My mom turns 60 today.
In Kentucky, this past Tuesday was Primary Day. The day every registered voter, in the appropriate party, could go to the polls and say who we want to run to represent our party in the General Election.
Because they are not on the same day, you often are presented with candidates who are neither your first nor second, or perhaps even your third choice.
Since the General Election is fixed nationally to happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, state-by-state Primary Election days should also be fixed to happen simultaneously across the country.
In close follow-up with my desire to see political parties abolished, we also need to rethink how voting is done.
In the United States, you can only vote¬†for a single candidate for most positions (town councils are an exception).
You do not have the opportunity to say anything more than a binary yes|no to a given person for a given office.
You can vote¬†for Bob for mayor. But¬†not voting for Mary, Quentin, and Zoe doesn’t really say anything about what you think of them – just that you liked Bob the best.
And there is the¬†problem. There is an explicit elimination of¬†relative preference when voting: all you can do is vote “yes” for a candidate.
That is¬†very different from voting “no” against a candidate.
What should happen instead is you should vote for your favorite candidates in order of preference, so Bob is number 1, Zoe number 2, Quentin number 3, and Mary number 4.
Then when I vote, and rank them Mary 1, Zoe 2, Quentin 3, and Bob 4, we can get a picture of the relative preference of any given candidate running for the office.
Do this across all voters in a given election, and assign the winner to the person with the lowest score (in the numbering shown above – flip the values to assign the winner to the person with the highest score).
Perhaps even look at the top 3 or 4 after gestalt ranking, then vote again to determine the winner (this would be ideal for a Primary-then-General Election method).
What research shows is that while you and I may wildly disagree on “best” and “worst”, we’ll probably be pretty close on who we think is “good enough”.
In the Bob-Mary-Quentin-Zoe example with two voters, Mary & Bob both got 5 points. Quentin received 6, but Zoe earned 4.
The two voters, therefore, think Zoe is “good enough”, even though they part ways on “best” and “worst” (Bob & Mary).
Combine such a ranking system with a fully-open Primary election (ie you go rank¬†every candidate regardless of “party”), and we would see much more representative-of-the-citizenry candidates appear at final Election.
John Adams and George Washington, among many others, both warned of the dangers of political parties.
There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution. –John Adams
And from George Washington:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
And yet for the last 200+ years, not only have we had a party-based system, but even with the American public supposedly interested in viable third parties, of which there are myriad, none have come close to appearing in a major election since 1968, when George Wallace won 46 electoral votes, and just shy of 10,000,000 popular votes (Nixon and Humphrey won 301 & 191 electoral votes respectively, and 31.7m & 30.9m popular votes respectively). The major parties have enacted all kinds of de facto “rules” to prevent competition.
That’s nearly 50 years since a third-party candidate won a state in a Presidential election.
No wonder candidates declare to enter races affiliated with the Big 2 instead of whom they actually feel more closely aligned with.
“Politics exists as soon as two people are in the same room,” was cleverly told to me by a former colleague at a highly-politicized company. And it’s true. As soon as you have two people together, disagreement arises. Priorities are different. Interests are different. Parties¬†can help group together folks with more-or-less similar ideas, but they¬†tend to either be so tightly- or loosely-defined that affiliating with the “party” either makes you look like a kook, or says nothing at all about you.
We all know there are no perfect candidates¬†(though I’m awful darn close!) – and while aligning with a party¬†might tell you something about the person,¬†it¬†often it says little at all.
So I propose to make “official” party affiliation a thing of the past. Remove barriers to entry for candidates. Remove party affiliations when registering to vote.
After all, we’re all just citizens. We shouldn’t be judged by party affiliation.
We got to meet the latest addition to our family a few days ago, on the 5th. For the second time in under a year, we had the last-minute opportunity to adopt a baby boy. Last year we welcomed a 3.5 month-old, and this year we have a newborn.
