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isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: In Praise of Robber Barons

John D. Rockefeller became the nations first billionare (back when the cost of living was around $.25 a day and the average wage was around $430 a year) He was the richest American ever, and widely considered to have been the richest person on the planet. His company, Standard Oil, was considered the most ruthless and cruel monopoly and is the textbook example of Monopoly used still today.

Andrew Carnegie pretty much was American steel at a time when everything was made from steel. Steam engines, the rails they ran on, the beams used to construct modern buildings, cars, ships, you name it, all steel, and pretty much from his foundries. He killed over 2,000 people because his get away flooded a town, and he is responsible for the Homestead Strike which is one of the bloodiest anti-union attacks. Fair wages and decent working conditions? Bah, peasants.

William Randolph Hearst build a publishing empire from salacious articles and, frankly, out right lies. Heck, to boost sales of a flagging paper, he even convinced the country to go to war. (You, know, just in case you think that conservative nut jobs riling up the masses is a new thing.)

Why do i note these folk? Well, recently i’ve been thinking about our current crop of robber barons. It started when i was listening to a podcast talking about the Vision Fund which gives questionable startups like WeWork ungodly gobs of cash.

The point really got driven home when i saw this tweet showing how taxes for the top 400 have dropped over the years.

So, what are the ultra wealthy folks like Bezos, Jobs, Zuckerberg and the rest doing with their cash? They’re “reinvesting it” using investment funds like the Vision Fund above. They’re burning it in rocket fuel.

Know that they’re not doing with that huge pile of cash? Building universities, or public squares, or even over-opulent tourist attractions lording over large swaths of green space. Basically, the old robber barons at least had some level of civic mindedness (or at least sense of legacy) to realize that at least trying to buy some positive legacy might be a good idea.

At least that’s one thing i can look forward to. The new crop will be forgotten quickly.

They’re the kings that Ozymandias was trying to impress.

The ones you have no memory of.

Because, you know, fuck them.

:: Goals Keeping

Can i take a moment to say that i have learned to hate Goals?

i don’t mean things like “Personal Goals” (like to learn to play the piano, meet some famous individual, travel to location, etc.) or the sort of things they keep track of in football matches, i’m talking about the Goals you’re expected to set and achieve every quarter/year by your employer.

What Are They?

A Goal is how you justify being paid. They’re a set of tasks that you’ve declared you’ll accomplish in X period for the benefit of the organization. They’re the short description of your work that your boss will read and regurgitate up the chain to whoever decides you get a paycheck.

If you’re clever, your goals will align with your company / division / team.
If you’re creative, they’ll extend the reach of company / division / team and make your direct chain look better.
In reality, they’re an experiment to determine who is good at predicting the future or has insider information that can be attributed to higher placed individuals.

Why They Suck

Goals are great if you’re doing factory work. They fall into the class of “i will do X more efficiently to increase profitability”. This could be reduce costs. This could be to increase productivity. This could be to acquire more revenue or assets for the org. If you’re working for an org that does something like that, it’s super easy to come up with one or more goals. Again, if you’re clever, you’ll even help yourself out by quietly introducing an inefficiency that you can then claim to improve in some future period.

This is because your manager is not paying attention to you specifically. Often, the system is self reporting. You set your goals and later report accomplishment or failure. This is super obvious if there’s a “self-assessment” operation. You’re going to report that “i’m Awesome! Except for the fact that i only did 10x more this quarter than i predicted.” That last bit shows that you’ve got room to grow and will be the point that your manager will discuss with you during your review.

There is absolutely no reason to be honest, even though you’re regularly told you must be. Let’s say you were honest and put down “i got everything done, on time and on schedule, but the project was cancelled.” You would be at a disadvantage since there’s no win and you’ve effectively wasted your time. You had no control over the project being cancelled, but that was also a failure for not predicting it would. Management has a reason not to give you a raise. Congratulations.

