The new job gave me a MacBook Pro! Given the option, I wanted the Mac, and I figured that I’d get an Air, which would’ve been more than fine. Instead, I have the 15″ Retina beast.1 They allow me to install my own software on it, which they won’t support, which is also more than fine. Hell, they even gave me free access to the Mac App Store, which meant that I just clicked a few Install buttons and had all the apps that I really wanted on it.
The big thing that I wanted was OmniFocus. I’ve used it for years, having migrated away from Alex King’s Tasks Pro2 to a system that was more GTD-focused. I always sorta fought with OF1,3 but OF2 is pretty damn amazing.
I live out of OmniFocus. If I think of something that I need to do, it’s Ctrl-Option-Space, a little typing, a couple tabs, and Enter and my task is saved. Today, I was talking with my colleague when I thought of something that I needed to capture. I said, “Give me a second,” and eight seconds later, i was back to the conversation. What was that task item? I couldn’t tell you now, four hours later. But I don’t have to know, because OmniFocus will tell me come Monday morning.
What did OF delight me by doing? Well, I have a Folder title Geocent, the name of my company. I have projects in it: Onboarding for all of the things that I have to do to get spun up as a new employee,4Recurring for tasks I have to do every so often,5 single-action lists for the various projects that I’m working on, and then I’ll create projects for things that have a sequence to them.6
The joy — no really, the joy — of this was Focusing on that folder and then going to Forecast.
Normally Forecast would show everything that’s Due soon, from these work tasks to me needing to take pills tonight, reading Ezekiel, and finding my PayPal debit cards. Nope! Focus has me focused on exactly work things. Can I see those things in my work OmniFocus install? Yep! Do I want to see them? Nope! I want that focus, and OF gives me a freaking laser.
In OmniFocus 1, I would’ve had to create a Perspective and filter it around, tweaking and tweaking. I expected to have to do that. When it worked exactly as I wanted, I was so happy — happy enough to unlock my phone and make two tweets. ((I won’t put Tweetbot on this machine, and I’m never logging into Facebook on it, either.))
This made my day, and my day was already pretty great because, you know, I have this great job.
insurance filing, 401(k) election, badging at NASA MSFC, etc. ↩
work journaling and time recording daily, internal and project office reporting weekly, safety and quality reporting monthly ↩
These may be less valuable to me given that OF is still unfortunately a solo and not a groupware program, but we’ll see. If I have solo work, like developing a complex engineering deliverable, I’ll probably use it. ↩
My story with manned spaceflight starts with my parents and older brother. Both of my parents were in college in the 1960s, the heyday of the US manned space program. In the span of time between the last few bits of Dad’s sophomore year in high school to his last year in graduate school, we went from Al to Neil and Buzz. The manned missions on the moon span another set of milestones: Neil and Buzz landed about six weeks after my parents got married, and Apollo 17 was on the way to the moon when my brother was born.
Then it comes to me. I was born between almost equidistant between the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and STS-1. I remember launches as a kid, but only one really sticks out from the rest. January 28, 1986 was a tough day for NASA and the nation, really. We lost seven astronauts that day, the first time that we had lost a crew off of the ground. I was seven and in Mrs. Leach’s first grade class. I lived in an Air Force town, and though the Shuttle program was well on its way — this was flight #25 in not quite five years — the presence of Christa McAuliffe guaranteed that the teachers in our school1 would be interested.
But we missed watching the launch live. Again, this was 1986, so there was no Twitter to alert us to the tragedy, no cell phones with urgent texts, or anything else of that sort. There was just a TV broadcast that was eerily silent. Warning bells were going off in my head, even at age 7: someone is always talking over the launch, so why are we not hearing the NASA guys here? About the time that I was close to forming these as cogent thoughts:
We were watching the first replay. Mrs. Leach screamed, because she had met McAuliffe during the selections for the Teacher in Space Project. ((Or so someone once told me.)) One of the other teachers had to calm her down. I don’t remember if my classmates were upset, but I sure was. Somewhere after the fog of the rest of that day, two thoughts emerged: the fact that people were willing to risk their lives to explore space makes that important and I want to be a part of that, especially if that means that I can make sure that never happens again.
