Author Archive: Paul Epps

Good News, Bad News

23 Oct 2017 /

Bad News: Americans are retiring later, dying sooner and are sicker in-between.

Good News: I found this video of a rescued raccoon who thinks she’s a dog:


Wild Wild Life

23 Oct 2017 /

Sleeping on the interstate oh oh oh
Getting wild, wild life
Checkin’ in, checkin’ out! Uh, huh!
I got a wild, wild life
Spending all of my money and time oh oh oh
Done too much wild, wild
We want to go, where we go, where we go oh oh oh
I doing wild, wild life


What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?

22 Oct 2017 /

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?


A Hotbed of Asininity

22 Oct 2017 /

I’ve never heard of this woman but she has a verified account and claims to be a Harvard woman:

OK . . . but where do you think government gets the money to pay for things?

Sometimes I think America should change its marketing from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave to A Hotbed of Asininity.


L’Affaire Weinstein

19 Oct 2017 /
Harvey Weinstein, Chairman, The Weinstein Company

It seems like almost all of the Weinstein shenanigans happened after women accepted an invitation to meet in his hotel room.

Wouldn’t that give you pause if a business associate of the opposite sex (or same sex if you prefer) invited you meet in a hotel room? Why not the lobby? Or the restaurant? Or an office building?

And when he or she comes to the door in a bathrobe, do you say “I’ll come back when you’re dressed”? Or do you go in anyway? Surely you’ve gotten the hint by now . . .

It was evidently well known in the entertainment industry what Weinstein was up to with women in hotel rooms. But it was also well known that Weinstein had advanced the careers of many.

Dilemma! What do you do? How will you explain it to yourself and others?

Yes, I agreed to meet a man in a hotel room . . . yes, he did answer the door in a bathrobe . . . but I was traumatized when he later proposed that I give him a massage!

I thought it was strictly a business meeting! . . . in a hotel room . . . with a person wearing a bathrobe . . .


To the Daughter I Never Had

17 Oct 2017 /

Take control of your own impulses, conflicts and disappointments. Don’t forfeit your freedom and independence in exchange for intrusion into and adjudication of your private life and penalizing of men who did something you didn’t like.

Also: Dress appropriately. Maintain some mystique and intrigue.

Don’t feel like you have to link up with another person until you’ve got some idea about what you want from life.

Love, Dad


Spot the Fake News: Obamacare Subsidies

16 Oct 2017 /

I read four news stories on the same topic — the end of Obamacare subsidies to insurance companies.

The Wall Street Journal plays it straight down the middle:

President Donald Trump’s executive order on health care issued Thursday marks the first major salvo in what the White House promises will be an extensive, targeted campaign to unravel the Affordable Care Act administratively.

As does Bloomberg:

President Donald Trump said he is moving “step by step” on his own to remake the U.S. health care system because Congress won’t act on his demand to repeal Obamacare.

The Trump administration took its most drastic measure yet to roll back the Affordable Care Act Thursday evening, announcing it would cut off a subsidy to insurers hours after issuing an executive order designed to draw people away from the health law’s markets.

See if you can spot the fake news in the Politico version:

President Donald Trump plans to cut off subsidy payments to insurers selling Obamacare coverage in his most aggressive move yet to undermine his predecessor’s health care law.

Politico imputes an ulterior motive, i.e., Trump is not trying to make life better for anyone, he just wants to undermine Obama. That is fake. You can’t know why someone did something. I don’t even know why I do half the things I do.

Surprisingly to me, CNBC, which I expected would have an impartial, businesslike report, went completely off the rails:

Obamacare bombshell: Trump kills key payments to health insurers

The Trump administration will immediately stop making critically important payments to insurers who sell Obamacare health plans, a bombshell move that is expected to spike premium prices and potentially lead many insurers to exit the marketplace.

Where to start on this . . .?

