Sunday, April 30, 2017

Farewell to April (and good riddance?)

April was a tough month. 

I feel like I got none of my goals accomplished, personal or professional, and almost all I did was work and work-related.  Anything else was shunted to the side, as we implemented new processes and new guidelines into our operating units.  

This happens sometimes - usually once about every 6-9 months, but normally only for a couple of weeks.  This time has been a bit more intense, and the 60-70 hour weeks have been longer and more frequent. 

It's not great timing.  I have a major presentation due in three weeks, a project which is foundering a bit and needs some TLC.  I'm also supposed to start training for an athletic event in late summer, and my sons are both getting more active as the school year comes to an end.  Plus, I'm the race director for a 5K in June that so far, only has 4 runners (which is the same as the last two years, but my emotional brain doesn't process that).

Fortunately, a friend of mine had pointed out to me a few years ago that 'overwhelmed is a choice', and I take that in two ways.  First, you can't get overwhelmed if you don't overcommit to things.  So being prudent about what you take on as a mission is really important.  More directly, though, it means that the feeling of having too much on your plate can cause stress, but by prioritizing, delegating, and focusing, you can get through the hard times. 

So that's what I'm doing.  I've taken the weekend to line up my priorities of May, got myself organized and now I'm going through my work to find the items that my staff can handle, or that doesn't need to be done immediately, and can be ignored or deferred.   If I can do that, and strike a better balance of personal time and work time this month, I'll get to June 1st rested, ready, and prepared for an even bigger month.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Insights from reflection

The last six weeks have taught me a lot about myself.  Not that anything tragic or disturbing has happened; rather, I've taken the last several weeks to do some introspection (it was Lent, so I was encouraged to do that).

Some insights:
  1. I actually do have some introvert characteristics (I'm an extrovert, really).  After being with other people (lots of other people) for 12 days straight, I needed more alone time than I usually get.  I took that time this month, and it was just the 'decompression' that I needed.
  2. Starting projects on the first of the month often leads to, well, failure.  The nature of my job requires me to be at my best at work during day 4-10 of each month, so starting new projects on the 1st of the month doesn't lead to lasting change.  I will change, and start new projects on the 15th, to give new habits time to form.
  3. Sleep is more important than I give it credit for.  I make worse decisions (not bad, just less good) when I am tired and / or fatigued, and my emotions run closer to the surface.  Maybe that's part of that whole introvert thing, too, though.
  4. I put too much pressure on myself to succeed everywhere in my life all the time.  I'm not perfect (news flash!), and I need to accept that sometimes, I need to prioritize and that means I'll fail at some things.  That has to be okay, but it's connected to.......
  5. I overcommit myself WAY too much.  I've gotten better at this in recent months, in that I hold back before volunteering for new things, but at the same time, I don't know how best to extract myself from the commitments I have made.  Fortunately, I now know that some of them are time-limited, so that's a problem that will start to take care of itself next year.
  6. Some of the things I do (like listening to podcasts, even!) I do out of a sense of responsibility that DOESN'T ACTUALLY EXIST.  I'm responsible to the people I've made commitments to, but not to THINGS or ACTIVITIES that only I do.  That said, I do have a commitment to ME, and there are times that I need to put that commitment above all others.
  7. I don't spend enough time on relationships....especially those which are most important to me.  
The key, though, is what I do about these things.  (and by the way, I recognize that my focus on 'getting better' is feeding right into point 4 above, but that's the way I am).  Part of my plan has to be to focus on the things that I enjoy most, and maybe stop doing the things I enjoy least. 

That's sometimes easier said than done, especially for someone who thinks that his needs are secondary to the needs of those around him (I get that from my mother, by the way).  As my current commitments expire, I plan to first, transition and let them go, and then after time, exchange the time I recover for time spent doing the things I like.

We'll see how that works out.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Self-Driving Cars will kill people. And we have to be okay with that.

Recently, there was a fatal car accident involving a Tesla model being operated by the Autopilot system, and last month, the NTSB cleared the car’s software of responsibility, citing that there were no deficiencies in the software that caused the crash.

Eventually, though, there will come a time where the software of a self-driving car will be found to be either negligent (passively allowing a crash) or responsible (actively causing a crash) in a motor vehicle fatality.

I say it’s inevitable because the world we live in is chaotic, mainly because of us humans.  People run into streets without warning, change lanes or make bizarre-seeming turns while driving, or drive inattentively, causing instability in our traffic.  The best programmed self-driving cars will never be able to account for every possible circumstance, but only the predictable ones that their sensors and artificial intelligence can process. 

