The Quartet Is Complete

I started 5150 in 1997. It’s taken 22 years to go from a single manuscript to a complete series. I honed my craft. I learned to self-publish. I opened my inner life up to public scrutiny. It has been a rewarding journey. As I pen the last words to the fifth book (a prequel to the series) I complete the tale of an incredibly difficult period in my life. It makes me grateful for all I have now. My dog just sighed and gave me the eye. What a wonderful life.

Click here to go to Amazon

The prequel is in progress.

Take guns away from Trump!

Today felt like a slap in the face with a lollipop. Donald Trump is going to “seize guns from the mentally ill.” This is being discussed despite the fact that violent crimes are carried out by people with no record of mental illness at a rate fifteen-fold higher than the mentally ill. The idea of getting guns off the street is glorious. The idea of targeting, vilifying and seizing property from a group of people arbitrarily deemed less fit is totalitarian at best. Consider three points:

First: Under HIPAA laws, a person’s mental health record is not publicly available. Are we going to make an exception for mental health only? What about your mother’s anal fissures? Your brother’s genital warts?  Would we make those public as well? Doesn’t that sound embarrassing?  That’s because it is!  Your health is private for a reason.

Second: While figures show that 15% of the population at large will commit violence towards others in their lifetimes, less than 1% of those diagnosed as mentally ill will do so in theirs.

Stephen Paddock, who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in history in Las Vegas, was not diagnosed as mentally ill. He never sought treatment of any kind. Interviews with his friends, neighbors, and relatives painted a curious portrait.  Paddock might have been financially successful, but he had real difficulty interacting with people. He is described as “standoff-ish, disconnected, a man who had difficulty establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships,” according to FBI profilers. This is what psychiatry labels “antisocial” personality disorder.  Is there someone in the White House who fits that description? Antisocial personality, also known as sociopathy, is the leading cause of mass shootings.  Sadly, it is almost impossible to detect, since it rarely causes the person to suffer or seek treatment.  It is labeled a mental illness, but not treated like one, since the behavior is typically rewarded in Western society. Suicide, not mass shooting, is the real danger to the mentally ill.  See this very cool study from the National Institutes of Health:

Third: Mentally Ill people in crisis will be less likely to seek treatment if their health record will be or could be made public. This will lead to more suicides, since most of the diagnosable and treatable illnesses put the individual at very high risk for suicide when left untreated. Another cool article about this –


I want America to stop seeking a scapegoat in a group of people who are largely defenseless and 15 times less likely to commit a crime. Why don’t we go after the people who have difficulty interacting with people, like Donald Trump? Let’s make his anal fissures public. Let’s expose his complete lack of moral compass and antisocial “screw everyone” mentality.  That mindset is what leads to mass shootings, stock market crashes, housing market bubbles, and most of the world’s woes.  The problem, of course, is that sociopaths are at a huge advantage over people with feelings, and they tend to claw their way into positions of incredible power, where their selfish decisions damn the rest of us to suffer and pay for their follies without recourse.

You can always read 5150 for free

The e-book of 5150 is free on Smashwords.  Go to 5150 on You will see that it is set to “name your own price.”  This means you can pay $0.00, or anywhere from $0.99 and up, depending on how generous you feel.  I want the book to be available to the families, friends and loved ones of people who have had or who are having a psychotic episode.  It will give you tremendous insight into the chaos inside their heads, and probably help you sort out what some of it means to them. 5150_cover_09_Page_10

Rosa Parks Didn’t Drive the Bus

I got steaming mad all over again tonight watching a National Geographic special on sexual freedom and government.  They gave a little air time to County Clerk Kim Davis and her one woman protest against the Supreme Court.  She was the lady who refused to issue a gay marriage license to two men because she didn’t want to be condemned to damnation and hellfire.  She went to jail for it.

As ludicrous as her cause sounds to a city slicker, out there in the bible belt a lot of people agreed with her.  One woman went so far as to say “She’s our Rosa Parks.  She’s refusing to obey a law that is unconscionable.”  I was plucked!  I hadn’t seen that little sound byte before.  It didn’t sit right with me not just because I am gay and damn proud of it, but because there seemed to be a logical fallacy embedded in there that I couldn’t name.  I needed a little time to stew over it.

