Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This year, forget resolutions. Do 30-day trials instead.

There's no particular reason to make resolutions around January first.
Anything you could change with a resolution you could change anyway. You don't need the calendar's approval.
Don't set yourself up for failure. Breaking a resolution erodes your confidence that you can accomplish things you set your mind to.
Set yourself up for a win with the 30 day trial. Whatever you're changing, do it every day for 30 consecutive days. Then you've succeeded. - Substitute your own issue, exercise, diet, getting up early, eating a good breakfast, keeping your desk organized - whatever it is you're looking to improve.
To an external observer, your behaviour wouldn't be any different than a resolution, but psychologically that 30 days is a bite-sized win. Your brain gets rewarded for following through on its commitment and you become more confident you can follow through on other things in the future.
The 30 days is short enough that whatever you're considering, you can muscle through and get it done. After all it's only 30 days. It's also long enough that if you decide that what you're testing is making your life better you can easily lock in the routine. Otherwise, you can decide that you've given it a fair shot and that it's not for you.
Power tip: Tweak the system. If you want to get up and run, wear your exercise shorts to bed. Have the shoes right there, then wake up and start running before you even think about it. When you're awake, make it easy for the groggy you of tomorrow morning to execute your action plan.
Don't go crazy. If you want your change to stick, most people can only change one (maybe two) things at a time. Start with one change and see how it goes. After 30 days and it's become routine then you can keep going and add something else. If you overload on the changes too early you'll crack and the changes might not stick.
Leveraging the power of routines can help you make your life what you want it to be. You have the power to make the changes, not the calendar. Stick with them for 30 days, and even if you decide not to continue, you've successfully tried something out. Get the win, build the routine, and soon you'll find yourself doing better than you ever expected. Happy new year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Your performance appraisal

How'd you do this year?
You've done some great things. Track your accomplishments and update your resume, even if you're not planning to switch jobs.
If you're not in a shopping frenzy (note: buying stuff only makes you happy for a while) you can find some reflective downtime between Christmas and New-Years to ponder the passing of time and what you've accomplished.
Unless there are major life events, it won't feel like much has changed. Change over a year is gradual and hard to experience. Maybe you're a little stronger, smarter, or more experienced than you were a year ago.
Maybe you finished a project? Achieved a goal? Kept the family fed? Helped someone? Made a difference? Learned from a mistake or ten?
Having an up to date resume is both a way to be ready for opportunities and a way to reflect on how awesome you are and what you've accomplished professionally.
The dark cloud here is that if you're disappointed by what you've accomplished this year it's too late to fix it.
The silver lining to that dark cloud is that realizing that you're not living up to your own standards is the launchpad for fixing it.
Since you can't fix the past fix the future. Assess your performance in all areas of your life: Physical, mental, social, financial, emotional, spiritual.
During this annual visit from You the CEO, how would you review You the Day-to-day Manager?
How do you stack up against who you want to be?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A better night's sleep

Block the blue for a better night's sleep.
The blue-white glow of your computer monitor or smartphone could be ruining your sleep.
Here's the fix: Install f.lux from justgetflux.com on your computer. Set it (probably halogen or tungsten) and forget it.
Here's why this helps:
Colour temperature: Todays computer monitors and smartphone screens have a lot of blue.
Melatonin: Blue light inhibits melatonin production. Melatonin helps you sleep.
Circadian Rhythms: Our bodies use blue light as a day/night timekeeper, so when we blast our eyeballs with bright 'day' signals right before we want to sleep we scramble our internal clocks.
f.lux knows when the sun rises and sets and will adjust your monitor automatically when the sun goes down* and put it back to daylight (or what you set as ambient) when the sun comes up* again.
It's free, and you can have it up and running in about three minutes.
If you don't want to install software, there's the low-tech route. That's right: sunglasses at night. Get some orange lenses. They filter out blue light.
Wear them for an hour or two right before bed and you won't scramble your internal clock. You'll make the melatonin you need to sleep on schedule.
The blue electronic glow works against you, but now that you understand what's going on you can sleep better. All it takes is a little light control, and maybe sunglasses at night.

*Yes, it's actually the Earth rotating. It's good to understand your place in the universe.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Free, last minute christmas idea.

