendment” is the most important, I tend to disagree.  

The first address a few issues that were critical for a representative democracy. Let’s look at the words:

“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.”

First, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.  With much of the country being settled by families that had lived under monarchies (who were “legitimized” by god, i.e. by a religious fiat), removing this aspect and allowing people to worship in the matter which is aligned with their own beliefs and conscious, was critical to allowing ideas and thoughts to grow.  With no establishment of religion, people can also choose NOT to believe in a good or religion.  That is there right.

Second, “or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press;”.  Again, when your prior government was announced to be anointed by god, and therefore unassailable, the freedom of speech and the press phrase shows that the people are allowed and encoured to speak up, and have an advocate in the press.  We see this point challenged quickly with the “Alien and Sedition Acts.”  The idea of voter suppression was a key part of these acts, the Federalists were worried that too many people were becoming citizens and would change the direction of the company.  Three of the four acts will quickly repealed after Thomas Jefferson became president. 

And third, “or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Governament of a redress of grievances.” And finally with a thoughtful and vocal populous, the writers of this amendment encourage us to question the government and petition for change.  

I am a supporter of the first amendment. I got my undergraduate degree in Journalism.  I podcast. I blog. 

When I see the behavior of government officials attacking the press, because they don’t agree with questions or stories, I look back at the first amendment and like to call BS. We have these right, and even when we don’t agree with people, they have the right to speak their minds.  Free speech, can be done thru words and actions.

A feel good movie, but so much more

This past weekend I finally got to see the movie “Hidden Figures” – the true story of three African American women in the 1960s who worked at NASA and helped send John Glenn into orbit, and safely back to earth.  As you may know, I work at IBM, and IBM helped provide some resources for this movie, but this post is not about IBM’s part in the movie.  

While the movie hit all the right points of making you feel good about people being given a chance to perform at their very best, people over coming the adversity of institutional racism, and the advancement of society as a whole, I did come away with a few other impressions.  I loved this movies, and will certainly add it to my movie collection once it is available for purchase.  It made me cry and swell with pride on the triumph of smart people achieving great things.  Watching the closing credits to see how far the three women advanced in NASA, with many firsts among them, lifted my spirits after a long hard week of work.

Having said this, the other take away was that we, as a society, have not really advanced much and we have back slid in some areas.  First, we have the constant advancement of technology and its impact on people’s jobs and livelihood.  There are two groups of computers at NASA:  The East (all white) and West (all African American).  When the IBM computer starts getting installed, one of the characters, who have is also skilled in mechanical engineering, not only takes it upon hereself to fix some wiring (which has caused many delays in the getting the IBM computer installed and working) but also spends time to learn how to program in FORTRAN, as she sees that if she doesn’t learn she will lose her job.  She not only teaches herself to program but she setups classes to reach the rest of the West computing group to program, there by saving their jobs.  The East group does not do this, and ultimately has to come to her to get trained and get a few of the staff jobs in programming. We have seen this play out time and time again in our society, technology advances, and those who don’t retrain fall behind.  A former IBMer I had the opportunity to work with years ago, recently posted a blog post on this thought as it relates to AI; – Thanks Irving Wladawsky-Berger.  Navigating these transitions can be scary but as we’ve seen in the past, we’ve managed before.

Second, if we look at the tech industry we continue to hear about the disproportional amount of guys who are programmers and engineers.  When we look back at history there are multiple great examples of women who did great things and we don’t celebrate enough to drive diversity in the industry.  The creator of COBOL Dr. Grace Hopper was female and Ada Lovelace was instrumental in founding programming working with Charles Babbage.  But somehow, the number of women in computing, mathmatics and science continues to be low.  We need to celebrate achievements and continue to drive more and more of our talents kids and teenagers to these fields.  If we don’t do this, will be able to make the next transition as technologies advance, or will we continue to fall back to more and more social disparities.

Finally, the 1960’s and 70’s drove the US to break down racial barriers. We had common goals and a rising social consciousness which got people to break down the Jim Crow laws, integrate schools and businesses, and focus on our raising all people out of problems caused by segregation.  Beginning in the 1980s and continuing to now, we have been slowly resegrating parts of our society.  We see this thru things like redlining and the drawings of congressional districts.  This slow restablishing of social segregation, drives sterotypes and prejudices. 

