Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kudos, @NavyFederal

Managing a brand in today's interconnected world is difficult - what is social media? Marketing? Branding? Advertising? Customer Service? Crisis Management? All of the above.

I got an email this week from Navy Federal Credit Union. I have not served in our nation's armed forces, but my dad served for a number of years in the Navy. The story, as I remember it, is that my parents brought me into the branch when I was a few weeks old and a teller my parents had a regular ongoing customer relationship with opened an account in my name with $20 of her own money (you can have an account as a dependent of a serviceman).  The two biggest pieces of financial advice my dad has consistently delivered over the years are "Don't end up with a rebate on your taxes - that's a tax-free loan to the government" and "Whatever you do, keep your Navy Federal Credit Union account."

I haven't used the account much over the years - every so often I add a little to it and it quietly earns interest.  They've also come in handy with great rates on car loans and debt consolidation.

A few days ago I got an email promoting boat loans. I thought that was kind of funny, considering most of its customers have probably served on a sea-going vessel much larger than they'd ever be able to get a loan for.  I didn't know if it was a good idea (you can get your own boat and finally be captain), or silly (why would I buy boat which will always feel small compared the ones I served on - plus I remember the constant maintenance).  I decided to tweet about it, but to take a more absurd train of thought, because, well, that's how I think.

Navy Federal originally misunderstood and their security mindset jumped into action.  I had to explain that, no, in fact it was a joke that just didn't work as well as I'd hoped.  (Another one of my followers got it - they retweeted it.)  

Once NFCU understood, a more playful side came out. So I have to give props to them for having that balance - security-minded, but also empowered/allowed to have a more playful, informal interchange with their customers. So, kudos, @NavyFederal - it's not easy being a bank in a social era.

End of February

I never did get around to posting a summary for the end of 2014.  I feel a little bit bad about that, but it was never a high enough priority, I guess.  Life has just been too busy lately.  I think part of that is the added time spent on my commute.

I tried carpooling this month, didn't care for it.  While I was still working at my last job, I wondered what it looked like to work in Bellevue. It seemed so far away so I wondered about carpool options. In order to see potential carpools, you had to program in your route. So I had programmed in a fake route from the nearest park and ride to Expedia and forgotten about it in the subsequent months. Someone found it a week or two ago, contacted me, we arranged to meet. We met, I drove. I wanted to be there at 7:30, she didn't start work until 8:30.  I wanted to be done at 4:30, she worked until 5. She was late in getting to the carpool the first day, she didn't get to leave on time that evening, making me late for an engagement that evening. The next day, I somehow overslept and so told her not to wait for me. The next day, she was really late arriving so I finally left without her. It was a good thing, I didn't get to leave that night until 6:30. If I had tried to leave at 4:30 that day (or, as it turns out, any day the rest of the week), it wouldn't have worked. So I told her I was just going to remove my name from the carpool list. My schedule's too unpredictable, I like my audiobooks and I'm not sure the time savings is really sufficient when you take into consideration the time to stop and collect other people or stop and drop off other people and when you have to keep moving across all general purpose lanes to get in or out of the carpool lane or change freeways and when the carpool lane runs as slow as the regular lanes so often.

Things at home have been pretty good from my perspective. Work has kept me away from home quite a bit, but I don't have too many recollections of words spoken to me or deeds done against me by my children that would have made me sad. Ben did kick me in the eye once last week, but it didn't cause any lingering effects and it's been a struggle for him, he's been sick and having to have eye drops put in his eyes which is no fun for people who understand why they have to have eye drops in their eyes - let alone someone who's being held down by a parent (or two) who's holding something above their eye, holding their head steady and then as soon as they open their eyes - sploink. So unfair. I'd flail my limbs, too.

Date Night tonight with Lori.  Lori's mom watches the children and Lori and I go off some place for a few hours. I was embarrassed to be returning home before 9 pm from our last date night, but we had a nice meal out, a nice time to talk, and it was a dark and stormy night, so not a lot really to do. We had tried to go to Home Depot to look at night lights for the house, but they were closing when we got there.

