isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: The Fall of the Tall Staff

Palo Alto, CA recently noted that they may consider offering housing subsidies to families that earn less than $250,000 a year. This is because three bedroom homes can go for $2,100,000.

This, of course, is insane, and a sure fire sign of impending demise for that city.

“Wait, what? It’s full of rich people. Surely, that’s a sign of success!” i hear you say.

Yes. Yes, it is. Thus the reason it’s going to fail.

After several millennia humans have pretty much discovered a workable strata for functioning societies. Turns out, you kind of need people at all the various income levels for things to work right. Have too many at a given level, and things go poorly, fast. Levels of per capita pretty much fit a bell curve, the majority of the population should make “middle-class” wages.

Have too many people below the median, you get cities that can’t afford to collect taxes for infrastructure support. Feel free to drive through sections of Michigan, West Virginia, Tennessee or similar if you want to see examples. Have too many people above the median? Nobody is willing to do “common” jobs like pick up trash, or work at counters, or do the hundreds of jobs that folks tend to ignore or easily dismiss. A “thriving” downtown in places like that are 30 storefronts, three of which are 1000 square foot “boutiques” only open alternate days when the spouse of the “money maker in the family” gets around to opening it for his friends. The rest are realtor offices.

These jobs are low income because nobody wants to pay a lot for them. Now, mind you, low income jobs require that there’s a trade off. If you’re earning minimum wage, there’s only so far you’re willing or able to travel to work that job. Mass transit ain’t free, neither is a car, and there’s significant issues with spending 6-8 hours commuting for $88 a day.

The problem is that Palo Alto isn’t alone. The surrounding communities (including the one i live in) are nearly as bad. Housing in the SF Bay Area is outrageous, and frankly unaffordable. i live in a 3 bed room, 2 bath house that could easily sell for $1.5 million. i paid far less for that, which is a good thing, because i cannot afford to buy my own home now. At one time, this was considered a “starter home”, aimed at folks moving in to support a near-by airbase. In other words, aimed toward the rising side of that income bell curve.

About half a mile away, are the “lower income” housing areas, mostly apartments full of families who’s parents bus tables, are janitors, delivery folk, stock runners, and cashiers, but there’s hardly enough folk there to support all the local jobs that need them. There are lots of “Help Wanted” signs in store fronts because the folks that used to be available have been pushed beyond the radius of where they can afford to commute in.

So, yeah, Palo Alto.

Honestly? i really hope that shops and restaurants close because they simply can’t find staff. i hope that garbage piles up, parks and public areas degrade, and people have to pay through the nose when their toilets clog. i hope that nobody can get a meal for less than $60 because all the cheap eats places had to close due to labor shortages. i hope that folks have to drive 30 minutes to get to a grocery store because all the ones nearer closed. i hope that whoever spent $2.1 Million dollars buying a 3 bedroom bungalow is either forced to sell at a loss or has their home foreclosed, because they were stupid for contributing to their own demise.

Look, folks, functioning communities need low income housing because rich folks are too lazy to take out the trash or vacuum their own cubes. Hell, i bet you see folks leave stained coffee cups on the kitchen counter instead of putting them in the freaking dish washer at work. You think they’re going to go empty the garbage cans at the park this weekend? You need folks who are not making dot com cash to be your uber drivers and pick up the phone when you call 911 at 2AM. You need that “undesirable” section of town (Really? Undesirable? Do you cut the crusts off your mayo and cream cheese on white bread sandwiches too?) because some folks can’t afford to buy a Tesla that matches their iPhone 6+.

You need those because you’re not going to do those jobs. While we’re at it, if you do live in Palo Alto (or one of the many “affluent” areas, your responsibility is to do things like pay your taxes without bitching constantly, say an earnest “Thanks” to folks that do the jobs you’ve been gleefully ignoring while you poke at your phone, and not grouse about how wonderful it would be if a Whole Foods went in where the Mercado Sanchez is. Also, feel free to not pay more than most game shows offer as a top prize for anything listed as a “fixer-upper”. Pay attention to the voice that says “Yeah, it’s nice, but Good God that’s a lot of money.”

