Waterbeds

I stumbled across this Mental Floss piece on waterbeds which was somewhat timely because I had literally been thinking in the last few weeks "what ever happened to water beds?" Jeff Wells has some great info, including things like the following, "after a heyday in the late 1980s in which nearly one out of every four mattresses sold was a waterbed mattress, the industry dried up in the 1990s".

ONE OUT OF FOUR!

I've known two people who owned waterbeds. One was a cousin of my dad who surely bought it in the heyday '80s. The other was my college roommate who had one at home.

The article goes into great detail about why they lost their popularity, all of which make sense. I assumed correctly that part of the reason was better "specialty" beds for support, and also just the shear size, maintenance and risk of having a gigantic water balloon in your house. It seems like a Jerry Seinfeld bit about how obviously stupid this whole idea is when you think about purely from that standpoint. The article references the fact that these things held hundreds of gallons of water (although that seems a little high), when even a bathtub's worth of water would cause a significant headache if it ever got loose.

As someone who has had dozens of water issues in their house, I can't imagine ever wanting this liability in my bedroom.

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You Need People Skills for Tech Jobs

Andrew Flowers of 538 talking about needing people skills in today's workforce:

It’s not that hard skills are suddenly less desirable. Training in mathematics, computer science and other STEM fields (what Deming would count as “high cognitive skills”) is still a great investment; that “plugging away at a spreadsheet” is still valuable. “High-cognitive-skills workers still earn more,” Deming said, “but social skills increasingly are a complement to cognitive skills.” He argues that having strong cognitive skills is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a high-paying job.

A thousand times yes. Some companies are starting to figure this out, but far too many remained locked in on technical skills often at the expense of other valuable attributes. My experience interviewing technical resources over the years is that being strong technically doesn't always mean the person will pan out as a good employee. In fact I have seen several cases where a lesser technical person has succeeded because they were better at communicating and working with other people.

It would seem to me that this should always been obvious, but I think that with the history and stereotypes of more tech-focused jobs the specific technical skills were just too important. Now that technology is so much easier to use and the skills are more abundant, finding people with technical skills is much less difficult. Finding people with technical skills who also work easy/well with other people is a whole different challenge. The developers that thrive where I work are the ones who work best with others and can handle having to get out of their comfort zone from time to time. Sure there are outlier geniuses who know so much that they make up for this inability to work well with others, but this is becoming less and less common.

This is only going to continue as the abundance of technically skilled people continues to rise. Philosophically this is probably nothing new though. Succeeding has often been tied to separating yourself from the larger group so that you stand out in some way. In technical fields, for decades, it was about just knowing technical things inside and out because so few people did. Nowadays technology rubs off kids much earlier on, and those interested in it learn things in high school that were only taught in college 25 years ago. So finding a way to separate from the herd is more about going back the other way, and getting back those skills that were abundant elsewhere, but not in the tech world. If you are aspiring to work in a technical field make sure you work on these non-technical skills when you are younger. They will enable you will go a long way.

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Why Are We Fighting Daily Fantasy?

There a lot of things I don't understand about the way things operate in the country I call home. The latest head scratcher to me is the something my dad pointed out during some lounging around time at Christmas, why are we taking daily fantasy sites to court?

The governments at the state and federal level love to waste money, but this one is pretty far up there in terms of nonsense. Let me get this out of the way. I don't play daily fantasy, I have no desire to, and I think it's stupid. Oh, and it is for sure 100% gambling.

But why or why is the debt-ridden state of Illinois spending more money to shut these companies down? The heck if I know. First off it's not like they are going to get money out of this deal, they are just going to block them from continuing to do business. So right off the bat it's a total money loss. Second of all, why not let these guys operate and then collect freaking taxes from them. It sure sounds like these fantasy sites are making boatloads of cash, so it would seem like there is a ton of money to be available. In other words, legalize sports gambling!