Hopefully, we can address all three of these society issues thru continued and renewed focus on learning and education.  If we help all people learn to the maximum of their potential, we can establish a workforce ready for the new jobs of the future.  As people work in these new jobs they will go to the areas where the jobs are (via social mobility) and hopefully this break down the tendency to restablish residential segregation. 

As a kid, I was considered different because I liked school.  As an adult I continue to love to learn.  Hopefully movies like “Hidden Figures” will get more people to focus on the careers and technologies of the future.

Latest Musings (January 2017)

OK, this post may rub people the wrong way, but my goal for this blog has always been away of thinking out loud.  My thoughts are just that, my thoughts.

We have just witnessed a huge, tremendous, historic election and inauguration. Well, it wasn’t huge in turn out, with a lot of people sitting out the election.  In my opinion people sat out for one of three reasons:

  1. Frustration with the selection of candidates.  I was not a major supporter of Hillary Clinton, and I never understood the visceral hatred that she engendered with a whole swath of the electorate.  I was a fan President Bill Clinton, I even had the opportunity to see him twice… once when he was running for President in 1992 (got to shake his hands) and once a few years ago in North Carolina.  He oversaw an impressive era of growth and transition.  But he wasn’t running. I was never a fan of Donald Trump, to me he represents the worst of worst.  In my opinion, his public persona on his reality TV show is the epitome of the entitled CEO.  He ran a campaign appealing to the base hatred of the masses, racism, sexism, isolationism, and nationalism. All things, I believe, have driven horrible behavior in people since the dawn of time.
  2. Systematic gerrymandering of state election practices.  Both parties republicans and democrates have practiced this over the years, but the republicans have perfected this over the last two decades.  When we look at the results of the popular vote and the electoral college vote, there is a disconnect between what the people want and what they got.  I don’t believe we should only look at the popular vote, as this impacts minority and underrepresented voters, in the election of their representatives in congress, but this gerrymandering was set up to play to the extremes of both parties.  And now we see the results.
  3. Focusing on personalities instead of policies.  When the majority of the republican primary was driven by attacks and bullying by Donald Trump against the other candidates, “lying Ted”, etc.  This same behavior was passsd into the election with “Crooked Hillary”, which caused people to not engage.  The focus on email servers, which were proven multiple times to not be different behavior than the prior two Secretaries of State, seem to me to force people to focus on playing into the personality discussion instead of the policies.  On the Trump side, he once again played to fear, uncertainty and doubt instead of detailed policies.  I am wondering if in the next two years, we see a major backlash to the outcomes of the policies that follow.

Since the election is over, we now are seeing major backlash from the progressive supporters.  I expect given the systematic gerrymandering and playing to the extremes of both parties, we would have seen similar backlash on the far conservative right too.  

I went to Journalism School and have long been frustrated that cable news has gone from news to opinion.  My belief is that this “business” focus of news has been the cause of the loss of respect that the news has gotten.  It is why I don’t call it “the media”.  The media includes entertainment, the news is about facts.  Dan Rather has been doing a great set of blog posts on Facebook for the last year.  Reminds me of Walter Cronkite.  I enjoy NPR and the BBC. Both of which provide long form news stories and in depth analysis.  The Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC’s of the world to me are more entertinament then they are news.  I hope what we are seeing with the total lack of respect for the “forth estate” on holding our government accountable doesn’t cause even more people to bow out of the election.  If it does, I am afraid we will see more “Donald Trumps” in government.  Years ago we saw the rise of the MBA President (treating government as business) which I believe is a big mistake.  I’d hate to see what comes next with our current trajectory.

2016 The year in Review

Wow, what a year 2016 has been! While politics and work have had their major ups and downs, I did get a ton of good reading in this year. I figured a great way to wrap up the year would be to go back thru the books and just think about them here. Enjoy.

January 5th – I finished reading “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation” by Bill Nye. While Bill Nye is at times a pompous ass, this book was very thoughtful and entertaining. His ability to take complex issues and explain them for the average person is a trait he inherited from Carl Sagan. I had started this book in 2015, but finished it in 2016 so I am counting it this year. If you have a scientific mind – read this book.

January 26th – I finished reading “The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution” by Jonathan Hennessey. This is my first full book of 2016. Like a good Pilsner, this book is a light, tasteful read. Like a IPA, it can leave a great buzz in your brain – the buzz of knowledge. And like a nice Stout, you finish the book satisfied. If you’ve not gotten into reading “historical” comics, perhaps this is the one for you. Read it with your favorite beverage in your other hand.

