“Thanks for your service”

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable being thanked for my service; typically I wave it off with some reference to the wasteful, frivolous, and dangerous way that I spent much of my enlistment. I don’t like to talk much about what my service meant to me, and there are so many amusing stories to tell instead that I tend to just focus on those.

In reality, the Army saved my life. I enlisted through the delayed entry program shortly after I turned 17 because years of being told I was useless, lazy, and that I would amount to nothing had convinced me that it was true—that I had nothing of value to offer the world. I make light of it now, but I reached out to a recruiter because I wanted to join the infantry and die alongside the soldiers that were currently in Iraq and Somalia. It’s not that I especially wanted to die, it’s that I didn’t much care if I did, and this seemed like a way to be of value on the way out. It was a way to bring value to a valueless existence.

A recruiter convinced me to leverage my experience with computers and enlist as a software analyst. Rather than to join as infantry, that I could be of more value plying the skills I’d learned through years of writing little stupid programs. Reluctantly, I agreed; in my naivete thinking that army was army and I was just as likely to go fight as a 74B as I was a 11B.

In the military I found a purpose. I slowly learned that I wasn’t as useless and lazy as I’d been lead to believe. I learned that I had talents and that I was capable of growing them. I found camaraderie among a group of largely thrown away people as well. My alcoholism deepened considerably during this time, but my battered self esteem grew to the point where I generally felt worthy of life.

So it’s uncomfortable to be thanked for my service each Veteran’s Day; when I shipped out in the summer just before my 18th birthday I was volunteering life that I didn’t want and didn’t think had value—and what I got in exchange is a tremendous part of what makes me who I am today. I definitely won that exchange.

Thank you to every member who served honorably, regardless of why you joined or what your duties were. I am proud to have been among you.

Caught Unaware

If you’re in tech and you’ve visited social media or read any news sites in the past week, you’ve probably familiarized yourself with a certain sad and lonely manifesto that’s been making the rounds. (If you’re a woman in tech and you’ve somehow avoided reading it thus far, it’s probably a good idea to continue skipping it; nary a new idea to be found.)

As anyone with the intellect that the author of that misguided rant ascribes principally to men could predict, the author was fired by Google. The explanation for this is well worth a read.

Now, of course, comes the next part; the caterwauling of scolded children citing censorship they’ve never felt and a first amendment they’ve never understood.

“Surely,” they’ll claim, “we are being treated poorly because we are men, and because we are white!”

Then, because they’ve collectively never seen anything like struggle in their first-world lives, they’ll continue.

“We are members of the only unprotected class! Where are the feminists now when someone is being punished for wrong think and thought crime,” they’ll whine before taking a sip of their five-dollar latte and wheeling away on their ironic scooter.

It won’t bother them that they’re misusing terms from a book they did not quite understand fully when they skimmed it for a book report in their advanced English class. It won’t bother them because they are unaware.

And honestly, that’s what this all comes down to…a keenly honed lack of awareness that has been refined through generations of ‘struggle’ that could best be summarized by that one B+ that really should have been an A.

The same lack of awareness that prevents then from seeing that they’ve spent a lifetime being told “you can’t be this” until it’s so internalized that they really can’t see it. An unawareness that can look at all of the rules on a “man card” and not see what a farce it all is.

No being afraid, no crying, no jobs that someone else associates with women, no pain, no softness, no care, be the bread winner, be tall, be strong, be athletic.

Be a man. Man up. Get some balls. Nut up. Don’t be a pussy. Don’t be a bitch. What are you, a girl?

These unaware children laugh and say “you don’t see us crying about inequity” without even a glimmer of recognition that not crying about these things is evidence that we are just swallowing them whole.

Like men!

The manifesto actually had some fair points that are worth investigating, but much like anything else in life, the possibility of having a real conversation was occluded the message itself…by toxic masculinity…by gross unawareness.

The author, caught up in his lack of awareness, was appropriately handled.

Moving Sale

As part of our move, Ger and I are getting rid of a number of things we no longer need. Our plan is to put a list below, if you want any of this, let one of us know and make an offer: we will accept the first reasonable offer for each item provided you can pick it up on the weekend of 8/12-8/13.

Anything that doesn’t find a home with one of y’all gets donated to Goodwill that weekend.

