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12 Mar 22:45

A Sad Day for Sims

by Wilhelm Arcturus

Upon seeing the news about Maxis yesterday, I realized that I had probably not sat down and really played a game from Maxis this century.

I bought a copy of SimCity 2000 from GoG.com for some tiny price back when EA/Maxis was busy shooting itself in the foot with the latest SimCity.  That was the last game in the series I could recall having played.  And I put SimCity 4 on my Steam wishlist and a reader actually bought it for me. (Thank you again!)  But I never managed to sit down and focus on playing either for any real length of time.  The crude graphics and the awkward interfaces of both chased me away pretty quickly.  Minecraft seems more palatable to me these days than either of those.  And I certainly wasn’t going to give EA any money for their latest version.

And without SimCity, what is there when it comes to Maxis?

Well, I guess there is The Sims, the best selling game series ever and probably the one reason that there is still a Maxis left to shut down in 2015.  EA seem dumb, evil, and heartless… often on the same day… but they do love the sound of money.  It’s just a good thing they haven’t figured out how to make money via malware or we would… oh, wait, I forgot about Origin.  Never mind.

However, I never played The Sims, aside from a brief dalliance with the Facebook version, back when that was how all game companies were going to get rich like Zynga, and we saw how that turned out.

And your father smelt of elderberries...

My usual interaction options with Tobold… we flirt shamelessly

And if I understand the history correctly, EA had already brought The Sims into their Redwood Shores lair, placing it directly under their control before letting it return to the Maxis logo, creating a taint that explained to some why The Sims 4 seemed like a step back from The Sims 3 in many ways.  So that wasn’t going to keep Maxis viable any more.  EA could just snatch The Sims back any time they felt like it.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And without The Sims, that left Maxis with… um… SimCity 2013 and… Spore maybe?  Talk about a couple of titles that failed to live up to expectations.  I didn’t even know that Spore had a follow-on game, which was even more poorly received.

So I suppose the real question is why it took EA so long to finally shut Maxis down and close their no doubt pricey digs across the bay in Emeryville. (I had a job interview right around the corner from Maxis back in 2010, with another company that is no longer around.)

Still, I feel some lingering nostalgia for Maxis.  I remember back when the original SimCity came out, when it was something new and different and people were struggling with the idea of it being a game because there was no obvious win condition.  Some were insisting we call it a computer “toy” or some other ambiguous title.

SimCity back in the day

SimCity back in the day

Back then I played many, many hours of SimCity.  Likewise with SimCity 2000 (which like a lot of games of its era, was much better on Mac OS).  I would let my city run while I was in the other room or at work (with disasters turned off naturally) to build up a tax base and then spend the evening expanding my domain and fighting off fires and alien invasions, all while trying to keep my ungrateful population happy enough to not flee the city.  I’ll tax you little bastards back to the stone age!  I remember the music especially, the jolly, bouncing, honky tonk tones of a happy thriving city or, more commonly, that trudging, day-to-day, we’re just getting by melody.  Is the SimCity 2000 sound track available on iTunes?

I am pretty sure I also bought SimCity 3000, but can only recall a mild sense of disappointment.  Plus it came out in 1999 when EverQuest pretty much owned my play time.

A bunch of other “Sim” games came from Maxis over the years, none of which really appealed to me.  Looking at the list of Maxis games, there are a lot of titles there that I let pass on by.  I think Maxis might have been ahead of their time in some ways.  SimFarm, as an example, was never a hit back in the day, but Farming Simulator has sold millions of copies on Steam.  Gaff can’t get enough of that one.  The simulation craze came too late for Maxis.

The only other Maxis titles I can muster much nostalgia for are RoboSport and Marble Drop.

RoboSport was a simultaneous move, multiplayer combat game, something of a precursor to the Combat Mission series of games, where both sides give their units instructions during the orders phase, then both sides act on those order at the same time during the combat phase.  For a season, when we were not playing Full Metal Mac or Bolo or NetTrek, it was the after work game of choice.

Then there was Marble Drop, which was probably the last Maxis game I purchased.  It apparently got poor reviews, but I recall it as being a fun little puzzle game that I played all the way through… though time may have fuzzed the edges of those memories.

A level in Marble Drop

A level in Marble Drop

And that is about it for the history of Maxis as viewed through the prism of my experience.  They mostly made games which I did not play.  Then they were acquired by EA which kept them around a lot longer than some other studios they have purchased.  But now Maxis has joined the list of the departed, along with Mythic, Origin, Kesmai, Westwood, Pandemic, and Bullfrog.

You can argue over whether Electronic Arts buys studios that were destined to die anyway or, if by buying them, EA destroys them on its own.  Either way, there does seem to be a pretty strong correlation between being bought by EA and being shut down by EA.

But the world of video games is volatile and it isn’t like the only studios that shut down are the ones owned by EA.  So we say farewell to Maxis and wish good luck to those who are now out there looking for a job.

I feel like I have been writing a lot of these nostalgic/memory/milestone/obituary posts lately.  What is up with 2015?

15 Jul 21:10

$61 Sexagintuple Frap 2.0 Breaks Starbucks Free Drink Record

by Laura Northrup

vanilla_beanSameera planned carefully for her attempt at breaking a world record. She obtained permission from the store where her attempt would take place, and even made sure to alert media outlets ahead of time. She even brought the proper equipment and a support team. What record was she out to break? She sought to make the most expensive single free Starbucks drink of all time.

The initial cash register total was more than $60, but scanning her loyalty card brought the total down to $57.75. You know, only $57.75.

The previous record, as you may have learned from Consumerist or from hundreds of other news outlets, was set in May with a $54 frozen drink concoction made from 60 shots of espresso and a lot of very delicious, very sweet things.

World records, of course, are set only to be broken, and Sameera decided to make a run at this one. “I asked the baristas if this was okay, and they spoke with the manager who also said it would be fine,” she wrote to Consumerist. “I waited till just before closing time so that I wouldn’t be inconveniencing the baristas while they’re attending to customers. They were really excited about making the drink as well, so that was pretty cool.” That’s important: if the store staff found the request daunting, obviously one shouldn’t complete the attempt.

The proof.

The proof.

Sameera and her support team.

Sameera and her support team.

frapfrapfrap

The beverage.

Do not attempt to drink 60 shots of espresso by yourself

Do not attempt to drink 60 shots of espresso by yourself.

We at Consumerist are apparently now the governing body of attempts at the world’s largest free drink from Starbucks. It turns out that the comprehensive rankings are on this post at Caffeine informer.

We’ve talked to Starbucks and await their response. They did not publicly approve of the previous attempt, at least on the corporate level. We will update this post when we find out what they have to say about this super-beverage. We heard back from Starbucks. Their position on the record-breaking beverage phenomenon is that it is technically against Starbucks’ own policies to serve blended drinks by the vat: a Frappuccino, which this beverage theoretically started as, can’t be served in a container larger than 24 ounces. Also, they don’t think that Sameera’s beverage would taste very good, though they put it in more polite terms.

Here’s the written statement they sent us:

With over 170,000 ways to customize beverages at Starbucks, we know that personalization is a big part of the Starbucks Experience for both our customers and our partners (employees), however this particular customization was excessive and something that we do not encourage. We want to ensure our customers receive the highest quality and most delicious tasting food or beverage products from us and, we don’t believe that this particular beverage choice was reflective of that.

Per our existing policy, beverages larger than Trenta size (31 oz.) cannot be made or served. This includes personal cups that exceed 31 oz (or a Trenta-sized cup). For blended beverages and espresso drinks, those cannot be made or served in sizes larger than a Venti (24 oz cold cup/20 oz hot cup).

Maybe the next challenge should be to try all of the chain’s claimed 170,000 possible combinations. That would take you about 466 years. Drink up!

PREVIOUSLY:
New Starbucks Free Drink Record Set With $54 Sexagintuple Vanilla Bean Mocha Frappuccino

26 Apr 01:16

Fathering In The Mother Tongue

by Andrew Sullivan

After speaking only Hebrew to his daughter for three years, Noam Scheiber explains why he decided to stop trying “to mold her in the Israeliness that shaped me as a kid”:

[T]he older my daughter got, the less plausible the whole routine felt. Last fall, she started going to pre-school five days a week. Like any parent, I was keen to know what she’d been up to all day. We’d turn out the lights at bedtime and lie on her bed, and I’d pump her for information. In English, my natural sensibility is patient and understated. My style in Hebrew was hectoring and prosecutorial. At some point it occurred to me that I was mimicking an Israeli. It also occurred to me that I was getting nowhere—my daughter was clamming up.

One night a few months ago, I finally switched languages. The effect was magical. I hear my daughter speak English all the time and still I was shocked by her verbiage. She would riff about what she’d done at the playground and what she’d concocted in art class. As is her wont, she would also tell me who’d bitten whom that day, and who’d broken down in tears. Part of it, surely, was that she is much more fluent in English.

But that couldn’t have been the whole story. After all, she would answer me in English even when I spoke to her in Hebrew. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that, just as I felt more myself in English, I felt to my daughter more like her father.

02 Apr 22:32

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Samuel R. Delany

by Lavelle
Will Harden

To learn anything entails the fact that there is no way to escape learning that you were formerly ignorant

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You may have noticed that Ta-Nehisi Coates has been on a tear lately. If you’re in any kind of black studies networks and you’ve been on the Internet in the past week then you’ve probably seen posts about his exchange with Jonathan Chait. Coates’s most recent response, “The Blue Period, An Origin Story” posted yesterday on April 1, is devastating, inspiring, uplifting. I want to take time to read it again, carefully, and also to listen, carefully, to the Nell Painter video that he posted with it. The article really resonated with me as someone whose first academic training was in history. I recognize many of the sources that he cited and wrote about.  I too have been trying to make sense of this same history, to try to cut off at the pass these cynical arguments about black progress and the imperatives to be “optimistic” (which is less about real optimism and more about alleviating other people’s discomforts).  Every college educated black person has heard some version of what Chait threw at him in their exchange.  We’ve had people tell us: Hey, you and your colleagues seem to be doing just fine. Why are you so angry?  We’re making progress here in America.  When are you going to let go of this bitterness and resentment?

But what really struck me about Coates’s piece is that he so eloquently grapples with the prior gaps in his own knowledge.  I’m impressed that he’s clearly been engaged in a serious study of black history, and American history, and slavery, and the place of America in a global culture and economy. And he clearly understands that education is always a work-in-progress. And he also understands that there are people on the Web now looking to build their brands off “social justice” and sell themselves as “experts” instead of seriously engaging with the meaning of this history.

I think now, four years after watching that video, and having read A History of White People, that I am a writer. And that is not a hustle. And this is not my “in” to get on Meet The Press, to become an activist, to get my life-coach game on. I don’t need anymore platforms. I am here to see things as clearly as I can, and then name them. Sometimes what I see is gorgeous. And then sometimes what I see is ugly. And sometimes my sight fails me. But what I write can never be dictated by anyone’s need to feel warm and fuzzy inside.

The whole article is a breath of fresh air in a cultural moment dominated by the wunderkind.  The web is littered with stories of 20something millionaire app developers and programmers and pundits and bloggers.  I just saw another one of those “30 under 30″ articles flash across my twitter feed yesterday.  And last weekend Twitter was dominated by a non-troversy started by a 23 year old social media “activist.”  Why are we even listening to these twits?  Coates’s article is a lesson in the true humility of education. Nobody who is that young has it all figured out, not even the smartest and most accomplished ones. Learning takes time, and effort, and more time, and more effort.  It takes life experiences, it takes getting kicked in the ass a few times, and it requires constantly revisiting your prior ignorance and revising the things that you once believed to be true.

Yesterday, April Fools’ Day, was also Samuel R. Delany’s 72nd birthday.(Delany was a prodigy himself, having published nine science fiction novels in his twenties.) I’m looking forward to celebrating with him next week at Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia.  Coates’s piece actually reminded me of a passage from Delany’s excellent book About Writing, and I wanted to share it here:

“To learn anything worth knowing requires that you learn as well how pathetic you were when you were ignorant of it. The knowledge of what you have lost irrevocably because you were in ignorance of it is the knowledge of the worth of what you have learned. A reason knowledge/learning in general is so unpopular with so many people is because very early we all learn there is a phenomenologically unpleasant side to it: To learn anything entails the fact that there is no way to escape learning that you were formerly ignorant, to learn that you were a fool, that you have already lost irretrievable opportunities, that you have made wrong choices, that you were silly and limited. These lessons are not pleasant, The acquisition of knowledge – especially when we are young – again and again includes this experience.”   – Samuel Delany, About Writing, pg. 34-35


27 Mar 02:26

How to delegate effectively

by Penelope Trunk
Will Harden

Instead of delegating small, low-impact tasks, delegate with the goal of accomplishing your larger agenda

I am the poster-child for the saying “You have to spend money to make money”. I make a lot of money but I spend most of it on people who help me to do things so I can keep making money. For example, I have an assistant, a driver, a nanny, an editor, and a research maven. None are full-time but all make my life much better.

I think I make their lives better, too, because I’m good at delegating. Here are three delegating rules I live by:

1. Don’t think of it as delegation. Think of it as customizing jobs.
The reason driving nearly put me in the mental ward is that I can’t stop looking for new things to think about. Which means I either feel mental anguish focusing on driving or I crash. So I found Carla, who is much happier driving than being at her former desk job.

She is the second Jehovah’s Witness in my life. The first is my assistant.

When I was a kid, Jehovah’s Witnesses used to come to our door. We had no parents at home. So I was always like, “Finally, someone is here to talk to me and my brother.” But they won’t come in and talk if there is no parent home. Jehovah’s Witnesses can spot a family situation that is too bad to mingle with.

Do you see how I just used the word like? Normally I would reword that sentence because it would provoke cries of pain from grammar police across the Internet. But my editor sent me this article about how using like is actually acknowledging the fact that truth is elusive.

So anyway, I think I gravitate toward Jehovah’s Witnesses because everyone in the vicinity of my farm has lived here a million years. But the Witnesses (that’s what you call them if you talk about them a lot) move to new places so they can keep converting new people. So they are often newcomers and they are always outcasts.

So they are outcasts and I am an outcast and we attract each other.

While Carla was driving I was telling her how I did like five hours of research about Amanda Knox. At first I was looking for information about the sex game she was playing when she was arrested. The Italian police think she and two guys were playing a sex game and Amanda’s roommate wouldn’t play so they killed her.

I didn’t understand what sort of sex game that could be. So I googled and it turns out there probably wasn’t a sex game. But I kept reading and noticed reports about her inappropriate eye contact in the court room. There’s a picture of her smiling in court up top. And inappropriate behavior at the police station. Another smile picture:

And her friends say she was the smartest person they’ve ever met. The more I read, the more I am sure she has Aspergers.

Also, her mom has it. Look, I know you think I’m nuts that I diagnose everyone. But I am a genius at seeing it in women. The mom is a math teacher and a really nice guy divorced her and she married someone Amanda’s age. See? She’s a social idiot who is really smart.

So I tell Carla about my Aspergers theory and Carla says, “You should google it.” Carla has pretty much made that my car job. Carla is the driver and I google things. So guess what? There is a Time magazine article about how Amanda probably has Aspergers. How did I miss this?

