Underwhelmed, Connections, Overwhelmed and Peace

Amazon Prime Day has completely underwhelmed me. One of the things that I think about for events like this is how well the vendor (Amazon) has dialed into what I consistently buy or look at over time and then how well their smart analytics and data mining tune offers to match what I’m likely to be interested in and I might want to buy. I’ve seen nothing interesting so far. I’m surprised and underwhelmed.

Yesterday I was contacted about a Dean position at a University a few states away. I declined because I’m not interested in moving. I’ve never really considered such a position but it might be fun. However, it got me thinking about LinkedIn and recommendations on LinkedIn which I’ve never really cultivated. In a weak moment, I sent requests to some former colleagues at different places asking for recommendations in case I might need or want them in the future (before they forget me). Several have since called me and several have sent me recommendations already. If nothing else, I at least re-connected with some friends.

These past two months have been a time of reflection and reconsideration about many things. Church, organizations, growing older and what is ahead. Going to be a grandfather soon which is hard to believe. Talked to two different friends yesterday and had great conversations about things in the past and things ahead. Some other friends have moved away and I don’t see them as often which makes me sad. Some other things are not unfolding as I might have hoped or thought. Have been re-impressed with the value of friends and cultivating friends and connecting with those around.

On a really bright note, my wife and I had the chance to take a quick vacation this past week when we visited Alaska. Lots of great sights and times. And I got to experiment with a new camera, a Nikon Coolpix B600, which has quite a zoom lense capability. Really enjoyed working with it and realized I have much to learn.

The zoom…

Wherever you are and whatever your situation, I wish you well. May peace be upon you.

Being Taken to the Cleaners

I’ve come to believe that we are being taken to the cleaners over and over in simple and subtle ways.

Case in point, when your state issues tax refunds for overpayments on a debit card. They are absolutely, 100% on purpose, taking advantage of those of us who lose the cards or never get around to using them or are just overwhelmed with dealing with another card and account to set-up. Remember, you must call their 800 number and listen to their commercial in order to activate the card. That state keeps that which is never used.

Or how about medical service providers who send you a bill for an amount after insurance has paid what they will pay, you write them a check, and then weeks or months later you get a check in the mail for overpayment. Once again, they are counting on you not cashing that check and they were leveraging your money during the time of the overpayment by earning interest on those funds. This is not accidental.

And of course, the insurance companies send you a Explanation of Benefits written in a foreign language to most of us using codes and things we don’t understand to justify what they are going to pay for and not pay for on this claim. And, of course, they include several pages of how you appeal the payment of which nobody does.

Our leaders in Washington don’t have to live by the very laws we must obey. They get their own health insurance and retirement plans. They get to trade securities with insider information without fear of prosecution. They are lobbied by special interests (everybody, everything, every country) and people who go into Congress with typical financial resources end up millionaires within a few years.

And statistics are used to prove whatever points is required in the current argument or cause. For both sides.

I don’t think of myself as paranoid, instead, I think of myself and seeing more and more of this around me. It is just reality.

I think I’m going to read this Moneyland book. That will probably set me off further.

Take care of your friends and family that are nearby. Be kind. Help those who need a little help. Be gracious. The ‘system’ is not going to help and we need to help each other and just be kind along the way.

On My Mind

I read an article this week that really struck me in describing the current times. It was entitled The Weaponization of Feeling ‘Unsafe’ and it struck me as very true. We are in an era where ‘The new McCarthyism requires that everyone bow to demands of “victims.”’ People expect everyone else to bow down to their opinions and affirm their beliefs and nobody is entitled to hold a different viewpoint or opinion. I have to think about this further.

And then there was this article called Why Men Don’t Have Friends and Why Women Should Care which caught my eye. I think there is a huge amount of truth in this. I’ve had two friends move out of town/state this past year and I’m still processing the loss.

I just finished the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by Epstein and I have to say this is a book the resonates deeply with me. I like to think of myself as someone who reads widely and is interested in lots of things: “a reader of much and an expert on nothing” and this book exactly talks about this idea. It just resonated with me and I recommend it.

Finally, I was talking with a friend this afternoon who told me about a recent family wedding weekend where the family nearly broke into fist fights. One family member had to step in and tell those who were feuding that the weekend was about the wedding party, not them and they needed to cut it out. I know of another dear family where there is conflict and one family member is spreading hatred and false narratives about another family member. Such huge hurt for some. Why do we do this to each other? Why does family do this to family? Really, why does anyone do this to anyone?

Be kind, for you do not know what battle others are fighting. Here is an idea, decide to be kind and gracious and give the benefit of the doubt. Life is short.

Non-Fiction Winners

I seem to love three genres of reading and one of them is science non-fiction for laymen, i.e. for non-experts in the field. I’ve been struck by several amazing books in the past year or two and I’ve mentioned a couple of them before. However, I wanted to do this post to pull together a good list of amazing books to check out.

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli is a book that unravels the nature of time as we currently understand it. Ideas such that there is a smallest ‘tick’ of time, i.e. time is not continuous as we might think, and the faulty view of thinking about events happening simultaneously were just amazing. The question of wondering what is happening in the Andromeda galaxy right now is nonsensical. This is one of only a handful of books that after finishing it on Audible, I started it over immediately and listened to it again.

The Order of Time caused me to immediately follow with another of Rovelli’s books, Reality is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Rovelli again. Another fascinating and very understandable journey through some amazing ideas.

I’ve posted about The Information: A History, a Theory a Flood by James Gleick is a wonderful review of the development of information theory which covers networking, communications, codes and computing. I’ve gone through this two or three times.

I’m currently listening to Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy by George Gilder. This book is challenging some foundational ideas that I’ve believed in for years. I’m not done with this one yet, but I’m thinking there are some critical ideas here about security and the future of computing.