Minor excitement in the neighborhood earlier this month - in preparation for our new furnace, a phalanx of spray-can wielding surveyors painted the street (and our grass and flower beds and mulch) many brightly colored lines and symbols. Then a crew came with a backhoe, generator and a bunch of trucks and tore of the sidewalk on both sides of the street, dug a trench in our yard and a big hole. I missed all the action - by the time I returned home that afternoon, temporary paving covered the holes, the trench and hole expertly filled in (grass re-laid in place0. A new shiny gas meter on the side of our house, the backhoe in the street and a massive flatbed trailer on the side street were the only signs that something had happened.  On Monday they'll install the heater and hot water heater and thermostat and run a power line to the back of the house to a new electrical line to the back of the house and a new concrete pad.  They'll return later to install a heat pump and I'll build an enclosure because they're building the pad large enough to also hold my generator and they're running a line to the back of the house so that I'll be able to plug the generator right into the house in a power-outage (instead of running a cord out the garage window which is a code violation necessary to run the generator from behind the gate where it's secure.)

Work is going really well.  There's only 2 months left in my contract, so I'm starting to look to see what my other options are. It was originally a contract-to-hire but based on some changing priorities for the business and a reorg, they may not have a need for me after the end of the contract. If that's the case, it's still a nice thing on my resume and just having not-my-last-company as the top item on my resume has opened a lot of doors from other interested companies and recruiters who apparently don't think too highly of my last company or that its employees are worth poaching. So work itself is fun. There's a lot of challenges and I'm groaning regularly at some new thing to deal with, but at the beginning, almost all of the groaning I was doing was at something I'd done. I think I've reached a level of competency that I'm not the one making the mistakes. That's kinda nice.

Coffee's ready, must go get some.

Question of the Day: Cough

When's the last time you were sick?

In 2014, I answered: It's been awhile. I think it was during a visit to Jeff and Hillary's. I stayed in the living room with Ben the whole time.

When were you last sick?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Feed Sift (02/27/2015)

Five things I wanted to share...


ENGADGET -- BMW's new street lights will charge your electric car


LIKE A TEAM -- The Power of Positive Quotes


HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW -- What You Eat Affects Your Productivity


BBC -- Your life on earth


YOUTUBE -- Alexander Gerst’s Earth timelapses

Happy Friday!

Question of the Day: Your Provenance

Are you the original or the remix? Why?

In 2014, I answered: The original, baby. It's too hard to emulate others.

How about you?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Question of the Day: Toss it!

Name one item you can't throw out

In 2014, I answered: Lori says that old computer monitor. It works fine (or did 2-3 years ago when Lori got her laptop). I hope it's gone in a year.
(Note: It's not. It's in my office. I used it daily during the transition last fall.)

What are you having trouble tossing?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Question of the Day: Dreaming the night away

What's the last dream you remember?

In 2014 (on Feb. 26), I answered: I was buying up all the apartments in a building for all my family members. That was a few days ago?

What's your most recent dream?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Question of the Day: Excess Access

Today you've go too much __________

In 2014 (on Feb. 27), I answered: Easy access to food. Way too easy to snack.

What do you have too much of?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Question of the Day: You Bought What?!?!

What's the most embarrassing purchase on a recent credit card statement?

In 2014 (on March 16), I answered: I can't think of anything. Maybe a can of soda?

You know they track these things? Admit it - what is it?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: The Apocalypse Codex

The Apocalypse Codex (A Laundry Files Novel)
by Charles Stross

I found this book on our library website's audiobook. I didn't realize until nearly the end of the book that it was, in fact, book 4 in a series. The book had such an interesting start to it that I thought it had to be the first in a series. No, it was just unique (book 5 doesn't start the same way) and did a great job with introductory exposition and character development throughout the book also made it feel like a freshman outing. I really liked the book and I was left with the conundrum... do I go back and read the first three in the series? I decided not to - there are plenty of books out there, the character seemed to be a much better character by the end of the book (their personal growth through what they experienced, that is) and I didn't want to confuse myself.