I still don't understand why this is illegal in 48 states. It makes almost no sense at all. The fact that it is legal in two states makes a compelling case right off the bet. It also goes to counter that whole "integrity of the game" nonsense that is always out there. First off these athletes are making millions of dollars a year to play a game. The combined salaries of the five major sports teams in Chicago is probably double the total salary of all the teachers in Illinois. These guys commit all sorts of heinous crimes and still get paid. There have been a dozen PED scandals in the last 15 years. There is already a gap in integrity out there. The argument that this will start leading to players shaving points or throwing games is also pretty ridiculous. First of all sports gambling is in Nevada already. It's true that there are no pro sports teams in Nevada, but if someone really wanted to do some damage they could send a proxy there pretty easily. It sure doesn't seem like this is happening right now. Why?

My guess is that the players who could most influence games at a professional level are already so well paid it's not worth it. LeBron James makes so much money already why would he risk it to make a bet? For that bet to actually make a significant impact to his bank account he would have to bet so much it would be a giant red flag. Looking up and down the major sports, most of the guys paid more median salaries can't impact things enough to make it worth their while.

And it's not like these states don't already have gambling. While gambling is "illegal" in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin there are still at least five traditional casinos within a two hour driving distance of Chicago. Not to mention three horse racing tracks and countless video poker/slot parlors that have opened in the last year. The access to gambling is already there. I can drive 10 minutes from my house and play video slots.

So why is this still not regulated? Why are these millions of dollars going untaxed? It's perplexing. And more money will be wasted trying to shut these guys down. Is there an "element" people are afraid of? Most of the illegal sports betting that takes place now happens online. That means that sports betting would be keeping these people off the street because there would be no reason to meet face to face. If you are against gambling, fine don't do it. But it's already all around us. I haven't even mentioned lottery tickets here, which is even further proof that it's literally everywhere. It just makes me sad to see so many things in disarray and money being spent fighting something that should be lucrative income, something that is already around us everywhere.

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People Like To Be Antisocial

Sonia Weiser at Mental Floss wrote about how Americans are less social:

Even worse, we're not talking to the neighbors we do have. Data from the General Social Survey shows that people are less likely to socialize with their neighbors than they were in the 1970s, when less than a fourth of the survey respondents “reported no interaction with their neighbors.” Today one-third of us ignore the people next door.

We trust each other less as well, which Cortright argues is both a cause and effect of the disintegration of the public realm. People have fewer interactions with other members of their community, and that unfamiliarity breeds distrust. And because we're distrustful, we're less willing to invest in the public realm. It's a vicious cycle.

So true. Growing up I knew all my neighbors. My parents were friends with them. They used to sit in each other's yards and driveways and hang out. Now I don't know my neighbors hardly at all. I will admit to not making much of an attempt to get to know them, but for the most part none of them have tried either. That makes the occasional wave or "hello" even more awkward since it feels like we should know each other but don't.

The second quoted paragraph above makes a lot of sense. More than ever people are reluctant to trust strangers. Part of this is surely fueled by society's spread of "bad news" above all else. In other worse, people are always aware of the bad things that happen to people vs. the good things people do for each other. You mostly hear stories about being getting robbed, scammed or worse. You don't often hear about the general niceness that many people exhibit towards each other. 50 years ago the default was probably to trust most people. The default now is to not trust them. But the "vicious circle" remark is very true, and it's creating a problem where exponentially people are less and less likely to trust and engage someone who they don't know.

But deep down a lot of people these days want it this way. I hate forced small talk with people. The Mental Floss piece goes on to talk about people walking around with headphones on as a sign "don't bother me", but it's so true. When I am on the train, or an airplane, I don't want to small talk with some stranger for an hour. Sure sometimes people have great stories that come out of these chance encounters, but more often than not they are nuisances is most people's minds. Because there are so many more things to do nowadays, thanks to technology in a million different ways, people feel like their time is extremely limited (I could go off on the "I'm too busy" rant now, but I'll save it) and therefore could be better used watching an hour of Netflix than getting to know a stranger. Maybe that is true, maybe it's not. But there is no question that most people like it that way.

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When Can We Get Rid of Lawns?

