Giving up politics

I love politics. It’s arcane and maddening and dramatic and … human. I love reading about politics; I love listening to political podcasts; I love watching political shows on TV.

But for now, I’m giving it up. I still like all those things (political podcasts in particular – we’re in a golden age), but it’s so interesting to me that I find politics displaces other worthy interests.

Here’s what triggered this change … last week, I went to a Visual Studio launch event – it was the first time I’d been to a Microsoft event since I left the company. I missed seeing all my local programming friends! They seemed to miss me! Why had I not been around?

No particular reason … I don’t need to go to local tech events as part of my job, so I guess I wasn’t really paying attention. I’d like to pay attention to my local technical community again, but I don’t have any extra time. Something had to give. So I’m giving up politics.

Maybe I’ll run for office someday. If I do, I suppose I’ll have to pay attention again. For now, I’ll just get the condensed version from Twitter (and Rocky Mountain Mike parodies). I think that’s enough, but if something really important happens, please let me know.

NOTE: If you happen in the market for great political podcasts, here’s what I recommend:

Music my kid shared with me

An unexpected joy … as my 13-year-old son, Gus, has developed his own musical tastes, he’s turned me onto some great music. Here are three examples.

Note: some of this music uses strong language. If swearing offends you, I’d skip this post.

Anderson .Paak

This guy’s up for a Grammy this year for best new artist. His album Malibu is catchy hip hop that throws in some surprising funk elements. Here’s Come Down, the best song from that album (you might have heard it on a Kevin Durant sneaker commercial):

Childish Gambino

If you saw the movie The Martian, you saw this guy, whose birthname is Donald Glover. He’s also the star, writer, and executive producer of Atlanta. And he’s playing Lando Calrissian in next year’s Star Wars movie, so you’ll certainly know about him then if you don’t now.

He’s got some newer stuff, but if you haven’t listened to anything of his yet, start with his Grammy-nominated album Because the Internet. Here’s Sweatpants, my favorite song from that album, largely because of its English-teacher-friendly use of onomatopoeia:

Individual Songs

I like listening to albums, but that’s not the way most young people listen to music these days. Gus finds individual songs he likes from his friends or from video games, and then he bounces from song to song on various albums. I know this, because we often let him play his music in the car.

About three years ago, the songs he listened to started being less about parodies and farts and started being … good. The song below, Aerosol Can, was the first song that Gus introduced me to that I added to my own playlist because I liked it so much. There have been many more I’ve added since then (although I still usually end up listening to whole albums after hearing a song I like – old habits die hard).

By 2014, Pharrell (the rapper on Aerosol Can) was either producing or performing on about half of the songs heard on the radio. He’s everywhere. The lyrics are pretty dense – at this site, you can click on each line and find what motivated them.

Thanks for introducing me to new stuff, Gus … keep it coming 🙂

Dealing with TRUMP

I’m a centrist Democrat, so I really liked Hillary, and I wanted her to be president. She lost, so it’s time to deal with the reality of a Trump presidency.

I don’t want to spend a ton of time analyzing why Clinton lost, but it’s important to consider at a high level, because it provides context for what comes next.

First of all, she wasn’t cheated (not even by Comey). She lost fair and square. It was very close (especially considering that she won the popular vote by nearly 2 million votes), but ultimately, the Clinton campaign made some critical mistakes:

  • The average American didn’t know what Clinton stood for, other than not Trump. I think she would have been better served using language like this: “I trust the American people to determine which one of us is more fit to lead this country, so I want to talk about …” and then talk about something – anything – positive. Probably jobs. Always jobs.
  • The Clinton campaign didn’t campaign enough (or effectively) in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Easy to see in hindsight, but some pretty smart people (Michael Moore, Nate Silver, …) were actually pretty loud about it in the last three months of the campaign.

Ah well. Water under the bridge. It’s time to move on.

Wait – here’s one thing that doesn’t matter: If Trump had won the popular vote and lost the electoral vote, he probably would have thrown a never-ending tantrum, and we’d be in a year-2000-election-like clusterfunk right now. Does. Not. Matter.