For everyone you want to connect with this christmas, tell them thoughtfully and in detail exactly what you appreciate about them.
If you haven't done your christmas shopping yet this probably won't complete your list. If your shopping has been done for months, this is another thing that's easy to add.
Whether or not you can find a way to put this under the tree, it may be the most important gift you give anyone this year.
As we live our lives down in the weeds, dealing with the day to day issues that permeate our lives, we begin to take for granted the other people who make our lives better, complete and more fun.
We complain when people close to us let us down, forget important dates, leave dishes on the counter or whatever else gets on our nerves.
Those sorts of interactions can erode relationships, and if they're not refreshed and renewed by the expression of genuine appreciation they can wash away.
This Christmas, don't let that happen. Instead take five minutes and think about one person who's important to you. What do you appreciate about them? What are the things that you know in your heart to be the foundation of their positive impact on your life. Things that you wouldn't necessarily ever tell them out loud.
Fine. You can take ten minutes to get your thoughts in order. Then tell them. Don't overthink it, that's a delaying tactic. The spirit of the message is at least as important as the specifics.
Depending on the relationship it can be awkward to bring up this sort of thing. These emotional outpourings tend to be outside our comfort zone. Bring it up however you wish. In a conversation, in a card, written on the sky or  shouted from the mountaintop. Do whatever feels right for you.
If you're stuck, say these words (read this to them if you have to):
Hey, got a second? [Get an acknowledgement]
I was reading this newspaper column… I don't tell you often enough how much I appreciate you. I particularly appreciate… 
…then fill in the things you appreciate.
Think for a second how you'd feel if someone you care about told you spontaneously what they appreciate about you. You can share that feeling with others, today. For free.

That's one step on the way to a truly merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What if you don't? The opportunity cost of dreams.

Lots of distractions along the chaotic path forward.
Being everything to everyone will overwhelm and dilute you. So don't.
Ditch it: Lots of things you do don't actually need doing.
Politely Decline: You don't have to attend events or activities you'd rather avoid. Don't agree to things you'll resent.
Delegate: Get other people to help. Family dinner? Maybe you don't have to do it all yourself. Ask people to bring things. They'll be pleased to help and it will make things easier for everyone.
Automate: If you can program away your responsibilities, you won't have to spend much time on them. You do this already. The thermostat turns the furnace on and off so you don't have to. Next step? Basic computer programming: codecademy.com
You can outsource your cooking, your cleaning, your shopping and your decorating, but you can't outsource your relationships.
Take care of you: If this were an airplane, they'd tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting someone else. If you pass out you can't help anybody and you need help. One less helper, one more victim. Bad news all around.
Fulfill your mission: Once you eliminate all the things you don't need to do, use the time well. Volunteer, write that novel, take that trip, fulfill that dream. Make your friends say wow!
Say no to the distractions that will steal your time and attention.

Got lots of stuff to do? What if you don't? What could you accomplish instead?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Punishment or prevention - Which side are you on?

With the holiday season approaching, police in Calgary recently declared (2011) that they would rather people didn't share checkstop locations on Twitter. Obviously, they don't want the drunk drivers evading their checkstops. 
Saskatoon police, however, were fine with that information being shared. They don't set up in one place for long, and they're happy that people know that police are keeping an eye out for them, which will encourage them not to drink and drive.
Whether you're in favour of checkstops or see them as an unwarranted erosion of your freedoms, the diverging attitudes involved come from a theory of punishment or prevention.
There's obviously a visceral desire to catch the bad guys. It's exciting. It's kids playing cops and robbers all over again. Law and order must prevail. And if they're not doing anything wrong, we'll pass an omnibus crime bill and then catch them for other stuff. Then we'll build lots of prisons and throw away the key. More prisons would surely stimulate the economy.
If you think this sounds like a Conservative strategy book, you might be right. Keeping you scared keeps them in power. Hint: Pick hope over fear.
When in comes down to it, we don't need more cops. We actually need fewer robbers. That's where prevention comes up big. If the people who find out about the checkstops end up not driving drunk, you don't get to catch them, but isn't that a win? You can't count the non-events. It's not flashy but it's a much better result.
Punishment doesn't undo a wrong. It can't bring back a victim or prevent a collision. If anything it's a way of protecting the community from people who might continue to endanger others. It doesn't forgive or forget. It doesn't make things right. Who really benefits from capital punishment?
In medicine, it's better to avoid injuries or diseases than to have doctors fix you all up.
Recycling's great, but it's better not to need that water bottle than it is to use it and then recycle it.
In the big picture, it would be far better to prevent catastrophic climate change than to punish the ecosystem with the delayed side-effects of our activities.
The straightforward method of dealing with crime is to wait for it to happen and then catch and punish the bad guys. If instead it can be prevented far in advance that's much better for everyone involved. No cops, no victims, no damage, but the absence of the event is hard to count, and doubly hard to use as a scare tactic to preserve the law and order status quo.
Sure, catch all the drunk/dangerous drivers you can, but it's better if there aren't any. Tweet the checkstops. Raise awareness and encourage good judgment. Responsible character and good decision making beats extra cops any day.
Originally published in print December 2011.
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Be the boss. Program your computer.