Bob Howard is an "IT Guy" with "The Laundry," which is the unofficial name for a secret branch of the British government that protects people from paranormal things "beyond space-time." That is, demons, monsters from parallel universes and humans who make a practice of these types of phenomena for their own benefit (and usually the detriment of others).

A preacher from a Colorado mega-church (whose retreat weekends for prospective parishioners has an astounding 100% conversion rate) has been meeting with successful British businessman and wrangles a meeting with the Prime Minister and also holds a very packed rally in London. These events draw the attention of the British government and The Laundry becomes involved because of their ability to use "external assets" - non-employee contractors who can go where the government can't.

The book is an action-packed journey right out of the gate with an early chapter that deftly introduces several characters who may or may not exist outside of book 4 (I haven't seen them in book 5) in a way that really helps explain this universe and its rules for magic.

The book is also a humorous take on Bob's struggle with being promoted to management and enduring training and has some great turns of phrase like "lettuce-infested sandwich." Some creative phrases end up being overused and the book has a very negative opinion of Christianity.

However, it's still a fast-paced entertaining book which made me wish my commutes were longer.

Question of the Day: Emo

What was your prevailing emotion of the day?

In 2014 (on March 16), I answered: Discouragement. Ben got kicked out of the nursery and I want to leave this church.

(Note: They created a special education nursery classroom since then. Ben has a place that's safe for him and other children.)

What's you emotion like today?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Question of the Day: buzz buzz buzz buzz

What is the current buzzword?

In 2014 (on March 24), I answered: Compromise. (And claiming it isn't.)

You? What's the buzzword du jour?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Feed Sift (02/20/2015)

Hey, errrbody! Welcome to the weekend! Here's a few things I thought y'all would find interesting.


ENGADGET -- Scientists can make your inner monologue audible


TWISTED SIFTER -- Wall Street Banker Quits to Open $1 Pizza Joint, Customers Pay It Forward to Feed Homeless


FORBIDDEN PLACES -- Abandoned Castles from South West of France


LEVO LEAGUE -- Working With Remote Managers


BUZZFEED ON YOUTUBE -- 209 Seconds That Will Make You Question Your Entire Existence (hyperbole, much?)

Happy Friday!

Question of the Day: word word word word

What word did you overuse today?

In 2014, I answered: Nothing comes to mind except "Food stays at the table, Ben."

You? What's the overused word-of-the-day?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Question of the Day: You Crazy

Who's the craziest person in your life?

In 2014, I answered: I'm not sure. I've scaled back how many people are in my life. Sure, someone would have to be "craziest" but but I'm not sure.

And in your life - admit it, I'm the craziest, right?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Question of the Day: Rich Wear

What's the most expensive thing you're wearing now?

In 2014 (on Feb. 17), I answered: Probably this part of Dockers dress slacks. (My phone isn't on me at the moment.)

What kind of fancy duds are you sporting?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Question of the Day: Today but Different

If you could change something about today, what would it be?

In 2014, I answered: I would like to be retired.

You? What would you make different?

Monday, February 16, 2015

What Happened?

I've been waiting awhile to write this. First, for legal reasons. Then, because I didn't know what say. And then finally because very quickly I found myself with absolutely no time to sit down and write.

My world was rocked last September by the news that I was being laid off, my position eliminated. It was all I could do to keep a straight face during the meeting. While there was a daunting element to it, not to mention a sense of disappointment, it was also the best news I could get.  I was free, free at last.

