Casey’s 2017 Mix CD

In 2011 I started creating mix CDs1, one a year, of songs that resonated with me to share with friends. In January I create an empty playlist and add to it over the course of a year. Then in November I tweak, tune, and adjust it before sharing it with friends.

This year saw new music by Caro Emerald & P!nk (two of my favorite artists), new-to-me music by Meghan Trainor (who quickly became a favorite, although I think it makes me a bad gay to have just now found her), and a slew of oldies that just hit the spot.

Speaking of spot, this year you can listen to the playlist on Spotify. Long live mix tapes mix CDs digital playlists!

  1. Exotic Flu – Caro Emerald
  2. Brave – Sara Bareilles (this is a repeat from last year for good reason)
  3. Big Yellow Taxi – Amy Grant
  4. If I had $1,000,000 – Barenaked Ladies
  5. Curious Thing – Amy Grant
  6. I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder
  7. Perfect Picture – Carlos Bertonatti
  8. Rather Be – Glee Cast (for Daniel)
  9. Whatchugot – Caro Emerald
  10. 455 Rocket – Kathy Mattea (for Mr. Moore)
  11. Me Too – Meghan Trainor
  12. What About Us – P!nk (for all of us being shafted since the election)
  13. I Won’t Let You Down – Meghan Trainor
  14. I Am Here – P!nk
  15. Champagne Problems – Meghan Trainor
  16. Once Upon A December – David Newman
  17. The Dark – Caro Emerald

1 Anyone remember mix tapes? No? Just me? Damn I feel old.

Doing Good; Fighting Bad

Last year Daniel and I gave a lot of thought into how we can do some good in the world with our charitable donations. We found some great local and national organizations that we really believed were making an impact in the world by supporting women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+, youth, and other minorities. This year we are excited to support those same organizations again.

Sometimes, however, it’s not enough to just Do Good, you have to also Fight Bad.

Accordingly, next year in addition to supporting local and national organizations at the same financial level we have been, we are giving an equal amount of money to local and national political campaigns.

This isn’t something we’re venturing into lightly. Both of us strongly believe that local communities should be the ones electing their representatives without outside influence. And in a perfect world people would have equal representation within that community to elect those officials. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where Republicans have used gerrymandering to stack the deck in their favor, denying minorities equal representation in states across the nation. Not to mention re-enacting Jim Crow laws in 9 states and disenfranchising minority voters with voter ID laws.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on how the midterm races unfold over the next year and where we can put our money to good use. And I’m not above funding Republican campaigns to get the lesser of two Republican evils if it comes down to that. I’m not about to let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

It’s time for liberals to stop pretending we live in an ideal world and playing by idealist rules. It’s time to take the gloves off and buy our own congresspeople, even if that means setting aside some of our principles, because the Republicans have abandoned their principles years ago.

Wrangling finances with Personal Capital

A year and a half ago I decided I needed to simplify my financial life. For years I had been using tools like Quicken and Moneydance to keep track of my finances. It was always a bit of a laborious process involving a couple of hours a month to do some manual data entry and categorization. The financial tool landscape had changed dramatically since I started doing this back around 1997 and it was time to take a fresh look at what was available to me.

Specifically I was looking for a tool to enable me to do the following with as little manual effort as possible:

  • View my entire net worth
  • See my cash flow month to month
  • Understand how I was spending my money
  • View how my retirement and other investments were doing
  • Quick auditing of my credit card transactions

An online tool was clearly the way to go, and there are now several. Sites like Betterment and Wealthfront are looking to actively manage your investments. I don’t mind paying for a service I find useful, but I wasn’t looking for active investment help. I’d already decided to move my IRA and brokerage accounts from Ameriprise to Vanguard1 specifically to decrease per-fund overhead and management fees so these weren’t a good fit for me.

The two free tools that seemed to satisfy my needs were Mint and and Personal Capital. Both provide a wholistic view of your financial portfolio by syncing with your financial accounts, although their objectives differ a bit. Mint is geared towards helping people budget their money but has fewer tools to assist with understanding your investments. Personal Capital on the other hand is focused entirely on your investments, and while it allows you to see how you are spending your money, it doesn’t have robust budgeting tools.

I dove into Personal Capital and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. For the first time in decades I’ve finally been able to see the entirety of my financial portfolio at a glance. It gives me great tools to see how I am spending my money (hello there, restaurants, aren’t you a money suck), understand which of my investments have high fees, and see how diversified my portfolio is across several axis (eg: asset classes, US sectors).

The Investment Checkup tool can take a look at your portfolio and given some inputs like your age, risk tolerance, and goals, can make some recommendations on how to adjust your investments to decrease risk while maintaining your investment goals. It won’t do any of the rebalancing for you, but knowing where your portfolio needs some attention is great for making small changes over the year, or a yearly rebalancing.

The Retirement Planner lets you track to a customizable retirement goal based on inputs like current net worth, post-retirement expenses, and income events (eg: expected savings until retirement, social security income upon retirement). It then runs a Monte Carlo simulation to give possible outcomes based on those assumptions. This tool is incredibly useful for setting realistic expectations on retirement age and understanding what it will take to get there.

Personal Capital makes their money off their wealth management services. The free web tool — and it really is free, no ads or anything — is a hook to get you to sign up to their advisor service which, as you would expect, has a fee based on the value of your portfolio. Expect to receive a phone call a few weeks into using the tool for an up-sell to their advisor services. One also assumes that they are using the information collected from their free web tool in aggregate as a product as well, either for themselves or others. Remember: if you aren’t buying a product from a free service, you are the product of the free service.

