Sunday, April 24, 2016

Music rant

David Finley, Bruce Baker, GianMarco Beltram, Windi Sebren, and a couple of others, you are exempt from this.

Open letter to the rest of you:

I did not know you liked Prince.

I did not hear from you that David Bowie was the most amazing performed you had ever seen; that the concert of his you saw changed your life.

I did not know that the soundtrack to your life was exclusively written and performed by Merle Haggard.

You never said. I never heard you talking about going out to hear the live music.  I never got to watch the uploaded video of you screaming out the lyrics to your favorite song in a karaoke bar.

I DID watch that kitten video you posted.  It was cute.

But why did you wait until after he died to eulogize Prince?  I started watching the videos, and mercy.  I understand why I was not a fan when I was growing up.  He was too edgy, combining a raw male sexuality with femininity in a way that I did not have any mechanism to interpret.  I enjoyed his music a lot; I know all the lyrics to his popular tunes, and I
loved the sexual innuendoes that pervaded each lyric. I even went to Glam Slam the one time I was in Minneapolis (a friend was a HUGE fan).

But I did not really know about his musicality until you started sharing the videos yesterday.  I missed an opportunity to recognize his genius when he was alive... because you didn't tell me you were a fan. How had I missed this?  Sure, MTV showed the polished videos of Prince back in the 80s, but heck - even the Backstreet Boys had polished videos.

I'm talking about music, because that is a passion of mine, and because after watching the video of his induction into the Hall of Fame, I was just floored.  But for all of the fact that music floats my little red wagon, the same applies to every venue: artists, actors, gem polishers, mimes, flint knappers, all of the people who fill your life with meaning...

Please.  Let's change that.  Tell me who you listen to, who you watch, and where I should go and see the play that changed your life.

Tell me, so that I can glory in their brilliance, revel in their genius, and light up with a new-found gem that I can carry with me. I want to see what changed your life, and maybe have a chance at the same thing. And please, please, please,

Don't wait until they are dead.  Because then it will be too late.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Letting go

Two weeks ago, Kathe and I accepted the counterbid to buy one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen.  Following the initial offer, there was a counter offer, a counter to the counter offer, and a counter to the counter to the counter offer.  (The last one, oddly enough, was an offer from the sellers to extend the amount of time needed to get a lead test of the paint.)

We agreed.  We put down the earnest money.  We ordered the inspection.

And the current owners went off to look for a new house to buy, in the new city they wanted to move to.

The house is beautiful.  The sweeping staircases, the antique chandeliers, the beautiful plaster work, even the basement was a work of art.

And we loved it.

The inspector has a reputation for being a stickler.  He notices EVERYTHING, and reports it out.  Crack in the plaster?  He talks about what it might mean - what issue it might be hiding.

Pete's report did exactly that.  We now know that there is a significant need for tearing out all of the wiring in the house.  We know that there is extensive plumbing requirements.  We know that there is a furnace vent that is too close to a conduit (I am led to believe that that is a bad thing from the priests who know about such things), and that the black coloration on the mill finish of that conduit means it is getting burned by the furnace vent.  We know that the 25-year-old water heater probably isn't going to last another 25 years.

The report detailed everything.  From the vines on the side of the house (five minutes with pruning shears) to re-pointing the chimney (drop 10k on that one).  Combine that initial capital outlay with the routine maintenance we already were fearing, and suddenly, the house is no longer a beautiful thing, but a monster with beautiful skin.

Can you mourn the loss of something you never had?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hive attacks

I am currently reading a fascinating book that looks at decisionmaking by the hive mind.  The book is called Smart Swarm by Peter Miller.  But instead of overlaying a bureaucratic concept on an assumption of how hives work, what he has done is look to the researchers who study hive behavior to figure out how the decisions are made:

How do ants know which path to take in order to get good stuff?
How do bees know where to go when they move the hive (swarm)?

Getting ready for the big dance.  Image from link
The answers, so far as I have read in the book thus far, are fascinating.  There is a decentralized decisionmaking process.  It is not a matter of convincing the leaders which path is best.  It is a matter of convincing yourself that you have a good product.  And do a waggle dance. Or leave a pheremone trail.  By combining our knowledge of the landscape, and looking at the problem repeatedly, we can decide to agree with a waggle dance of our neighbor, or waggle dance on our own, better.

It should be obvious that I am working on processing the ideas in the book. But the possibilities become incredible, if it is applicable to the bureaucracy.  Because we certainly have enough bee-brains working in my office with me to where we could use the hive mind to make decisions quickly and easily.

