Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Durability, The Environment and Convience

Is there another way other than sacrificing our environment for convenience, one little drink at a time?  
I took the picture from Fast Company, go read the article.

Taking care of our environment is critically important.  No question.  I have to say that because I actually had someone tell me they didn't care about throwing out cups, like it was a badge of honor not to care. A story for another day.  From a Christian world view, taking care of the planet is super important.  But I get ahead of myself...

Starbucks sells between 3 to 4 Billions cups of coffee per year.  And it's not just Starbucks, as much as I like to pick on them.  There's Tim Horton's, DD, the local coffee shop, etc.  That's a lot of cups being thrown in the trash and this has been acknowledged as an environmental issue by the company.  So I decided to do an experiment: how many times can I reuse a disposable coffee cup?  Different cups are made differently, for example, Wegmans uses a cup that's thicker than others and some local coffee cafe's use one that's thinner than Starbucks.  I was able to use the cup 8 times, filling it with hot liquid and washing after each use, until two things happened.  First, my wife was mortified that I would reuse a paper cup, "It's so unsanitary!"  Second, I threw it away since I was in a place where I couldn't carry it around, figured leaving a cup that had milk in it sitting in my car wouldn't be good!  I could have kept going and probably could have gotten 10-15 uses out of it.  Pretty durable!  So here's the problem: we have a cup that is durable, unsanitary after 1 or 2 uses, and convenient for me and the store.  Convenient for me because I don't have to carry it around and convenient for the store because they don't have to clean up.  But someone has to clean up the mess, right?  Just because someone throws it in a hole in the ground out of sight doesn't mean it's not a problem.  Move convenience, right?  It just becomes someone else's problem later on.  Kind of a bad pay it forward.  So we gotta think about this.

Go ahead and throw it out.  Feel bad about what you did.

Don't buy the coffee.  'How will I EVER survive without my Starbucks????'  Yeah...  Maybe buying a cup from Starbucks, Tim Horton's, Dunkin, etc. every day isn't good for you or the environment.  Buy less.  Cut it back to once per week.  You might even have to make some at home.  Wow.  You'll live.

Innovation: someone is going to figure this out and maybe even make a lot of money.  Starbucks is looking for ideas, maybe they'll buy yours.

Make Art: okay, this sounds goofy, but why not?  Think outside the box.  No, really, maybe art isn't your thing, but try doing something with it.  Take the cup home, wash it (don't use it again or my wife will get you), and stare at it.  Maybe an idea will come.  Do something goofy with it.  Com'on, just try it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Risk Management: The Dentist Question

Risk Management is about predicting the future and we're really bad at predicting

It's a running joke with the secretary at my dentist's office: "Mr. Donath, can we see you at 8:00 am on Tuesday in 6 months?"  "Well, I'll have to check, not sure what I'm doing them."  "Oh, I know what you'll be doing, you'll be here!"  Usually when she asks this question the season will be the opposite of what it is now.  If it's summer, there will be 2 feet of snow on the ground then.  That's the trick right?  The context then will be totally different.  Heck, I could have a different job, could be living in a different, house,...  Hey, I could be dead!  Crazy?  It happens.  Predicting the future is tricky.  In the book, The Black Swan, Taleb cites an example where some government agency was predicting the price of a barrel of oil for 25 years.  If I'm not sure what I'm doing at 8:00 am on Tuesday 6 months from now, how is someone going to predict the price of oil 25 years from now?  Stop for a moment and catch the seriousness of this: here's a government agency with a bunch of very smart people who are paid to know oil and the US energy sector is watching these predictions closely (and there probably a whole chain of people watching the energy sector).  So what these guys say has a big impact.  They said that oil wouldn't go over $27 a barrel over that 25 year time period.  Wait for it.  The price went over $27 in the first 6 months.  We are really bad at predicting.