Shift your thinking. You're in control. You have the option. Take command.
Shift your thinking. You're in control. You have the option. Take command.
Despite the barrage of email, your computer exists to serve you, not the other way around.
Your computer is better at mundane repetitive tasks than anybody.

Here's how to be the boss:

Type fast enough: Type so you can keep up with your thoughts.
Learn the shortcuts: Cut, copy, paste, save? Elementary. Find the keyboard shortcuts in programs where you find yourself mousing around. They're faster.
Work that spreadsheet: Calculations you need to repeat can be programmed once in advance and reused as often as you need. Google is your tutor no matter your skill level.
eMail rules: Slay email by telling the computer what to do with it in advance. Mail from the boss? Show me an alert. Winter storm photo #27? Move that to an ignored folder. Protect your attention.
IFT.TT: Online service 'If This Then That' will follow instructions when triggered. For example, when this column hits the blog, it automatically hits Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. That would take more time each week than it takes to set up in the first place.
Teaching your personal electronic slave to handle the mundane aspects of your computer activities. This will preserve your valuable attention for the things that need it. Just tell your computer what to do.
Caveat: Your computer will do what it's told, whether that's what you mean or not. Be careful, but the upside is worth the effort.

Then again, if your Betamax is flashing 12:00, this may not be for you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Laying Pipe.

Pipelines that encourage bituminous sands expansion are not in the planet's interest.
Spending huge amounts of money locking our energy infrastructure into carbon based energy only makes sense in the short run, and then only if you're an energy company comfortable with flipping the bird to small island states, and all future generations.
The economic case for the pipeline does not even make sense for the Canadians.
CBCs As It Happens made the case for it in their February 6, 2012 show in the segment Northern Gateway Oil Costs:
The pipeline is expected to drive up the price of oil several dollars per barrel over what the cost is expected to go up anyway.
As soon as oil companies can get increased prices for any oil, they will start charging that here in Canada as well. 
The pipeline, if built, would raise oil prices for Canadians, not just Asian markets, leading to more profit for the oil companies on the backs of Canadians said Robyn Allan, former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia on CBC.
Most Canadians lose economically in the scenario where the pipeline is built. And that's before you account for the environmental consequences.
Building a pipeline is a major misallocation of resources when our civilization should instead be pursuing a generation defining shift away from fossil fuels.
When Premiers and Prime Ministers act as travelling salesmen for the oil companies it feels like a corruption of the governance structure. Economy now, instead of environment forever. That's election cycle thinking at its worst.
Even if TransCanada's Keystone XL or Enbridge's Northern Gateway can be constructed in a way that minimizes the likelihood of an environmental catastrophe, we continue to find ourselves locked into the carbon emissions associated with the ongoing use of the infrastructure.
Remember, the scarce resource here isn't the oil, it's the ability of the atmosphere and the oceans to absorb the CO2 without catastrophic consequences. That's the resource that needs management.
What does that mean on the ground in communities like this one?
Reinvesting in local infrastructure, finding ways to live off current solar income, and reawakening the Canadian determination to doing the right thing, even when it's hard.
The answers are out there. The transition to walkable communities, clean energy and a stable planet in the future is incompatible with fossil energy expansion. We're sharp. We can find better solutions than laying pipe.
Originally published Feb 11, 2012.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

You can't communicate. That's ok. Nobody can.

Communication. It's what the listener does.
How do you put an idea in someone else's head?
You don't. They have to do it themselves.
If they let your idea into their mental living room, be polite. Don't light the carpet on fire. You won't be invited back.
See these squiggles? They're not even information until you interpret them. Lucky for you, it's in English, not Mandarin. We have a common framework. We agree on how English works. It makes written communication possible.
Suppose you have an idea. You understand it completely. Others don't have your idea yet. You can guide them toward it, but they have to think it themselves.
They haven't had your life, and they might not have the  intellectual or cultural framework you've based your idea on.
Without common language, you could interpret body language and tone, but not details. To your lizard brain threat detector, body language and tone count for a lot.
Saying something doesn't mean it's been communicated. That part depends on the listener. If they can explain it back, then maybe they got it.
Communication is about making it easy for others to think your idea. Being a good listener means letting strange ideas into your mental living room and allowing them to interact with the residents there.

Funny thing about ideas: most people like their own better than they like yours. Socrates taught by asking questions. Did the student get the idea?