Because it is.

And it’s only making matters worse.

Wall Street Journal has an article that hints about this problem in Menlo Park. Wonder if someone will create an app that will put your house fire out?

:: Discovering My Special Purpose

So, last night (ok, early this morning) i had a dream that brought about an epiphany about myself. After about 50 years of feeling that i’m weirdly broken, i realized something kinda core about myself.

i really like helping people.

i get a significant dopamine rush out of helping someone who either doesn’t expect it or really needs it. Sometimes it’s little things, sometimes they’re bigger. Usually, it’s stuff that most folks won’t notice.

Mind you, one of my heroes is amazingly creative and productive, but he tends to build things for his own enjoyment. He’s quite legendary for crafting items with tremendous skill and keeping them in his personal museum. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, because it brings him great joy and fulfillment.

However, to me, it’s sort of an act of masturbation (and you can thank my subconscious for this one) his display room is kind of a Creativity Cum Box. If you’re not familiar with what that is, please do NOT look that up.

Yeah, i guess that explains why i’ve not been super interested in seeing his display (not like i’d ever have the chance, but still…)

He’s still my hero for the other things he’s done and continues to do for education and communications. In some small respect, he’s even helped me figure out myself, and i’m thankful for that.

Guess i’d just rather get my joy on other people rather than in a display case.

(wait, that sounds totally wrong…)

:: eBiking

Let me start by saying i’m damn fortunate. i make enough and work somewhere that makes it possible to even consider buying a $1000-$3000 bicycle. i’m also fortunate enough that i live about 10 miles from work and am able to rationally consider spending 40-60 minutes getting to the office. i’m totally, and painfully aware that this is a deeply first world problem, and in fact a problem for a very small percentage of the general population.

So, yeah, much like watching Top Gear drone on about the values and faults of a car greater than the yearly income of most folks, here goes.

i’m now officially on my second eBike, and want to pass along some of the lessons i’ve learned.

The First Bike

The first bike was a Riide electric, which i got off their kickstarter for $1500. This was an experimental bike for a number of reasons, and while i was more than a little leary about giving a random bunch of strangers a sizeable chunk of money with only the promise that a bike would show up, i was able to consider that an acceptable risk.

The bike was very much version 1, but a pretty good v1. The bike has some fairly top notch gear on it, including disc brakes, and rugged tires. E-Bikes tend to be either throttle based (kind of like a motorcycle, but with the option to pedal), pedal assist (where there’s a motor that only runs when you’re pedaling), or a hybrid of the two. Riide is throttle based, with a reported range of about 25 miles and a top speed of about 20 mph. It’s a single gear bike, that gear being equivalent of being about gear “8” of a 10 speed. The battery is replaceable, but not considered user serviceable since Riide wanted to make the bike as simple as possible.

As i’ve learned, that’s also kind of a problem. There’s no battery level indicator, so you have no idea how much charge is left on your bike. The throttle tends to be “all” or “nothing” which is fine for starting off, but odd when you’re at full speed. i usually throttled back, but i have no idea what that does to performance or battery life. Top speed really depends on terrain and how much you had for lunch (the spandex guys will still fly by, but you’ll breeze by most everyone else).

i also have no idea how far you have to really ride before you can get any appreciable charge back onto the battery. i had it die on me once about 2.5 miles into a 10 mile ride, and it never fired up again until i put a full charge on it, so not quite sure about the recharging capacity. The bike is surprisingly easy to work on, which turned out to be a good thing. i had to swap the proprietary battery out which required a lot of creative thought and use of one of those combination bottle/paint can lid openers you get at the paint shop.

The Riide folk are EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD at customer service. They were more than willing to cover costs of proper repairs and adjustments to the bike should i have wanted them. This is why i’ve given my Riide to a friend because i think he’ll enjoy it. Might as well spread the addiction around.

Still, i needed to upgrade to something i can absolutely rely on, and matched my actual use more.

