Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ending April

April was a much better month.  I started the month with a week of vacation where we didn't really do anything.  I met some new people in LinkedIn, got some coaching and then returned to work, renewed with a clearer sense of purpose for work and home life.  At the same time, I started tracking what I was doing to see if I was doing the right stuff.  That, as you've seen, is a work in progress, but I'm feeling good about it.  Also, I've exercised a lot more and the weather has turned for the better.  I've also been tracking my calories again and am actually losing weight.  I am still working on sleep - when to go to bed, how much sleep I really need, whether I can get up any earlier or not (it's been difficult).

Yes, it's been a good month.  I think if this month had a theme, that theme was control.  Not that I can control everything, but I'm owning what I can, I don't feel out of control or like I have no say in what's going on in my life.

The Big Elements

Monday, April 29, 2013

Being Helpful (A Work-Related Post)

We've all observed (or been on the receiving end of) a conversation like this... could be the IRS, the DMV, Dilbert, your office...

So, for the sake of argument (and to protect the guilty), let's say that we're talking about a service that will draw a bath for you.  Rubber duckies are a free and logical, but optional, component to this transaction.

Ernie (being helped): "Oh, and could I also get some rubber duckies?"

Bert (the helper), looking at his paperwork: "There's no rubber duckies listed on the work order, but I'll get you some.  They should have been listed on this paperwork."


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Week 4 (Final)

Weight: 155.0 (Friday) - 10.0 pounds to go 
Lose-It: Budget 1,667 calories minus 1,816 consumed plus 366 from exercise equals 217 under. (Under 3k for the week.)
Walks: 7 (3 for mtgs) - 11.92 miles // Jumping Jacks: 300 // Pushups: 60 // Situps: 60

Remember the Milk: Day: zero left, 102 done
Email: 61 // Feedly: 73 // TED Talks: 5

Reading: Fast Company May 2013 (68 of 124); Fast Company Jan. 2013 (99 of 128)

9:32 pm - It feels like the week goes quicker when I'm tying to track it like this.  I'm not sure that's such a great thing?  So this was supposed to be my week to assess things.  I realized that I try to do too much, I end up postponing a lot of stuff and it might just be that some things that need to happen less frequently in order for some other stuff to get a chance to get done.

I went through day-by-day and I think I have a good plan for the week.  I may, however, still have overplanned.   That's something I should have a better understanding of by the end of the week.  The scary thing is I'm realizing that apparently my chores list has turned into a sprint.  Wow... when did that happen?  Well, I guess about five weeks ago.

So tomorrow has a lot of things and then the rest of the days are much lighter, but there's lots of daily items on the list tomorrow that once checked off tomorrow would show up on the next day.

I do think I'm quite oversubscribed for tomorrow.  We'll see.

Weight: 155.0 (Friday) - 10.0 pounds to go 
Lose-It: Budget 1,667 calories minus 1,585 consumed plus 560 from exercise equals 642 under.
Walks: 7 (3 for mtgs) - 11.92 miles // Jumping Jacks: 200 // Pushups: 40 // Situps: 40

Remember the Milk: Day: zero left, 47 done; Week: 152 more, 256 done
Email: 53 // Feedly: 86 // TED Talks: 5

Reading: Fast Company May 2013 (68 of 124); Fast Company Jan. 2013 (99 of 128)

11:32 am - A quiet morning.  Was nice waking at 6:40 and thinking I was late and then remembering it was Saturday.  Back to sleep and woke up just before my alarm at 8.  Got the children their medicine, got the coffee started, had a nice shower and then did some stuff around the house before taking Ben to get a haircut (that went well). It's cold and gray outside - the air smells really good.  It's cold but not COLD.  There might be a breeze, but it's not windy or unpleasant.  Very crisp.  Not good lawn mowing weather, though.  And it needs it.  We'll see if I get to it before it rains.  But today feels like a day to stay inside and drink coffee.  And read.  Except I've finished all my books.  So guess it's a day of reviewing books, reading magazines and doing stuff around the house.  Right now I'm in the living room and Rachel's in here reading books.  Lori and Ben are in the kitchen watching videos.  Just wanted to mention lest it sounded like I wasn't spending time with my family or just doing my own thing and neglecting them.

9:26 pm - A quiet day.  Got some niee time in playing with Ben and just hanging out with Ben.  The result of miscommunication, really.  I ended up mowing the lawns not knowing Rachel and Lori were waiting for me before starting a movie.  So when I came in, they hadn't started, but Ben's rest time was over, so they went and watched a movie and I hung out with Ben.  Silly boy today.  Starting to think about planning for next week.  Built additional views in Remember the Milk to look at month and quarter as well.

Weight: 155.0 (Friday) - 10.0 pounds to go 
Lose-It: Budget 1,667 calories minus 2,183* consumed plus 518 from exercise equals break-even.

7:19 am - Nothing like a good night's sleep. I woke up a few times but had no trouble getting back to sleep.  Everyone else seemed to sleep all night long as well.  Interesting dreams.  Some stuff that would get me in trouble in real life, but in at least one case, it was like a full story with a beginning, middle and end and it had a good feeling to it and I think even a bit of a soundtrack.  I feel a little tired, but also energized, enthusiastic and ready to take on the day.  Started Michael J. Fox's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future" last night and immediately abandoned it.  Not recommended.  Didn't read long enough to even bother with a review beyond that.

10:07 pm - A really good day.  A long walk at lunch today with a friend, several good meetings and overall a quiet day.  Gorgeous weather.  Tonight we had friends over for dinner and to hang out so not much done on the to do list, but that's fine - life's not all about the to do list, right?  Dinner was really good but hard to track.  I'm pretty sure it didn't take all of my remaining calories (1,200), but since I can't be sure, I'm just recording it as break-even.

Book Review: The Cove

Warning: spoilers.

The Cove by Ron Rash is a meandering book and I realized recently that I don't like meandering books. So, I don't recommend this book.

