Book Review: Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein

Money book

★★★☆☆

Quick read about the history of money in all its various forms. The historical aspects of this book are really interesting (and it delves into everything from the creation of paper currency, to stock exchanges, to digital currencies) though it never does a deep dive into any particular topic.

As other reviewers have mentioned, the writing style is really off-putting. It reads almost like a conversation or transcript and this maybe explains why it never digs into any topic with much detail.

That said, it was still interesting and is probably worth it to file away some of the knowledge for a trivia night at the local pub.

Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein

Book Review: A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

Life planet

★★★★☆

I love Sir David Attenborough and was excited to read this. It’s one part biography, another part dire warning letter to those of us who will be alive long after David Attenborough departs this world, and one part hope, talking about the things we are doing now and in the near future to (hopefully, maybe) avoid a climate disaster.

The first half of the book is definitely not a happy-feel-good story. He writes a letter to us and future generations, warning of the changes he has seen in his lifetime and the changes yet to happen due to climate change and our affect on the planet.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. He gives an overview of some of the sustainable ideas and technologies that various individuals, companies and even some governments are working on and the massive benefits they have if they are scaled up. It gives some hope that we might (maybe, hopefully) can turn things around. But time is definitely running out.

And given how people have generally responded to wearing masks and social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, we probably don’t have much hope.

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

One year and counting

biohazard warning

It’s crazy to think that as of this week, we (at least inside our house and at our respective companies) have been working from home for one year now. I don’t think that even in our wildest or scariest dreams, we thought that we would be doing this one year on.

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense, because of course. Of course no one would listen to social distancing guidelines. Of course wearing a mask would become a way to definitively predict your political preferences. Because, of course.

It’s interesting to go back and read through some of the emails our company had sent, giving us some guidance on our updating and ever changing work from home policy in the early days of the pandemic.

March 1st, 2020:

As you’ve most likely seen, Coronavirus, COVID-19, became more of a concern over the weekend as additional cases were reported. To date, there are more than 60 cases in the United States, including new cases in the Seattle area.

Our plan is to operate our business tomorrow (and for the foreseeable future) as close to normal as possible. It’s important to stress that your health is of utmost concern.

March 4th, 2020:

Based on local risk factors and active conversations with peer organizations, we are taking extra precautions around Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area. We are encouraging employees to work from home (WFH) where possible in these offices through at least this Sunday, March 8, at which time we will re-evaluate. This guidance is voluntary. There are no plans to close any of our work locations at this time.

March 5th. 2020:

However, based on local risk factors and active conversations with peer companies, we are extending our guidance of encouraging employees to work from home (WFH), from Seattle and San Francisco to all other California offices. We are also extending the time-frame until next Friday, March 13. Going forward, we plan to update WFH guidance each Friday through the end of March.

We are also increasing limits on work travel to and from Seattle. Please do not travel to or from Seattle for work.

March 8th, 2020:

At this time, there continues to be no confirmed cases of Coronavirus among our workforce. However, out of an abundance of caution and ongoing monitoring of local situations, we are extending our guidance of encouraging employees to work from home (WFH) to our New York City and Phoenix offices. This is in addition to our continued WFH guidance for our California and Seattle offices. This WFH guidance is in effect until this Friday, March 13. We will update our guidance each Friday through the end of March.

March 10th, 2020:

However, based on the rate at which we’re seeing this unfold and recommendations of the CDC and other health organizations for ‘social distancing’, the Senior Leadership Team has decided to expand ‘encouraged work from home’ to all our offices starting tomorrow, March 11 through March 20, 2020. I want you to feel empowered to do what is best for you and your situation.

All of our offices will remain open and employees who feel comfortable coming in are able to do so. We will also continue with our increased, proactive cleaning protocols. During this time, we have advised teams to discontinue large group meetings and all employee lunches will be cancelled. Our offices are being cleaned regularly and are open for business when you need to be there.

March 16th, 2020 at 11:00 AM:

Based on recommendations from the CDC and other health organizations for ‘social distancing’, SLT has decided to expand our ‘encouraged work from home’ recommendation through at least April 10. Local conditions and school closures play an important part in our decisions about extending WFH guidance. With schools and businesses closing rapidly, we know this might impact you on a very personal level. Let’s work together. We all need to be flexible and understanding with each other right now.

Our offices remain open with elevated cleaning protocols, but we want to continue supporting guidance of ‘social distancing,’ so please only come into the office when necessary.

March 16th, 2020 at 1:49 PM:

As I’m sure many of you have already seen the article in the Chronicle asking folks in the Bay Area to shelter in place starting tomorrow Tuesday, 3/16 at 12:01AM. I want reiterate in light of COVID-19 concerns, we are encouraging our employees nationwide to work from home. The safety and well-being of our employees, customers and partners across the country is our highest priority, and we are closely monitoring the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local authorities.

April 1st, 2020:

We are going to extend our WFH direction until at least May 1 for all office locations. We made this decision based on recommendations from health authorities, school closures and to continue to do our part around social distancing. Some schools will be closed beyond May 1 and we know this will impact many of our employees with school-age children. We will continue to support you by extending WFH options until you have access to reliable and safe child care. We’ll continue to monitor the Coronavirus situation across the country and will update our direction as needed.