Friday, November 29, 2013

What Norway could teach Canada about avoiding the resource curse

Smoke 'em if you got 'em
is not a 
long game strategy.
Canada is falling victim to the resource curse. Recent back and forth comments about Alberta's natural resources between Ontario Premier McGuinty and Alberta Premier Redford make this clear.
McGuinty claims Ontario's manufacturing sector would benefit from a lower dollar, and oil exports make the dollar go up. A lower Canadian Dollar would make Canadian manufactured goods more competitive abroad. A Canadian dollar at 70¢ U.S. would feel like 30% off on Canadian manufactured goods.
Redford, of course, is the oil sands booster in chief, and points out equipment Ontario has been able to manufacture for the megaprojects.
Canada's oil exports drive up the value of our Dollar. There's lots of investment in those industries, and that focus and investment can stifle existing industries. In Canada's case, it's the eastern manufacturing that's feeling the pinch.
Norway, rich with oil, found a way to avoid the resource curse. It's a way that involves acting counter to human nature at every turn, but it works. It's left Norway in an enviable financial position.
Here's how they prevented the oil from destroying their other industries:

Go slow:

Norwegian industry wanted to go full speed ahead, but Norway strictly limited the drilling permits.

Save the money:

Instead of spending their riches, they put it in their oil fund (Statens pensjonsfond - Utland), now worth about $573 Billion (edit: Wikipedia reports: "As of September 30th 2013 its total value is... $783.3 billion"). They recognize that their oil wealth won't last forever, and are taking steps to make sure they can make it last, only spending the interest.

Don't talk about it:

Norwegian political parties agree to leave it off the table as an issue for elections. It's not a political football. It doesn't disrupt their economy, and they'll maintain their oil wealth for generations.
The bickering between Alberta and Ontario demonstrates the tension. We're flouting all of Norway's guidelines, and that could come back to haunt us.
The full speed ahead approach diverts investment money from other projects. Spending the money means it won't be there later on. The use of the resource revenue as a political football combined with the short term views of the electorate means election promises of spending rather than saving.

It's clear we don't have the self-discipline to adopt a Norwegian style strategy for managing our oil wealth.
When it's all gone and we have nothing to show for it at least now you'll know why.
(Originally published March 2012)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Government by the corporations, for the corporations

Seven score and ten years ago Lincoln gave a speech in Pennsylvania. On its sesquicentennial we still remember that 'score' means twenty. Thanks Abe.
The Gettysburg Address was also about continuing the struggle of Civil War soldiers by ensuring "that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
If, as Joseph de Maistre opined in 1811, "Every nation gets the government it deserves" where does that leave us?
Rob Ford's 'popularity' aside, his discount government message is as seductive as any dollar store. Discount government comes without vision.
These days, the profit's in oil, thanks to low royalty rates and externalities like climate change, but mostly the oil.
When elected officials like Harper and Redford lobby Washington about a private pipeline it sparks questions about who really runs this petro-state.
Corporations allow for specialization of labour in the pursuit of a common goal, and create things individuals can't. There's no way you could develop and manufacture a smartphone for less than the $919 the 64GB iPhone 5s costs.
However, if corporations set the rules, they would favour their industry, squash disruptive innovations and maintain their profitable status quo.

Representatives of the people are elected to communicate your interests to the government. Decisions are made by the people selected that direct the course of the nation. Hopefully these people have taken to heart that they must act for the people. The corporations will get by.

Bonus material:
Texas refineries don't need Alberta crude anymore: Need for Keystone XL Erodes as U.S. Oil Floods Gulf Coast Refining Hub

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to avoid drowning in email: 4 rules

Like any good waterfall, email will just keep pouring at you unless you do something about it.
Email is relentless, and it will dominate your time and attention if you let it. If you don't use email you can skip this one.
Process your inbox to zero, every time. If you can handle any email or task in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Turn your email notification chime off. Schedule your email just like an appointment.
Inbox zero: In case you're too young to remember going to the post office, here's how it worked. They put your mail in your mailbox. You open your mailbox and take the mail home. Nobody opens their mail, reads it, then puts it back in their mailbox.
The reason your friends keep their email in their inboxes is because they don't decide what the email means to them when they read it. 
Treat your inbox like your mailbox at the post office. Clear it out when you check the mail. Decide what incoming emails mean to you. Difficult, but it will get easier with practice. Decide, then move it out of the inbox.
The two minute rule: If you can get something off your plate in less than two minutes do it immediately. It's more trouble to track it and remember to do it later than it is to do it now. If it's actionable, but will take longer put it somewhere else (like an 'action' folder - not your inbox) so you can do it later.
Turn off the email chime: Distractions can destroy your day. It takes longer than you think to get back to what you were doing before you were distracted. Every time you hear the chime, it steals your focus from the task at hand, and it takes a long time to get your focus back.
Keep it on a schedule: Scheduling your email firewalls your time so that you don't find yourself 'doing email' all day, and so that you have time to work on your priorities. Schedule short bursts, no more than 30 minutes of email at a time, during which time you process your email inbox to zero.
Process your email to zero in the time allotted. This protects the rest of your time from being taken over by email, and allows you to spend that time working on your priorities, no matter what those priorities are. Email is not a priority, it's a communications tool.