I went to the kitchen, washed and recycled my pudding cup, gave my dog Patsy a treat, and then it struck me.  Rosa Parks was a citizen standing up (or sitting down, actually) in a fight against an extremely oppressive set of laws that were directed towards her from her government.  County Clerk Kim Davis is a government official, trusted to carry out the law of the land.  She is the bus driver, not the passenger.  The laws the Supreme Court passes are part of her job, not part of her private life and certainly not directed towards her.

If she wants to rally against gay marriage in the center of town and spew hate on the steps of the courthouse on her vacation days, I feel she has the right to do so.  In fact, I would actually fight for her to have that right, because denying it to her would be laying dangerous grounds to deny it to anyone else with something different to say.

Religious freedom is extremely important, including the freedom to be intolerant and nasty to people whom you feel are judged in the eyes of God as being lesser than you.  I hate that, but it really keeps things in balance.  It allows others to believe in a more loving God, and it also allows atheists to believe in something entirely different.

I have spent a great deal of time with conservative Christians in the South.  I think a lot of them figured out who and what I was, but they didn’t judge me to my face.  That is, in fact, the Christian thing to do.  As far as they were concerned, if I could sit next to them in the pew and sing, I was welcome in their church.  And I did an awful lot of singing.  I am certain that some folks judged me behind my back.  But they didn’t ask me to leave.  They showed respect and restraint.

I don’t believe that County Clerk Kim Davis showed proper Christian restraint in her dealings with the two men that wanted to get married.  She should have judged them and condemned them to hell silently while handing out the marriage license.  In her scratch-and-win theology, I think that would keep her from going to h-e-double hockey sticks.

When you’re driving the bus, you don’t get to sit illegally in the ‘whites only’ seats.  You’re in the  driver’s seat.  Ms. Davis is in the driver’s seat at the courthouse (assuming she still has her job.)  So she cannot be Rosa Parks in this civil rights issue.  Ever.

Religious Addendum (atheists, feel free to skip this appendix)  In the bible, Jesus didn’t have anything to say about gay people, that was St. Paul, who never actually met Jesus because he was busy persecuting Christ’s followers prior to his conversion.  According to Matthew, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” So you see, Love is the clincher.  (I was going to say trump card, but it’s too close to election time).  So maybe some of the holy folks in Ms Davis’ church will sit her down and explain this concept to her, so she can stop panicking about stepping on a crack and breaking Jesus’ back.  If she adds to the quality and amount of love in this world, she’s on the road to heaven.  If she hates her neighbor, she’s already in hell.  It’s truly that simple.

Finance in the Shadows and 5150


I began a series of posts on LinkedIn aimed at assisting some of society’s most vulnerable members who are struggling in the Shadow Economy.  You can read those articles here:

Finance in the Shadows on LinkedIn

I also wrote a book about mental illness that is intended to help families and loved ones of the mentally ill understand better what is happening inside the mind of their beloved.  I am uniquely qualified to write the book, and I will say no more.

Duncan’s Author Page

May this information reach eyes that need to read it, touch hearts that need to feel it, and open minds that are confused or closed.  I can’t fix the world, but I can do my little part to make it a better place, right?



Data Mining for Naughty Letters?

I am an advanced beginner user of Tableau working to become an intermediate user.  I have real data sets at work that I viz mercilessly. It is probably a sign that I am deranged, but I actually find it FUN to dig into data and find the stories hidden in the numbers.

This week, I decided to get better at geographic visualizations.  To that end, I was able to find a really interesting set of data containing crime statistics between 2012-2015 in Los Angeles, the city I call home.  It included a field that represented longitude and latitude for each of the crimes.  After removing parentheses and converting text to columns, I was able to create a unique shape and color for each type of crime in the LAPD list – of which there were about 100, and place them in the exact location on a map of Los Angeles where they occurred.

