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30 December, 2009

Thus another year approaches its end

When the new year is approaching, we all have our own unique version of "looking back" or "looking ahead". Some of us do more of one and less of the other. We make resolutions, some of which we'll keep, and some of which we will abandon before the 1st of February.

The thing that stands out for me in this past year is that, more than any other year, I traveled a lot. In this calendar year alone, I visited:

Austria
Germany (twice)
Italy
California
New York
Kauai
Arizona (5 times)
Boston
Portland (at least 3 times)

Combined, those trips amounted to somewhere in the ballpark of 55 days away from home. None of that traveling was work-related. For most of the flights, I traveled alone (except for Kauai). It was a lot of back and forth. Obviously I cannot complain, since not very many people have the luxury or opportunity to move around as much as I did this year.

But I guess I come out of this year tired. With the feeling like I have uprooted myself from the regular routine. To add to the uprooting, I decided to switch jobs, and spent large chunks of the year in pursuit of this new opportunity. There were several dead ends, and no small amount of effort put into trying to pursue those paths that ultimately bore no fruit. For a bit, I desperately tried to get myself on the "Westside", since the commute across the lake every day has a way of sapping the life out of anyone. And that commute means that I spend about a third of my waking hours in environs that I would rather avoid.

I sold my third car in 2 years, as you have heard the last few entries.

I am tired of change. But somehow I seem drawn to it. Every few years, I seem to have a full discard, shuffle, and re-dealing of the cards.

Anyway, this can't possibly be interesting to anyone but me. And it did not go in the direction I wanted it to go.

29 December, 2009

Guitars and Helicopters...

These things go hand-in-hand, right?

So, they must. I posted my 1970's Fender Champ amplifier to Craigslist because I am trying to unload it just to cut down on things I don't need. The contents of my ad are not integral to my story, but it was posted under Musical Instruments, and read in the standard fashion.

Today I received this email in response to my ad:

From:
Ronald XXXXXX

To:sale-py9kn-1528339689@craigslist.org
Blade1.jpg (65KB)

Would you be interested in a trade for an RC helicopter?



I have an E-flight Blade 400 RC Helicopter with many upgrades.
The blade 400 has the purple
CNC metal head and the spectrum transmitter.
It has one new Hyperion battery,
carbon fiber blades and extra wood blades.
I also have the original box for the helicopter.
Hyperion
battery charger and one new batteries (batteries are $40 each, and the charger $120).
A
HiTech gyro and servo combo ($180 new), which helps keep the tail in place (a major upgrade).
Everything you need for the perfect gift!!
This helicopter was recently serviced by Dale at RC Hobbies in Seattle.
Separately:
Blade 400 helicopter, Spectrum transmitter and 1 battery $400
HiTech gyro and servo combo $90
Hyperion battery charger and 1 battery $100
Package deal: $525 cash.
Call Ron at
xxx-xxx-xxxx
--  
Ronald XXXXXXX, ND, PhD - Licensed Naturopathic Physician
E-mail: ron@xxxxxxx.com, Phone: (206) xxx-xxxx
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The best part is that this sounds like it would be a 14-year old kid, and it's some sort of doctor dude. I don't know. Maybe I *should* get a helicopter. If it were powerful enough to put the cats in it, that would make it worthwhile.

Actually, I lied. The *best* part is that the so-called "helicopter" looks like a pile of electromechanical refuse in a heap all over his workbench.

28 December, 2009

Slemony Nicket's Series of Fortunate Events

I decided I wanted a new(er) car. My friend decides she also wants a new(er) car. Her car was newer than mine. I buy hers.

I decided I wanted to sell my old car cheap and fast. Initial avenue of sale (to a friend) falls through due to lack of interest. Friend who sells me her car finds a potential buyer at the dealership where she is buying her new car. What could be easier.

Except.

I take my car to get the tabs renewed. Find out that it needs an emissions test. Okay. No biggie.

Bring it for emissions. Car fails emissions. Pain in the ass.

Find out I need to spend *lots* of money ($400) to pass emissions. Go to dealer, which would normally be a bad idea, but I like this dealer, and wanted it done right and fast. Dealer asks me how much I am going to ask for my car. I tell them. They tell me I am crazy, and that my car is worth *far* more than I am asking.

I take their advice, and list my car for "far more".

Sell my car to the first person who sees it. Come out way ahead.

Moral of the story: Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not the fastest.

Gaining Insight (Part I.5)

I am not sure I'm ready to go all the way to Part II yet, so you get Part I.5. I am not sure that's the proper notation of an interim data point, when one is using Roman numerals. Perhaps I am on to Part I.V. Or Part I.II.

As you probably recall, I've been a personality-test freak for a long time, and have written blogs about it, and encouraged all my friends to take surveys as well. My favorites are the Enneagram and the Myers-Briggs (Jung) tests. As with many of the tests out there, I tend to fall kind of close to the borderline on certain criteria, though for the most part, I have always assumed that I am either a 6 or a 3 on the Enneagram, and either an ENTJ or an ENTP on the Myers-Briggs. If I had to say what I most often tested, or what I have identified myself as being, it would be a 6/ENTJ.

However, on the Myers-Briggs there are always a lot of questions that I have a hard time answering, and on which I doubt my responses. I would read the question, and in many cases, answer what I think I should be, as opposed to how I actually am. In fact, on a few occasions, I have had my results come out as ESTJ or ENFP. All sorts of variations. The Enneagram, on the other hand, almost always says that 6 is my highest score, and I don't have much difficult answering those questions that result in me winding up there, much as I am not thrilled about that outcome.

Then I was poking around online, and found some mappings of Myers-Briggs to Enneagram, which stated the most common Myers-Briggs associated with each Enneagram (I recognize that this represents an extremely self-absorbed, narcissistic expenditure of time and energy, but I am going to think of it as "introspection" rather than those ugly traits). And what I found was the people who are 6's are always F on the Myers-Briggs. There are a few different types that map to the 6, but they always contain F. And this made me wonder... maybe those times that I came out F on the test were not "flukes" but were actually the only accurate readings of my type?