Mind you, your boss is most likely innocent in this. They have to repeat this operation with however many reports they have, which gets multiplied up the chain. If you’ve ever been a TA grading papers, you know how much fun it is. At some level there’s a fixed budget that is used to determine who gets a raise, promoted, or dismissed. If the pool is about 5% per employee, and Sue gets a raise and bonus of 7%, then Bob may get only 3% this year. Better luck next year, Bob.

Where things start getting ugly is when you aren’t doing a metric based set of tasks.

Take, say, what i do. My job is to work on key back-end services, modernize and support them. My job is to deal with the acquired technical debt accrued with each new product release. And because New Thing is Awesome happens a fair bit, there’s a good amount of debt as folks wander off between New Thing is Shipped and Audience is Relying on New Thing. Never mind what it’s like at We’ve Been Charging Customers For Two Years for Thing, and Now There’s A Critical Bug.

Because, yeah, those things happen.

So, when it comes time for me to put together a list of goals, things get ugly fast. i have to predict the future, then when chaos happens. i race at the end of the evaluation period to try and do the thing i said was important however many months ago. If i were really playing the game right, i’d let the chaos collapse around me while i focused only on the few tasks i said i would.

i mean, sure, three core items of technology collapsed and the market disappeared, but look at the kerning and word placement on this document. ✔️

Sometimes figuring out goals is easy. In the first half of the year, i put together a new client library for one of the services i oversee and greatly improved operation and utility, and i was able to show a tick mark next to a goal, meaning i’m getting paid this half of the year.

i also did a bunch of other stuff, like work with 3rd party vendors, maintain support libraries, build relationships with customers, etc. that kept me pretty busy, but no check mark for that. Most of the time, i do support. i’m one of the “medics”/”clerics” of the org.

i have a beefy goal for this half of the year, but we might remove it. i’ve been busy pushing a critical bit of infrastructure closer to done (not a personal goal). We’ve also got an intern next year and it’ll be a good project for them. So, that leaves me without a goal.

Aside from the critical bit of infrastructure (which is more a shared goal), keeping things running so we can consider offering a pay service (also shared) and getting my boss up-to-speed (shared), and whatever other fires crop up.

This leads to “retroactive goal setting” where i get fairly late into the half and thanks to copious weekly activity report keeping, specify what major accomplishments i hit as ‘goals’. Usually with my direct managers approval because my goals are late and they need to checkbox that they’re in.

Because, again, this is more about giving someone a reason to continue to pay you for 6 months.

So, what should we use?

i’m willing to say “right tool for the job”.

For tasks, there’s no reason not to use a task list. As an org, you probably already have these. They’re what you use to get to your corporate goals.

For determining value, there’s, i dunno, let’s use employee contributions. Folks should keep a list of things they’ve done and (with the help of their manager and peers) write up a summary that can be presented at the end of the evaluation period, because that’s the end goal anyway. Maybe it’s “increased the number of X by Y%”. Yay you!

As an org, it’s a lot easier to plot how well your group is doing to achieve a given set of goals. There’s your group metric, but at the individual basis, probably not a great idea to introduce something that’s going to be gamed like nobody’s business.

Unless your job is to pull the lever and press the button to make the widget, there’s going to be a lot of complexity and unforeseeable events. Don’t make things hostile toward those.

i generally rally against the idea of work accounting. Not being held accountable (as in “you failed to deliver a task we needed by when we needed it that you said you could do), i mean accounting (as in you committed over 200,000 lines of code this quarter and resolved 47 issues). It’s why i am not a super fan of scrum’s Burn List.

But yeah, the current state of Goal keeping is just the fever dream of accountants.

:: Waiting For Mr. Good Avenger

There’s a really popular movie opening this weekend. You’ve heard of it. It’s earned (no kidding) $1.2 Billion dollars in the opening weekend and everyone says it awesome.

Mind you, being a card carrying nerd, i should probably either have seen it, have tickets to see it, or be in some theater right now watching it. i’m not.