My post-college career trajectory has been an interesting one. In some ways, I'm not sure I've ever really "paid my dues" to the degree that I think most people are resigned to do or fight against until they finally resign themselves to it.  Before I'd even left school, I was recruited to do contract work for someone's hobby website. Within a few weeks, he had a financial backer and plans were in motion to turn it into a business. I would work from the school's library or computer center and every week there would be a paycheck in the post office box from a publishing company in Wisconsin.  On graduation day, I had a check (already deposited) for relocation costs, a truck packed and I was on my way to California.  Before we had actual offices, I worked from home. When we all needed to meet, we'd meet at my apartment. After a few years, there were some big changes. Connections I had made at that job led to my next job with a large movie studio.

I started as an individual contributor and before too long I was managing my peers. That was good until the dot bomb and I was out again. A generous severance meant I had nine months to find a new job. It was the dot bomb and so all these people who had been cold calling me were now nowhere to be found. I began to volunteer doing web work for my church.  That became nearly a full-time thing until the severance ran out and I had to disengage to re-devote to a full-time job search. After about a month the church called and said that they really did need me back and would work out the finances to make that happen.  I contracted for a year, worked part- and then full-time for a few more years.

And then there was a sense that something needed to change. Which led us to sell our home in one state, but a house in a new state and move, wife, daughter, dog, four cats and mother-in-law, all without a job. Connections from that previous job helped me secure the interview and I was offered a temporary six month contract. At the end of the contract, they said they wanted me to stay, but they couldn't get a headcount to match, they could offer me a job but it would be at a lower rate and position than the one I was currently doing. It still felt like the right thing to do and within a day or two a peer at the same level I had been working at announced she was leaving and just like that, there was a headcount available. Before too long, I was managing my peers. I liked the environment, I liked that it was more than "just a job" - we were making a difference in the world. They may sure that you heard that often. It may have served to mask some other issues.

As time went on, I took on whatever was asked of me. I pretty much pledged that I would do whatever was asked of me. Often times, it was in a service-role, but all-too-often involved telling people "no" - their request (their scorecard, their objectives) didn't align with a more influential competing interests. That's not a great place to be.

A few times other opportunities had come up and I'd made a play for them, including two directorships. While at the time, I thought they had made the wrong choice. In retrospect, I came to appreciate their choice and see how the selected candidate had been the right choice and brought something to the role that I couldn't. In the other choice, I was disappointed to feel like years later the role had been wasted because I felt like I had a stronger vision.

If I look back, I think things really started to come apart the spring last year. In March the company made a huge blunder that alienated a large portion of its engaged supporter base and whipped up a media frenzy.  It took two and a half days to reverse its position which then alienated the other half of its supporter base as well as the new audience they had sought to reach with the philosophical change. It was like dashing a fragile vase to the ground. All the superglue in the world will never made it the same as it was. The fact that those who made the original decision are still running the ship astounds me even now.

By then we were also about a year into the new normal -- my new supervisor was under a lot of pressure, kept his cards close to his vest, didn't share a lot about his vision and I was in a role that may have put me out of my technical depth and at odds with his overall objectives. We were also working towards a major product release - it crowded out everyone else's requests and relied a lot on another department we had a tenuous relationship with.  I found myself spending a lot of time walking to and from the other building where they were located. It also felt like some of the roles under my purview should have been in that group instead. I had some smart people working for me, but it was't clear how much I was actually adding at this point. I began to invest more time (outside of work) into my job search. I was part of a leadership coaching course offered by our department's VP and I felt like I was being invested in, but I felt like my current role was quite the mismatch. While not a licensed doctor herself, Lori's pretty confident that if I had been assessed, I would have been diagnosed as clinically depressed.

I attended a phenomenal simulcast called "Leadercast" where lots of smart people talked about a lot of leadership topics (think like a day of "TED Talks") and it was clear that I was on the right track but I was with the wrong company.

I tried to look around the organization, but everything was so tight, so cut to the bone. There was no other place where I could see myself jumping in and making a difference. The prognosis didn't look good, a lot of my friends were leaving and I felt trapped. I had a few conversations and a few interviews, but not much was happening. We were praying like crazy and wondering what was next.