Megan Garber of The Atlantic on lawns in America

We could do what so many environmentalists and journalists have been begging us to do, for so long: to get rid of our lawns, replacing our languid, laborious expanses of grass with artificial turf, or re-landscaping with native plants, or xeriscaping (landscaping in a way that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental watering). We could do what governments of some Western states—California, Arizona, Nevada—have tried: paying people to get rid of their lawns, at prices ranging from $1 to $4 per square foot. We could. We probably should. The problem is, though, that culture changes as gradually as grass grows quickly. Iconography is much harder to uproot than roots themselves. To give up our lawns would be, in some sense, to concede a kind of defeat—to nature, to the march of time, to the ecosystemic realities of the new century. It would require us to do something Americans have not traditionally been very good at: acknowledging our own limitations.

Where do I sign up? I hate the idea of maintaining a lawn in my yard just for aesthetics, and to somehow keep up the value of my house. I envy those in states like Arizona and Nevada where so many people don’t have lawns. It was socially acceptable to replace it with something else I would be all over it. It makes so much sense too. At a minimum you need a lawnmower, which chances are is gas powered. So there is fossil fuels, plus noise and air pollution. There are almost surely other tools people have, both powered and manual. There are chemicals for killing weeds, grass seed and fertilizer. Much of these products are not natural. Then there are grass clippings which end up who knows where.

And what is the point of any of that? So my lawn looks “nice”? Couldn’t it look nice with something easier/cheaper to maintain? That article tells the interesting story about why everyone has lawns. It doesn’t seem like they serve any purpose at this point besides looking good. It’s silly. But it’s impossible to change, unless you are filthy rich and can afford to put grass back in if you have to, or are 100% sure you are never moving out of that house. Ripping out a lawn would no doubt drop the value of a person’s house considerably. At least until someone comes up with something socially acceptable, and aesthetically pleasing enough to convince someone it’s better. I have no idea how well artificial turf would hold up, but many high school football fields have switched to it, which makes me think it can’t be ridiculous. And surely the cost to maintain it over the long run would be much lower than what it costs to maintain actual living grass.

I am not against growing things as a hobby. If you want to have a flower or vegetable garden, have at it. If you enjoy taking care of a lawn, keep it. I just want it to be OK to not want to do it. I am guessing that as my generation, and the ones behind get older we will finally see this nonsense die (no pun intended).

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Open Office Spaces Don't Work

Lindsey Kaufman wrote an article for the Washington Post last year about how open office concepts don't work like companies think:

As the new space intended, I’ve formed interesting, unexpected bonds with my cohorts. But my personal performance at work has hit an all-time low. Each day, my associates and I are seated at a table staring at each other, having an ongoing 12-person conversation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s like being in middle school with a bunch of adults.

I worked at a large corporation that tried this on one floor with one area of the company (approximately 120 people). I happened to be moved into this organization after they moved there, and there is a lot I can tell you about what didn't work. The section quoted above was one of the more surprising outcomes. While most people think that slacking off will decrease because everyone can see what everyone else is doing, it seemed to often go another direction, where instead of two people have a non-work related conversation, it would be eight. And with more people involved the conversation would go on even longer. People did not seem to stop doing non-work things like surfing the web either.

And the noise distractions Kaufman mentioned were plentiful. Like many large companies there was a huge culture around meetings. I could get into a whole post about how unproductive and wasteful all these meetings were, but that is beside the point here. Particularly in the area I worked in, meetings with areas that we supported were constantly going on. I would imagine that most people had no less than two hours of meetings per day, and the average was probably between 4 and 5. It gets very distracting very quickly to be sitting at a table, facing another table with up to 7 other people within 8 feet of you potentially on five different conference calls between them.

I am sure that the company saved money in the long run because it seems unlikely that 120 people would have fit in this same physical space with the traditional cubes found all over the rest of the campus, but there was a significant cost needed to renovate the space in the first place. And lost productivity likely increased as a result. I am sure that these "open" workspaces work at some companies, but that can be said about almost anything. In all likelihood these hinder productivity more than they boost it.

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Don't Call It A Comeback

Don't call it a comeback.