What matters to me is the way our country responds to this moment. On election night, when I came to the sinking conclusion that Trump would be our next president, I kept imagining future American History books … we clearly just started a new chapter with a single-word heading: TRUMP. In fact, we’ve only just experienced the introduction to that chapter. We have no idea yet what the chapter itself is going to say.

So what does this moment say about our country?  How should we respond? Here’s some more context, this time from Slate Star Codex on the eve of the election:

I suggest people precommit to their views on politics and society now. We live in a country and a world where Hillary can be at about 47% and Trump at about 45%. This is pretty much all you need to know. It suggests that a lot of people are willing to support a nationalist candidate, and a lot of other people really hate that candidate. It suggests that political fundamentals are totally compatible with a situation where either Trump or Hillary could win based on noise in the electoral process.

This was really good advice, but I didn’t see this post before the election, and I’m not sure that I would have listened. One bright spot of this stinging loss (for me personally) is that it forced me to ask these kinds of questions and come to the realization Slate Star Codex makes above: this is who we are and this is the country we live in.

Our country is obviously complex enough that it’s impossible to boil down our cultural and political differences to Just One Thing … but this October column from David Wong at Cracked does a surprisingly good job. In short: our underlying differences have a lot to do with Country vs City.

The results of the election support this. The biggest difference between the performance of Obama and Clinton is that Obama didn’t do as poorly in rural counties. He still lost most of them – just not as resoundingly as Clinton did (again, I think this was first and foremost a failing of the Clinton campaign, not an indication of demographic realignment or nefarious forces).

A rural/urban divide rings true to me personally as well – Clinton’s message just didn’t resonate with the working class people I know, especially those who live outside cities – or leave the city as often as possible to hunt, fish, race, etc. I even know several life-long union Democrats who didn’t vote for Clinton, which seemed unthinkable four years ago.

I don’t think Trump’s policies will actually help the working class, but at least Trump made them feel heard. Clinton did not. In fact, her deplorables comment had the opposite effect – I’m sure many working class people reasonably wondered, “Is that how she thinks of me?” Not a winning strategy.

The good news for Democrats – I’m trying to stay positive here – is that this was more of a campaign mistake than a policy mistake (or a demographic inevitability). Better jobs policies can and will win back these voters in future elections.

It’s intellectually lazy to blame this election on racist or misogynist voters. There will always be some degree of racism and sexism in our country, but it’s been getting better for decades, and it will continue to get better (just not in a straight line). We’re still the same country who elected and re-elected a black man with Hussein as a middle name. We nominated a woman who almost won – and there was shockingly little talk on either side about her being “weak” or any other stupid female stereotypes. In the end, people voted – as they always do – for the candidate who they thought would make their own lives better. A large group of voters felt listened to and understood by Trump. Those same voters felt vilified by Clinton.

Those people didn’t vote for Trump because he was the better candidate for white nationalists – they voted for Trump because he was the better candidate for the working class, for them. The fact that Trump happened to be the better candidate for racists was irrelevant – numbers-wise, the white nationalist vote itself was and is insignificant (Slate Star Codex makes this argument quite convincingly – Democrats, PLEASE read this).

The furor around white nationalists turned out to be a brilliant diversion (whether that diversion was intentional or not is a separate debate). Overt racism is not OK for most Americans. If white nationalists make up less than 5% of our population, that means 95% of our country has no inclination to put on bed sheets and burn crosses. But many good people still live in a pretty segregated world. The way you talk about and think about people of color is different if you don’t actually know or interact with many people of color.

My son goes to a school where only half the kids share the color of his skin. We live in a pretty white neighborhood, but thanks to Gus’s schooling, people of color aren’t other to him. His closest friends are truly diverse.

If you attend schools and churches that are mostly white, you’re obviously not going to know as many people of color – they will be more other to you. The letters sent home from the principal and the sermons you hear on Sunday will be less likely to use strenuously inclusive language like people of color, because the community is less diverse. They simply have less experience with people who don’t look like them.