The bureaucracy in general is very hierarchical.  That means that my boss approves the action I take, but that approval only lasts as long as her boss approves her action.  At each level of the burrocracy, the answer can turn from a Yes to a No.  (And sometimes, with the right political pressure, the reverse happens).

So the project manager has to convince the four levels of the supervisory chain - up to the Colonel - and two different panels of external reviewers that the decision is a good one.  Then the Colonel sends it to the Division, and it is reviewed by three levels there, and is approved by the General.  The General then signs off on it being a good product, and it goes to HQ.  Two or three layers of reviews later (HQ policy review, Office of Water Projects review, and probably a review from the Assistant Secretary of the Army's office) and the Chief of Engineers hosts a meeting where everyone says OK.  The Chief signs the report.

After the Chief's report, it goes to the Office of Management and Budget.  Their review approves it for release to Congress, who authorizes the project.  That's right.  An Act of Congress is what it takes to get the work done.

And maybe, just maybe, they also appropriate funds to do the work.

At each level, there are demands.  At each level, technical and policy review identifies weaknesses in the project, and finds reasons why it won't work. Ways to 'improve' the product.

The hive approach is counter to that level-by-level approval system.  The approval is not sequential, but corporate.  The hive votes with its feet, getting behind the best solution as it 'hears' the plan.  (I suppose you'd still need drones to write the report, but that is a different matter).  It is a little like the cluster of people at the coolest exhibit in a museum.  

But what that approach would do would be to streamline government.  (Side note: I have heard people all my life tell me that government inefficiency is at the root of a lot of society's problems, but I am not sure I want a government capable of spending money any more quickly than we do now.)  In a decision mode, though, it has got to be better than this.

And on a day that seems like there are enough barbs and stingers in every corner, I think maybe just doing a little waggle dance with my coworkers would be the bees knees.

Let's dance.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Go Faster!

Lucie, our long-haired dachshund, stopped walking one day last November.  Just fell over.  Nothing spectacular preceded it, she just went outside to pee, and fell over.

Doxies, with their loooong spinal columns, are prone to spinal injuries, and she had ruptured three disks. We had the surgery done on her, and then waited to see if she would walk again.  We were told that the chances were 50/50.

Slowly, she got feeling back, then movement, then some strength.  And now, five months later, she is walking strong, and pulling on the leash.  It is a sight to see.

But on smooth surfaces, like the hardwood floor in the kitchen, she slips and slides, and we have been cautioned repeatedly that slippery surfaces are dangerous for her - that she runs the risk of falling and re-injuring herself.

The vet apparently did not do a good enough job of explaining this to Lucie. Even though she has figured out that her back feet don't work quite the way they used to, she hasn't developed a mechanism for dealing with it.  Walking straight on a slick surface like hardwood floors, and her feet slide out from under her.  Running means that she has velocity combined with no purchase - and she takes the wall out like a NASCAR driver with the wind taken off his bumper.

And cornering?  Forget it. Total wipeout.

She does great on the rugs.  And we have placed the available rugs in a ring around the island in the kitchen, so that she can make her way gingerly around.  And she does it.

But then she gets to the bare patch between the kitchen and the den.

You can see her considering how to approach it.  And her conclusion is always, always, always the same.

If I do it faster, I won't slip this time.


(cue Beach Boys theme - "Wipe Out").

Lucie is definitely MY dog.  My layups in church league basketball had the same approach.  If I can do it faster, it will work this time (it never did).  Same thing in fencing.  I got destroyed over and over competing against people who were not as quick,  not as agile, and not as athletic as I was.  But even with my advantages, I would simply impale myself on their blade, over and over, because I thought if I just did it faster, it would work this time.

Very quickly, my score would zoom to 0-5.

Back when I worked on the lumber yard, I had a friend and co-worker named Bill.  Bill was slow and methodical, but he never ever EVER had to do anything twice.  Bill used to joke that he only had two speeds.  And that if you didn't like the speed he was using, you REALLY were not going to like his other.

I liked him enormously - he was a good friend - but it was sometimes frustrating to work with Bill.  If he was working on something, and the phone rang, there was no way he was going to grab the phone and continue working.  And when there was a flood of customers, he never changed his approach to help get people out the door more quickly.

But he always gave the best to the customer.  Full attention.  Attention to detail.  Measured twice, cut once.  Zero errors, zero injuries.

And while I am trying to get Lucie to understand the value of a plodding approach, I wonder if Bill had tried - without success - to teach me the same lesson.  That if I stop and take stock, and really focus for a little bit on the reason I have just skidded across the floor on my belly for the fourth time - that I might be able to come up with a better solution.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a memo that I need to get right, before I send it out the door.