1. The word “bombshell” doesn’t belong in a news story. Even to call something a “surprise” or an “unforeseen event” raises the question of who exactly was surprised by it.

In this case, nobody was surprised. Everyone knew that there was no appropriation for the subsidies, meaning that they are not accounted for in the federal budget.

When Obama was president, he didn’t care that the payments were off budget, but when Trump was elected, everyone had an inkling that the payments would stop.

2. What’s the difference between a payment, an important payment and a critically important payment? “Critically important payment” is not a fact, it’s an opinion. It’s fake news.

If you want to make a case for critical importance, lay out the facts and let the reader decide.

3. “Increase” is a better word than “spike” in a news story. Using words like “spike,” “bombshell” and “kills,” especially in a story about healthcare, creates a manufactured sense of danger, fear and imminent fatality.

Also: premium prices have already gone up. Insurance companies raised the premiums in anticipation of the subsidies being stopped, despite CNBC’s characterization of the stoppage as a “bombshell” (see #1 above).

4. There’s no information in saying that something will “potentially” transpire. How many insurers did you talk to? None? One? More than one? How many said they would exit the marketplace?

Every major insurer has already partially or completely left the Obamacare marketplace.

 

There’s a taxonomy of fake news. It’s not (necessarily) fabricated. It’s more often misleading content or false context, as seen above.


Connie Hawkins, 1942-2017

8 Oct 2017 /

Connie Hawkins was my basketball role model growing up. I used to stretch my fingers around basketballs religiously so I could try to replicate his moves, most of which required the ability to palm the ball like a grapefruit (see photo).

Also: Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story by David Wolf is one of the best sports books ever written.

RIP Connie Hawkins

Connie Hawkins


What Does a Programmer Do?

8 Oct 2017 /

I was asked to give a talk last week to a high school computer science class on “What Does a Programmer Do?” (I’m indebted to Jim McCarthy for the “lords and ladies of logic” section.)

 

Programming is problem solving.

Programmer

At the highest level, the problem that programmers solve is that people want to be able to do things with computers that they can’t do. And by computers, I don’t mean just the kind of computers you have on the desks here, I mean phones, watches, cars . . . more and more different kinds of devices are running software.

So one good thing about being a programmer is that pretty much every field of endeavor now uses software and data.

You can work at a tech company like Microsoft or Google or Twitter or Facebook, but you can also work in healthcare, finance, education, sports . . . you can work on cancer research, you can write video games . . . everybody uses software and everybody hires programmers.

Programming is a good job if you want to be learning new things all the time, if you don’t want to do the same things over and over.

The dark side of this is that it can be daunting trying to keep up with the pace of technological change. It can be overwhelming.

I was asked once in an interview, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned in the last week?” If you haven’t learned anything in the last week, it’s hard to answer that question, let alone if you haven’t learned anything in a month or a year. It’s easy to let your career slip away from you.

Programming has been a good job for me because I’ve been able to make a living doing things I like and things that I’m good at. I’ve always liked solving problems and building things.

To me that’s a good job: you do things you like and things that you’re good at. I don’t think most people can say that. Most people seem to be like “I hate Mondays,” “Thank god it’s Friday,” “Thank god it’s Thursday because it’s almost Friday.” If you spend a lot of time doing things you don’t like and you’re not good at, that’s a bad job.

As a programmer, you’re given problems to solve and a set of tools with which to solve them. You need to be able to figure out “what do i need to do, what do I need to learn, to be able to solve these problems with these tools?”

Self-reliance is good. Persistence is good. Floundering is bad. Know when to ask for help.

Asking for help is a no-lose strategy. Worst case, you ask for help and someone can’t help you or won’t help you, but you’re not any worse off than you were in the first place.

The demand for programmers exceeds the supply and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map, and 25 percent of Americans think the sun goes around the earth. Those people are not going to be programmers.

In a time of ubiquitous software and intellectual lethargy, programmers are like the priests in the Middle Ages. We are the lords and ladies of logic. We’re in charge of rationality for our era. We’re bringing common sense and sound judgment and aggregated wisdom and glory to everyone.