2. Instead of delegating the type of work you don’t respect, delegate work you wish you were good at.
Clive Thompson emailed me to tell me that he reads my homeschool blog, likes it and wonders if he could send me his new book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. And I was like, “OMG I’m so happy I’m so happy” because I love the writing he does in the New York Times. I set up an interview, which I never do because I don’t know how to ask questions. I only know how to answer questions. So I asked my research maven to find all the interviews he’s done so I can steal people’s questions.

But after all that, I skipped over all the questions and just argued with Clive. Why? Why do I do that? Why do I need Clive to see that his book is a diatribe on why people should homeschool? I wrote down all kinds of stuff from our interview where he says things that prove he should be homeschooling his kids. But it’s immature of me.

Another immature thing I did was write down all the words he used in the interview that I didn’t know. Like perspicacious  and bloviate.

And every time I said self-learner he would replace it with auto-didact. I made a note to make fun of him for that.

And then. Nothing. I mean, it’s not like I can use an interview where I am being an annoying socially incompetent homeschool zealot.

But one good thing came of this exercise. My research maven sent me a great article Clive wrote in Wired about how kids are tied to their electronics because it’s the only way they can get any privacy with their friends because school doesn’t give them privacy.

This dovetails nicely into Jennifer Senior’s new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting. She says teenagers are hard for parents because parents can’t cope with how their teens need some space. How can parents give space when parents gave up all their own space to be parents?

Okay. I am paraphrasing. But Jen Senior is my favorite living writer. No kidding. I have plagiarized her New York magazine articles about 100 times on this blog. Here and here for starters. And I can call her Jen because she emailed me to ask for career advice.

Sort of. She asked me if she should start a Twitter account to promote her book. And I told her Twitter doesn’t sell anything. I told her I have 135,000 followers and I’ve never done anything useful with that account except sell a tweet for $3000 to someone who thought tweets actually sell things.

I considered asking Jen for an interview, even after Clive. But then I thought, the phone call will be awkward because the only thing I want to ask her is, “On a scale of 1 to 10 how much do you like me?” So instead, I had my assistant find all the published excerpts of the book, because I like to read magazine articles, not books.

3. Instead of delegating small, low-impact tasks, delegate with the goal of accomplishing your larger agenda.
Probably me writing that I read excerpts instead of the book is going to make Jen knock me down a few notches on the scale of one to ten.

Probably if my roommate were murdered I’d be convicted, too, because I am not good at being quiet when it’s time to be quiet.

And probably you are like, “When is Penelope wrapping up this post? And what was the point again anyway?”

So here’s the to do list I am delegating to you. Read Jennifer Senior’s book. Read Clive Thompson’s book. Tell everyone that Amanda Knox has Asperger’s so our society can start identifying Asperger’s in women instead of just putting them in prison.

26 Mar 22:54

Out of touch

by Steve Jones
Will Harden

Motivation is good, when you can find it...

My apologies for the delays in posting new content. There's no shortage, but I keep getting distracted with work. I've almost run over my own "update every quarter" time limit without a post.

I'll work on a few and get back to weekly posts next week (I hope).

In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying your career, and here's a short video to watch. If you don't find these three things in your career, start to make a change.


26 Mar 03:08

A Hard Read

by Andrew Sullivan
Will Harden

Perhaps having a publication that serves as a gathering place will create some strength in academic numbers.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 1.44.57 PM

Alexis Madrigal praises Porn Studies, a new academic publication:

Porn is always two clicks away, and, hovers at the edge of so many conversations from analyses of Girls to sending messages on phones to the NSA. The problem, however, is that there are costs to even talking about pornography. This is true even in our supposed bastions of intellectual freedom, as several of the articles make clear. “I have been told ‘You don’t want to be ‘the porn guy’” and ‘you will have to deal with the content issue of your work,’” writes Nathaniel Burke in his essay Positionality and Pornography. I’d heard similar things from journalists, male and female alike. Very few people want to be “the porn guy.” And so researchers and critics choose to do work on less fraught, less important topics. Perhaps having a publication that serves as a gathering place will create some strength in academic numbers.

Lauren Davis was impressed by the first issue:

[T]he topics are quite intriguing: “Porn and sex education, porn as sex education, Revisiting Dirty Looks (an interview with Pamela Church Gibson about her collection of feminist essays about pornography), a study of emerging niches in US pornography consumption, and one on the nature and implications of sexual fantasies. On the other hand, many of the papers are about the challenges of actually researching pornography and the role of the pornography researcher, though even those can be entertaining; one involves a visit to the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.

(Graphic from “Deep Tags: Toward a Quantitative Analysis of Online Pornography,” by Antoine Mazièresad, Mathieu Trachmanb, Jean-Philippe Cointeta, Baptiste Coulmontc, and Christophe Prieur)

25 Mar 22:29

Sherman, Beiber, and the White Privilege Reflex

by Randle Aubrey
Will Harden

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Even after two solid years of blogging and activism, I find myself reminded from time to time that, as a white man, I will forever deal with racism and discrimination in the abstract. I can’t deny my gratitude for this; to do so would negate precisely why I have the energy and the empathy to function as an ally. But it’s easy to get personally attached to the struggle of others sometimes, and in doing so forget that if privilege and its manifold intersections are not properly acknowledged, the results can be costly. Thankfully, my social media feeds are populated with enough blockheads to guaranteed that I’ll never forget this fact for too long.

Sherman Beiber memeThe most recent example concerns a conversation I had with a couple of my Facebook followers, concerning a meme contrasting NFL cornerback Richard Sherman against Justin Beiber, Canada’s Great White Dope. As you may have heard, Sherman’s a bit of a peacock, and Beiber just pulled a Lohan for the first time a couple of weeks ago. While the meme itself is rather clumsily executed, the message is clear: you’re only allowed to be angry in this country if you’re white, especially if you’re in the public eye.

Now, let me make myself perfectly clear: I could care less about either of these two. They’re a couple of buffoons as far as I’m concerned, and the amount of attention they’ve received is far more than either of them deserve. But after this happened (like it always does), there really wasn’t any other option than for some people to start setting other people on fire. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Sherman Tweet 8

Sherman Tweet 9

Sherman Tweet 4

As you can probably imagine, these are some of the kinder responses to Sherman’s antics; they, among others, are obviously what prompted this meme to be created, and prompted me to share it on my Facebook feed. And that’s when the fun began.

My favorite people to engage in conversations about race with (and by favorite, I mean least favorite) are the centrists. Ideologies surrounding race and class tend to fall along fairly partisan lines, but there’s still a broad spectrum of (mostly white) people for whom the former is still a mystery, and who believe that the answers lie in seeking some sort of equivalence between the ways that blacks and whites are critiqued by society. They’re like the CNN of racism, and seriously, their “both sides do it” mentality is hurting America.

The essence of their critique is as follows:

“Of course Sherman doesn’t deserve to be called the ‘N’ word, but Jesus, just look at how black he’s acting! What else was he expecting, and why the hell should I feel sorry for him? He brought it on himself! Besides, Beiber gets made fun of for being a stupid white kid all the time, and nobody says anything about that!”

There is SO much wrong with the entire argument that it’s hard to know where to begin, but the rebuttal basically comes down to following: yes, there is indeed a fine line between blame and responsibility, but assigning any sort of blame to Sherman’s actions for white people calling him racial slurs, no matter how well-intended or non-racist you think that might be, doesn’t make sense unless you believe on some level that he deserves to be called those things. What I mean to say is: lending cover to racists contributes to racism as an institution. It’s not really any different than when, say, society blames women for their own assaults. Both are implicitly tied to stereotypes rooted in genetics–skin color and gender, respectively–and both are inexcusable, regardless of circumstance.

The meme highlights the usage of the word “thug” to describe Sherman, a fairly ambiguous pejorative which the centrists have anchored upon as proof that both sides can be equally insulting to one another. Equally as pervasive as this argument is the principle of coded language, which allows words to take on a variety of contexts depending on whom they’re applied to. You guessed it: the word “thug” falls squarely into this category, functioning to add insult to injury, and doing it well. Want to know more about coded language? Just ask Lee Atwater, former political strategist for Reagan and George H.W. Bush:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*****, n*****, n*****.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*****” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights,’ and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes…obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “n*****, n*****.”

Lee Atwater, folks. Seriously. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Lee Atwater, folks. Seriously. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

From the mouths of babes, am I right? I couldn’t have said it more racist if I tried, and I really don’t want to try. Atwater’s description of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” encapsulates an ugly truth about the way racism has been legitimized through the use of coded language. By allowing white people to draw false comparisons between the way blacks and whites are respectively judged, we completely erase the reality of how black people are perceived and/or treated in this country by whites when they act or speak in anger or frustration. Fifty years later, it’s become a reflex of white privilege among well-meaning centrists, one of the more egregious ones due to the fact that it’s almost never meant to offend, but almost always does.

I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell you at this point that this whole incident wouldn’t have happened if Sherman were white. It seems redundant. Rather, what I would ask you to consider, if even for a moment, is the names Beiber might be called if he wasn’t white. If you need a hint, just replace “Sherman” with “Beiber” in the aforementioned tweets, and you’ll start to get an idea.

It’s times like this when I get a glimpse of why black people get so angry at white folks sometimes. For most of us, it’s not that we don’t mean well, it’s just that the conditioning of white privilege runs so deep that it’s made most of us fairly obtuse when it comes to the politics of race. We’re afforded a dearth of ignorance that allows us to indulge in a carefully constructed, Rube Goldberg-esque illusion of superiority that we nearly always take for granted, meanwhile failing to realize that interracial squabbles allow for those in power to fleece the lot of us right into the poorhouse. Take it from LBJ: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

There certainly isn’t anything coded about that, is there?

25 Mar 02:44

Politics and the African-American Human Language

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Will Harden

That is because the wolf does not care if the sheep is respectable.

The effort to ban the word "nigger" from the NFL is not just, as Richard Sherman smartly points out, borderline racist but actually racist. Any effort to raise a standard for African-American humans that does not exist for non-African-American humans is racist.

As I've explained before, the meaning of human language changes with context. That is why you may call your wife honey, but I probably should not. That is why Toby Keith referring to himself as "White Trash With Money" will never be the same as me accusing Toby of being "white trash with money." That is why Dan Savage proposing a column entitled "Hey Faggot!" will never be the same as me seeing Dan Savage on the street and yelling "Hey Faggot!" This is how humans use language, and it is wholly consistent with how black humans use language. The effort to punish this use, like all respectability politics, is an effort to punish black humanity, is racism. 

It does not matter that black people of a certain persuasion are making this charge. Black people of a certain persuasion also supported the kind of laws that now find one third of all black men under state supervision. This is not an appeal to a crowd, it is an appeal to the basic rules of language, without which we would all be soon reduced to babble.  When people claim that the word "nigger" must necessarily mean the same thing, at all times, spoken by all people, one wonders whether they understand how the very words coming out of their mouth actually work.

The great Harry Carson illustrates the point here:

I find it very disheartening that in our society today we're having a debate about the n-words being used as a term of endearment. If that's a term of endearment, go up to your grandfather, or an elderly black person, and use it on them. See how they react. For those who use it, I say they have no sense of history.

This is deep ignorance masquerading as expertise. As anyone who's spent time with African-American history, and specifically with the literature, testimonials, and music of enslaved black people, knows the use of "nigger" by black people to describe themselves is ancient. And as anyone with any familiarity with human beings knows, there are great many things you would not say to your grandfather that you would say to your friends, your wife, or your brother. And as anyone familiar with black people knows, many of our grandfathers certainly used "nigger" themselves. 

In a particularly sad portion of the Wells Report, Jonathan Martin laments being derided as a nigger to his face by Richie Incognito. Martin's father's response is, "They think nigger is okay because black people use it." I read these words as the testimonial of someone coping with the trauma of rape. I am not sure that this is far off. Black America was birthed in a spectacular act of rape—literal and symbolic and our oppression has often been born as such. They enslave us because we are heathen. They spit on us because our hair is too nappy. They beat us because we are too dark. They hate us because we are too loud. They oppress us because we are too rude. They kill us because we are too human. 

Baldwin knew:

 It is difficult to be born in a place where you are despised and also promised that with endeavor – with this, with that, you know – you can accomplish the impossible. You’re trying to deal with the man, the woman, the child – the child of whichever sex – and he or she and your man or your woman has got to deal with the 24-hour-a-day facts of life in this country. We’re not going to fly off someplace else, you know, we’d better get through whatever that day is and still have each other and still raise children – somehow manage all of that. And this is 24 hours of every day, and you’re surrounded by all of the paraphernalia of safety: If you can strike this bargain here. If you can make sure your armpits are odorless. Curl your hair. Be impeccable. Be all the things that the American public says you should do, right? And you do all those things – and nothing happens really. And what is much worse than that, nothing happens to your child either.

The religion of nigger-cleansing is desperation, a mythology adopted in the shadow of seemingly unerring inequality. It awards a sense of power, a belief that the parishioner might be rendered Christ-like and impeccable.  But the actual record of nigger-cleansing is dubious. 

Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman knew:

I am just as much opposed to Booker T. Washington as a voter as I am to the cocoanut-headed, chocolate-colored typical little coon who blacks my shoes every morning. Neither is fit to perform the supreme function of citizenship.

Booker T. Washington could not stop the Red Summers. That is because racism neither needs, nor seeks, black people's permission. That is because the wolf does not care if the sheep is respectable. 








24 Mar 22:55

'I Am Still Called by the God I Serve to Walk This Out'

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Will Harden

You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid of being you

Last Thursday, I took my son to meet Lucia McBath, because he is 13, about the age when a black boy begins to directly understand what his country thinks of him. His parents cannot save him. His parents cannot save both his person and his humanity. At 13, I learned that whole streets were prohibited to me, that ways of speaking, walking, and laughing made me a target. That is because within the relative peace of America, great violence—institutional, interpersonal, existential—marks the black experience. The progeny of the plundered were all around me in West Baltimore—were, in fact, me. No one was amused. If I were to carve out some peace myself, I could not be amused either. I think I lost some of myself out there, some of the softness that was rightfully mine, to a set of behavioral codes for addressing the block. I think these talks that we have with our sons—how to address the police, how not to be intimidating to white people, how to live among the singularly plundered—kill certain parts of them which are as wonderful as anything. I think the very tools which allow us to walk through the world, crush our wings and dash the dream of flight.

Jordan Davis was also given a series of talks, which McBath believes ultimately got him killed. We were sitting in the bar area of the Millennium Hotel in Times Square. She had a water. I had a coffee. My son sat back and watched. She talked about Jordan's first days in public school after several years of home school. She talked about how he went from shy caterpillar amazed at the size and scope of his new school to social butterfly down with kids in every crowd. He had strong opinions. She thought he would be a politician or an activist. It was in the blood. Her father, Lucien Holman, was head of the Illinois NAACP and served on the executive board. Lucia McBath herself is now the spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

"We always encouraged him to be strong. To speak out," McBath told me. "We tried to teach him to speak what you feel and think diplomatically."

She took a moment here. Her voice quavered but held. She said, "Even in that case with Jordan and the car, I think that he was not as diplomatic as he could be. That does not let Michael Dunn off the hook," McBath told me. "But I say to myself as a mother, 'I didn’t teach you and train you to do that. Adults are adults and you are still a child.'"