He’s had some complications, and been in the NICU since a few hours after birth. However, he’s started to make some good progress, and while not out of the woods, is on his way to being able to come home in, hopefully, a week.
Zebediah joins big brother Abijah, and brings our family from three to four.
Over the past 5 years, I have witnessed some of the growth Lexington KY has started to undergo. From a population in the city proper of about 260,000 in 2000 to 295,000 in 2010 to an estimated 315,000 in 2015,
While there¬†seems to be something of a plan/vision for the downtown area, the majority of Lexington (and its urban area) seems to be more-or-less ignored from an infrastructural perspective (the last update was in 2009, and only for a small part of Lexington).
In comparison to where I grew up, the Capital District of New York, the public transit system is both too inwardly-focused, and too poorly-promoted to be useful more most Lexingtonians. CDTA, for example, has connectors to other cities and towns other than¬†just Albany. You can start where I grew up in Cohoes (about 10 miles north of Albany), and get more-or-less¬†anywhere in the greater Capital District by bus. It might take a while, but you can get there (or get close). There are also several Park’n’Ride locations for commuters to take advantage of.
Lextran doesn’t offer anything to connect to Nicholasville, Versailles, or Georgetown. With workers commuting-in from those locales (and more – some come from Richmond or Frankfort (or go in the opposite direction)), one would think urban planners would want to offer alleviations of traffic congestion. But there is nothing¬†visible along those lines.
There are large chunks of Lexington where the houses are crumbling, crime rates are higher than the rest of the city, and the citizens living there are being [almost] actively avoided and/or neglected by the city.
Some limited business development has gone into these neighborhoods (like West 6th Brewing), but as a whole they are becoming places “to be avoided”, rather than places where anyone is taking time and effort to improve, promote, and generally line-up with the rest of the city.
Yes, everywhere has regions that folks try to avoid, but the lost and dying neighborhoods in Lexington are saddening.
Lexington is – in places – a walkable city, but for most of the residential areas, it was/is up to the developers of the subdivisions as to whether or not there are sidewalks. And if they weren’t put in¬†then, getting them done¬†now is like pulling teeth.
Being able to walk to many/most places (or types of places) you might want to go is one of the major hallmarks of a city. One that is only exhibited in pockets in Lexington.
It should even be a hallmark of shopping areas – but look at Hamburg Pavillion. A shopping, housing, and services mini town (apartments, condos, houses, banking, education, restaurants, clothes, etc), Hamburg is one of the regional Meccas for folks who want to do major shopping trips or eat at nice restaurants. The map (PDF), however (which only shows part of the Hamburg complex) demonstrates that while pockets of the center are walkable, getting from one shopping/eating/entertainment pod to another requires walking across large parking lots – impractical if shopping with children, or when carrying more than a couple bags.
Crosswalks and lighted crossings on major roads, in some cases, leave mere seconds to spare before the light changes – if you’re moving at a crisp clip. Add a stroller, collapsible shopping cart, or heavy book bag, and several crossings become “safe” only if drivers see you are already crossing and wait for you. Stories like of pedestrians being hit, like this one, are far too common to read in local news media.
There is no lack of employment opportunities in the Lexington area – there are 15 major employers in Lexington, hundreds¬†of small-to-medium businesses running the gamut of offerings from auto dealers to lawn care, IT¬†to healthcare, equine products, home construction, etc; and hundreds of national chains (retail, restaurants, services, etc) are here, too.
Finding said employment can be difficult, though. There are some services like In2Lex which send newsletters with employment opportunities – but if you don’t know about them, finding work in the area isn’t as easy as one would think a Chamber of Commerce would want. Yes, employers need to advertise their openings, but even finding lists of companies in the area is difficult.
Connectivity to Other Areas
Direct flights into and out of Lexington Bluegrass Airport reach 15 major metro areas across half the country.