February 4th – My friend Ian Hughes (AKA- ePredator) published his second book in the story of Rosin. “Cont3xt” by ePredator is that book. It is a worthy sequel to his first book – Reconfigure. The story of Rosin continues and immediately expands the universe in a logical manner. What I really like about ePredator’s books is it uses a lot of relevant and current references without naming names, this should allow future readers to enjoy this book too.

February 7th – One of many free ebooks I started reading this year from many lists – “The Wolves of Paris” by Michael Wallace. Cashing in on the werwolf phenom of late, this book is well written, but not really my style. If you like werwolf love stories… this one is for you.

February 15th – I finished Felicia Day’s “You’re Never Weird on the Internet“. I had the great pleasure of meeting Felicia Day at a conference for work many years ago. Her story reminds me of many parts of my own life, except for the home schooling, and the successful internet celebrity. What blew me away was all the trouble that was going on in her life when I met her, that didn’t show in her attitude and public appearances. Reminds me that we are all human. Go read this book!

February 24th – Time for some technical work reading – “The Practice of Network Security Monitoring: Understanding Incident Detection and Response” by Richard Bejtlich. I worked on this book for about a year, as I didn’t really have a need to read it, but had picked it up while I was at RSA in 2015. More of a manual with background than a book to read, but it certainly opened up my eyes on how a SOC must work.

February 27th – While work is hard, having a nice glass of wine is the reward. I read “Reading Between the Wines: With a New Preface” by Terry Theise while traveling overseas. I did a bit more traveling in 2016 than I wanted to, but at least it gave me some time to read. I tend to like red wines, this book got me thinking I should go back and try a few more German white wines.

April 16th – The second of my “free” ebooks for 2016. “Breakers” by Edward W. Robertson. A science fiction novel that took a while to get going, but really enjoyed it in the end. Once the story got past all the exposition, it seemed to kick into a higher gear. May have to check out the rest of the series, which is the reason for giving it away as a free ebook.

May 13th – Another book about wine! So far I’ve had beer and wine this year, and the second book on wine is also a winner. “A Hedonist in the Cellar” Adventures in Wine” by Jay McInerney is a series of essays by the author. While the book was 10 years old, it gave me ideas for new wines to try. Hope I can find a few of them.

May 13th – My second technical book of the year. I was trying to figure out why my OS X Server was not working as I expected, imaging my delight when I found “Take Control of OS X Server” by Charles Edge, JR. The take control series of books are great for getting thru some of the features of a Mac/iOS environment. Highly recommended.

May 30th – Science, I love science! The book “Cosmic Legacy: Space, Time and the Human Mind” by Greg F. Reinking, was a very tough read. I got this book a few years back and kept dipping in and out of it. This year, I promised myself I would read the whole thing thru. I did, and it was well worth it. While I have the hardback version, the link above takes you to it online, where it is now available for free.

June 8th – Back to some mindless fun reading. Another ebook I got this year, was the book “The Kennedy Secret” by Steve Richer. This thriller takes you into a fun conspiracy based on the Kennedy family. And no, it is not real, it’s a fiction.

June 28th – My first re-read of the year. During my travels this year I got to rewatch the movie based on the book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” by Michael Lewis. I had read this book when it first came out. Michael does a great job of explaining the complexity behind the financial meltdown of 2007-2008. If you watched the movie, go read this book!

August 1st – Those who know me, know I love Dragons. Another free ebook was “Rise of Dragons (Kings and Sorcerers, #1)” by Morgan Rice. I got this book and whole slew of other books from Morgan Rice by signing up for her new letter. I have no real memory of actually reading this book. But it is in my GoodReeds tracking. Maybe I will re-read it in 2017 and see if it was any good.

September 1st – I know many people who are huge fans of Neil Gaiman. To be honest, I should be, but I had not remember actually reading any of his prior work before I got this book from my wife as a gift. “The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction” by Neil Gaiman is a series of essays and speeches that Neil Gaiman has given in his life as a writer. Amazing! I now have a list of great books that he has written and that he recommends in these pages. I even picked up a copy of the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe on my iPad to go thru after this.