And finally, Scale, The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life, in Organisms, Cities, Economies and Companies by Geoffrey West. I’ve recommended this one to several and then some of those people have come back to me to discuss this they have further recommended it to their circles. I’ve been through this one twice too.

If you have any you’d recommend along these lines, please let me know.

Re-reading

I’ve been re-reading a lot lately. Re-listening on Audible. Re-watching movies.

Lately This Present Darkness, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again, 14 and Unoffendable. I’m thinking about listening to IT again and I keep rewatching Avengers movies and Star Wars: Rogue One. And of course, any Harry Potter movie that is on when I need to just veg is a go.

Seems I need to find some new reading directions.

And, not sure what to put here anymore.

Grace

The last few weeks have been some of the most intensive thinking weeks I’ve had in a long time. I’m working trying to understand some problems and challenges and then trying to figure out the best path forward given those challenges. During these times, I’ve had many important and deep conversations with some colleagues as we’ve talked through these challenges and how to best move forward.

During these discussions, and some side discussions, I’ve been repeatedly reminded about how so many of us tend to think we are right in our viewpoints, directions, and opinions and anyone thinking differently is wrong. Of course we are right, we’ve considered all the facts and made a decision and it fits our worldview perfectly. Plus we are invested in that viewpoint and the idea of us being wrong is nearly inconceivable. Furthermore, the other person and viewpoint are evil.

There is a passage in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament that I’m mindful of these days where in Micah 6:8 where it says:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly

This simple passage in Micah says so much to me.

I’m so tired of people who do not extend the “benefit of doubt” towards others on matters where they have no real understanding. People are critical of things via sms or email across hundreds of miles when they weren’t there to see what they are complaining about. Where is walking humbly? Where is loving mercy? Where is trusting the people you know there at the scene?

I’m tired of people who can not extend grace to others.

Everything in Washington (and on Twitter/Facebook) is black and white and the other person is evil and wrong and should be smashed and obliterated. Where is listening and trying to understand? Where is walking humbly in your thinking?

I’m tired of people who are not invested in a solution, being critical of those who are trying to do the right thing. If you are not willing to be in the arena, then you don’t get a vote.

On April 23, 1910 Theodore Roosevelt said the following famous lines:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Life is hard people. Be kind, for you do not know what battles others are fighting. Let’s learn to listen and try to understand first, second and third.

One day you might need grace from someone. One day you might need someone to listen to you.

Changes to Listening

I’m reading the book Deep Work right now and it too has caused me to rethink about what ‘noise’ is invading my days. And, this month at church, we are talking about the idea of ‘breaking up with your phone’ and in that study, we are hearing a lot of data about how our addiction to our mobile phones is having a dreadful harmful impact on our lives.

Whether it is your mobile phone, television or your computer, we have a lot options to pipe noise into our lives

  • If you listen to cable news network all day long one mostly hears negative views of everyone in all directions: all is bad, nothing is working, everybody is your enemy. (I do like the last story on CBS Evening news which always seems to be a positive story about someone or something that works.)
  • Local news spends a big fraction of their reporting on murders, fires, thefts, corruption and car wrecks.
  • Social Media streams to are quick to point out blame or evil. And in a flash, you can attack, or take sides, or fan the flames.
  • Podcasts are available on every single possible topic on the planet. Many good, many bad, and many that might just not be helpful. A source of true crime and hate messages.
  • True Crime shows are the rage on tv now, but they are just so frightening and gloomy. These can make you want to just stay inside and pack a weapon all the time.
  • Many movies and shows on television are not very good messages to pipe into our heads and the heads of our kids.
  • Facebook is sometimes full of joy (birth and marriages) and other times full of sadness (death, loss and sickness). Unfortunately, it is also a place (like Twitter) where people, who might otherwise seem normal, will bombard you with politics or news that you do not want to hear. The last presidential election cycle was a nightmare.

A while back I referenced the book Factfulness which tells us that perhaps, things are better than we realize. And really, there are lots of good people and organizations around trying doing to do the right things.

So where does all this go and what do I do about it.

  • I’ve cut way back on listening to the news. I’m mostly interested in the weather forecasts (something that might justify another post) and sports. I do try to check in on the national news daily, but I don’t spend a lot of time with it.
  • I used to listen to true crime podcasts and was fascinated with the solved and unsolved cases. However, I got to a point were the scary, negative, sad, awful was overpowering. And, as some of you know, I’m a runner and I would listen to these on early morning runs before the sun comes up. It is not a good mix to listen to these stories while out alone in the dark. Not needed. I’ve stopped listening to this whole genre.
  • On my mobile phone, I’ve turned on screen time app limits to limit social media access daily.
  • As mentioned on my last post, I’ve deleted Facebook and some other apps from my phone.

I think there are more steps to take and I’m on a journey here. I’d welcome hearing your thoughts and recommendations on how to best throttle or control the pipe of news and information that is streaming into my head.

Two Recommendations

However, I did just finish listening to Dr. Death podcast at the recommendation of SL and as a result I’ve decided to never need surgery. I wrote on an earlier post how essential it is to have a medical advocate to support you when going into surgery or serious medical issues. Wow.

And at the recommendation of JE I’ve just finished listening to Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Stevenson. He is coming to OKC to speak in a few days. Must listening. Must read. By the way you should follow JE’s blog here.

Epilogue: Running

So my fierce running partner and I decided to run 1,400 miles last year. I had run 700+ the year before while dealing with a foot injury so it was almost doubling my mileage in the year. We completed the task by mid-December and we made ourselves some medals to recognize the milestone.

And, of course, we’ve signed up to run another marathon this year.