Agency is religion in black America. Benjamin Banneker made it. Harriet Tubman made it. Madame C.J. Walker made it. Charles Drew made it. Malcolm X made it. Barack Obama made it. You must make it too, and there is always a way. The religion of autoliberation is certainly not rebutted by the kind of graphs and stats that keep me up at night and that can easily lead to suicidal thoughts. Yours is the only self you will ever have. One must discover how to live in it or perish. 

She continued, "In my mind I keep saying, 'Had he not spoke back, spoke up, would he still be here?' I don't know. But I do know that Jordan was Jordan to the end. I think Jordan was defending his friends. 'We’re not bothering you. We don’t know you. You don’t know us. Why can’t we play our music as loud as we want?'"

I told her that I was stunned by her grace after the verdict. I told her the verdict greatly angered me. I told her that the idea that someone on that jury thought it plausible there was a gun in the car baffled me. I told her it was appalling to consider the upshot of the verdict—had Michael Dunn simply stopped shooting and only fired the shots that killed Jordan Davis, he might be free today.

She said, "It baffles our mind too. Don’t think that we aren’t angry. Don’t think that I am not angry. Forgiving Michael Dunn doesn't negate what I’m feeling and my anger. And I am allowed to feel that way. But more than that I have a responsibility to God to walk the path He's laid. In spite of my anger, and my fear that we won’t get the verdict that we want, I am still called by the God I serve to walk this out."

I asked if she'd considered that Dunn might never be convicted of Davis's murder. "It's a strong possibility," she said. "The minute we looked at the jury instructions, we thought, 'That right there is what will keep Jordan from getting a guilty verdict.' I was crushed but not surprised."

A thought came to me that had been swirling for days: Dunn might win on appeal. I considered the possibility of him walking free. I considered the spectacle of George Zimmerman walking free. I considered the great mass of black youth that is regularly interrupted without any real reckoning, without any consideration of the machinery of black pariahdom. I asked McBath how she felt about her country.

She paused, then gave an answer that perfectly summed up the spirit of African-American patriotism. "I still love my country. It's the only country we have. This is the best that I've got," she said. "And I still believe that there are people here who believe in justness and fairness. And I still believe there are people here who don’t make judgments about people based on the color of skin. I am a product of that. But I am disheartened that as far as we've come it doesn't matter that we have a black president. It doesn't matter how educated we’ve become. It doesn’t matter because there still is an issue of race in this country. No, we have not really arrived. If something like this can happen, we have not arrived. And I ask myself, 'At what point are we going to get there?' And I have no answer. And I want to be able to answer."

She wanted you to know that Jordan Davis was an individual black person. That he was an upper-middle-class kid. That his ancestry was diverse. That he had blacks in his family. Mexicans in his family. Panamanians in his family. That his great-grandfather was white. That some of his ancestors had passed. 

She wanted you to know that Jordan Davis was not from the "Gunshine State." That he was from Atlanta—Douglasville, Georgia, to be exact—where black people have things, and there is great pride in this. She wanted the world to know that Jordan Davis had things. That he lived in a three-story home in a cul-de-sac. That most of the children there had two parents. That original owners still lived in the development. That she was only the third owner. That Jordan Davis had access to all the other activities that every other kid in the neighborhood did, that he had not been deprived by divorce.

And she wanted you to know that Jordan Davis had a father. That this was why he was living in Jacksonville, where he was killed. That she was battling a second round of breast cancer and Davis's father said to her, "Let me raise him, you get well." She wanted you to know that she never ever kept Davis from his father. That she never put Jordan in the middle of the divorce, because she had already been there herself as a child—placed as a go-between between her mother and father. She said that this had wreaked havoc on her as a young woman. That it had even wreaked havoc on her own marriage. That she had carried that pain into relationships, into marriage, and did not want to do the same. She wanted you to know that Davis's father, Ron, is a good man.

She wanted you to know that what happened to Jordan in Jacksonville might not have happened in Atlanta, where black people enjoy some level of prestige and influence. That Jordan believed the level of consciousness in Jacksonville was not what it was in Atlanta, and that this ultimately played into why Jordan spoke up. That this ultimately played into why he was killed. I thought of Emmett Till, who was slaughtered for not comprehending the rules. For failing to distinguish Chicago, Illinois, from Money, Mississippi. For believing that there was one America, and it was his country.

She stood. It was time to go. I am not objective. I gave her a hug. I told her I wanted the world to see her, and to see Jordan. She said she thinks I want the world to see "him." She was nodding to my son. She added, "And him representing all of us." He was sitting there just as I have taught him—listening, not talking. 

Now she addressed him, "You exist," she told him. "You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid of being you."

She gave my son a hug and then went upstairs to pack.








24 Mar 22:46

Black Pathology and the Closing of the Progressive Mind

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Among opinion writers, Jonathan Chait is outranked in my esteem only by Hendrik Hertzberg. This lovely takedown of Robert Johnson is a classic of the genre, one I studied incessantly when I was sharpening my own sword. The sharpening never ends. With that in mind, it is a pleasure to engage Chait in the discussion over President Obama, racism, culture, and personal responsibility. It's good to debate a writer of such clarity—even when that clarity has failed him.

On y va.

Chait argues that I've conflated Paul Ryan's view of black poverty with Barack Obama's. He is correct. I should have spent more time disentangling these two notions, and illuminating their common roots—the notion that black culture is part of the problem. I have tried to do this disentangling in the past. I am sorry I did not do it in this instance and will attempt to do so now.

​Arguing that poor black people are not "holding up their end of the bargain," or that they are in need of moral instruction is an old and dubious tradition in America. There is a conservative and a liberal rendition of this tradition. The conservative version eliminates white supremacy as a factor and leaves the question of the culture's origin ominously unanswered. This version can never be regarded seriously. Life is short. Black life is shorter.

On y va.

The liberal version of the cultural argument points to "a tangle of pathologies" haunting black America born of oppression. This argument—which Barack Obama embraces—is more sincere, honest, and seductive. Chait helpfully summarizes:

The argument is that structural conditions shape culture, and culture, in turn, can take on a life of its own independent of the forces that created it. It would be bizarre to imagine that centuries of slavery, followed by systematic terrorism, segregation, discrimination, a legacy wealth gap, and so on did not leave a cultural residue that itself became an impediment to success.

The "structural conditions" Chait outlines above can be summed up under the phrase "white supremacy." I have spent the past two days searching for an era when black culture could be said to be "independent" of white supremacy. I have not found one. Certainly the antebellum period, when one third of all enslaved black people found themselves on the auction block, is not such an era. And surely we would not consider postbellum America, when freedpeople were regularly subjected to terrorism, to be such an era. 

We certainly do not find such a period during the Roosevelt-Truman era, when this country erected a racist social safety net, leaving the NAACP to quip that the New Deal was "like a sieve with holes just big enough for the majority of Negroes to fall through." Nor do we find it during the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when African-Americans—as a matter of federal policy—were largely excluded from the legitimate housing market. Nor during the 1980s when we began the erection of a prison-industrial complex so vast that black males now comprise 8 percent of the world's entire incarcerated population.

And we do not find an era free of white supremacy in our times either, when the rising number of arrests for marijuana are mostly borne by African-Americans; when segregation drives a foreclosure crisis that helped expand the wealth gap; when big banks busy themselves baiting black people with "wealth-building seminars" and instead offering "ghetto loans" for "mud people"; when studies find that black low-wage applicants with no criminal record "fared no better than a white applicant just released from prison"; when, even after controlling for neighborhoods and crime rates, my son finds himself more likely to be stopped and frisked. Chait's theory of independent black cultural pathologies sounds reasonable. But it can't actually be demonstrated in the American record, and thus has no applicability.

What about the idea that white supremacy necessarily "bred a cultural residue that itself became an impediment to success"? Chait believes that it's "bizarre" to think otherwise. I think it's bizarre that he doesn't bother to see if his argument is actually true. Oppression might well produce a culture of failure. It might also produce a warrior spirit and a deep commitment to attaining the very things which had been so often withheld from you. There is no need for theorizing. The answers are knowable.

There certainly is no era more oppressive for black people than their 250 years of enslavement in this country. Slavery encompassed not just forced labor, but a ban on black literacy, the vending of black children, the regular rape of black women, and the lack of legal standing for black marriage. Like Chait, 19th-century Northern white reformers coming South after the Civil War expected to find "a cultural residue that itself became an impediment to success."

In his masterful history, Reconstruction, the historian Eric Foner recounts the experience of the progressives who came to the South as teachers in black schools. The reformers "had little previous contact with blacks" and their views were largely cribbed from Uncle Tom's Cabin. They thus believed blacks to be culturally degraded and lacking in family instincts, prone to lie and steal, and generally opposed to self-reliance: 

Few Northerners involved in black education could rise above the conviction that slavery had produced a "degraded" people, in dire need of instruction in frugality, temperance, honesty, and the dignity of labor ... In classrooms, alphabet drills and multiplication tables alternated with exhortations to piety, cleanliness, and punctuality.

In short, white progressives coming South expected to find a black community suffering the effects of not just oppression but its "cultural residue." 

Here is what they actually found:

During the Civil War, John Eaton, who, like many whites, believed that slavery had destroyed the sense of family obligation, was astonished by the eagerness with which former slaves in contraband camps legalized their marriage bonds. The same pattern was repeated when the Freedmen's Bureau and state governments made it possible to register and solemnize slave unions. Many families, in addition, adopted the children of deceased relatives and friends, rather than see them apprenticed to white masters or placed in Freedmen's Bureau orphanages. 

By 1870, a large majority of blacks lived in two-parent family households, a fact that can be gleaned from the manuscript census returns but also "quite incidentally" from the Congressional Ku Klux Klan hearings, which recorded countless instances of victims assaulted in their homes, "the husband and wife in bed, and … their little children beside them."

The point here is rich and repeated in American history—it was not "cultural residue" that threatened black marriages. It was white terrorism, white rapacity, and white violence. And the commitment among freedpeople to marriage mirrored a larger commitment to the reconstitution of family, itself necessary because of systemic white violence.

"In their eyes," wrote an official from the Freedmen's Bureau, in 1865. "The work of emancipation was incomplete until the families which had been dispersed by slavery were reunited."

White people at the time noted a sudden need in black people to travel far and wide. "The Negroes," reports one observer, "are literally crazy about traveling." Why were the Negroes "literally crazy about traveling?" Part of it was the sheer joy of mobility granted by emancipation. But there was something more: "Of all the motivations for black mobility," writes Foner, "none was more poignant than the effort to reunite families separated during slavery."

This effort continued as late the onset of the 20th century, when you could still find newspapers running ads like this:

During the year 1849, Thomas Sample carried away from this city, as his slaves, our daughter, Polly, and son …. We will give $100 each for them to any person who will assist them … to get to Nashville, or get word to us of their whereabouts.

Nor had the centuries-long effort to destroy black curiosity and thirst for education yielded much effect:

Perhaps the most striking illustration of the freedmen's quest for self-improvement was their seemingly unquenchable thirst for education .... The desire for learning led parents to migrate to towns and cities in search of education for their children, and plantation workers to make the establishment of a school-house "an absolute condition" of signing labor contracts ...

Contemporaries could not but note the contrast between white families seemingly indifferent to education and blacks who "toil and strive, labour and endure in order that their children 'may have a schooling'." As one Northern educator remarked: "Is it not significant that after the lapse of one hundred and forty-four years since the settlement [of Beaufort, North Carolina], the Freedmen are building the first public school-house ever erected here."

"All in all," Foner concludes, "the months following the end of the Civil War were a period of remarkable accomplishment for Southern blacks." This is not especially remarkable, if you consider the time. Education, for instance, was not merely a status marker. Literacy was protection against having your land stolen or being otherwise cheated. Perhaps more importantly, it gave access to the Bible. The cultural fruits of oppression are rarely predictable merely through theorycraft. Who would predicted that oppression would make black people hungrier for education than their white peers? Who could predict the blues? 

And culture is not exclusive. African-American are Americans, and have been Americans longer than virtually any other group of white Americans. There is no reason to suppose that enslavement cut African-Americans off from a broader cultural values. More likely African-Americans contributed to the creation and maintenance of those values.

The African-Americans who endured enslavement were subject to two and half centuries of degradation and humiliation. Slavery lasted twice as long as Jim Crow and was more repressive. If you were going to see evidence of a "cultural residue" which impeded success you would see it there. Instead you find black people desperate to reconstitute their families, desperate to marry, and desperate to be educated. Progressives who advocate the 19th-century line must specifically name the "cultural residue" that afflicts black people, and then offer evidence of it. Favoring abstract thought experiments over research will not cut it.

Nor will pretending that old debates are somehow new. For some reason there is an entrenched belief among many liberals and conservatives that discussions of American racism should begin somewhere between the Moynihan Report and the Detroit riots. Thus Chait dates our dispute to the fights in the '70s between liberals. In fact, we are carrying on an argument that is at least a century older.

The passage of time is important because it allows us to assess how those arguments have faired. I contend that my arguments have been borne out, and the arguments of progressives like Chait and the president of the United States have not. Either Booker T. Washington was correct when he urged black people to forgo politics in favor eliminating "the criminal and loafing element of our people" or he wasn't. Either W.E.B. Du Bois was correct when he claimed that correcting "the immorality, crime and laziness among the Negroes" should be the "first and primary" goal or he was not. The track record of progressive moral reform in the black community is knowable.

And it's not just knowable from Eric Foner. It can be gleaned from reading the entire Moynihan Report—not just the "tangle of pathologies" section—and then comparing it with Herb Gutman's The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom. It can be gleaned from Isabel Wilkerson's history of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns. One of the most important threads in this book is Wilkerson dismantling of the liberal theory of cultural degradation.

I want to conclude by examining one important element of Chait's argument—the role of the president of the United States who also happens to be a black man:

If I'm watching a basketball game in which the officials are systematically favoring one team over another (let's call them Team A and Team Duke) as an analyst, the officiating bias may be my central concern. But if I'm coaching Team A, I'd tell my players to ignore the biased officiating. Indeed, I'd be concerned the bias would either discourage them or make them lash out, and would urge them to overcome it. That's not the same as denying bias. It's a sensible practice of encouraging people to concentrate on the things they can control.

Obama's habit of speaking about this issue primarily to black audiences is Obama seizing upon his role as the most famous and admired African-American in the world to urge positive habits and behavior.

Chait's metaphor is incorrect. Barack Obama isn't the coach of "Team Negro," he is the commissioner of the league. Team Negro is very proud that someone who served on our staff has risen (for the first time in history!) to be commissioner. And Team Negro, which since the dawn of the league has endured biased officiating and whose every game is away, hopes that the commissioner's tenure among them has given him insight into the league's problems. But Team Negro is not—and should not be—confused about the commissioner's primary role.

"I'm not the president of black America," Barack Obama has said. "I'm the president of the United States of America."

Precisely.