October 1st – Hmmmm. June to October where crazy busy at work and in life. I didn’t get much time to actually read so It seems that I was able to read another book. This technology / business book by Don Tapscott was “Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World“. Nope it’s not a pretensive title, I do believe that blockchain has the potential to change a ton of things. My biggest worry about Blockchain is that it will be hijacked by large financial institutions and many of the potential positives that Don and his son talk about in this book will fail to be realized.

October 16th – “Post-Human Series Books 1-4” by David Simpson. This book took me almost a full year to read. No, it wasn’t a bad book, it was a compendium of 4 books, and I really enjoyed it. It is not high art, but for a good pulp about AI and Science Fiction it was enjoyable.

November 12th – “Wild-born (Psionic Pentalogy, #1)” by Adrian Howell. This young adult fiction was a good palette cleanser. The book tells the story about a child who discovers he has telekinetic powers. This discover opened up a whole new world where some people have the power, some people don’t and every one wants to control Adrian.

December 4th – We are getting down to the end of the year and I am getting into some interesting stores. “Evensong (Merits Trilogy #1)” by Krista Walsh is one of those stories. The premise of this book is a typical sword and sorcery story, until the author get’s pulled into the world of their own creation. We now have to deal with the world that being manipulated by the author realizing who he is, and how his powers can be used to fit a few festering problems.

December 16th – I read this book as another free ebook, but it was out of sequence. I have since added all the rest of the series to my reading list. “The Last Firewall (Singularity Series Book 3)” by William Hertling was awesome. William works at HP during the day, and has spent time writing, what I consider, a great book on how Artificial intelligence (or as we call it now – Cognitive technologies) could end up changing humans. As ePredator helped kick off the year of fiction with AR/VR, William helps ended it on Cognitive technologies. Highly recommended.

December 26th – The last book I finished this year is “Black Panther #1” by Ta-Nehisi Coastes. This graphic novel helped me get re-aquinted with Marvel’s Black Panther comic. Incredible art work, and the with Ta-Nehisi writing the storyline, it is much more engaging than many comics lately. Seeing a positive technological perspective of Africa, even if it is a comic, I hope get’s people past their backwards views of other cultures.

As I said when I started this post, it’s been an interesting year. I hope that 2017 is a relaxing / boring year.

Monday morning

Recently the cartoon Dilbert posted the following.  This strip has consistently done a good job of pointing out the challenges and realities of the modern corporate world.  What I liked about this strip was the tension that we see between engineering and marketing.  This same tension can be seen between development and sales, management and employees, and any other group that has a codependency on each other.  When your success is dependent on someone else’s work, incentives must be put in place to ensure that the dynamics are not one sided.

Many developers don’t understand sales and marketing teams.  I’ve been in many meetings where the thought is marketing makes charts (they get customers to want things that they don’t need) and sales is only coin operated (they will sell only those things that give them the most commission).  This is a very cynical view of sales and marketing.  As a developer, sales and marketing are two key groups to make you successful.  Marketing should be listening to customers and understanding what they want.  The should not be making up “markets”, but understanding what the market needs and wants.  Sales should be listening to customers and helping them to find the right product within your portfolio which will meet those needs.  

As a developer you should be expressing to sales and marketing, what you are doing.  How it may address the needs of the customers.  And you must be willing to change to address shifts in the market.  Part of receiving an MBA, is understanding how to build an appropriate business case.  A business case is like a project plan, where you are balancing costs and potential revenue, to build a story that helps drive the right decision.  One point that many people struggle with is that in this decision, you should not consider sunk costs.  Sunk costs, are those expenses that you have already spent.  

You can’t change the past, but you have to leverage the work product from these sunk costs to do the right thing.  This same challenge comes into play as a developer when you look at the features and code you’ve already written.  Customers change their mind, markets shift and change, and technology changes.  Figuring out how to leverage the work that you’ve already done to address these changes sometimes means throwing it away.  Take what you learned developing those features and make your next features better.  

I believe that the quickest way to help drive this balance is to listen to each other, and understand that for development to be successful, customers need to use your code.  Sales and Marketing are successful when customers are open and honest, knowing that the solutions that will be made available to them will meet their needs. Ultimately, listening to each other and focusing on what truly benefits customers, should drive the right behavior.   You must understand your capabilities and your market.  If your marketing has grown beyond your capabilities, you may need to refocus back on your core abilities.