The Underlying Problem
The major problem Lexington seems to have is that it doesn’t know it’s become a decent-sized metropolitan area. There are about 500,000 people in MSA, or about 12% the population of the whole state. It’s a little under half the size of the Louisville MSA (which includes a couple counties in Indiana). There are 8 colleges/universities in Lexington alone¬†(PDF), and 15 under an hour from downtown.
To paraphrase Reno NV’s slogan, Lexington is the biggest little town in Kentucky. The last major infrastructural improvement done was Man O’ War Boulevard, completed in 1988 – more than a quarter century past. There were improvements done to New Circle Road¬†in the 1990s, but that ended over 15 years ago. Lexington proper was 30% smaller in 1990 than it is now (225,000 vs 315,000).
Lexington’s 65+ year-old Urban Service Area, while great to maintain the old character of the city and region, hasn’t been reviewed since 1997. A few related changes have been added since, but the last of those was in 2001.
One and a half decades since major infrastructural improvements. Activities like the much-delayed Centre Point¬†(which I agree doesn’t need to be done in the manner originally planned), the begun Summit, and other development projects may, eventually, be good for business and the city as a whole, but there has been little-to-no consideration for what will happen with¬†traffic. Traffic problems and general accessibility is one of the core responsibilities of local government.
The double diamond interchange installed a couple years back on Harrodsburg Rd¬†was a good improvement to that intersection. But it was only good¬†for that intersection. It alleviated some traffic concerns, crashes, and complications, but only on one road.
Lexington needs leadership that sees where the city not only¬†was 10, 25, 50 years ago, but where it is¬†now and where it wants to be in another 10, 20, 50 years.
My vision for Lexington, infrastructurally, includes interchange improvements / rebuilds for more New Circle Road exits. Exit 7, Leestown Road, grants access to Coke, FedEx, Masterson Station, the VA hospital, a BCTC campus, and more. Big Ass Fans is between exit 8 from New Circle and ¬†exit 118 of I-75. Exit 9 from New Circle more-or-less exists to provide Lexmark with a way for their employees to arrive. The major employers in the area are great for economic stability.¬†But with traffic congestion, getting into and out of them needs to be as smooth as possible.
West Sixth Brewery and Transylvania University are two of the highlights in an otherwise-aging, -dying, and -lost area of the city. There needs to be a public commitment on the part of both the city and the citizenry to not allow the city to become segregated. Not segregated based on skin tone, but on economic status.
Bryan Station High School has a reputation, deservedly or not, of being one of the worst high schools in the region, because of the dying/lost status of the parts of town it draws from. You can buy a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1300 square foot house for under $20,000 near Bryan Station. It needs a little bit of work, but what does that say about the neighborhood?
The leadership of Lexington¬†seems to be ignoring parts of the city that are going downhill, preferring instead to focus on regions that are going up. Ignoring dying parts of the city from an infrastructural perspective isn’t going to make them any better – they¬†will only drag more of the city down with them. As a citizen and a homeowner, I want to see my city do well.
I do not like paying taxes any more than anyone else, but I do like seeing the city taking initiative and working to both heal itself and take steps towards attracting future generations, businesses, and more that we don’t even know are coming.
Lexington has great promise – it is growing, expanding, and burgeoning. But if its leadership – political, business, and citizenry – doesn’t take the time, effort, and money to ensure it’s prepared for this growth, it will become a morass to traverse, live in, and do business with.
Some more interesting regional data (PDF)
“Join the Navy and See the World!”*
Perhaps one of the most famous recruitment phrases ever established in the United States.
And it’s not at all dissimilar form what a lot of budding consultants¬†think they are going to do when either joining a services organization, or starting their own business.
I have been fortunate in that I¬†have gotten to “see the world” as a professional services engineer – at least a little.
