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:: Friday, December 15 2017 ::

I had a job interview with a tech company in Little Rock today. It's a startup, and the dress code is very informal. I wore a suit and tie. Which was interesting. I had read the job description as technical liason with customers, which said to me 'gravitas' but when I got there I felt like I looked very old and out-of-date. Which is a very strange feeling to have. My wife asked me 'did you feel out of place, or feel like you looked out of place?' which was a very astute division. Nevertheless it made me think about a couple of questions: 1 - aging in the tech industry, and 2 - what your environment says to potential hires.

I am obviously getting older - we all are every day - but in the tech startup industry there very much seems to be a bias to the very young. I can't decide why that is - perhaps the risk/reward prospect? The job insecurity? Or perhaps it's the work expectations. I also wonder about my community in particular - the folks I've met in tech who are my age or older who've been here their whole lives might have some strikes against them, real or imagined, having often specialized in jobs or industries without a lot of growth, or tech jobs in non-tech fields.

The second was more interesting. I know we want a young, hip vibe, and I'm definitely also attracted by that, but I wonder if we scare off experienced workers, especially those from the industries I've described above, with a firm that is too 'young and hip'. Or, alternately, is that just my corporate roots showing?

Regardless, an interesting experience, and an interesting company. We'll see what happens next!

:: David (13:35 in Arkansas, 20:35 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, December 13 2017 ::

Gaming computer built, with a new Ryzen processor! Also, a couple months have passed, I've sucessfully submitted my grades for the Microecon class I was teaching this fall, and I have a lead on a job for the Spring, in addition to the classes I'll probably be teaching.

As part of having some actual free time, I've started messing with the website (as I always do when I have free time). I've created a 'travel' directory that I'm going to put all that stuff in. I was recently looking (last night, actually, while waiting for final exams to come in) at what people do with their personal web pages these days. This one has been around so long I can hardly believe it (coming up on 20 years, with some content even older!) and I thought, especially since I'm job searching, that it might be worth getting at least the front page in shape.

With the holidays upon us, I feel like I should write some sort of Christmas letter, to at least post here even if there's no danger we'll get Christmas cards out. The question, like most of the questions we ask ourselves these days, is how much to make public. If the internet is fundamentally a nice place full of nice people, I could just write what I want. But I think we can safely agree that some of the optimism of years past just isn't there anymore.

Of course, if the FCC moves ahead with their Net Neutrality rollback it won't much matter, since nobody is going to pay to access my website.

In addition to a lot of random paid work this year, I've done a lot of random unpaid work - I've gotten myself set as data person for a couple of political organizations, in addition to my nonprofit involvement.

I'm fairly excited for one thing that's happening this Spring - a grad student is doing her project on building a pedestrian master plan for my fair town (Conway, AR) and that should help move things forward. My weakness has always been delegation, but in this case I feel very comfortable turning the whole thing over to someone who can devote the time and energy to it that it needs!

OK. I've been sitting at this computer too long. Time to stand up, and maybe even take a shower (it's good to get dressed for the day before noon!)

:: David (11:07 in Arkansas, 18:07 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, September 28 2017 ::

I'm building a new gaming computer. It's going to be quite a potent machine, assuming I can get it working. I went up-market a bit from previous builds, which resulted in some very helpful changes, like a manual that actually told me which wires went where, and things like that. As soon as the last part comes in I look forward to bringing it online and seeing how much better it is than my current computer. One of the things I have noticed about my current computer is that it is still quite an adequete machine. I would have thought it would not be, but it actually does very well for itself, despite the fact that it has a 2670QM processor (i.e. a 2nd generation processor, when they are now on the 8th generation). 

