Thursday, November 13, 2014

Well Fuck

Our truck, our only transportation, was stolen overnight, right from our driveway. I was awake all night and didn't hear a thing, and the dogs never stirred, which is really odd.

It's a very desirable truck, a 2006 dodge diesel 4x4 in black. It's probably already in pieces.

It also had our cameras in it, some other electronics, a bunch of my tools, and most importantly, our car seat.

I just checked our insurance, and it won't pay, because it turns out it had been cancelled a few months back because the credit card I had set to autopay had expired, but we didn't get the notification because they were still sending them to the old address.

It's just been one damn thing after another the past few years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month...




It is now the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, at Compiegne...

In the United States, today is Veterans Day

In America, Memorial Day is for the dead, and Veterans Day is for the living. As such, first I wish to give thanks.

I thank all of you, still serving to defend our country, those of our friends and allies, and those who, wherever they serve, are fighting to preserve freedom, liberty, justice, and humanity.

May god bless you and keep you.

I thank all of my brothers and sisters who have served in the past; for the risks you have taken, and the sacrifices you have made.

To the rest of the world, today is Remembrance Day, sometimes known as Armistice day, or poppy day; commemorating the moment that the first great war of the last century was ended; in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of the year of our lord nineteen hundred and eighteen.

96 years gone, and still every year we mark this day

Why is it called poppy day?

Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Russia... and on the other side Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary (and the remains of the holy roman empire), Turkey (and the other ottomans)... an entire generation of young men in Europe were lost to the most futile, worst run war, in modern history.

In four years, 18 million men died (or went missing, which is mostly the same thing), and 22 million men were wounded.

In fact, Europe has never recovered from this greatest of historical mistakes. It was the direct aftermath of world war one that lead to world war two; the combination of which largely created the postmodern European culture that is slowly being destroyed from without and within by self hatred, depression, defeatism, socialism, islamist theofascism, and reactionary nationalism.

But I digress; I was talking about why it is called poppy day.

Flanders is a region of Belgium (along with Wallonia, and northern France), where the fighting in the great war was at it's worst . The worst battles of the war were at Ypres, the Marne, the Somme, and Verdun.

At the Somme alone, the British lost 20,000 dead in one single day; and the allied forces (mostly British) lost 120,000 dead, and over 375,000 wounded total; with 100,000 dead and 350,000 wounded on the German side.

The battle lasted from July 1st , til November 18th, 1916. Almost five solid months of the most brutal trench warfare ever seen; and nothing to show for it but blood, and mud.

Perhaps 200,000 total dead at the Marne (1st and 2nd), perhaps 50,000 at Ypres, Perhaps 300,000 total dead at Verdun... (10 months, and the bloodiest battle of the war, though the Somme had the bloodiest day); and nothing to show for it but blood and mud.

There was an amazing thing though... That blood, and that mud... it became magnificently fertile soil; and soon after the fighting ended, all over these horrific battlefields, poppies began to bloom.

In the first great war, as had been tradition for most of western history, those killed in battle were buried in the fields where they fell. Their memorials were raised on or close by those battlefields; a tribute to those who fought and died, and a reminder to those who did not.

In 1918, there, in Flanders, and Wallonia, and France; there lay an entire generation of men. Millions upon millions of white crosses, millions upon millions of unmarked graves in farmers fields; surrounded by millions upon millions of poppies.

A symbol of life, of blood, of the fight for liberty and freedom. The poppies among the dead were taken up; first by the French and the Belgians, then the Canadians and British and Americans.

Today, the poppy is a symbol of remembrance, expressed best perhaps by this poem:
In Flanders Fields
--Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D. RCA (1872-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Net Neutrality… Obama… Cruz… How About Oliver?

Today, Barack Obama(D) has announced that he will pretend to support net neutrality:



In response, Ted Cruz (RPDGC*), has announced that Net Neutrality is the work of the devil:


The idea that either Democrats OR Republicans actually support net neutrality is a joke.

The Democrats have (and still do) very strongly supported big media and big communications, who are largely anti neutrality. It’s only now that net neutrality has obviously become a big issue among young liberals (who were largely unmotivated to turn out this midterm election), that they have pretended to support it.

The Dems could have made it a campaign issue, except then they wouldn’t have had the huge media and communications industry money for the elections, that they needed to avoid getting spanked even worse than they did.

If Obama had actually supported net neutrality, he wouldn’t have appointed an anti neutrality industry stooge as FCC chair… but again, if he did that, the Dems would have lost that sweet sweet big media money.

On the other hand, the Republicans are largely anti “big media” and anti “big communications”, and only became anti-neutrality when the Democrats decided to take it as an issue.

What is Net Neutrality?

Frankly, any libertarian should support net neutrality as a principle (government regulation is another matter).

Net neutrality as a principle, is simple. All legitimate traffic should be treated equally, no matter the source or destination. No internet service provider should filter, censor, or slow down traffic from their competitors, their critics, or because of politics or national origin; or for any reason other than technical requirements for safe, efficient, and reliable network operation.

It’s how the internet has always been run, up until recently, without any government action necessary. There’s a famous quote: “The internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. Any internet service provider that censored, filtered, or slowed down traffic from anyone (for anything other than technical reasons) was routed around, and cut out of the net, by its peers. It was a great example of independent action and peer enforcement working in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

Why is it an issue now?

Large media and communications companies like Comcast and Verizon have been deliberately and artificially blocking or slowing down traffic to and from their critics and competitors.

Of course, getting government involved does generally make things worse. In fact, it already did in this case, since the government has been involved from the beginning, and it was largely government action that created the current problem.

In a rational and unbiased competitive environment, consumers would have a reasonable choice of internet service providers, and any ISP that chose to censor or limit access, would lose customers, and either correct themselves or go out of business.

Unfortunately, we don’t have anything like a free and competitive market in internet access. Government regulation and favoritism has created huge monopolies (or at best duopolies, and no, wireless access is not realistic and reasonable competition given the distorted market and cost structures there either) in internet access.

We've reached a point where the telecommunications monopolies that government created and support, are in fact deliberately applying anticompetitive, unfair (and in some cases already unlawful) restraint against their critics and competitors.

Since they are government supported monopolies, the market is not allowed to correct the undesirable private action.

This means that, unfortunately, government action IS required… and even if it were not required, it’s inevitable, because politics is politics, and this is now an “Issue”.

So what do we do about the problem?

Please note, I don’t trust either Democrats OR Republicans on the issue in general, and I don’t trust either, or the FCC to regulate neutrality at all. Cruz does have at least one valid concern, in that the history of government regulation of almost every industry, but particularly technology, is mainly a long record of suppressing innovation and other negative unintended consequences.

The ideal solution is to end the government created internet access monopolies that most Americans live under, and allow free and open market competition to correct the problem.

Without government limitations on competition in actual high speed, high quality internet access; competition will increase, prices will fall, and any provider that filters or slows legitimate traffic will lose all their customers and go out of business.

This isn't just a prediction or libertarian idealism talking by the way. It’s been proved out in Korea, Japan… even in the UK. Everywhere that internet access competition has been allowed to flourish, everything has improved (conversely, in the U.S. where we have deliberately increased the power and scope of these monopolies, we have the worst internet access of any technologically advanced nation).

Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen.

The next best thing, is to mandate net neutrality in the least intrusive, least stupid way possible, and to react intelligently (and rapidly) to changes in technology and its uses, to avoid regulatory distortion and suppression of innovation.

Unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen either…

That said, it’s remotely possible for us get closer to that, quicker, than we can to disassembling the thousands of federal, state, and local regulations, which have created these monopolies, and made the barriers to entry for competition impossibly high.

Of course neither Democrats nor Republicans support or plan to do that.

The whole thing is a spiraling charlie fox of disingenuous cynical idiocy.

Personally, I say forget Obama, forget Cruz, and listen to Oliver (or if you don't care for Oliver, or can't watch a video, theres The Oatmeal):



*Reactionary Populist Disingenuous Grandstanding Cynic... not the Republican party, just Cruz

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

NOverride

Congratulations Republicans, you have a near record majority in the house, and what appears will be 54 seats in the senate (three races were still undecided at this writing. At least one is a near certain Republican victory, one appears likely so, and one is likely a democrat Victory).

Some folks have been saying things like "Well, yeah, Obama's gonna veto everything... but hey at least we'll have a veto proof majority on some things, that a lot of Democrats support".

Don't count on it.

Minority Democratic support for some "Republican issues" was allowed before, because it didn't matter. There was no consequence to it.