What the recruitment phrase fails to mention is that while you may “see” the world, you [probably] won’t get to¬†do much while you’re “seeing” it. I’ve been to or through nearly 60 airports in the last several years. I “saw” the coast of Japan a few times when going into and out of Narita. I’ve “seen” Las Vegas – from a couplefew thousand feet. I’ve “seen” Houston – from IAD. And so on and so forth.
The far more realistic view of what will happen is something like this:
- get call Friday afternoon asking you to be onsite in <someplace> Monday morning
- book flight, hotel, rental car (if appropriate)
- make sure clothes are clean
- do as much Saturday and/or Sunday as you can, since you’ll be gone for a week
- fly out Sunday evening or Monday morning (I’ll talk about this later)
- get rental car
- check into hotel
- go to customer site
- check out from hotel
- return car
- fly home
- repeat all of above
As someone who has been doing a travel-based job for 7+ years now, let me share some of the things I have learned with you.
Sign up for airline frequent flyer programs. In the US, this means Delta, United, Southwest, and American Airlines.
Sign up for hotel rewards. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham.
Sign up for the car rental programs. Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, National.
So long as you are able, ie costs are reasonable, schedules are good, etc, stick with a single primary chain for each of the travel categories (airline, car, hotel). If you’re going to get status, might as well get it all with one place when possible.
Sign up for every promotion your loyalty partners make available. For example, I’m a United Guy (used to be a Delta Guy – but that’s a different story). I’m also a Hilton Guy (because Marriott hasn’t been as competitive (price, location) in the markets I’ve been to as they used to be). I have my Hilton HHonors Double Dip¬†go to HHonors points and United miles. And I make sure ay time there is a promo to get more points or miles that I sign-up for it. If Hilton wants to give me an extra 5,000 United miles for every stay after the second between now and 31 August, why not take advantage of that?
Choose the best rewards – for¬†you
Maybe you like traveling so much you want to have Avis points so you can get free car rentals on vacation. Personally, I find turning all my reward points into frequent flyer miles is my best option – renting a car for a week is almost always less expensive than paying for a flight – especially when my family¬†goes¬†somewhere on vacation.
Every shirt and pair of pants I take when I go onsite are “no iron”. This saves time when you arrive. And you won’t have nearly as much time as you think you will, most of the time.
Get slip-on dress shoes. You will appreciate this most when going through airport security. But also if you have to go through security to get into customer buildings, etc.
Have an arrival and departure change of clothes that are comfortable – I like jeans and either a polo or comfortable t-shirt.
What about jackets? I like the lightest-weight jacket I can carry/wear: there will not be enough space on the plane for it, it’ll get hot in the airport, and you really only normally need it to walk from the airport to the rental car shuttle / counter, form the rental counter to the car, the car to the hotel, the hotel to the office, and all in reverse. You probably won’t need a parka for those types of activities.
There’s a big conversation that surrounds this topic, but I’m going to tell you what works for me. First, check your main bag – it’ll accelerate your time to board, your time between flights (if you have one or more connections), and make it easier to get around the airport when you arrive (easier to use the bathroom, get a meal, etc). So save¬†everyone¬†headaches and check your main bag.
In your¬†one carry-on – a laptop bag- you should have the following:
- single change of clothes
- snack & water bottle (empty, of course)
- basic minimal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc)
- book (or Kindle, but I like a physical book – there’s never anything to have to turn off)
- all required chargers (laptop, cell phone, mifi, etc)
- portable battery backup like an EasyAcc Classic
Arriving and Departing
Day-of? Or night before?
This is almost entirely a personal preference: arriving day-of (eg Monday morning) can be good if you have a family, don’t mind getting up hyper early to get to the airport, and can functional well enough on little sleep.
Arriving night before (eg Sunday night) can be good because if you’re bumped or delayed on a flight, you have cushion before your customer expects to see you.
Either way, always try to check-into your hotel before going to your customer – if it’s an early-Monday arrival, change out of your travel clothes at the airport into work clothes, and have the hotel hold your bags for you.