Truth is, i’m not really sure i enjoy going to movie theaters anymore. i mean, they’re comfy, and the screen is huge and all, but they don’t really hold the same appeal to me anymore.

There are probably a lot of reasons for this. If i go to a given movie, i usually do it alone because most of the folks i’d want to go see a nerdy superhero beat-em-up live hours if not hundreds of miles from me (Thanks Internets!), so i’d be the sad, old dude in the back of a theater. Plus, for a communal activity, you’re supposed to be quiet. i mean, i get that nobody wants to hear about your rectal exam while Thor and the Hulk share a tender bonding moment bashing in alien skulls, but anything other than applause at predesignated points is roundly frowned upon. Then, you pay to watch the movie, and get 45 minutes of the same commercials you see on TV, previews for other movies you probably already saw on YouTube, and told to shut up repeatedly. (It’s not like audience participation ever really worked for a movie, after all.)

i dunno, but it just isn’t fun anymore.

So this means that watching something “spoiler free” just doesn’t happen.

i’m pretty sure that within hours i’ll find out about Iron Man’s defeat at the hooves of Hellcow, the surprise Jubilee/Dazzler dance number, or Thanos being defeated by the rise of Dr Bong. It’s ok. i honestly don’t care about spoilers because knowing that the whale won doesn’t make Moby Dick any less of a work of literature, and i’m pretty sure everyone who binge watches movies on Christmas has at least a clue about Clarence’s wings. If your movie runs for 3 hours and can’t survive someone knowing that Thanos has a severe reaction to Rice Krispie treats, well, it’s probably a 3 hour movie folks can skip.

So, i’ll probably just have to contend myself for waiting the 4 months to a year until the studios decide to let some streaming service run it. Heck, maybe i’ll even pony up $20 to watch a couple of Marvel flicks off of Disney+, and then cancel when i’m done.

At least i can hit the pause button to refresh the popcorn bowl.

:: Fun With Miles per kWh

Ok, so yeah, a bit of a follow-up on the electric vehicle front

In short, i got one. Well, sort of.

What i got was a Plug-in Electric Vehicle, which gets about 48* mpg city and a pure electric range of about 26** miles. Since that’s twice what the last car got, and my work (which is 10 miles away) very kindly provides free charging, i expect my fuel bill to drop a fair bit. The car is also pretty fun to drive and ticks pretty much all my required checkboxes (aside from a trailer hitch for a bike rack, but that’s something i can solve pretty easily).

What’s really interesting is doing the math on the charging bit, and why i’m now super happy with a PHEV rather than a full on electric. Particularly since i’m a right cheap bastard at times.

Consider, as stated, my car now gets about 26 miles on 8.6 kWh, or about 3.02 miles per kWh. That’s the max range on the full battery in pure electric mode, probably with a strong wind at your back and ample down hills, but good enough for now. It takes 2 hours and 42 minutes to charge up from pretty much zero on a Level 2 charger.

The hybrid engine gets me around 48 mpg in the city, which is what i generally drive. Again, presume strong winds, ample down hills, and whatever other bits gets you to that high of a number.

Currently, gas goes for around $3.30 per gallon. 26 is about 54% of 48, so it’s safe to assume that running pure electric is equivalent to running about half a gallon of fuel. That means it costs me $1.15 to drive the equivalent distance if my battery is flat and i use the gas engine.

So, when i charge, i want to look for any charging station that costs less than $1.81 total to use. That means anything that’s $.01 a minute (well, $.68 per hour because rounding) or less, or charges less than $0.21 a kWh. According to PG&E, my power company, i pay $0.28 per kWh peak (between 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM) and $0.27 off-peak, so it doesn’t really make sense to charge at home. i’d be paying an equivalent $4.64 for a gallon of gas.