And the president of the United States is not just an enactor of policy for today, he is the titular representative of his country's heritage and legacy. In regards to black people, America's heritage is kleptocracy—the stealing and selling of other people's children, the robbery of the fruits of black labor, the pillaging of black property, the taxing of black citizens for schools they can not attend, for pools in which they can not swim, for libraries that bar them, for universities that exclude them, for police who do not protect them, for the marking of whole communities as beyond the protection of the state and thus subject to the purview of outlaws and predators. 

The bearer of this unfortunate heritage feebly urging "positive habits and behavior" while his country imprisons some ungodly number of black men may well be greeted with applause in some quarters. It must never be so among those of us whose love of James Baldwin is true, whose love of Ida B. Wells is true, whose love of Harriet Tubman and our ancestors who fought for the right of family is true. In that fight America has rarely been our ally. Very often it has been our nemesis

Obama-era progressives view white supremacy as something awful that happened in the past and the historical vestiges of which still afflict black people today. They believe we need policies—though not race-specific policies—that address the affliction. I view white supremacy as one of the central organizing forces in American life, whose vestiges and practices afflicted black people in the past, continue to afflict black people today, and will likely afflict black people until this country passes into the dust. 

There is no evidence that black people are less responsible, less moral, or less upstanding in their dealings with America nor with themselves. But there is overwhelming evidence that America is irresponsible, immoral, and unconscionable in its dealings with black people and with itself. Urging African-Americans to become superhuman is great advice if you are concerned with creating extraordinary individuals. It is terrible advice if you are concerned with creating an equitable society. The black freedom struggle is not about raising a race of hyper-moral super-humans. It is about all people garnering the right to live like the normal humans they are. 








12 Dec 03:08

San Francisco summer trip

by Matt Haughey

I spent the last week of my daughter’s summer vacation taking her to San Francisco to have fun for a few days. What follows is a summary of things I liked, tips, and a few photos from the vacation.

  • The California Academy of Science is pretty amazing, combining an aquarium, a natural history museum, a bit of a zoo, and a science museum into one. It’s expensive but worth it. Also expensive but worth it, the restaurant in the basement called The Moss Room, run by the chef behind SF’s Sliding Door restaurant.
  • Ghirardelli Square was a bit of a letdown in that there’s no real chocolate factory to tour, it’s basically just a mall and you can buy chocolate and ice cream there as well as other shops. I never went here at a resident of the city and now I know I didn’t miss anything.
  • The cable car system is still a tourist novelty that was down/broken half of our stay and that trains were few and far between making the whole thing feel overpriced and slow.
  • The Clipper Card system was incredible! After living in the Bay Area for several years, I used to be annoyed by having BART tickets, cash for Muni, and separate Caltrain tickets. One clipper card for each of us worked on every system we used (Muni, BART, Caltrain, AC buses) and was easy to refill at any station. It finally felt like SF caught up to what every other major world city offered nearly a decade ago.
  • Visiting Pixar was a treat, but so much of the campus is restricted to outsiders that we basically just got to see how much energy they put into storyboarding movies before they’re ever made. I always knew they spent years on each film, but it didn’t sink in until I was there that storyboarding and tweaking a story is about 80% of the effort going into their movies.
  • About two years ago I stopped renting cars when visiting the Bay Area and this trip felt like the first time that could be permanent for future trips. We went all over San Francisco, down to San Carlos, over to Emeryville, and back to the airport all on quick, easy trains. Mass transit was also possible due to a bunch of handy apps, like Embark, which can tell you down to the minute where the nearest bus or train is heading.
  • The Exploratorium was fun and I love the new location and building they’re in. There are many more exhibits than I recall in the old space, it’s about a 10 minute walk from the Ferry Building, and there are tons of cool demos to entertain and inform kids.
  • Being briefly a single parent during this trip wasn’t as hard as I thought. Plane rides are much easier with iPads, and as someone told me when you’re the only parent around, every parenting decision you make is the correct one.

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27 Nov 20:16

SQL Woes from A to Z

by tsqlprincess

Ever have one of those days when you’re working with a colleague on a database issue and one of you has a fun idea that just takes on a life of it’s own?  Well, that’s exactly what happened today while we were doing some actual work.  Imagine that!  Below is what we came up with for your reading pleasure.

Many thanks to my friend, Erin, for collaborating on this fun little poem with me!

A is for the Alter that shouldn’t be run.

B is for the Backup that should’ve been done.

C is for the Cluster that flew into bits.

D is for the Data that no longer fits.

E is for the Errors we saw in the logs.

F is for the Faults that were NOT in the logs!

G is for the GO that couldn’t be found.

H is for the Heap that couldn’t be bound.

I is for the Index, non-clustered and disabled.

J is for the Job which needs that index enabled.

K is for the Kill that was run with a cursor.

L is for the Locks it caused you son-of-a… grrr!

M is for the Month I’ll never get back.

N is for the NULLS hiding in the stack.

O is for the Order By that killed my query.

P is for the Performance I needed so dearly.

Q is for the Query that we redesigned.

R is for the Ranks that are now undefined.

S is for the Select star I found in a proc.

T is for the Time that it lingered in a Lock.

U is for the Update that was lacking a Where.

V is for the Values it swiftly plopped in there.

W is for the When that was found without a Case.

X is for the XQuery we slapped in its place.

Y is for the Year as varchar, we couldn’t believe.

Z is for the Zero pad left, for which we all grieve.


Filed under: SQL Fun
27 Nov 20:13

10 Things I Hate About Interviewing with You–Follow Up

by Karen Lopez

image

If you think about it, interviewing, on both sides of the desk, is a lot like online dating.  You have a profile (your resume and LinkedIn profile) and the company has a profile (annual reports, online databases) and both of you are matched up via those profiles. Sometimes it’s done via a computer algorithm (online sites), sometimes you have a matchmaker (agency).

This past weekend my friend Thomas LaRock ( blog | @sqlrockstar ) and I presented on 10 Things I Hate About Interviewing with You at SQLSaturday San Diego.  We drew upon that analogy to talk about the myths and missteps that people make while being the interviewer and interviewee.  You can download the slides in my document library, but I wanted to share the 10 Tips and the additional resources we gave.

10 Tips for Better Interviewing

1. Do your homework

Your job in an interview is to come across as smart and confident.  There are things you need to do to get ready.  Having read the resume and the company profiles is just one important step.

2. Study the resume & job posting

You don’t want to be reviewing the resume or the job posting as you are interviewing.  You won’t be able to think of great questions or to listen while answers are being given.

3. Have a plan, but be prepared to detour

All that prep is good, but you need to be able to come up with questions and answers if the interview starts heading in a different direction.  I once interviewed for a project, only to have the interviewer realize that I was a better fit for a much higher role and project.  That meant more money and a better gig.

4. Ask real questions

We give a list of some of the interviewer questions we think have proven to be trite, tired and nearly useless.  Let’s just say they involve mirrors and kryptonite.

5. Listen, then ask follow up questions

It kills me to see an interviewer asking questions but not really processing them; they might as well be a webform recording my responses.  And I’ve seen interviewees give responses to questions, even crazy questions, and not ask any follow ups or ask context-seeking questions. That says to me they aren’t really “there” in the interview.

6. Be engaging and sincere, even if you have to fake it

It really hurts to see an interviewee be flat and less than passionate about what they do.  It know interviewing is stressful and nerves get in the way.  But to fail at being engaging comes across as flat.

7. Your job is to sell, without being salesy

Never rate yourself as 11 out of 10 or to say you know everything.  Interviewers don’t actually like overconfidence.  There needs to be a few “it depends” discussions and a few “I don’t knows” if the interview questions are good.  On the other side of the desk, an interviewer that spends more time selling the company or the project might be desperate for a resource for reasons you don’t want them to be.

8. Show humility, but don’t downplay your strengths

Be yourself.  Admit to when you don’t know something.  But don’t downplay your knowledge or skills.  And ladies, we are really bad about doing this.  Some guys, too, I know.  But ladies, seriously.  Take credit for what you know and the successes you’ve had. Other candidates are telling the interviewers that they the only person on the planet that can be successful in this job.  You need to rate strong.

9. Follow up if you promised to do something

If you promised to send references or more details about your background, or even to share a book title you really liked, do it.  Even if you don’t make it for this job, you’ll want a great reason to keep your name in front of that interviewer.  Interviewers, if you promised to seen updates about the status of the process, do it or don’t make the promise.

10. Be willing help each other, even if there isn’t a good fit

If you find out during the interview that the job isn’t for you, that’s not a fail.  If you know someone who might fit, forward along the information to them.  That’s a win for everyone.  Don’t hoard job opportunities. 

I’ve included some background on each of these, but to get the good discussion stories behind these, you’ll need to attend one of our future presentations of this.    We have one story about the importance of your interviewers not needing to know the status of your underwear, too.  It’s not all do’s and don’ts

Interviewing Resources

Just a few of the resources I recommend for interviewing and being interviewed.

Fun

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/interview_questions

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/interviewees

 

Tom’s Blog

http://thomaslarock.com/2012/09/10-things-i-hate-about-interviewing-you/

http://thomaslarock.com/2012/09/10-things-i-hate-about-interviewing-with-you/

•…plus many more….

 

Karen’s Blog

http://blog.infoadvisors.com/index.php/2012/01/30/another-zombie-job-posting-data-architect-designer-implementer-operational-support/

http://blog.infoadvisors.com/index.php/2010/07/16/looking-for-a-job-some-free-advice-thats-paid-for-1/

21 Nov 21:45

Sandy Hook Video Game Prompts Everyone To Get Everything Wrong

by Timothy Geigner

It's been nearly a year since the Sandy Hook tragedy and if we've learned anything at all in the aftermath it's that we've learned nothing at all in the aftermath. Whether you're an advocate of gun control, an advocate for the link between violence and video games, or an advocate of the NRA, it really doesn't matter. The only thing to come out of the tragedy was a ton of talk, a boon for our stupid cable news networks' ratings, and the exceptional vacuum in which absolutely no conclusions were drawn and nothing was done. Twenty-six people were murdered, most of them children, and the needle hasn't moved in either direction one iota. Well done, everyone.

Wait, I forgot one other lesson we should all have learned from the tragedy: major media and a large swath of our fellow citizens somehow combine being reactionary and willfully ignorant in a way that would be cartoonishly hilarious if it weren't so damned maddening. And now we have the opportunity to re-learn that lesson as we watch the reaction to a "video game" inspired by Sandy Hook in which everyone gets everything wrong from every side possible. Here's how the game is described in the media:

"The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary" directs gamers to storm virtual classrooms with an AR-15 assault rifle in the same vein as Lanza and displays a kill ratio at the end. The game's release comes less than a month before the first anniversary of the Dec. 14 massacre.
This is, at best, only half the story. What most reports omit or bury is that the second part of the game has you attempt the same assault, but you're forced to use a sword because theoretical gun-control laws have kept you from being able to use a gun. Under the limitations of a countdown, the entire point of the game is that with a sword you can't rack up the body-count you can with a gun. It's an artistic statement on gun-control.

Now, I can already hear my friends in the comments section gearing up for a conversation about freedom, the 2nd amendment, and the uselessness of gun control. Don't. Not because I disagree with you or think your arguments are invalid (I don't), but because that isn't what this post is about. This is about freedom of speech and the importance of artistic expression on the issues of our day, as well as how completely incapable our media and some citizens are at having even a semblance of an intelligent conversation about this. And this comes from all sides, gun-rights folks and gun-control folks, conservative or liberal, it doesn't matter. Everyone comes out of this sounding stupid, because nobody seems to bother actually learning what this game is and is all about. Take a family member of one victim, for instance:
"I'm just horrified," Llodra said. "I just don't understand, frankly, why anyone would think that the horrible tragedy that took place here in Sandy Hook would have any entertainment value. It just breaks my heart."
Great, except the game isn't designed for entertainment purposes, it has a message about the useless reaction to the tragedy. In other words, you don't know what you're talking about. Because you didn't actually see the game or the site, where you would have heard:
In an audio recording on the site, Lambourn describes himself as a U.S. expatriate from Houston who resides in Australia. There, he said, gun laws enacted after the fatal shooting of 35 people at a popular tourist destination in 1996 have stemmed the tide of violence.
Llodra missed the message. As did the NRA:
The NRA called the simulation "reprehensible," but was reluctant to comment further, saying it didn't want to give more ink to "this despicable excuse for a human being."
It's not a simulation, it's artistic commentary, and it's especially funny for an organization that puts out its own "games" about shooting all kinds of things. And those games are targeted to elementary-aged school children. Note: I don't have a problem with the games themselves, only the hypocritical commentary from the NRA. This hatred of hypocrisy isn't reserved for conservative groups like the NRA, either. Here's champion hypocrite Richard Blumenthal, Democrat Senator from Connecticut.
"I find the exploitation of this unspeakable tragedy is just shocking," Blumenthal told Hearst. "From what I've heard and what's been shown to me, it's absolutely abhorrent. My hope is that it will be voluntarily taken down because it's offensive and hurtful."
Got it? It's shocking for anyone to exploit the Sandy Hook tragedy for their own aims. I wonder how shocking Blumenthal found, you know, himself back in March, when he said:
A "sensible compromise" can still be reached on gun-control legislation in the Senate, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on Sunday, saying the "shock and terror of Newtown" was still a major motivating factor for lawmakers.
So it's cool to exploit the tragedy to pass the laws you want, but not cool to exploit it to advocate for passing...the same damn laws you want? Which you didn't know was the message of the game, because some reporter called you up, told you someone made Doom but set it in Sandy Hook, and your head exploded into a shower of dumbass responses. What the hell?

So, please, please, please learn this lesson: thou shalt know what thou art talking about before talking about it. I know, it's really hard, especially for ratings-driven controversy whores like the media or grandstanding politicians, but just try it out. In other words, it's entirely possible to hate what happened at Sandy Hook while still leaving room for artistic, even controversial, speech on the matter. Cowboy-up, Americans, this really shouldn't be too hard.

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21 Nov 01:58

It's easy to not harass women

by MarkCC

For many of us in the science blogging scene, yesterday was a pretty lousy day. We learned that a guy who many of us had known for a long time, who we'd trusted, who we considered a friend, had been using his job to sexually harass women with sleezy propositions.

This led to a lot of discussion and debate in twitter. I spoke up to say that what bothered me about the whole thing was that it's easy to not harass people.

This has led to rather a lot of hate mail. But it's also led to some genuine questions and discussions. Since it can be hard to have detailed discussions on twitter, I thought that I'd take a moment here, expand on what I meant, and answer some of the questions.

To start: it really is extremely easy to not be a harasser. Really. The key thing to consider is: when is it appropriate to discuss sex? In general, it's downright trivial: if you're not in a not in private with a person with whom you're in a sexual relationship, then don't. But in particular, here are a couple of specific examples of this principle:

  • Is there any way in which you are part of a supervisor/supervisee or mentor/mentee relationship? Then do not discuss or engage in sexual behaviors of any kind.
  • In a social situation, are you explicitly on a date or other romantic encounter? Do both people agree that it's a romantic thing? If not, then do not discuss or engage in sexual behaviors.
  • In a mutually understood romantic situation, has your partner expressed any discomfort? If so, then immediately stop discussing or engaging in sexual behaviors.
  • In any social situation, if a participant expresses discomfort, stop engaging in what is causing the discomfort.

Like I said: this is not hard.