The first hurdle I discovered was that a few of the entries were missing the latitude and longitude, so they mapped the crimes as taking place in Sierra Leone (0,0).  I highlighted them and excluded them, and the map snapped to a map of California.  I cleaned up a handful of outliers in parts of the Southland that weren’t really relevant, like Tehachapi, Big Bear, etc.  Next I discovered that due to limitations of Excel, the dataset cuts off before it reaches 2015 – only showing 460,000 pieces of data through August of 2013.  Like I said, I’m an advanced beginner, so I settled for what I got.

What resulted was a nice concentrated map of all the reported crimes in all of the relevant locations within or immediately adjacent to the city of Los Angeles from the period January 1, 2012 to August 18,2013.  Here is what it looks like:


I was able to focus on my part of town, the Van Nuys division, and by deselecting all crimes and only selecting violent crimes, I was able to determine that my neighborhood was far safer from violent crimes than many of the areas around it, particularly Central Van Nuys.  Here is the visual proof:


Then I thought I would look at a map of homicide in LA 2012-2013.  There were 762 entries.  Here is what that looked like:


Then I saw a crime that I had never heard of called “Letters, Lewd.” When I clicked it, I was astonished by the result.  There were over 3,450 “Letters, Lewd” crimes reported in the period between January 1, 2012 and August 18, 2013.  Here is what that map looked like:


What the heck? I looked up lewd letters on Google, and there were no mentions of this hideous crime wave anywhere.  There was one news item from Sacramento about one lewd letter being sent and a local gentleman there was hauled in on suspicion.  There was no mention of the LA lewd letter bombs of 2012-2013.

I noticed how democratically distributed these lewd letters were.  No one area had been spared the scourge of naughty mail.  This was a truly unusual data mining result. It is the reason I get all excited about data visualizations.

My pet theory is that there is an informal rule in the police department that code 956, “Letters, Lewd” is used when the nature of the crime is not to be disclosed.  It may be code for prostitution or some other sex crime that wasn’t listed elsewhere.  It may be used to reduce the number of reported homicides and other violent crimes.  There were just way too many lewd letter reports to pass my sniff test.  Over 5 times as many lewd letters reported as there were homicides.  Is this a cover-up?  Is it an error in the data set? Why don’t I get lewd letters in the mail?  I think it might actually be entertaining.  I certainly wouldn’t find receiving such a letter worthy of a trip into dangerous downtown Van Nuys to file a police report.

I have no idea how to get to the bottom of this mystery, so I am posting it to this here blog to see if someone out there in cyberspace knows why there were so many lewd letters reported in Los Angeles during 2012 and 2013. Maybe a police woman/man can weigh in on the subject.  Or maybe a vigilante reporter will take up the lewd letter cause to find out the truth behind these bizarre numbers.  Please comment if you have suggestions or answers.


Employee Engagement – Underrated and Neglected

I have worked for many companies over the years, and I have seen what a difference engagement makes in the attitude and output of the employees. So why do so many corporations ignore it or treat it like an unimportant factor? In most cases, the leaders of the company have clouded judgment. Here are five misconceptions about engagement that need to be addressed.

1. Engagement is expensive. – Yes, it costs a lot to offer employees a performance bonus. Heck, it costs a lot to offer employees bagels and coffee. But what does it cost to replace a valued employee who leaves because they are disengaged and disheartened? A friend of mine worked at a company that took away the coffee, then the microwave, and finally they removed the bottled water. This was a multi-billion dollar corporation that could afford coffee for its employees. Short-sightedness on the part of some well-meaning bean counter caused the employees to feel undervalued, and they began quitting in droves, despite the job being a union job with benefits. How much did that coffee really cost?

2. Engagement is not a Key Performance Indicator – well why on earth not? The leaders of a company should measure engagement through a company-wide survey and see where they are at – baseline. They should re-measure every year to see if it went up or down. And they should see what their performance in other areas looks like, and whether or not it correlates with the rise or fall in engagement. Correlation is not causation, but there will be a connection – a very strong one – which points to engagement as a key indicator of future performance.

3. My employees are all disengaged, there’s no way to turn this around. – Really? If you run a shop that expects overtime, how much will it cost to order pizza for the people who stay late to get a job done? How about paying overtime to hourly employees and comp time to salaried employees? When you get an employee who wants to make things better, listen and don’t send them packing. There’s a million things you can do to increase engagement. It is true that it is much easier to discourage employees and cause them to disengage. Guess what? That means you are going to have to work harder to turn things around. Don’t you want your employees to work harder? Are you immune from this requirement?