Sometime in second grade or so, my parents got me this amazing picture book of photos taken by various NASA probes, most of them being from the two Voyager probes. ((I have tried off and on to find this book at my house, because it’s one of those things that I would keep. I sure wish that I could link to it on Amazon, because the discovery found in it made me really thirst for space exploration.)) The sense of wonder that this book (and others) brought to me was enticing: all of these worlds were out there for man to explore.
When it came time to return to space, I was two days shy of 10. We were back! was the song in my heart. I remember that my childhood best friend and I clipped every last thing that we could find from the newspapers — Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, and national — about the flight. We geeked the fuck out about it. That mission went off just fine, with minor hurdles with a flash evaporator and a radio antenna.
I don’t think that it was ever really clear to me in primary school that, if I wanted to work in manned spaceflight, I needed to have stellar grades, especially in math and science. I was that self-driven kid who cried over Bs on single assignments. I was interested in everything,2 and my grades reflected that. School was a game for me, and the rewards were A grades. I wanted them, and I got them. School came easily to me, and I won’t apologize for that.
My father retired from the Air Force in 1990, and in 1991, our family moved to Mississippi, with my brother off to college and me into 7th grade. Years later, I would reflect that I was essentially ready for the academic rigors of high school in Mississippi when I arrived, but I assuredly wouldn’t have been socially ready for them. I tried to throw myself into the subjects that I hadn’t already tackled in Ohio — at one point, I did know all of the county seats of Mississippi and could place all 82 counties on a map. ((Those skills have atrophied.)) Nothing available to me was going to push me toward the goal of manned spaceflight, and the early 90s were not Internet-friendly in Mississippi due to its relative poverty and population sparsity.
I whiled away my time reading Tom Clancy novels and looking toward the future. I wanted to attend The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, which my father had heard about before we even left Ohio through his professional society. It was the carrot at the end of the stick, and I would get there. I took as many academic classes as I could in my first high school. I was through the math curriculum in two years, knowing that MSMS had a calculus curriculum waiting for me if I could do all the prep work to get to its starting point.
If I hadn’t been accepted to MSMS, I would’ve just jammed my last two years of high school into one and finished a year early. If I had, I would not have been ready for college, not in the way I was after two years in Columbus. MSMS is a public, taxpayer-supported, statewide, residential math and science magnet high school for juniors and seniors. For most of us who went there, it was essentially starting college two years early, but with far more boundaries on what we could and couldn’t do.3 Whether you were from a great school district in one of the bigger cities in Mississippi for from a dirt poor, rural district, MSMS was the route to top colleges and universities. Deborah Fallows did the school’s mission justice with a piece for The Atlantic.
At that point, MSMS was about getting into a good engineering school for aerospace engineering. I still wasn’t totally firm on what aerospace engineers did, but I wanted to be one4 anyway. The plan was pretty simple: go to a school where I could co-op and work in manned spaceflight so I could have a leg up come graduation.
That plan totally worked. It worked better than I could have imagined.
In August 1997, I enrolled at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, the unloved half-sister of the UofA system. I studied aerospace engineering, finishing my degree program in seven full-time semesters (and one half-time summer semester) thanks to all of the advanced placement courses and articulation agreements that MSMS afforded me. Those 7-1/2 semesters were spread over five years because I dove deeply into the co-op world.5
In August 1999, I stepped on campus at Teledyne Brown Engineering and started an engineering path. I worked for a friendly aerospace engineer from Indiana named Scott. Scott taught me a lot about being a good engineer, and I like to think that I was one because of his influence: sweating the details, working it out, questioning things, asking for second opinions when you’ve been staring at the problem for too long.
I worked on a lot of fun things early on in my career. The big one was Space-DRUMS®, a reactor that provided a metal-forming environment on the ISS. If you visit that link and scroll down to the fourth page, you’ll see the behemoth in all its glory. I mostly worked with the argon gas system and the chamber’s interaction with the US Lab‘s vacuum system.6 Scott threw me in the deep end of the pool on it, but that was just fine with me. You can pull up PopSci’s gallery of what DRUMS looks like if you’re interested.
Along the way, Scott left the company, and in that period of time, I got to work directly for my boss, Ed. I picked up a little of Scott’s work,7 but at that time Ed was working on building unpressurized flight support equipment (FSE) to fly pre-positioned on-orbit replacement units (ORU). Now let me de-mystify that with some images from a 92-page NASA briefing8 and eight years of FSE work.