Overall I heartily recommend Personal Capital to anyone who already has a good understanding of investments but is looking for some deeper insights into their portfolio2. It has given me some very useful information about my financial world and helped me make some informed decisions.


1 I highly recommend Vanguard, particularly their EFTs. I am super-pleased with their business philosophy and wide selection of low-cost EFTs & mutual funds.

2 As an extra incentive, Personal Capital has a referral program right now where if you sign up from this link we both get $20.

Thankful for Chosen Family

Today, and always, I am thankful for my chosen family. They have celebrated with me during my victories and supported me during my lowest moments. They will always and forever be the people I hold closest to my heart.

For those of you not familiar with the term, chosen family are those friends who are so close that they are like family — often closer than your biological one.

I discovered the first of my chosen family 20 years ago when I left home for TAMS and really began to discover who I am. I rediscovered others at A&M who have adopted me whole heartedly into their lives and with whom I chat every week. My chosen family made coming out of the closet possible, were my rock in that storm of my life, and they love me exactly as I am, imperfections and all. We dance at country & western gay bars, run half-marathons, play D&D & board games, and can chat about any and everything endlessly for hours. Not to mention traveling the world together and the ability to talk about literally anything.

My chosen family celebrated with me at my “wedding” in Texas, mourned when Prop 8 passed in CA, celebrated like crazy people when gay marriage passed in WA, and then celebrated again even more when it became the law of the land. My chosen family mourned with me and supported me through my divorce and helped me pick up the pieces. My ex-husband continues to be a part of my chosen family. As is my wonderful partner Daniel.

Members of my chosen family have travelled thousands of miles to visit me in every city I’ve ever lived in after college. They text or call me on every birthday. They have shown much more than passing interest in what is going on in my life, including excitedly asking about every boyfriend I have ever dated.

I am so incredibly fortunate to have the love and support of a small group of amazing people who I am proud to call my family. To my chosen family: thank you and I love you.

My questions for new direct reports

My management mantra has always been “what would I like my manager to do in this position?”. That gave rise to the following set of questions that I ask every new person who reports to me, either as a transfer or new-hire, to start off on the right foot.

  • What would you prefer your core work hours to be?
    I’m not monitoring when my reports are in and out of the office every day (far from it), but knowing if they are a morning or evening person helps me know how they work best and when to start getting worried if they don’t show up and I haven’t heard from them.
  • During those core hours, what hours would you like to have meetings?
    Are there certain days of the week or times of the day you would prefer to not have meetings?

    I view one of my primary objectives as a manager to buffer my folks from interruptions. One way I can do that is to make sure I’m scheduling meetings at times that are good for the employee. For example, if they prefer to eat lunch at 11a I’ll try my best not to schedule a meeting with them then. I also try to enforce meeting-free Thursdays to give a solid block of Maker time and enable people to work from home.
  • How often would you like to have one-on-ones?
    Setting up reoccurring 1:1s are important, as is knowing how frequently the person wants to meet. We may have a discussion if their desired frequency is the right amount, but most people know how often they want to check in with their manager.
  • How do you like to communicate? (Slack/email/in-person/phone/etc)
    I think this is one of the most important questions. Part of buffering folks from interruptions is buffering them from my interruptions too. If someone prefers email to Slack, I’ll drop them a more coherent email rather than a train-of-thought IM. If someone would rather me stop by their desk to ask something rather than send an IM (and I have a couple of folks who prefer this), I’m happy to oblige.

Thus far these questions have been well-received and knowing the answer has improved my ability to effectively manage my employees and communicate with them.

What questions do you ask your direct reports or wish your manager would ask you?

DP gets a CSS makeover

Today we rolled out a sweeping code release at Distributed Proofreaders that standardizes our CSS and moves us to HTML5. Along the way we worked to have a consistent look-and-feel across the entire site.

The DP codebase has grown very organically over the years, starting out in 2000 when Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) were young and browser support for CSS was very poor. Since that time developers have added new code and styling for code in a variety of ways. CSS, and browser support for it, has come a long ways in 17 years and it was past time to get a common look-and-feel using modern CSS.

Some of our design goals:

  • Modern HTML & CSS
    We did not design for specific browsers, but rather designed for modern standards, specifically HTML5 and CSS3. HTML5 is the future and is largely backwards compatible with HTML4.x. Most of our pages should now validate cleanly against HTML5.
  • Pure-CSS for themes
    Moving to a pure-CSS system for themes, without theme-specific graphics, makes them immensely easier to create and update. Doing so means we don’t have to create or modify image files when working with themes.
  • Site-wide consistency
    The site has grown very organically over the past 17 years with each developer adding their own layout, table styles, etc. We made some subtle, and some not-so-subtle, changes to make pages across the site more consistent.
  • Consistent CSS
    Using consistent CSS across the site code allows developers to re-use components easily and makes it easier for users to adjust CSS browser-side for accessibility if necessary.
  • No (or little) per-page CSS
    Instead of embedding CSS styles directly in a page, we want to have the CSS in common files. This allows for better style re-use and gets us on the path to supporting Content Security Policies.

As part of this effort we created a Style Design Philosophy document to discuss what we were working towards as well as a Style Demo page.

Despite the removal of magic quotes and the mysqli changes being far more invasive, broad-reaching, and risky, the CSS work is the code deployment I’m most worried about. Not because I think we did anything wrong or I’m worried about how it will render in browsers1, but because users hate change, and this roll-out is full of change they can see. Some subtle, some not so subtle.

I expect to be fielding a wide range of “why did X change!?” and “I don’t like the way Y looks!” over the next few weeks. I can only hope these are intermixed with some appreciative comments as well to balance out the criticism.

1 IE6 being the known exception that we will just live with.