The items:

  • Leather Futon: great shape, barely used
  • Countertop Dishwasher: this works surprisingly well, connects to the sink directly (no need for plumbing work) and served admirably for a family of 2-3
  • Server Rack: 5′ tall and 3′ deep with cable management, a few shelves, removable sides and doors, and a power strip…note, it’s fairly heavy SOLD
  • Shoe Cabinet: the Hemnes cabinet from Ikea near our front door… holds 12 pair of shoes  SOLD

I’m sure I’m missing some that I’ll add here as I come across them.

Current Events, Russia, and Conviction

It has been quite a week for politics, hasn’t it? In case you haven’t been paying close attention, allow me to catch you up to just some of the goings on:

On Tuesday, Trump fired the Director of the FBI, James Comey. He did so citing a letter from Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein recommending Comey’s removal. The American people are to believe that the testimony from the day before by Sally Yates (the former Attorney General that Trump fired for not rubber stamping illegal activity) about the Trump camp being well aware of Flynn’s problematic association with Russia is mere coincidence.

More coincidence? The request Comey made to Rosenstein for additional funds to expand the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election that ultimately won Trump the presidency that happened just days before Rosenstein recommended—and Trump executed—Tuesdays firing. Continue reading Current Events, Russia, and Conviction

On the Need to Make Great Things Great Again

Among my plans for the day, today, was to put together a quick writeup congratulating the staff of Penguicon for throwing an undeniably successful convention—the 15th in a series! Instead, I’d like to take a moment to respond to a long-time attendee’s paen to modern divisive politics; a blog post with the snappy title “Make Penguicon Great Again.” In his post, Jay “Tron Guy” Maynard makes the assertion that Penguicon has fallen to the “leftists” and resulting event is no longer one that is comfortable for people like him.  Continue reading On the Need to Make Great Things Great Again

#42FaveBooks

There’s this great hashtag floating around the Twitters that invites you to list your 42 favorite books. I’ve been enjoying reading everyone’s lists, but I can’t bring myself to tweet book titles back-to-back-to-back 42 times. Instead, here’s my list; I don’t know that they’re my favorites, but they’re pretty much the first 42 that come to mind, so they have to be ones I enjoy quite a bit.

In no particular order…

  1. The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Adams)
  2. Phantom Tollbooth (Juster)
  3. The Giving Tree (Silverstein)
  4. Kill Whitey (Harvill)
  5. The Dead Zone (King)
  6. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein)
  7. The Android’s Dream (Scalzi)
  8. The Way of Kings (Sanderson)
  9. Ender’s Game (Card)
  10. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Berendt)
  11. A Supposedly Fun Thing That I’ll Never Do Again (Wallace)
  12. A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bryson)
  13. Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Boo)
  14. Mistborn (Sanderson)
  15. Skeleton Crew (King)
  16. Persuader (Child)
  17. A Painted House (Grisham)
  18. Lamb (Moore)
  19. Name of the Wind (Rothfuss)
  20. Uprooted (Novik)
  21. American Gods (Gaiman)
  22. Tell No One (Coben)
  23. The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Doyle)
  24. Interpreter of Maladies (Lahiri)
  25. Gone Girl (Flynn)
  26. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain)
  27. Le Morte d’Arthur (Malory)
  28. 1984 (Orwell)
  29. Pillars of the Earth (Follett)
  30. Little Brother (Doctorow)
  31. Slaughterhouse 5 (Vonnegut)
  32. The Martian (Weir)
  33. The Dispatcher (Scalzi)
  34. Dark Sparkler (Tamblyn)
  35. I See by My Outfit (Beagle)
  36. Crooked Little Vein (Ellis)
  37. The Fuck-Up (Nersesian)
  38. A Darker Shade of Magic (Schwab)
  39. A Hatful of Seuss (Seuss)
  40. Waltzing With Bears (DeMarco)
  41. The Road (McCarthy)
  42. Redshirts (Scalzi) (of course)

What are yours? Tag me when you start your list (or when you end it).

April and May Conference Schedule

Everything is happening in April and May, and I’ll be at a decent amount of it. The following is my event schedule for the spring:

Obviously, the break between Penguicon and Self.Conference needs to be filled! Shout out to me on social media if you will be attending any of the above (or something else that I’m missing).

Observation

Several weeks agoDawn and I discussed several of the traits that are often found in strong leaders. Among them, there was one that is so overlooked that it is the first thing people ask me about my list: the power of observation.

Observation is key to so many aspects of leadership, but everybody that asks me about it meets it with a similarly dismissive attitude.

“Everyone knows how to look,” they deride, “it’s obvious.”

