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Archive for August, 2009

President Obama’s job approval rating is now at 52%, according to the latest polls at RealClearPolitics.  This is due to two things, I think:

  1. The war in Afghanistan is not going so well
  2. But the bigger issue is that the health care debate is taking its toll on Obama’s popularity

14 years ago, Bill Clinton tried to reform health care and he paid the price; in 1994 the Democrats lost control of Congress for the first time in many years.  It looks like Obama’s presidency may be headed for the same thing, but it’s still quite early.

There are various theories as to why his numbers are slipping.  From the Democrats side, they claim it is all a big conspiracy.  Republicans are spreading lies about health care reform and that the proposed bill is a really, really good thing.  Furthermore, the people in their own party (so called Blue Dogs) that are not on board should fall into line.  The public, unfortunately, is falling for these lies and therefore they are obstructing what is best for the country.  Here is my perspective:

  1. The claims that health care reform will lower costs is incorrect.

    The Democrats claim that by reducing or removing inefficiencies in the current system, they will be able to lower the total costs of health care.  Furthermore, they can use their negotiating position as leverage against health care companies (ie, force them to lower their costs).  If gov’t has all the cards, they can get companies to lower their bills in a market economy (ie, by withholding payment, health companies will be forced to lower their fees).

    Yet I think this ignores basic economics, the law of supply and demand.  If the total number of health care recipients increases by 45 million people, but the total supply of health care facilities stays the same (doctors, nurses, medicine, etc), then the cost has to go up.  It’s a basic law of economics.

    There is the claim that with preventative care, people will catch diseases earlier and therefore will not be prone to less expensive treatment later on.  That will save costs.  This, too, is wrong.  Preventative treatment, according to a report released by the CBO, actually increases the total health care costs. The reason is that a person lives longer and therefore over the length of their lifetime uses the services more.  Costs go up.

  2. The ‘death panel’ claim is false, but people are buying into it – sort of.

    When the story broke that there would be death panels to decide whether or not people lived or died, it caught on.  People were afraid that the gov’t would decide who would live and who would die.  Of course, the gov’t bill contains no such provision for death panels, it only states that end-of-life counseling is a reimbursable cost.  This makes sense.

    But the problem is that if supply remains the same while demand goes up, somebody has to make choices to limit care in order to keep the costs the same, as the gov’t claims it will do.  Reality dictates that health care is cut off at some point in order to prevent escalating costs.  And in this case, a death panel seems eerily possible.  That would never happen, but either somebody chooses to limit the care of someone who is taking a lot of health care or the costs go up indefinitely.

  3. Health care reform is not actually a bad idea.

    Health care is paid for by the gov’t in Canada.  However, the US proposal is not the Canadian system.  In Canada, there are no private health insurance companies and there are no private hospitals.  If the gov’t pays for a service, then a private company cannot, by law, offer it.  It’s illegal to have private health insurance in Canada for a service covered by the gov’t (you can go to a clinic to get services not covered by the gov’t).  The public is dead-set against two-tier health care, that is, one health care system for the rich and one for the poor.  They are actually trying to pass two-tier health care in the United States, that’s what a public/private option will end up doing.  And eventually, someone will complain about that.

    Having said that, I don’t think public coverage of health care is a bad idea.  There are far, far worse things for the gov’t to waste money on than health care.  I think that it is humane to cover the cost of health, but let’s call it what it is – a privilege that we as a society wish to provide for others.  Having a society where the sick are taken care of, even if on the backs of others, isn’t the worst thing in the world.

That’s my limited view.  I don’t think gov’t provided health care coverage will make the system better.  I think it will be better for the proportion of the population that doesn’t have it, but it will make it worse for everyone else who currently does.

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A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on my current position at work (in a two part series).  I was saying that I wasn’t as satisfied in my role and that my influence was waning.

Well, today I had my annual review.  I don’t think it went well.

My manager acknowledged that I had a year where I delivered but things did not go smoothly.  I agreed with this, the glide path of everything was bumpy.  Everything got delivered on time I definitely dropped the ball a few times.  My ability to schedule and follow up on resourcing is not the greatest; I feel this is a menial task and I do not excel at it.  I try very hard at it, I want to do well, but as much as I try I don’t feel like I have gotten any better at it.  This showed in my review.

But more than that, in annual reviews there is feedback from your peers.  I requested feedback from people and some of them I thought might give me some harsh feedback.  However, I took a chance anyhow and decided to request it from them.  And they did not disappoint.

The good side was that I have a tremendous depth of antispam knowledge that I bring to the team and that I like to share it.  I am good at representing the team at outside conferences, and that I have a quirky sense of humour.  That was all pretty consistent feedback.  But the negative feedback was blunt, to say the least (I’m doing this from memory, I only heard it once):

  • It was said over and over again that I don’t do all the program management stuff very well.  That was a consistent theme and I could accept that if it was as far as it went. 
  • It was said that I need to familiarize myself with the processes of outside teams.  But then more attacks came and I felt that they were personal and crossed the line.  Continue reading.
  • Someone said that I had a huge ego and was unwilling to listen to other points of view.
  • Someone said that I had never driven a project end to end and had no interest in doing so.
  • Someone said that I didn’t care about being a good Program Manager.
  • Someone said that I had absolutely no skills as a Program Manager and that the only reason I was there was because of the title and it would help my career.
  • Someone said that I only cared about working on my own pet projects and not about other ones that mattered.