Living in a mostly white community doesn’t mean you’re a racist. It probably means that you don’t use the same language to talk about race as someone who lives in a more diverse community. It probably means that race isn’t the most important issue on your mind most of the time. If your economic prospects are crap, you’d probably even resent programs that appear to help other communities more than your own (and it certainly wouldn’t take much effort to stoke those resentments).

If you know in your heart you’re not a bad person – and you believe that being racist makes you a bad person (a belief that’s a good sign if you think about it) – then I bet it would really make you mad to call you a racist. That’s pretty much what Clinton did with her “deplorables” comment. That’s pretty much what her most vocal followers did on Facebook and Twitter over and over as well. This did not help. In fact, many of you are still doing it – PLEASE STOP. Besides being rude, it’s a horrible political mistake. It’s ineffective. Again, in retrospect, this was a brilliant diversion – Trump got us off our game. We allowed ourselves to be snookered by a master at controlling the conversation. (Yes, Trump is good at some things – uniquely awesome in fact – go read or watch Ender’s Game if you want to learn how to defeat someone who’s really good.)


Obviously, racism sucks. As I’ve mentioned before, fighting the systemic racism of voter suppression is the reason I became a Democrat. We should oppose any policy that fosters racism. We should call out hatred and racism and injustice wherever we see it. But we shouldn’t use racist as a casual epithet for those who disagree with us.

In fact, we should rarely be judging what people are – instead we should be focused on what people do. Do I think Governor Kasich is a racist? No, I don’t … but he supported policies that made it harder for black people to vote, and I’m going to oppose those policies. He did so knowingly and as a cold political calculation, because he thought it would help more Republicans get elected; therefore, I’m going to oppose him politically, and I’m going to oppose the Republican party politically. That means I’m on the other team – it doesn’t mean I think he’s evil. Just as I can acknowledge “nice play” when the other team scores a touchdown in a football game, I can acknowledge “nice policy” when Republicans do something that makes our country better (invest in infrastructure? Yes, please!).

The beauty of representative democracy is that we’re not just spectators – we’re part of the game. We determine which team wins by voting. Elections matter – I would have greatly preferred Clinton’s cabinet picks and judicial appointments as well as her policies – but even after an election, we influence the game by supporting or opposing individual policies, regardless of who’s in power. 

Politicians want to be reelected, so they’re going to support policies that their constituents support. For example, even though many Republican politicians were against gay marriage, a strong majority of Americans support it, so I doubt that there will be the political will to roll it back (though I still feel some anxiety about the issue – it must be really scary if you’re gay).

The teams themselves are fluid. You can be a Republican one year and a Democrat the next. Many people are gung ho about their particular political team, but most just want what’s best for their own families. These people, the undecideds, can be persuaded, but most are going to vote with their gut for the team that “gets it” more and will therefore probably do more for their own lives. That’s what rural, working class, white Americans did in this election. Trump reached them and Clinton ignored them (except when she insulted them). Huge mistake.

As Democrats, what should we do now?

If you want to persuade rural, working class, white Americans in the next election, you know what you should do? Go hang out with rural, working class, white Americans now! Find out what they like and share those experiences. Invite them to share experiences with you. Share your fears and failures, too. Be friends. I happen to love both the city and the country, both city dwellers and country folk. Yes, there’s a divide, but crossing that divide isn’t a punishment. I’ve been to a dirt track race, a symphony concert, and a break-dance battle on the same weekend. The variety in our country is freaking awesome.

Recognize that I’m a centrist and an incrementalist – so most progressives will probably find my beliefs and my tone lacking. That’s OK – we need to have great conversations within our party, too!

This primary season could have been awesome – Sanders was a rare breath of fresh air – but the DNC sordidness ruined the conversation and left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth (which didn’t help with the general election, either). Let’s spend a lot of energy cleaning up our own house and have meaningful conversations about the future of the Democratic party.