I can almost guarantee you, there will not be one single override. No Democrat will be allowed by the leadership to be counted publicly supporting Republicans, against president Obama and the rest of the democratic party... at least not if an override would be successful.

Now, it's an entirely different situation. A Democratic defection will be both a PR and a political disaster. It will hurt and weaken the Democrats even more than this election already has, and crash morale even more than it already has.

Unless a Democrat will lose his seat if he doesn't vote to override a specific veto, it will NOT happen. In that case the leadership MIGHT let them vote for an override, maybe, if there is no chance of an override passing.

If the situation is dire enough, a Dem congresscritter might actually defect without clearance... but that would have to be something pretty dire, because there is just about ZERO chance any Dem who did that would ever be forgiven if the override succeeded. They'd have to switch parties.

Of course, if there's no chance of the override succeeding, most likely there won't even be an override vote (and if there really were such a chance, then Obama wouldn't veto, unless it were something the Dems absolutely could not stand for... in which case, again, there's no way it would get enough Dem support to be overridden).

Even if there is however... Do you really think there will be 12 (presuming the total is 54 as it appears it will be) senators who will lose their seats if they don't override, on any specific issue? There are quite possibly 12 Democrats total who might lose their seats if they didn't override on issues that were very important to their state... but 12 on a single issue?

Of course, they could also put doing the right thing, for the good of their state and the nation, above politics...

... Oh... sorry... can't stop laughing at that thought right now...

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Outside Looking In

In 2003, on the occasion of the loss of space shuttle Columbia, I wrote an essay titled “Outside Looking In”. As it happens, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, and possibly the most important.

Yesterday, we lost Virgin Galactic’s spaceship two (and at least one of its two crew. The other is in critical condition). Within minutes, the cries to end all manned space travel had resurfaced in full force. People are already gnashing teeth and rending garments, and wailing, that space isn’t worth dying for.

Given this, I thought it would be appropriate to post the original essay here.

Nothing has changed substantially since I wrote it, except that even the desperately backward and hindering shuttle program has ended… and that now, it’s actually more than 42 years since we last set foot on the moon.

I should be clear… I’m not upset the shuttle is gone…

I’m angry that the shuttle is gone, and there’s no replacement.

I’m angry that we’re dependent on another country to lift our astronauts into space.

I’m ANGRY that the shuttle was over 30 years old, and we poured resources and energy into the shuttle program for 40 years, with basically no real development of an alternate solution.

Except that’s not PRECISELY true.

There has been LOTS of development on alternate solutions, none of which have been allowed to succeed (and only two have even been allowed to proceed to where NASA was in 1960).

We’ve spent tens of billions on alternate solutions, both public sector and private. Unfortunately, NASA has spent the entire time actively suppressing, delaying, or killing anything that would compete with or replace the shuttle; all as part of the bureaucratic funding fight.

I know this first hand, having been involved in several of the SSTO projects in the 90s (I was free labor, as an engineering student and intern. I’m a pilot, an aviation and space nut, my primary degree is in Aerospace engineering, and I’ve been a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics since I was 18).

Now, people, and I’m sure organizations and interest groups, are already trying to use this crash to attempt to ban private manned space travel.

… which really means that most of them are trying to end all manned space travel period; since it’s not like the public sector has done much to advance the state of human space travel since 1972.

It has been 45 years since we first landed on the moon, and 42 since Eugene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon) stepped back into his landing module, and we left it.

I’m angry, because we have willingly, even eagerly, become a frigate navy nation.

it’s 2014… We should have spacelines. We should have private spacecraft available for purchase to anyone. We should be living on the moon, living on mars… we should be out in the stars.

Instead, we’re still countering the nattering of cowards and fools, who only want to look inward.

I’m angry… I’m more than angry, I’m disgusted.

Outside Looking In — Chris Byrne, 2003 
We have spent the last 30 years collectively contemplating our belly buttons. 
Let me explain what I mean by that (this is gonna take a while so get comfortable). 
Throughout most of history, humanity as a race has been outward looking. We strode out through the world around us to learn, to achieve, and to conquer.
From the earliest days of humanity we have looked outside ourselves for meaning. 
First we had medicine men and shamans who looked to the spirits. 
Then we had priests who looked to the gods. 
Then we had philosophers who looked to the nature of the universe, and sought to find mans place within it. 
Finally there came that extraordinary breed of men to whom Isaac Newton belonged to. They called themselves the natural philosophers, we now call them scientists. 
Each of these groups of people sought to divine meaning, reason, purpose, from that which surrounded us. 
We were on the inside looking out in wonder, and eventually, with some small degree of understanding. 
This point of view was reflected in our societies as well. 
We explored, and built, and grew. We strove for bigger, more, faster, better. 
The expression of this has often been called “pioneer spirit”. 
It’s the challenge to go forth and do that which has not been done. 
It’s the desire to climb the mountain “because it’s there”. 
This spirit quickly had us wee humans spread across this globe, living in almost every corner, no matter how hostile it seemed to our rather thin and frail skins. 
This is the spirit that Americans inherited from the British, the Spanish, and the Portuguese; who it seems, have managed somehow to lose it over the past two hundred and fifty years. 
This is the spirit that pushed us from sea to sea, the spirit that flung us up into the sky, the spirit that exploded us out into space. 
This is the spirit best voiced by John F. Kennedy when he said “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. 
Over the past 100 or so years this spirit became focused primarily on science and technology. 
We stopped exploring, not because we ran out of places to explore, but because we did not have the technology to explore them. So we built it, and we built it fast. 
It took only us 44 years to make the headlong rush from the Wright brothers, to sustained supersonic flight. 
It was only another ten years before we managed to stick something far enough up there that it wouldn’t come right back down again. 
Three and a half years later we finally opened up the door and left the home of our birth; when on April 12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to see the earth, from the outside looking in. 
Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t make the line famous for another 16 years, but Yuri Alekseyevich truly had, boldly gone where no man has gone before. One of us had finally made it off the rock. 
Then, at 10:56 pm EDT , July 20, 1969 we managed the short hop to the next rock. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, had made it to the moon. 
We only went back five more times over the next three years. 12 men spent a total of 170 hours on the moon, and left behind, not much really. A few scientific instruments, a few spacecraft bits and pieces, the worlds most expensive dune buggy, an American flag, and a plaque that reads: 
“Here Man completed his first exploration of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.” 
And with these words, spoken by cmdr. Eugene Cernan on December 11th 1972: 
“America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow” 
…we turned out the lights and went home.