Ouch.

I don’t mind if people criticize me for my failings like not being good at some program management tasks.  But I feel that attributing motivations to me (like not caring, having a huge ego, having no interest in being a good PM) is stepping over the line.  It isn’t true; doing all the busywork doesn’t come naturally to me.  I like data and statistics, I always have and so when I get a chance to do that, I gravitate towards it and get lost in it sometimes.  But I have to work extra hard to do the PM tasks.  I write notes to myself reminding me to do stuff.  I go through my email all the time and make sure that I have followed up with everything.  I try to make sure that I don’t park myself into a position to the exclusion of all others.  It is true that I defend my positions sometimes, but that is because I feel strongly about the right way to do things.  The other person’s point of view is not beyond me… but accuracy counts.  Some things are right, and other things are wrong.  I have changed my position many times if I believe that the other point of view is better.  But when I have seen something before and know how things work in real life, then I will take a stand.

Anyhow, as I reflect on the feedback, I think that it is only partially true.  Some of the other specific stories were partially inaccurate (such as collaborating with another team) or completely inaccurate (such as the time I supposedly advocated a position and refused to listen to others, which is totally incorrect because I was out of the office for three weeks when they changed it… and applauded the change upon my return).  All I ever wanted was to fight spam, and have fun doing it.  That’s it.  Being in the position I am now allows me to do that, and I thought that being in Program Management would allow me to have more influence to step outside the boundaries of doing normal spam fighting; doing that, I could more effectively leverage my knowledge to improve the customer experience.  That’s always been my goal – ensuring that the user of our technology has a seamless experience, they should never even know that we were there. 

I do get frustrated with myself when I see that I not performing to the best of my ability.  I am not angry at others, I am angry at myself for not knowing better or doing it better to begin with.  After being in this business for several years, I should know better.  And sometimes I don’t.  And that bothers me.

I don’t believe that I can be the Program Manager that they want me to be.  I now doubt that I can even be the Program Manager that they need me to be.  This year did not go smoothly and I now think it is because I am doing things that do not flow towards my natural talents.  It’s looking like it is time for a change.

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Well, that settles that

As I was saying in my previous post, the other day at a different dance studio, there was a girl there whom I could have sworn I had seen before.  Yet no matter how I racked my brain, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Tonight, I had a lesson at my regular studio, taking Salsa lessons.  Afterwards, there is a Salsa open dance which I only stay a few dances for and then leave.  Tonight was no different, but as I was about to leave, one of my friends walked up to me and begged me to stay.  So, I did as a favor to her.

I did another dance or two, and guess what happened?  This same girl from earlier in the week showed up!  She was at the same dance studio that I normally go to.  Of course, she didn’t recognize me as she walked right by me.  But I managed to grab her later on for a salsa dance and I asked her if she came there often.  She said yes, but later elaborated that it was once in a while.  So that settles that, I must have seen her there at the studio before and that is what triggered my memory.

Or was it?

I can’t recall seeing her there on Wednesdays, but then again, I rarely go on Wednesdays.  I would have left before she turned up (I did the math in my head).  So maybe she was there on Fridays.  But if she was there on Fridays, then I am pretty sure I would have recognized her from before.  I would have gotten her name or something (because I’m great at remembering names… and apparently good with faces).  At that point I had to conclude that seeing her there tonight was the first time I had seen her at the studio that I normally go to.

The puzzle has not been solved.  I had pretty much stopped thinking about it until the plot thickened.  This is going to bug me.

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Some stories

This past Sunday I checked out a dance studio that I have been to three times now and I have a couple of short, but entertaining stories.

  1. My first Viennese Waltz

    The Viennese Waltz is like a regular waltz, but on steroids. The music is fast, and you and your partner whirl around each other again and again and again… ad nauseum.  To combat dizziness, you do what I call a “stutter step” which is really a transition step and then you rotate around each other the opposite direction. 

    I have always shied away from Viennese Waltz.  It’s too fast for me; I tried once and it was a disaster, I couldn’t move quick enough.  But yesterday, I managed to do one.  I asked this one girl to dance (possibly a Rumba, I don’t recall) and she said she was sitting the dance out.  However, she said that she would catch me for the next one.  I don’t normally believe follows when they say this because it’s usually me hunting them down.  But, sure enough, after the dance was over she came over to me in preparation for the next dance.  I obliged.

    The music then started to play.  I listened for about five seconds.  It was a Viennese Waltz!  Sh*t!  How am I supposed to appear all suave and sophisticated when I am doing a dance sequence at which I am incompetent?