:: David (15:30 in Arkansas, 22:30 in Paris) - Comment

Last night I went to see a preview of the Little Rock 9 Opera at UCA. I had actually purchased the ticket before I really knew what it was about, as I often do with local events. Present were composer Tania León and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. It was fascinating in part because I knew the folks who had sort of made the event happen, one of the Little Rock 9 was in the crowd, and in general it was this weird overlap of the historic with the present day. It got me thinking about history, legacy, and who gets to shape it. It's strictly a coincidence of geography that one lives near 'Little Rock', the place where the school integration took place. It's a long time ago, and for the most part (with a few obvious exceptions) none of us were there, or in any way connected. So I thought it was interested that we, nevertheless, chose to commemorate that event that happened nearby. I suppose in part the question is 'if not us, who?' But by the same token, is a state that still struggles with segregation and racism really the place you want to memorialize these things? For example, we're now a majority Republican state - do they get to celebrate the end of racism, even as they write it into law in the present day? Does it just give them cover? Of course, I suppose this is also a slippery slope - let those among you who are free from sin, etc. But it struck me as odd.

I quite enjoyed what I saw of the opera. I look forward to seeing whether it is able to become something more than a local oddity.

:: David (15:25 in Arkansas, 22:25 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, August 31 2017 ::

Every now and again I like to go to electronics stores. Not generally to buy things, although every now and again it's necessary, but rather to see what people could be buying. One of the down sides of being deeply plugged in to the tech world is that I don't actually know what people who aren't plugged in know about. The electronics stores offer me a way to see into that world.

The last time I went, I noticed the proliferation of off-the-shelf home automation tools. I don't know how much all of it is selling, but the number of options and space dedicated to it makes me think this might be becoming a thing. Since I generally don't go around looking at people's light sockets (tho I have been known to examine their light bulbs), I don't know if the people I know have these, or are using them. But now I know that they're out there, which raises a second problem with being in tech - people assume you know how it works.

Of course, in a general sense this is true - I've been automating things since the 1990's. But it's been ad hoc using specialized tools. It hasn't been a web enabled package with a pretty front end sold by a major manufacturer. And one of the things manufacturers love to do, because it's part of the reason people pay them, is to hide the complexity. Which just makes it completely obscure to folks like me.

Let me give you an example: the office copy machine. How do I make it coolate and staple? No clue. There's most likely some series of buttons to push, but each manufacturer chooses their own weird series, and sometimes it's unique to your office environment, requiring a security code or a billing code or something. I almost guarantee I'm not going to get a copy machine to do double sided prints without someone telling me how to do it.

In the same way, although I can tell you that it is technically possible to connect all the electronic things in your house to the internet and operate them remotely, I'm not going to be able to do it without spending a great deal of time learning how. And because I'm an economist as well as a programmer I'm not going to spend the time to learn any particular system without some major incentives.

All of which is to say that it's ironic that things I've been saying we could do for decades we can now actually do, except now I probably can't, because now they're all pretty and obscure and I can't figure out which sequence of shiny buttons to press.

:: David (17:56 in Arkansas, 0:56 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, July 27 2017 ::

HummingbirdWe were in Costa Rica for a couple months, Sasha teaching a class and me taking an inordinate number of photos of the incredible wildlife. I got a new camera lens, a Sigma 150-500 if you're interested, so I was able to get a lot closer to the wildlife, at the expense of dragging around a lens that weighs 15 pounds. We got back yesterday, and I've started the extremely slow process of going through the ~4000 photos I took. I set up an instagram for the photos, which is here, and we'll see if I can keep it going for a while - I'm using scheduling software to post things somewhat regularly, but it requires a minimum of one per day, which is a lot of photos to schedule. In the meantime, here's a hummingbird that lived at the ecolodge we stayed at.

The ecolodge was crazy weird - it's run by the University of Georgia, and if you ever go to Costa Rica I strongly recommend it. There were volunteer naturalists who would tell you all about all sorts of things, lead you on guided tours, etc. etc., all included in the price of admission. We ate every day in a cafeteria style setting, and although rice and beans featured prominently it was tasty every day.

After a week getting my bearings, we did a road trip to the Caribbean side, as well as San Jose, before coming back for a couple more weeks. Then we headed to the Pacific coast for a while, and the students and other faculty headed off. We finished at a town near a volcano, doing some of the traditional adventure-y things like white water rafting.