First, I have to admit something. At the end of this book, I was still a little unclear as to what a "cove" was. I always thought it was a body of water. A consult of Wikipedia clued ms in - in the Appalachians, it's a valley, typically with steep walls all around.

Anyhow, so the story is mostly about Laurel and Hank and Walter and this cove. And a guy named Chauncey. And World War I.

Laurel is a girl who's apparently not unattractive, but because she lived in the cove and because of a large birthmark, many had felt she was a witch. Therefore, she was prohibited to attend school and was mostly ostracized from the nearby town.

Hank had gone away to war, but had returned after losing his hand.

Walter is a mute man who plays the flute and is trying to return to New York, according to the note he carries with him.

The Cove is a dark and foreboding place, parts of which never seem to receive sunlight due to the high walls. Superstitious townsfolk keep leaving stuff on the path to keep evil spirits from leaving the cove.

Chauncey is a military recruiter but never actually went to war because of his influential parents.  He's supposed to be an allegory for modern-day patriotism run amok but allegory is too fancy a word for this thin character.

At the beginning of the story a man in more modern times is surveying the area because the the TVA is planning to flood the cove for a dam project. He looks around the area and the deserted cabin and is thirsty so he goes to draw some water from the well and finds a human head in the bucket.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Haircuts (Life with #Autism)

Haircut - success!
Potty - success!
Bath - success!
Children crave continuity and consistency (or repetition - why they love watching the same shows over and over again) and my experience with Ben is that this is definitely heightened.

I think since the earliest days, we've taken Ben to the same place his sister and mom get their hair cut.  Geri is patient, kind and works hard to give him a great looking haircut, no matter how much he may resist the process.

I wasn't present for the earliest of the haircuts, but eventually it became my responsibility.  There was a scheduling conflict and then there was convenience and then the realization that sometimes he'll cry less for dad than he will for mom.  Probably only because dad doesn't have all those motherly hormones.  (That is, dad is mean and not as swayed by the crying.)

But so early on, it became my job to handle getting Ben's hair cut.  That meant holding him on my lap.  I remember being coated with hair and in one case, them letting me use their storage room to change his diaper and his clothes because he wasn't willing to be under the cape and he was just covered.

There was lots of wriggling, screaming, repositioning, bribing with food and drink and toys and one very, very patient stylist who has been an utter saint.  And blood.

Worth Repeating: Jennifer Granholm @JenGranholm

Kicking off the TED2013 conference, Jennifer Granholm asks a very American question with worldwide implications: How do we make more jobs? Her big idea: Invest in new alternative energy sources. And her big challenge: Can it be done with or without our broken Congress? More on TED.com...

Why I'm posting: This is awesome.  I would love it if someone actually made this happen.

Friday, April 26, 2013

#EEC13 @VirginAmerica (A Work-Related Post)

Note: I attended the Email Evolution conference in early February but have been so swamped since my return that I've had trouble getting back to my notes and turning them into useful information to share with my organization and the world.  It seems like I've gotten things a little more under control at work so hopefully these will start to trickle out with a little more regularity.

Virgin America
Luanne Calvert, VP Marketing, Virgin America (LinkedIn)
(no powerpoint available)

Q: How do you become a millionaire?
A: Start out as a billionaire and start an airline.

Virgin America was able to start with a blank slate and they worked to take what people like on the ground (design, aesthetics, comfort, entertainment) and brought it to life in the sky.

Now... how to bring the experience from the sky back to the ground to those who haven't experienced Virgin America?

Virgin America has strong identity and branding. They KNOW who they are and they stay on brand. By being so confident on who they are, they've become an aspirational brand - you believe yourself to be cooler for having had the experience of flying with them. So it becomes very easy for them to then to turn around and ask you to share with others because it feels like bragging.

What They've Learned from their Email Campaigns

Thursday, April 25, 2013


The latest in my identity series.

I love architecture.  More specifically, homes.  I love home improvement shows, I love looking at homes when I run, I love tours of homes, as long as they're not overly elaborate well beyond what I could ever imagine owning.

Office buildings don't hold the same appeal for me, because usually they're just big boxes and occasionally someone lops off a corner or tries to be quirky.  But I do love mixed use properties, to see a design that smartly incorporates retail and then office or housing as well as parking.

But houses... I love to see them being built, I love to see new ideas and designs, I love to see spaces reimagined.  I've designed a number of houses, but it's been a long time.  Most of my designs were back when I was in high school and college.  Now that I am a homeowner and am broke, a lot of the passion to make new designs is gone.  Now I try to imagine on a smaller scale... what could I do to improve the home I'm in, to give it a better aesthetic or to make it more functional?  And technologically speaking, how could I make it cooler, more automated, easier to maintain?

I have enjoyed the "Not So Big" books that teach mixed use and smaller spaces with richer materials.  I have yet to try any of the concepts, but this house is just begging for an overhaul if we ever have the cash and decide it's a worthwhile investment.  TwistedSifter and WebUrbanist give me inspiration for cool architecture as well.

First would be even more light.  We didn't realize it until we were looking at homes, but our realtor (contact me for a referral - he's awesome and has sold homes to three of my friends and coworkers families now) observed that we seemed drawn to homes that were open, airy and light.  And if we thought about it, that was true.  Our first apartment was partially open and airy, our second was really open and airy with cathedral ceilings and then our first home was dark with low ceilings and trees out front blocking the light.  Our current home is airy and open, but there are dark spots.  I would love to bring more light into the hall and bathrooms, probably through solar tubes.  We'd also like to add a bathroom downstairs to make the downstairs more functional.  And also build a little hideaway underneath the house, a small room with a stereo, an easy chair, a footrest and some soft lighting where Lori or I can escape to read a book.  From there the ideas get more crazy... knock down the wall between the dining room and the kitchen, put a desk in the kitchen, put upper and lower cabinets on the blank wall in the kitchen, or blow up the entire center section and move the bathoom and put in a massive island and turn the kitchen, dining and living rooms into a big great room.  That would certainly be cool for small group and entertaining.