Unfortunately there has been no tomorrow. 
As I was saying, we have spent the last 30 years contemplating our belly buttons.
After World War II most of the world stopped looking forward, and started looking inward. 
There were too many social problems. 
There was too much poverty and hunger and disease. 
There was far too much pain screaming out at us from the horrors of the preceding 10 years. 
The spirit of exploration that had pervaded humanity since it’s earliest days was completely gone from Europe by the 1960’s. It had never really existed in east Asia, where culture and philosophy had been directed inward for thousands of years.
It had not existed in the middle east since the days before the ottoman empire. 
The only explorers left by the 60’s were America, and Russia, and Russia was only really doing it to compete with America. 
People all over the world started questioning the values that had formed previous generations’ assumptions. 
The generation born between the end of the depression, and just after the war, KNEW that there were more important things than exploration. 
They KNEW that this desire for exploration was just another form of conquest and exploitation and imperialism just like the ones that had brought about the worst conflict in human history. 
They KNEW that exploring space was waste of time and money that could be better spent on ending hunger, or disease, or racism. 
And so we began to turn inward. 
With books like “the catcher in the rye”, “On the Road”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest”, we started looking more at ourselves, and our neighbors, and less at the outside world, and the outside universe. 
It took until 1972, but with the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon and Watergate, price controls, inflation, the CIA and FBI, the Israeli situation, the Irish situation, and every other god damned miserable thing going on in this god damned miserable world… 
They KNEW that they weren’t going to spend another dime going to the moon ‘til we had fixed things down here on earth. 
In the broader culture things started changing even more. 
We encouraged people to take a good long look at themselves. 
To find themselves. 
To say I’m Ok You’re Ok. 
To be fair, a hell of a lot of good came out of this. 
For the first time we started seriously exploring the WHY behind a lot of mental and emotional problems. 
We started leaving bad marriages behind, and we started trying to be happier. 
We started doing something about racism, sexism and pollution. 
…But as usual, we went too far. 
We started confusing confidence with arrogance. 
We decided that power was bad. 
We made aggression and competition synonymous with evil. 
We started subverting science to ideology, and we decided that ideology was after all, a science. 
In our most extreme moments, we decided that boys were bad and girls were good. 
That white was bad and black was good. 
That both old and new were bad, and only NOW, ME, and US, was good. 
We stopped moving forward. 
We stopped looking outward.
Instead, we are spending all of our time looking sideways, up, down, in, and increasingly backward. 
Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad if we weren’t so bad at it. 
It would be a good thing, if we were able to do so without damaging ourselves, and without halting progress. 
…But so far, we aren’t. 
We haven’t been out of high orbit since 1972. 
It only took us 66 years to go from being earthbound, to setting foot on another planet. 
In the past 30 years we have have gone no farther, no faster, no higher. 
We have stopped going where no man has gone before. 
Charles Krauthammer wrote in the weekly standard that “we have put ourselves into a low earth orbit holding pattern”. 
Putting it a little more directly, we’re circling the parking lot looking for a space, instead of getting out of the damned shopping mall, and actually going some place and doing something. 
The most significant technologies of the last thirty years have been global telecommunications; exemplified in the internet, and biotechnology. 
Both of these are essentially focused inward. 
The internet has the potential to be the single greatest advance in mass communication since the printing press. 
It allows for true interactive communication on a global scale, but it is essentially inward facing. 
Why? 
Because it exists to exchange information we already have. 
The internet spreads knowledge around better than anything we’ve ever come up with and that’s great. 
It’s the greatest enabler of science history has ever known because it allows the freer and easier exchange of ideas, but the net in and of itself does little to advance the state of human knowledge. 
The internet is not like the microscope or the telescope or the space craft. Completely new things are not discovered or created by the internet, though they have without doubt been enabled by it. 
BioTechnology is by very definition focused inward. 
At it’s deepest level BioTech is the study of what makes us what we are. It promises to unlock near limitless potential for our biological beings. 
It opens the door to the possibility of ending old age, disease, hunger, even death itself. It offers potential dangers equal to its potential wonders. 
BioTech is probably the second most important field of technology ever devised, but exploration is still by far the most important. 
As no nation can be great without looking beyond its borders, no race can be great without looking beyond its planet. 
Whether there are other races out there, or we are alone; if as a race we are ever to progress beyond our current state of semi civilized savagery, to progress beyond a planet full of petty squabbles between nations, that just might incidentally kill us all; we need to venture off this planet in the largest scale possible. 
We need to live on, not just visit other planets. 
This is a concrete lesson of history. 
We started out as individuals. 
We fought and died as individuals until we formed villages, clans, and tribes
With villages we had a larger purpose and organization, and the fighting between individuals lessened. 
For thousands of years villages, clans, and tribes killed each other until we formed city-states. Then the fighting between tribes lessened. 
We began to form principalities and petty kingdoms, and they repeated the pattern, lessening the conflicts between cities. 
Finally we formed nations, and eventually ended most organized conflict between smaller groups. 
But we created the nation about 10,000 years ago, and we haven’t really come very far since. 
Half of Europe was STILL in the city state or principality phase 250 years ago.
Germany is now by far the largest and most important nation in Europe (no matter what France and England may say), but it only became a true nation in 1872. 
The United Nations is, at best, an ineffective organization with more politics than solutions. At worst, it is an organization used to spread the ugliest prejudices of humans, while decrying the actions needed to stop them, and masking it all under cynical self righteousness. 
It is clear that until we become an extraplanetary race, we will never achieve anything resembling a free society of all human beings. 
It is similarly clear that once we do become truly extraplanetary, such a society is, if not inevitable, at least more likely. 
Many would say that we need to solve our problems here on earth first. 
They believe that we can’t afford space exploration while people starve, and die of disease, and are denied basic human rights. 
They say that it costs too much, that it’s dangerous, that it has little benefit to the vast majority of humanity that has barely enough to eat. 
They are right in many ways… 
…but if as a people we don’t get the hell off this rock… 
…what will it matter? 
It will be a case of belly button contemplating on a racial scale.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Car Geek Flame War... The Definitive Best Looking 'Vette Debate

Ok... best looking vette debate...

This is not about the most desirable, the most expensive, the best engines, the best handling... Simply the best looking vettes.

Primary weighting is on exterior looks, but tiebreakers can move to the interior.

Only production or copo models, road legal, and available for sale to the general public count (so no grand am, GT, or true grand sport vettes for example, as they were track only cars), nor do road legal replicas of track only cars.

On the other hand L-88 and ZL1 (vettes which really were meant to be track cars) with the big block hoods and the side pipes etc... DO count, because they were actually sold to real buyers as street legal road cars.

I cant decide between:

  1. Tunnel back C3 coupe (with or without the big block hood, flares, chrome bumpers, and duck tail or slant tail)
  2. C3 convertible (with or without the big block hood, flares, chrome bumpers, and duck tail or slant tail)
  3. C2 convertible (with or without the big block hood)
  4. Single light side cove C1 convertible ('56-'57)
  5. Double light C1 convertible, double taillight round tail ('58-'60)
  6. Double light C1 convertible, quad taillight boattail ('61-62)


Subsidiary question... sidepipes are awesome... but are they always better on every model they originally came on? I can't decide.

Oh and yeah... I don't think anything C4 or later is even in the top ten, or even top 15 of best looking vettes (given that 1 and 2 above are actually a half dozen different models each).

...MAYBE the ZR1, and square taillight C4s make it into the top 20... maybe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Marvels and Panthers

Alright my geek brothers and sisters... now that marvel has announced their movies, who should play T'Challa (Black Panther) and Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel/Warbird/Binary)?

Supposedly, a relative unknown, Chadwick Boseman, has already been cast as T'Challa (who will be introduced in the third Captain America movie, due out in 2016 I believe). Frankly I've seen the guys work and I'm not impressed thus far.

Marvel has been known to recast... I can see them doing so here, so the game is open on both characters.

First, Black Panther.

If he wasn't already Heimdall, I'd have said Idris Elba was the perfect T'Challa. Similarly, Don Cheadle and Djimon Hounsou are already in the Marvel cinematic universe, or I'd say either of them would be decent possibilities.

You've got to have someone who is physically impressive (not necessarily big, though most artists have drawn him that way; but definitely fit and with great physical presence) yes... but more importantly, you've got to have someone who can project the same air of genius that Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner), and Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) have. T'Challa is supposed to be the intellectual AND emotional AND spiritual superior to almost all in the marvel universe. He's specifically noted as the "eighth smartest man in the world", and is wiser, and more spiritually connected than any of those who are his equal in intelligence.

There aren't a lot of actors who can pull that off... and as I said, most of them are already playing characters in the MCU.

Maybe Chiwetel Ejiofor? He can do it physically, and emotionally, and intellectually. Hell, he's even an ethnic Igbo (his parents were Nigerian, though he was born and raised in England).

How about Captain Marvel?

Carol Danvers is actually much tougher.

First thing is, you can play around with looks a bit... but you can't completely change her entire physical presence, it's actually very important to the character.

Carol is a VERY BUSTY LADY... Even by comic book standards.

Not only that, but she's not some willowy little thing. She's tall (in universe she's 5'11"), and she's muscular, and she's STURDY.

She's bigger, taller, stronger, and tougher, than almost all of the male heroes, even without her powers (with her full powers, she is by canon, the most physically powerful Marvel hero. Only Hulk is more physically strong and damage resistant, and he doesn't have the energy powers that she has). Think of a near 6 foot tall womens fitness competitor... not a tiny little gymnast or hollywood actress type. That's really very important to who she is.

Basically, she is the second biggest (and second bustiest), of the main human (or human-ish anyway... it gets complicated...) female heroes in the Marvel universe (both behind Jennifer Walters, AKA She-Hulk... and actually in "human" form, Walters is shorter than Danvers by 1"... Though if you want to count Psylocke as a main hero, she's pretty much exactly the same size as Danvers, and some artists draw her just about as busty... The asgardian women are taller, but they're aliens... and Valkyries... so... you know...)

Note: If you think Marvel are ridiculous about their female heroes breasts, DC are FAR FAR worse... Four words: Power Girl Boob Window.

Yes, really, it may seem shallow and sexist, but honestly her physique really is an important part of her character, as is her sexuality. In particular, the fact that she was a tall and good looking but not either ridiculously muscular nor super busty woman before she was transformed and received her powers; and that her transformation made her into this "turned up to 11" body, as well as changing her personality (and these changes took her years to integrate and resolve, and accomodate)... it's really important to her character, her personality, her emotions, her psyche etc... and they are very relevant to the stuff that happened to her over the course of her career as a hero.