Inbox zero. Two minute rule. Turn off the chime. Schedule your email. These four rules will keep you from drowning in the rising tide of email.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Your long term prosperity is at risk

Onward and upward...
Creating Jobs, Economic Growth, and Long Term Prosperity is the Conservative Canadian Government's top priority. It sure sounds great, and probably tested better than 'More Power'.

Let's unpack that priority.

Create Jobs: The private sector creates jobs, not the government. Governments employ people, but that's not what they mean. They want to take credit for private enterprise. 

Economic Growth: We take it for granted that growth is good. It's only good if you're a child. Children grow into adults, then they stop growing. Likewise, the economy will stop growing. How that happens is up to us.

Climb, but don't overshoot. - Cliff Hangers.
Long Term Prosperity: This is a great goal.
With long term prosperity we hope to share healthy, fulfilling lives in freedom and harmony. Close enough for government work?

Unfortunately, your long term prosperity is at risk.

Too much growth in our economies and population has placed us outside our planet's carrying capacity.

That house of cards won't go much higher. So much for long term prosperity. Take down the cards carefully or watch them fall.

Instead, how about we embrace reality. All of it.

Get real on climate. Quit shilling for oil and pipeline companies. End the growth mindset. A stable country isn't so bad.

Stop calling us consumers. Focus instead on the things that add value to our lives in that fundamental meaning-of-life sort of way. Less stock options, more hugs.

If political or economic activities don't support these fundamental objectives, do not pursue them.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lifetime lightbulbs

Don't worry. It's not candles. We've come a long way.
The days of screwing in incandescent light bulbs are coming to a close. 
The federal government plans to phase out incandescent light bulbs starting in 2014.
There are two major options to replace the venerable incandescent: Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). The CFLs are the curly ones.
Both of these options provide such a major benefit over incandescent bulbs that you will do fine with either choice.
If you want to look a little deeper, LEDs tend to last longer, use less power, and cost more. They also avoid mercury, which can cause trouble if the CFL breaks.
LEDs tend to be more robust than than CFLs, which are really just tiny fluorescent tubes.
Both can be made dimmable with circuitry in the bulb, though those variants tend to cost more than the simpler, non-dimmable versions.
LEDs are newer on the market, and provide the possibility of a lifetime lightbulb, something you'd replace as often as you'd replace the furnace in your house. We could start to see lights as permeant equipment rather than the consumable commodity we treat it as today. Your grandchildren might never change light bulbs, because they'll last so long.
With a 20 year warranty, you can count on LEDs to last. LEDs also excel in directional applications, while CFLs tend to be more omnidirectional by nature.
If you've got the curly light bulbs, you already have CFLs, and if you have relatively new christmas lights they're probably LED.
The CFLs have one major thing going for them. They're about an order of magnitude cheaper than the LED bulbs. They don't last as long as the LEDs, but they will still last much longer than the incandescents we're used to. (ed. note: This was originally published in Feb 2012 - The price on the LEDs has come down a lot since then.)
Get off the incandescents as soon as you reasonably can. The power usage for those is very high compared to what you can get with CFLs or LEDs.
If you want to be ahead of the curve in adopting the best lighting tech out there, the LEDs are the way to go. If your wallet can't handle that kind of impact right now, the CFLs are a great second choice. You could switch over to the LEDs when it comes time to replace the CFLs. By then the cost on the LEDs will probably have come down.
By then, light bulbs that truly last a lifetime will be a lot closer to reality, and the jokes about how many columnists it takes to screw in a light bulb will be replaced by questions like "What do you mean by screw in a light bulb?"

Of course, for all this talk of light bulbs you can't beat the sun for affordability and endurance. Light tubes, light shelves, windows, and simply going outside all provide great ways to get light without any electricity use at all. Sometimes the simple solutions are the best ones.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Could your family get by for three months without income? 40% can't.

About 10% of Canadians are below the poverty line, but the low-income cutoff isn't a complete picture of poverty, because poverty isn't all about income: If you can't build savings and assets, income doesn't help much. If you spend all you make, $1 Million a year won't help you when you don't have that income anymore.

If you're asset poor, you're not alone. About 40% of Canadians couldn't live at the poverty line for 3 months without any income according to David Rothwell at the Able 2013 conference in Calgary.

That three month cushion is a conservative limit, demonstrating how at risk people are, and how it's difficult to build assets.

You need an liquid emergency fund because you don't want to get stuck having to sell your home, car, or business to make up for an income crunch. You need that stuff to get back on your feet.