Which leads me to risk management.  I'm speaking of risk management on IT projects.  We're told to predict (1) the probability of occurring, (2) probability of impact, and (3) timeline for impact.  There are other things to capture, but let's start with that.  Let's just pick one, probability of occurrence.  In the oil example above, they gave the probability of occurrence of going over $27 / barrel in 25 years as low.  It turned out to be very (VERY) high.  We are really bad at predicting.  If we are, how do we perform risk management?  There's a lot to talk about here, but let's start with who should do the predicting.  Don't confuse this with who can identify a risk, anyone on a project can identify a risk.  We'll talk more about that in another posting, but let's talk about who should do the predicting.  Apgar's book, Risk Intelligence, has five criteria for assessing someone's ability to identify risk and the first is "How frequently do your experiences relate to the risk?"  Let's say the risk has to do with system performance on a cloud solution.  Do you have experience with cloud solutions?  Do you have experiences with performance problems?  Do you have experience with measuring performance in a cloud environment?  If your a project lead, then finding someone who scores higher on this assessment will be important.  If you have the experience, go for it.  If you have a general feeling about the technology, better find someone who has more experience.  Yes, experience can be hit by a black swan too, but it is a step in weeding out possible error and refining the risks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Blocking People on Facebook

So blocking people on Facebook is pretty interesting.  I got thinking about it in a more philosophical sense when I got blocked by someone I know.  Why do people block?  Personally, I've blocked two people in my facebook life, both of which were trying to sell stuff on a group I setup - didn't know them and they didn't belong.  So with the recent blocking, I got thinking - why do people block people?

First, technically what's going on.  Let's start with Bob and Joe.  Let's say that Bob blocks Joe:

Blocking someone is basically making them disappear.  If Bob blocks Joe, then Joe never sees Bob.

Bob goes to his face book page and in the upper right corner is an icon for privacy short cuts.  Clicks on that and one of the options is "How Can I Stop Someone from Bothering Me?".  Click on this and Bob gets a search box: type in Joe's name or email, get a list of 'Joe's, pick the one and he's blocked.

Bob can also block Joe by going to Joe's page, and next to the Message button in the upper right of the page, click on the "..." and there's an option to block.

Blocking will unfriend someone.  Unfriending someone does not block them.

There is a short time period between when Bob blocks Joe that Joe will see an odd page.  I've see where the blockers page flashes up briefly and is then replaced with a error message "Sorry, this page isn't available".

After a couple days, Joe will not see anything from Bob.  If Joe searches for Bob in FB, Bob won't even come up in the search results.

Once Bob blocks Joe, Bob will not be able to add Joe as a friend.  Bob would need to unblock Joe, then send a friend request and Joe would have to accept that request.

Joe will not know that Bob has blocked him - there is no notification.  Joe will figure it out eventually, for example, if Bob posts a lot each day and then suddenly there are no more posts, Joe might think something is wrong.

There are ways that the blocked person can see the blocker - it doesn't make everything about the blocker disappear.  For example, if the Joe goes to google and searches for Bob, and he's logged out of Facebook, he can see Bob's profile page.  There are also some applications that can be added to Facebook that reveal information.

There is a way to prevent search engines like Google from displaying your profile information, just go into the privacy icon in the upper right, click on 'see more settings', then click on 'Do you want search engines outside Facebook...' and turn it off.  Of course that old high school buddy won't be able to find you, but maybe that's okay.

If Bob and Joe have had a conversation in Messenger, that conversation will still be there.  Not sure about this, but Joe might be able to continue the dialog in Messenger as long as Bob doesn't leave or delete the conversation.

Why block someone?

The first and obvious answer is that blocking is for stalkers, bullies, harassment, prostitutes trying to hit on you, and annoying sales people.

Blocking seems to be something that teenagers do when they're 'mad' at each other.  There can be an immature side of blocking, 'I'll teach you' kind of thing.

There can be legal situations where Bob doesn't want Joe to see what Bob is doing because there's some legal issue between the two of them or Joe is party to someone else who is in a legal conflict with Bob.  This seems a little odd in that: why is Bob posting things that could be used in a legal situation?