4. I did an engagement survey, and everyone gave positive feedback. – Great! Were they assured their responses would remain anonymous? Did the questions give them an opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction if they had any? Have people been punished for giving negative feedback in the past? Was everyone given an equal voice, or were some voices weighted more than others? These are some questions to ask before resting on your engagement laurels.

5. Engagement has nothing to do with me. Are you an hourly employee who has no interest in staying at the company you work for now? Then engagement may not really matter to you. Do you love your company and want to make it better? Are you a manager with employees reporting to you? Are you a Director, VP, CXO? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then engagement is extremely important to your work life. Disengagement kills companies faster than bankrupt clients. Disengagement means that the sales force can’t really sell a good product, because they know that the people who make it don’t really care if it comes out good or bad. Disengagement makes the workplace toxic. Disengagement makes it impossible to find new hires to replace the excellent employees who jumped ship. You’d better believe it has a lot to do with you!

Get involved. Ask for the results of your last engagement survey. If the people with the results aren’t willing to share them, you know there’s work to be done.

Gen-X as a minority status

If you were born in the US between 1962 and 1980, you are part of the smallest US generation alive, Generation X. Because we are small, a mere 42 million, we live in the shadows of both the Baby Boomers (72 million) and the Millenials (80 million).

Gen-X’ers watch a lot of advertisements for old people now, or advertisements for young folks in their late teens to early 30’s. We don’t see a lot of programming directed towards us, because we have less buying power. I don’t think there is a channel with programming aimed at us – we just get lumped in with old people or young people. I’m either watching ads for Viagra and Depends or Cheetos and Mountain Dew; nothing really just for my generation. My generation requires Depends only after they drink more than one can of Mountain Dew with Cheetos and Viagra.

Gen-X’ers often get passed by for promotions, because the baby boomers are late to retire, and the jobs we need are now getting filled by the younger, consdierably more tech-savvy millennials, who cost less and deliver more. We have all the skills, but we have been working and getting cost-of-living increases for a long time, waiting for a coveted position in middle management. The hiring managers prefer to give it to someone with fewer years in the workplace and a corresponding lower living wage.

Our generation remembers the rotary dial phone and the 1200 baud modem. We remember having to pay extra for touch tone service. We had to learn to adapt to technology when it suddenly took over our lives. I remember when a drive-up teller was not an ATM – it featured a pneumatic tube that sucked up your checks and delivered them to the human teller manning the window. The fact that I take a picture of my check using my phone, and then magically deposit it into my account seems nothing short of miraculous to me now. Millennials gripe and complain that their phone made them take the picture twice. Boomers “don’t trust the system” so many of them still go into the bank and wait in line. I had teachers who wouldn’t accept computer printouts for typewritten assignments. We had to adjust; it didn’t come naturally. The Boomers and Greatest Generation didn’t make it easy for us with ridiculous requirements like typewriters-only.

I remember how you waited in line for hours to see a movie because there wasn’t an option to steal it and watch it before it was released. Certain franchises, like Star Wars, were promised never to be released on Video Tape, and you could only watch them during their limited three month engagement in theaters. Once a movie was gone, if you didn’t have 600 dollars for a VCR, and 80 dollars to buy the movie, you had a limited chance of being able to see it again. My town had a “repertory theater” that played cult movies and other popular second run films. They had a live performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday night at midnight. It was a golden age for cinematic entertainment, and movie watching was a group experience. It was not something you did on your phone.

Louis CK is a Gen-X’er – perhaps the quintessential Gen-X’er. His comedy is all about this alienation we feel as the “wee generation” that came after the Me Generation. He looks exactly like I feel – disheveled and resigned to a difficult life paying for the excesses of the baby boomers through Social Security and banking bailouts. He is even more cynical than I am, which says a lot. His show is one of the few shows out there that is aimed at my demographic. But the advertisers seem confused – we still get a lot of Cialis, Funeral Insurance and Do the Dew.