How much? According to Stats Canada it depends on your community (bigger communities more) and your family size. The bigger the community you live in and the bigger your family size, the more you should have available.

A small town family of four would need about $35000 in pre-tax annual income to be on the poverty line. That family, regardless of income would need $8750 in liquid assets to survive 3 months without income. Single? Save $5k to fund your emergency parachute. Minimum.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Perfectly miserable.

Don't try to be perfect. Focusing your attention on the tiny spots that are wrong rather than the broad swaths of good things will leave you miserable.
People aren't out there to judge you. Most people are far more concerned about what you think of them than to bother passing judgment on you. Even if they did, it doesn't matter unless you let it. But this was never really about others.
The issue is really about trying to meet your own ridiculous standards for excellence. If your standards are that high you'll be perpetually disappointed with yourself. Perfectionism has been described as a relentless pursuit of the worst within ourselves. 
For example, if you get your version of perfection from beauty magazines (which have an interest in making you feel bad about yourself, in order to move beauty and fashion products) you'll never measure up. You'll be ashamed of your body.
It's easy to forget that the models that grace those pages have extensive make-up, flattering lighting, and the most powerful image booster of all: Photoshop. Those digital enhancements and blemish removal are impossible for anyone to recreate as they walk around in the real world.

Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign takes a stab at this with their 'evolution' video, and 'Fotoshop, by Adobé', a 2 minute commentary on society's unreal standards of beauty by Jesse Rosten. You can find both the videos on Youtube.
Fotoshop, by Adobé
Exercise. Eat right. Lose those pounds and you will feel better, but don't expect perfect.
John Ruskin, in his essay "The nature of gothic" (1854)found more life in the architecture of the earlier gothic cathedrals than the later ones. In the early ones each window was slightly different as the craftsmen developed their technique as they went along. In the later ones the windows were identical, perfect, and boring. The character and variety is more interesting than a lineup of identical 'perfect' windows.
Forget perfect. Instead, develop character. Do your best, then detach yourself from the outcome. If perfect is your standard, you'll be miserable.

Smile. You're great just the way you are.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One player game

There aren't any other people here. It's just you. Alone in the simulator.
Everybody else is automatic. They're robots pretending to be people. The infinitely complex world is an elaborate experiment to see what YOU will do with it.
You can't control the actions of others, you can only control what you do. They respond based on what you do, how you treat them, and the ripple effects you have on the world.
Scores of outside observers are poring over every minute, assessing aspects of your personality, why you chose this and not that, how you treat other people, dissecting what you do and what you think.
If you neglect your player's health, the effects accumulate.
The objectives of this game have never really been made clear. That's part of it. You get to set and pursue your own win conditions, but you never really win, and the game is never really over.
Since you're the only player, and everyone is really interested in what you're doing at every moment, how does that change your play? How does it change your next actions now knowing that it is in fact all about you?
The only move available in this game is to decide what action to take next. No second chances, no take backs. The game is unforgiving that way, the rules are iron-clad.
How do you win? What do you want to accomplish? Forget about what other people think. Know that you're being closely observed - this entire universe or at least your conscience is focused on studying you. What will they find? They know everything about you. What will they think about your performance at this game?
[You are here]
What you see is around you. Exits are whatever you can think of. What do you do?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What needs unclogging?

Toilets, roads, emergency rooms: These are things that you don't want clogged when you need them.
Trying to push too much through a system that can't take it means it will quit working properly for everybody. iPhone apps with emergency room wait times, traffic jams due to 'volume', or an appointment with the plunger are the inevitable result, and we’d rather avoid them.
Look for the problem in the system, not in the individual pieces.
For example, if the problem is traffic, you can solve it temporarily with more roads, or more permanently by tightening up the city and making them less relevant by enhancing pedestrian and cycling access. Remember, ultimately you want access to the amenities and transportation is only a means to an end.
Other clogs might not be so obvious.
Are you stuck on something? That sounds like a clog. Maybe there’s a way past it you’re not thinking of. Write it out in a journal or talk it out with someone you trust.
Are you tired or lacking energy? That’s a clog getting in the way of accomplishing what you need to accomplish. Take a close look at your diet and exercise and think about how that’s impacting your energy levels. Eat well and exercise. That will keep you moving and energetic.
Looking at the big picture, unclogging your dreams is at least as important. If you're on track for them that's great, but the flow of events, like long hair in the shower drain, is likely to slow and eventually stop you making progress on your dreams unless you take steps to keep it clear.
How do you clear that? Ask yourself “What’s holding me back?” Naming it can help you dismiss the blockage.
If you don't make the effort to unclog whatever's standing between you and your dreams you'll have a hard time remembering what they were and an impossible time achieving them. Moreover, achieving your dreams gives permission to others to achieve theirs.