All this time I have been assuming that I am a T and that there was simply no question about it.

Then I thought about it some more and realized that, although I do analyze everything, and I do spend massive amounts of time "applying logic", in the end, when it comes time to make a decision, I am very likely to discard my findings if they do not support what my gut feeling is telling me. In the end, I often abandon all of the analysis, and make a choice. It's better, of course, if my gut maps to what the data told me. But when it hasn't, I have readily discarded it. And to top it off, after I make this "gut" decision, I will then commence another round of analysis and logic, designed to rationalize or justify my decision! So, to an outsider (who doesn't pay that close attention), it looks like I am logic, logic, logic. But not really.

I don't know what this means. I think it might be relevant to my happiness and my understanding of self, though. Not sure how. But it seems that if I've been operating with an incorrect model of "self", that it might be difficult for me to get where I need to be. Because I continually try to fit all of my experiences into an understanding that does not take into account key facets of my inner workings. So, I'm trying to sit with this, and "recast" myself as the ENFP or ESFP (or ENFJ or ESFJ, though I don't think so on those). I don't want to dwell in this to the point of mental masturbation, but I feel like I should at least try it on for size, and see if my behavior and my internal workings are more consistent with this understanding of self.

21 December, 2009

Gaining Insight (Part I)

It seems like during the past several months, when I have not been writing at all, I have perhaps been lacking more than just the attention that comes with "publishing" to my tiny readership. I've also been lacking in introspection. And it seems that whenever I stop looking inward, it's usually because I don't want to see, deal with, or face what's going on inside.

What I really have been needing was more insight.

So I decided to buy a 2005 Honda Insight. I'm only half joking. Actually, less than half, since both of my above statements are absolutely true. I did, in fact, purchase a 2005 Honda Insight. And I have, in fact, as you have witnessed, not been writing here for many moons (well, for 3 moons, anyway).

I'll start with the Insight Part I (the car) because that's easier.

As you may recall, I went through a fiasco about 2 years ago, where I bought a brand-new Mazda 3, and then became completely disenchanted with it, because of the miserable gas mileage that it got. And I cannot fault the EPA, since their estimates turned out to be exactly correct. Thing is, I could not believe that their estimates would possibly be correct, and I operated on the assumption that I would do much better. But sadly, over the life of that ownership (about 6 months), I netted about 24 miles per gallon. And that was Mazda's most fuel efficient vehicle. That's another story altogether. And it is an utterly disgusting one. That a Japanese automaker, in the 21st century, does not sell one car in the United States that averages better than 24 miles per gallon.

Stop and think about that for a moment...

So I bought the Civic, opportunistically, because a friend had it to offer. After about a year of owning the Civic, I started to feel like, while I like the vehicle, I wanted something just a little nicer. Not a fancy car.  Not a luxury car. But perhaps a car with power locks, so my passenger doesn't need to wait in the rain, while I get in to open the door for them (or vice versa). Maybe a car that has power windows. Maybe a car with power-assisted steering, so that I could get in and out of parking spaces without feeling like I am opening one of those hatches between the decks of a submarine. But most importantly, one that still gets as good, or better gas mileage.

So, of course, the most logical, sensible, cost-effective way of pursuing that goal would be to purchase... what? I know what you think I'm going to say: a hybrid.

Well, actually, nope. That's not what I wanted.

What I wanted to find was a Civic model that is called the HX. That car was rated at 40mpg on the highway, running entirely on gasoline. I am pretty sure I have ranted about this before. My search of Craigslist, and discussions with mechanics, revealed a sad reality: if you can even find an HX out there (they were discontinued around 2003), it will either be overpriced, or have extremely high mileage on it. This is because nobody wants to get rid of these cars.

So, I was wallowing in sadness, and beginning to consider "sucking-it-up" and just buying another Civic, a little bit newer, with a higher "trim" (meaning, it has all the bells and whistles), either the DX or the EX models. There are a billion of those out there. Of course, there are probably a lot of sketchy deals out there too. So it was fixing to be an unpleasant process.

Then, coincidentally, a friend of mine texts me: "You still wanna buy my car" (we'd been semi-joking about the idea for over a year). A 2005 Honda Insight. Now, 2 weeks later, the car is mine (and she's now driving a 2010 Honda Insight - which, I should note, weighs fifty percent more than the original Insight - but that's also a topic for another rant).

I picked up the car yesterday, and was excited to immediately see that one can easily get 55+ mpg on the highway, with "proper" hybrid driving technique (if not higher).

Now I just need to sell my Civic.

31 October, 2009

Crows walking across the street

Why do crows sometimes elect to walk when they could fly? Seems incredibly wasteful. They just take it for granted?

That would have been a witty status update if I were still on facebook. Instead it's a lame blog entry.


-- Posted from my iPhone

30 October, 2009

The greatest social networking experiment of them all...

I am on hiatus from Facebook. It was as of yesterday, but that needs to be revised to being as of today, because I decided that I should at least set my notifications so that I'll receive an email if people try to contact me. Otherwise, it's just kind of rude.

The reason?

Well, I have to give credit to a friend with whom I was discussing this topic over lunch yesterday. She'd said she quit doing all forms of social networking. Since I tend to think that most of her ideas are good ones, I figured I'd copy her once again, and see if it works for me. Actually that's only half joking. The reality is that I have felt disconnected for some time now. And I am not sure why. My social circle seems to have shrunken, and my eagerness to reach out to people is also diminished. I rarely make phone calls, and rarely send emails either. I don't even really try to make plans with people. Part of this, I am sure, is because once you settle into a stable relationship, there's a bit of nest building that occurs. But that doesn't explain all of it. I think it's possible that the illusion of connection that I obtain via pushing pixels around on Facebook serves as a substitute for real contact with people.