To touch on specifics of various recent incidents:

  • You do not meet with someone to discuss work, and tell them about your sex drive.
  • You do not touch a students ass.
  • You do not talk to coworkers about your dick.
  • You don't proposition your coworkers.
  • You don't try to sneak a glance down your coworkers shirt.
  • You don't comment on how hot your officemate looks in that sweater.
  • You do not tell your students that you thought about them while you were masturbating.

Seriously! Is any of this difficult? Should this require any explanation to anyone with two brain cells to rub together?

But, many of my correspondants asked, what about grey areas?

I don't believe that there are significant grey areas here. If you're not in an explicit sexual relationship with someone, then don't talk to them about sex. In fact, if you're in any work related situation at all, no matter who you're with, it's not appropriate to discuss sex.

But what about cases where you didn't mean anything sexual, like when you complimented your coworker on her outfit, and she accused you of harassing her?

This scenario is, largely, a fraud.

Lots of people legitimately worry about it, because they've heard so much about this in the media, in politics, in news. The thing is, the reason that you hear all of this is because of people who are deliberately promoting it as part of a socio-political agenda. People who want to excuse or normalize this kind of behavior want to create the illusion of blurred lines.

In reality, harassers know that they're harassing. They know that they're making inappropriate sexual gestures. But they don't want to pay the consequences. So they pretend that they didn't know that what they were doing wrong. And they try to convince other folks that you're at risk too! You don't actually have to be doing anything wrong, and you could have your life wrecked by some crazy bitch!.

Consider for a moment, a few examples of how a scenario could play out.

Scenario one: woman officemate comes to work, dressed much fancier than usual. Male coworker says "Nice outfit, why are you all dressed up today?". Anyone really think that this is going to get the male coworker into trouble?

Scenario two: woman worker wears a nice outfit to work. Male coworker says "Nice outfit". Woman looks uncomfortable. Man sees this, and either apologizes, or makes note not to do this again, because it made her uncomfortable. Does anyone really honestly believe that this, occurring once, will lead to a formal accusation of harassment with consequences?

Scenario three: woman officemate comes to work dressed fancier than usual. Male coworker says nice outfit. Woman acts uncomfortable. Man keeps commenting on her clothes. Woman asks him to stop. Next day, woman comes to work, man comments that she's not dressed so hot today. Anyone think that it's not clear that the guy is behaving inappropriately?

Scenario four woman worker wears a nice outfit to work. Male coworker says "Nice outfit, wrowr", makes motions like he's pawing at her. Anyone really think that there's anything ambiguous here, or is it clear that the guy is harassing her? And does anyone really, honestly believe that if the woman complains, this harasser will not say "But I just complimented her outfit, she's being oversensitive!"?

Here's the hard truths about the reality of sexual harassment:

  • Do you know a professional woman? If so, she's been sexually harassed at one time or another. Probably way more than once.
  • The guy(s) who harassed her knew that he was harassing her.
  • The guy(s) who harassed her doesn't think that he really did anything wrong.
  • There are a lot of people out there who believe that men are entitled to behave this way.
  • In order to avoid consequences for their behavior, many men will go to amazing lengths to deny responsibility.

The reality is: this isn't hard. There's nothing difficult about not harassing people. Men who harass women know that they're harassing women. The only hard part of any of this is that the rest of us - especially the men who don't harass women - need to acknowledge this, stop ignoring it, stop making excuses for the harassers, and stand up and speak up when we see it happening. That's the only way that things will ever change.

We can't make exceptions for our friends. I'm really upset about the trouble that my friend is in. I feel bad for him. I feel bad for his family. I'm sad that he's probably going to lose his job over this. But the fact is, he did something reprehensible, and he needs to face the consequences for that. The fact that I've known him for a long time, liked him, considered him a friend? That just makes it more important that I be willing to stand up, and say: This was wrong. This was inexcusable. This cannot stand without consequences..

19 Nov 19:39

How to Acquire Any New Skill in 20 Hours or Less

by Ramit Sethi

When I moved to New York, a friend of mine took me out for lunch to welcome me to the city. While we were eating, he made an offhand comment that stuck with me: “Besides work, most people hardly ever leave the 3-block area they live in.”

Years later, after living here, I realize how right he is. We get comfortable. We know what’s around us. And most of all, we don’t want to take a risk (and possibly look stupid) by trying something new.

His point wasn’t just about where we live. The more and more I get better at my own craft, the more resistance I’ve noticed in myself to try something new. When was the last time you learned a new language, took up a new sport, or traveled to a totally different country?

It’s uncomfortable to imagine being a beginner at something again. What if I fall off the skateboard? What if people laugh at me? Ah, screw this, I’m gonna go watch TV.

That’s why I love people who constantly try to reinvent themselves — especially masters of their craft — because it would be easy to coast.

A while ago, I invited one of my friends, Josh Kaufman, to talk about mental frameworks (like the ones I used to answer hundreds of emails/day). As a reminder, Josh founded PersonalMBA.com and is one of the deepest thinkers on systems that I know.

Today, I’ve invited him back to talk about the process of learning something new. If I want to learn windsurfing, do I really need to spend 10,000 hours? How do I get “good enough” to enjoy something faster than that?

I like having Josh share his techniques because he’s a total weirdo. Instead of using off-the-shelf software, like 99% of people in his business do, he built it himself. When I looked at him disgustedly, saying “Why, dude?” he smiled and said, “It was fun.”

No! It’s not fun to build a shopping cart. But he loves the process of pushing through the initial pain to build something new.

His new book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast, will teach you exactly this. first20hours

What I like about Josh is he breaks down all kinds of new skills — like playing a new instrument, learning a new language, picking up a new sport, or even learning to cook. These are the things we always talk about wanting to do, but never actually get around to doing. And in today’s guest post, he’ll show you how to acquire any new skill in 20 hours or less. (By the way, I especially love the part where he preemptively yells at you below.)

Take it away, Josh

*     *     *

In less than 12 months, I’ve learned the following:

1. How to code. My entire business now runs on software I wrote myself, and if I ever decided to stop running my own business, I could land a six-figure position pretty easily.
2. How to do yoga. Now I can practice by myself at home in a safe, effective way, and I’m getting stronger and more flexible every day.
3. Learned how to windsurf. It’s a challenging, physically demanding sport, but it’s super fun.
4. How to play the ukulele. I know how to play many popular songs, and I can pick up a songbook or tab and figure out how to play pretty much anything.
5. How to play Go. It’s the oldest strategic board game in the world, and WAY more complicated than chess.
6. How to touch type (again). I now type using a keyboard layout called Colemak, which is much more efficient than the QWERTY keyboard layout most people use.
7. How to shoot and edit a movie. I bought a camera and shot my first short film: a trailer to launch my second book, an international bestseller that hit #2 on Audible.com overall. Outsourcing production of the trailer to a professional would’ve cost at least $20,000, so even after purchasing my camera and gear, I had an immediate 300%+ ROI on the project.

I learned all of these brand new skills on the side, without quitting my day job or ignoring my family. In the midst of these projects, I overhauled a 140,000+ word manuscript (the second edition of my bestselling business book, The Personal MBA), taught three business training courses, took care of my two-year-old daughter, helped my wife build her business, and wrote the manuscript for my second book.

How? I learned how to acquire new skills very, very quickly.

It’s not rocket science. If you’re smart about how you practice, you can go from knowing absolutely nothing about it to being quite skilled in only a few hours. Put in as little as 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice, and you’ll easily outperform 99% of the human population.

If you learn to practice in an intelligent, strategic way, there’s no limit to what you can learn.

Even rocket science.

*     *     *

Take a moment to think of all of the things you want to know how to do. Would you like to:

* Learn how to speak or write a new language?
* Figure out how to draw?
* Play a musical instrument, or learn to sing?
* Start your own business?
* Get better at negotiation or public speaking?
* Program, design, or learn some useful new technology?
* Fly an airplane?

Learn how to acquire new skills quickly, and you can pick up ALL of these skills, and many more. You can learn things that’ll help you make more money. You can learn things that’ll raise your profile, earn the respect of people you value, and create new opportunities. You can learn things that’ll permanently enrich your life, and open up entirely new areas of the world for exploration and enjoyment.

*     *     *

The 3 Major Barriers to Learning Something New

So why don’t most of us spend more time systematically picking up new skills? Three reasons:

1. Most people don’t commit to learning anything specific. They just say things like “I think it’d be totally cool to learn how to speak Japanese someday,” and never actually make a plan to sit down and practice. Even worse, they never take a moment to figure out WHY they’re interested in that particular skill, so it’s close to impossible to make it a priority vs. other, more urgent matters, like going out drinking with friends or watching old episodes of Breaking Bad.
2. Learning new skills is often intimidating. When you’re learning something new, there are enormous gaps in your understanding of the topic. You’re very aware of what you don’t know, and you don’t know where to begin. That ambiguity generates fear and uncertainty, both of which make the ancient survival-oriented parts of your brain freak out. What’s the easiest way to stop feeling afraid? Give up.
3. Learning new skills is usually frustrating. Let’s say you push through the uncertainty long enough to actually sit down and practice. Here’s what’s going to happen: YOU WILL SUCK. Completely, totally suck. What’s the easiest way to stop feeling stupid? Stop practicing, and say to yourself, “it really wasn’t that interesting to begin with.”

Here’s the thing: indecision, intimidation, and frustration are universal barriers to skill acquisition. They’re entirely predictable, so you can prepare accordingly.

The key to rapid skill acquisition isn’t involve complicated memorization techniques or mental hacks. It’s just a simple, systematic way to spend your time and energy doing things that help you build real skill, and avoid things that don’t.

*     *     *

Don’t Worry About Being an Instant Elite Ninja Master of the Universe

Let’s get one huge misconception out of the way right now: when learning a new skill, you don’t have to worry about “mastering” the skill or becoming an “expert.”

Say you don’t know how to paint, but want to learn. Here’s the absolute worst way to go about it: compare your current level of ability (nouveau third grader) with Picasso, Michelangelo, or any random artist that posts on deviantART. Anything that you produce will look like garbage in comparison, so why bother?

Even worse, you may have heard that it takes “10,000 hours” to master a skill. That’s at least 4 hours of practice every single day for almost 7 years. Who has time for that?!

Here’s the thing: you probably don’t need to be an expert.

Skill acquisition is tied up in many ways with social status: being good at something is a status signal, so our brains track our perceived competence vs. others constantly. When you don’t think you’re as good as other people at something, it’s common to feel self-conscious, and your mind starts looking for ways to protect your fragile ego from feelings of inferiority.

That’s why you get so uptight when you try to learn something new: your brain kicks into social comparison mode, even though it’s unnecessary at best, and counterproductive at worst.

Most of the time, you don’t need to be an expert – you just need to practice enough to get the results you want, whatever they might be. Comparing yourself against other people during the beginning stages of skill acquisition is wasted energy, and it’s a very real barrier to improving your skills.

In the vast majority of cases, people decide to pick up a new skill to either (1) get a particular valuable result or (2) have fun. That’s it. Social comparison is meaningless – who cares what other people can do if you’re able to get the results you want?

Here’s a simple example: I recently learned how to cook on the grill. I wanted to grill burgers, chicken, steak, vegetables, etc. for my family, so I could help out around the house. It only took a few hours of practice, as well as a few simple tools, to get really great results. (Pro tip: using an interval timer and a fast digital thermometer makes grilling anything way easier.)

Am I the most mindblowing expert ninja grillmaster who has ever lifted a spatula? No.
Am I now an internationally recognized celebrity chef? No.
Do I need to be in order to cook a delicious dinner for my family? Absolutely not.

When you decide to learn something new, you’re not competing against other people: you’re competing against your own previous lack of ability, and any improvement is a win.

Once you grok that early phase skill acquisition isn’t a competition, leveling up your skills and abilities becomes much, much easier.

*     *     *

Here’s the core method to acquire any new skill, personal or professional, as quickly as possible:

1. Set a concrete, specific Target Performance Level.

Setting what I call a target performance level makes it much easier to identify exactly what you’ll need to actually practice. It sounds simple, but this is an extremely common point of failure: most people never decide what they want, so it’s impossible to figure out how to get it.

Define what you want to be able to do in a clear, concrete manner – the more detailed, the better. Instead of relying on a mindless, broad goal like “learn how to code,” setting a target performance level like “deploy a functioning Ruby on Rails application to Heroku” is much easier to practice.

Likewise, deciding on ONE skill to work on at a time is crucial. It comes down to arithmetic: you need a critical mass of experience doing something in order to build noticeable skill. If you spread your efforts over too many skills, you won’t improve any of them.

Choosing only one skill to work on is often difficult, so here’s a simple method I use to make it easier to decide. Make a list of all of the skills you’d like to learn. When you’re ready to commit to a new skill, take out your list, and ask yourself this question:

“If I could only learn half of the skills on this list, which ones would I keep?”

Cut your list in half. When you’re done, cut it in half again, and again, and again, until one skill is left standing, Highlander-style. (In the end, there can be only one.)

Remember: you’re not deciding that you’re never going to pick up any of the other skills on your list. You’re just deciding you’re not going to focus on them right now. Pick one skill: everything else can wait.

2. Deconstruct the skill to avoid overwhelm and make practice more efficient.

Most of the things we think of as skills (like “public speaking” or “playing the guitar”) are actually bundles of smaller sub-skills that are used in combination. By breaking the skill into more manageable parts, practice becomes way less intimidating, and you can work on improving one sub-skill at a time.

Like so many things in life, skills follow the law of critical few (often referred to as “Pareto’s Law” or the “80/20 principle”). Breaking down the skill into smaller parts is the first step in figuring out which sub-skills are critical.

Take golf. When you “play golf,” you’re not just doing one thing. Driving off the tee, hitting with an iron, chipping out of a bunker, and putting on the green are completely different skills, so it’s best to practice each in isolation. Driving, using an iron, and putting happen most often, it’s probably best to practice those first. (I don’t even play golf: this basic level of deconstruction is possible after watching someone play golf for a few minutes. It’s really not that difficult.)

Most skills follow a similar pattern: a few subskills are critical, while the remainder are rarely used or contribute less to the end result. Practice the most important sub-skills first, and you accelerate your overall rate of skill acquisition.

3. Use 80/20 research tactics to find the most important subskills quickly.

Next, find a few books, courses, DVDs, or other resources about the skill. Don’t try to finish them all in detail: skim them all, one after another. The most important techniques and ideas will appear often, in multiple sources, allowing you to establish which sub-skills are critical with more confidence.

An hour or two of research is all you need: too much research is a subtle form of procrastination. You want to do just enough research to identify the critical sub-skills, avoiding the inefficiency of “just getting started” without a strategy.

When I was learning to code, I bought over 20 books on the subject. I thought the best way to learn was to read the books, and THEN try to write my own program. The reality was the opposite: I only started to develop real skills when I used three introductory books to identify a few critical ideas, then spent my time actually writing programs.

Do your homework, then shift to real practice as quickly as possible. Practicing the skill in context is the only thing that generates lasting results.

4. Anything that gets in the way of focused, deliberate practice is an enemy that needs to be destroyed.

The more effort it takes to sit down and begin, the less likely you are to practice. We’re all cognitive misers: if something takes a great deal of thought or effort in the moment, we’re less likely to do it.