Now it's back to the grind - I'm going to start my job search, and get back into doing all the usual stuff, going to community events etc.

:: David (18:32 in Arkansas, 1:32 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, June 2 2017 ::

A selection of recent articles I've shared.

MAY 31

May could lose majority in June 8 election - YouGov projection | Reuters
Guardian's Ben Jacobs gets new glasses after assault by Montana congressman | US news | The Guardian

MAY 29

Best Learning Tools for Those with Short Attention Spans

MAY 28

Black Lives Matter in Journal of Political Philosophy: Philosophers published a series written entirely by white professors — Quartz
Australian convict pirates in Japan: evidence of 1830 voyage unearthed | Australia news | The Guardian
2 'Heroes' Stabbed To Death Standing Up To Muslim Hate In Portland | HuffPost

MAY 26

Sent to Prison by a Software Program’s Secret Algorithms - NYTimes.com

MAY 25

Google Translate of German article on Trump
The Looming Retail Bailout
Africa is not poor, we are stealing its wealth | Africa | Al Jazeera

MAY 24

Rodrigo Duterte Declares Limited Martial Law As Militants Seize Parts Of Marawi City : The Two-Way : NPR
US leak of Manchester attacker's name strikes new blow to intelligence sharing | UK news | The Guardian

:: David (15:15 in Arkansas, 22:15 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, May 4 2017 ::

People with signs supporting science at AR state capital buildingAnother day, another march. This one in support of science (which, as many others have noted, is a crazy thing to have to support. 'I support facts!' Who knew that was something we'd have to announce, or fight for? Anyway, it was a great turnout, with lots of fun signs, and an interesting array of speakers.

One thing that has been interesting to watch over the course of this year (it's only been ~100 days!) is the development of a professional march infrastructure (or maybe the scientists are just more organized). The first marches had all sorts of sound and space issues. This march had great sound, great optics, they left a space for the speaker and had people organized on the steps. It was well done. And I imagine when (not if) the next march happens (which I hope will not be in the summer, because nobody should be outside in Arkansas in summer!) the lessons learned so far will be applied to make an even better march.

Of course, in Arkansas, it's not clear to me that the politicians, elected with shedloads of outside money, care in the slightest what their constituents think. I've been using an app to send letters to my congresspeople (the app is another development of the resistance culture that has sprung up this year) and I've only heard anything back from one of them, Rep. French Hill, on one topic, which basically said 'I don't want to abolish the EPA, just make it completely unable to do its job'. So, winning?

I've become more involved with the Democratic party here in my county. A friend pointed out that the party is what the party does, and what the party does here in Faulkner County is basically what I, and a small group of people actually committed to making things happen, tell it to do. So we'll try, here, to make changes, and I guess the real test of all this will come in 2018. By which time who knows how bad things will be?

:: David (9:12 in Arkansas, 16:12 in Paris) - Comment

I finished teaching my Spring class. This is the second semester I've taught Intro to Business (technically Contemporary Issues in Business and Entreprenuership). It's fascinating realizing all the things I've learned since college (I never had a course in business per se, though obviously the economics side was covered). There were a number of times when I was surprised at what was new information for the students. So in that respect I'm glad I had the chance to introduce them to new concepts. And I tried to sprinkle in some diversity etc. that might later in life lead them to make good hiring choices. We'll see (well, most likely I won't, but 'we', where I assume the entire world has access to what I type, will see). Only exams left to go and then I can start thinking about my summer projects.

:: David (8:44 in Arkansas, 15:44 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, March 17 2017 ::

I saw an article today about the UK labor market. Stay with me - this does get interesting! In the article, they talked about the idea propogated on the right that making it easier to hire and fire people will make businesses more efficient. We've all seen some variation of this story - the teachers nobody can fire so they just put them in a room collecting a salary, etc. (usually in combination with some sort of anti-union rhetoric).

But there's a reason we often buy these stories, as the article notes: "Common sense says that if firms can easily fire people then workers’ incentives to work hard are sharpened by a greater fear of the sack, whilst companies can more easily adjust their workforce to changes in market conditions."