No seriously, don't. I don't even deserve that kind of praise. It's been months since I last posted here, I have let things go dormant, so much so that I didn't know the site itself was down (and who knows for how long). Part of not posting here was that I am writing some new blogging software I want to use for it, and I spent time working on that and thinking about how to migrate all the posts from here, but a good chunk of the lack of posting is just downright laziness.

So my plan is to correct that. I already have enough ideas for posts to keep me going for a while, so I am going to pledge to post on here once a week for the rest of the year. It might mean that I post less times other places around the web that I write, but that's OK, who knows who reads any of this anyway? This site is supposed to be more personal, and so it will include more personal thoughts as well as more personal stories and pictures. Enjoy!

Newsies the Musical

The Disney movie Newsies is a relative unknown to a lot of people. It was released in 1992 as a live-action musical about a newsboy strike in the early 1900s. It was a theatrical flop, but gained a lot of steam on video. It's amazing the movie wasn't more successful though. It starred a relatively unknown Christian Bale (all the times watching this movie as a kid I never thought he would be the star he became), Bill Pullman, Ann Margaret and Robert Duvall.

Fast forward about 20 years and the cult following it had gained on VHS (and DVD) had finally led Disney to make a live musical version of the movie. After a couple of years in New York on Broadway (and several Tony Award wins later) it made it to Chicago. It was a no-brainer slam dunk for Heather, my sister and some friends to go see it. Saturday night we finally made that happen.

Having listened to the soundtrack a bit over the last couple of years we knew that the story had been modified a bit, and that a more prominent female role had been added, but we didn't know the entire details of it. While there was nothing wrong with adding a stronger female role it seemed like making the story have a heavy plot towards the romantic side sort of diverges a bit too much from the original material. It's the equivalent of redoing Peter Pan and having the Lost Boys all fall in love along the way.

I was also in the minority of not thinking that the individual cast members were all that strong. The characters that played Jack and David were just OK. The female lead was better, but not scene stealing. My sister pointed out that Jack (who was nicknamed "Cowboy" in the film) was a bit more rough and gruff in the movie than he was in the stage version. That might have had something to do with my displeasure with him.

The ensemble though is where this show shined. The big ensemble song and dance numbers were spectacular. It's easy to see why choreography was one of the Tony Awards it won. The big numbers from the movie were well translated to the main screen and the show was at it's peak during the four or five of these songs, including a pretty epic final scene before intermission. These big dance numbers are worth the price of admission.

Overall it was a good experience. For anyone that grew up loving Newsies seeing this play is a must. It brought back good memories and has more than enough highs to make up for some of the mediocre lows. The Oriental Theater where it's playing in Chicago is not too large, so most seats on the lower level provide a great view of the action. Great time, and I would definitely see it again.

Business Class Is Nice

Heather travels a lot for work. As a result she racks up a lot of frequent flyer miles. This usually leads to free checked bags. But on our recent trip the the Caribbean it lead to something entirely new, Business Class. Supposedly this is not truly "First Class", but it is still the best available option on domestic flights.

The best part of this upgrade was that it was free, because of course the flight was overbooked and most likely almost no one else had "status" on this flight. I do not actually know how much this upgrade would have cost, but of course when it's free it's the greatest thing ever.

I have never ridden anything but "coach" on an airplane. I knew the seats were wider (there are only two instead of three) and that there was more legroom but I didn't know what else was included. In addition to boarding first, you are almost immediately served a drink while the rest of the people are boarding.

United flights include DirecTV for purchase, but Business Class includes this for free. So it was non-stop movies on the way down, and college football on the way back. Free alcoholic beverages are also included. And the food is significantly different than what is served in coach. It was breakfast time on the way out, and one of the options was a bowl of corn flakes, banana, yogurt, fruit and a warm croissant. On the way back, it was lunch. A salad with chicken, oranges and bleu cheese, plus soup.

It was the most pleasant flight experience(s) I have ever had. It will be hard to go back to coach after this. It was the first time in a long time I actually enjoyed a flight. I highly recommend asking for free upgrades the next time you fly. You never know. And it is worth it.