Unpressurized: sitting outside the confines of the ISS, exposed to the environment of space.
Flight Support Equipment: hardware that helps other hardware do its work. All of those blockish things are various ORUs (more on that in a sec). They have to be brought up to orbit by a rocketship, which means a sound structural connection must be provided. When stored “outside” in space, they have to be protected from the sun’s rays, hence all the white you see in NASA TV footage of spacecraft. They also have to be protected with active heating lest the hardware freeze on the shadowed side of the earth. Lastly, the payloads that use the FRAM system have access to command and data handling via Ethernet.
On-orbit replacement units (ORUs). Stuff breaks, but when you’re a couple hundred miles above your home, it’s a little hard to pull over and fix things. ORUs can be lots of things: batteries that are charged from the solar arrays and discharge their energy when the ISS is on the dark side of the Earth; the battery charge/discharge unit, which does that electrical switching; the control moment gyroscopes, which help provide attitude control to the station in the same way that you tilting your bike turns it; the ammonia pump circulators that keep the station cool; and many more.
Every time one of these components breaks — and they’re all pretty big, usually in the 3’x4’x3.5′ range — it has to be fixed by bringing in a spare. The below video from NASA has an overview of ELC 1’s ORUs after a time-lapse video of its installation on station (04:12).
This work was a lot of fun. All of the FSE in that video save for the grappler was built by a manufacturing team at TBE led by Ed. My role at the time of this work would’ve been best described as a project controls engineer. I would later go on to be an assistant project manager and later a project manager. About a month ago, I found my old employee evaluations. I guess that I was pretty good. I even won an award from NASA during my time as PM.
Unfortunately, with the end of the Shuttle program, those of us in the unpressurized FSE world — and it was mostly the group I worked in at TBE, but there were other suppliers — saw our work go away. NASA flew our hardware in Space Shuttles, and without a launch vehicle, we were at a standstill. There wasn’t a lot of work out there to be had, and since I had been easing my way out of engineering and into project management, I decided to make the leap and try something new. I had some personal things going on as well, and making a change seemed like a good idea.
It wasn’t. I jumped, and you’re supposed to jump if you have a good place to land, but where I landed wasn’t good, and it certainly wasn’t good for me. It ended very badly, and the next thing I knew, I was unemployed a week and a half before I turned 32.
So I went back to school: a year as an undergraduate, and two years of graduate school since. If I’d gone straight to graduate school — I didn’t think that I’d get in after bailing on a previous attempt — I’d be done by now. So I was underemployed, which mostly meant that I was out of work entirely. Let me tell you: that is one of the most demoralizing things you can be; I can’t really put it more strongly than that. My MITRE internship was a lot of fun last summer, but it mainly served to remind me that I Could Still Do This. I needed that badly.
In the last week of May, I found a job that looked interesting: Geocent SSE. I knew someone at Geocent — the VP I worked for at TBE was a VP there. I sent him a message asking for help. I mean, at this point, the goalie is pulled. I get contacted by a recruiter. We talk. She says that she’ll throw me in the pot later.
Two hours later, she says that Scott wants to talk with me on the next Tuesday. That’s where he had landed one job later. We met, found that we still have chemistry, and he filled me in on the job, which sounded amazing. The next day, the recruiter called me to make me a verbal offer, which I happily accepted. It took a month for it to become a written offer, but I accepted that one last Tuesday and have been running ever since. I started today.
When Apollo-Soyuz was in orbit, President Ford had a bunch of questions for the astronauts and cosmonauts. He asked Deke Slayton if he had any advice for would-be astronauts, seeing as he was the oldest astronaut yet. “Decide what you want to do,” Deke replied, “then never give up until you’ve done it.”
I decided to be an aerospace engineer. I did it. 1,508 days after I left, I’m back. They’re going to have to drag me away kicking and screaming.
I made this argument on a forum that I run, and so I’m going to make it here.