I alternate between which is better for me to do based on how many connections I have, customer expectations (if you have a mandatory 0900 meeting Monday, and you flight won’t arrive til 0930, you have to come in Sunday night), time of year (weather considerations), etc.
What did I miss?
What would you add/change/tweak on¬†this cheat sheet?
* I always though it should read, “Join the Navy and Sea the World”
Every day we all work at multiple levels of abstraction.
Perhaps this XKCD comic sums it up best:
But unless you’re weird and think about these kinds of things (like I do), you probably just run through your life happily interacting at whatever level seems most appropriate at the time.
Most drivers, for example, don’t think about the abstraction they use to interact with their car. Pretty much every car follows the same procedure for starting, shifting into gear, steering, and accelerating/decelerating: you insert a key (or have a fob), turn it (or push a button), move the drive mode selection stick (gear shift, knob, etc), turn a steering wheel, and use the gas or brake¬†pedals.
But that’s not¬†really how you start a car. It’s not¬†really how you select drive mode. It’s not¬†really how you steer, etc.
But it’s a convenient, abstract interface to operate a car. It is one which allows you to adapt rapidly to different vehicles from different manufacturers which operate under the hood* in potentially very different ways.
The problem with any form of abstraction is that it’s just a summary – an interface – to whatever it is trying to abstract away. And sometimes those interfaces leak. You turn the key in your car and it doesn’t start. Crud. What did I forget to do, or is the car broken? Did I depress the break and clutch pedal? Is it in Park? Did I make sure to not leave the lights on overnight? Did¬†the starter motor seize? Is there gas in the tank? Did the fuel pump quit? These are all thoughts that might run through your mind (hopefully in decreasing likelihood of probability/severity) when the simple act of turning the key doesn’t work like you expect.
For a typical computer user, the only time they’ll even begin to care about how their system¬†really works is when they try to do something they¬†expect it to do … and it doesn’t. Just like drivers don’t think about their cars’ need for the fuel injector system to make minute adjustments thousands of times per second, most people don’t think about what it¬†actually takes to go from typing “www.google.com” in their browser bar to getting the website returned (or how their computer goes from off to “ready to use” after pushing the power button).
Automation provides an abstraction to manual processes (be it furniture making¬†or tier 1 operations run book scenarios). And abstractions are good things .. except when they leak (or outright break).
Depending on your level of engagement, the abstraction you need to work¬†with will differ – but knowing that you’re at¬†some level of abstraction (and, ideally,¬†which level) is vital to being the most effective at whatever your role is.
I was asked recently how a presentation on the benefits of automation would vary based on audience. The possible audiences given in the question were: engineer, manager, & CIO. And I realized that when I’ve been asked questions like this before, I’ve never answered them¬†wrong, but I’ve answered them very inefficiently: I have never used the level of abstraction to¬†solve the general case of what this question is really getting at. The question is¬†not about whether or not you’re comfortable speaker to any given “level” of customer representative (though it’s important). It is¬†not about verifying you’re not lying about your work history (though also important).
No. That question is about finding out if you really know how to abstract to the proper level (in leakier fashions as you go upwards assumed) for the specific “type” of person you are talking to.
It is vital to be able to do the “three pitches” – the elevator (30 second), the 3 minute, and the 30 minute. Every one will cover the “same” content – but in very different ways. It’s very much related to the “10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint” that Guy Kawasaki promulgates: “a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” Or, to quote Winston Churchill, “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
The answer that epiphanized for me when I was asked that question most recently was this: “I presume everyone in the room is ‘as important’ as the CIO – but everyone gets the same ‘sales pitch’ from me: it’s all about ROI. The ‘return’ on ‘investment’ is going to look different from the engineer’s, manager’s, or CIO’s perspectives, but it’s all just ROI.”
The exact same data presented at three different levels of abstraction will “look” different, even though it’s conveying the same thing – because the audience’s engagement is going to be at their level of abstraction (though hopefully they understand at least to some extent the levels above (and below) themselves).