What follows will be the result of pre-programmed split-second decision making.  Take the following situation: A self-driving car is going down a two lane road at speed with traffic on both sides.  Coming to an overpass, the car notices a person stepping out into the road.  The car has three options: hit the pedestrian, swerve into on-coming traffic and hit another car, or swerve to the right and crash the car (risking the life of the driver).  In this type of no-win situation, which option do we find best?

Counting on the driver isn’t going to work – the self-driving car is going to lull the driver in the same level of attentiveness to the road as they would have in a taxi.  They just would not be able to assess the situation and act in time to be useful.  So it’s up to the car, or more clearly, the programmers behind the car’s controls, to define the best approach to these types of situations.  Whatever they choose, someone is going to be put at risk because of a decision that the automation system is forced to make.

When it happens, there will be an uproar, and significant expressed concern that ‘our cars are out to kill us’.  It will be incumbent upon the makers and promoters of these automations to ensure that they can demonstrate the net positive benefit, and the lives saved through the implementation of self-driving capabilities.  Tesla and other manufacturers have taken the first step in demonstrating that there have been fewer accidents in their cars when being driven by the automation than when being driven by humans.  As more driving becomes automated, and vehicles become networked, this trend is likely to continue. 

If it does, then fatalities on our highways may become the rare occurrence, and may only be the result of pre-programmed split-second decisions.  Before we face that, let’s make sure that we all agree on how those types of decisions get made.


Given the prevalence of political discussion in many forums (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), I'm going to relaunch this blog and move all of my ranting here. 

This is the equivalent, I realize, of going into a small, unoccupied room and yelling out political positions where no one can hear them.  I think I'm okay with that.

Friday, November 25, 2016



I’m a financial analyst by vocation, so numbers are a big part of my life.   As a result, I find that I look for quantification of activities probably more than most people. It can be a problem, actually.  

The reason is that I rarely embark on any endeavors that don’t involve numbers in some meaningful way.  I don’t want to start lifting weights unless there is some numeric goal attached, like number of pull-ups, or maximum weight on a bench press.  I don’t want to just ‘lose weight’ (that number is my present weight) – I want to go from the number I am now to a goal weight, or a goal loss of pounds.  Those number might actually be meaningless, but I know that they are better than I can do now, even if I don’t know if it’s really attainable.  A target of 160 pounds is better than I am now, but I doubt that’s reachable while staying attached to all my limbs. 

There I go again – that was my time on this mornings 5K (a Turkey trot in my town). As I often do, I had multiple quantitative objectives for this race: a goal time (27:00), an expected time (29:00) and a minimal acceptable time (31:00).  All of these were just numbers, and should not have determined my enjoyment of the race, or the fun I had getting ready for it. But those concepts aren’t quantifiable, can’t really be measured, and therefore take second chair to the clear delineations of time and distance.  I think this is actually a problem most runners have, but I get to deal with it in my personal and my professional lives.  

And there’s another one.  I would like to run a half-Ironman distance triathlon next year.  I want to know the satisfaction of having done that disatance through swim, bike and run.  But again, it’s quantifiable, as will the distances of all of my training sessions.  Time is less important here, but the distances are fixed, and each is a hurdle I will need to get across.  

One more number that defines me, at least for now.  I’m not getting any younger, and my body is really trying to tell me this.  Actually, it’s saying a lot of things, including that I’m carrying extra weight, I’m getting older, and slower, and that in some facets of my life, my best years are behind me.  

The numbers are getting harder, more relentless, and becoming more of an obstacle.  They may have already been an obstacle for a long time – shifting my focus from areas of my life which are more subjective and less goal-oriented.  As a ‘closer-to-type-A’ personality, I find fluffy goals of ‘have more fun’ or ‘be more relaxed’ as too general, too airy. After all, how will I know if I ever achieve those goals?  There won’t come a time when I’ll say that I’ve had enough fun, or that I’ve achieved enlightenment through relaxation.  But the days are coming when the numbers will become unattainable, and I’ll lose the (perhaps illusory) sense of control that the numbers provide – both in telling me where I am, as well as where I’m supposed to be headed.  Until that time, though, there are a few numeric hurdles I have yet to conquer.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Waffling without a breeze

There's an old Bedouin proverb that came to mind recently:

Me against my brother
Me and my brother against my cousin
Me, my brother, and my cousin against our neighbors
Me, my brother, my cousin, and my neighbors against the stranger.

But what do you do when your biggest conflict is inside of yourself?

I'm not going split-personality here, trust me, but the most significant battle I have is with myself lately.  It's the struggle between who I want to be, and who I actually am in those quiet moments of decision.  The me that says I should exercise more, and eat less, and be more social, and the other me who is just fine not doing those things, and wasting time on the internet, or with TV, or just doing nothing - filling up my time with things that don't matter.