What floors me is that looking at various commercial charging sites charge even more. EVgo, charges $1.50 an hour, which is like spending $6.70 a gallon on gas. i mean, i totally understand companies needing to make a profit and all, but Holy Ampère that’s a lot. Granted, it gets worse. There’s at least one “public” charge station nearby that charges $4 an hour. That’s about $11 a gallon.

i’m going to guess that my car is probably less efficient a pure EV than, well, a pure EV, but even so, if you’ve got an 80kWh battery and your range is 300 miles, that gets you about 3.75 miles per kWh. Still, a full “tank” of electricity still costs far less than it used to in my last car, so not really complaining. i’m also willing to bet that prices per kWh are probably less outside of the Bay Area, but yeah, i’m fine plugging into the free stations when i can and may just skip the pay ones.

Sam Penrose wrote up his thoughts about gas stations vs. electric. i’ll note that in the summer months, i’m getting around 51 MPG, and can fully charge off of the solar panels while they’re producing > 3kWh, and still send some to the grid. i’ll also note that the car is a blast to drive as pure electric, so i tend to charge up frequently.

* for the pedantic, after about a week, i’m seeing around 42mpg and the full battery charge gets me around **24 miles, but it’s also winter, which sets my target price per kWh to $.24 or $.77 an hour.

:: ev-iDunno….

tl;dr: Electric cars are nice toys that are not quite practical enough for me.

i drive a 12 year old Outback that has about 96,000 miles on it. This makes it “low mileage” and i like to think i keep it in pretty good shape. Even though it’s a Subaru and the life span on those things is amazing, it’s still a pretty good idea to look around at car options every decade or so.

While considering a more modern vehicle, there are three key items i consider kinda required at this point:

  1. Back up camera. It’s kind of a stupid thing, and i know how to set my mirrors and all, but i’ve driven cars with the camera and damn if it’s not useful.
  2. Crash avoidance. This can either be lane assist or city crash avoidance, but in any case, i’d like the car to be able to spot things i don’t. i’ve not had that as a problem, yet, but if there are going to be cameras on the car already, seems like a good follow up.
  3. Integrated Smart Phone environment Car UIs suck, the built in navigation systems are terrible, and they’ll never update as often as the pocket computer i haul around everywhere. It’s just bad design for auto makers not to include Android Auto or whatever iPhones do.

Recently, i got a hair about getting an electric. While i’m ok with reducing my carbon footprint, it also seems like a reasonable thing to do since there’s less parts to go horribly wrong. Since i don’t make enough to impulse buy a car, i wanted to do a fair bit of research on whatever the hell i’m dropping potentially half a years salary on. (i know, silly me. Not really into the California Mansion1 idea.) Still, doing the research kinda shows that things are not quite ready.

The first thing that kinda surprised me was the power problem. i’m not talking about range, since cars like Tesla and Chevy make cars that can do 200+ miles on a full battery, i’m talking more about what to do after you’ve driven 200+ miles. Turns out, that can be a tricky question.

Let’s say that you decide to drive your brand new electric from San Jose to Pismo Beach. It’s a trip of about 200 miles down 101, so you’re probably going to need to power up. Ok, so where do you do that?

There’s no real standardization for the sort of power socket a car maker picks, so there’s about five different types. From what i’ve read, there’s the Tesla plug, “J Plug” J1772 and the J1772-Combo (for fast chargers) and the CHAdeMO. Tesla plugs pretty much are only for Teslas, CHAdeMO plugs are pretty much only for Nissan Leafs, and the J1772 type plugs are for most of the rest. i’m also going to bet that the charging protocols are wildly different between each of those. You can buy an adapters for most of these plugs, apparently.

Those paying attention may note that i said five plugs. The fifth type of plug is the only plug that’s US standard for all vehicles. It’s a 220v 20Amp Nema 5-20, like what you’d plug an electric dryer into.

i’ve been told that some charging station outlets also sport a Nema 6-50, which is a 240Volt/50Amp instead of a 120V/20A circuit. That would speed things along a good deal.

It’s also the slowest option and requires you to haul around whatever charging dongle you got with your car. If you left your power dongle at home, you can get another one send to you for around $350.