    I decided to give it a shot.  We were together earlier in the night and I managed to fake my way through a Fox Trot.  Could I do a Viennese?  Luckily for me, the first part of the Viennese Waltz is a rotation to the left.  I am quite capable of this with a normal waltz, so I pulled that off.  It’s done very fast, the same as Samba and I pulled that off as well.  At this point I was feeling good but I realized that I had to change directions because I was getting dizzy.  I did the stutter step (somehow) and started to rotate to the right.

    That didn’t go so well.

    I was doing the move, certainly, but I wasn’t doing it well.  The move was not smooth.  Yes, we were not bumping into each other but it wasn’t quite so good as the turn to the left.  She offered me some advice; “you should put your feet between mine as that will make it easier.”

    I replied “What do you think I’ve been trying to do?”  Sheesh, it was difficult.  You see, in a dance like that, the lead has to step “through” the follow.  That means that your feet/legs kind of intertwine with each other if you want to get around each other quickly.  It also means that you have to kind of hold onto each other tighter (ie, closer) than in a normal dance position (at least that makes it easier for me; not sure if that is proper technique or not).

    In the end, the dance ended and I think that for my first Viennese Waltz, I did not too bad a job.  I never do the right-turn in any other dance so this was a moderate success.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I give myself a 6.5.

  2. Names and faces

    Speaking of this particular follow, I have mentioned in the past that I am excellent with remembering people’s names.  It’s one of my skills that comes from being awesome.  I had only been to this studio three times (last night was the third, so maybe it’s only twice) and I managed to remember plenty of names of people.  My facial recall is excellent.

    At least I thought it was.  It turns out that is not completely accurate.  I’m only superb at remembering the names of the young, attractive women. Hmm, who would have thought?

    But that’s not the point of this story.  Continuing on from the story of the follow from the story above (the one from the Viennese Waltz), I couldn’t quite place my finger on it but I am absolutely certain that I have seen her before.  I know that she wasn’t there the first time I went to that studio, and I don’t believe I saw her the second time (which was last week).  If she were there last week I would have gotten her name – so I could remember it for next time.  That only leaves this week.

    But the first time we danced together, I looked at her and she seemed so very familiar… but it was only the first time we interacted.  Where have we met before?  I scanned my memory banks, thinking of when I may have seen this cute, little redhead in the past but I have come up empty.  I asked her if we’d seen each other before and she responded in the negative.  I got her name but I still couldn’t place it.

    I still can’t.  The only possibility is that I may have seen her at the Seattle Easter Swing convention this past April.  I’ll ask next time but it doesn’t ring a bell.  Man, this is really bugging me.

Those are my stories.

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This past week, I started to experience pain in my other hip when doing a rotation to the right (not inwards though, like my left hip).  I’m hoping that this is just a temporary thing due to exercise and does not represent another labral tear.

That would really suck.

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Taking a risk

This upcoming weekend, I am going to a campout.  At this camp, they have a talent show and I have been asked to perform.

Last year when I did an effect, I did the one where I reveal the serial number from a borrowed dollar bill despite never having seen it.  It’s a mentalism effect.  The interesting thing is that I picked this effect before I decided to go heavy into mentalism.  Perhaps it was a case of foreshadowing.

This year, I had been wondering for a few months what trick I could do this year, and several weeks ago I settled on it.  I have performed it a few times for others but this particular variation of the effect contains a huge personal risk for me – I am going to reveal how it is done.  Never in any of my effects or performances do I actually reveal how something is done, but that is what risks are for.  You see, I think that the reveal is just as entertaining as the effect.  I was inspired to do it by a Derren Brown trick and I think I can recapture the fun feeling that he created.  I only have six minutes to do my act, and the shortest I can get it down to is 10 minutes.  But hopefully, it will all be worth it when I test drive this guy.

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Yesterday, I got a letter in the mail from my leasing agency where I rent my apartment.  I opened it up and it read something like this:

Dear Sucker,

Well, that’s rather rude, I thought.  Continuing on:

Your lease expires in about two months.  As part of a special offer to you, we would like you to renew at the same price you paid last year for renting, and your monthly parking spot that is reserved for you will go up by $10 per month.

As part of a special offer to you, we’ll give you a special VISA gift card valued at $250!  Hurry now and sign your lease!

I’ve been wondering about whether or not it is worthwhile to move to a new place to save on rent.  After all, I’m cheap and my condo is getting any less expensive.  The only problem is that I like living where I am because it is so convenient in the town where I live, there’s some traffic problems but I avoid most of them due to how close I am to the freeway. 

So, I searched Craigslist for some places.  Guess what I found?  I found an apartment in my own complex for $150 per month cheaper than what I am paying now… for the exact same size.  Oh, it’s true, it’s true.  That represents a yearly savings of $1800 compared to the $250 they offered me.  I went down to the leasing office to ask how I could get the Craigslist deal, and they’re going to call me back Monday.

But seriously, what kind of clown do they think I am?

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