That’s our job.


A Matter of Low Importance

6 Oct 2017 /
Low importance

It’s funny that Microsoft Outlook gives you the option to send email and flag it as “Low Importance.”

If it’s low importance, why send it at all?


HireRight and the Background Check From Hell

5 Oct 2017 /

I got a job offer recently contingent on a background check to be conducted by a company called HireRight.

HireRight has an office right here in Irvine but for some reason, everyone I communicated with during the background check, either by phone or email, was in the Philippines.

Why is that a problem? Well, if I were tasked with doing background checks on people in Orange County, it would be to my advantage that I live here, I work here, I know people, I know the companies and I know how to get things done.

For the same reasons, if you wanted to do background checks on people in the Philippines, you’d be better off hiring someone in the Philippines to do them.

Cyclist in side street, Apas, Cebu City (The Philippines)

HireRight background checker, probably

The first communication I had from HireRight was this email:

The dates of employment we have currently verified for your employer Company A differ from the dates initially submitted to HireRight. The original dates provided were [dates from 5 years ago] and the dates we are able to verify are [dates within the last year, when I actually worked for Company B]. If the dates we have verified are not correct, we ask that you please supply us with clarifying documentation that indicates your correct employment dates (such as copies of W2’s, 1099’s or tax documents) to assist us in completing your background check.

They mixed up the dates for Company A and Company B so I sent an email in response:

The dates you’ve listed for Company A are the dates for a different employer — Company B. You’ve mixed up the dates for Company B and Company A. If you can fix this, let me know, otherwise I’ll call and talk to someone.

Automated response from HireRight:

Dear Valued Customer.

Thank you for contacting Customer Service and Support. Case Number 61889631 has been created in response to your email.

(I made up that case number but notice as we go along that it keeps changing. HireRight seems to assign a new case number to every communication they have with you.)

 

That was followed up by a personal email from Gauntlett Brown of HireRight’s Service Excellence department (I don’t mean to single out Gauntlett Brown but I like the name and gauntlet is a perfect description of the HireRight process):

Hello Paul Epps,

This email is response to the one we received from you for employment history verification related to the employer Company A. Thank you for responding to our request clarification of the dates of employment we received from the company. We understand that the dates the company provided were incorrect. I just wanted to inform you that the information we received was the information the company had submitted to the database we normally use complete these processes. In addition to this, because the information we received is incorrect you can have a dispute filled for the results. We appreciate your assistance and wish you the best.

If you have any further questions or need my assistance, please feel free to reply to this email and reference your case number of 61872735 [note the new case number].

Thank you and have a great day!

I wish they hadn’t just ignored what I said about mixing up the dates but I tried to work with what they gave me:

Yes, I would like to dispute the results.

I don’t think what you said is correct though. Company A didn’t provide you with the wrong dates. I would be very surprised if Company A mistakenly provided exactly the same dates that I worked for Company B. I worked for those companies five years apart. You’ve just got the dates mixed up for the two companies.

That drew another automated response from HireRight customer support:

Thank you, Paul.
We have received your submission and a member of our Consumer Support team will contact you shortly if additional information is needed to help complete the process. Your case number is 61892502
[another new case number].

 

The next I heard from HireRight was via a phone call:

“Hello, I’m trying to verify employment for Paul Epps. Do you know Paul Epps?”

“I am Paul Epps.”

“Do you know who I can call to verify employment for Company A?”

“If I were you, I’d try calling Company A instead of calling me.”

Unbelievably, I got this exact same “Do you know Paul Epps?” phone call again a couple days later.

 

Here’s the next email from HireRight:

Dear Paul,

We’re working to complete your background verification. We are requesting additional information to help expedite the completion of your background verification.