Post Thanksgiving Thoughts

This morning I made it to the Gym and got a nice mile long swim in.  All the lanes of the pool were full, which is not the usual case when I get my swim in, so I am thankful that not everyone gorged themselves yesterday to the point of not being able to do things today.  The roads were not too busy, and given that in the US it is Black Friday, I expected them to be crazy.  But I guess all the shoppers were already at the stores when they opened up.

The thing that got me this morning, however, was the talk in the locker room, when I had just arrived.  The Gym I go to belongs to a major NC public university system.  Many of the people who work out there, have a relationship with the university.  I know many of the people I swim with on my Sunday morning swim are current and former professors.  Anyway, the coversation I heard in the locker room went something like this:

“I guess we can make fun of the handicap now.”

“Yeah, less then 60 days until the PC error is over.”

I was shocked.  They didn’t say this as a joke.  They were actually happy that they would be able to start making fun of people.  People who “in the Political Correct Era” it would have been inappropriate to make fun of.  The three men who were talking all were older and college educated. 

Last night, after our Thanksgiving dinner, we got to watch the movie “Race“.  The story of JC Owens and his historic race in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  One of the storylines had to do with Avery Brundage, who worked with the US Olympic committee (ultimately heading it for 20+ years).  He ended up cutting a deal with Joseph Goebbels, the head of Germany’s propaganda machine, to ensure that the US would be at the Olympics.  That deal basically was that the US could bring both Jewish and African American athletes to the games, the Germans would hide much of the racists acts against the German Jews, and the US would then show up.  Avery Brundage was also rewarded with the building rights for a new German embassy in Washington DC.  

The movie and this morning’s comments got me thinking more and more about the underlying hatred, racism, and bigotry that nevery goes away, unless the government and everyday people step up and fight it.  I hope that the “gentlemen” in the gym are wrong.  I hope our error of respect and tolerence has not ended, and that people will be judged “not by the color of their skin” or other physical manifestations”, but the content of their character”.

10 years of Podcasting

While recording my podcast this week over at Games At Work dot Biz I realized that I have been doing podcasts for over 10 years now. It all started with my current Co-host Michael Martine and I putting together an audio recording to promote a project we had for work. We called it Project Wookie, the idea was to take the addictive qualities of MMO games (in this case it was Star Wars Galaxies, that included an entertainer character that you would have to go watch in order to reduce your characters fatigue) and apply that idea to work and education.
We quickly morphed into a podcast called Dogear-Nation (as an homage to our favorite video podcast at the time – DiggNation). We would look for social bookmarks in a tool called Dogear, and spend time talking tech and gaming technology. We did 200 public episodes of that podcast (and about 70 or so internal episodes within our work).
During that time, I also did two other podcasts, one called “Tripping the Verse” – where I got experts in various Virtual World technologies to talk. The Verse in this case was the Virtual Universe Community inside of IBM. I also got hooked on the Kindle a few years later, and did a book review podcast, where I would focus on business and sci-fi books. I did about 10 episodes of each of these podcasts, as the topics were very niche and for the Kindle podcast (which I called Random Abstractions) took up too much time to keep my schedule of 1 book per month.
After the 6 month hiatus from Dogear-Nation (which had a ton of great cohosts including Matt Simpson, Steven Harrison, and the incredible Andy Piper), I decided to start up a new podcast. We would focus back on what got me started in podcasting – Gaming technology and Play!
We’ve had a few of us on the podcast as co-hosts: Michael Martine, Andy Piper, Phaedra Boinodiris, and Sandy Kearney.
I am thinking we need to do something special on episode 150 of the Games At Work dot Biz Podcast. What do you think?

iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode

It didn’t take Apple long to release a new beta that supports Portrait mode for the iPhone 7 Plus. As someone who likes taking depth of field pictures with a DSLR, I couldn’t resist. The feature does show amazing promise:

The above grid shows two sample shots, one in bright sunlight and the other in a coffee shop (my favorite one – BeanTraders. The biggest thing that you see is that the traditional iPhone camera doesn’t really have a focus area. Everything is clear and in focus, which makes the picture look a little flat. Once you turn on portrait mode it will focus on things between a few and eight feet distance. The second thing that you learn is that the brighter the light the more pronounced the depth of field will be.
Overall, the effect is very satisfying. I wish they would call it depth of field instead of portrait mode, as I don’t then to take portraits. I find that landscapes are more satisfying. However, Apple has this working really well and I can’t wait for the full release.