Observation is more than merely looking, it’s looking with intent! Being properly observant requires actively paying attention to your surroundings (and yourself) with the goal of taking action on the information that you find. it’s not merely being aware of the things around you, but earnestly absorbing them and processing what you find. It requires diving deeper than the surface; there are numerous levels of observation, and each layer deeper you manage to go is an additional degree of insight (and action) afforded you.

At its most basic, a leader should be in the habit of observing the general attitude of the team. How does the team seem when working? When not working? Interacting with you? When you’re not obviously around? With each individual member? With people outside of the team? When things are stressful?

The answers to questions like these paint a picture of the health of your team that you will never get by simply asking—the team might not even realize, for example, that they’re combative to “outsiders” but through careful observation you might note the signs. You might observe tension between teammates before it becomes notable to those involved, even.

Remember, though, that observation implies a willingness for action. When you observe behaviors that betray underlying “illness”, it is incumbent upon you to act. It’s the combination of careful observation and resulting action that will really elevate your ability to lead your team.

Posting Problems

I’ve been having a lot of trouble actually posting anything here. It’s not that I don’t have tons to write, it’s the opposite: I am constantly inspired to write things, but they’re all about politics.

I really don’t want to just blog about politics all of the time.

To begin with—and contrary to the makeup of this blog lately—I’m not really exceptionally politically active usually. As a result, I’m not an ideal person to write about politics. I’m rabidly moderate and unevenly informed, not the stuff from which political screeds should probably be derived.

I try to keep generally up to date on the news, and sometimes that process results in my having a strong opinion on a specific item. On those occasions, I write about it—as much to make sense of it to myself as to spread my thoughts to others. Sometimes, those posts spawn a great conversation on Twitter. Less frequently, they spawn a great conversation on Facebook. I enjoy that, but not enough to make it the bulk of what is posted here.

So I’m having trouble writing anything of substance that isn’t about politics lately (I wonder why?) and I don’t really feel like posting most of the political posts that I jam out each week. I’m sort of caught between what I’d like to do and what I’m actually doing.

Hopefully, before this posts tomorrow morning, I’ll have come up with a solution…but I doubt it. I suspect I’ll just post less often until things normalize a bit or until I get sufficiently sick of our political scene as to feel like writing about something else instead.

Kill the Messenger

I had a friend when I was in my early 20s named Dave. He wasn’t a great guy, but then, neither was I at the time. Among his other less-than-stellar qualities, Dave was constantly cheating on his girlfriend.

This had been going on as long as I’d known him. His girlfriend spent most nights at his place, but on those nights once or twice each week that she stayed at her place he invariably had one of a handful of women over instead. He rarely spent a night alone.

Dave also enjoyed antagonizing his neighbor. For some reason, he thought it was hilarious to park half in his own driveway and half on his neighbor’s lawn. Most of the hilarity was probably derived from the red-faced, apoplectic approach his neighbor had to informing Dave that he had “done it again.”

Ultimately, the two avenues of my friend’s dickishness collided: the neighbor let Dave’s girlfriend know of Dave’s extracurricular activities. Tammy came by for an unexpected visit one night, and after the requisite fireworks, it was over.

What I remember most, though, was being at the bar that weekend commiserating with everyone over Dave’s terrible fortune. Dave—for his part—was incensed; his nosy neighbor had no business interfering and his girlfriend was an asshole for breaking his trust and coming over unannounced on the say-so of his neighbor.

I found myself thinking about Dave quite a bit last week while I watched President Trump melt down on Twitter and even more while I read the coverage that followed.

What we know, at this point, is that Flynn did talk about the sanctions which may or may not have been illegal. Obviously Flynn found it shady enough to lie about, and that lie is where the trouble really begins, because that lie is what makes him susceptible to blackmail. While Flynn has resigned, it’s fair to guess we haven’t heard the last of this particular issue.

Like Dave, Trump is focused very intently on how he was wronged…about how someone is leaking to the press, how those complaining are sore losers, and how it’s all overblown anyway. The entire thing is “fake news” despite it being based on leaks that Trump confirms are accurate—a feat of mental gymnastics that should defy the imagination but somehow lands with an unsettling number of people.

Neither Dave nor Trump are especially good at taking responsibility, and as it turns out, their supporters seem reluctant to hold them responsible for their own actions in general. There is a reason for that.

Dave and I didn’t speak for a decent while because I had the temerity to, after listening to the same whines for the millionth time, blurt out some truth at him—to hold him responsible for his actions.

“Who cares about the neighbor, you were cheating on her you idiot!”

I hope someone in Trump’s circle is doing the same for him.