Get out of your own way. Unclog whatever's holding you back from your dreams and watch what happens. Unclogging these sort of psychological blocks isn't fun, but unclogging toilets isn't fun either. When you get it done, then you can make the progress you need.
p.s. This seems like a great post to resume blog updates with.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Don't muzzle scientists

Draconian restrictions on scientists' freedom to speak about their science is antithetical to a free democracy.
Muzzling scientists only makes sense as a government if they wish to champion policies that are at odds with the science.
Let's connect some dots:
1. Governments rise and fall on the strength of the economy.
2. Cleaning up our environmental messes, like dealing with climate change, is a drag on the short term economy and established interests.
3. If scientists tell Canadians about how bad it really is, Canadians will insist that we fix the problems. 
4. Which could chill the economy and bring down the government.
5. Therefore muzzling scientists is good for the economy and the government.
Maybe there's another way:
Unmuzzle the scientists, admit there's a problem, and rally the country to solve it. With a little creativity and a willingness to change things that matter the economy would find a way to thrive that doesn't involve ecocide.
The universe doesn't flinch, cheat, or negotiate. Science is what lets us understand the world we live in.
The publicly funded science we've paid for should not be kept hidden. Responsible policies in a liberal democracy have nothing to fear from science.
The science that the government wants to hide would, obviously, make their policies look bad. If  science backed their play they'd shout it from the mountaintops.
Watch out, the hidden science might even make the case for (gasp) taking care of the environment. Politically, of course, the safer ground is the status quo, with a side of economic growth and another four years.
Unfortunately, if the science makes you uncomfortable, the solution doesn't involve shutting up the scientists. Shooting the messenger might prolong the hallucination that everything's alright. It won't fix anything real though.
Let the facts out. Anyone who's not willing to accept the best science available doesn't deserve a cell phone, electricity, or any of the other fruits science has brought our way.
Rick Mercer sided with the scientists in a recent rant: Silence Science, Feb 26, pointing out that Canadian scientists took the deal because they want to eat.
Just this week the second of four carbon capture and storage projects was shelved. CCS is little more than a way of convincing ourselves that a carbon economy is still ok. It's not. Moreover, if you're using CCS to enhance fossil fuel recovery you're not really solving the problem.
An economy based on truth will, in the long run, outperform an economy based on lies. In the short run, muzzling the truth might keep you in power.
Don't muzzle the messenger. Embrace reality all the way, then craft your strategies based on that. Anything else is indefensible.
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Sunday, February 10, 2013

We are the 99 percent. We are the elite.

That's right. Economically speaking, YOU are the king of the jungle.

We may be the 99%, but here in North America we've already won the lottery.
The rich, obviously, have more money than the poor. That's what makes them rich.
The Occupy movement has made their point about being the 99% and drawing attention to the income inequality between the elite and everybody else. For the math on this, we could talk about the power law distribution and the Pareto principle, but that doesn't make for exciting reading.
Even with all the income inequality around here we are all among the global elite. It all depends on who you compare yourselves to.
As North Americans we live way beyond what would be considered typical in the rest of the world. $34 thousand/year after taxes (per person) puts you in the top 1% globally, according to a recent CNN Money article. (US dollars, but we're close enough for the point to still be relevant here.)
We're elite, but we feel like we're average: We don't compare ourselves to the past, or to people in the third world.
We compare ourselves to the people we see most often: our neighbours. These are usually people living near us, and with typical housing developments tailored to keep the values of houses pretty close within neighbourhoods no matter where you are, you'll feel average.
If everybody you know owns a million dollar mansion, yours won't feel particularly special. Same goes for a townhouse or a tarp. You'll feel average, because you're comparing yourself with your peers.
You're in the top 50% if you live on more than the world's median income of $1225/year. In Alberta, you can put yourself in the top half worldwide by working 3.5 weeks per year for minimum wage. Of course you probably work more than that and are better off financially than at least half the people in the world.
The points raised in the Occupy movement are still relevant. The relative poverty of the many could cause problems down the road, but that's not a solvable problem until we return to living on current solar income. But that's another story.
For now, enjoy the privileges that come along with being part of the global elite.
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Saturday, February 2, 2013

What makes you awesome?