Then we let the general election be too much about personality and not enough about policies. Let’s not keep repeating that mistake! Focus on specific policies that are meaningful to you at every level of government. If it makes the world better, support it. If it doesn’t, oppose it. Stop focusing on personalities! Obviously, Trump is going to appoint people we don’t like. Get over it – oppose policies, not personalities.

We need some range in our opposition. Some things are worth protesting – the Dakota pipeline certainly clears that bar. The electoral college? Not so much – it might feel good, but it’s not going to change anything. We’d be better served saving our energy for something else.

Don’t be vengeful or petty. Yes, I absolutely hate that Mitch McConnell’s overt obstructionism has been rewarded. I hate it! That doesn’t mean we should adopt the same approach. It was wrong for the Republicans to do it, and we should work hard to punish that behavior at the ballot box – but when we lose, we shouldn’t adopt the same deplorable behavior.

Keep a sense of humor. Saturday Night Live seems funny and relevant again. That’s something. Humor eases the pain a bit, so relish the good stuff – and when you see good humor that criticizes Democrats, appreciate that, too. This was posted on Twitter during the 2nd debate. I love that funny people always have an eye open for such random observations.


LEARN. Read (longer form, too, not just tweets). Be wary of what we come across on social media. Listen to podcasts. Talk more with people we agree with and those we don’t. Be friends with more people in real life, not just on social media.

LISTEN. Open our hearts and minds. Expand our understanding to include why people disagree with us. Work to understand the opposition’s point of view (again, see Ender’s Game).

Above all, LOVE. This doesn’t have to be some hippy drippy kumbaya kind of love – love with our actions. Love by helping our neighbors, even those we disagree with. Love by protesting peacefully. Love by speaking up without being smug. Love by standing with a powerless stranger who feels threatened. Love by imagining the positive motivations of those who oppose us. Love by raising our kids to be even more aware and loving than we are.

Picking Sides


For years, I’ve called myself an Independent. I voted for Democrats about 75% of the time, but I tried to evaluate each candidate on the ballot and sometimes crossed over to pick a Republican or (more commonly) a Libertarian. I even voted for Ross Perot – twice.

I am an Independent no longer. There comes a time when you have to pick sides, and this is that time for me. I haven’t yet figured out what it means to “register as a Democrat” in Michigan, but I have a couple of yard signs, and I’ve changed my profile in Facebook (isn’t that what makes anything official these days?) … my son even put Hillary stickers all over his go-kart. It’s as official as I currently know how to make it: I’m a Democrat.

There’s one ongoing issue that started me down the path to picking sides: voter rights. For several years, the Republican party has actively been trying to make it harder to vote for poor people and people of color. I can’t stand on the sidelines while that is happening. It’s just wrong.

Suppressing voters isn’t an accident; it’s a pervasive Republican strategy. During the primaries, the least offensive Republican was John Kasich – he had the distinct advantage of appearing sane – but he presided over some of the most explicit efforts to prevent minorities from voting. I can never support him or his party.

I trust voters, which is precisely why I can’t tolerate voter suppression efforts. In the past, I’ve been disappointed when some Republicans have won, but I trusted the results (with the possible exception of 2000, but that was a wacky year). I even made a point of voting in the Republican primary when Justin Amash first ran for his current seat (my congressman), because I knew the Republican would ultimately win, and he’s my favorite Republican.

This year is obviously different. Trump is not a reasonable candidate. He would be terrible for our country (and the world), and I can’t stand by and let him be elected without doing everything I can to prevent it. In fact, I can never support a party that would nominate him.

In addition, I actually like Hillary Clinton. I always have. She’s not perfect, for sure, but she’s wonky and hardworking. I think she’ll be a great president. I’m going to do everything I can to see that she gets elected.

So I’m picking sides. Hell yes, I’m a Democrat, and I proudly support Hillary Clinton for President.

Talking Politics

Most people I know have hated this election season for one reason or another. Not me – this has been my favorite election cycle that I’ve experienced by quite a wide margin. The reason? People are talking!

From the very beginning of the primary process, I have heard people talking about candidates and issues with a conviction that seems quite different from years past. The emergence of Trump and Sanders meant there were plausible candidates with real differences in both primaries.