For a long time now, my spare time has been spent in front of a computer. Tuning out. Not creating anything. Just throwing hours down a well without even the benefit of the wishing. I sit and lament the things I could be doing instead but am not. It used to be that the internet was like an amusement park - like Disney World. Around every corner, there was something new and exciting to discover. Some place to throw my obsession. But much like Disney World, after you've been enough times, the rides start to look like what they really are: big hunks of gaudy metal and plastic, selling the illusion of fun and happiness, while everyone is lined up like cattle to experience the same predictable show. I am pretty sure that ceased to be a metaphor about half way through the last sentence.

But I decided that I don't want my hours to be spent starting at a Disney World of the mind. I hate Disney World. I am pausing for a moment to amuse myself with the fact that I will probably get lots of hits on this blog from people searching for Disney World. That's somewhat entertaining.

I may waste those hours anyway. I am not sure that watching Netflix, or exercising, is much more noble of a pursuit than perusing Facebook. I am not sure if writing entries in this blog, for either 3 friends, 5 strangers, or no one to read is better than "tweeting" on Twitter. But at least those are experiences that take me somewhere. I have something to show for them. Maybe. Maybe not. I really don't know. Depending on where you stick your threshold line for "what is worthwhile", you could argue that anything we do is an acceptable use of our time or, conversely, that nothing we do matters, and that we're all nothing but ants crawling over one another. Depends on where you position your camera.

From 10,000 feet, lovemaking and brutal murder look remarkably similar.

05 October, 2009

Seattle, Broadstripe, Monopolies, and Feeling Fleeced

Seattle believes strongly about monopolies among its utility companies. So strongly, in fact, that they divided the city into a bunch of mini-monopolies. By neighborhood, there is only a single cable tv/internet provider. Some neighborhoods use Comcast. And some use Broadstripe. Comcast is the giant national corporation. Broadstripe is a more regional company that, as an internet provider, causes one pause when you consider that their own website looks like it was designed by a 5th grader; not a good sign for an actual internet provider.

I have the misfortune of living in a Broadstripe neighborhood. What that means is, while people a mile away from me are paying $29.99 a month, or even $19.99 for high speed broadband internet, I am paying over $60 a month for the same service. And there are never any specials. They don't recognize or compete with Comcast, because there is no competition. They are serving completely distinct areas. So the companies win, and the consumer loses.

To make matters worse, this overpriced internet has been delivering abysmal performance for the past several months. My "broadband" service, which is supposed to be delivering 1.5Mbps (actually, it may even be specified at 3.0Mbps) has been routinely operating at 0.3Mbps. You can't even watch Netflix on this, without having it reload every 3 minutes, causing frustration like you can probably imagine.

Finally, after tolerating this for months, I decided to do another canvassing of the available alternatives, and discovered that the DSL plans in the area have now come down in price to the point that I am willing to roll the dice and see if Qwest is any better. I cannot imagine it will be worse.

02 September, 2009

Latest music purchases

From iTunes:

Last two CDs by local Seattle band, Shim
Brent Amaker & The Rodeo
The single "Bound for the Floor" by Local H (circa 1995)

29 August, 2009

Apple gets too "smart" for this user

In design, there is an ongoing debate as to how "smart" devices should try to be. A smart device is one that predicts (correctly) what the user's intention is, and then adjusts the experience to facilitate the detected scenario.

For instance:

You open your Gmail and you start typing your friend Suzie Blanchard's name. She's the only person in your entire contact list that has a name starting with "Su", so as soon as you type "Su", her entire name appears and all you need to do is hit Tab or Enter to choose her. That's an acceptable use of "smarts" in a program.

If, instead, you had friends named Suzie Blanchard, Susan Smith, and Sun Moonbeam, then you'd be annoyed if Suzie's name got stuck in there. Likewise, if it not only chose her name, but did the "Enter" for you, that would be bad too, because you would not be able to type a new "Su" name without deleting the entry of her name and hoping it learned that you didn't want her to be filled-in on the second try (lots of auto-correction behaviors in spell-check behave in that fashion - "No, I really wanted a lowercase 'i' in that sentence because I am writing about an integer variable, not writing about myself!"

So, where did the iPhone and Apple make big mistakes in their 3.0 version of the software? Two huge bets, that are turning out to be massive pain points for me as a user:
  1. Many people wanted to be able to type emails and texts with the screen rotated, in the same manner that you would do rotated typing for the browser and many of the apps. It was a missing feature from the earlier builds. So it has been implemented in 3.0. The problem is, what if I don't want my screen to rotate with respect to the earth's gravitational field? For example, what if I am in bed trying to text or send email? The screen is parallel to the axis of my body, but it's perpendicular to the axis of the gravity, and thus, the image rotates, and I can't type because the screen is sideways for me. And the worst part is, there's no way to disable this feature!! Apple, and their smarts, decided that using the phone to say good morning to someone, while still in bed, was not a use case that needed to be addressed. Bad decision.

  2. For some reason, even less practical than the one above, Apple decided that "Shake to Undo" was a feature that people would think is useful and cool. If you're doing something, and you want to undo it, you just shake your phone. Simple, right? The thing is, if I were going to make that feature, I would want to do a lot of testing to determine what constitutes a shake. Because as it stands, hitting a small bump in a car constitutes a shake. Going running constitutes a shake. Walking down a flight of stairs constitutes a shake. And every time you do one of these "non-shake" actions, a modal prompt (i.e. a message that you, as the user, need to actively dismiss) pops up on the screen, saying "Nothing to undo". That is horrible, and it will be shocking if Apple doesn't fix this. For starters, I suggest making the threshold for "What is a shake?" about double or triple it's current setting.