Importantly, she's incredibly competent, capable, and well trained; a veteran of the Air Force, NASA and SHIELD (sort of... it gets weird...), even before she received her superpowers.

Emotionally and personality wise, she's tough, she's hard in many ways, brittle in some, and insecure in many ways. She can be quite cruel and heartless, but she can also be overly emotional and irrationally sentimental... and VERY funny, sometimes in a cynical, sarcastic, and biting way, sometimes in a goofy way.

Most importantly by far though, is that she is VERY VERY BADLY DAMAGED.

Carol Danvers is one of the most screwed over women in the history of comics... and that's REALLY saying something. I won't go into it here because... really I couldn't... it takes too long to explain and is way too screwed up... but trust me (look up her full back story and the various controversies therein if you want to know).

This a woman with PROFOUND PTSD... for VERY GOOD REASON

Oh and she's a (just barely) recovering alcoholic on a scale so epic that TONY FRIKKEN STARK thought she was hitting the bottle a little too hard.

So... who the hell can play that?

Honestly... I'm not sure who I'd pick... I suppose the most important variable is what age they decide to make her at introduction.

If they go for a younger Carol, either an origin story, or relatively recently  come into her powers... Canonically, that would make her 31 years old or thereabouts.

Maybe Yvonne Strahovski?

She's still too small (only 5'9-1/2" and very fit, but not very muscular, and she's quite slim), and she has the "look" except being a bit too small breasted (not an insurmountable problem in hollywood). but I think she's got the chops for it.

If they went a little older, Julie Benz would be nearly perfect if she wasn't so small. She's only 5'4" though she's actually quite fit and muscular (and rather busty for her size).

Both play tough and competent very well, and both play badly damaged very well.

Charlize Theron might be good. Maybe Anna Torv.

Jeri Ryan, Peta Wilson, Tricia Helfer, Lucy Lawless, Dianne Kruger, Kristianna Loken, Abbie Cornish, Ali Larter... all physically right, but not right as actresses.

Lots of folks like the idea of Katee Sackhoff, who I love... but she just doesn't feel right for Carol Danvers to me. Also a lot of folks are speculating about Emily Blunt, who I also love... but again, she doesn't feel right to me.

Really, without knowing how old they want to go, it's impossible to figure out the right casting choice.

So... drop dead choices?

I'm gonna go with Yvonne Strahovski, and Chiwetel Ejiofor... but I'm really iffy on both. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.





Friday, October 17, 2014

Performance Enhancing? Nope... normalizing... But don't try to tell the DEA that.

There's a funny thing about my life... I'm not sure if this is comic, tragic, ironic or what...

I spent more than 10 years as a serious competitive powerlifter, football player, wrestler, and martial artist, and another few years as a just a hobbyist.

In that entire time, I never did a single "performance enhancing drug"... Never even tempted to do so.

Now I'm a broken down, fat, middle aged cripple... who the DEA looks at like I'm a drug dealer or abuser of "performance enhancing substances"... just to keep from getting fatter, more broken down, and more crippled.

I'm 8 years into the frank symptoms of chronic illness (which turned out to be a weird and rare kind of endocrine cancer, that almost killed me, and basically destroyed my endocrine system. I have been cancer free for almost 2 years now), and  I am now on damn near the exact combination of drugs that "juicers" would traditionally use for such things.

I take more testosterone every week than most steroid abusers would even think of... and I don't cycle it, I take it constantly, deep muscle injection every week.

I take an aromatase inhibitor to keep all that testosterone from converting to estrogens and testosterone antagonists (and giving me all the nasty side effects that not cycling off testosterone injections give you). We're experimenting with that one right now, but we may end up adding an estrogen/estradiol antagonist to the mix on top of the aromatase inhibitor.

By the by... those drugs are normally what they give to breast cancer and ovarian cancer patients. They actually say in the interaction warnings "do not take if you are a man"... unless of course you're a man whose body is producing too much estrogen, or converting too much testosterone into estrogens and testosterone antagonists, and blocking his ability to produce and use testosterone properly. If you're not one of those men, it dramatically increases the effect of testosterone (and other steroid hormones) on your body.

I'm on enough primary thyroid hormone to quite literally kill a normal person... in fact, not just "enough", the amount I take is several times the lethal dosage. It's still may not be enough for me. The doc just increased it today, and will probably increase it again in 6-12 weeks when we sort out the effects of the new meds. Sometimes athletes abuse thyroid hormones for weight loss, increased energy, and to boost other performance enhancing hormones naturally.

For allergies, and for inflammation pursuant to the endocrine issues, I take two different other steroidal medications (a glucocorticoid and a mineralcorticoid), which act as bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories.

To deal with some of the unfun and nasty side effects and after effects of the cancer (to improve metabolic function, energy, mental acuity etc...) I'm also taking enough creatine to put a normal person into kidney failure... For me, it actually makes my kidneys work better.

Because of the aftereffects of the cancer, the endocrine issues, and the side effects of the medications, I'm on megadoses of vitamins and minerals. I mean MEGADOSES.

Between all of those, my growth hormone production and DHEA production should be elevated through the roof... as if I was taking illegal supplementation of HGH. It's not... because my endocrine system is so screwed up.
For my edema (another lovely endocrine side effect, which can be made worse by my meds), I take more diuretics than the most abusive wrestler, gymnast, or bodybuilder. I've lost 24lbs in 24 hours, and 48lbs in 7 days just from the pills.

For musculoskeletal pain and systemic inflammation, I'm on more and stronger anti-inflammatories than any athlete rehabbing after a major injury (I take 1000mg of etodolac twice a day). I also get periodic shots of antiinflammatory medications directly into my knees.

Those let me get out of bed and walk. Without them... I just don't.

Between my normal blood chemistry, the damage the cancer did, and the side effects of medications, I've got polycythemia, and I'm a hyperclotter. I'm basically naturally blood doping.

To counter the aftereffects of the cancer and make the other meds work better (adrenal and pituitary support), I'm on enough stimulant medication (which is also a bronchodilator) to make the DEA look funny at my doctor... until he explains all of the above.

In fact, the DEA looks funny at several of the drugs I'm taking above. My doctors have had to explain to my pharmacists, and both have had to explain to the DEA... no, I'm not a drug dealer or abuser, I'm not a steroid abusing weight lifter... I'm just a guy who needs this stuff to live.

I should be taking actual pain killers too... I've got enough musculoskeletal  damage, neurological damage, and inflammation, that my baseline background pain is pretty substantial.

For those familiar with pain management, I live at about a 3-4 most days, with breakthrough to a 7 on good days, and 6 or 7 with breakthrough to 9 or 10 bad days.

That's with the meds. Without... there are no good days. There's just days I can get out of bed, and days I can't.

I simply refuse to take painkillers. They don't do a damn thing for me unless I take horse tranquilizer doses, and then they knock me out cold... or worse, leave me sami conscious and barely awake, but unable to think, or concentrate, or really actually sleep. Beside, I don't like the other side effects.

I've learned just to live with the pain, and take what pain reduction I can get with my other medications.

And by the way... this is a MASSIVE REDUCTION of the stuff I used to be taking, during the cancer. My primary care physician and my endocrinologist are both alternative and integrative medicine believers who hate drugs, and only prescribe the absolute minimum necessary.

I'm not overmedicated... if I go off of any of them, or all of them, nothing gets better and it all gets worse. We've done differential testing, going off one at a time and seeing the impact then going back on, then varying dosages... I'm definitely not overmedicated.

If anything, there are some other medications that might help me more. We're very slowly adding things in one at a time, so we can test and measure and adjust.

This isn't overmedication...

This is what happens, when your endocrine system completely loses the ability to regulate itself. It's trying to regulate through medication, what the body normally regulates naturally.

It's what I need to live, and be functional.

The worst thing is though... because of DEA actions, regulations, guidelines, and investigations... Several of my medications, that I need to live, and be productive, and actually be ME?

They're constantly short of them, or out of them entirely. Sometimes it's every pharmacy within 30 miles.

They don't stock them, they don't stock the dosages I need, or they don't stock enough to fill my scrips for a month.

I have to get hand written, signed scrips every month, I can't get refills, and I can't get more than a 30 days supply at once. If I'm caught with more than a 30 days supply, I can be charged with unlawful possession, and possession with intent to distribute.