Want to learn how to play the guitar? Guess what: keeping your guitar in a case, in the back of a closet, on the other side of your house pretty much guarantees you’ll never practice.

Here’s what I did when I wanted to learn how to play the ukulele: I kept it close to where I worked every day. All I had to do to start practicing was reach over and pick it up, so I practiced.

One of my friends (and former clients), Tim Grahl, has a great rule of thumb:

“I assume that future Tim is going to be stupid, lazy, and make bad decisions, so I set up my environment to prevent that from happening.”

Instead of relying on willpower to force yourself to practice, it’s always more effective to change your environment to make practicing as easy as possible. Little changes, like placing your guitar in an easy-to-reach location, make an enormous difference.

Likewise, anything that distracts you or pulls focus while you’re practicing holds you back. Close the door. Unplug your TV. Disconnect your internet. Mute your cell phone. Do whatever it takes to keep your attention on the task at hand.

Anything that gets in the way of focused, deliberate practice is an enemy that needs to be destroyed. No mercy.

5. Use precommitment psychology to break through early resistance.

Now, the moment of truth: are you willing to rearrange your schedule to complete at least 20 hours of deliberate practice? (That’s roughly 45 minutes of practice a day for the next 30 days.)

Sit down, take out your calendar, and do the math. When exactly are you going to practice? What are you going to give up, reschedule, or stop doing to make the time?

If you “don’t have time,” or aren’t willing to accept the necessary tradeoffs to MAKE the time, that’s a sign the skill isn’t a real priority at the moment.

There’s no shame in that. If you’re not willing to commit to at least 20 hours of practice to acquiring a new skill, then you’re probably better off dropping the project and doing something else. It’s better to clarify your true priorities and make a conscious decision to stop than dabble just long enough to feel guilty about giving up.

If you’re willing to invest at least 20 hours of focused effort in learning a new skill, precommitting to putting in the time makes it much more likely you’ll practice enough to acquire the skill. This technique is called a “pre-commitment,” and it’s extremely effective at changing behavior.

Here’s how the 20 hour pre-commitment works: once you start practicing, you must keep going until you either (1) develop the level of skill you want, or (2) complete at least 20 hours of practice.

In my experience, pre-commitments are critical. Making a credible promise to yourself (or to other people) before you start practicing is key if you want to get results as quickly as possible.

Here’s why: if you’re “just dabbling,” it’s easy to quit as soon as you face the slightest difficulty. Remember: the early hours of practice are going to SUCK. You’re going to be horrible, and you’ll know it. It’s very, very easy to get frustrated and give up.

Making a pre-commitment completely changes your inner dialog. You find yourself thinking and saying things like “I’m going to keep going until I get what I want or I reach the 20 hour mark. If I suck, I’m going to suck for 20 hours. That’s okay. I expected this. I’m going to keep going, because getting better at this is important to me.”

There’s a wide (and growing) body of evidence that perseverance in working toward long-term goals in the face of setbacks, frustrations, and adversity – usually referred to as “grit“- is an essential element of success in every field. If you’re able to persist when the going gets tough, you’ll reap outsized rewards. Making a pre-commitment makes it much, much, much easier to keep pushing through early frustrations and setbacks. It’s simple, but it works.

There’s nothing magical about the 20 hour mark, by the way: I chose that particular threshold purely for psychological reasons. 20 hours isn’t long enough to feel intimidating, so it feels easy enough to pre-commit, but it’s long enough to see dramatic results.

In my experience, the first few hours of learning anything are frustrating and confusing. A 2-4 hours in, you begin to get the hang of it. By hours 4-6, you start to see really exciting results. By hours 15-20, you’re better than most people will ever be.

After 20 hours, you’ll be in a much better position to judge the skill: do you find is valuable? Are you getting the benefits you were looking for when you began? Could you benefit from further practice?

You can learn many skills, like basic cooking techniques, in a few hours. Here’s an example: I learned how to grill hamburgers, steaks, ribs, and chicken this summer. I can cook dinner for my family, and the food tastes great, which was my target performance level. If you get the benefits you’re looking for, there’s no need to keep pushing forward unless you really want to. You don’t have to be a world-class black belt 6-sigma ninja master of absolutely everything you ever decide to learn. Define what you want, persist until you get it, then move on.

Other skills, like programming, benefit from continued, more challenging practice. I’m about 150 hours into web application programming at this point, and I’m still learning a ton. The core process is the same: if you’re willing to invest the time and energy, you can use this method over and over again to level up a skill all the way to mastery.

*     *     *

Success is in the SYSTEM. Knowing this stuff is meaningless unless you DO it.

That’s the core of rapid skill acquisition: five simple steps that will help you acquire any new skill as quickly as humanly possible. In practice, I use two more detailed checklists to systematically acquire new skills, which I discuss at length in The First 20 Hours.

Now, you might be thinking something along the lines of “yeah, yeah, yeah, this is all common sense. Tell me something I haven’t heard before. Where are the brain hacks? What about study skills, memory palaces, and nootropics? Can I learn faster by rigging up a 9-volt battery to zap my brain with electricity?

First, to echo what Ramit has been saying for over eight years now: YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO THESE THINGS. Reading about this stuff isn’t enough. Skills require practice, and practice requires effort. No practice, no skill acquisition.

Second: SIMPLE THINGS WORK. This strategy is simple, and it works. If you use it, you will learn fun and useful things in very short periods of time. Unnecessary complexity is stupid.

If you actually sit down to practice, and use this method to practice in an effective/efficient way, you’ll be amazed at how good you become. You’ll be able to do things you’ve never been able to do before, and you’ll see real-world improvements in your abilities extremely quickly.

If you’re willing to work, simple methods can produce extraordinary results.

*     *     *

Whining is NOT An Effective Skill Acquisition Strategy

One last thing: I recommend removing the phrase “I don’t have time” from your vocabulary. You have all the time you’re ever going to have, and you’re in full control of how you choose to use that time.

If a skill is a big enough priority to learn, you have to MAKE TIME to practice it. If it’s not important enough to rearrange your schedule, be honest with yourself, drop it, and move on.

Whatever you decide, stop whining. Whining is not an effective strategy for skill acquisition.

Allow me to channel Ramit for a moment:

LOSERS SAY: “I don’t know how to do that… so I can’t do it. OMG, learning is so hard: I heard it takes at least 10,000 hours to be any good. I don’t have that much time anyway, so I’ll wait until someone finally invents The Matrix so I can upload new skills directly into my brain while I sit on the couch watching Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

TOP PERFORMERS SAY: “I don’t know how to do that… but it’s important, so I’m going to figure out how. I’m going to practice in a way that helps me improve as quickly as possible, and stop doing things that get in the way. I don’t have an unlimited amount of time and energy to do this, so I’m going to MAKE time for practice, and use it as efficiently as possible.”

The result? Top performers get better and better at skills that help them make more money, get more done, and have more fun… while losers sit on the couch complaining about how the world is so unfair.

Rapid skill acquisition isn’t easy. It requires a huge burst of very intense effort. Skills require practice, full stop. It’s supposed to be hard… but the results are well worth the investment.

So what are you finally going to learn how to do? Decide what you want, break it down, focus on the most important subskills first, make it easy to practice, and pre-commit to at least 20 hours of practice before you begin.

Then get started, and practice well.

*     *     *

Here’s what to do now
Make a public pre-commitment in the comments section about a new, high-value skill you’re going to practice over the next 30 days. Make your target performance level concrete and specific, and include details about WHAT you’ll be able to do and HOW you’re going to practice.

*     *     *

Josh Kaufman is the bestselling author of “The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast” and “The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business.” You can find more of Josh’s ongoing research at joshkaufman.net.

How to Acquire Any New Skill in 20 Hours or Less is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

19 Nov 19:28

How To Not Suck… At Getting Ready For Tax Season

by Karin Price Mueller

(photo: stevendepolo)

(photo: stevendepolo)

It might seem a bit early to bring up tax returns, but this is actually the perfect time to get the ball rolling before the holiday season takes over our lives and unpleasant things like thinking about taxes get pushed off into the new year.

Even though the government shutdown will result in a late start to tax-filing season this year, meaning you can’t file until Feb. 4 at the earliest, the April 15 filing deadline remains unchanged.

Another thing that wasn’t affected by shutdown is the calendar year. Yes, 2013 still ends on Dec. 31, and after that date, there’s not much you can do to impact your taxes.

Here’s what you need to know, and what you can still do, to save money on your tax bill.

TAX CHANGES
This is the depressing part.

For starters, there’s a good chance you’re in a higher tax bracket than you were in 2012. You can look up your bracket here.

Taxpayers had enjoyed a two-year break on Social Security taxes, but now, no matter what you earn, you’ll pay more.

Adieu to the lower 4.3% Social Security tax, and a grudging welcome back to the 6.2% rate.

High wage earners will feel the biggest bite, with those people chasing down “millionaire” status — marrieds who earn more than $450,000, heads of household who bring in more than $425,000 and singles who earn more than $400,000 — facing a top tax rate of 39.6%.

Those same folks are seeing higher rates — 20% up from 15% — on capital gains and qualified dividends.

Then there’s the Medicare surtax, which is 1.45% — unless you’re a high wage earner. You’ll pay an extra 0.9% Medicare surtax if you’re a single person or head of household who earns more than $200,000, or if you’re married filing jointly and earn more than $250,000.

Those same earners will also see a fat 3.8% percent Medicare tax on net investment income. This so-called “Obamacare surtax” or “health care surtax” is due on interest, dividends, rents, royalties, capital gains and annuities.

But wait, there’s more.

While the personal exemption rises to $3,900, there’s a new phase-out for high wage earners. Singles with adjusted gross incomes of $250,000, or marrieds with AGI of $300,000, will start to see the phase-out. It phases out completely at $372,500 for singles and $422,500 for marrieds.

Those same high earners will see new limits for itemized deductions for 2013.

TAX-LOWERING STRATEGIES
Though the countdown clock to Dec. 31 is ticking, you still have time to limit the damage these new rules will do to your overall tax bill.

1. Save more
You can save up to $17,500 in your 401(k) for 2013, and if you’re over age 50, you can save $23,000. If you haven’t started saving this year, it’s not too late. Ask your benefits administrator if you can accelerate your contributions so you can come close to the max — if you can afford it.

Every penny you save will lower your taxable income for the year because you’re saving pre-tax dollars — but you have to save it by December 31.

If you choose to save in a Roth 401(k), you won’t get the deduction today, but there are future tax benefits.

There’s more time to fund an IRA, but this will only help you on taxes if you can deduct your contributions. That deadline is the same as your tax filing day, April 15.

For the 2013 tax year, you can save $5,500 in an IRA, or $6,500 if you’re over age 50.

A tip for next year: start your 401(k) and IRA savings early in the year. That will allow you to contribute smaller amounts each week, and going on auto-pilot will give you one less thing to worry about.

2. Fix your hangnail
It’s a lot harder to accumulate enough medical expenses to reach 2013′s higher threshold. While you used to be able to deduct your medical costs once they exceeded 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, starting with your 2013 return, medical costs must exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.

If you’re over age 65, you have a few more years before 10% becomes your number. You can still use the 7.5% number until Dec. 31, 2016.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, all taxpayers are in the 10% boat, no matter their age.

You still have a few months to see all your doctors, specialists and have that procedure you’ve been putting off. If you can bunch together your medical expenses, you’ll have an easier time hitting the 10% threshold.

3. Keep my check, please
If you think 2013 will be a tough tax year for you, but have enough cash on hand to make it through the end of the year, consider asking your employer or clients to withhold payments to you until after Dec. 31.

This will lower your taxable income for the year, but it also means you’ll have to find another way to pay your bills. And it comes with the huge caveat: If you kick the can down the road, you could wind up with a higher-than-expected taxable income for 2014.

4. Give it away
Increasing your charitable donations is another way to lower your tax burden for the year.

Donating appreciated stock is one option. You’ll get the charitable write-off, and you’ll also avoid paying the new, higher capital gains tax on the sale of the security.

Another option is to donate your Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from your retirement plans. If you use a “Qualified Charitable Distribution,” the RMD money you give to charity won’t be counted as your taxable income. But the IRS won’t let you have it both ways. You can’t claim a Qualified Charitable Distribution as a charitable donation.

5. Check your investments
If you’ve taken profits by selling winning stocks or mutual funds during the year, consider selling some losers, too, so you can offset the gains.

6. Check your credits, mom and dad
A batch of credits loved by families across the fruited plains were extended until 2017:
The Child Tax Credit
The Earned Income Tax Credit
The American Opportunity Tax Credit

And the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit was made permanent.

7. Invest in a good CPA
It seems the tax code gets more complicated every year, and while you may try to keep up, consider enlisting the help of someone for whom the tax code is already a full-time job.

You can look for a certified public accountant through the American Institute of CPAs.

Have a topic you’d like to see covered in How To Not Suck? Or maybe you’re an expert who would like to share your insight with Consumerist readers? Send us a note at notsuck@consumerist.com.

You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at NJ.com, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.

PREVIOUSLY ON HOW TO NOT SUCK:
How To Not Suck… At Picking A Retirement Plan
How To Not Suck… At Deciding When To DIY
How To Not Suck… At Getting Out Of Debt
How To Not Suck… At First Year College Budgets

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19 Nov 03:50

DailyDirt: Better Learning Techniques (Maybe)

by Michael Ho
More education can be the uncontroversial answer to a lot of problems. But better education tends to bring up questions about what makes one educational approach better than another, and how "better" is measured or defined -- and if the methods of measuring education can be trusted at all. The solutions for creating better teaching/learning techniques aren't always effective, but as we learn more about our brains, maybe we'll figure out how to manipulate our grey matter with more precision. Here are just a few links on how we might improve the way we inject knowledge into our heads. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.

Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

    


19 Nov 01:52

Tim Draper on education, money, and entrepreneurship

by Robert Scoble

It isn’t every day you get to have a conversation with Tim Draper, famous VC (he’s the “D” in “DFJ” and funded companies from Hotmail to Skype to lots of others).

I learned a lot about his approach to life, networking, entrepreneurship, and more in this conversation, which was aimed at college kids. But everyone can learn something about money management from this, too.

The post Tim Draper on education, money, and entrepreneurship appeared first on Scobleizer.

13 Nov 20:58

CSI: Re-enabling Remote Desktop with PowerShell after you've blocked it with your own firewall rule

by Scott Hanselman

Got a great email from reader Seán McDonnell.

The Big Problem:

I set up an Azure virtual machine running Windows Server 2012.

I accidentally disabled the Remote Desktop Windows firewall rule (while I was remotely connected). The connection dropped as you would expect.

I have been pulling my hair out ever since trying to re-enable this rule.

Doh. Ouch. I didn't ask how this happened, but you know, one gets to clicking and typing and you can feel the mistake about to happen as your hand drops towards the keyboard, but by then it's too late. Gravity has screwed you.

I suggested that Seán use Remote Powershell to get in and add the enabling Firewall Rule for RDC. Remote PowerShell is like "SSH" in *nix. You get a remote terminal and can pretty much do whatever you want from there.

TL;DR version of Seán's experience.