19 August, 2009

Train wrecks

Why do we always stop to look at train wrecks
Why don't we just look the other way
There's nothing to see there, really
Nothing you haven't seen before
Because, while not all trains are the same
The respective wreckage looks eerily similar

Nonetheless, we stop
We look

Maybe there's something thankful
About not being that train

Wrecked

Yet

04 August, 2009

New ways that Facebook violates privacy policies

Facebook does not, apparently, need to adhere to the same rules of security or privacy as other online institutions. I have observed three ways that they violate users' privacy, in spite of any privacy settings you might make.
  1. If you make yourself appear "offline" in Facebook chat, then you should not appear in someone's chat list. This works. Well, there's an exception. If I connect to Facebook from my iPhone, then I can see you in my chat list, even if you said you don't want to be seen. I can't actually chat with you - I get an error - but I can see that you're online. This is a privacy "hole" that Facebook did not block.

  2. If you set your Facebook privacy so that you cannot be found using the Facebook Search capability, then I will not find you if I search for you. Well, there's an exception, of course. Even though Facebook doesn't find you, there's a Web Search results section on the right side of the search results page, and it may find you there, providing me the link to your profile, even though you told Facebook not to let you be searchable. Of course, it's really no different than if I used Google to search for you. But it defeats the purpose of blocking search.

  3. It appears that Facebook will, of its own free will, troll through your email contacts, if you have ever given it permission to look there. And it is not clear to me how one can withdraw that permission. At one point early in the game, I had let Facebook have the access to my Yahoo and Gmail contact lists so it could find Facebook users. But once they started doing the "People you may know" feature, it now seems like it is "revisiting" the contact list, and making suggestions from there. This, to me, seems like a privacy violation. I think Facebook should only have privilege to look at that list once and it should not retain access capability, and also should not maintain the list of contacts.
It's a fun program, for sure. And social networking is becoming a broad reality in our culture. But it's a bit scary that this one organization, Facebook, now knows everyone that we know, everything that we do, and everyone with whom we have ever been in electronic communication.

21 July, 2009

Scrapping the Scrabbling

This could be called "Pursuing Our Passions: Part 1.5" but I thought that would be boring.

I vowed on Facebook the other day that I will stop playing online Scrabble. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it's an obsession. Second, it's a waste of time that could be spent doing something more useful, such as pursuing a concrete goal in the real world. It might be true that I can note, among my accomplishments, the fact that I played BRAINIER for 140 points. But that, and $3.75, will not get me a 2% Vanilla Latte at the corner coffee shop.

The Scrabble is like a bucket into which I am dumping life. Hours that could be spent exercising, working, sleeping, hanging out with people, working on songwriting, practicing guitar, pursuing a new hobby, watching a movie. Instead, I am sitting and placing letters on a board. It's no different from World of Warcraft, which I previously swore off. In the end, it is simply this: "Sitting alone, and clicking buttons, while watching pixels change color on a screen". It may be true that I am learning some new words. But I am not, or rarely, bothering to learn the meaning of those words! I just learn the words! It's like when I went to Hebrew School and they taught us how to pray, but never taught us what the prayers meant! Sure, I am developing a type of skill. I am developing the oh-so-valuable life skill that is called "Playing Online Scrabble". It's not even the same skill as playing real Scrabble, because you don't have to know the words. You can just keep guessing until you find something that passes their dictionary.

These are the hours of my life.

I once spent them playing Moria, a D&D-based computer game. Then I spent them playing Diablo. Then I spent them playing Diablo II. Then I spent them playing Morrowind. And then, damn the creators, I spent them playing World of Warcraft. If WoW is heroin then, certainly, Scrabble is no more than Tylenol with Codeine. But ask Rush Limbaugh if that's a big deal or not. Plus, Tylenol will kill your liver. Seriously.

For some reason or another, I am always looking for a new psychological addiction to eat up my hours, and keep me from facing any of the stuff that's real. Is it stress relief? Do I really have that much stress that I require massive periods of disconnection to cope? Or is it just avoidance? Whatever the case, I am, as you have read in previous posts, questioning the meaning of my life, and questioning how I spend my time. And I am once again at a crossroads where I am looking for meaning.

The problem right with stopping Scrabble is that I have so many games going with people, I feel like I need to finish them, to be polite, but just not start any new ones. The truth is, I don't really need to finish them. I could forfeit all of them right now, and be done with it. Or I could not forefeit them, and still be done with it. To keep playing them to completion is like saying, "I am going to stop drinking, as soon as everything in the liquor cabinet is gone". It's a little different because it's more like each bottle of liquor is also being shared with another person, who may or may not wish to quit drinking, or may not even have a drinking problem. And this metaphor is falling apart really quickly.

I need to stop. I deleted the Scrabble application from my iPhone, which is sort of like removing the cocaine from your 8-ball and thinking you've kicked the addiction. But then I added it back again, because I thought I would be able to get through all those games more quickly if I could make moves when I was away from a computer.

There's really too much thought being put into this. I realize. And, on the one hand, ironically, it's throwing more money down the well, instead of doing meaningful things. But, on the other hand, if one of those meaningful things I was planning on doing is writing and self-reflection, then I guess it's all good.

19 July, 2009

Pursuing Our Passions: Part 1

Sometimes things happen for a reason. You saw my earlier blog about happiness, and the pursuit thereof. I had a few conversations with a few friends about the topic over the past several days. Coincident with that, I was conducting a study at work, testing a feature in our software that enables users to create "forms" which are basically surveys that will port the data into a spreadsheet for you. That got me interested in conducting a survey of my own. So I decided it might be interesting to conduct a survey about people's pursuit of their passions. So I did. The survey had only 5 questions on it, which I will paraphrase for you here:

1. Do you have any passions/interests you pursue actively?
2. What are they, if you want to share?
3. Do you have any passions you'd like to pursue but don't have/make the time?
4. How often do you watch television?
5. How often do you browse the internet?