But I doubt it.

Acknowledging My Good Fortune

I say it frequently—but it bears repeating—I am so unbelievably lucky to have repeatedly found myself leading fantastic teams of hard-working people.

Consistently, these teams are willing to experiment and try new things; sometimes skeptically at first, but they always come around. They might worry about outcomes, but without fail they act from a willingness to take risks and see what happens.

Trust is a difficult thing in the workplace, and I’ve been profoundly fortunate to have always had teams that took those scary first steps to place their trust in me. They’ve given me room to work for them, and have given me room to fail and try again.  That trust has consistently translated into being understanding when I fail or come up short, and a willingness to give me another chance to make good.

Because of all of these things and many more, my teams have reliably made me look good. That’s certainly not the point, but it is a nice side effect.

There’s no real point to this post…no lesson to be learned…just, be as lucky as I’ve been, I guess.

Pitch Perfect

Want to know if your team understands something? Ask them to give you the elevator pitch. If they can’t summarize the objectives and high-level milestones in a few quick sentences, it’s unlikely that they understand it very well.

Take a step back, can you give an elevator pitch? If not, take the time to make sure that you truly have a grasp on the plan, then take that newfound proficiency to get your team on board as well.

You’ll be surprised at how much traction simply having a firmer grasp on the subject will help your team gain!

ConFusion 2017

This weekend, I’ll be attending ConFusion in Novi, Michigan. In addition to getting to rub elbows (literally, the bar gets crowded) with the likes of Daniel Abraham, Ty Frank, Amal El-Mohtar, Joe Hill, Gail Carriger, Mark Oshiro, Cherie Priest, Tobias Buckell, Jim Hines, Mur Lafferty, and something like infinity more authors, publishers, and people of note, you get to attend great panels about gaming, literature, science, and even movies and television.

‘Fusion is one of the two local conventions that I make it a point to attend each year, and for $60, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better price for a weekend of entertainment, food, and beer. You’re basically losing money by NOT attending. I think. I’m actually pretty bad at budgeting, so someone might want to check my math.

But when you’re done checking my math, come see me at ConFusion this weekend!

Politics as Usual?

I made the mistake of logging into Facebook this evening and reading the general mishmash that shows up on the timeline. Typically–on the rare occasions that I sign into the site at all–I have a restricted list of people that I skim through and then I go on with my day. Facebook is mostly an outbound mechanism for my Tweets to visit.

Today, though, I ran into a political post that I just had to respond to. Because these things on Facebook have an alarming tendency to just magically disappear (weird, eh) I thought I’d reproduce my rant here. I’ll not provide the original post (it’s not my post to share), but I will say the following:

  • It was a link to this article with a clickbait intro saying something to the effect of “this dude won’t go to the inauguration, and his reason will infuriate you.”
  • The post sharing it opined that “America has spoken” in electing Trump, that “America has had to deal with 8 years of this sort of thing”, and that Trump is our president and we should deal with it.
  • The post further opined (and I’m not exaggerating here) that this must be racism because Trump is white and the representative is black–since the reason that things like claiming Obama wasn’t an American was called racist was because a white person said it.
  • The post ended by pointing out that Trump’s election is a sign of the thoughts and feelings of the American people, so we should get over it.

The problem that I had was not with any of these individual points on their own–I’ve seen and scrolled past far more egregious examples in these past few months. My problem wasn’t even with the sum of these snidely delivered opinions in aggregate. No, the thing that struck me as compelling enough to write a knee-jerk rant was the implication that this is just politics as usual. That sentiment is driving me mad, and I’m seeing it everywhere. People saying “Clinton supporters are upset that they lost” or “we dealt with Obama, now you can deal with Trump” as if, by pretending that the problems are merely disagreement with a political agenda, it would erase the actual issues in play.

Insanity!

At any rate, my response was as follows:

First..and this is a pretty key point: the American people have not spoken…at least not in the way you imply. The American people (which would be indicated by the popular vote) have spoken in favor of Clinton. I bring this up not to indicate that she should be President, but to ensure that you don’t get mired in a grossly inaccurate statement right from the top. The American people have spoken, we instead chose to listen to the American electoral system.
And that is the right call. We should have listened to the American electoral system. It’s how this all works. So you’re right (even if for the entirely wrong reason); he’s our President-elect by virtue of the mechanism we should be using.
 