  • Make sure PowerShell is enabled in the Endpoints section of the Azure portal.
  • Get the server's certificate (PowerShell needs this for remote commands). You can get the server certificate by going to your domains' URL: https://yourdomain.cloudapp.net:12345 (where :12345 is the port that PowerShell uses).
  • Export the SSL certificate of the site as a .CER file and install it on your local machine.
  • Save it to the "Trusted Root Certification Authorities" store on your machine.
  • Open PowerShell with administrative privileges on your local machine and type:
    Enter-PSSession -ComputerName yourdomain.cloudapp.net -Port 5986 -Credential YourUserName -UseSSL
  • A login popup will appear, enter your VM's login credentials here.
  • You will now be able to execute commands against the Azure VM. In Seán's case, he ran
    netsh advfirewall firewall set rule group="remote desktop" new enable=Yes
    and exited the PowerShell session and was able to remotely connect to my machine.

Long Detailed Version with Screenshots

Long version with screenshots:

Make sure PowerShell is publically accessible in the 'endpoints' section of the Azure portal.

 01 - VM Endpoints

Get the server's certificate (PowerShell needs this for establishing a remote session). You can get the server certificate by going to your domains' URL: https://yourdomain.cloudapp.net:5986 (where :5986 is the port that PowerShell uses).

 image

Go to the Details tab and click Copy to File...

 03 - Certificate Export

Leave the first option selected and save the file to a local drive. 

 04 - Certificate Export

05 - Certificate Export

Once the file is generated and saved locally, install the certificate by double clicking on the certificate-name.cer file.

 06 - Certificate Install

Install the certificate in the following store:

cert install

Open up PowerShell with administrative privileges and execute the following command (replacing the domain name and username with your own one):

 08 - Remote PowerShell Session

A logon credential popup should appear where you will need to enter your VM's username and password:

07 - Remote PowerShell Session

If successful, it should be pretty obvious that you have successfully initiated a remote session with the VM.

Enter-PSSession -ComputerName yourdomain.cloudapp.net -Port 5986 -Credential YourUserName -UseSSL

09 - Remote PowerShell Session Verification

To open re-enable the firewall rule you issue the command:

netsh advfirewall firewall set rule group="remote desktop" new enable=Yes  

 10 - Remote PowerShell Session Firewall Rule Update

The final step was to quit the PowerShell session and RDC to the VM. Success! 

I hope this write-up helps other people as well. Thanks Seán for a great question and for sharing the screenshot of your experience!


Sponsor: Thanks to Red Gate for sponsoring the feed this week! Check out a simpler way to deploy with Red Gate’s Deployment Manager. It can deploy your .NET apps, services, and databases in a single, repeatable process. Get your free Starter edition now.



© 2013 Scott Hanselman. All rights reserved.
     
13 Nov 00:20

‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Creator Bill Watterson On Creators’ Rights and Creative License

Credit: Comic Vine

Credit: Comic Vine

Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson hasn’t been quite as reclusive as J.D. Salinger, but after he ended his run on his legendary comic strip, he’s lead a largely private life. So it’s exciting to learn that Mental Floss scored an interview with Watterson, which will run at greater length in the December issue, but is excerpted online now.

One part of the interview I found particularly striking was Watterson’s explanation of what happened with his rights over the comic. His interviewer, Jake Rossen, suggested that Watterson had had considerable autonomy, and used them like Howard Roark, threatening to blow up his creation rather than let it be misused. Watterson issued a rather immediate corrective that’s a revealing look at what it takes to get a comic in major circulation in the first place. He explained:

Just to be clear, I did not have incredible autonomy until afterward. I had signed most of my rights away in order to get syndicated, so I had no control over what happened to my own work, and I had no legal position to argue anything. I could not take the strip with me if I quit, or even prevent the syndicate from replacing me, so I was truly scared I was going to lose everything I cared about either way. I made a lot of impassioned arguments for why a work of art should reflect the ideas and beliefs of its creator, but the simple fact was that my contract made that issue irrelevant. It was a grim, sad time. Desperation makes a person do crazy things.

In other words, just to get your work to an audience, you’re going to have to sacrifice considerable rights to the commercial exploitation of your creations, and considerable creative autonomy. That makes sense from a business perspective–if you’re going to devote real estate in hundreds of papers to a strip, and to try to develop that strip as a substantial hit, you’re probably going to want to lock down every possible profit avenue. But if you’re an artist, it’s got to be awfully depressing to try to pick between reach and control. Watterson’s lucky to have achieved the balance that he did. Not everyone’s going to have the level of success and mental fortitude to get to the same place.

The post ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ Creator Bill Watterson On Creators’ Rights and Creative License appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11 Nov 19:55

"Marriage Isn't For You" by Seth Adams Smith

by CreoleInDC

Choose Happy
I read this article last week and it made me smile.  It was sweet and lovely and made me reach out and rub my husband's shoulders.  The general gist of the article was that marriage is about making your spouse happy and in turn...your spouse will want to make you happy and yall will be happy together.

I agree with that.  Marriage Isn't For You

As with anything sweet these days...cynical people have to rip it apart because they haven't experienced the sweet stuff.  They attempt to ridicule the sentiment and make it seem as if the person lives in la-la land.  This article caught a lot of hate from a lot of haters.

And yeah...Imma just go ahead and call them haters even though I generally use that term sarcastically.

This one in particular made my teeth itch:  

Young Singles, Seth Adam Smith's Marriage Advice Isn't for You

And it irked me.

Do I understand what the author is trying to say?  Sure...but I dislike that he decided to say it by attacking Seth's article.  Write your own ish.  Don't ride the coat tails of someone else.  You could have written that ish forever ago without referencing Seth's article if you wanted to and now...you come across as straight up bitter.

IN MY OPINION.

So yeah...now I'm going to do the same to you.

The first thing he tries to tear down is the point about marrying your best friend and goes on about who his best friend is yada, yada.  I'm blessed enough to have 4 besties.  I have Shelly Bean, Cojoe, Weezy and yes...my husband.  My husband knows more about me than all of them.  He's held me more often when I've cried...he's seen me at my weakest.  He's the first person I call with good news and with bad news.  He's the person I know I can count on without a shadow of doubt.  He gives it to me straight, no chaser because he wants the best possible outcome for me.  My husband is absolutely my best friend.  And he's an AMAZING friend on top of being an awesome husband and human being.  Yes...I married my best friend.  If that makes you feel bad about yourself...that's not my problem.

THAT'S YOUR-N.

Marriage is for your future children.  Even though I don't have kids...I agree with this 100% in the spirit in which it was given.  You should definitely only marry someone you'd like to be a parent to your children.  Someone you'd be PROUD of your children growing up emulating.  I did that.  I would have been SO PROUD to have babies who looked up to and lead their steps the way their father does.  Just because we didn't have children doesn't mean jack.  The consideration was there from the beginning and it made perfect sense.  The same should have been for this author even though he's gay.  

And snarky.

Marriage is for the other person's happiness.  That's not exactly what Seth said but I can see how a cynical person could take that and run with it.  Marriage isn't about you.  It isn't.  Every step you make should be with the thought of how that step would affect your spouse.  That's simple.  I want Robby to have the best life possible.  I want him to be happy and healthy.  I want to take care of him.  I love him so much and I love his smile and his laughter.  I WANT HIM TO BE HAPPY.  EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.  Does that mean I let him walk all over me?  No.  Hell no.  Does that mean I'm the only person compromising?  No.  Hell no.  We're in this together.  He feels the same way about me because that's the way it's supposed to be.  He's my husband.  I'm his wife.  We take each other seriously.  If he's not happy...I'm/WE'RE failing.  If I'm not happy he's/WE'RE failing.  

And winning in marriage feels so much better I'm sure.

A woman's selfless love cures anything (but a man's love can come and go).  That's not what Seth said and I hate this part the most.  Marriage is scary when you're the type who take it as seriously as it is.  When you've never been married, there are periods during your engagement that you will wonder if you're doing the right thing.  That's just human nature.  We second guess every.single.thing we do of importance.

And we should.

And I don't think a man being honest about that should be persecuted.  He should be respected.  Seriously.  I bet if we asked his wife...she questioned it at least once too.  It's the nature of the beast.  Marriage is HUGE.  MAJOR.  BIG.AS.SHIT.

You should weigh the pros and cons of who you're marrying very seriously because an extremely high percentage of your happiness in marriage from that point forward will be based on who you're married to.

Just keeping it real dawg.

Always consider the source when you're championing relationship advice.  You should know by now that many people don't get it right.  That could end up being a factor for you if you put too much stock in what they have to say.  The main thing about marriage?  It's not the same for every married couple.  You make it your own.  You take OWNERSHIP of it.  You take the time to know YOUR spouse and what makes YOUR spouse happy and you do those little things and vice versa.  What works for A, B or C probably won't work for you and only YOU know that for true.  Be happy.  Choose happy.  

Marry the right person.

I love you.

 

 

09 Nov 03:15

How To Not Suck… At Deciding When To DIY

by Karin Price Mueller

Considering how expensive home repairs can be — and how dang easy they make fix-it jobs look on TV — it can be incredibly tempting to save some money by doing it yourself. But DIY isn’t always the less-expensive option when you figure in the costs for all the things that could possibly go wrong.

If you’ll allow a personal anecdote…
When our youngest child was a mere babe in swaddling clothes, our furnace decided to call it quits. In the middle of a very cold winter. At about 9 p.m.

I called our regular fix-it guy, but he was doing emergency repairs for all the other homeowners whose heat called it quits that night. We’d be lucky to see him in about 48 hours.

So I did one better. I took advantage of my brother-in-law, a contractor by trade. Even though he lived more than two hours away, I sent him digital photos of the burner’s innards, and he talked me through some online diagrams. He diagnosed the problem, I asked my husband to buy the $20 part we needed on his way home from work, and we fixed it, saving hundreds of dollars (though who knows how it would have gone without the over-the-phone guidance of the bro-in-law).

My husband and I never feared do-it-yourself projects. To be sure, we’ve had success with many, such as my hubby’s awesome bookcases and a refinished antique dining room table.

But over our 14 years of homeownership, we slowly decided that for the most part, DIY isn’t for us anymore. We’d rather spend our free time doing what we want rather than being chained to spackle, nails and deck stain.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Indeed, we recently called a handyman to change a broken stove-top fan, fix a stubborn and jiggly toilet paper holder and replace a fallen closet shelf. Sure, we could do it, but we’re busy. We have other priorities. (At least we realized that after the new closet shelf spent several months untouched in the garage.)

“My handy days are behind me,” my husband told the handyman.

That’s right. We’re proud to say we’re no longer DIYers — mostly. We don’t own a lawnmower, but we shovel our own snow. We’ve fixed our garbage disposal several times, but we don’t do grout. We’ve taken down wallpaper borders and painted, but we’ll never do that again.

To make up your mind about your own prospects, ask yourself two questions: are you qualified, and is it worth your time and effort?

PICKING THE RIGHT JOB

There’s no doubt that most DIY projects — small and large — will save you lots of money in the short term. The biggest cost for most home repair jobs is labor, so by doing the work yourself, you’re only paying for supplies.

Of course, many contractors get discounted supplies, so it’s possible you’ll pay more for materials than would a pro. Still, saving on labor could make DIY the smart move.

Unless you muck it up, of course

If you’re inexperienced, you could do more harm than good and end up spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to have a pro come in to clean up your mess.

So before you start, choose wisely.

*Entry-level: Landscaping, painting, installing trim and redoing closets are great jobs for first-timers. They don’t require a ton of skill to do a passable job and the odds of you doing something disastrous are minimal (assuming you don’t have some crazy, Edward Scissorhands hedge sculptures in your yard).

*DIY at your own risk: Hanging interior doors, wallpapering, patching drywall, kitchen and bathroom tiling, cabinet and drawer repair… These are all jobs that many homeowners will attempt at some point, and at which they might have some success. But they are also the types of DIY projects that, if they go awry, could leave an eyesore that will remind you of your ineptitude for years to come.

*Don’t try this at home: If it involves hard-core plumbing, electrical wires or gas lines, skip it and call a pro. It’s not worth blowing up your home, flooding your basement or administering your own electrotherapy just to earn another DIY badge for your collection.

If you hire a pro for a doable DIY job, consider paying attention to how she does the work so that you can see how it’s done properly for future reference.

If you decide to give it a go, and even if the job seems simple, take the time to research the correct materials and surf the web for tips and instructional videos. There are seemingly countless sites offering home repair advice, instructions and videos, like DIY Network, PlanItDIY and of course YouTube.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING
DIY projects can bring great satisfaction. There’s nothing sweeter than looking around your home and seeing what your own hands have created.

That is, unless you hate working with your hands.

Before you pick up a tool belt, consider your skill level and motivation to get the work done. If you’re itching to get your hands on some power tools, you’ve passed the first test. If you’re on the clumsy side, you may want to step back. And if you’re a procrastinator (remember my closet shelves?), you may be better off with a pro.

Next, estimate how long the job should take. If you want to redo an entire bathroom, expect months of weekends and late nights. If you want to plant a few shrubs, it will only take a few hours.

When you know how long a job should take, consider how you want to spend your free time. If you’d rather be riding bikes or playing FIFA soccer on the XBox with your kids, call in a pro. If you’d enjoy creating a masterpiece to call your own, go for it.

Don’t forget the money. Yes, you’d save by doing-it-yourself, but what is your time worth? Go back to that project time clock. Compare how many hours a project will take (including shopping for supplies, renting or buying tools, learning how to perform the task — then add some padding to go along with your learning curve) and compare it to your hourly wage.

If you estimate a job would take 10 hours and you earn $20 per hour, that’s $200 of your time to do the work, not counting the lifestyle cost to you.

Then, try this “What’s Your Time Worth” calculator for another perspective.

Could a pro do it faster, and for less?

You might be surprised.

You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at NJ.com, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.

PREVIOUSLY ON HOW TO NOT SUCK:
How To Not Suck… At Getting Out Of Debt
How To Not Suck… At First Year College Budgets

DISCLAIMER: Any websites, services, retailers, or brands mentioned in the story above are only intended as some of many options available to consumers, and do not constitute an endorsement by Consumerist, Consumerist Media LLC (CML) or its staff. Per Consumerist’s No Commercial Use Policy, such information may not be used by others in advertising or to promote a company’s product or service. In addition, this policy precludes any commercial use of any of CML’s published information in any form, or of the names of Consumers Union®, Consumer Media, Consumer Reports®, The Consumerist, consumerist.com or any other of CU or CML’s publications or services without CU or CML’s express written permission.


09 Nov 03:12

FDA Working On A Plan To Completely Remove Trans Fat From Our Food Supply

by Mary Beth Quirk

While some restaurants proudly tout the lack of artificial trans fat in their menu items and grocery store aisles are peppered with items labeled trans fat free, if the Food and Drug Administration has its way, no one will have trans fat in any food. The FDA has apparently had it up to here with the stuff, and is starting a process that will take trans fat out of our entire food supply.

FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg says the agency is “responding to the fact that the science really demonstrates that trans fat provides no known health benefit and that there really is no safe level of consumption of trans fat,” reports USA Today. “Consumption should be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.”

Trans fat, or partially hydrogenated oils, are mostly found in baked goods, canned frosting, margarine, coffee creamers and microwave popcorn, Hamburg explains. It’s used to increase product shelf life and keep flavors stable.