I created this survey, and sent it to a bunch of people on Facebook. And then I found out that my survey was broken, and was not collecting data. It had been overwritten with a blank survey. I would have to recreate and resend it. And I didn't want to do that, because it felt like I am an idiot, and I was spamming people. So instead I deleted the survey. Then I got mad, and almost deleted my Facebook account entirely.

But then, I calmed down, and realized that sometimes things happen for a reason. The issue in my life right now was that I was trying to figure out what my passions really are, and how I can go about pursuing them. And asking a bunch of other people questions about this is not going to get me any closer to having meaning in my life. It's just an exercise in mental masturbation. It's just a bunch of useless information. At best, or at worst, all it does is tell me that there are some people just like me, who also don't pursue their passions, because they waste their time on idle pursuits. And if not that, all it does is tell me that there are plenty of people who pursue their passions. Maybe I learn a little about what people's passions are. Maybe I make one or two people think about what they are or are not pursuing themselves, that they'd like to be. But, by and large, it does nothing to address my original goal, which was to get somewhere.

So, upon this further reflection, I realized that the demise of this survey was perhaps the best thing that could have occurred. I don't need to know why you do what you do. I don't need to know what you want to do, that you are not doing. I need to start doing what I want to do.

Clearly, blogging is one of those things. But there are others. And there is more than ample time to be pursuing some of them, if I reallocate my time strategically. Shouldn't be too hard.

14 July, 2009

Choices

About 10 years ago, a little more, I made a choice. It was not a good choice, at the time. But it has led to everything that has happened since then, obviously, and I think things turned out quite well. I was working at a small company as an applications engineer. I was the only applications engineer at that company, and I provided a much needed, and reasonably appreciated service. In addition to having that specialization, I also was the only person at the company that had become skilled in circuit board layout using a particular custom piece of software. I was the go-to guy. And I was 28 years old. I'd only been out of school for about five years. And it was a decent place to be, in that company. There had already been one attempt, by a major corporation, to buy the company, which the CEO had refused, because he suspected his business was worth more than the several million that had been offered. But after two years at this company, I'd become impatient with my career growth. I felt that others were being treated better than I was. I felt like others were the "golden children" and that I was just sort of an underappreciated afterthought. I felt that I would never be recognized. Particularly, I felt that I would not be financially recognized. I even felt that my manager was receiving some of the credit for work that I was doing.

So, I gave them an ultimatum. I told them that I thought I should be promoted to senior engineer. And I told them that I thought I should be earning a certain amount of money that was about 40% more than I was earning at the time. It would have been almost unthinkable to give me that much of a raise, but that's what I had in my head. The review came, and I did not get what I wanted. The CEO told me that he felt I still had some growing to do. They did give me a 22% raise which, when you think about it, is pretty significant. But I turned my nose up at it. I immediately began looking for another job, and I found one that paid me what I wanted, and gave me the title that I wanted. And it was at a big company with a good reputation.

I walked in to the CEO of my company and told him about the offer, expecting him to counteroffer. But I should have known better. He was not one to be put into corners. He told me that he was disappointed to hear that I was leaving, and that he thought I was making a mistake, but he respected my decision. That was it. No negotiation. I was worth what I was worth, to him, at that point in time.

I left the company in 1998. The company went public in 2005, and quickly rose to around $18/share. It peaked at around $50 and is now at $33. Most of the senior designers, who would all be around 50 years old now, have retired, millionaires. People who were in the middle tier, like myself, who eventually left the company, cashed in their stock for tens or hundreds of thousands.

The job I took that gave me the title, and paid me more, sucked. It was boring as hell, and I never had anything to do. I was so bored, in fact, that I decided to stop being an engineer altogether, and change careers. And that's how I ended up deciding to study biology. I figured, "If more money didn't make it better, then I guess nothing will". I wasn't necessarily right in that assertion. I think that's what we call "throwing the bathwater out with the baby". But I had it in my head that I needed to make a change. So I did.

I cannot say I regret anything that I did, but I learned something. I think I learned something good, and something bad. One good thing that I learned is to not think short term, and to be more patient, and to see the big picture. I also learned that money isn't everything, because I went on to become much happier, in a less materialistic lifestyle. But the bad thing I learned was to shun certain types of risks. Career moves. I did take a risk by going back to school. True. And I did take a risk by abandoning, or at least forgoing, my graduate degree to work in a loosely related field in industry. But I do feel very hesitant and sheepish about career decisions after that hasty one back in 1998.

The upside is that maybe the worst thing that happens when we make these decisions is that we find ourselves in interesting and unexpected new places years down the road, all having stemmed from those seemingly precarious choices.

10 July, 2009

Just give me a cell phone that does everything I need it to do

Thesis Statement:

There is no cell phone that does what I need it to do

Here's what I need:
  1. I need a phone that has a keyboard, and preferably a small compact keyboard that is easy to type on. I do not want a phone that has only a touch screen, because I cannot type well on them. I was fast as lightning on my old HTC Shadow. Now, I am completely hobbled on my iPhone because of typos. This requirement rules out the iPhone and a handful of other models.

  2. I need a phone that connect to my work email and calendar easily, without using a web browser to do it. That basically means I need Microsoft Exchange Server support. This requirement rules out the Blackberry which, from the sounds of it, is challenging at best to configure, and not sure if calendar or meetings is possible at all.

  3. I need a phone that has good signal in my neighborhood. This requirement rules out T-Mobile as a provider, because they've got basically no signal in my part of town.

  4. I need a phone that has navigation, maps, and web browsing, i.e. a Smartphone. This makes the list of choices short.
If those 4 things were all that I cared about, the decision would be, of course, to buy a Windows Mobile device, such as the Samsung Jack or Samsung Propel Pro. But in addition to the things I need, there are also things that I want.
  • I would prefer a phone that has a 3.5mm headphone jack so I can use the phone as my music player, with my good earbuds. Oops, that requirement rules out all of the Windows Mobile devices that AT&T carries which met my other requirements! The Samsung phones both use a stupid proprietary headphone jack and would require an awkward dongle to use my regular headphones.

