Archive for the ‘Life Thoughts’ Category

Recycling Is An Old Thing

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

One of the things I do at museums is read that signs next to the things on exhibit. Silly I know. But one learns a lot from those little signs. One of the things I have learned over the years is that people have been recycling since before written history. Perhaps they haven’t been doing it quite the same way we think of it all the time but they have been doing it. And this has interesting consequences.

Take for example the coliseum in Rome. Do you know why it is in ruins? over the years the coliseum fell into disuse and was no longer being maintained. So people started recycling. They took stones and bricks from there to build other things. In fact most ancient cities and buildings were built in part with materials recycled from earlier cities and buildings. The only way to avoid that was for a structure to remain in continuous use until more modern times.

And then there is the case of tapestries. Old drafty castles and what not had huge woven tapestries to help keep them warm, decorated and less drafty. Not many of these have survived into the modern era. Why? Well because over time people needed money so they burned the tapestries. This allowed them to recover the gold and silver from the treads that were woven into the material. In fact with gold it is estimated that some percentage of all gold ever mined well into the upper 90 percent is still being used. It has just been recycled time and time again.

Which brings me to a more local example. You may have seen a bowl or other piece of silver worked by Paul Revere. This is not because he was the most prolific or even the most talented colonial era silversmith. Rather it is because he was famous for his Revolutionary War exploits. Most silversmiths of the era had their work melted down and recycled over time. As people run into money shortages or perhaps got tired of a pattern or their needs changed it was quite common to have silver and pewter melted down and reworked into something else. More recycling.

So over the years we have lost many things of potentially great historic value because of recycling. Is that bad? Someone else will have to answer that question. But I think today we think carefully before we turn one things into another. Clearly aluminum cans are not worth saving in any great numbers. Buildings are a more tricky matter. But the fact remains that recycling may be a big thing today but it is by no means a new thing.

About My Internet Addiction

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I think it is widely accepted that I have something of an addiction to the Internet. Email, blogs, twitter, IM, and so forth. I find it very hard to put them aside and ignore them. But I have come to a point where I would sort of like to break that cycle. There are two problems with that.

One is that I just can’t afford to ignore some of that. Most of my work information including things to do and meeting requests comes by email. Most of my training is online. If I ignore it than it rapidly becomes too much to deal with at once. So I keep up with it all the time. Could I do it less often? Yes, and to some extent I am doing that. But I can’t shut it off completely.

The other is that I am something of a knowledge junky. That is I am also addicted to knowing what is going on. I have found that I can be away from the news for longer periods of time so that gives me some hope that I could break free from the Internet if work didn’t keep requiring connections.

The real question is do I want to break the addiction. Actually the answer is yes. I just don’t see a way to do it short of retirement or at the very least finding some other job. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

More Things I Just Don’t Get

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Dreadlocks – Just plain ugly. Yes I know these people wash their hair and just don’t  brush it. Still it looks really gross to me.

Tattoos – I keep hearing that some of them are beautiful but those much all be hidden from me. I guess it is the permanence of it all that bothers me. There is no room to change your mind.

Men in shorts – To me shorts have always been something men wear to participate in sports. Basketball, swimming, tennis, etc. Once you are done you should put on some pants. If it is too hot to go outside without shorts than stay inside. But seriously it is never ever too hot to go out in long pants. Period.

Acquired Taste – I hear this about several things. A related term is “You have to develop a taste for it.” Why should I bother? Is it wonderfully good for me? Will it make me live forever? If not there are plenty of things I like the first time I taste them. If there is nothing else available maybe I will, of necessity, develop a taste for some of these things. Until them I will avoid them. I’m more concerned about what negative effects most of these things have and how developing a taste for these things will mess with my enjoyment of things I currently like.

Crying Children at Disney World

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

I made the comment on Twitter last week that if you have a crying child at Disney World that you are doing it wrong. A gross generalization of course but generally true I think. There are a number of reasons that children cry at Disney World (and other similar places) and most are relatively easy to handle and even avoid.

Tired – A lot of kids just get over tired on this vacations. Their parents are paying big money and they want to wring every possible second out of the trip that they can. Unfortunately children get tired. Parents should know their kids limits and break for a nap (or naps) during the day. Staying on the park grounds is wonderful for this. We always used to take an afternoon break for a nap when we traveled with a young child. This is also good advice when traveling with someone who is old too.