Information requested:

We have been in contact with Company C. Unfortunately, we couldn’t obtain the information needed to complete this verification. Please provide us with W-2s, 1099s, or pay stubs to represent your start and end dates of employment. We are dedicated to completing this screening in a timely manner, and we are depending on your assistance make this happen.

We have been in contact with Company B. Unfortunately, we couldn’t obtain the information needed to complete this verification. Please provide us with W-2s, 1099s, or pay stubs to represent your start and end dates of employment. We are dedicated to completing this screening in a timely manner, and we are depending on your assistance make this happen.

I can’t imagine what attempts they made, if any, to get dates of employment from these two companies. Remember that HireRight already had my dates of employment for Company B, they just assigned those dates to Company A by mistake.

Company B and Company C are local companies, one in Anaheim and one in Newport Beach. I worked with both of them within the last two years. Any reasonably bright 4th-grader could call them, say “Hi, I need to verify dates of employment” and get the information they need.

The only possible way to screw this up is to outsource it to someone in a remote part of the world, and even then the person would have to be exceptionally lazy and/or inept.

That being said, I sent them W-2s for Company B and Company C, and got this email in response:

We appreciate you taking the time to provide us with the requested documentation shown below and will utilize it in the processing of your background verification. While we try our best to minimize the inconvenience to you, please note that HireRight may reach out to you again should we need additional information and or documentation for this or an alternate component of your background verification.

Thank you again for your assistance.

My “assistance” . . . I’m doing all the verification and legwork myself and they thank me for my assistance.

 

I’ve actually condensed this process . . . there were other emails and phone calls but they were all the same . . . “We’re terribly sorry about the inconvenience, we understand the information is wrong, we’ll pass your input along to the researcher . . .” and nothing is done.

HireRight calls their people “researchers.” That is a scream . . . not only do they not research anything, they can’t figure out what’s right in front of them and they ignore anyone who tries to point it out.

When HireRight finally finished the background check, they sent me a link to it. It was a disaster. There were red flags all over it and all of them were wrong.

I sent an email to the HR person at the company extending me the job offer:

I’ve spent about a week emailing, calling and sending documentation to HireRight. They just sent me a link to their report, which doesn’t take any of that into account.

Among other things, they’ve listed my Company B work dates as Company A work dates and flagged it as a major discrepancy. I worked at those companies 5 years apart. I’ve talked with four different people in the last week to say that they mixed the dates up and they never fixed it. They were polite and apologetic but they never fixed it.

They’ve listed Company B and Company C as “unable to verify” even after I sent them copies of W-2 forms.

They actually called me twice to say “We’re verifying employment for Paul Epps. Do you know Paul Epps?” Anyway, I don’t know how this compares to their usual quality of work but I’ll give you a call in the morning.

– Paul

Her response:

Go ahead and send me what you have for your companies (the W-2’s). I will take a look at your background. Most likely I can add notes to clear up everything 🙂

Thank you!

So the saving grace was that this woman was familiar with the appalling quality of HireRight’s work and was able to take corrective action.

I can easily envision a job offer that someone really needs being revoked over a background check that comes back with “major discrepancy” and “unable to verify” all over it.

And shame on HireRight for doing this to people.


Camille Paglia on Hefner, Trump, Masculinity, Feminism, Etc.

3 Oct 2017 /

The Hollywood Reporter has an interview with the always articulate and interesting Camille Paglia:

Before the election, I kept pointing out that the mainstream media based in Manhattan, particularly The New York Times, was hopelessly off in the way it was simplistically viewing Trump as a classic troglodyte misogynist. I certainly saw in Trump the entire Playboy aesthetic, including the glitzy world of casinos and beauty pageants. It’s a long passé world of confident male privilege that preceded the birth of second-wave feminism. There is no doubt that Trump strongly identified with it as he was growing up. It seems to be truly his worldview.

But it is categorically not a world of unwilling women. Nor is it driven by masculine abuse. It’s a world of show girls, of flamboyant femaleness, a certain kind of strutting style that has its own intoxicating sexual allure — which most young people attending elite colleges today have had no contact with whatever.