  • I would prefer to be able to connect my phone as a music player to my car stereo. Only an iPhone seems to do that. I could not get my Zune to work, and I could not get any other mp3 player I own to work either, unless I use the radio tuner route, or the audio input directly, which is workable but inconvenient.

  • I would prefer the phone to have easy access to things like Facebook. This doesn't seem to rule out any of the options, but Blackberry and iPhone do it better than Windows Mobile
The bottom line is that, no matter which option I choose, especially with AT&T, I am hosed in one way or another. I love the iPhone in some ways. It gets all the little things right. But some of the big things it gets very wrong. Call dropping is an issue. Battery life is an issue. And typing, which I do a lot, is abyssmal. The latter is the reason I am on the verge of dumping my iPhone. But there needs to be a better option, and both Windows Mobile and Blackberry have Achilles' heels that, right out of the gate, I suspect will make the experience worse. Especially when you consider that they both lack nearly all of the bells and whistles the iPhone possesses.

There's really no winning. Perhaps the way to win is to say the hell with the Smartphone and go back to the Dumbphone?

08 July, 2009

Happiness... all depends where you live?

In my previous post, I was discussing the pros and cons of socialized medicine or, for that matter, socialized democracy in general. I have a somewhat idealistic view that things are better in other places, particularly Europe, than they they are here. I realize that I could be mistaken. The times that I have visited Europe, I have indeed felt that things made more sense there in a lot of ways, but I recognize that's a limited experience of "vacation" which is not the same as living there. Nonetheless, I did wonder, "Are people happier in Europe? Or are people happier elsewhere?"

I decided to do a little online research into happiness. Specifically, how does the happiness of people vary from nation to nation. Of course, it all depends how you define happiness, too.

I found a couple of good research projects that take different looks at the question.
  1. Subjective Well-Being Index
  2. Happy Planet Index
The SWB appears to be just that. A questionnaire that measured self-report of happiness throughout the world. The results were not particularly earth-shattering. You should take a look at the link above for details and references, but I'll paste the rankings list (SWLS = Satisfaction With Life Scale):

Nation SWLS


DENMARK 273
SWITZERLAND 273
AUSTRIA 260
ICELAND 260
BAHAMAS 257
FINLAND 257
SWEDEN 257
BHUTAN 253
BRUNEI DARUSSALAM 253
CANADA 253
IRELAND 253
LUXEMBOURG 253
COSTA RICA 250
MALTA 250
NETHERLANDS 250
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA 247
MALAYSIA 247
NEW ZEALAND 247
NORWAY 247
SEYCHELLES 247
ST KITTS AND NEVIS 247
UAE 247
USA 247
VANUATU 247
VENEZUELA 247
AUSTRALIA 243
BARBADOS 243
BELGIUM 243
DOMINICA 243
OMAN 243
SAUDI ARABIA 243
SURINAME 243
BAHRAIN 240
COLUMBIA 240
GERMANY 240
GUYANA 240
HONDURAS 240
KUWAIT 240
PANAMA 240
ST VINCENT AND THE 240
UNITED KINGDOM 237
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 233
GUATEMALA 233
JAMAICA 233
QATAR 233
SPAIN 233
ST LUCIA 233
BELIZE 230
CYPRUS 230
ITALY 230
MEXICO 230
SAMOA WESTERN 230
SINGAPORE 230
SOLOMON ISLANDS 230
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO 230
ARGENTINA 227
FIJI 223
ISRAEL 223
MONGOLIA 223
SAO TOME AND PERINI 223
EL SALVADOR 220
FRANCE 220
HONG KONG 220
INDONESIA 220
KYRGYZSTAN 220
MALDIVES 220
SLOVENIA 220
TAIWAN 220
TIMOR-LESTE 220
TONGA 220
CHILE 217
GRENADA 217
MAURITIUS 217
NAMIBIA 217
PARAGUAY 217
THAILAND 217
CZECH REPUBLIC 213
PHILIPPINES 213
TUNISIA 213
UZBEKISTAN 213
BRAZIL 210
CHINA 210
CUBA 210
GREECE 210
NICARAGUA 210
PAPUA NEW GUINEA 210
URUGUAY 210
GABON 207
GHANA 207
JAPAN 207
YEMEN 207
PORTUGAL 203
SRI LANKA 203
TAJIKISTAN 203
VIETNAM 203
IRAN 200
COMOROS 197
CROATIA 197
POLAND 197
CAPE VERDI 193
KAZAKHSTAN 193
MADAGASCAR 193
SOUTH KOREA 193
BANGLADESH 190
CONGO REPUBLIC 190
GAMBIA 190
HUNGARY 190
LIBYA 190
SOUTH AFRICA 190
CAMBODIA 187
ECUADOR 187
KENYA 187
LEBANON 187
MOROCCO 187
PERU 187
SENEGAL 187
BOLIVIA 183
HAITI 183
NEPAL 183
NIGERIA 183
TANZANIA 183
BENIN 180
BOTSWANA 180
GUINEA-BISSAU 180
INDIA 180
LAOS 180
MOZAMBIQUE 180
PALESTINE 180
SLOVAKIA 180
BURMA 177
MALI 177
MAURITANIA 177
TURKEY 177
ALGERIA 173
EQUATORIAL GUINEA 173
ROMANIA 173
BOSNIA & HERZE 170
CAMEROON 170
ESTONIA 170
GUINEA 170
JORDAN 170
SYRIA 170
SIERRA LEONE 167
AZERBAIJAN 163
CENTRAL AFRICAN RE 163
MACEDONIA 163
TOGO 163
ZAMBIA 163
ANGOLA 160
DJIBOUTI 160
EGYPT 160
BURKINA FASO 157
ETHIOPIA 157
LATVIA 157
LITHUANIA 157
UGANDA 157
ALBANIA 153
MALAWI 153
CHAD 150
IVORY COAST 150
NIGER 150
ERITREA 147
RWANDA 147
BULGARIA 143
LESOTHO 143
PAKISTAN 143
RUSSIA 143
SWAZILAND 140
GEORGIA 137
BELARUS 133
TURKMENISTAN 133
ARMENIA 123
SUDAN 120
UKRAINE 120
MOLDOVA 117
CONGO DEMOCRATIC 110
ZIMBABWE 110
BURUNDI 100

I highlighted some ones that I thought were of interest in red. Mostly because of their absence of high placement on the list. Although the US is not that close to the top of the list, the difference between the US and the top is small enough, that they could generally be considered to be high on the list.