Hungry – Feed the poor kid. And feed them something they like. Vacation is not the time to force a child to learn to like something new. There is no fun in that for anyone.

Scared – Some kids are afraid of some rides or characters. Why force them? Take them away from the scary character. Maybe next year they will not be afraid and you can get that great picture. Why take a picture of a scared and crying child?

They want something – First off children should learn the word “no” long before they can walk or talk. They should also know that crying will not get them something. So that you have to do long before the vacation. If all that fails don’t take them into the shops. OK that is hard when the gift shop has to be walked through to get back out of the building. But move quickly and promptly at least. If a child is a nag don’t give them a lot of time to browse.

Also set some limits. Give them a budget if they are old enough to handle that. Let them choose what they want to spend their limit on. And if they still cry – nap time!

Baby stuff – Maybe they need a diaper change. Change them. Maybe they are too hot. Take them in some air conditioned place. Maybe hungry – bottle time! On second thought if they are too small to really enjoy or even remember Disney maybe it is too early to take them.

What question do you ask?

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

So I have been watching movies about professional killers tonight. I figure there are two kinds of people who watch those movies. One kind asks themselves “how could anyone do that in real life?” The other sort of person asks “I wonder if I could do that job?”

The first question is probably the most common question. After all killing is something we all pretty much understand is wrong. We also know that we’d feel guilty about killing innocent people. And of course there is who whole punishment thing. So we wonder what sort of a person could overcome all those natural instincts, all that lifetime of learning that killing is wrong, and all that potential punishment – internal and external – and go out and kill people for money.

And then there are the people, and I have no idea how many there are out there, who ask themselves if they could do it. In a sense it is the same question as the first question with  one difference. The difference is that they are really asking if they are the sort of person who could kill for money. I figure that most people answer the question in the negative. What does it mean to ask that question though? That’s not something I’m sure about. What  do you think?


Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Found this the other week on Tom Peters blog and it really bares passing along.

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, "Yes, but I have something he will never have … enough."

Yeah I think I have enough. Could I do something with more? Probably. But I don’t need it.

On Death and Dying

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

OK it’s a morbid topic and if you don’t want to face it leave now. I on the other hand have no choice but to think about it. I’ve got stuff on my mind and the need to write them down and put them somewhere. Oh and frankly I no patience for euphemisms like “passing away” or what ever. Death is death and dying is dying.

I don’t expect to die any time soon and of course I have never done it before. But I’ve lost too many loved ones not to be aware of it. With my own Dad in poor health I worry that I will see it again all too soon. Hopefully not right away but probably not that far away either.

I am not afraid of death. I’m in no hurry to try it out of course but as a Christian I believe as it is written in Philippians 1:21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So I spend more time worrying about those I will leave behind than about myself.

There are two basic ways to die – quickly and slowly. Quickly is probably the best way for the person actually dying. I’ve watched a bunch of people go through slow lingering deaths. Trips in and out of hospitals, gradual failing of body and mind, tests and operations and alls sorts of people poking at parts of the body that would otherwise be none of their business. It’s painful emotionally, physically and in any way one can think of. Falling asleep and never waking up seems so much easier. Well for the person who dies. For the people left behind not much fun.

Both quick and slow deaths are hard on people who stay behind but in different ways. I’ve had several friends die quickly (at least from my point of view) in that I either didn’t know they were sick or they had sudden unexpected deaths. That was hard. There was no closure, no saying goodbye and now time to prepare myself for losing them. On the other hand watching someone be sick a long time and in pain is no great joy either. But in some sense there is closure and a time to reconcile differences, say goodbye and adjust to the future without them.

So perhaps there is no good way to die for all involved. I think I want to go quickly though. It may be harder, initially, for those who are left behind but in the long run I think maybe they will be better off not watching me suffer. I’m pretty sure I’d rather not suffer. And as full of watching suffering as I have been in my live I think that can take a toll on people that they may not be aware of. They may think they want to hold on to every second no matter how much their loved one is going through but at some point I think one wants to see their loved one end their suffering.

The term quality of life means more to me every day. The more I look at it life at any cost and in any condition is not always the best way for anyone.

Showing Up

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

In an episode of “West Wing” the writers had the President say “Decisions are made by those who show up.” Woody Allen has been reported as saying that “Eighty Percent of Success Is Showing Up.” Others have said it is closer to ninety percent. Anyway you look at it showing up is important.