And then that one glorious day, the logjam cleared - they had rolled a number of my team's functions off to that other group where they belonged and I was now redundant. They had, as required, looked at other open roles to see if I would be a good fit, and finding none, were releasing me. Part of me was disappointed that they hadn't asked me to help in the transition or figure out the next steps, but it wasn't surprising, I had felt marginalized for some time. I was sad to no longer be part of the organization, but I think staying would have been unhealthy for me. So, we had our little exit meeting, I brought out the list I had made the day before of technology I'd need to return and questions I had while my work laptop sat on my desk transferring all my personal files via dropbox to my other computers.We were doing a shuffle of offices, too, so everything was already boxed up which was quite handy - I didn't have to return or pack anything - instead the HR person brought the boxes to my house and then came back a week later to retrieve the company property that had been mixed in the moving boxes.

I was already planning to meet my wife for lunch that day, so we met at a park, had a wonderful lunch, went to Costco and bought new phones and then the next day, off to my grandma's for her 97th birthday, a wonderful distraction, an amazing time with family. And then back home and had a big deadline for my consultancy for which I had to confiscate my wife's laptop while my new laptop was being shipped by Amazon.

So I had about a month of looking before someone called and said they had a few jobs they wanted me to look at.  They had been aware of me and when they saw that I was looking for work, they called me right away. A few conversations, a phone interview, and suddenly I found myself in a contract-to-hire role with a great company in Bellevue.

So what happened? I wasn't in control. I allowed a company to define my career and who I was. I wrapped up a lot of my identity in a relationship that wasn't as equally into me as I was into them. A lesson I learned the hard way, but in the big money machine, the company is going to take care of itself. I need to take care of myself. I didn't have a strong enough vision. I was in process of trying to determine who I was, but I hadn't done enough to know where I wanted to go, where I wanted to be.

Fortunately, for me, I ended up somewhere good anyhow. But I must not repeat those mistakes. I must take care of me (including my family, my health, my sense of self-worth) and I must have a vision and a plan for where I want to go.

(In the end, I'm very grateful to the last organization - I learned a lot, I had a lot of fun, I worked with some great people and in the end, the generous severance helped sustain us over the break and is helping us replace our aging furnace before it dies.)

Question of the Day: Presenting...

What was the last performance or concert you went to?

In 2014, I answered: Elf, Christmas before last at 5th. Avenue

You? Where did you last find culture or entertainment?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review: Perfect Ruin

Perfect Ruin (The Internment Chronicles)
by Lauren DeStefano

Another in a long line of YA uptopia/dystopia, Morgan is a young girl living on a floating island with her family and friends. A highly controlled place where gender is pre-determined, birth rates are controlled, people are paired at birth, retire at 60 and are killed at 75, it's a safe, clean place, ruled over by a benevolent king and the royal family. TVs exist only in the apartment lobbies for special announcements from the king and most travel is on foot, or by bike, or by the trains that continuously circle the outer edge of the island on a two-hour loop. The island has different sections for different activities (farming, mining, commerce, residential) and four academies where the students are educated. Each chapter is started with a quote from a paper written by a students you actually don't meet in the book.

The inhabitants of the island don't know much about the earth below them. They have fashioned scopes to try to see the ground below, but they don't provide enough detail for the scientists to really understand. They're pretty sure their island was once a part of the ground below, but it's a history that's been lost from time (or erased). Instead, they survive on their relatively modern floating island, powered by solar and surrounded by clouds. A strong wind buffets the edge and residents who have dared get too close to the edge are irrevocably injured.

A murder occurs, the first in decades and this is the catalyst for the focus of our young subject to really question the world around her. What had been a nagging thought in the back of her head is thrust to the front as she realizes the tidy world with all of its pat answers isn't enough. She wants... more.