Here is my thing. The Heat will be better than the Cavs will be if LBJ joins each of their sides: see Tom Haberstroh’s analysis, which includes WARP; the Heat project to 57-25 and the Cavs to 55-27. The gap isn’t big, and LeBron has to be thinking beyond this year. D-Wade is done as a full-time ass-kicker, and Bosh is either at or near his peak. With the Cavs hounding Miller and Jesus Shuttlesworth with plans of bringing LeBron in, he will get the same deep shooting that he’s had in Miami1 to help him out in spreading the floor. Bosh is really the differentiator, because the Cavs don’t have someone of his caliber on the roster2, and none of Irving-Waiters-Wiggins-Thompson-Varejao are up to that level just yet3.
But when you look at a WARP analysis and see two wins’ difference for this year with the promise of better things to come as Irving matures and Thompson-Wiggins-Waiters figure out the NBA, well you’re in luck, because all of your key non-LeBron players are going to be on rookie-cap or second-level contracts. That’s just not the case in South Beach. If LeBron has to think that he’s going to carry a team this season to a title while they figure it out, wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be carrying a team on the way up?
Even if LeBron gets paired with Bosh for four more years in Miami, big guys don’t age as well as wings, and Bosh already has a ton of minutes on his legs (28,602, 36.5 MPG career), and we’ve already seen what happened when the Big Three became the Big Two. Bosh played less (32.0 MPG) last year, which is a good sign of Spo’s roster management4. But when you look at the guys near Bosh in Elo rankings, well, it’s not good. Guys in that cohort seem to break down around his age: Walton, Zo, DeBusschere, Arizin. While the guys in Miami are more known quantities, NBA players in their 30s age haphazardly.
Then there’s LeBron’s aging to account for. LeBron has played 33276 minutes in 842 games, 39.5 MPG. He’ll turn 30 this season, which will be his 12th in the NBA. Take five seconds to look at him play basketball and you know that he’s an athletic gentleman without peer. But a guy who plays that much during the regular season and 42.5 MPG in the playoffs, to say nothing of going deep into the playoffs5, needs some help. He can carry his team for a year or two6, but doesn’t he deserve some support at some point? The Cavs, with younger players, are in a better position to give it.
I’ll be very curious to see what LeBron does. I’m very surprised that Haberstroh did his analysis and appeared to come down so significantly on the Heat’s side when I just don’t think it’s that cut-and-dried.
and would the Heat have fared better with Miller last Finals? ↩
and I can’t fathom a way that they get Love without gutting the roster — Waiters, Thompson, and picks won’t be enough ↩
I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a fully-formed theological position when it comes to transgender issues. This is a topic that will no doubt soon get fuller treatment in the theological world much as homosexuality has over the past decade.
To which I respond simply:
@cjhubbs I’ll say it: when it comes to transgender identity, there does not need to be a theological position past loving each other well.
That is the only necessary and sufficient response.
So much about Christianity’s response to homosexuality has been about whether we’ll let “the gays” into our little club or not. Isn’t the Gospel inclusive by nature? Are we not all sinners? Leaving aside whether homosexuality is a sin, at what point do we start throwing sinners out of our churches?
I’ve never seen an effective call for shunning based on a lack of repentance; the ones that I see pick and choose on which sins to discriminate against. Lord knows that I have enough habitual sins that are personally damaging to me and potentially to others that, should a standard be set, I should be thrown out of a church. That said, because I am a heterosexual white male with an engineering degree, no one is rushing me out of the door, because I look too much like those on the “inside”, especially in this town.
Social scientists are still coming to grips with transgender identity as they study it for origins and meaning. Christians should look past the identity and love the person. We should spread the Gospel and let its power work on the hearts of those who do not believe, and that imperative is true no matter how normative someone’s identity and/or lifestyle are.
Episode 12 of Bryan Allain’s wonderful SchnozCast saw the host asking, “If you were the Commissioner, what’s the one thing that you would change?” Bryan had a suggestion about changing the the foul situation to where you never foul out. I have an idea, and it’s a decision tree.
If you commit six physical fouls before the 8:00 mark of the 4th quarter, you’re done. The chances are that you’re a big man brought in to bang bodies and get Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan to the line. If you get six fouls in 40:00, you’re done. Why? The chances are that you’re not a key part of the game. If you’re a star big, you’re not getting a sixth foul that early anyway unless Joey Crawford hates you. Put another way: if you pick up six in 40:00, you’re A) having a really bad night of things and B) playing for a coach that’s too dumb to sit you out enough to get you halfway into the fourth quarter.