The New Bike

The Second bike was a bit more than the Riide, and it shows in a lot of ways. It’s a 2016 iZip Dash e3, and it has a lot of things the Riide doesn’t, like a swappable battery, built in speedometer/odometer with range and power gauge, front fork shocks, kick stand, fenders and back rack. It also costs roughly twice what the Riide cost.

The Dash can do a top speed of 28mph or it has a range of 36+ miles. High speed burns battery pretty fast, so it’s ok if you’re going for a 8 mile total trip. The battery takes 4-6 hours to recharge which is 2-3 times as long as the Riide took. There’s no throttle, only pedal assist, but it’s geared so riding without power doesn’t require standing on the pedals to get rolling. Honestly, unlike the Riide, you can use the Dash without power and not give yourself a heart attack going uphills or doing standing starts. i’ve actually ridden the Dash without power and lived to tell the tale.

Granted, the bike does look a bit less “cool” than the ride. Honestly, it has an odd “PeeWee Herman” vibe to it, and i’m not really sure why. The built in lights are mostly for show, so i’ve had to strap on some LED lights to keep from getting murdered. The grips don’t really allow me to mount a mirror easily, so i’ve had to fit one that uses a velcro strap. The owners manual spends a LOT of time carefully pointing out the various ways you can die and be horribly mutilated while riding a bike in general rather than go into detail about any differences riding this one. Feel free to laugh at me. i’ll be giggling too as the shocks smooth out the crap roads around here and i blow by folks sitting in traffic.

What i Learned

The ultimate thing i learned? Go try a few bikes. The place i bought from had dozens of models available and folks willing to answer questions and offer good suggestions. There are all sorts of options out there, from the sane to the insane, and like any vehicle, you should get one that meets what you’re actual needs are rather than what you think you need.

And yeah, they’re not cheap. You’re not going to be able to pick one up at a WalMart black friday sale with a 50% off coupon. That’s actually kind of a good thing. Eventually, they may get down to prices comparable to a used Chevy.

Still, they’re a freaking blast to ride.

:: Defining Friendship

Sometimes i miss being a kid. There’s an overwhelming simplicity to social interactions when you’ve got a towel tied around your neck and a pocket full of army men. You find someone doing something neat, join in, and there’s an implicit understanding that “We’re friends now”.

Lucky little bastards.

Being several decades away from not getting reported to the police when hanging upside-down on the monkeybars, establishing a “friendship” isn’t quite the same. Frankly, i think i suck at it.

Allow me to set a baseline:
1) i’m strongly introverted. i may appear externally extroverted and will talk to anyone, but that’s more the product of having to survive in the DC area than any social skill.
2) Much like a sizable portion of the population i tend to deal with, i have poor social interaction skills. Everyone has areas they are blind to, i believe mine are around situational empathy. While i’m acutely aware of what i should have done, i’m not terribly good at what i should do right now. i’m also terrible at “subtle”. i tend to mask this through bad jokes.
3) i’m not embarrassed or ashamed of this facet of my personality, and actually like discussing it so that i can be better at social graces.

i also tend not to make friends. i have lots of acquaintances, dozens of colleagues, many folks i admire and respect, but only a handful of folks i consider “friends”. i strongly suspect that several of the people i consider friends have absolutely know knowledge of this fact, much like how i have no idea who may hold me in that category.

For me, i tend to approach a given social interaction from a purely neutral point of view. Since i’ve learned that people tend to be more negative toward those who do not act positive, i tend to be more toward “happy” than “emotionally distant”. If i am able to extract benefit from association, i will continue the relationship. (Benefit is a very general term, by the way, and is not simply something like financial or physical gain. Some folks i consider “friends” actually cost me more to maintain, but i feel i gain in other respects from their close association.) Once i consider you a friend, it takes two things to take you out of that category.

Either:
1. A malicious act of wanton intent (e.g. dropping live puppies into a meat grinder, stealing from defenseless individuals, senseless vandalism, etc.)
2. Lack of commonality (e.g. we no longer share elements of common interest.)