I have to hand carry those scrips to the pharmacies, only for them to tell me that it might be a week, maybe two weeks, before they can fill the scrip; because the DEA production quota for that quarter had been exceeded, or the distributors orders were above the DEAs suspect threshold, or because they had sold out of all they could order for that month without the DEA investigating them, or because one scrip of mine was more than the DEA told that pharmacy they could keep in storage.

We won't even get into what the drugs themselves cost, or what they would cost without the regulatory and compliance burden to deal with these issues.

...And god help me if I actually took the painkillers I should be taking.

All this... because the medications that I need to live and function... are sometimes abused by other people to "enhance their performance".

... and somehow, some people still seem to think that the "drug war" is helping?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What the heck is a Muscular Minarchist?

I am a Muscular Minarchist.

What does that mean?

Well, the way I've introduced the concept for the past 20 or so years is:
I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist. 
Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn't paying extra
That’s a bit of “ha ha only serious” there… and really does fairly encapsulate my personal moral and ethical position… it’s the “elevator pitch” version as it were.

The next sentence of the elevator pitch is:
I believe in an absolutely minimalist government that provides a strong defense. I want a government that stays out of my wallet, out of my bedroom, and out of my business.
I realize that’s a lot to ask, but I don’t believe it should be.

I write, because from time to time I must express my anger, frustration, ire, pique, and general cussedness in a format that is unlikely to result in my imprisonment.

I can just see it now “Radical right wing gun nut takes out entire joint session of congress”

Hey a guy can dream can’t he?

Of course I’m not a radical right wing anything; I’m a radical about liberty.

 I make careful note that I am a philosophical libertarian (note the small “L”) and I take those principles seriously. It’s not just a question of politics, it’s a matter of morals and ethics.

Since I hold all involuntary collectivism as an inherent evil; that, by the very definition used by modern media ...and for that matter most who consider themselves "left" or "progressive" or "liberal"... is radical right wing.

The thing is, my opposition to involuntary collectivism is from all sides. I reject collectivist government, as much as I reject collectivist social policy, as much as I reject collectivist moral policy, or religion (not all religion, just the promulgation of involuntary collectivism through religion), or any other concentration of the power to coercively limit liberty.

I believe in Liberty, Responsibility, Service, and Honor… I guess I’m just funny that way.

Okay so who am I?

Personally, I’m a husband, a father of three, a son, and a friend. I am a sincere and faithful, but dissenting and schismatic, Catholic. I am a cancer warrior, because I didn't just survive cancer, I kicked its ass.

Professionally, I’m a veteran of the United States Air Force, an Aerospace Engineer and Computer Scientist by education; and an enterprise, infrastructure, systems, and security, architect and educator; by way of employment.

Passionately, I am a shooter, a singer, a guitar and bass player, a driver, a rider, a sailor, a pilot, a builder, a craftsman, a hunter, an outdoorsman, a reader, a writer, a poet, a cook and brewer, and a lover of fine food, and spirituous beverages.

Finally, by fundamental nature, I’m a hard core geek, about all of those things above, and more. I am by my nature compelled to learn, and love, and know, and understand, everything I care about; as fully and deeply as I possibly can.

I revel in my geekitude.

I work, play, game, read, speak, think, drink, and live, geek.

NOTE: This profile was originally published in 2005. The author was lazy and didn’t get around to updating it until October 16th 2014… when it was pointed out that in the intervening almost decade, he had somehow managed to acquire a wife and children (he met his wife shortly after the founding of the site), which he had neglected to mention.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Equally Human

The last few years have seen the spread of the toxic notion that all public portrayals of women, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities etc... must not present them in a bad light.

If they do dare to show any characters who are not white males as evil, villainous, "bad people", or even just unlikeable; such portrayals (and the artists who created them) could be, and frequently were, labeled as "racist", misogynist and the like.

This of course is itself racist and misogynist, because it infantilizes and dehumanizes those being portrayed.

Real humans have flaws and faults, and the flaws in any particular character say nothing about the nature of all humans who share some arbitrary identity characteristics with that character.
No single woman, no single black man, no single muslim; is a proxy for all woman, or black men, or muslims everywhere.

To be so reductionist and generalizing is absurd, and is in fact racist or misogynist.

This particular issue has been at the fore this past two weeks, because of the release of the thriller "Gone Girl"; whose female lead is a thoroughly nasty psychopath, who deliberately frames the men in her life for rape and murder.

Such a portrayal is NOT misogynist... Anymore than saying any portrayal of any white male as a sociopath is saying that all white men are sociopaths.

Such notions reveal more about the insecurities, sensitivities, and prejudices of those espousing them, than of the artist who created the characters.

In a New York Times piece about the film (and the controversy), Maureen Dowd says some things I think are worthy of consideration:

"The idea that every portrait of a woman should be an ideal woman, meant to stand for all of womanhood, is an enemy of art — not to mention wickedly delicious Joan Crawford and Bette Davis movies. Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.”"

Yes... indeed... when exactly did we decide otherwise, and who exactly did the deciding?

Of course I'm sensitive to the fact that for decades popular culture has often portrayed minorities as the scary badguys, or at best as gross parodies of reality... but you don't fix that by simply grossly distorting and dehumanizing minorities in the opposite direction.

For gods sake, how many wise, magical, non-threatening black men can hollywood cast Will Smith and Morgan Freeman as?

As a result of this "sensitivity", we have seen every movie where the bad guy isn't a white western European or American male, decried as racist or culturist or sexist etc... etc... etc...

This has resulted in the ridiculous whitewashing of villains. Books with muslim terrorists as the antagonists are made into movies with Belgian Nazis. Hollywood is breathing a sigh of relief that they can portray Russians as bad guys again, because they were running out of ways of making all the badguys white anglosaxons without seeming ridiculous.

Honestly, I think Hollywood really misses the days when they could just make all the bad guys nazis and russians. No "troubling implications" when swastikas are involved.

This dehumanization serves neither art, nor humanity. It's dishonest, disingenuous, and condescending.

We're not really equal, until we can be equally bad, equally good, equally ambiguous... equally HUMAN.

HP is dead... now stop molesting the corpse...

So, some of you know... and it's actually in my FB profile, that I'm a former employe of HP.

I've also worked with them extensively for many years as a subcontractor, as a strategic partner, and as a vendor that I had a very close relationship with. I've had a lot of great friends and colleagues in HP, and we've done some very interesting and innovative things together.

Over the past week or so, I've been thinking about what to say about HP's... really Meg Whitmans... plan to split the company in two.

I finally figured out what I have to say... and it's really simple.

The company that Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard built is finally and definitively dead... It's been mostly dead but vainly struggling for breath for several years, and with this final stroke, it's truly gone.

Now that there is no more hope, and the plug is being pulled, the faster we can bury the corpse, and reallocate the assets to something useful and productive, the better.

I'm sorry, I wish I could say something better... I wish the HP I loved working with for many years was still with us, or had any chance at all.

It doesn't, it isn't, and I can't.

Meg Whitman has continued to do what Carly Fiorina started... gut the company one quarter at a time, doing anything to temporarily prop up stock prices (and the executive managements bonuses) at the expense of the company as a whole, it's future business, and its customers.

This was the final cut. There is no more. It's over...

Gilmore Girls... Is it Just Me or?

A certain segment of the internet has been very happy for the past two weeks, because "the Gilmore Girls" has become available on Netflix streaming.

I've mentioned before that, unsurprisingly to anyone who knows anything about the show, and my own pop culture proclivities, I quite like it.

I was actually out of the country during most of it's original run, so I never got into it then. But on the recommendation... actually the incessant obsessive raving... of several friends (after I mentioned I really liked "Bunheads") I binge watched all seven seasons over the course of about a month, while I was recovering from cancer.

I'm total sucker for rapid fire, witty, snappy dialogue, full of clever jokes and pop culture references. Sorkin, Tarantino, the old screwball romantic comedies... And Gilmore Girls (and Amy Sherman Palladinos next show "Bunheads") hit all those points fast, hard, and frequently.

So much so, that Gilmore Girls scripts for a single 48 minute episode were often as long as feature film scripts (generally twice as long as TV).

The show is definitely worth watching if that's the kind of thing you like.

I've personally described the Gilmore Girls family dynamics as "If you made them Irish, and even more screwed up, they'd be a hell of a lot like my family".