One has to wonder how reliable self-report of life satisfaction is. There are most definitely cultural biases that must play into one's tendency to report happiness or unhappiness. This scale was reported as being valid and reliable. But being valid and reliable does not necessarily mean that it is "true and accurate". Validity implies that it correlated well with some other accepted scale of similar measure. And reliable implies that the results are repeatable. Or something like that. I should be more rigorous if I am going to start defining things for you. But the bottom line is that we can't know that the people in the United Arab Emirates are exactly as satisfied with their lives as the people in the USA, just because their scores were similar. It does seem reasonable that countries with extreme strife, famine, war, and unrest would be appearing near the bottom of the list. And it makes sense that countries with much of the necessities provided by government, little strife or poverty and, not surprisingly, little diversity, are happier. Diversity creates much opportunity for conflict and for dissatisfaction. I make no value judgment on this, but it is worth noting that many of the nations near the very top are fairly homogeneous populations. I must confess, I know nothing about the population of Bhutan.

The second study, the Happy Planet Index, takes into account a series of factors in rating each nation. These include Life Expectancy, Life Satisfaction (which probably maps most closely to the SWLS above), and the big bonus item is the Ecological Footprint, which measures the consumption in the country, and thus, the impact on the planet. This is an added indication of sustainability of a particular lifestyle.

Their results, which were heavily colored by that ecological measure, were quite different from those seen in the first study listed. EF = ecological footprint, and HPI = the happy planet index. I have highlighted some countries in red. You'll notice the US is very far down the list, because of our insanely high ecological footprint.