There must be advantages to being in a smaller demographic, but I can’t think of them right now. If you can think of some advantages to being a Gen-X’er, please comment. I find it hard to be the last generation that remembers typewriters and carbon paper.

Is Tin Can more like Tivo or the Emperor’s New Clothes?

The Tin Can API (also called Experience API or xAPI) is a new e-learning interface that is modeled after the data points gathered by social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s a big buzzword in the online learning community. But I can’t figure out how it is applied practically. I don’t see how it’s going to help me get people certified in the online corporate university that I administer. I keep reading about it, trying to imagine how it will help me. And until I see it in action, I think I will remain skeptical.

That’s what happened with me and Tivo years ago. I asked, “why would anyone want to watch TV later? They’ve missed the show!” I couldn’t see the benefit until I had my first binge of Professional Bull Riding on a good friend’s Tivo device. Then it suddenly became a technology without which I could scarcely survive.

The developers of Tin Can have given numerous examples of how Tin Can is different and better than prior e-learning standards like SCORM. SCORM allows me to import a course from one learning system into another. It’s like magic. The quizzes and all the videos play perfectly on the new platform.

Tin Can, on the other hand, does away with packaging up courses. It instead sees “experience” as the real teacher, and so encourages employees to report their learning activity via apps an d other software. The apps export subject, verb, noun statements like “I ate macaroni salad.” The employee can scan the barcode of an excellent book like 5150 and it will record a statement into the Learning Record Store (LRS) as “I read 5150.” And if they take a course in the traditional learning environment (the Learning Management System or LMS) then that gets recorded as well. “I passed the quiz on Macaroni Salad with a score of 75%.” The problem with the book scanning example is that it would be possible to scan a bunch of barcodes of books you never read. The quiz is what already gets recorded in a more Excel-friendly format. I hardly want to generate learning success rate graphs using subject noun verb statements.

The notion the new xAPI is trying to put forth is that learning is ubiquitous and therefore should be captured at every turn. I have an app I use that is analogous to this type of interface. It’s called “Rescue Time.” It tracks my activity on my work computer and reports back to me on how productive I have been. It decides if the websites I visit are productive or unproductive, and whether the software I use is related to Design, Finance, Marketing or some other discipline. I find that on most days I am around 95% productive and I work about 6.5 hours on the computer during an 8 hour work day. This is a cool app.

I think the Tin Can API is trying to do the same thing for organizations – track its employees, their learning experiences on and off the worksite, and whether or not the learning they do correlates with real world results. But how we get there from where it is now is a complete mystery to me. I would love to see an example of a corporation that has adopted the xAPI and has put it to effective use. I still find the ability to move a course around using SCORM a lot more practical than attempting to track when an employee has a brilliant insight on Yammer. But I won’t be the first to say that the Emperor is nude. I think we just need to see what his magic suit can do before we decide whether it is of a fine quality.

Some learning about earning

I keep getting mad at this advertisement for an online retail outlet that “pays you to shop.” They proclaim that when you buy things, you “earn” money through rebates. One testimonial says “I earned 400 dollars so far shopping on [this site].”

News flash. You spent thousands to ‘earn’ a few hundred. That is not earning. In business, it would be considered a loss. If you spent a thousand dollars to run your company and earned one hundred dollars, you would not be in business for very long.

Let’s call this “earning” what it really is – a discount. You spend one thousand and receive 100 dollars cash back. You’ve saved 100 dollars off the price. You didn’t earn 100 dollars. You paid 900 dollars instead of a thousand.

If you spend more than you make, it is not earning. Period. Net revenue is negative, so it is not earning. It is a loss.

You have simply engaged in crass consumerism and are now pretending that you’re getting paid to do it. One brand evangelist for the site says “Just shop for the things you would normally shop for, and get paid for doing it. Sounds like a good deal to me!”

I worry about the deterioration of human intelligence. Is it really that often that you go to a department store or other online retailer and buy “the things you would normally shop for?”

What would be cool is if you could find some way to get paid to sit through annoying pop-up video advertisements or those forced 15-30 second commercials that interrupt internet video content. Like my grandfather used to say, “If I had a nickel for every time I had to [fill in annoying activity here], I would be a millionaire!”