We'll see.  One idea that wouldn't necessarily give us more space (though it could make room for a loft above part of the living room) would be to refactor the outside (we could also extend the bedrooms out over the garage further) to make it look more Craftsman like.  That would be awesome.  Here's a quick sketch I did a few years ago that would give us a deck and a more welcoming front entrance.  I'm hoping we can do even at least part of this in the next 5-6 years, maybe the entryway.  Why?  To make it our own.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Magazine: Inc., March 2013

My highlights.  You can find Inc. Magazine here, but they don't seem to be offering an archive anymore.

* Book Recommendation: They recommend Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  The article also mentions a previous book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children that also sounds interesting.  Adding both to my to-read list. (Disclaimer: Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for clicking!)

* What If Your Gut is (gasp!) Wrong? by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
This is a good, quick read about making quality decisions.  I had circled "premortem" as a fascinating term.  I'm also simultaneously reading "Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work" by the Brothers Heath (I will have completed it before this posts) and this article is a great primer to whet your appetite.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Designed to Fail

I don't get this at all.  Do they like giving out refills? Do they like cleaning up spilled popcorn?  This just seems like a really bad design.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fake Statistic

In the United States alone, bugs fly into the eyes of over 67,000 adults over the age of 18 every month.

Yes, I go to great lengths for my humor.  (If you're coming here off of RSS or by visiting my blog, you missed an earlier post on Facebook.)

Find Your Audience (A Work-Related Post)

This is pretty smart.  Truth be told, I don't go to Starbucks a lot because when I go, I want to be able to kick back in the cafe* to drink my coffee.  Sometimes I'll pop away from work, drop in and get one to go.  But this is the rarest of experiences of all - getting my coffee at a drive-through without even going inside.  Sad.

This is near my house - to my left, the order wall.  Ahead, the pickup window.  This is the back side of a small strip mall with restaurants, Kindercare, Walgreens, Great Clips, tanning salons, etc.  Up ahead is the service door to a Teriyaki restaurant, upon which they've placed a large, full-color "call ahead for pickup" menu.  This is an awesome way to get in front of potential customers when they have time to kill.  Smart.

*I refuse to call it a "restaurant" or "store." That cheapens it.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Week 3 (Final)


9:11 pm - So it was more difficult to do these updates this week, but I've definitely internalized keeping mail and Feedly up-to-date and relying on Remember the Milk to make sure stuff gets done.  My observation this week, however, is that now I need to plan more at the start of the week to make sure I've chosen the right things to get done that week because I will always have more on my To Do list than I have time to do.

In the end, I came in under my caloric budget, but I was over by quite a bit one day for Date Night.  I got a lot of reading done but I couldn't get to bed as early as I wanted to.

So I finished the week with 140 situps and pushusp and 500 jumping jacks and completed 386 tasks.

The start for next week is 224 but I will remove some or postpone out and also some will get added as the week goes along, but I won't get into that until next week, unfortunately.  Today just didn't go as I thought it might, but that's my own fault.

The good news is that I feel more in control.

Did TV ruin books?

I'm reading a non-fiction book right now and I'm not sure where it's headed.  I thought back to a few recent books I've read - some I abandoned and some I wanted to abandon but saw it through and then wished I'd not spent the time.  And then it dawned on me... the ones I keep reading have a strong opening where something major happens and then the story typically solves it.  That is, there's a case or a crime or a mystery or something.  Or, if it's a YA book, then there's a genesis or a discovery or an event that changes the course of a character and then we're along for the ride.

But it's these other ones, where the story just unfolds and you don't really know why, or you don't know if there's going to be a strong point... they end up leaving me flat.

And I realized that's a result of the 60-minute drama - these books that solve a mystery or a crime -- or even use supernatural as an allegory for self-discovery or empowerment - they follow a formula I'm comfortable with.  (Do both, like Buffy did, and, well, that's just clever.)

And therein lies the problem... or does it?  So you take a book like Last Night in Twisted River (my review) by John Irving (Cedar House Rules guy... didn't read CHR or see the movie, looked boring), a book I did not care for.  It had the promise of a mystery even in its title, but it didn't satisfy or fulfill.  It meandered.

Is that a bad thing?  Or, is my expectation of resolution a bad thing?  Do I lack an appreciation for a simpler story-telling?  Have I allowed television to make my color my impact?

I don't think so.  I thought about this a lot yesterday but I realized... a movie or a book has to end at some point.  A movie, you might have some idea of the end (I was quite surprised when the Borne Redundancy ended, felt really abrupt) but a book, it's quite clear you're approaching the end.  You're not going to get to the last page and find out the last two chapters are online or something.  So you already have a sense that the thing is encapsulated, so you come to expect a story arc - something happens at the beginning that is interesting enough for you to focus in on.  Things happen, and by the end, whatever problem, whatever suspense, whatever puzzle, you understand.  Along the way, you invest in the characters, cheering some, jeering others, there's suspense, humor, highs, lows, but it all has a point.  Meandering doesn't have a point, especially when there is a fixed end.

And I realized that in some way, our own lives meander.  At certain points, in retrospect, we can look back and see a chapter, or see a period that could be encapsulated.  But none of us know when the end is coming.  So a book or TV show or movie serves to temporarily lift you from your own life and transport you to another life, another world, another place, another time, where something of significance happened, something that caused you to turn your head and start observing something as it unfolded, curious about how it would all end.  And then at some point, it does end and you return to your life.  A really, really good book makes you miss the characters (the friends?) you shared time with and you yearn for more.  That even happens occasionally in non-fiction books for me.

But they have to have a point, because I know I'm only sharing time with them for a brief moment, so I want it to mean something.