If you remember the Bush v Gore election, you might remember the popular complaint that there were no meaningful differences between them (I never agreed, but it was a popular complaint, at least before the election). I don’t think we’ll hear much of that complaint this year.

I’ve always held a soft spot for Michael Jordan’s response when he once refused to endorse a Democrat. “Republicans buy shoes, too,” he said. When you’re a public figure, you can’t communicate a nuanced position. Whatever you say will be twisted into a soundbite that may or may not summarize your point. That’s why I don’t really care what this or that celebrity thinks.

I do care what my friends and family think – and that’s why I love this election. People are talking. Turns out about half the country disagrees with me, and since I am friends with a broad enough sample of the population, about half of my friends disagree with me as well. When we talk, that gives us the opportunity to change each other, although it happens very, very slowly and in ways that we don’t always expect or even notice.

You know what that is? That’s democracy working. I love it. Keep talking!

PS, I mean actual talking, not writing … writing has its place, but talking is better – so if you try to engage me on any specific issue in the comments to this article, it’s unlikely I’ll take the bait 😉


Last week, I was on vacation – absolutely, completely on vacation and totally removed from any work activities. It was great.

I haven’t had a vacation this thorough in quite some time. Usually I still have work thoughts in my head, even if I’m disengaged from day-to-day activities. Not this time – for some reason, I was able to let any hint of responsibility or ambition drain from my skull. My mind was nearly blank.

We spent this vacation in Texas with Paula’s family. The trip was even a bit longer than my actual vacation – we left on Tuesday the week before last, and I worked support from Texas Wednesday to Friday (June 15-17).

I think that was a big part of my ability to detach – we spent the normal amount of energy leading up to our travel date, and then we spent a day traveling (always a bit tiring). Then I “recovered” by working for a few days. By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, all I had to do was close my laptop, and I was somewhere other than home for a full week. When I got back home a week later, I recovered again with a normal day of racing Saturday and a final day with minimal responsibilities yesterday (thanks Paula).

It’s time to get back to work. It was nice to empty my brain, but now it’s time to put stuff back in it.

Microsoft Office vs Google Docs

Microsoft Office is better than Google Docs in almost every way.

The Office interface is fresher – it looks and feels better. Office has way more features, and the native apps are way more sophisticated on Windows, Mac, iOS, and even Android. Heck, even the Office web apps look better than Google Docs. Again, it’s just better.

EXCEPT for one thing …

I remember my friend Rory riffing on the stupidest question in all of software: Do you want to save? Rory would practically yell at his screen, “Of course I want to save! You’re a computer – just save the damn thing and then make me work to delete it if I need to!”

That was two decades ago, and Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint still ask me if I want to save the damn file. Google Docs does not. I know it’s difficult to change features that are entrenched with users, but c’mon, Microsoft!

This particularly becomes an issue when you move between devices. I have a few spreadsheets that I use on my computer and on my phone. This is maddening with Excel, because I have to remember to save and exit the file on one device (even on my phone!) if I want to use it on the other.

For that one simple reason, I’ve mostly switched to Google Docs, an app I like less in every other way.

That’s a humbling reminder to me … what one feature in Moraware could cause our customers to bolt? What one feature in your product could cause your customers to leave?

Mmmm … Tasty

Growing up, I was quite a picky eater (my dad still is, so I suppose I have him to thank for that).

When Paula and I moved in together (26 years ago!), I watched her cook some basic foods that I thought I didn’t like, such as meatloaf, stir fried vegetables, and lasagna. Seeing her make these foods demystified them – it made them approachable, and so I tried them and soon started liking them. These days, I wouldn’t exactly call myself an adventurous eater, but I’m not terribly picky, either (still hate pickles, though).

I was reminded of the evolution in my taste buds when “Tasty” videos started becoming popular on Facebook.

These videos have no narration and little text. They show delicious-looking food and how it gets made. They don’t just show you that you can eat this food – they show you that you can make it. When you watch one of these, you can almost hear yourself saying, “I should totally make that.”