 

The unhappy truth is that the more the sexes have blended, the less each sex is interested in the other. So we’re now in a period of sexual boredom and inertia, complaint and dissatisfaction, which is one of the main reasons young men have gone over to pornography. Porn has become a necessary escape by the sexual imagination from the banality of our everyday lives, where the sexes are now routinely mixed in the workplace.

With the sexes so bored with each other, all that’s left are these feminist witch-hunts. That’s where the energy is! And meanwhile, men are shrinking. I see men turning away from women and simply being content with the world of fantasy because women have become too thin-skinned, resentful and high maintenance.

 

I don’t regard Gloria Steinem as an expert on any of the human appetites, sexuality being only one of them. Interviews with Steinem were documenting from the start how her refrigerator contained nothing but two bottles of carbonated water. Steinem’s philosophy of life is extremely limited by her own childhood experiences. She came out of an admittedly unstable family background. I’m so tired of that animus of hers against men, which she’s been cranking out now for decade after decade. I come from a completely different Italian-American background — very food-centric and appetite-centric. Steinem, with that fulsomely genteel WASP persona of hers, represents an attitude of malice and vindictiveness toward men that has not proved to be in the best interest of young women today. . . .

Gloria Steinem, Susan Faludi, all of those relentlessly ideological feminists are people who have wandered away from traditional religion and made a certain rabid type of feminist rhetoric their religion. And their fanaticism has poisoned the public image of feminism and driven ordinary, mainstream citizens away from feminism. It’s outrageous. . . .

Steinem is basically a socialite who always hid her early dependence on men in the social scene in New York. And as a Democrat, I also blame her for having turned feminism into a covert adjunct of the Democratic party. I have always felt that feminism should transcend party politics and be a big tent welcoming women of faith and of all views into it.

 

What we have today, after Playboy declined and finally disappeared off the cultural map, is the coarse, juvenile anarchy of college binge drinking, fraternity keg parties where undeveloped adolescent boys clumsily lunge toward naive girls who are barely dressed in tiny mini skirts and don’t know what the hell they want from life. What possible romance or intrigue or sexual mystique could survive such a vulgar and debased environment as today’s residential campus social life?

Truly sophisticated seducers knew that women have to be courted and that women love an ambiance, setting a stage. Today, alas, too many young women feel they have to provide quick sex or they’ll lose social status. If a guy can’t get sex from them, he’ll get it from someone else. There’s a general bleak atmosphere of grudging compliance. . . .

The sizzle of sex seems gone. What Hefner’s death forces us to recognize is that there is very little glamour and certainly no mystery or intrigue left to sex for most young people. Which means young women do not know how to become women. And sex has become just another physical urge that can be satisfied like putting coins into a Coke machine.

This may be one reason for the ferocious pressure by so many current feminists to reinforce the Stalinist mechanisms, the pernicious PC rules that have invaded colleges everywhere. Feminists want supervision and surveillance of dating life on campus to punish men if something goes wrong and the girl doesn’t like what happened. I am very concerned that what young women are saying through this strident feminist rhetoric is that they feel incapable of conducting independent sex lives. They require adult intrusion and supervision and penalizing of men who go astray. But if feminism means anything, it should be encouraging young women to take control of every aspect of their sex lives, including their own impulses, conflicts and disappointments. That’s what’s tragic about all this. Young women don’t seem to realize that in demanding adult inquiry into and adjudication of their sex lives, they are forfeiting their own freedom and agency.


Tom Petty, 1950-2017

2 Oct 2017 /

In December 2016, Tom Petty talked with Rolling Stone about his then-upcoming 2017 tour, which just ended last week at the Hollywood Bowl here in Los Angeles:

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road.

Sad, as President Trump would say. Big life events can kill you . . .