So, did TV ruin books for me?  No, I don't think so.  It's just helped me to better understand what I'm looking for in a book, since they take longer to read than a TV show or a movie.

Which makes me wonder about the book I'm reading now.   So a guy did find a skull (or head?) in a bucket of water he drew from a well in the prologue, and now we've gone back in time to a story that might or might not be meandering.  But the prologues piqued my interest.  Even if it is the overused plot device of "60 years ago" that has plagued so many shows these days (ahem, Hawaii Five-O).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Worth Repeating: David Anderson

Modern psychiatric drugs treat the chemistry of the whole brain, but neurobiologist David Anderson believes in a more nuanced view of how the brain functions. He illuminates new research that could lead to targeted psychiatric medications -- that work better and avoid side effects. How's he doing it? For a start, by making a bunch of fruit flies angry. More at TED.com...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Idea: Keyboard

So I got a new computer recently with a real nice keyboard. Switching from a PC to a Mac has meant a small adjustment, even if the QWERTYs are all in the same place.

Sure, it has the bumps on F and J like most keyboard do, but touch-typing still ends up taking a little practice.

So my idea is change the texture of the keys outside of the letters and shift.  So right away as your fingers move off to enter, alt, fn, command, control or caps lock, tab or the symbols to the right of P, you know it.  (Not all of us learned to type in a typing class with all the fingers in the right places.)

Also, why does Apple's OS/X Mountain Lion still show modifier characters when Apple's MacBook Pro keyboards no longer show those characters. It makes the learning curve more difficult than it need be.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


It's been a long time since I've written about my identity series.

I actually wrote "technology, architecture" but I'm not sure why, unless I was trying to cheat and keep the list short.

Technology fascinates me.  It scares me a little (those quadrocopters from the GRASP lab, the Terminators from those Terminator movies) at times, but we also have some pretty neat stuff.  I can talk to my car and it plays music or gives me stock quotes.  Unless my daughter's in the car, then it just repeatedly says it can't understand me.

My phone tracks my sleeping, maps my walks and runs, helps me count my calories.  And we're on the cusp of some pretty interesting stuff, from autonomous cars to augmented reality to 3D printing all becoming commonplace technologies.  Social media, email and instant messaging keep us connected. DVRs and the internet make it possible to find nearly any non-CBS show to watch whenever we want.  Friends of mine have published books and made money.  Pandora (or iTunes when running) means never having to listen to terrestrial radio again.  Sure, I get ads for car dealerships in the mid-Wyoming area, but they're of such low production values that even they are entertaining.

It's such a far cry from the olden days when we were growing up.  We were technical laggards, with rotary dial-up phones leased from the phone company in industrial olive green and no VCR until we won one.  I remember my first portable CD player - it took 10 AA batteries.  Even today, we still have CRT non-HD TVs, but that will eventually change when they die and we're forced to upgrade.  By then they'll be super-thin OLEDs you tape to the wall or something.

Right now I aspire more to the technologically cutting edge than I am.  I'd love to be messing around with a pair of Google Glass(es?) but it's not the right move financially.  It seems like more and more, though, it's less about the hardware and more about the software.  Which also makes me a little sad that I'm no longer a proficient programmer.  I'd love to get an Arduino and start making stuff, but who has the time?  Maybe in a few years.

In the meantime, I follow a few blogs, am excited at the types of creativity people come up with and one day hope that I can string a few things together to automate my house more and simplify my life by putting more on autopilot.  In the meantime, Remember the Milk and Evernote will augment my brain so long as I remember my passwords.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Magazine: Inc., April 2013

My highlights.  Find the issue archive here: Inc.
Magazine, April 2013.

* Book Recommendation -- Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant.  They give it a 9 out of 10 on their scale, sounds like it has some good lessons I can learn and they say it has some really good case studies.  Added to my list.  (links to Amazon)

* Why I Love My Angriest Customers -- Phil Libin - why feedback is important - and how to use it.
Don't take Internet complaints personally. ... Also, train new team members on how to read Internet criticism without losing their minds.  The second most common type of customer feedback is product suggestions. ... the vast majority are not useful. Your customers can't design your product ... That's your job.  And if you're good at your job, you'll get a sprinkling of the last type of customer feedback: compliments. ... Share them with the team.  Read the whole article.
* Get More Done - unfortunately, this seems only available as a preview or sample, but a cool article with tactics and observations.

* Attention Start-ups: Big Corporations Want to Work With You -- Jennifer Alsever - a look at how big companies are incubating startups.  Perhaps it's in response to how slowly they move on their own?

* What's Your Mission? -- Jeff Haden - this is an absolute must read for any leader.
Every great leader helps all employees feel their job plays an important role in something bigger and more meaningful. ... Great leaders feel accountable, too, but they feel even more accountable to their employees. ...  I'm accountable for explaining results, for explaining my decisions, for apologizing if things don't go well.  Read the whole article.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Found this tucked away in a folder called "To Blog" - snapped this back in 2011.  I'm relieved to say that as far as I know, no one died in this endeavor.  What are you seeing here?  A really tall ladder against one tree and then another ladder going from that tree to another tree they were in the process of cutting down.

Definitely not someone who was afraid of heights.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boundaries (A Work-Related Post)

At the edge of our sound booth there's two steps down.  I think I've seen people trip down these steps before, I think I may have tripped down these steps myself.  One morning, I found myself holding Ben and realized that my foot wasn't completely on the floor, it was partially over the edge of the step.  And I realized that I found comfort in that -- I felt more secure.  By knowing where the edge was, it was easier to be confident and sure of where I was.  

How often do we do what we do, having a good idea of how to do it, but less of a clear understanding of why we do it, or how to know when we're really done, or when we know what's good enough?

But to know where the edges, the guardrails, the fences are, it helps us to remain grounded and to better understanding the area within which we can work and play.