You can also get conversion dongles for most of these outlets, so in theory you’d have something for any situation. Not super ideal, but workable at least.

Of course, each of those plugs carries different charging times. If you have all day (literally, and then add a few hours) you can fully recharge using a Nema 5-20 in something like 30+ hours. A Nema 6-50 in about 10 hours. Whatever Level2 option you’re using will recharge you in about 8 hours, and the “fast charge” will get you back on the road in 4. That is, provided someone else isn’t already plugged into the one fast charger already. i’ll note that it’s $.10 a minute, so figure spending $18 for a full charge. Not terrible. It cost about that much to fill up my Mom’s Prius after driving it from Leesburg, Va to Fenwick Island, DE and back.

So, probably not a good Road Trip car. Granted, driving from San Jose to see my brother is about 120 miles, so charging would still be A Good Idea, and i can hope a pleasant 2 mile walk from the charging depot to where he lives.

That’s fine, it’s more for driving short trips in city traffic.

For that, i’ll admit that things would be a bit better. It’d be my commuter in the winter when i can’t really ride my bike to work or once every other week or so to charge it up at work. My company pays for the power for that (they’ve very nice) but it does also raise an interesting question. San Jose has a lot of charging stations. Not all work, or are available all the time, and as i noted, they’re best if you’re somewhere you don’t mind being for an hour or so. i can charge at home, if i’m willing to either install a charging station for $1000 (provided it has the right plug). Of course, i normally park my car out in my driveway. My garage is also my laundry room so the other car sits on the opposite side of the garage.

Still, not terrible, but what iced things was actually driving one. i test drove a Chevy Bolt for a few reasons. i’ve no real interest in trying a Tesla. i expect there to be some differences, but from what i experienced, i don’t think they really matter.

Pros:

  • One pedal driving was kind of nice and surprisingly intuitive. Mind you, i tend to drive like that already. i’m reasonably good at putting space between myself and the car ahead of me so i don’t really use my brake all that often. This just kinda felt like the next step.
  • The car was nice and zippy. i’d have no problem merging into traffic on busier streets, even if my battery life would have other opinions about that.
  • It had all three of the things i was looking for.

Cons:

  • Not really super comfy. This was a weird one. i get that the seats aren’t automatic for weight reasons, but they also didn’t really seem particularly well padded. They kinda felt like office chairs. This was particularly notable in the back seat. i will say that there was plenty of headroom and the interior felt “spacious” enough, but i’d expect that with a vehicle that’s front wheel drive.
  • The “hand brake” gimmick is as counter intuitive as the one pedal is intuitive. The pedal feels like it has higher braking “resolution” than the paddle button. When i tried pressing the button it felt like it would start slowing, then aggressively brake the longer i held it, regardless of what pressure i used. i’d feel sorry for any passengers that either were, or were about to be carsick.
  • Slow final braking. This was also odd to me. i get regen braking, but the final bit of brake felt like i really had to press down to get it to engage. Considering how much the vehicle wanted to capture momentum, that last bit struck me as odd. Using one pedal, i didn’t have that problem, but i could also see where i really don’t want to get used to the way that car handles. i’d pretty much ruin the other car.
  • The power reasons above.

So, where does that leave me?

Electric cars are nice, but i can’t shake the feeling that they’re still very much toys. Damn pricey toys, but toys. i kid around that i’ve already got an electric vehicle, and that’s proving to be more true than i’d prefer. If i had to get a vehicle right now and was only going to be using it around town, i’d consider an electric. For a while at least. It’ll be interesting to me to see how poorly this post ages.

i still really wish that Subaru made a hybrid, but that’s probably not going to happen for a while. Looks like they feature the auto engine start/stop at least.

1 A California Mansion is a really expensive car you drive around because there’s no hope at all at affording even a burned down house.

Blogs of note
personal Christopher Conlin USMC memoirs of hydrogen guy rhapsodic.org Henriette's Herbal Blog
geek ultramookie

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