From 8:00 to 4:00, any sixth or higher foul awards two shots to the fouled player and possession of the ball to the fouled player’s team.
From 4:00 to 2:00, any sixth or higher foul is two shots, possession, and the offender cannot check in to the game for 2:00. This is much like hockey’s minor penalty situation, except each team would still have five players on the court. The goal is to get the offender off the court but not remove them completely from the game. A late-but-not-very-late foul shouldn’t hamstring the squad.
From 2:00 to the buzzer, any sixth or higher foul is two shots, possession of the ball, and the player sits out the rest of regulation time. If the game goes into overtime, the penalty would carry over to the start of overtime.
Overtime: other than carryover time, a sixth or higher foul is two shots, possession, and the two-minute rule again, unless the clock is at 1:00 or less, at which point the player is gone from the game, regardless of the number of overtimes.
Any two-shots situation would increase to three if the foul is made on a shooter beyond the three-point line.
The calculus here switches from “if I take this foul, I’m gone” to “if I take this foul, we give up shots and a possession, and maybe I’m out for two minutes”. There may be times that you want to take the foul; e.g., Dwight Howard is going to get an emphatic dunk that will light up the home crowd and his teammates. Your rim protection prevents the easy two and shifts play to the foul line, which slows the game down and puts pressure on a shaky foul shooter. Moreover, possession would either come on the side or end line, which puts the offensive team into a half-court situation, which may favor your matchup.
But you get the penalty regardless of make or miss. Foul Dwight but not enough to prevent the dunk, and you give him two shots and possession. That’s a huge swing, so you have to know that the foul will impact the shot.
A new hypothesis suggests that schizophrenia is a developmental disorder, which involves epigenetics—that switching business. Our brain with its 100 billion neurons begins developing in utero but is not fully formed until age 25 or so. Brain development involves neurons migrating from their place of origin to their destination (neuron pruning is also involved). The trip is set in motion by a gene switching on. If there were a glitch in this switching mechanism, it would not become apparent until adolescence, when brain development goes into high gear, and also when schizophrenia commonly flares up. This new insight is promising, but it doesn’t quite capture Susanne’s case, since she was in her early 30s when the disaster arrived.
In the summer of 2013, I interned at The MITRE Corporation in McLean, Virginia. My office was actually in Tysons Corner,1 and both cities are fairly close to where the Capital Beltway crosses from Virginia into Maryland on the northwest side as it circles Washington, D.C, with Tysons on the outside and McLean inside it.
I carpooled with Brad, a law student at Vanderbilt. We figured that two professional guys who have gone to graduate school would have more in common with random undergraduate interns. We stayed in the same dorm apartment — the details of that are a whole other matter — at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, which is a good chunk from the Beltway. The layout was something like this:
You can see that there’s a lot of red there. It took us about 25 minutes in the morning. The evening commute was different. I think that our best in the first two weeks was 35 minutes. We came down the middle of those three route lines, exiting the Beltway for US 50. We’d head west from there, cutting down to the southwest, as you can see. GMU is just outside Fairfax on the southern limits, so getting there required going through Fairfax traffic after going through all the major thoroughfares.
On the Thursday of our second week of the internship, I decided to look into the 495 Express Lanes. That night, it took us 65 minutes to get back to campus. As we sat stacked up on Lee Highway, I brought up the express lane. Brad told me to do it if the money made sense. I ran the numbers, and they did. I picked one up at lunch on Friday, and we gave it a test that evening.
We got home in 28 minutes.
We had enough flexibility in our commute to give our friend Siggy — who had been taking the bus from Annandale to Tysons, walking a couple of miles on either side — a ride to Annandale, which you can see was out of our way, but not by much given that the Express Lane exit we used turned left for Annandale and right for Fairfax. Dropping Siggy off put us coming back into Fairfax on VA-236, which was a better road to campus than the one that the express lanes give you. It cost us maybe five minutes to save him an hour on the bus, and it was worth it to be kind to our friend and have a third person in the car for conversational purposes. (I love and miss you, Siggy!)