Your conclusion, however, is beyond flawed. First, you seem to think that the reason people said that various racist things were racist was solely based on the fact that the two folks in question were opposite races. That shows that you don’t listen. That’s fair, in reality most of us do an abysmal job of escaping our filter bubble (and that includes me), so it makes sense that you wouldn’t have heard much from beyond it’s noisy walls. Wrong, and excusable.
 
The inexcusable wrong, though, is to think that Americans have put up with 8 years of what is going on now. As a Republican until just a few months ago, I think I’d remember 8 years of active attacks on the ability of the press to do it’s job in holding folks accountable. I suspect I’d recall 8 years of increasing suspicion that our President was an agent of (or at least entirely too cozy with) an unfriendly foreign government—I further believe I’d recall our President spending 8 years preventing the investigation of that relationship. I’d definitely have some hazy inklings in the deepest recesses of my mind if our President spent 8 years threatening to make databases of people of a given religion, expressing approval of religious tests for citizenship, and appointing actual white supremacists to various roles in the government.
 
I disagree with MUCH of what Obama did, and I disagreed with much of what Bush did. This is not that. This isn’t political disagreement. This is genuine concern being expressed by a man elected to express exactly this sort of concern. This is the result of the FBI asking to be allowed to investigate a troubling relationship between a candidate and a foreign power and being denied the ability to do so. If Woodward and Bernstein had as murky an understanding of current events as you’re conveying here circa Watergate, Nixon would have had a much easier go of things.
 
So, you fumbled the mount, had a good time on the uneven bars, and completely blew the dismount…but I will say this, you ended exactly correctly: Trump represents the thoughts and feelings of a huge number of Americans, so if you’re paying attention, that should be absolutely terrifying.
 
I invite you to start paying attention.
 
* Brought to you by a lifelong Republican that recently broke to independent based on the party’s willingness to court this exact human being. This isn’t partisanship, it’s sanity.
This isn’t politics as usual people; and characterizing it as such says one of three things: you aren’t capable of recognizing the differences when they are posed to you, you aren’t willing to listen to the differences when posed to you, or you’re lying. Disagreeing with the sentiments expressed is rational (I mean, I think you’re wrong for disagreeing probably, but it’s rational). Hand waving a potential program of interference by a hostile foreign government off as “sore losers” is egregiously and dangerously stupid. Be better.

Tweets of 2016

Things I Said on Twitter in 2016

As I say each year: The year in review, in micro-blog form. This is mostly for my own reference, but, you might be bored enough to look at this as well. Who knows!

Tweets of 2012 • Tweets of 2013 • Tweets of 2014 • Tweets of 2015

Something quirky happened with October/November tweets, but as soon as I get bored enough to manually scrape those, you’ll see them here too! In all, I have around 1870 tweets this year, double either either of the last two years. I suspect a lot of this can be hung directly on the shoulders of a really shitty election cycle and a propensity for live-tweeting things that irritate me. At this point, my account in general is over 19,400 tweets and I’m almost assuredly going to hit 20k in 2017. That’s ludicrous.

Continue reading Tweets of 2016

2016: A Year in Review

It would be trite to the point of cliche to lead off with a hearty “Fuck You” to 2016; more importantly, it wouldn’t even be entirely true. After starting in a lovely way among friends, this year has been up and down and featured moments both triumphant and terrible. As with all things, time will tell what stands out and what does not. For now, here’s what I recall of a year about to end:

Continue reading 2016: A Year in Review

The Best Christmas Album of All Time! (Volume 2)

 

Last year I shared the best Christmas album of all time, and I thought that this year I would continue the tradition by sharing more songs that I think make the cut.

This year’s selections are a more somber lot, by and large, which I suspect says a lot about my mental state as we bring 2016 to a close. Equally notable is how many more songs that would fall into the “non-traditional” category can be found on this version than on last year’s. It turns out that I don’t love a wide variety of traditional holiday tunes—I more or less ran out last year.

In theory, this link should take you to a Google Play Music playlist of this album. If it works, you’re welcome to use it to listen along. If it doesn’t, what do you want from me, I’m not Google, go bitch to them!

Without any further ado, let’s get to the music…

Continue reading The Best Christmas Album of All Time! (Volume 2)

Leading Questions (a Podcast)

A few weeks ago, Dawn and I were participating in a leadership conversation in a slack that we both frequent when the idea of us doing a leadership podcast was brought up.

Neither of us have ever waited to be asked twice to throw ourselves out there publicly, so we hastily pulled together a concept, some material, recording equipment, and set to work making a thing.

Yesterday, we posted the first episode of that thing!

Continue reading Leading Questions (a Podcast)