RIP Tom Petty


The Five Hundred Gold Pieces

1 Oct 2017 /
Pieces of gold

One of Junaid’s followers came to him with a purse containing five hundred gold pieces.

“Have you any more money than this?” asked the Sufi.

“Yes, I have.”

“Do you desire more?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then you must keep it, for you are more in need than I; for I have nothing and desire nothing. You have a great deal and still want more.”

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Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger. — James Joyce


Those They Leave Behind

29 Sep 2017 /
Moving van

My son’s moving this weekend from an overpriced San Francisco apartment to a different overpriced San Francisco apartment.

His roommates in the current apartment are a friend he’s known since high school and a young woman who answered an ad to replace the original roommate, a college friend who moved out six months ago.

The new roommates are the same high school friend plus two college classmates.

My wife was talking to the boy last night on speaker phone . . . she was dismayed that the current female roommate wasn’t included in the move.

“We gave her a lot of notice so she’s already found another spot,” the boy said. “She’s hard to live with. She’s kind of a slob. In six months, she didn’t take the trash out one time.”

I said to my wife, but loud enough for him to hear, “He never took the trash out when he lived with us, but we didn’t kick him out.”

“You did kick me out,” he said. He then recounted how we drove him to a college campus six years ago and left him there.

Nice try . . .


I Think the NFL is Shooting Itself in the Nuts

28 Sep 2017 /

I think the NFL is shooting itself in the nuts with these anthem protests . . .

Alejandro Villanueva

One of the things I thought was problematic with the original Kaepernick protests is that they were inarticulate. He was protesting (I think) police treatment of black citizens but what does that have to do with kneeling for the national anthem at a football game?

If he were leading a demonstration in front of police headquarters, there wouldn’t be any ambiguity about the purpose of the protest. But kneeling for the anthem at a football game? There’s no obvious connection. It requires an explanation.

So people are free to supply their own explanation, like “They’re protesting the anthem,” “They’re desecrating the flag,” “They’re disrespecting our men and women in uniform.” And once they’ve supplied their own explanation, they can get angry at the NFL about it.

The NFL is now trying to dumb it down to “We just want freedom, justice, we’re standing up for what’s right, blah blah blah . . .”

Other than a handful of lunatics at either edge of the political spectrum, we ALL want those things. No one is anti-freedom and we all want to stand up for what’s right, although we probably don’t agree on what that is. But what does it have to do with kneeling for the national anthem?

And when do the protests end? What are the criteria for declaring victory and ceasing the protest? What has to happen for America to be deemed free enough and equal enough and just enough that we no longer have to kneel for the anthem at football games?

 

NFL owners all have the same scripted response: We love it when players take a stand on important issues etc. etc. etc. Meanwhile Colin Kaepernick is still out of the league.

For his part, Kaepernick, a true man of principle, says he’s now willing to stand for the anthem if someone will just give him a job.


My New Phone Greeting

28 Sep 2017 /

If this is a life-threatening emergency, please hang up and dial 911. Otherwise, stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly . . .

The Phone

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Pug Photos on Flickr

26 Sep 2017 /

If you're sad, then I'm sad too.

pug with mossy wall


I Love Freedom More Than Most People and Now I Know Why

25 Sep 2017 /

https://www.studyfinds.org/government-american-history-survey/

This is from a new survey of American adults by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Also: 37 percent couldn’t name a single right protected by the First Amendment. While 48 percent of those surveyed were able to name freedom of speech, far fewer could identify other rights accorded, including freedom of religion (15 percent), freedom of the press (14 percent), right of peaceful assembly (10 percent), and right to petition the government (3 percent).

I’m a freedom-loving guy. I find that my love of freedom exceeds that of most of my countrymen and now I know why . . . because cherishing the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are, and most people don’t know what they are.

P.S. I learned to remember the First Amendment rights with the GRASP acronym: freedom to petition the Government, freedom of Religion, freedom of Assembly, freedom of Speech and freedom of the Press.


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