One thing that's been happening these past few weeks as people have rewatched, or tried to convince friends and random strangers to watch... is that lists and summaries, and memes, and gifs are being created... because I guess that's what we do now with pop culture stuff.

The most frequent comments I've seen have been:


  1. "Lorelai is really rude" -- Yes, she is. And she's often obliviously self centered when she's not stupidly martyring herself, and totally irrational and ridiculous about... lots and lots of things. Which means she is exactly like a LOT of women I've known (and some I've loved). If the writing were not so good, and if Lauren Graham didn't have such great natural humor, timing, and presence, Lorelai would be unwatchable.
     
  2. "Is Rory just not that great a character? Or is it that Alexis Bledel is not a very good actress?" -- Yes
     
  3. "Is it just me... or are the side characters... and their actors performances... way better, more fun, more likeable, and more interesting" -- No, it's not just you. Yes, they are.
     
  4. Is it just me, or are Emily and Richard the best characters on the show" -- No, it's not just you. Yes, they are.

    However, in large part that's because Kelly Bishop (45 years on broadway, 1 tony) and Edward Herrmann (5 emmy noms, 1 win, 40 years on broadway 2 tonys) are truly wonderful actors, delivering performances that absolutely OWN every minute they're on screen.

    If there's a scene that could make a grown man cry (and there are more than a couple)... it's a safe bet that it's an Emily or Richard scene.
      
  5. "Is it just me, or are seasons 6 and 7... kinda... not very good? Maybe even bad" -- No, it's not just you. Yes, they are.

    Honest to god... I didn't skip them because I'm an obsessive completionist, but you can... and really, you might be happier that way.

    The shows creator and head writer (Amy and Daniel Palladino) left the show for seasons 6 and 7, and by the end of season five they had sorta written themselves into places that would've taken really great writers to get out of. They didn't have really great writers.
      
  6. "Hey, isn't that that guy, who was in that thing? -- Yes, yes it is.

    Gilmore Girls is one of those shows that somehow seemingly had everyone who was famous in the mid to late 2000s through today show up in some minor role for some episode... or even for a season or two. In particular there are a lot of indy movie stars, and a lot of alternative and improv comedians.

    Oh and because of Amy and Daniel Palladinos obsessive pop culture disorder, and extensive contact list in the music business, the show has a LOT of punk, new wave, alternative, underground, and folk musicians filling minor roles as well.

    If you're a music geek, you WILL find yourself running to IMDB to see... Yep, that WAS Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon... and hey... yeah, that's Carol King in the music shop and... and...


Anyway, if you're looking for an actual family friendly show, that isn't boring, that's well written, that's funny and fun, that's sweet, that you can watch with your wife, or your kids, or your grandma...

Check it out... it's worth your time.

Oh and check out "Bunheads" as well... The show is worth watching just to see Sutton Foster (6 tony nominations 2 wins) be Sutton Foster (and Kelly Bishop be even more Kelly Bishop than she was in "Gilmore Girls").

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cost is NOT Price, and Neither Cost, nor Price, are Value


Prices Provide a Misleading Measure of Dollar DevaluationForbes Magazine Online - Keith Weiner 
There’s not a human being alive who doesn't know the dollar is falling. Everyone over 25 has stories of what prices were like, way back when (and younger people have heard them). I remember when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon, and my mom remembers when it was 20 cents. 
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledges the official objective to push the dollar down by 2 percent per year. This intention is behind the Fed’s ill-conceived loose money policy. 
It’s important to measure each drop. This is not just to keep a scorecard on the Fed, but because a change in the dollar skews historical comparisons and distorts business decisions, like giving increases to workers and pensioners....

Read the whole piece, and then come back...

The thesis statement of the piece is correct, in that prices provide a misleading indicator of currency valuation (and that our weak dollar policy is fundamentally wrong and destructive for that matter).

Unfortunately the author suggests that simply using a different price denomination and comparison is a less misleading indicator... In this, he's absolutely incorrect.

What you really want to compare is purchasing power parity (PPP) as measured by equivalent standard of living, expressed as a dollar cost in constant dollars normalized to average labor hour wage or compensation.

i.e. this item costs 5 minutes of average labor, this costs 8 hours, this costs 20 years; the cost to maintain this equivalent normalized standard of living across an aggregate population is 1940 hours of median labor wage etc... etc...

Note, this is NOT an expression of the fallacious labor theory of value, it is an explicit measure of purchasing power parity as actual cost, not currency denomination.

The critical function isn't price, and it isn't wage... it's cost, in this case expressed as a cost to value ratio as a normalized dollar (to make it easy to relate to wages and prices).

Cost is not price; it's a totalized measure of inputs including resources, time, and opportunity.

Some Advice to Salespeople (and Managers).... Selling vs. Making Money

Couple points for you salesfolks and account managers, particularly the newer ones, or people who have converted to sales from another discipline...

  1. Fire your customers. If a customer is costing you more than they are making you, stop serving them. Don't stop selling to them... If they want to keep giving you money anyway, fine... but DO NOT put more time or effort into them.

    Most importantly, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TEAMS TIME on them.
     
  2. See that guy? The one who knows everything about the product, and the customers, and the competitors, and all the strategic plans, and the market space comparisons, and the advantages and disadvantages and competitive analyses off the top of his head?

    Oh and he actually knows how to write and present?

    That guy whose involvement can close a sale all by itself? Or who can move you past the decisioning phase and into the negotiation phase?

    Yeah, he's an awesome resource... In fact, there's a strong temptation to just LET HIM DO YOUR JOB FOR YOU.

    Yeah...DON'T DO THAT.

    That guy is your chief architect or your product manager, he is not your  junior sales engineer. DO NOT WASTE HIS TIME.
Do you see the commonality here?


To be a good salesman, you need to know how to sell.

To be a great one, you need to know how to make your company money. 

These are not the same thing. 


Revenue is important, but generally, PROFIT is more important.

Every dollar earned, has a dollar cost associated with it; meaning the direct and indirect cost inputs into gaining that dollar. 

In information technology, as in many other industries, the costs of the sales process are often the single largest component of the marginal costs of each sale (yes, more than the amortized costs of development, and more than the cost of manufacturing and distribution. Generally the baseline run rate i.e. the amortized fixed costs related directly to the product... is the largest marginal cost component, and the customer acquisition and sales process is the second largest marginal cost component). 

Every minute, and every dollar, you spend on that process has to be weighed against the expected return (and by the way, unless you desperately need the revenue, or there are externalities at play, you need to have a minimum 4x expected return on gross totalized marginal cost including amortized fixed costs, just to break even on a sale). 

You have to understand the cost/benefit of the elements of your sales process, at least as well as you understand how to execute that process. 

Also, and in big picture terms more importantly; every dollar earned has an opportunity cost associated with it. 

You have to understand these inputs not just as direct costs, but as opportunity costs. Could you or your team be spending their time in more efficient or more effective ways? Could they be making you, and your organization, more money, doing something else?

Some advice to managers and organizations...

Everything I said above?

STOP SABOTAGING IT

Stop working against yourselves, by process and metric capture, and suboptimal incentive structures.

People will respond to their perceived incentives. We generally create incentives to sell unit volume, or gross revenue; and sales people respond to that, by maximizing the elements by which they are measured and incentivized.

Yes, we should encourage more sales, and greater revenue, but not at the expense of profit.

The mission isn't to sell more... it's to make more money.

If we want to make more money, we need to create metrics and incentives that will drive profit not revenue.

That doesn't mean don't measure sales, or revenue... It just means that it shouldn't be our key metric, nor should it be the key component to anyones compensation.

We need to start creating metrics and compensation plans that measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the sales process.

My suggestion? 

Create a primary metric and incentive structure based on total cost accounting of each realized dollar.

Totalize the amortized fixed costs, the marginal cost inputs, and the sales process inputs, and compute that as a ratio against realized dollars.

With that, you end up with a somewhat different set of metrics to work and manage against:


  • Total sales closed
  • Total unit volume
  • Average unit volume per sale
    -
  • Total realized revenue
  • Realized revenue per sale
  • Realized revenue per unit
    -
  • Totalized cost per sale
  • Totalized cost per unit
  • Totalized dollar cost per realized dollar
    -
  • Total profit per sale
  • Total profit per unit
  • Total realized profit
    -
  • Ratio of totalized cost to revenue per sale
  • Ratio of totalized cost to revenue per unit
  • Ratio of totalized cost to total realized revenue

These metric sets allow you to tune your process better, to define your requirements better to product management and marketing, to train your people better, to truly evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and help them improve and refocus as needed...