As with many things, however, our common sense might be wrong. The article notes that people might change their behaviour based on the knowledge that their job is precarious. Which got me thinking about my own behaviour as a worker. I've never planned to stay at a company - the idea of a 'job for life' has never even crossed my mind. I've always thought it sounded pretty dull. So I've gotten jobs, done them until I felt like I had a handle on them, like I'd learned what I came to learn, and then left. I've never assumed my employer would be 'faithful' and I've never felt I owed them anything. It's a pure business transaction. But, as the article points out, this is a rational reaction to a labor market without any protections. Which made me wonder if my behaviour would have been different had I come up in a different set of, e.g. labor protections.

Thinking about it as an employer, I'm an expensive employee - I'm just going to get trained, and then you'll have to hire a new employee and start over. But I also don't care if you don't offer any guarantees about the job. In fact, I don't expect it. If I underperform, I'm gone. OK. That's the bargain. But, now that I've reflected a bit on it, I'm not sure that's a better deal for the employer. Which would you rather have - underperforming employees that you can't get rid of, or high-performing employees you can't keep? I'm not sure which way leads to better outcomes.

:: David (9:49 in Arkansas, 16:49 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, February 2 2017 ::

Little Rock protest against Muslim banI find myself needing to cut back on social media - there were a few days there when I was all rage, all the time. There's been a lot happening, and unfortunately none of it has been good (though it is clear to me that not everyone shares this sentiment, which is also unfortunate). So we went two weekends in a row to a protest at the state capital, with more planned. But there's a real danger of rage fatigue, so I'm working hard to keep a balance.

In the meantime we're having the house redone a bit, which means some crazy days of people wandering through the house with saws and drills and lots and lots of dust and noise. In the end I think it will be worth it. We had a lucky break when someone sold the vanity we had purchased, so they sold us the display, saving us a bunch of money. But for the most part it's all money going out. I think the result will be worth the pain.

Also in the meantime, classes have started, and I'm teaching as well as taking. It's busy, and hard work, and I occasionally wonder if I'm too old to keep up, or if I was just better at drowning when I was younger. But the learning is interesting, and I'm told it will keep my brain nimble.

I've also made a pledge to myself to head to the gym when I go to campus, which so far I have been doing. No results yet, but it's early days.

:: David (17:05 in Arkansas, 0:05 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, January 24 2017 ::

Women's March in Little Rock, AR

I am both taking and teaching a class this semester. The class I'm taking is Spanish, and as it's a fairly accelerated class I find myself with much less time than I expected. But I'm learning Spanish, which is something I have intended to do since forever, and I've always been a little embarassed that I didn't speak it. So I'm fixing that. Hopefully, at the end of the class I'll head to Costa Rica and practice for a while.

Teaching a class the second time around is both good and bad - I worry that my prep the first time wasn't good enough, and that therefore I won't be able to use my notes from last time to get through class. A class that lasts 85 minutes is stressful both from a performance point of view and from a pacing point of view - what do I do if I run out of stuff to talk about? But if today was any indication, what's actually going to happen is that I'm going to have too much to talk about. Which is also bad, but less bad.

We seem to be in the first full week of Trump policy making, and it's so far been a long list of things I don't like. We'll see if things continue in this vein for the next four years. In the meantime, we had a giant march down in Little Rock the day after the inauguration, just to keep folks honest.

:: David (19:17 in Arkansas, 2:17 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, January 6 2017 ::

2017. We were offline (or, more accurately, running radio silent) while we were in Bermuda for a couple of weeks, but now we're back for a new year. We managed to send holiday cards to a pile of people this year, then promptly found the box of cards we had actually intended to send. So we'll probably do it again next year, even though it's a bit of an operation.

We're having a snow day today, the first in a while, so naturally we're running out of milk, which is what happens to all Southerners, as near as we can tell, when it snows. I have some sort of awful cold that hit me the day after we got back from vacation, which on the one hand is awful and on the other hand is quite OK, at least as far as timing is concerned.