Obviously, most folks fall into the latter than the former and also why i’ve yet to add Hitler to my LinkedIn professional network.

i’m hoping that this is all pretty normal, but then again, i’m socially clueless, so there’s that. i’ll also note that while i had friends in school and in prior jobs, i’m not really friends with many of those folk now.

So, why all the effort? Well, i like to consider a friend to be someone who i can enjoy being with outside of just one or two contexts. For instance, there are several folks i enjoy working with in a professional context, but i’m not sure i’d feel comfortable calling them up on a Saturday and asking if they want to go catch a movie or grab a beer somewhere. Likewise, there aren’t a lot of folks i’d feel super comfortable calling up just to talk about crap that’s bothering me or just be a sounding board.

What makes things a bit odd is that most of the people i do consider friends live several hours (by darn near every mode of transit) away, so yeah, that “let’s go grab a beer” thing is a bit harder than you’d think. Fortunately, i’m able to at least use things like IRC, jabber, or other things to bother them as need be, provided we’re in complementary time zones.

i feel like i should be better at this, or maybe just a bit smarter.

Or maybe i just need to think about this less, toss a few army men in my pocket and find a set of monkeybars.

Mighty fine evening officer, can i help you?

:: Disnopia

Over the past week, i spent time at Walt Disney World. It was for a work meet-up. Granted, meet-ups like that are strange, since the purpose of those meetings is to ignore the wonderful outside with all the constant temptations, and listen to each other discuss efficient application design and product goals. It was a good meeting, but i think what it really did was help me understand why i am uncomfortable about Disney.

Mind you, large venues like that are honestly pretty darn good at handling the incredibly complex logistics required to deal with feeding, housing and tending a few battalions worth of humanity. This is not something that the local Motel 6 will handle well. i’m forever interested in the logistical angles of that sort of thing, and Disney World pretty much fits near the pinnacle of that. i’m pretty sure there’s maybe one other location that deals with as many faithful folks willing to walk in circles for miles, and i’m pretty sure that place doesn’t have ties to Star Wars and the Muppets, although the level of religious fervor is nearly the same.

Disney has sorta perfected the idea of operational “magic”. Much like typical magic, they rely heavily on misdirection and your general willingness to disbelieve the obvious answers. You’re not willing to believe that there’s a vast underground network of tunnels, workshops and support architecture that goes into making Chicken Little or Braer Rabbit pop up for a photo shoot from behind a “rock” or “tree”.

Thing is, if you’re willing to accept that, things get… well… lazy. You notice that while the Holiday Cheer soundtrack weaves one catchy hook into another, the whole loop lasts about 40 minutes. Likewise, you might be sitting at a themed restaurant watching a bunch of shorts and notice that after 50 minutes, things seem oddly familiar again. Disney, being the source of many childhood memories tends to horde them, and dole them out like a Junk Lady from Labyrinth. After all, they get to profit from your nostalgia. That level of repetition is because you’re not supposed to be staying put long enough to notice it, and certainly not pay attention to it.

Disney parks are like Vegas for kids. They’re about providing enough distraction on top of a thin veneer that you can escape into. They are fantasy in it’s most real form. A daydream in plaster and paint that knows you’re not going to poke at it.

Disney is about control and scripting, to provide everyone the exact, same experience, including you. It’s reliable entertainment in the way that a playground set is. People are willing to consider it “traditional”. They eat Turkey on Thanksgiving, shop at Target, and pile in the car and spend $65 a head to see the “Christmas Light Spectacular” at Disney Hollywood Studios. Just like everyone else. Mind you the display is basically the same thing you see in the daytime, just with tiny lights all over it, but it’s “Tradition” and so you do it. For them, it’s comforting.

i’m a bit different, i guess. i like nostalgia, sure, but i like to think those memories are mine. Jay Ward Productions may have sold Bullwinkle to Disney, but the way the horrible title puns set my preferences for humor are why i like watching re-runs of the Rocky & Bullwinkle show. That, and they don’t really feature stuff from my childhood.

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