But those flavors come at a cost, say some nutrition experts, including health problems likes a decrease in HDL (good cholesterol) and uptick in LDL cholesterol, which is the bad kind.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5,000 American a year die of heart disease linked to trans fat in the food supply, and a further 15,000 will get heart disease.

Right now it sounds like most people are on board with the idea — and can you think of anyone who really looooves trans fat? — with advocates calling it a “lifesaving” move.

“I think it’s one of the most important lifesaving actions that the FDA could take,” Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. told USA Today.

For anyone who does want to weigh in on either side of the trans fat line, there will be a 60-day public comment period on the FDA’s plan. If it goes ahead, the FDA will pull trans fat from its list of ingredients that are generally regarded as safe.

It won’t be an immediate switch, warns Hamburg, saying it’s jut the first step in a process that will probably take a few years. You can’t just yank an ingredient and expect food manufacturers to find a replacement at the drop of a trans fat hat.

FDA moves to take trans fat out of food [USA Today]

08 Nov 03:09

Keeping Teens ‘Private’ on Facebook Won’t Protect Them

by zephoria

(Originally written for TIME Magazine)

We’re afraid of and afraid for teenagers. And nothing brings out this dualism more than discussions of how and when teens should be allowed to participate in public life.

Last week, Facebook made changes to teens’ content-sharing options. They introduced the opportunity for those ages 13 to 17 to share their updates and images with everyone and not just with their friends. Until this change, teens could not post their content publicly even though adults could. When minors select to make their content public, they are given a notice and a reminder in order to make it very clear to them that this material will be shared publicly. “Public” is never the default for teens; they must choose to make their content public, and they must affirm that this is what they intended at the point in which they choose to publish.

Representatives of parenting organizations have responded to this change negatively, arguing that this puts children more at risk. And even though the Pew Internet & American Life Project has found that teens are quite attentive to their privacy, and many other popular sites allow teens to post publicly (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr), privacy advocates are arguing that Facebook’s decision to give teens choices suggests that the company is undermining teens’ privacy.

But why should youth not be allowed to participate in public life? Do paternalistic, age-specific technology barriers really protect or benefit teens?

One of the most crucial aspects of coming of age is learning how to navigate public life. The teenage years are precisely when people transition from being a child to being an adult. There is no magic serum that teens can drink on their 18th birthday to immediately mature and understand the world around them. Instead, adolescents must be exposed to — and allowed to participate in — public life while surrounded by adults who can help them navigate complex situations with grace. They must learn to be a part of society, and to do so, they must be allowed to participate.

Most teens no longer see Facebook as a private place. They befriend anyone they’ve ever met, from summer-camp pals to coaches at universities they wish to attend. Yet because Facebook doesn’t allow youth to contribute to public discourse through the site, there’s an assumption that the site is more private than it is. Facebook’s decision to allow teens to participate in public isn’t about suddenly exposing youth; it’s about giving them an option to treat the site as being as public as it often is in practice.

Rather than trying to protect teens from all fears and risks that we can imagine, let’s instead imagine ways of integrating them constructively into public life. The key to doing so is not to create technologies that reinforce limitations but to provide teens and parents with the mechanisms and information needed to make healthy decisions. Some young people may be ready to start navigating broad audiences at 13; others are not ready until they are much older. But it should not be up to technology companies to determine when teens are old enough to have their voices heard publicly. Parents should be allowed to work with their children to help them navigate public spaces as they see fit. And all of us should be working hard to inform our younger citizens about the responsibilities and challenges of being a part of public life. I commend Facebook for giving teens the option and working hard to inform them of the significance of their choices.

(Originally written for TIME Magazine)

07 Nov 03:44

Carry This Price Code Cheat Sheet To Hunt Down Sales Everywhere

by Laura Northrup

costcoWe’ve previously shared with you Costco’s price tag code, but they’re not the only store that encodes not-so-secret sale information in the last two digits of an item’s price. Other stores do it too, including Target, Home Depot, Gap/Old Navy, and Sears. Want to crack the code and know when things are on their very lowest markdown? Here are the secrets.

The deals site Rather Be Shopping recently rounded up some of these price codes, which can be useful when you wonder whether you should really nab sale items before they’re gone. They even produced a handy wallet-sized PDF with the codes they know of.

Here are a few useful ones:

Target

  • Price ending in .99: Full price.
  • Price ending in .98: First markdown. Will be marked down again if the item doesn’t move.
  • Price ending in .04: The final markdown.

Home Depot

    • Price ending in .06 or a green tag: Final markdown.
  • Office Depot

    This chain has an interesting, if rather indecisive, system.

    • Price ending in .00, .50, or .99: Full price.
    • Price ending in anything else: Markdown. Final markdown code, if there is one, not known.

    PREVIOUSLY:
    Retailer’s Big Secret: Crack the Price Tag Code [Rather Be Shopping] (Thanks, Laurie!)

    Price Secrets PDF [Rather Be Shopping]

    Learn The Costco Price Tag Code To Save More Cash

    06 Nov 23:12

    A Cloud and Azure Glossary for the Confused

    by Scott Hanselman
    Cloud by Karen Ka Ying Wong used under CC via Flicker

    A parody Twitter account called Confused .NET Dev last week tweeted:

    For a web hoster Azure has a crazy learning curve: Blob, Table, Queue, Service Bus, Access Control, Drive, CDN, etc @ http://t.co/20Dmz4SoNB

    — confused .net dev (@ConfusedDotNet) August 14, 2013

    A "crazy" learning curve? CDN? Table? Drive? OK, if you say so, but still, point taken, there's maybe some terms in there that may not be immediately obvious. Here's a few things you should remember when developing for the cloud as well as a small glossary that I hope helps this "confused .net dev" and his or her mixed case Twitter account.

    Cloud Concepts

    IAAS

    Infrastructure as a Service. This means I want the computers in my closet to go away. All that infrastructure, the boxes, network switches, even software licenses are a maintenance headache. I want to put them somewhere where I can't see them (we'll call it, The Cloud) and I'll pay pennies per hour. Worst case, it costs me about the same but it's less trouble. Best case, it can scale (get bigger) if my company gets popular and the whole thing will cost less than it does now.

    IAAS is Infrastructure like Virtual Machines, Networking and Storage in the cloud. Software you wrote that runs locally now will run the same up there. If you want to scale it, you'll usually scale up.

    PAAS

    Platform as a Service. This means Web Servers and Web Frameworks in the cloud, SQL Servers in the cloud, and more. If you like Ruby on Rails, for example, you might write software against Engine Yard's platform and run it on Azure. Or you might write iOS apps and have them talk to back end Mobile Services. Those services are your platform and will scale as you grow. Platform as a service usually hides the underlying OS from you. Lower level infrastructure and networking, load balancing and some aspects of security is abstracted away.

    SAAS

    Software as a Service. Like Office 365, SharePoint, Google Docs or Adobe Creative Cloud, you pay a subscription and you always get the latest and greatest.

    Scale Up

    Get more CPUs, more memory, more power. Same computer, but bigger. Like, one 8-processor machine with 128 gigs of RAM, big. Gulliver.

    Scale Out

    More computers, perhaps lots of them. Maybe eight 1-processor machine with 2 gigs of RAM. No, maybe 32. More little machines, like Lilliputians working as a team to move Gulliver.

    Compute

    If a computer is working for you, its CPU is working and that's compute. If it's a Virtual Machine or a Web Server it doesn't matter. You get charged pennies per hour, more for larger CPUs.

    IOPs

    Input/Output Operations Per Second, pronounced "eye-ops." This is unit of measurement used to describe the maximum number of reads and writes to a disk or storage area.

    Queue

    Just like a Queue in computer science, it's a holding place that lets you store messages and read them back asynchronously.

    Content Delivery Network (CDN)

    Taking binary blobs within storage and caching them nearest where the content is request. If your customers are in Asia, serve the file from a data center in Asia.

    Azure Specific Glossary

    Web Sites

    Web Sites are "PAAS," that's platform as a service. It's the IIS Web Server in the sky. This is the "Easy Button" as Jon Galloway says. You can take virtually any website and move them up to Azure using Azure Web Sites. You can run ASP.NET, PHP, node.js and lots more.

    Azure Table vs SQL Azure

    Azure Tables are similar to a document database or NoSQL store. Then there's SQL Azure, which is SQL Server in the sky. Great for SQL-like data with relationships and indexes, etc. There's Azure Storage Tables which is nice when you have a huge pile of records that maybe doesn't have a lot of interrelationships, but there's a LOT of it.

    Access Control

    Controls Access. Just kidding. No, actually I'm not. Also know as ACS, it's a hosted service that integrates with Microsoft ID, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other identity providers as well as Active Directory. It supports .NET, PHP, Python, Java, Ruby, etc and you can use it as a centralized authorization store. You can call it with web services from any app and manage users and identities from the portal.

    Notification Hubs

    Push notification services for any mobile platform. Windows Store, Windows Phone, iOS and Android. Broadcast messages to a user across apps or send single notifications to a user,  a platform or any combination.

    AppFabric Caching

    In memory caching for apps that run on Azure. You can use existing memory on web roles or dedicate all of a worker roles memory to in-memory caching.

    Mobile Services

    This is a complete Backend in a Box for apps. This isn’t a great name because it’s not just for mobile devices. It’s a complete backend-as-a-service including authentication and CRUD data access with a dynamic schema in the backend. The services are server-side JavaScript and totally managed for you. Supports iOS, HTML, Windows Phone, Win8, Android, and more. 

    Media Service

    Media squishing and delivery in the cloud. Production and transcoding workflow, secure delivery to any device, scale up and down elastically.

    Service Bus

    Secure messaging across firewalls and NAT gateways. It also offers relayed messaging services. Most large hosted and reliable systems need messaging services, sometimes request/response, sometimes peer-to-peer, and sometimes one-way.

    X-Plat CLI

    An open source JavaScript-written command line tool for Azure management. With node.js and npm installed go "npm install azure-cli --g" and get a complete management console for Azure that runs on Linux, Mac and Windows.

    Big Data and HDInsight

    Apache Hadoop in the Sky, running on Azure. Hadoop is a giant Java-based MapReduce system for creating data-intensive distributed apps. Azure adds lots to augment with .NET support, LINQ, reporting and more.

    Blob

    Binary Large Object...it's any binary blob you've put in Azure storage. Throw them in, get them back.

    VHD

    Virtual Hard Drive. Just like a VHD in Hyper-V or Virtual PC, this binary file represents a complete virtual disk.

    Adding more than one disk to a Virtual Machine is a quick and easy way to get more speed for free. For example, if you've got a Virtual Machine running Windows AND a Database like MySQL, you'll have the database application and the Operating System competing for the maximum number of IOPs supported by the disk. Instead, make a new disk and mount it, putting the database on its own drive. This way you've doubled your IOPs with the OS on one drive and the database gets the maximum from its down drive.

    Drive

    You can mount an single Azure VHD as a disk drive within a Virtual Machine or you can mount Blob Storage as a virtual drive of its own.

    Related Links

    Did I miss anything major? I'm sure I did, but I wanted to show folks that it's a glossary, sure, but it's not rocket surgery.


    Sponsor: A huge thank you to my friends at Red Gate for their support of the site this week. Check out Deployment Manager! Easy release management - Deploy your .NET apps, services and SQL Server databases in a single, repeatable process with Red Gate’s Deployment Manager. There’s a free Starter edition, so get started now!



    © 2013 Scott Hanselman. All rights reserved.
         
    15 Oct 00:37

    Please stop blaming the South for the government shutdown (op ed)

    by Prof. Karen L. Cox

    As the government shutdown drags on, journalists everywhere, on the left and the right, have raised the level of their rhetoric in search of what they believe to be the appropriate scapegoat for their wrath. This past week, the American South has been in their sights.

    The Washington Post’s Colbert King offered a sardonic editorial in which he used the metaphor of the Confederacy to describe today’s Tea Party.

    Over at Salon, Stephen Richter of The Globalist wrote that the shutdown is a reminder that the Civil War never ended. Richter argues that “the South is once again rebelling against modernizing shifts in American society” and makes the analogy that “Southerners and white conservatives everywhere” fear that offering healthcare to Americans is akin to “freeing the slaves.” Of course, the article would not have been complete without illustrations of the Confederate battle flag.

    Well, thanks for nothing.

    Karen Cox

    Karen Cox

    The quagmire in Washington, DC, cannot be explained by simply tossing it into the lap of the South, since just as many states outside of this region are being represented in Congress by members of the Tea Party caucus. When Ari Berman writes in The Nation that the GOP has a “white southern Republican problem,” by noting the high numbers of southerners in the Tea Party caucus, he fails to address the reality that the shutdown would have been impossible if only GOP conservatives from the South were involved. The fact is that this southern faction has co-conspirators across the country.

    Not only do these comparisons perpetuate the idea of a monolithic South, it keeps alive regional divisiveness (to say nothing of continued stereotyping), as the comments section of these articles attest. It also ignores the changing demographics of the region, which over the last few decades has included a considerable migration of people from North to South.

    More importantly, this Neo-Confederate rhetoric does nothing more than embolden Tea Party leaders and their acolytes, while at the same time undermine the efforts of southern progressives. All the anti-South commentary, illustrated with battle flags, damages any inroads that are being made through grassroots efforts like those of the Moral Monday protesters here in North Carolina, who are doing their damnedest to hold the GOP’s feet to the fire.

    The real power struggle is not inside the Beltway, but in individual states. North Carolina, for example, has just three representatives in the Tea Party caucus, but at the state level it is teaming with them. True, they have gerrymandered districts to ensure their power, but southern progressives in the state are not taking it lying down.

    Texas Democratic lawmaker Wendy Davis, who is running for governor. (Photo by Kevin Sutherland, aka Apollo2011)

    Texas Democratic lawmaker Wendy Davis, who is running for governor. (Photo by Kevin Sutherland, aka Apollo2011)

    Republican Senator Ted Cruz may be a Tea Party darling from Texas, but Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis is offering a change to politics as usual with her candidacy for governor of the state. And in Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn is off to a strong start to replace Republican Saxby Chambliss in the U.S. Senate.

    The point here is that progressives nationally need to support southern progressives. It makes no good political sense to dismiss an entire region as a “lost cause” behind the drumbeat of Civil War rhetoric.

    What’s happening in Washington is not a result of the return of the Confederacy. It might make good hay to allude to the South as the “Old South,” or to suggest that it lacks the diversity (and by suggestion, education) to accept “modernizing shifts,” or insinuate that all southerners are conservative. But this kind of commentary only serves to inspire southern conservatives, while placing yet another obstacle in the path of those seeking change.

    Yes, conservatives appear to have a stranglehold on the region, but throughout the South there are strong progressive voices that need to be heard. So here’s a novel idea: rather than bolstering conservatism in the South by pointing fingers to its Confederate past and discouraging progressive voters, which is what the Tea Party wants, how about shining more light on candidates and grassroots efforts and give progressivism a fighting chance?

    11 Sep 22:58

    What do we mean when we say the Universe is curved?

    by Robert T. Gonzalez

    We know that NASA says the Universe is flat – but it also says it's curved. What the what? How is that even possible?

    Read more...