April 24th, 2020:

Our decision to re-open offices will depend on a number of factors, including the safety of our employees, the public health situation in each local community, and being flexible based on the type of work and productivity of teams and individuals. While we hope to officially reopen offices over the coming months, we don’t see a scenario in which large groups will be able to return at once – we expect any opening to be gradual.

Given these considerations, we have made the decision to give you the option to work from home through at least the end of 2020. We want you to have flexibility to navigate this situation and do what is best for you and your family. We know some would prefer to work from the office as soon as possible whereas others might prefer to alter living arrangements to be more comfortable and productive.

July 29th, 2020:

We won’t continue to announce temporary extensions of WFH. Until COVID-19 is no longer a threat, we will continue to encourage WFH as we are today. In addition, ‘post-COVID’, our new flexible working arrangement categories (outlined below) will enable ongoing WFH options for the majority of our workforce – indefinitely. This means that the majority of us will not be expected to return to work at an office full-time, save for a few hundred employees in heavily regulated or office-specific roles.

What a surreal period of our lives. Hopefully, hopefully we are turning a corner on this thing and we can visit with our coworkers, friends and family again.

Book Review: “Heavier Than Heaven” by Charles Cross

2020 has been crazy. Somehow, I just finished my 65th book of the yearHeavier Than Heaven, a biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles Cross.

I vaguely remember how big of a deal Kurt Cobain’s death was when I was in middle school, but I never really thought too much about him as a person, or the deeper meaning behind various Nirvana songs. All this, despite being a huge part of the sound track of my teenage life.

One of my biggest takeaways after reading this book was: how can you help those who don’t want it?

What a tortured, tormented soul who really struggled with life. I honestly felt down and depressed after reading certain parts of this book. I would put it down and mope about the house while I processed what I just read.

That said, another part of the book that I really enjoyed and appreciated was hearing how much joy and life his daughter brought to his life and how much he loved being a dad.

Also, after reading this, I think it’s incredible and seemingly improbable that Nirvana actually happened.

I often found myself flipping between this book and Spotify to listen to various Nirvana songs that were mentioned, trying to appreciate them in a new light and really hear them and looking at various performances on YouTube.

Relevant excerpts from “Election Meltdown”

I suppose this is going to become a recurring series, where I “doom-read” (similar to “doom-scrolling“) some relevant book related to whatever horrible thing that’s currently happening in the world.

In today’s post, I share some interesting excerpts I found while reading Election Meltdown by Rick Hansen. I found a particular passage so amusing and ridiculous that I had to tweet about it. Rick Hansen, the author, ended up retweeting me. Nice!

Onto the excerpts!

In light of recent events, where the current administration is doing everything in their power to cast doubt on the results of the upcoming elections, I was particular amused at the types of people they are putting in charge of their voter suppression efforts.

The following deals with purging voter rules.

“From this “suspense” list, he and his assistants tried to identify “foreign sounding” names to determine whether the list was excluding large numbers of noncitizens from registering. He admitted that this methodology required making “subjective” judgments.

The ACLU’s Dale Ho asked Richman why he had coded some Kansas residents on the suspense list with the last name “Lopez” as foreign and others not, but he did not get a good answer. Then Ho continued with a devastating line of questioning:

Q. Just hypothetically, Dr. Richman, if you came across the name Carlos Murguia, would you code that as foreign or non-foreign?
A. I’m sorry, could you, please, spell the name.
Q. Sure. Carlos, C-a-r-l-o-s, Murguia, M-u-r-g-u-i-a.
A. Probably.
Q. Probably what?
A. Probably would code it as foreign.
Q. Okay. Are you aware that Carlos Murguia is a United States District Court Judge who sits in this courthouse?
A. I am not.”

Another form of voter suppression is strict identification requirements. As it turns out, that is trying to find a problem where none exists.

“I had been searching for proof of a single case since the 1980s, anywhere in the United States, in which someone tried to steal an election through impersonation fraud—the only kind of fraud strict voter ID laws are designed to prevent. It is an exceedingly dumb way to steal an election, because one would have to hire people to go to the polls claiming to be someone else, hope that the people being impersonated had not yet voted, hope that the people being paid to commit felonies would actually cast a secret ballot the way the payer wants, and repeat this process undetected on a large enough scale to sway an election. It is no surprise that the News21 database covering a dozen years contained only ten possible individual cases of such fraud, and none involving a conspiracy to steal an election. Election law professor Justin Levitt found thirty-one possible impersonators casting votes out of over a billion votes cast in the United States between 2000 and 2014”

In 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (we will miss you, RBG. Thank you for the trails you’ve blazed and the things you’ve done) wrote:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent for the four more liberal justices, lamenting that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Of course, despite most people (of rational thought) realizing that voter fraud is not a real problem, the GOP is quite successful at implementing a variety of voter suppression laws across the United States.