While slightly uneven, I enjoyed this book. It was an interesting tale and I wanted to know more. And while a bit heavy-handed, I liked the character's observation of an increased visible police presence actually making her feel less safe and that the eventual diminished presence was quite obvious and the questions that we've faced in real life in similar recent situations. The book ends with a lot of questions unanswered and I was relieved to find out that it was the first in a series because I, too, want... more. (The audiobook narrator made no reference to the series at the end and the other books aren't available as audiobooks so I wasn't sure before I did a little more research.)

Question of the Day: Rx for the Broke Heart

Write down the cure for a broken heart

In 2014 (on Feb. 16), I answered: Probably time. Alcohol, cigars and jazz at CityWalk probably also.

What would you prescribe?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Question of the Day: Kiss and Tell

Did you kiss someone today?

In 2014 (on Feb. 16), I answered: My family. Ben was released from hospital after his overdose.

Who'd you smooch?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Feed Sift (02/13/2015)

Greetings, readers. Here's five more things I wanted to share. I'm also trying something new: posting each article separately every morning on my Twitter feed: @tvjames.


ENGADGET -- Harvard provides a glimpse at how the robot plague will overrun us all


REDUCTRESS -- Vaccinations Made My Cat Autistic


WEB URBANIST -- Fictional Bridges from Euro Banknotes Now Built in Real Life


MISSING AIMEE -- On one of life's biggest clich├ęs


TWISTED SIFTER -- Drone Pilot Films Mexico City’s International Airport from Above

Happy Friday!

Question of the Day: Question Du Jour

What's Your Favorite Question to Ask People?

In 2014 (on Feb. 19), I answered: "What Brought You to World Vision?" It's easy to ask and people always have great stories.

And what's your favorite question to ask people?

Shutting the door on potential customers (A Work-Related Post)

(Also posted on LinkedIn)

This morning, as I was walking to the office, I saw an advertisement on the side of a bus for a digital advertising company. The ad wasn't great, but it was clean and clear. I was intrigued enough to call up the website on my phone. And... well... apparently they didn't want me to really look at their site.
They didn't actually even have a mobile site - it was a brochure-ware site that wasn't mobile-optimized and really didn't tell me much about what they did. But then I flipped my phone sideways and, well, I was effectively prohibited from viewing their site for reasons, from my quick trip to their homepage, made no sense to me. I often view websites with my mobile device in this orientation. It's big enough to see plenty and it allows me to see the text at a larger size. And if I want to watch a video, it's going to open in this orientation anyhow.
So why did they do this? I can only speculate: They paid some website to do the work for them and the coder was lazy. They have some specific content that's really long that they want you to see all at once. They actually don't care about mobile.
I certainly wouldn't advertise my tiny consultancy on the side of a bus (it wouldn't reach my target audience, I don't have a marketing budget, I'm not trying to play at that level, and so on.), but the bus advertisement lends them a "next level" of credibility and if you advertise on the side of a bus, you have to assume most of your audience will be visiting your website on a mobile device. Instead of allowing me to learn about their brand, I have a negative impression and I don't see a reason to spend any more time on them.
Instead of allowing me to learn about their brand, I have a negative impression and I don't see a reason to spend any more time on them.
I can't find any stats on portrait vs landscape in a quick Google search, but pretty sure anecdotal unscientific research would suggest most people do use their phones mostly in portrait, but that's no reason to shut the door in the face of a potential customer.
Your assignment: Audit the experiences your customer will have. Are there any places where you're keeping people away who want to get to know you?

Lazy? (A Work-Related Post)

This morning, as I was walking to the office, I saw an advertisement on the side of a bus for a digital advertising company.  The ad wasn't great, but it was clean and clear.  I was intrigued enough to call up the website on my phone.  And... well... apparently they didn't want me to really look at their site.

They didn't actually even have a mobile site - it was a brochure-ware site that wasn't mobile-optimize and really didn't tell me much about what they did.  But then I flipped my phone sideways and, well, I was effectively prohibited from viewing their site for reasons, from my quick trip to their homepage, made no sense to me.  I often view websites with my mobile device in this orientation.  It's big enough to see plenty and it allows me to see the text at a larger size.  And if I want to watch a video, it's going to open in this orientation anyhow.