Is there anything you're doing today that feels unclear because the edges aren't defined clearly enough?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Vertical Church by James MacDonald @jamesmacdonald

Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs For. What Every Church Can Be. By James MacDonald (@jamesmacdonald; VeritcalChurchMedia.com)

It took me awhile to make it through this book.  I saw it last December at Lifeway when shopping for Christmas presents, the cover stood out to me... I was curious because it looked a little science fiction-like, a little military-like, but also a church, but a church without a cross on its steeple.  So I picked it up, read the back cover and put it on my to-read list.  I recently got it from the library, but it really took me some time to get through it.  I can definitely get through fiction books quicker.

In one sense, I am not the target audience for this book as I'm not a church leader.  But, I guess I also am because I have been attending church all my life and I am a follower of Christ.  This book desires to help churches find a more "vertical" approach, of us and God, versus what it describes as a series of "horizontal" tactics - trying to get people to come to church and, it claims, missing the point.

The author, James MacDonald, is the founder of Harvest Bible Chapel, a multi-campus mega-church in Chicago which also franchises under the name Harvest Bible Fellowship with church plants around the world.  The book will not let you forget this and at times reads like a prospectus for new protential affiliates or franchisees.  But if you get past that, there's some good stuff in there.  There's also companion videos on the website above, but I didn't watch a lot of them.  It's difficult enough finding time in my household to read a non-fiction book, let alone watch videos.

Still, the book was quite convicting.  I can't think of a better way to review it than to give a quick synopsis of each chapter.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Week 2 (Final)


7:28 am - I know it's not the standard around here to put Sunday at the end of the week, but it's nice to be able to end the week with two days off from work in a row.  Especially if a lot of what I'm tracking is stuff I can't really tackle until the weekend.   I overslept again.  Ben was up in the middle of the night so I relocated to the family room to sleep on the couch and the alarm I've been using on my sleep timing app is too rhythmic when it's too low, it ends up helping me sleep longer instead of waking me up.  I guess I need to go back to the basic alarm.  Oh well.  Rachel's on track and Ben will be up soon so we're close to back on track.  Lori's singing in both services so we have to drive separately and she has to be there earlier so I have to get the little ones up and ready.  And I have to stop and get gas on the way to church.  Argh.

1:40 pm - It's turned into a quiet and nice day.  It looks very pleasant outside, but it's a bit cold.  After first service, Ben and Rachel and I went to the store to buy a few things.  We were in no hurry, so we meandered and had a nice time.  Then we came home and they snacked.  Then Lori came home and made lunch and she and I had a nice lunch.  Rachel didn't come out of her room to join us and Ben was taking a rest in his crib.  I will probably spend a little time outside today at least putting dandelions, but I've got more than enough to do inside.   Just read a great thing in Decisive that's really easy to put into practice.  Not our nature, but really makes a lot of sense: "Assume Positive Intent" - if something doesn't make sense (especially at work), assume the person has a positive reason for doing it - try to figure that out and you'll learn more about them (and possibly your own relationship with them).  One of the examples was a person who wrote really short emails - maybe they were trying to be efficient with their time and respect your time.  (And maybe sending them long, flowing emails might actually feel disrespectful or inconsiderate.)  It was about breaking out of a bias.  Another example was if a person thought their spouse was selfish, it was easier to spot selfish behavior in the future and easier to overlook or discount generous actions.  In this case, they recommended a relationship diary where you were only allowed to write positive things.  Suddenly they realized their spouse wasn't selfish and actually did quite a bit.  (Same "conversely" fits there - not in the book, but might make the spouse realize that they could be doing more themselves.)  So, yeah, Assume Positive Intent.  API.

9:33 pm - I found myself speaking harshly more than I'd like today, especially at Ben.  He got into a lot today and repeatedly did things he wasn't suppose to.  Harsh words don't affect him anymore, so I need to stop using them.  I was also at odds a lot with Rachel today.  It's a bit of a struggle.  Despite that, I'm happy with the week.  I got some work done in the yard today.  The work week went well, much better than I expected.  I guess I can take API to heart.  I did not get as much cleaned in the room as I wanted to, but I don't think I made anything messier.  Small steps to simplify things where I can in a busy, busy life.   I'm carrying forward a lot of To Do list items, but in the next few days I'll move some of them out of next week because I might as well admit I won't do them next week either.  Permanently moved the Wii Fit upstairs.  Will probably get more use.  Wish we'd bought two.

Weight (Saturday): 158.3 (13.3 to go)
Exercise (this week): Six walks (two were for meetings) - 12.46 miles total (no weekend walks)
Calories Today - Allowed (1,688) minus consumed (1,222) plus Exercise (415) = Under by 881 (under 3,325 for the week)
Jumping Jacks (cumulative): 100 150 (need to do more of these next week)
Sit-ups (cumulative): 20
Pushups (cumulative): 20

Chores To Do: zero (93 moved to next week)
Chores Done This Week: 268
Email: 53 40 38
Feedly: 12 zero
Reading: Inc. Magazine, March 2013 (page 22)
Reading: Decisive (87 115 of 292)
TED Talks to watch: 42 35

Worth Repeating: Allan Savory

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes -- and his work so far shows -- that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert. More on TED.com...

Why I'm posting this: This is phenomenal - turning desert into pastureland.  Not just theory, he's doing it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Feed Sift

Five cool things I've found cool this week...

Shopping by Billboard - in South Korea, you can shop for groceries while you wait for your train.  Colorful displays, designed to look like grocery shelves, show products. Scan them with your phone's app and the food is later delivered to your home. Cool. >> Web Urbanist

Mah Nà Mah Nà - I did not realize there were other versions of Sesame Street in other countries. Or that they had other Muppets. Cool. >> Mental Floss

Time Hacking - 26 productivity tips someone wishes they'd known at 20. Very quick hits on slides you can flip through quickly. You'll wait longer for the darned full-screen ad that comes up first. Slides - cool. Ad - not cool. >> Business Insider

Cranky Today, Fan Tomorrow - Six tips to turning a critic in to a fan. A quick and easy and smart read. Cool. >> Andy Sernovitz

Trippy Colors - A really slick system for finding the perfect colors for use online. Move the mouse around until you have that perfect color, then click the mouse. The screen will split so you can find the next perfect color. Rinse and repeat. Cool cool. >>Hail Pixel

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I would often see this when out jogging and for the longest time wanted to make it a prop in a funny photo but I was pretty sure I would never be able to pull it off.