Fundamentally, they help you understand who is really making you money, how, and why; so you can compensate them appropriately, and both replicate and improve on their results.

Remember though, you cannot focus any single one of those metrics to the exclusion of all the others. Each metric tells you one single thing, one single area that is exceptional or could use improvement.

Oh and by the by... It's not just for managers... You should collect these metrics on yourself, and strive to improve them.

... and here's the really BIG secret...

Even if you're not a salesperson, or a sales or account manager; you should understand, and if possible, collect these metrics on yourself (and your team if you are a manager or leader) as well...

You simply change the word "sales" to "tasks" or "goal" or "product" or "accomplishment"; the word revenue to "benefit" or "achievement"; and the word "profit" to "value".


Sunday, October 12, 2014

What exactly do I do?

In theory, I work in technology for a living.

In particular, I work in enterprise, infrastructure, and information security architecture; more specifically as a consultant and educator in those domains.

Really, what I do, is I talk to people about their problems.

Then I think about them for a while, and I write about them for a while.

Then I try to teach people how to solve those problems, and I write about that...

Then I mediate between groups of people who both need each other and hate each other; with competing agendas and incentives and fears and desires, and problems and styles and personalities etc... etc... etc...

...and most of all, I try to find nice ways of saying NO without actually saying no...

...and after saying NO, show them how to actually DO, what they ACTUALLY need to do (as opposed to what they wanted to do, or thought they needed to do), in the least stupid and least harmful way possible.

... and if I'm REALLY REALLY good at it, and REALLY lucky... I manage to do all that, while making them think it was always all their idea the whole time.

I see no meaningful functional difference between this, and a therapist.

What I Know About Teaching

About a year ago, a friend of mine was preparing to teach a class that he'd never taught before... He's done a lot of one on one education and training, but I he had never taught a group class, and he was looking for some advice. 

I thought I'd offer him what advice I could, and so I wrote (most of) what became this piece down. I thought I had posted it to the blog at the time, but when I searched for it to reference it earlier today, I couldn't find it. 

I decide to post it now, revising it with the new bits and pieces I was writing today. 

Remember, this is about teaching a class, not giving a lecture or a presentation, or a demonstration or conducting a forum... those are all different environments, with different priorities and different techniques.
Here's what I know about teaching, from my own personal experiences, in more than 15 years as a professional educator and trainer (and they are two different but related disciplines), and as a training and courseware developer.

The Big Picture Stuff



Style and Philosophy

I have almost entirely moved away from traditional lecture classes (unless the courseware vendor or certification authorities require specific curricula and delivery).

I find that my students learn better, and that I teach better, in an interactive and participatory environment. An extended and guided conversation, with open digressions and contextual questions, answers, and explanations.

I believe in instructor lead, but participant driven, training and education.

As such, I tend to use a modified Socratic method to lead my classes into participation. I use a lot of leading questions, and logic and reasoning problems. I try to get my students to extend and generalize from examples and principles we've covered before, and then apply them to new situations.

I also encourage students to (civilly and constructively) argue and debate, both myself and each other.

When I think it'll be responded to well, I'll often deliberately misstate or poorly state or frame an idea, or deliberately misapply a principle or not fully extend a thought etc... in order to prompt my students into exploring the correct or complete thought. If they don't speak up on their own or catch me in it, I'll straight out ask them as I go "So, am I using this properly? Is there a better way? What if I did this... Was that earlier example wrong?"

Importantly, I always encourage... in fact, right up front I tell my students that I require them... to speak up if they think I'm wrong, or they have a different idea or different perspective, or a different experience.

HOWEVER... that doesn't work for all courses, or all students.

Different materials and subject matters lend themselves to different styles of instruction and presentation; and most critically, different students learn better with different styles and methods.

You MUST tailor your material, and your style, to your students, and the environment and requirements of that specific class.  

The Classroom Environment


Obviously, I work in non-traditional educational environments. I am not generally (though I have) teaching classes full of 10th graders.

My students are generally adults, who have at the very least, taken a lot of time out of their life to attend my class. Often, they have paid (or their employers have paid) several thousand dollars to attend. They tend to have an entirely different level of motivation and a different set of incentives, than other instruction environments.

Also, I tend to have my students for a minimum of two straight hours (for short talks given at conferences, demos at group events etc...), and frequently for 6-8 hours a day (sometimes even 10 or more hours per day), for two to five days (for professional education and training).

In this kind of environment, we get to go as broad and deep on the subject matter, as our time, and the amount of material we have to cover, allow; and what we cover is largely dictated by the desires and needs of the students.

In general, I like to start a bit later... I find that anything I teach before about 9:30am doesn't actually stick... so I keep the first part of each morning light, or I make it review and freeform Q&A from the day before... or introductions and personal stories on the first day.

We get up and move around at least once an hour, for enough time to go to the bathroom, and get a drink, have a snack... then, refreshed, we get back down to the material with renewed focus.

The same for lunch, particularly if I can get it catered in. We get up, move around, eat, talk to each other, get to know each other and share experiences... and we relax, and try to enjoy our time.

It's critical for both you, AND your students, to take time to relax, and decompress, and get comfortable, throughout the day. Stay hydrated, keep your blood sugar right, and your electrolytes right. Avoid getting stiff, and avoid strain headaches. You will be more efficient and more effective, covering more material with greater comprehension and retention, if you are relaxed and comfortable.

Then, at the end of the day, I don't like to try to teach the material up to the bell. I always like to give at LEAST the last half hour as a freeform Q&A and review of anything the students want.

So yes... it's a different environment than a typical secondary education classroom...

That said, I think that professional trainers and educators, have some valuable insights and experiences to offer in improving secondary and university education.

The Detail Stuff... Technique and Technicalities


Preparation

The most important thing, is to be prepared. You don't have to be a total expert on the material to teach a class in it, but you do have to know it, understand it, and prepare yourself with it (and with additional supporting material).

When I'm fully prepared for a class, I can be much more comfortable, extemporaneous, I can explain things better in a more engaging way, and I can change things up when it is necessary to, or when the class feels like that's where it's going etc...

Preparation allows me to be flexible, to be interesting, to be funny, to be personal, to be engaging; and lack of it, prevents these things... or makes them much harder...

...Or worst of all, makes them all there is, and no-one learns anything; except how good you are at vamping, or how well you can monologue at them off the printed materials.

Know not just the material you're teaching, but the history of it, the reasons and motivations behind it... how it got to be the way it is now. Understand the context of it, and how it will impact your students.

Even if all of this is not part of the class, people may ask questions about it, and again, knowing this stuff, and being prepared for it, will help you explain things better.

Personality

It's important to allow yourself to show through in the material. Be flexible. Use humor. Be personal. Change it up. Use personal examples and personal stories (when appropriate). If you don't have personal stories, use anecdotes from others, but make them real, personal, relatable...

It doesn't have to be directly personal, what it has to be is RELATABLE.

Be open... but don't make it about you, make it about the material USING yourself as the example, or as a pivot point around which your students can see and experience the material.

Repetition

You need to repeat yourself.

Anything important you say, you need to say it at least three times; and if it's REALLY important, it's preferable to say something three times three...

That's three times at once, then three times again a little later, then three more times again near the end.

You can, and often should, say it in different ways, so long as it's absolutely clear that you're really saying the same thing. You don't have to say it three times over and over again in a row, but the repetitions should be close enough together to be clearly reinforcing.

Some folks don't need or want repetition, and almost everyone is bored or irritated by it eventually, which we certainly want to avoid.

However, so long as the repetition isn't excessive (more than four or five times -or more than four or five cycles of three repetitions- in a single lesson, unless each repetition is reinforced organically as a subpart of the lesson), even if the repetition bugs them a bit, they'll RETAIN it better.

... so long as you maintain...

Engagement

Engage everyone, both as a group, but also individually. When you engage individually, so long as you do so in a way that everyone can see and hear, and isn't too specific to the individual, the audience can relate, and it's almost as good as engaging each of them individually.

Stop regularly and ask for questions; and make it clear when it's possible, that they can ask questions any time. If there's a point where you feel like you know there are questions, but no-one is coming forth, ask the question yourself, or ask leading questions of your students.

Engage your students with problems, exercises... bring them up to the whiteboard or chalkboard... Capture their attention fully, AND capture their intellect fully, AND engage their EMOTIONS... get them analyzing, and relating what you are doing, to themselves, their own knowledge and needs.