First Trip to Michigan Stadium

Two weeks ago I made my first trip to Michigan Stadium (a.k.a. "The Big House") to see my favorite college football team, the Michigan Wolverines, take on the Penn St. Nittany Lions. I would guess I have been to roughly 15 or so so college football games in my life. This was the 5th different stadium I have seen a game in.

The group of us that went is the same group that went to State College, PA last year for the Penn St./UCF game. One of the four guy's wives tagged along for the ride because we were crashing at her parent's house, about 30 minutes or so from Ann Arbor. It cannot be overstated enough how convenient a scenario like this is. Finding reasonably priced hotel rooms in most college towns is hard, because there just aren't that many. Last year's trip to State College required a stay about an hour outside of town. An hour of highway driving. Not to mention that despite being in the middle of sparsely populate Pennsylvania the rooms were still over $100 a night.

For the second straight trip, the benefit of a night game allowed for ample time to explore the town (and to a lesser extent, the campus). Michigan Stadium, in a similar fashion to Beaver Stadium at Penn St. is a walkable (albeit a bit lenghty) trek to downtown. Downtown Ann Arbor is mostly filled with ecletic shops and one off restaraunts. There are few different places to buy Michigan gear, but mostly there are just M Den stores over and over again. This was different than State College, which had quite the variety of Penn St. stores offering both differening selection and prices. There was also pretty much no memorabilia for sale anywhere, except for a small tent near the stadium with a dozen or so framed pictures, and a really crappy underground store with too much stuff to really browse comfortably. This was probably the biggest disapointment of the shopping experience.

All told I came home with a couple of t-shirts, a hoodie, a lightweight jacket, a football (that we bought to throw around while tailgating), a winter hat, a Michigan banner and the "commemerative" jersey seen in the picture above. I am very anti-jersey (long rant), but because it didn't have a name on it, and Chris hounded me all day until I bought one, I figured I might as well go for it. I can always frame it later.

After shopping downtown we ventured briefly onto campus and ended up walking down the row of fraternities. This street was full of college kids partying. It was an experience that left us feeling old, and regretful, the latter a result of none of us having gone to a big school like University of Michigan.

The tailgate scene felt very inline with most college experiences, and provided one is willing to pay a decent amount to park, there seems to be pretty ample parking near the stadium. We ended up in a lot for $50, but for a one-time trip it was worth the convenience.

The stadium itself is definitely a different experience. It's the highest capacity stadium in the country, but because it flows out much more than up it doesn't actually feel as large as Beaver Stadium does. This is both a blessing and a curse as far as seating goes. Because there isn't much room between the field and where the seats are, being further back doesn't feel awful, and because it's not so vertical the furthest seats aren't all that high, but they are still very far from the field.

The stadium is sunk into the ground, which means that the concourse is actually more than halfway up, which means that most people walk down to get to their seats, even though there are 90+ rows. The steps for each row are actually full steps, as opposed to half steps so getting up and down is a chore, especially for short-legged people. The seats are all benches, designed forever ago, which means that a typical American cannot comfortably fit in the space alotted.

While the renovations drew the ire of longtime fans, the video boards are really nice, and the stadium just feels great. Sitting in the endzone with the video board directly straight ahead made it a lot easier to use when the tough endzone viewing angle got in the way.

And nothing beats the college experience. The band, the traditions, the fans, all of it puts NFL games to shame. One particularly entertaining moment came when PSU kicker launched a short field goal over the net and the ball went into the stands. The ball boys patiently awaited the return of the ball, but instead fans passed it back and forth up the stadium, until it got near the top and the fans just threw it right out of the stadium.

Overall, the Michigan game was a great time. Despite their recent woes the place was packed and the crowed was into it. Ann Arbor is an OK town to visit, but isn't going to blow anyone away. I have no lodging recommendations, but as far as parking goes, there are plenty of places, both official and unofficial ((i.e., someone's lawn)). The food selection in the stadium was ample, but we didn't sample any of it. The selection of Michigan gear/stuff is mostly limited to MDen, most of which can be found online. As usual, getting out of the parking lots after the game is a lengthy process, so plan accordingly.