So why did they do this?  I can only speculate: They paid some website to do the work for them and the coder was lazy.  They have some specific content that's really long that they want you to see all at once.  They actually don't care about mobile.

I certainly wouldn't advertise my tiny consultancy on the side of a bus (it wouldn't reach my target audience, I don't have a marketing budget, I'm not trying to play at that level, and so on.), but the bus advertisement lends them a "next level" of credibility and if you advertise on the side of a bus, you have to assume most of your audience will be visiting your website on a mobile device.  Instead of allowing me to learn about their brand, I have a negative impression and I don't see a reason to spend any more time on them.

I can't find any stats on portrait vs landscape in a quick Google search, but pretty sure anecdotal unscientific research would suggest most people do use their phones mostly in portrait, but that's no reason to shut the door in the face of a potential customer.  Audit the experiences your customer will have.  Are there any places where you're keeping people away who want to get to know you?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Question of the Day: In Your Way

What's the biggest obstacle right now?

In 2014 (on March 2), I answered: Finances. More concernng than autism and Ben's future - at the moment - if I'm being honest.

You? What are you up against?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Question of the Day: Commute

How did you get to work?

In 2014 (on Feb. 16), I answered: I would have driven. Just like always.

How did you get to the place that provides your paycheck?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Question of the Day: Animal Time

If today was an animal, what animal would it be?

In 2014, I answered: A dolphin. We had happy rain.

Ok, that was a funny question... but how would you answer it?

Monday, February 09, 2015

Question of the Day: Zzzzzz

How did you sleep?

In 2014 (on Feb. 16), I answered: It was a Sunday but we had sick kiddos so we slept in and then streamed the service. Also, we were snowed in.

How did you sleep?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Review: The Black Swan

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A Black Swan is an unpredictable event that when viewed in hindsight is not at all surprising. It gets its name from, well, a black swan. Way back in history, there was a time when scientists didn't believe swans could be black. There had been rumors of them, but people who "knew about these types of things" had never seen one and therefore didn't believe they existed. Until eventually proof was provided to the right people at which point it became a "duh, well, why not?" There will be "dreamers" who imagine black swans, but they aren't credible until after the black swan has been shown to exist. If they're lucky, they might be considered a visionary, but more often than not, people have forgotten. If they're unlucky, people will demand that they "do it again" like some magic fortune teller.

A number of recent advances in technology have been described as Black Swans and a lot of effort is put into trying to figure out what the next one is because Black Swans are rare and Black Swans are valuable.

I had this book on my list for a long time. I didn't think it would spill any secrets about Black Swans known only to its readers or unveil some magical formula that would turn me into a Black Swan spotter, but I was hoping that I would at least learn a little more about how to think like a visionary, maybe identify Black Swans a little quicker (and discount swans who have fallen in a can of paint) and most importantly, I was looking for a good list of recent Black Swans with some solid analysis on what made them Black Swans and how they came to be.

I didn't find any of that, at least it hadn't happened before I abandoned the book. The book mostly seemed to be the author smugly talking about his own life. It it was supposed to be bonefides to why the author was equipped to talk about Black Swans, it went on extremely too long and didn't get to what I was looking for by the time I had had enough (and then some). It, or the term, had been mentioned by a number of the smart people I regularly read, so I pushed on well past when I wanted to abandon and when I did finally abandon, I felt a little bit more chagrin than usual - if I couldn't even read the book, I was admitting that I wasn't even tangentially near those circles. Alas.

This book is ranked 3.5 stars on Amazon with some pretty vicious comments by its dissenters, despite it making the New York Times Bestseller list. To read more reviews, head on over to Amazon (affiliate link).

Question of the Day: Loooove

Are you in love?

In 2014 (on March 20), I answered: Yes. My family, God (but not enough). The blue skies these days.