A simple example: it currently takes a single engineer 8 hours to perform all of the tasks related to patching a Red Hat server. There are 1000 servers in the datacenter. Therefore it takes 8000 engineer-hours to patch them all.
That’s a lot.
It’s a crazy lot.
But I’ve seen it countless times in my career. It’s why patching can so easily get relegated to a once-a-year (or even less often) cycle. And why so many companies are woefully out-of-date with their basic systems from known issues. If your patching team consists of 4 people, it’ll take them a year to patch all 8000 systems – and then they just have to start over again. It’d be like painting the Golden Gate Bridge – an unending process.
Now let’s say you happen to have a management tool available (could be as simple as pssh¬†with preshared SSH keys, or as big and encompassing as Server Automation). And let’s say you have a local mirror of RHN¬†– so you can decide just what, exactly, of any given channel you want to apply in¬†your updates.
Now that you have a central point from which you can launch tasks to all of the Red Hat servers that need to be updated, and a managed source from which each will source their updates, you can have a single engineer launch updates to dozens, scores, even hundreds of servers¬†simultaneously – bringing them all up-to-date in one swell foop. What had taken a single engineer 8 hours is still 8 – but it’s 8¬†in parallel: in other words, the “same” 8 hours is now touching scores of machines instead of 1 at a time. The single engineer’s efficiency has been boosted by a factor of, say, 40 (let’s stay conservative – I’ve seen this number as high as 1000 or more).
Instead of it taking 8000 engineer-hours to update all 1000 servers, it’s now only 200. Your 4 engineer patching team can now complete their update cycle in well under 2 weeks. What had taken a full year, is now being measured in days or weeks.
The “return on investment” at the abstraction level of the engineer is they have each¬†been “given back” 1900 hours a year to work on other things (which helps make them promotable). The team’s manager sees an ROI of >90% of his team’s time is available for new/different tasks (like patching a new OS). The CIO sees an ROI of 7800 FTE hours no longer being expended – which means the business’ need for expansion, with an associated doubling of server estate, is now feasible without having to double his patching staff.
Every abstraction is like that – there is a different ROI for a taxi driver on his car “just working” than there is for a hot rodder who’s truly getting under the hood. But it’s still an ROI – one is getting his return by being able to ferry passengers for pay, and the other by souping-up his ride to be just¬†that little (or lot) bit better. The ROI of a 1% fuel economy improvement by the fuel injector system being made incrementally smarter in conjunction with a lighter engine block might only be measured in cents per hour driving – but for FedEx, that will be millions of dollars a year in either unburned fuel, or additional deliveries (both of which are good for their bottom line).
Or consider the abstraction of talking about financial statements (be they for companies or governments) – they [almost] never list revenues and expenditures down to the penny. Not because they’re being lazy, but because the¬†scale of values being reported do not lend themselves well to such mundane thinking. When a company like Apple has $178 billion in cash on hand, no one is going to care if it’s¬†really $178,000,102,034.17 or $177,982,117,730.49. At that scale, $178 billion is a close-enough approximation to reality. And that’s what an abstraction is – it is an approximation to the reality being expressed down one level. It’s¬†good enough to say that you start your car by turning the key – if you’re not an automotive engineer or mechanic. It’s¬†good enough to approximate the US Federal Budget at $3.9 trillion or maybe $3900 billion (whether it should be that high is a totally different topic). But it’s¬†not a good approximation to say $3,895,736,835,150.91 – it may be¬†precise, but it’s not¬†helpful.
I guess that means the answer to the question I titled this post with is, “the level of abstraction appropriate is directly related to your ‘function’ in relation to the system at hand.” The abstraction needs to be¬†helpful – the minute it is no longer helpful (by being either too approximate, or too precise), it needs to be refined and focused for the audience receiving it.
*see what I did there?