Unfriending is a kind of parting of the ways: maybe they have drifted apart.  Maybe it's someone you don't really know that well and really aren't interested in what they post.  I got unfriended once because of some moral position I expressed.  Unfriending leaves the door open for future contact.  Blocking says "I don't ever want to see you again".

There may be confusion about unfriending and blocking.  Maybe Bob didn't realize he had options and just reached for blocking because that's what he last heard.

Technically, blocking makes the person disappear.  That's pretty strong.  In social relationships, saying, "I want you to disappear" is serious.  If I'm that evil person, then there may be good cause.  But if Bob and Joe are just having a rough patch and Bob blocks Joe, that seems out of proportion  - maybe they should be talking to clear things up rather than Bob just hiding behind the Facebook block.

Facebook is like a fun house mirror: we tend to think more people are watching than actually are, we think that the stuff we write is more important than it actually is, and maybe unfriending/blocking sends a message when it actually doesn't.  Maybe the message it sends is that the blocker is just being trivial and immature.  I believe that Facebook can be used to help build relationships and stay connected, but it's not a substitute for the real thing.

Bottom line: (1) use blocking for the serious cases, (2) if the relationship is in a rough spot, go talk, don't hide behind Facebook blocking.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Deflecting Feedback

Our healing and help comes from others speaking truth into our lives, 
but the road blocks we use are many

We say we like feedback, but when it comes right down to it, we struggle with it.  We have all kinds of rules about who can give us feedback, when, how often, what topics, don't use specific words, etc.  We also seem to have techniques for deflecting feedback.  Here are some examples of how I might deflect your feedback:

It's Their Fault
Classic.  Blame it on others.  I'm not interested in the log or speck in my own eye.  The guilt and discussion gets shifted to others.  I'm also sending the message that you're wrong and you're focused on the wrong issues.

How do you know that?
In this case, you'll provide feedback to me and I'll challenge how you know some of the details.  Deflection.  It's no longer about the feedback, it's about you.  How do you know?  Are you talking about me to others?  Suddenly I'm off the hook and you have to justify yourself.  It's even worse: there's an accusation hidden there.  Have you been sneaking around?  You have to explain yourself when I'm the person in need.

Dominate the discussion
You come to me to address a situation, but I then launch into a long explanation.  Could be on anything.  Could be how it's not my fault, how circumstances have created the situation, or could be my life's history which sounds like it might have something to do with the discussion.  Prov 10:19 "Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise."

Get there first
What's better than dominating a discussion?  Getting there first, then dominate the discussion.  I get to you before you get to me, all in the name of 'getting the story right'.  Prov 18:17 "The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him."

Cry A Lot
You give me the hard feedback and I simply break down.  I may cry because what you're telling me really hurts.  I may feel shame and hurt and I just got to cry it out.  Crying may even be a sign of repentance.  It can be a sign of deflection.  I mean, who likes watching someone cry?  Suddenly, you feel like you have to go into comfort mode.  Extensive crying could also be a sign of past trauma.

I'm not stupid
'Stupid' is an unfortunate word when helping someone.  'Stupid' suggests that someone is inherently, intellectually inferior.  Telling someone they're stupid isn't helpful.  But if I say I'm not stupid, then I'm flipping things around on you.  How dare you say that about me.  It also suggests that there's nothing I have to do.  How about this deflection, 'I'm not crazy'.  Again, the use of the word crazy isn't helpful.  What happens if I do have a mental illness?  You would think that me getting help would be really important, right?  But If I say 'I'm not crazy' then I distance myself from any help I might need AND I turn the discussion back on you, distancing myself even further.

There are consequences to these deflections, these are not merely harmless comments or actions:

You can see how in a group of people, like a church congregation, this is a problem  This is concerning for a couple reasons.  First, there is deliberate management of the situation on my part.  I am trying to manage how people are involved and what they believe, regardless of what the actual situation is.  It may suggestion that I'm deliberately trying to cover my sin or at best avoid it.  Secondly, I'm spreading strife.  I may be doing all this to justifying myself, but there's the rub: I sin, I get counsel, I deflect, I blame others, then I go around telling others.  It's like pouring gas on a fire.