How about you? Are you in love?

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Question of the Day: Purchase

What are three things you have to buy?

In 2014 I answered: A door (for the garage), flowers for Lori, new shoes. (Answered 3/24)

What do you need to buy?

Friday, February 06, 2015

Feed Sift (02/06/2015)


ENGADGET -- EE lets queue-jumpers pay 50p for faster customer service - lame! Obviously thought up by someone who hates their customers. Perhaps someone from the airline industry?

HOUZZ -- What a Landscape Architect Wants You to Know About What They Do


LIFEHACKER -- The Tricks Apps Play on Your Mind to Keep You Hooked




WIRED -- NASA just emailed a wrench to space

Happy Friday!

Question of the Day: Seeking

Are you seeking contentment or excitement?

In 2014 I answered: Contentment. I don't have the time, money or energy for excitement. Sad by true.

What are you seeking?

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Question of the Day: Audio

What are you obsessively listening to?

In 2014 I answered: Not sure I am. Escala is great and that Eminem/Rihana song is stuck in my head. But I've been enjoying a large mix.

How about you? What are you listening to?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Question of the Day: Weather

Outside, the weather is _______

In 2014 I answered: Frightful. It snowed today. No trace now. But we should expect more in days.

How's the weather where you are right now?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Question of the Day: Sadscale

On a scale of one to ten, how sad are you? Why?

In 2014 I answered: One. I'm not sad. Extremely tired (kids slept poorly last night) but not sad. Just weary, exhausted, ready to be done for the night.

What's your sadness scale?

Monday, February 02, 2015

Question of the Day: Housizens

Who do you live with?

In 2014 I answered: Lori, Rachel, Ben, Cash and Milo. At work: Toby, Clay, Sam, Theresa, Nick. Plus church people. I started a Facebook vacation today.

Who do you live with?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Review: Amnesia Moon

Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem
The book opens with a guy who decides he'd rather drive on the wrong side of the highway. Because he can. Because it's his highway. Because he's claimed as such. This is the world after something has changed everything. Everything has gotten "local" - there is no big, there is no central, there is no country. There is only your current existence, subsistence. No one seems to remember what happened, and if there are people who actually do, they're not saying. But everything's different now. You might scrap by for food, you might live in a town where you move twice a week, or where air is literally as think (or at least as green) as pea soup and you move everywhere following guide ropes.

This is the post-apocalyptic world of Amnesia Moon, an on-the-road travelogue of someone trying to remember his past, what happened, and trying to understand what's real and what's not. If you're hoping for answers, you'll be left wanting, or maybe you won't. But you won't get them. If you stop to ask questions of logic and semantics, you'll get pulled along to the next stop before you have a chance to think about them too long. And maybe one of the characters will ask the same question you have. Don't worry, they won't really get any answers either.

If I had been reading this in print, I probably would not have made it to the end. However, the audiobook is well done, the narrator approaching it more like a radio play, with a wide cast of characters and voices to match, he did a really good job. Rarely does it feel like a voice changed, though there are two spots where it sounds like a line was re-recorded later. The author does a great job with imagining and describing a world where even some of the laws -- like gravity -- aren't entirely fixed (in the process also giving the narrator some great clues about how to approach a scene.)

In the end, the book concludes. Rather quickly, I might add. As if the author ultimately got tired of his journey. In the end, the main character finds something and I think we're to understand that this was what he was looking for all along, even if he didn't realize it himself.

It was a real trip to listen to as I drove and I'd find myself looking forward to the next chance to be in the car to find out what happened next.

For more reviews, please head on over to Amazon. (This is a referral link so Amazon will give me a few cents if you make a purchase. Think of it as your way of saying you like my blog.)

Question of the Day: Resolutionary

What is your resolution for tomorrow?

In 2014 I answered: Stay under my calories. But maybe that's silly with birthday cake?

Do you have a resolution for tomorrow? What is it?