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.

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.

Footprints Online

I’ve been troubled and conflicted for a while about how our privacy is threatened and how by using so many apps and services online, I’m giving away what might be private information to 3rd parties to then use or re-sell. I wrote about this last May when I wrote about Post Privacy.

Tech optimists used to wax poetic about how the internet was going to make us a smarter, more erudite, more empathetic global community. But in 2018, it’s become clear that we’re in the middle of a communication breakdown, and that nobody has a good answer for how to properly engage with the things we once posted online, however dumb or horrible.¹

There has been a recent wave of articles about online privacy and several make very good points or point to tools that help you erase or reduce your online footprint.

At this particular moment in time, a lot of people seem to be interested in making that a reality — or at least in trying to completely cover up their tracks. Signal, a text and phone-call encryption app that comes with a recommendation from Edward Snowden, recorded a 400 percent jump in downloads after the election. And while landlords, colleges and potential employers have examined the social-media presence of applicants for years, there are signs that this kind of scrutiny is close to getting much more invasive

I’ve decided to take some of these steps myself and last week I deleted all my Twitter posts since the beginning of time. Over, 11,000 tweets gone. Using one of the online tools that does the deletion for me, I deleted all my past tweets. After completing this effort, with some gut wrenching I must confess, I came across the article, “Your Old Tweets Give Away More Location Data Than You Think” in Wired that reports on a study where it can be determined where you live by looking at your twitter history.

And I also took down my very first blog. I didn’t delete the blog, but I made it private. That hurt. I really loved what I had written there over many, many years.

I still have this blog (and here I’m writing away) and I have my prior professional blog about IT which I’ve still left up but I’m not posting there much anymore. I might take it down at some point too.

I can’t figure out what to do with Facebook. I’m tired of their security breakdowns, their misuse of data, and their insights about us. But it is the only way we connect with some of our friends and family so I don’t have a good plan there yet. I’ve almost stopped posting anything and I don’t check it much these day. I’ve deleted it from my phone.

Have you taken any steps like these? Any learnings?

Footnotes:

¹ Winkie, Luke. “The Depressing Truth About Deleting Your Online History.” Medium.com, Medium, 11 Jan. 2019, medium.com/s/thenewnew/the-depressing-truth-about-deleting-your-online-history-92f26d24f907.

² Ohlheiser, Abby. “Erasing Yourself from the Internet Is Nearly Impossible. But Here’s How You Can Try.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 Feb. 2017, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/02/10/erasing-yourself-from-the-internet-is-nearly-impossible-but-heres-how-you-can-try/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.58de8e1326f4.

Three Great Reads

I’m considering doing a once per week post on three great things I’ve read during the week. Just considering it. Here are three for this week.

Why You Should Trust People First is a terrific post on why you should take that risk and speak up, ask, be vulnerable, greet, welcome, help that other person. In general, it is so worth it. Highly recommended.

Add Value To One Person’s Life Per Day is another great post suggesting that every single day, we need to find someone to help. Your help of that person will further help and compound as they likely then go on and do something good for someone else. Just get into the habit. Every single day.

You might be thinking that adding value to one person’s life is not enough of an impact. I once thought that too.

Until I realized that adding value is contagious.

When you do it once, the person you help passes it on. The second part happens in secret, though.

“You don’t see the significance of the value you’ve given to someone because the person you helped does it without thinking”

It’s natural that when we’ve seen the power of adding value to one person’s life, we want to pass it on. We collectively end up mimicking the behavior and just forget to label it as “I helped add value to one person today.”

Adding value to a persons life is contagious. Helping people is contagious too.

Tim Denning

The Simple Power of Showing Up is a great reminder that just showing up and just being consistent makes all the difference in achieving one’s goals.

It’s time that people start realizing you can’t be the noun without doing the verb.
You can’t be a writer, if you don’t write.
You can’t be a cook, if you never cook.
You can’t be an athlete, if you never train.
In what areas of your life do you call yourself the noun without doing the verb? It’s time to get consistent.

The Simple Power of Showing Up

Excellence

It is easy to watch the news and think that everything is broken. Sometimes, most times, it seems we should just not watch the news.

I’ve had three encounters with excellence in the last few days where an organization, an industry and a group are really seeming to drive towards excellence with enthusiasm and energy and passion.

Endeavor

The College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology (CEAT) at Oklahoma State University just opened a new undergraduate laboratory building that has been written up here and here.

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The difference with this lab is their intense focus on cross-functional collaborations with different engineering disciplines working together to solve problems and do research at the undergraduate level. It is not just the EEs or the MEs doing their thing by themselves, but it is pulling them together as undergraduates to work together; which is just like the real world. The articles spell it out more, but here is one more at campustechnology.com. I’m anxious to see what OSU CEAT does with this new facility. Very exciting.

Relentless focus on getting better at educating engineers.

Winemaking

I passed through Napa Valley last week and had the opportunity to tour a couple of vineyards. I was simply stunned at the lever of precision and passion wine makers ( the head wine experts) and their wineries have towards their craft. I had no idea. Focus on sun, rain, temperatures, soil conditions, this hill vs. that hill, this side vs that side, this grape vs. that grape, etc. The vineyards are immaculate and well maintained.

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Didn’t meet any of the winemakers, but heard about passion and focus. Many of them walk through the vineyards daily. Amazing. Is this the highest form of Agricultural Engineering?

Fleetwood Mac

I get it. You are wondering how these all fit together. My wife and I had the chance to see Fleetwood Mac at the start of their tour at the BOK Center in TulsaIMG_4111

Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and several new players. While the group was older, they still played with passion and energy.

They did a cover of Free Falling to honor Tom Petty and it was amazing. Neil Finn is a great addition and a great compliment to the group.

They were still great. It was a wonderful evening with lots of memories.

Passion. Focus.

Excellence.

All of three are fun to see and experience. Other places like Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma led by Katie Fitzgerald and by many programs at Oklahoma Christian University led by John deSteiguer all point to people and groups trying to do the right things with excellence and passion.

There is hope.