Month: June 2016


Of all the interesting (and troubling) things that have come to light as a result of the recent financial crisis, one of the most interesting — to me at least — came tonight: Chuck Todd appeared on NBC Nightly News with some data he ran on today’s bailout vote. It turns out most of those who voted “yes” to the bailout aren’t involved in close re-election campaigns (or haven’t been in the past) and most that voted “no” are (or have been).

So essentially, representatives that are scared about their re-election prospects voted no and representatives that aren’t voted yes. No numerical breakdowns were given, but that was the overview.

This is troubling on a number of fronts:

  1. It shows that our politicians are reacting to a bona fide crisis not on the merits of the crisis but rather on the circumstances of their re-election. This happens a lot, of course, but during a potentially devastating crisis, it’s troubling.
  2. It shows that what a lot of people think is the “smart” thing to do (passing the bailout), is not the “popular” thing to do. If you believe that your representative should do what you want them to do, the numbers say this bill should not pass (over 50% of Americans think it’s bad). If, however, you think that representatives should do what *they* think is best for you, it should probably pass (most representatives seem to think it’s needed, regardless of how they voted today).
  3. It shows that politics have absolutely become part of a situation that needs to be solved jointly by both parties.
  4. It shows that many members of Congress as well as many Americans don’t actually understand what this plan is designed to prevent and who it benefits. It may not be a perfect plan, but it’s not designed to “bail out Wall Street fat cats”. It may not punish Wall Street CEOs like many people would prefer it to, but if you want to do that, do it with a lawsuit.

I can only hope that the failure of the bill eventually just causes us to pass a better bill later this week, but you have to wonder a bit when George W. Bush, Barack Obama, John McCain, and the controlling party in the House all agree on something and Congress still won’t pass it. It’s no wonder why only 14% of Americans approve of the job they are doing.

(Side note: That Gallup site is a pretty spectacular destination for information. Great graphs and polls, updated daily.)

A Debate Under Duress

I really hope the first presidential debate occurs as planned Friday night.

Debates, theoretically, are rare opportunities to hear from candidates when their words are unscripted. In reality, however, candidates often prepare for weeks ahead of time, including last-minute intense cram sessions like the ones you remember from your college days.

What I love about the prospect of a debate Friday night is that both candidates have been severely preoccupied with the financial bailout fiasco all week and are likely much less prepared than they would otherwise be. I think seeing Barack Obama and John McCain debate each other without all of the usual coaching and grooming that goes on before debates will be an extraordinarily better view into how much each of them really knows about the financial crisis.

I want to see what each candidate will say in the middle of a storm, not after it. Debate on…

Side note: If you haven’t read the New York Times article linked to above yet, give it a read. It’s some pretty dramatic stuff, with Henry Paulson actually getting down on one knee in front of Nancy Pelosi.

EditGrid: Really Useful Web-Based Spreadsheets

I’ve used EditGrid for several projects now, including expense tracking for my new blog A House By The Park. In addition to expense tracking, EditGrid is useful for:

  • Setting up company golf tournaments. Simply create a blank spreadsheet with your columns labeled, email everyone in your company the URL, and let people fill their teams themselves. EditGrid turns hours of coordination and emails in this case into about a minute of work.
  • Figuring out when everyone is available for your live fantasy football draft. Again, simply label your rows, send out the URL and you’re done. No more emails flying back and forth and people forgetting what they committed to.
  • Any other application where you need multiple people to enter data and there is no concern about access privileges or people screwing with the spreadsheet.

So, all of that stuff is really easy. You don’t need a tutorial to figure it out. What’s extra cool as well is that if you keep the spreadsheet open on your screen, you can see people editing it in real-time. There’s also automatic revision history in case someone messes up.

For A House By The Park though, I wanted to input my expense data into EditGrid, save it as a public read-only spreadsheet, and then suck each expense line item into the corresponding entry on my blog. In other words, if I’m writing about how a structural and sewer inspection cost $425 and $185 respectively, I want to pull that information straight from my expense spreadsheet and display it right within the blog entry.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Create your spreadsheet in EditGrid.
  2. In EditGrid, choose “Data > My Data Format” and then click the “Create New Data Format” button. You’re essentially going to create a new XSL template which will transform your generic spreadsheet output into semantically sound XML.
  3. Give your new file format an extension. It doesn’t matter what you choose. I chose “.api”. Leave every other field the way it is, but in the “XML Stylesheet” field, paste in the following:

  4. Your new XML file will be available at the same URL that your browser-readable spreadsheet is available at, plus the “.api” extension. In order to save having to hit whenever your pages get hit, set up a cronjob to pull this file every 5 minutes and save a copy to your server:

    Note: Remove all instances of “REMOVEME”. I had to put those in there to keep WordPress from trying to parse those functions. Weird.
  5. Finally, grab your now local XML and parse it into an object in PHP:

That’s it! Now you have a nice PHP XML object that you can do whatever you want with, and you have an editable spreadsheet with data that can automatically make its way on your blog. Gotta love EditGrid.

Side note: I’m sure people will inevitably ask why I don’t use Google Spreadsheets instead. The reason is simple, but probably not applicable for everyone — I’m not an engineer and Google’s API did not seem nearly as simple as EditGrid’s to me. I don’t want to worry about authentication methods, privileges, and all that stuff. I just want a spreadsheet that provides easy access to its data. For that, EditGrid is king.

I’m Launching a New Blog Today: “A House By The Park”

Today marks the launch of my second blog, and first new one in over four years: A House By The Park. Please head over and have a look-see!

Why a second blog when I only post to Mike Industries a few times a month? Well, I’m building a house, together with Build LLC.

The first thing I noticed after deciding to build a house is that there aren’t any well-written, well-designed, detail-oriented blogs about building a house from the perspective of someone who has never done it before. There are a number of books on the subject, several of which I’ve purchased and zero of which I’ve opened, as well as random articles and photos from people at various points in their construction, but nowhere could I find a start-to-finish, real-time chronology of the entire process. That ends today. will cover searching for the right property, dealing with real estate agents, interviewing and choosing an architect, making your way through the design and build process, and probably a thousand other things… all with the goal of helping future custom home builders better prepare for their own projects. I’ve backdated a bunch of entries before pushing the site live so there are already 26 posts to thumb through.

Somebody told me once that every human being should go through the home building process once in their lifetime. I don’t know if I agree with that, but if you feel you may ever decide to build a home for yourself, I invite you to subscribe to A House By The Park’s RSS feed and follow passively until something strikes your interest. I can’t guarantee the same highly intellectual nuggets of thought that fill the pages of Mike Industries, but I will try to write with the same level of detail and accuracy. For instance, I’m making my entire spreadsheet of expenses available online and within the blog posts themselves so readers can get a specific idea of what everything costs (Yay EditGrid! Separate post on this coming soon).

Finally, please feel free to link to or write about A House By The Park on your own site or other places of interest. Every little link helps. I estimate there are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 subscribers to Mike Industries so there are always great comments here, but on launch day, A House By The Park will have zero. Writing stuff is no fun until intelligent discussion and/or controversy ensues.

So that’s the pitch. Head on over, the water’s warm. I’ve even published a top-to-bottom complete chronology page to get you all caught up from the beginning without having to jump from page to page.

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