I needed a Chewbacca costume with a scowling face, a short pink bathrobe and pink fuzzy slippers.

I would have him waving his fist at the photographer snapping his picture as he opened the mailbox.

Alas, the Baca residents appears to be for sale.  Ah, well.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ok, @Amazon, I give up

So a few weeks ago I needed a special part for my faucet.  These parts are guaranteed for life as long as you are the original owner and they came with the house, so I wasn't.  They're also rather inexpensive.  As such, they're hard to come by.  Home Depot and Lowes don't carry in the local stores and there's very few places online that sell them.  We're also Amazon Prime subscribers, so I'm not in the habit of paying shipping and handling.

I finally caved and bought the part from a third-party through Amazon for $5.95 and accepted the shipping ($5.25) because I needed the part.  The faucet was dripping hot water and would continue to do so until I got the new part. Not only was there an expensive shipping charge, but it was going to take a week or more to get here from California.

I kept watching the order and finally the day before Amazon said it would arrive, it had a tracking number, but no additional information.  I waited until Amazon said I absolutely should have the package in hand and contacted the seller.  They took about a day to respond and said that it must have been lost in shipping and that they'd reship it.  So I confirmed - "had they actually shipped it?" and they were evasive.  It took another day or two but finally the tracking number lit up with actual movement and then the product arrived rather quickly.

I reviewed the order and gave them 2 out of 5 stars because I did not believe they were honest with me and that they blamed the post office when it was their own issue.  Things happen, I get that.  But be honest with me.  Better yet, be proactive.  It's not difficult and I will understand if you're forthcoming.  They weren't.

Worse yet, after my 2-star review, they contacted me directly outside of the Amazon system to offer to refund my shipping in exchange for a 5-star review.

I found that to be pretty offensive.  Not only now were they blaming someone else for their error, they were trying to buy me off.

I went back on to Amazon and tried to update my review and instead deleted it.   I tried to fix that and instead ended up asking for a refund, which was immediately granted.   I tried several ways over the next few days to reverse that.  But the automated emails from Amazon that provided the instructions didn't work -- they said to reply, put an X between the braces [  ] and then add any notes.  Every time I tried, Amazon's servers refused to accept my email or said the email address I was replying to didn't exist.   Finally, I did an online chat with someone and explained the whole situation and they assured me they'd look into it and that I might not hear a resolution.

So now I have a credit on my credit card with Amazon and no clue whether they're going to reverse the reverse and change me for the product (I did receive it and the post office did receive their fee for shipping it) or if this company is just going to get stiffed.  

That was never my intent.  I wanted them to get better at selling online, not give me free stuff.

I had toyed with the idea of mailing them a check directly but that just seems too weird.  I guess I'll wait awhile and if Amazon doesn't charge me, I'll donate $15 for charity and not claim it on my taxes or something.

I'm not mentioning that company's name because they've gotten enough grief from me.  I never intended to rip them off, I just wanted a real picture of events to be shown to future potential customers.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Come on, @Groupon - seriously?

This is why no one likes you. No one -- anywhere -- ever -- wants a "Boy Meets World" DVD collection.  I'm pretty sure of that.  Of course, I've never seen the show.  But I'm pretty sure that's the case.

Yes... fine... my inbox is called "I am awesome."  Much more interesting than "gmail" or "home" or something.

Monday, April 08, 2013

This @pandora_radio email is almost awesome (A Work-Related Post)

This Pandora email is smart - engaging and relevant, it invites me back and shows me that they've made something better for me.  Also, it is excellent for the 2-3 second skimming - a single message, a clear call-to-action.

Only problem is, I can't read it all all on my iPhone.

This could easily be optimized by:
  1. Increasing font size of button and nearly all text.
  2. Increase space between buttons in the header.
  3. Optionally, increase album size slightly for more clarity.  Of course, even at this size, I think it's pretty clear to anyone that these are album covers.  Their purpose is simply ornamental, to increase interest, so they still work at this size.
But all in all, kudos to Pandora for using relevance and newness as a driving factor to bring us back to their site.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Home Week (Final)

The little ones are on spring break, I took a week's vacation and hopefully Lori also can take a break, sleeping in or having a little more time to herself to work on some stuff she hasn't been able to get to.

We don't have much planned for the week, trying to conserve cash, but I think we're going to go to Menchies later in the week.


5:52 pm - Vacation quickly draws to a close.  It was really nice being able to enjoy a weekend at home.  I wasn't always in the best of moods, but the book I just finished really convicted me to approach frustration, anger and disappointment differently.  It's not a new concept, more of a "duh" concept, but, yeah, need to take it to God in prayer.  If for nothing else than the fact that I need to change my attitude towards those around me.  I am apprehensive about work tomorrow, but I will at least have plenty to keep me busy - close to 1,000 unread emails (only 200 are high or normal priority, the other 800 are almost all low priority and can be dispatched with quickly), a number of meeting requests and plenty to do.  Since I'm checking in late, I don't have a lot of progress to show, but I got quite a bit done today, lots of stuff that won't show up again for 1, 2 or in a few cases, 7 months.  It's nice to get that kind of stuff off the list instead of just carrying them every day.  I liked this approach of looking at an entire week.  I think I will do that, the day-by-day look was too close up and as helpful as the month-long look was, it might have been too far out.  The week might be the sweet spot where I can see what I can reasonably do and plan to do and what I just can't get to and might have to actually coordinate and schedule to get done.