“Alas, the intellectual collapse of the voter fraud myth has done little to slow down the pace of laws, passed almost exclusively in Republican states, that make it harder to register and vote. Instead, green lights from the Supreme Court have accelerated the pace and deepened the reach of these laws, even as lawsuits and the commission’s failure undermined their premises, and even as some lower courts have rejected or softened some of the more extreme attempts. According to a Brennan Center survey, twenty-five states enacted new restrictions on voting and registration from 2010 to 2018: “14 states have more restrictive voter ID laws in place (and six states have implemented strict photo ID requirements), 12 have laws making it harder for citizens to register, seven cut back on early voting opportunities, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions.”

But not all hope is lost!

“Democrats have learned that campaigning on voter suppression works, for the simple reason that people are offended by efforts to make it harder for them or their friends, relatives, and allies to vote. Voting rights has become a political issue like health care or climate change. The shift toward Democrats in states such as North Carolina was partially a reaction to Republican legislative overreach on voting rules and procedures. The issue of voting rights has caused people to take to the streets, as North Carolina residents did in their “Moral Mondays” marches.”

Only 39 days until the 2020 election.

Book Review: “American Oligarchs” by Andrea Bernstein

(I have read a lot of books this year.)

There is a lot inside American Oligarchs that has been mentioned in other places before, but this is a nice compendium documenting the pervasive lies and corruption that exist at every level within the Trump and Kushner companies, organizations, and families (which are all one and the same, really) and a lot irony. Sweet, sweet irony.

The story of the Trump family proves that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. DJT’s grandfather, Frederick, left Germany at an early age and avoiding the mandatory service (!!) with the Bavarian army (this would later cause him to lose his citizenship). He settled down in the Pacific Northwest and owned a number of hotels and restaurants during the Klondike Gold Rush, some of which were allegedly involved of illicit activities of various sorts. He died in 1918 due to complications with the Spanish flu.

The story of the Kushners is interesting and tragic. Jared Kushner’s grandparents and extended family were rounded up by Nazis during World War II. Some members were murdered, and others sent to concentration camps where they eventually made a daring escape. After the war, Jared’s grandparents were displaced people without a home. Few countries wanted to take Jewish refugees, especially those lacking proper documentation.

In more recent times, both families have displayed fairly dubious business skills, while projecting an air of confidence (but come across as desperate for acceptance and recognition). Cross them the wrong way and they will hold grudges for life.

Despite this, they have somehow always managed to fail upward. Sadly, this now has some pretty drastic consequences for our democracy.

If you didn’t want to eat the rich before this book, you’ll feel like you’re ready for a five-course meal of cooked oligarch once you’ve finished. We have some serious issues to fix and we should start by locking all of these fine folks up.

I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

For those who appreciate clean air…

It seems like every year, late in the summer or early in the fall, the air in the Bay Area fills with thick smoke from raging infernos happening around northern California. The air is hazardous to breath, preventing you from taking kids to the park, walking your dog or even opening your windows.

Last year, we made the wise decision to purchase an air purifier, which admittedly, looks like a giant iPod shuffle.

As fires continue to burn around these parts, we’ve started to rely on air quality data from PurpleAir, which monitors air quality data from a series of IoT sensors that people can purchase for their homes or businesses.

You can view a map featuring realtime data collected from their sensors. Here in the Bay Area, the sensors are quite ubiquitous and can give a more realistic pictures of air quality near your home.

For example, here is the current air quality around the Bay Area from PurpleAir while I write this post.

For comparison, here is the current air quality map for Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), which we used to reference when trying to determine local air quality.

The fidelity you get from PurpleAir is pretty amazing.

Knowing this, I decided to write a Node app that periodically queries PurpleAir for air quality data from a sensor located a few blocks from our house. It continuously runs on a Raspberry Pi setup in our entertainment center and sends me a text message to close our windows when the AQI crosses above 100.

I’ve made the source code available on Github. Check it out!

Book Review: “The Wax Pack” by Brad Balukjian

The premise: a baseball fan fondly recalls his childhood memories of obsessively opening and collecting packs of baseball cards.

While watching an A’s game one afternoon at the Coliseum (which he rightly describes as a “post-apocalyptic crater ringed with hot dog stands”), he wonders what the players featured on the cards he collected as a kid were doing with their lives after their baseball careers had ended.

After purchasing a pack of cards on eBay from 1986, (the first year the author remembers having baseball cards), he sets off on a road trip across America to find and hopefully meet the 14 players featured in this 30-year-old card pack.

High jinks, hilarity and even important life lessons ensue.

This was just a great read and I highly recommend it for any baseball fan. Check it out on Goodreads.

A simple dark-mode hook for React

I recently wrote a simple hook for React to automatically detect a device’s dark mode preference (as well as any changes to it) and style your web app accordingly, using something like ThemeProvider from styled-components.

It was developed as part of a side project I was hacking around on using my personal React Starter Kit, which is my own React project for quickly getting prototypes and side projects up and running.

I’ve released this as a standard GitHub repo instead of an NPM module due to the simplicity of this hook, especially in light of one-line packages breaking the Internet. To use it, just copy it into your project where needed.

I’ve released this under an MIT license. Feel free to use as-is, fork, copy, tear apart, profit, and share as you wish.

You can check out the code on Github.