The people at Tasty excel at one of the most fundamental movie-making rules: show don’t tell. The videos are quick and easy to watch, so they seem simple, but they’re anything but simple to produce. I saw a behind-the-scenes video a while back that revealed a team of several people working hours to create that perfect 30-second clip.

Tasty’s videos are so good that they all go viral. I don’t think I can make training videos for our software that go viral, but I at least want to copy Tasty’s basic approach for making videos accessible: about 30 seconds long, no audio needed, and show don’t tell. Oh, and a whole lotta work. We’ll see.

Innovations usually come from the low end

The other day, I saw a segment of How It’s Made (great show … it’s like Baby Einstein for grownups). It showed the dozens of steps that go into making a dental crown. No wonder they’re so expensive!

I doubt crowns will be made this way 20 years from now … but I don’t think they’ll be made better. I predict that some enterprising dental entrepreneur will figure out how to scan the tooth gap without making a mold. Then they’ll figure out how to 3D print a “good enough” crown, perhaps right in the office.

Such a crown wouldn’t last as long as current tech (at least at first), but it would cost 10 times less. If your dentist gave you the option of a $1,000 lifetime replacement or a $100 replacement that lasted a year or two … a lot of people are going to settle for the dodgy replacement, because it’s so much cheaper right now.

In his groundbreaking book Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen points out that most disruptive innovations don’t come from improvements on the state of the art – instead, true innovations usually look like toys to the incumbent players.

The makers of high-quality table radios didn’t see the threat from crappy little transistor radios. Mainframe computer makers scoffed at minicomputers, just as minicomputer makers scoffed at PCs, and PC makers scoffed at tablets. Time and time again, innovation comes from the low end, not from the high end.

I could very well be wrong with my prediction about crowns. Medical stuff is highly regulated, which complicates things, and a big part of the cost of a crown is time spent with a dentist’s hand in your mouth – so maybe it’s not worth it to make cheaper crowns … but I bet it is, and I bet someone figures it out.

Regardless, it’s worth remembering that disruptions usually happen at the low end of a market. One of my favorite examples is Dr Chrono, a medical software company that started out as a simple app (must have looked like a toy to the big players) and is now hugely successful, gobbling up more market share every day. Bob and I talk more about the success of Dr Chrono on our podcast this week.

The Joy of Music

Last week, Gus had his 7th grade spring band concert. He plays percussion and seems to enjoy it. Here are the 4 songs they played:

Just as I developed a good musical foundation from violin lessons (thanks, Linda!) Gus developed a good musical foundation from piano lessons (thanks, Eileen!). Playing one instrument makes it easier to learn another, so he picked up percussion pretty quickly.

At home, we have a set of practice bells (like xylophone but metal). Gus will frequently walk over and play a song or two. I love hearing the sounds, but for the most part, Paula and I stay out of it. While it was important to us that he gain a foundation, now his relationship with music is all his. If he wants to play, that’s great, but I can’t make him want to.

Quieting our reactions (and reducing our encouragement) was a conscious decision we made after reading something my mom wrote. It’s a chapter about me and my difficult relationship with music from her slowly evolving book, Walden Three (here’s the same story from my perspective). In that chapter, my mom talks about my musical successes and comes to this conclusion (bold mine):

“Knowing oneself” includes being able to distinguish between … what one does because of human encouragement and what one does because of effective interaction with the environment. Unless one can make such a distinction, it is very difficult to make life choices based on ones skills and preferences. With respect to Patrick, I believe that the very consistent positive reinforcement he received for playing the violin prevented him from learning his own reactions and relationship with it.

I couldn’t agree more – hearing how great I was from others actually got in the way of my own musical explorations. The only reason to be a musician is because you love it … if other people like the way you sound, that’s just a bonus. When you start getting more nourishment from their praise than your own love of music, that’s a problem – one that I still haven’t resolved for myself.

Since reading my mom’s words, we’ve tried to dial back our praise for anything Gus does. Obviously, we’re proud of his successes and we support him through his struggles, but we want them to be fundamentally his, not ours.