We've also started our New Year's Resolution, which is to clean the attic. It's... enlightening... to see how much stuff we haven't needed in the nearly two years since we got back from Europe. Of course, some things (like the Christmas cards) were just lost in the shuffle, and I'm sure more is going to turn up shortly.

I'm teaching a class again this Spring, which should be easier since this is the second time I've taught it. I do have some prep to do for it, so hopefully my head will clear before it's time to start teaching. Again, though, that's more than a week off, so the timing of this (cold? flu?) is pretty fortunate.

:: David (11:33 in Arkansas, 18:33 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, November 9 2016 ::

Today is the day after the American elections. For the most part, the election was a run-of-the-mill affair. We chose a new mayor, re-elected a senator, things of this nature.

And then there was the presidential election.

Like many/most of my friends, and like-minded information sources, and apparently even some old-guard republicans, I wasn't sure what to do with the rise of Donald Trump. A bizarre aberration that would soon be gone, we thought. And then he was the Republican candidate. So not soon gone, but easily dispatched by the Democrat's candidate.

On the other side, I supported Bernie Sanders through the primaries. I had concerns - he clearly didn't get race or international affairs - but I felt that he was addressing the concerns of the middle class and the poor. And his heart seemed to be in the right place, so I was hopeful that he could be trusted to learn the issues where he was weak. But I also understood that people felt safer going with the clearly more experienced Hillary Clinton as the candidate. She was a strong candidate, and with the exclusion of my personal disagreement with her foreign policy (which actually made her a stronger candidate with most people who aren't as left-wing and pacifistic as I), she seemed to be where people were. Where the center was.

The one thing she lacked, but started to come around to, was Bernie's (and Trump's) appeal to the economically disenfranchised. But pro-business had its own political capital, and as a Democrat I was confident that even if she didn't have all the populist talk she would be very good for the poor.

What I did not anticipate was how strongly those populist ideas that had come up in the primaries had resonated with the right.

And then Trump started saying all the many things that were beyond the pale of American politics, and I was quite sure we were in the clear. Sexist, racist, horrible things, that surely would turn off many of the people who might otherwise have supported him.

I was, obviously, wrong.

I do not actually think that 59,245,678 (give or take) of my fellow Americans are racist, or sexist, or 'deplorable'. I suspect many of them are the same people who, at the Thanksgiving table, would prefer to breeze past the racist spoutings of their relatives rather than confront them. They prefer to look at the 'whole person' or somesuch. We are all, to some degree, like this. I was willing to vote for a candidate with whom I strongly disagreed on certain issues, thinking that, on the whole, we agreed, even if there were places I would have preferred they were different.

But it is not the same. We knew, of course, from the discourse of Black Lives Matter and of white privilege and of campus sexual assault that Americans were, in large part, not woke. But I'm not sure we had recognized (in fact, I sure we had not) that in Trump we had a confluence of these ideas that so conflicted a large percent of the country. He spouted the things that 'right thinking, salt of the earth' folks felt were obvious: cops are good, criminals are bad. Jobs are going overseas, and it needs to stop. Etc.

And of course the insidiousness of this platform is that I can write it in short, easy to read (and understand) sentences. That's not a dig at his supporters - what I'm saying is that the ideas were pithy and easy to digest. Whereas things like 'most cops are good, but the fact that the people we call criminals in this country are disproporionately black indicates there is systemic racism that we need to fight' is not pithy, nor easy to digest.

Moving forward, of course, is challenging. The supreme court alone is going to destroy this country for a generation. But if we draw one lesson from this, I am personally of the opinion that it's the economic question. People with good, stable jobs don't spend their days hating the foreigners who 'took their job'. However, it must be said that part of the reason I choose that lesson is because I'm still at a loss about the racism and the sexism.

That said, I'm off to scroll through facebook looking at the pictures of kittens and puppies people are posting to try to cheer each other up.

:: David (11:15 in Arkansas, 18:15 in Paris) - Comment