9:07 pm - End of the line.  This turned out to be a useful experience.  I am going to do this again.  Next week, exercise and bad behavior.  That is, I'm going to track my exercise and diet and I'm going to track when I sense behavior or emotions in myself that I don't like so that I can figure out why and how to head it off.

Chores due before 4/8 (Remember the Milk) - 48 zero (most stuff done, other stuff postponed)
Chores completed (cumulative) - 422 431
Feed.ly Unread - zero!
Mail (Gmail+Mailbox's Later) - 38 36
Unwatched TED Talks - 52
Ibuprofen/etc. consumed - 1600mg
Coffee Brewed (cumulative) (5.5 oz) - 42 + 1 Caramel Macchiato + 1 Fluffy Bunny
Jumping Jacks (cumulative) - 550
Pushups (cumulative) - 240
Situps (cumulative) - 240
Mileage (walk/run) this week for exercise (cumulative) - 3.84

"Not So Big Remodeling" - 32 38 (of 324)
"Vertical Church" - completed
"Across the Universe" - completed
Laundry washed (cumulative) - 9 loads (not doing any more until Monday)

Feed Sift

Cool/interesting stuff I've encountered recently...

-1- How do Republicans rule in Washington when they don't have the numbers?

Crosscut takes a look at why even though Rodney Tom defected from the Republican party several years ago, Republicans have banded together to make him the top dog in the Washington State Senate and why even though it seems like he wavers, he's actually very steady and it's everyone else around him who waffles. Crosscut

-2- Maldives & More: 12 Envy-Worthy Resorts of the Rich

Amazon Wish List potential. WebUrbanist

-3- Snowflakes Under Magnification

Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis (@bethrevis)

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (@bethrevis, bethrevis.com)

Lori picked this one up at the library for herself but said that I might enjoy it as well. I picked it up and very quickly made my way through it. With nods to WALL-E and Firefly, this is a book that takes place in a bubble - a colony ship headed for a distant planet, an attempt to save humanity. There's a crew that over the generations runs the ship and a bunch of people cryogenically frozen, ready to be activated upon arrival to help colonize and terraform the new planet, well, except for one of them, a "non-essential" brought along because both her parents were essential. Of course, she is unfrozen part way through the journey, almost killed in the process. The story is told in chapters that alternate between this young adult and a similarly aged male aboard the ship. Her presence on this ship is a disruption - the catalyst for a bunch of things unraveling and not going according to a prescribed plan.

I liked this book, so I'm trying to speak in generalizations that don't give too much of the plot away. That said, this is a popcorn book - the characters aren't exceptionally deep, the story a bit predictable, you will undoubtedly figure most of it out on your own as you go along anyhow. There are a few twists and turns and a few surprises, a few red herrings, but for the most part, you won't be asked to think too hard.

On Amazon, there is a diagram of the ship itself. I would have liked to have seen this - if it was in the book, I overlooked it. It is quite helpful because this ship is massive, capable of carrying over 3,000 people plus spaces for farmland and several multistory buildings inside a single level designed to give an approximation of earth to people who have never been there.

A recurring theme I liked was the idea that you can be amongst so many people and yet still be alone, that you can be so dependent and so helpless (though I could have done without the attempted rape scene that made sense in context but made me question it as a YA romance book). People are also frozen naked so there's other talk about the anatomy of our 17-year-old protagonist which seems a little out of place for a YA book since it would obviously not make the cut if this were turned into a movie. And I could see this being made into a movie. Settings and CG wouldn't be really expensive, very few actors would be necessary (lots of extras in the background, though) and there's enough in terms of themes (being alone, racism, romance, aging, totalitarianism, unchecked power being corrupted, family, suspense, science fiction, angst, longing, staring into eyes, etc.) that I wouldn't be surprised if it were considered for a movie at some point.

I will definitely be checking out more from this author.

After I wrote this, I found a website that has an interactive model of the ship - AcrossTheUniverseBook.com

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Worth Repeating: Colin Stokes @stokescolin

When Colin Stokes’ 3-year-old son caught a glimpse of Star Wars, he was instantly obsessed. But what messages did he absorb from the sci-fi classic? Stokes asks for more movies that send positive messages to boys: that cooperation is heroic, and respecting women is as manly as defeating the villain. More at TED.com >>>

Friday, April 05, 2013

Lockdown (Parenting and Autism)

Living with an autistic child who doesn't understand safety means we live in perpetual lock-down.  Most days, every interior door is locked and every bi-fold door has a lock at the top as well.  And when  a door or room isn't locked, it will often be blocked by a movable child gate/fence.

Without, he'll get into the refrigerator, the pantry, his sister's toys, linens.  He'll take pens, silverware, dirty dishes waiting for the dishwasher.  Any liquid in a container is at risk to either be drank or poured all over, be it juice, window cleaner, shampoo or salad dressing.  His floor is a virtual rainbow of spilled materials containing dyes that despite our best efforts we've been unable to completely clean.  The worst was the SoftSoap - that left yellow stains that make you immediately think of something else instead.

Near every door is a key and heaven help us when he figures out how they work because he's often with us when we unlock a door or close enough to see what we're doing.  So far, his interest has simply been in opening and closing unlocked doors, or venturing into rooms where we've left a door unlocked.

It also means that upstairs the house is always dark with all the doors locked.  It means every task takes longer and you have to plan what you're carrying in such a way that you'll be able to have a hand free to unlock a door, or that it's something you can easily set down.  When taking laundry down, it means standing at the top of the stairs and holding the door handle until he's come over and tried it a few times and then given up and walked away.

And it means that sometimes even our daughter is locked out of areas, in cases where the lock is at the top of the door, with some internal doors with flip locks or the bi-fold cabinets.  (Though that's fine to keep her out of food when she wakes up in the middle of the night and wants to eat food instead of going back to sleep.)