Use game design theory, and psychology, to your advantage.  A while back I wrote a piece on game design theory and engagement in sports, that I think has parallels and value to education as well.

Although it may not be immediately obvious exactly how this applies to education and training, I think you'll see the value, and I'm going to insert an extended quotation (feel free to skip ahead if you like):

"...Acquisition and retention are particularly critical to these games; and retention is achieved through engagement. 
The way game designers accomplish these missions are with spectacle, and reward psychology (positive and negative reinforcement through anticipation, reward and penalty; with a very strong bias towards reward, leavened by the occasional penalty), particularly competitive reward psychology. 
Something spectacular engages you for the duration of the spectacle. You are a passive participant. It attracts you, and fascinates you, but only for that moment. Retention requires maintaining engagement over time... becoming an active participant, either directly or as a metaparticipant. 
So... what does that have to do with sports? Or with spectator sports fans in particular?
Simple... Sports fans are players in a metagame.
 
Spectator sport fandom, although passively received (the fan isn't an active participant in the games they are watching); isn't a passive, receptive, entertainment experience (like a movie or television). 
However, much as television shows retain viewers by emotional engagement in the story (thus making them metaparticipants in the narrative); spectator sports retain fans by persistent emotional engagement with the sport, and particularly with their team (making them metaplayers in the game). 
Sports fandom, is a kind of play by proxy; much as horse racing, and other betting games (roulette for example) where the players interaction with the game is not part of the gameplay. This makes it a metagame. 
And metagames have the same success vectors as any other game. 
One of the things that makes Boston sports fandom so... passionate and crazy I guess is the best way to put it... is that a Boston fan is being fed with a near perfect reward psychology cycle. 
Boston teams win often enough (and often quite excitingly) to attract attention and generate spectacle. This  acquires new fans (or brings back those whose engagement has weakened); and it presses the "happy button" in existing fans, engaging their reward pleasure mechanism. 
Importantly though, Boston teams don't win so often that fans get victory fatigue, and need reward escalation to maintain engagement. 
When they're NOT winning, Boston teams are rarely just mediocre... they tend to alternate between "oh God so close..." and "total abject failure" (at least psychologically if not objectively). It may seem counterintuitive, but this is actually far more engaging than consistent high performance or even consistent victory. 
In terms of gaming theory, this 3 point cycle (victory, near victory, failure) helps create spectacle to attract and acquire participants; and helps create, reinforce, and increase engagement. 
Very importantly, it also helps maintain engagement (and thus retention) by reducing victory fatigue, anticipation fatigue, and expectation escalation. 
So... getting into that second and third part... 
Retention is achieved through continued engagement. When engagement is weakened or broken, you lose participants (gamers, fans). 
Engagement is created, reinforced, and increased; with spectacle, novelty, fascination, and competitive reward psychology as described above. 
Engagement is weakened or broken and you lose participants (gamers, fans) through frustration, demoralization, boredom, and fatigue. 
So, the challenge is to maintain or increase engagement over time.
In general, you deal with boredom and fatigue, through novelty. Change things up, so that a participants experience, expectations, and emotional engagement with the game are maintained, and thus they are retained. 
I mentioned victory fatigue above, but didn't define it, I should probably define the three elements of "game fatigue" now. 
Victory fatigue is what happens when a player receives too many rewards, or wins too much too easily. This tends to cause boredom, and frustration; because the rewards no longer feel like rewards. This weakens or breaks engagement. 
In an interactive game you can deal with victory fatigue (and to a lesser extent anticipation fatigue) by varying gameplay (introducing new and different ways of earning rewards) increasing challenge (NOT just increasing difficulty, though that is one way of doing so), increasing penalty for failure (though you can't do that too much or you break engagement through frustration and demoralization), varying rewards (making the rewards new, interesting, and different), or by increasing intensity or spectacle (making the rewards bigger or more desirable). These mechanisms keep the players anticipation and pre-reward engagement high, and their reward pleasure mechanisms responding strongly to the rewards. 
In most spectator sports however, you don't have those mechanisms available to you (or they are severely limited). The difficulty and rewards do escalate somewhat over the course of a season, but are basically fixed year to year (win a game, win a conference, win a division, win a playoff game, win a championship game). So, frequent and consistent victories, particularly championships, result in expectation escalation. 
The three major exceptions to this issue of fixed challenge and fixed rewards by the way, are motor racing, premiership style football (soccer), and NCAA football and basketball. Not surprisingly, the first two are the two most popular spectator sports in the world; and the third creates a degree of unreasoning passion far greater than any other sports in America. 
Anticipation fatigue is a more interesting issue. When you get that "so close" feeling too much, it actually tends to discourage and disappoint you, which increases frustration and breaks engagement i.e. "they get our hopes up every time then disappoint us every time... what's the point". 
Expectation escalation, is what happens when performance or rewards consistently exceed expectations (or consistently exceed the mean performance of a peer group).This causes people to "reset" their emotional expectation of what poor, acceptable, and excellent are, such that their median level of performance, even if it is objectively far better than average, is simply "expected". 
So, a team that wins 80% of the time, year after year, will eventually be expected to do so. If that team starts to win consistently less than 80%, even if they are still better than most teams and win 60% of the time; the emotional reaction of their fans will be the same as if they had objectively poor performance, rather than simply "less good". 
Lesser success can feel like failure, when you're used to greater success. 
Cycling between "not quite great", and "really bad" (even if "really bad" is actually mediocre statistically, the victories and near victories redefine emotional expectations such that mediocre FEELS like abject failure), actually creates and reinforces engagement, and passion; far more, and far more intensely, than consistently high performance. 
This by the way, is the exact same reinforcement cycle that creates and reinforces addiction. Reward (the high), anticipation (the process up to the high), and penalty (the come down and the jones). 
So... for Boston fans, it's like vegas slot machine designers were controlling things for optimum fan acquisition, engagement, and retention. 
It's an almost perfect metagame... arising without design... which is kinda neat.

I realize that was an extended, and somewhat esoteric digression, but I think it provides real value, and direct parallels with education and training. If nothing else, let me pull out a small subsection and slightly modify it:

  • Retention is achieved through continued engagement. When engagement is weakened or broken, you lose participants (or at least you lose their interest and attention)
  • Engagement is created, reinforced, and increased; with direct participation or metaparticipation, spectacle, novelty, fascination, and competitive reward psychology
  • Engagement is weakened or broken and you lose participants, through frustration, demoralization, boredom, and fatigue
It should be clear how those directly relate to engaging students attention and helping them learn.


Mirroring

After you've explained something important, ask particular participants to explain the point you've made, in their own words. If they don't get it quite right, lead them through figuring it out and explaining it properly.

Then ask THEM questions.

Then do it again with a different person, and ask them to explain it in a different way, or to come up with an example, or a scenario etc...

This is called mirroring. It's a communications exercise, that helps people understand what other people are saying, and how what they say is being perceived and understood by other people.

When you apply this to instruction, it serves those purposes, but it's also about making your students think through the problem or example or principle, and figure out how to relate to it, and relate it to others; rather than simply to repeat and regurgitate what they've been told.

It helps the student to truly understand and contextualize what they've learned, and to really show that they have done so.

It also helps you as an instructor, to be a better communicator, and to better understand how others communicate.

Comprehension and Retention

Finally... there is a basic instructional concept called the comprehension and retention cycle

  • See
  • Hear
  • Read
  • Show
  • Do
  • Repeat


To most effectively teach something, with the highest level of retention, your students should in some way:

  • See the material (with handouts, whiteboard/blackboard, slides etc...)
  • Hear the material explained (and remember the repetition above)
  • Read the material, both silently and aloud (or aloud to themselves in their own head, which is different from silently... it sounds silly, but there really is a difference. Try it)
  • Show them the material directly, in demonstration, preferably 3 different ways
  • Do what it is they have read, heard, and been shown, applying it and solving it or using it themselves; preferably in 3 different ways
  • Repeat it all again, preferably three times (or three times three for critical things); varying each time to explore the subject more fully, to maintain and increase engagement, and to allow the students different perspectives and examples to relate better to the material.


So... that's what I know about teaching and training... hope it helps.

Oh and one more thing...


Teaching is one of the greatest satisfactions, joys, and pleasures in my life. It helps me fulfill who and what I am... what I want and need to be.

I have learned far more from teaching, than I ever did from being taught... and perhaps separate from that... perhaps not... I have gained more insight and wisdom, about myself, and about the world, in so doing.

Take that as you will...