It is important during an election, for meetings at work, for just about anything were decisions are made or there are people to be influenced. People who sit on the sidelines and leave the decision making to others are at the mercy of those who do show up.

It is always important with ones job. Companies value people who can be depended on to show up. And not just on regular hours. When something extra ordinary happens and they need people to show up for it that is particularly valuable. Showing up for optional events is respected. Going the extra mile to “be there” is a powerful action.

I was at a lunch with a number of people after a conference one time. I was talking casually with the people there (most of whom were involved in planning and running the conference) and the issue of other companies in my industry came up. One of the other people said (roughly) “But you are here and they are not. We notice things like that.” Now I had done a little more than just show up – I was on a panel and had set up a booth with information – but the thing that made the biggest impression was that I was there and talking to people. That struck me at the time (and more so as time when on) as important.

I was at an event that Microsoft helped sponsor in Denver last month. Everyone was happy for the money but the really impressive thing to people was that we showed up in person and helped out. I went to a school play last week at the school where Mrs. T teaches. The kids and their parents were most pleased and impressed with the teachers who took the time to show up. It made a difference!

Many organizations I have been involved with have said that they value donations of money and material. Christian organizations always say they value prayer (and they do.) But they all make a point to say that they value people’s time – that they show up. I’m on a number of advisory boards and time and again I hear from them how glad they are that I show up for meetings.

While it might be cool to have influential names on a roster of an advisory board the real value is provided when people show up to help make decisions and recommendations.

So when thinking about showing up or not for something think hard. Think very hard. You just may want to show up after all.


Friday, November 28th, 2008

I’m not a big clothes sort of guy. I have one suit. One sport jacket. A hand full of pairs of pants that come in two types – jeans and khakis. I may have a nice pair of blue slacks as well. But shirts? Well shirts are a different story.

My closet was not empty but it was clear to me that I was getting to the dregs – the shirts I was least fond of. So I decided that it was time that I put away the dry cleaning. I’d dropped off and picked up several cycles of shirts but not put them away. So there they were in plastic and hard to look through. I unwrapped them, sorted them and put them away. Some 28 shirts in all. Now understand that this does not include polo shirts, long sleeve Ts and other pull overs or more then a couple of my short sleeved button downs. I’m sort of afraid to take a full count.

I guess I am just a sucker for a nice shirt. Oh well.

Cheating On Online Surveys

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

OK this really bothers me. Students at a number of top tech colleges worked very effectively at  ballot stuffing for a Victoria’s Secret contest. Oh I am sure that to most people it looks like a lot of harmless fun. To others it screams out that is was all Victoria’s Secret’s fault because they didn’t properly secure the site/process. I think that is called blaming the victim.

But to me it screams that we have too much acceptance of dishonestly. They shouldn’t have to lock down the site because people should not be trying to game the system in this fashion.

Time and again while I was teaching I heard from students that if I didn’t want people to vandalize the school computers that it was my job to make it harder for them to do so. Leaving any opening, no matter how small, was taken as permission by these individuals. “Does that extend to houses?” I once asked. “Yes” was the reply. Oh but not their house. If someone broke into their house there would  be serious consequences. But if they were found in someone else’s house there should not be a penalty because, after all, there wasn’t enough of a barrier  to keep them out so it would the home owner’s fault.

But coming back to the computer side of things. In the very early days of computers we didn’t have much in the way of security beyond physical security. If you were allowed in the room you could do what you wanted. But people could usually be trusted. We were all in it to help each other, to cooperate, and to stay out of other people’s business. That didn’t last long though.

So now we have online polls for all sorts of things and people are taking advantage of less than ideal security to cheat. Are laws broken/ Often, probably not. To many people if it isn’t illegal it is permissible and ethical. I would say that is not the case and gaming these systems is unethical.

“But no one is hurt.” Not true. People who honestly and ethically work hard within the spirit of the competition wind up having no chance. Their hard work goes in vain – often without them knowing they are doomed to be frustrated. The people who run the competition are hurt. In this case the servers actually crashed under the load. That cost time and money to correct. Plus the benefits the company hoped to get from the event are diminished. Even the publicity they are getting is not what they want.

I would argue that the perpetrators are ultimately hurt as well. They wind up being hailed as heroes and stars and “great hackers” while doing something of dubious ethics. Being rewarded for unethical behavior is not good for ones long term prospects of growing more ethical.

We really need ethical people in the software industry. Really. So when things like this happens I find it very depressing.