That's not rhetorical or sarcastic. Think of an answer.
If you're having trouble with that question, try this: What's your superpower?
Got one? Good, because knowing what makes you awesome can help you reverse engineer your values and help you make a difference. Because when you're using your superpower you will feel better about yourself, your role in the world, and the difference you can make in it.
But it's weird? Of course it's weird. Your superpower is by definition something that other people don't do. Doing things that set you apart is risky. You can't hide in the crowd anymore. You can't just sit back and be normal. Well, you could, but don't expect that to satisfy you.
It's that thing that sets you apart that determines where you can make most of an impact. If it makes you awesome, it's already aligned with your values, and you already know what a difference it will make.
It is, of course, easier to sit by the TV and bask in mass media. You don't have to confront any fears there. It's comfortable. You don't have to risk anything.
Easy doesn't let you contribute in the way you need to. Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan were both right in that there are no passengers on spaceship earth, we're all crew. Maintaining the world for the future is going to take all hands on deck.
The job doesn't come with a manual, except the intuition that's already inside you. Being boring and conformist won't move the needle on anything. Other people are already doing that. Instead, find ways to do what makes you awesome, and share that with the world. Shine.
It won't be comfortable, but doing things that make you grow are never comfortable, at least at first.
Get out there. Share what makes you awesome with the community. It's not just a privilege, it's a responsibility too. Expressing your awesomeness gives permission to others to express their awesomeness too.
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Saturday, January 26, 2013

COP out #17

Who wants to be an international pariah? We do.
Canada's environment minister Peter Kent announced that Canada would not sign on to a second Kyoto commitment at the climate change talks in Durban, South Africa last week.
It's an honest position — we weren't going to do anything about climate change anyway, not with a Conservative majority. It's certainly not a position that's going to win us any friends in the international community.
Canada and Canadians used to have a tremendous reputation abroad. We were considered friendly, fair, generous, gracious people. Our international reputation was secure.
We continue to brag about our triumph and sacrifice at Vimy Ridge. We're proud of their commitment to duty and doing what's right in the face of considerable obstacles. Other countries revered us for this. The military continues to deserve our respect for the role it plays in defending our country. 
We used to be a leader in human rights, environmental protection, and we led the charge in reducing land mines.
Resting on our laurels isn't doing us any good internationally. We certainly aren't interested in sacrifice for the greater good. All we've got going for us now is that we're not terrorists, and that makes our oil 'ethical'.
The Canadian flag on the backpack is not the badge of honour it used to be. Other countries are well aware of Canada's backwards stance on clean energy, and how we prioritize our local economy over the global environment.
Canada signed on to the first Kyoto agreement then failed utterly to meet our commitments. Even China is disappointed in our stance on Climate Change. Yes, be embarrassed.
We've lost the political will to do what's right in the face of adversity. We've become comfortable with our resource extracting economy and our international goodwill has evaporated: Our self interest has eclipsed our willingness to do the right thing in the eyes of the world.
It's not an overstatement that the future of humanity in the world is at stake. We rely absolutely on ecological services and a stable climate. No amount of economic activity can replace that, and we're announcing to the world that yes, we are that selfish.
Practically speaking though, if you're planning a trip abroad in the near future, you may not want to trumpet so loudly that you're Canadian. You may not get the special treatment you were expecting.
Originally published to correspond with The Conference of the Parties #17 in Durban, December 2011.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I only got nine presents.

During the holiday season, it's exciting to anticipate presents, fun to pick them out for others, but the most important factor is who you share your time with.
Anticipation is part of the fun. Flipping through the wishbook, writing letters to Santa, and enduring TV commercials that overstate the joy you can get from a given toy are all part of the economy that revolves around stoking our desire for things we don't have.
Revelling in the not knowing demonstrates how we enjoy the infinite possibilities. Schrödinger's present (where it could be anything until you look inside) fills you with anticipation and wonder.
Knowing it could be anything dwells on the tremendous upside of what's possible rather than the limitations of any one thing. Is it better to open the box and limit the infinite possibilities to one thing, or to leave it closed preserving the dream but never living the reality?
Picking out gifts for others is fun too. The Potlach, a native giving custom raising the status of those who redistribute the most resources (rather than collecting the most resources) flies in the face of our accumulating society.
Economists criticize gift giving because it doesn't optimize the resources. Other people don't know exactly what you need/want, so they do their best. Their best isn't as good as what you'd come up with for yourself, so the utility of the gift is rarely maximized. On the other hand, giving cash is seen as a thoughtless cop-out, though it would help to maximize the utility and keep the economists happy.
The utility of the gift is only part of the story. The rest has to do with the reciprocal, relationship building nature of gift giving, the thought you put into your presents, and the opportunity to be generous. Reciprocal gift giving is one way to strengthen a relationship.
Between the delight of anticipating and receiving something wonderful and the satisfaction of seeing it received there's a third benefit too, more important than passing around stuff. It's the relationships that you strengthen by sharing time with the people you care about builds the relationships that help make us truly happy in a way that no present can.
That doesn't just go for the holidays either. Sharing your most limited resource — time — with the people you care about never goes out of style. Every moment is a chance to create memories that endure and strengthen the relationships with people you care about.
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