None of this happens Brad and I weren’t degreed professionals making north of $30/hr. We could afford to cut the lines. Hell, I used to half-heartedly laugh at the people stuck in traffic between VA-7 and I-66. “Those poor bastards. I’ve been there,” I thought. Because I had the money to pay for the privilege of driving on a controlled-access road, I had more free time available to do as I wished.
If I’d been making $20/hr, I would’ve been sitting in traffic. One of those days, as we were zipping down the road at 55 mph2 , we heard an NPR story about priority queueing all across the country, from theme parks to emergency rooms to, yes, vehicle express lanes. We really didn’t say very much.
Jumping the queue has become a part of the American Way, and I think that’s a dangerous thing. Waiting in line is the most democratic thing there is: we’re served one-at-a-time based on our arrival. It doesn’t matter if we’re a CEO or a postman; single, married, or divorced; pretty or ugly; fat or fit; kind or unpleasant: we just wait. None of us like to wait — just ask anyone about the DMV, or wait, just check Twitter and Facebook — but we all have to. Frankly, it’s pretty crazy that line-jumping should become a profit center for a service provider, but it’s 2014, and we’re there.
So let’s jump into net equality — or what some people call net neutrality. I like the former term, because it democratizes the Internet: every packet gets its turn. Neutrality implies belligerence. Anyway, the EFF has a good primer on net neutrality equality, and I think that you should read it if you’re not up to speed.
“These aren’t alike at all!” you’re saying. “Paying to go faster on the road isn’t the same as paying for better Internet access.” And yes, you’re right, in a way. There’s a fundamental difference.
With vehicle express lanes, the people paying for higher-priority access are the people directly benefitting from the service: the people able to get to and from locations faster than they once did. With net inequality, Netflix is going to be able to pay for priority, but Netflix doesn’t get the benefit — its customers do. No family was going to pay Brad and I more to get home from MITRE faster, and MITRE sure wasn’t going to pay us more if we could sleep in 15 more minutes. But Netflix can sell better access to their customers, and not just from a quality-of-service issue, which customers have always thought (rightly) was Netflix’s problem and not theirs.
The problem here is simple: it’ll be a race to the top of the heap. The obvious players — Google (for YouTube primarily), Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, ESPN, the sports streaming sites, etc.3 — are going to pay. Where are they going to get that money? You will be the ones paying a premium for an improvement on service that was, quite likely, adequate in the first place. But I’d be very surprised if there’s Netflix and Netflix Premium, with the former on the Beltway and the latter in the Express Lanes. No, I expect that everyone’s going to get to pay the freight for the better access, and that will mean:
More ads in our faces
More creepy data mining assented to in inscrutable Terms of Service that no one really reads anyway
But I’m following the line of argument that everyone follows, and it’s worth discussing, but there’s another thing to consider here.
The people that are making these decisions to allow for priority pricing — for net inequality — are the very people who have the financial resources to skip any damn line that they want.They think that people will be attracted to priority pricing because the world that they know is priority pricing. These decisions are made by people who either pay for priority lines or pay someone to stand in line for them. Of course this seems like an attractive proposition to them, because they’ve grown accustomed to it. I’m not arguing that any of the people making these decisions are bad people.4 But I am arguing that you’re going to be okay with inequality and for the “winners” retrenching their gains with legislation and regulation.
Let’s be honest: the services that have the resources to pay for priority pricing are the ones already running a profit or bilking money from investors. But many of those that would be paying for priority pricing are actors that wouldn’t have been able to reach these dizzying heights with an unequal Internet. It’s classic retrenching: garner success and then build walls around it to keep contenders out. While that’s a classic American business practice, we shouldn’t let our Internet — the one that our tax dollars, cable bills, and phone bills — have paid for to suddenly become unequal. The amazing disruption that is the Internet should be allowed to retain its disruptive power.
If net inequality were possible in 2006, just after NewsCorp bought them, Myspace could’ve built a wall around its part of the Internet that would’ve made it impossible for Facebook to supplant them. Whether or not you feel that we upgraded when we got Facebook — as a former GeoCities user, I think that we did — we couldn’t have gotten there if Rupert Murdoch had been able to outspend Facebook’s investors.
The Internet should be an amazing, chaotic, wonderful place, one that keeps participating providers honest and vigilant to interlopers. Net inequality allows the current winners to stay winners while sending us the bill. I won’t sit still for that.