In large part, it's the challenge of laying down the foundation of who I want to be tomorrow, working against the reality of who I want to be right now, and what I find worth doing today.  I'm not normally like this, but the last few months, I've seen myself making short-term decisions rather than long-term investments.  I'm even seeing the negative effects of my recent 'not-as-good' decisions, and don't seem to care enough about them to change my approach, at least not yet.

There's a concept in business called an emergent strategy - it's the strategy that you actually pursue, not the one you plan. I've always been a planner, and lined up my days and weeks toward a future goal, but suddenly that doesn't seem as important.  My personal strategy is giving way to a very different emergent strategy that feels like living day-to-day.   I know a lot of people who do that already, and are very happy just dealing with the 'today's, but that's never been me.

Maybe I'm just a bit rudderless right now.  I've achieved a lot of what I planned to do in the last several years, and I haven't seen sights clearly on a new set of goals.  If I spend a little time on vacation this week thinking about where I want to go, perhaps that will provide the guiding star to help direct me.  Then I can trim my sails and head off in the right way.  Until then, I'm going to founder a bit more in the doldrums.

But not for too long.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trying a different angle

So it's early October, and I'm back into my usual 'struggle'.  That is, I'm fighting that same 5-10 pounds that I've fought for the past few years.  When I was living overseas, it seemed easier to keep weight off, but that was in large part a fact of my circumstances.  There was more walking and cycling for transportation, and less access to the variety of foods that speak to my cravings. 

There was also less time spent working, which is one of the challenges I face on a regular basis.  My days start early, they run late, and in the evenings, I am engaged with community activities like Boy Scouts, church, and the occasional fun activity.  All that leaves less time for training and exercise than I would like, and probably need.

That said, my real problems is with my diet.  It's not terrible, but it's also not great.  I don't drink enough water (diet soda is my thing), I eat too much sugar, and not enough of things like fruits or vegetables.  Although my wife does cook healthy meals, and has for years, to this day I still don't automatically reach for a piece of fruit when I'm hungry.   There are just too many alternatives that sound and taste better, especially when I'm tired and don't want to deal with things.

So I'm trying some new things once again.  For the last few weeks, I've increased my water intake significantly - "drinking water like it's my job" as one friend put it.  I'm also trying a new motivation.  I've found that when running or swimming, I can convince myself to keep up with a pace until I hit a  landmark.  It doesn't have to be anything big, but just something in the future that I can set my mind on as a finish line, or more properly, a way point.  For when I reach that landmark, I don't stop, but rather just pause, like taking a walk break, or a drink from my water bottle.  Then it's back to it.

I thought maybe this could work for my nutrition plan too.  If I have a preferred regimen, and stick to it, I can give myself that 'way point' in the form of a day where that regimen is relaxed.  It's a type of reward to celebrate a few weeks of successes.  It's risky, I know, because after that one day, it may be harder to restart the next, but I think I can make it work, and it can work with my psychology.

The question was - how many days in what period of time is right?    Also, this is fall, which is one of my toughest seasons, with the holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, each of which was a food event in my house.   I've settled on 5 days over the course of three moths.  This means about 2-3 weeks between 'off days', and a lot of 'on days' if I can pull it off.

Truth be told, I started this a couple of weeks ago, and today was my first 'off day', as I was working today, and succumbed to the group luncheon, including many baked goods.  And candidly, I wasn't happy with myself about it.  I'm not yet sure if this is a good or bad reaction.  It's good in that I do not expect that I will want to repeat this - even as I write this, I'm physically not feeling great, so being 'on' tomorrow won't be hard.  The bad part is that I can't beat myself up over these scheduled 'off days', or the program won't work.

I know a few of my other 'off days'.  Thanksgiving will be one, and Christmas another.  I'm also expecting one at the end of October, just to break the tension, but the last day is not yet scheduled.  I'll probably use that when I need it, but hopefully in a pre-planned manner, rather than an unscheduled 'food fest'. 

I'm also trying some other 'better behaviors', including going to bed earlier to get more sleep, and trying to approach my life from a sense of love and thankfulness, rather than a sense of fear, guilt, and, well, hatred.  I'm not thrilled about the way I look or my fitness level, and I know I can do better, but I believe in the long run, I'll be mentally better off if I do the things I love, rather than the things I should do, or feel I must do.  If being fit is something I really crave, I'll find the time, and I'll prioritize it far more than if it's just something I have to do to lose weight.  Hopefully those mental perspectives will help me both physically and spiritually.