This isn't exactly a complaint, but it's a weird observation to think of a lockdown and how it makes us feel like we're wardens handling moves management, even if we're trying to mostly keep someone *out* of an area versus *in*.

Thursday, April 04, 2013


I have been struggling with Matthew 20:1-16 lately.  To summarize, a landowner goes to a place where day laborers hang out and hires some guys at an agreed-upon wage.  Later in the day, he returns and hires some more guys.  He does that a few times.  At the end of the day, he pays them all, starting with those who worked the shortest amount of time.  The guys who worked all day noticed that these guys who worked a lot less were being paid the same wage they agreed to.  So as they wait in line, they start to think that maybe they'll be paid more.  But when they receive their pay, it's what they agreed to in the morning but now they're bitter.

I have always seen it as an instruction to "suck it up, cupcake," especially in light of frustrations at work.  I'm still collecting a salary for the work I'm doing and it's the work I've agreed to do and the salary I've agreed to.  Only for whatever reason I might have now felt bitter - there was a suggestion or hint of something else that didn't come to be, there might be someone else in a similar role who makes more, things like that.

But after reading the whole passage again this morning, I wonder if I've been missing the point or not reading the full context.  That maybe, as Rick Warren likes to remind us, it's not about me.  Maybe this is isn't about the workers but about the prerogative of the landowner and maybe it points to generosity.  That might still hold an element of "suck it up-ness" but maybe that's just tangential to the illustration --   a reminder of God's full gift of grace, mercy, love, hope, peace and truth to all people, no matter when they accept it, that there's no sliding scale for age or something.

However... If I were to make it about me, there's still a lot I could glean from this passage:

Idea: Calorie Tax

San Francisco has been in the news recently for attempts to ban toys from children's meals at fast food restaurants.

And New York has been in the news recently for attempts to ban sugary drinks over a certain size.

Both attempts have been nearly universally decried by people who just see "the man" trying to tell them what to do or how to live.

If I understand correctly (and I may not), the actual attempt in boh cases is the better health of their citizens, not just because they feel a moral obligation to protect people from their own stupidity (like requiring helmets or seat belts) but I think it's also because of the burden that unhealthy behavior puts on society, especially in the case of health care costs.

So I was wondering... if you can't ban unhealthy behaviors (you could always buy multiple small sugary beverages or drive outside the city limits), why not tax it?  If our insurance companies charge us based on our annual driving or our gasoline is taxed based on how many gallons we purchase, why not tax calories?

To me, if the ultimate goal is healthier behavior and a reduction in health care costs, it seems that simply preventing the availability of something doesn't actually help that to happen - it's only when people understand the implications do they actually consider changing their behavior.  And if every 10 calories costs you a penny, people start paying attention - the businesses who suddenly have to confront the idea that their food might not be healthy, as well as customers who have to decide whether they want to pay an extra $1.36 (1,360 calories) for the Burger King Triple Whopper Combo meal (that's with a diet soda that has no calories and a small fries and no ketchup for your fries) or $1.13 (1,134 calories) for a 40oz Dr. Pepper at Taco Bell.

Of course, they would need to list the surcharges separately on the receipt and menu board so that they'd be visible to everyone.  And the taxes would need to go into a fund that helps with medical care.

But you don't change behavior by taking something away, you change behavior by helping people make smarter choices by showing them the true costs of their actions.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows that I desire a simpler life than the one I have.  There are many parts I cannot change, but one area I can change is clutter.  There was a time when I thought I was going to be single my whole life.  I had often wondered if I could make do with a van and a gym membership.  But I had a cat and I still believed I'd find someone, so I opted against that lifestyle.  Plus, it would have been harder back then - phones were big, clunky with limited batteries and you couldn't watch TV on them.  Wireless data plans and cell phone charging were hard to come by and there were far fewer 24-hour Wal*Marts where you could park overnight to have access to a bathroom.  

Anyhow, back to my point... uncluttering... I don't know why, but the other day the thought popped into my head "If there was a fire, what would I grab?"  Certainly, the family and the cat, but what kinds of stuff would I grab?  There's a tall dresser in our room that has a few of Lori's collectibles and then a bunch of mine: a few wooden train cars and a who bunch of shot glasses.

I used to collect them when I went on trips.  Now, to look at them, I just shake my head and wonder what was I thinking.  Here's a bunch of simple pieces of glass with something painted on them, made in China and then horrendously marked up.  

This comic ("How to Learn About Someone by Examining Their Possessions," Basic Instructions, 2013-02-28) didn't help.  Well, maybe it did.  

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Everyday Protection

Why would I want to get a flu shot every day?  If I were going to get one, I'd like one that would last awhile.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Door Buddy

Just got this awesome new product from Amazon called "Door Buddy" - it affixes to your garage door rail and it's such a big timesaver. I no longer need to close car doors. You just get in and go. The soft foam of the Door Buddy gently pushes your car doors closed when you exit the garage. Especially great for kids who have trouble closing car doors on their own or just busy people like me who want to get in and go. Comes in pink (shown) or white or blue. I went with pink because I thought it was easier to see.

You can get them from Amazon for $8.99 each (you'll want two per garage door).  
Disclaimer: These links are tagged with my affiliate link.  By purchasing, you help me fund my coffee addiction.  

Murmurations (A Work-Related Post)

These are fascinating:

I was watching them the other day with my daughter and, as always, my mind drifted to work. So, some thoughts on murmurations as an analogy for a company:

* From inside the murmuration, you can't see the whole picture. You need to have a pretty good understanding of your part, but try as you might, you won't be able to comprehend the whole. You need to be confident that you can rely on those around you and be committed to the whole. You need to know enough about your mission to know whether or not you're aimed in the right direction.

* From outside the murmuration, you can't exactly understand why they're doing what they're doing. If they can't completely comprehend it inside, good luck trying to understand it from the outside as a consultant, vendor or financial analyst.