Countries Life Sat Life Exp EF
HPI






Costa Rica 8.5 78.5 2.3
76.1
Dominican Republic 7.6 71.5 1.5
71.8
Jamaica 6.7 72.2 1.1
70.1
Guatemala 7.4 69.7 1.5
68.4
Vietnam 6.5 73.7 1.3
66.5
Colombia 7.3 72.3 1.8
66.1
Cuba 6.7 77.7 1.8
65.7
El Salvador 6.7 71.3 1.6
61.5
Brazil 7.6 71.7 2.4
61.0
Honduras 7.0 69.4 1.8
61.0
Nicaragua 7.1 71.9 2.0
60.5
Egypt 6.7 70.7 1.7
60.3
Saudi Arabia 7.7 72.2 2.6
59.7
Philippines 5.5 71.0 0.9
59.0
Argentina 7.1 74.8 2.5
59.0
Indonesia 5.7 69.7 0.9
58.9
Bhutan 6.1 64.7 1.0
58.5
Panama 7.8 75.1 3.2
57.4
Laos 6.2 63.2 1.1
57.3
China 6.7 72.5 2.1
57.1
Morocco 5.6 70.4 1.1
56.8
Sri Lanka 5.4 71.6 1.0
56.5
Mexico 7.7 75.6 3.4
55.6
Pakistan 5.6 64.6 0.8
55.6
Ecuador 6.4 74.7 2.2
55.5
Jordan 6.0 71.9 1.7
54.6
Belize 6.6 75.9 2.6
54.5
Peru 5.9 70.7 1.6
54.4
Tunisia 5.9 73.5 1.8
54.3
Trinidad and Tobago 6.7 69.2 2.1
54.2
Bangladesh 5.3 63.1 0.6
54.1
Moldova 5.7 68.4 1.2
54.1
Malaysia 6.6 73.7 2.4
54.0
Tajikistan 5.1 66.3 0.7
53.5
India 5.5 63.7 0.9
53.0
Venezuela 6.9 73.2 2.8
52.5
Nepal 5.3 62.6 0.8
51.9
Syria 5.9 73.6 2.1
51.3
Burma 5.9 60.8 1.1
51.2
Algeria 5.6 71.7 1.7
51.2
Thailand 6.3 69.6 2.1
50.9
Haiti 5.2 59.5 0.5
50.8
Netherlands 7.7 79.2 4.4
50.6
Malta 7.1 79.1 3.8
50.4
Uzbekistan 6.0 66.8 1.8
50.1
Chile 6.3 78.3 3.0
49.7
Bolivia 6.5 64.7 2.1
49.3
Armenia 5.0 71.7 1.4
48.3
Singapore 7.1 79.4 4.2
48.2
Yemen 5.2 61.5 0.9
48.1
Germany 7.2 79.1 4.2
48.1
Switzerland 7.7 81.3 5.0
48.1
Sweden 7.9 80.5 5.1
48.0
Albania 5.5 76.2 2.2
47.9
Paraguay 6.9 71.3 3.2
47.8
Palestine 5.0 72.9 1.5
47.7
Austria 7.8 79.4 5.0
47.7
Serbia 6.0 73.6 2.6
47.6
Finland 8.0 78.9 5.2
47.2
Croatia 6.4 75.3 3.2
47.2
Kyrgyzstan 5.0 65.6 1.1
47.1
Cyprus 7.2 79.0 4.5
46.2
Guyana 6.5 65.2 2.6
45.6
Belgium 7.6 78.8 5.1
45.4
Bosnia and Herzegovina 5.9 74.5 2.9
45.0
Slovenia 7.0 77.4 4.5
44.5
Israel 7.1 80.3 4.8
44.5
Korea 6.3 77.9 3.7
44.4
Italy 6.9 80.3 4.8
44.0
Romania 5.9 71.9 2.9
43.9
France 7.1 80.2 4.9
43.9
Georgia 4.3 70.7 1.1
43.6
Slovakia 6.1 74.2 3.3
43.5
United Kingdom 7.4 79.0 5.3
43.3
Japan 6.8 82.3 4.9
43.3
Spain 7.6 80.5 5.7
43.2
Poland 6.5 75.2 4.0
42.8
Ireland 8.1 78.4 6.3
42.6
Iraq 5.4 57.7 1.3
42.6
Cambodia 4.9 58.0 0.9
42.3
Iran 5.6 70.2 2.7
42.1
Bulgaria 5.5 72.7 2.7
42.0
Turkey 5.5 71.4 2.7
41.7
Hong Kong 7.2 81.9 5.7
41.6
Azerbaijan 5.3 67.1 2.2
41.2
Lithuania 5.8 72.5 3.2
40.9
Djibouti 5.7 53.9 1.5
40.4
Norway 8.1 79.8 6.9
40.4
Canada 8.0 80.3 7.1
39.4
Hungary 5.7 72.9 3.5
38.9
Kazakhstan 6.1 65.9 3.4
38.5
Czech Republic 6.9 75.9 5.4
38.3
Mauritania 5.0 63.2 1.9
38.2
Iceland 7.8 81.5 7.4
38.1
Ukraine 5.3 67.7 2.7
38.1
Senegal 4.5 62.3 1.4
38.0
Greece 6.8 78.9 5.9
37.6
Portugal 5.9 77.7 4.4
37.5
Uruguay 6.8 75.9 5.5
37.2
Ghana 4.7 59.1 1.5
37.1
Latvia 5.4 72.0 3.5
36.7
Australia 7.9 80.9 7.8
36.6
New Zealand 7.8 79.8 7.7
36.2
Belarus 5.8 68.7 3.9
35.7
Denmark 8.1 77.9 8.0
35.5
Mongolia 5.7 65.9 3.5
35.0
Malawi 4.4 46.3 0.5
34.5
Russia 5.9 65.0 3.7
34.5
Chad 5.4 50.4 1.7
34.3
Lebanon 4.7 71.5 3.1
33.6
Macedonia 5.5 73.8 4.6
32.7
Congo 3.6 54.0 0.5
32.4
Madagascar 3.7 58.4 1.1
31.5
United States of America 7.9 77.9 9.4
30.7
Nigeria 4.8 46.5 1.3
30.3
Guinea 4.0 54.8 1.3
30.3
Uganda 4.5 49.7 1.4
30.2
South Africa 5.0 50.8 2.1
29.7
Rwanda 4.2 45.2 0.8
29.6
Congo, Dem. Rep. of the 3.9 45.8 0.6
29.0
Sudan 4.5 57.4 2.4
28.5
Luxembourg 7.7 78.4 10.2
28.5
United Arab Emirates 7.2 78.3 9.5
28.2
Ethiopia 4.0 51.8 1.4
28.1
Kenya 3.7 52.1 1.1
27.8
Cameroon 3.9 49.8 1.3
27.2
Zambia 4.3 40.5 0.8
27.2
Kuwait 6.7 77.3 8.9
27.0
Niger 3.8 55.8 1.6
26.9
Angola 4.3 41.7 0.9
26.8
Estonia 5.6 71.2 6.4
26.4
Mali 3.8 53.1 1.6
25.8
Mozambique 3.8 42.8 0.9
24.6
Benin 3.0 55.4 1.0
24.6
Togo 2.6 57.8 0.8
23.3
Sierra Leone 3.6 41.8 0.8
23.1
Central African Republic 4.0 43.7 1.6
22.9
Burkina Faso 3.6 51.4 2.0
22.4
Burundi 2.9 48.5 0.8
21.8
Namibia 4.5 51.6 3.7
21.1
Botswana 4.7 48.1 3.6
20.9
Tanzania 2.4 51.0 1.1
17.8
Zimbabwe 2.8 40.9 1.1
16.6

I am not sure how fair it is to look at this scale as a reflection of happiness, because individual happiness at a given point in time does not depend on sustainability of that happiness. According to this scale, people in countries like Luxembourg and the USA are "not as happy as they think they are" because their lifestyle depends on behaviors that are simply not sustainable. So it's got something to do with the reality of future unhappiness. Of course, that is on the assumption that countries do not radically change their behavior long before the unhappy time comes.

I was interested to see if there is a correlation between the HPI's Life Satisfaction sub-measure and the SWLS from the first scale, because I think that would provide some form of validation. Looking across the 140 countries for which both measures collected data, the correlation was 76% between the two measures. Not too shabby. I wanted to look at the outliers from this data; i.e. the countries where one index had a very different result than the other. To do this, I normalized both indices to their respective mean values, and then took the ratio of the two indices, Life Sat from HPI divided by the Self-Report SWLS measure. The chart below shows only the outliers. Out of the 140 countries, 109 of them had a ratio of the two measures that fell in a plus or minus 20% from unity. The chart below has 31 countries on it. The ones in red were ones where the HPI was more than 20% higher than the SWLS (16/31), and the ones in green were ones where SWLS was more than 20% higher than HPI (15/31).


I wonder what can be said about these differences? For the most part, it appears that it is African countries that were disproportionately higher on the SWLS measure. And it appears to be largely former Soviet or Eastern European and Middle East countries that were disproportionately higher on the HPI Life Sat measure.

It would be fun to dig into these differences, in terms of the questions or metrics used, to see if there's a good explanation.