Other people carry the consequences of this, not me.  So my family, my kids, my friends, and my church have to struggle with the consequences of my sin.  The consequences can impact kid's in a family for generations.

These deflections can also be a sign that you're dealing with the classic proverbs fool.  Proverbs says that the wise will listen, thank you, and take action.  The fool is someone who will blame others and make excuses, but not action.  Fools aren't helped with more words, they're helped with consequences.

Let's say I'm a Christian saying all these things.  I am basically hiding my sin.  I may talk about how much I trust God, how much faith I have in Him, and how I'm trusting in His grace, but God isn't cool with sin.  Yes He loves me and yes I do have that grace, but God is a holy God.  When we confess our sin, God is honored by that and we are on the road to healing.  When we listen to counsel, yes it hurts, but we also can get help.

A lot of the problem here is how we take feedback.  While this is another discussion, feedback isn't an argument we need to win.  We just need to hear it, thank the person for it, pray about it, and drive on.  These deflections are serious but aren't the unforgivable sin.  We've all done it.  We can repent of it.  We can be helped by those people that God has put in our lives.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Book: Fast-Metabolism Diet

Three things to get out of the way: First, if you think of yourself as a foodie, you need to read this.  Second, full disclosure: I have not read this book, but I have been subjected to it, currently completed my 1st week.  Third, don't buy this book on Kindle - you'll flip around too much.  

When I hear the word 'diet' I think less eating and no snacks.  Not so with the Fast-Metabolism Diet.  I'm actually stuffed after meals!  The diet cuts out the obvious stuff like sugar (goodbye cookies), caffeine (coffee, I miss you), alcohol (no beer), butter (say it's not so), and dairy.  The book argues that we need to present different food combinations to our bodies to make sure it knows were not starving, read: time to store up surplus, and to exercise different systems to speed up the processing.  So the week breaks down into 3 phases.  Phase 1 is Monday and Tuesday that includes grains, fruits and veggies.  Phase 2 is Wednesday and Thursday that focuses on protein and veggies.  Phase 3 is Friday - Sunday introduces healthy oils, protein, and veggies.  The program has three meals per day plus snacks.  The program claims that someone can loose 15-20 pounds in 4 weeks.  I've finished my first week and have lost 5 pounds.  Get this: want to loose more weight?  You eat MORE.  Crazy, right?  Snacks have included smoked salmon, hummus and veggies, and fruit.  Not bad.  I do have to drink 6 x 16oz glasses of water.  Do you know how hard that is?  The first day I could barely chock down 4 glasses.  After that I added lemon that helped.  Sure disrupts my day though.

Here's what's interesting to me:

Eating good food takes work.  Getting fresh fruits and veggies, preparing them, cutting up veggies for the day, making fresh hummus, planning, etc. takes time.  I can see where the TV dinner came from and that evolving into fast food, prepared foods, Wegman's take out, etc.  I'm sure over time this will get easier as we get familiar with different menu options that work for us, but it does take time.

Given that this takes a lot of work, I can see where the detox-program-in-a-bag comes from.  We're just really busy people in the USA and we do want to loose the weight.  This has got to be a billion dollar industry.  But these programs also get us by claiming they have 'science' behind them: here, drink this and you'll get all you need, plus we flush the toxins out of your body (what ever they are).  When it comes down to it, there's no substitute for good fresh fruits, veggies, and meats.  We're a little too impressed with 'science' in the market place and maybe aren't critical enough.

Since my wife works at home, she puts a lot into this.  In fact, I'm sitting here on my butt writing this while she's in the kitchen making dinner.  With you her, we wouldn't be doing this.

We do eat a lot of crap.  I'm as guilty as anyone.  Have been on a sugar/coffee binge for the past two months.  It's easy to reach for the candy bar in the checkout line, grab a bag of cookies from Aldi's, etc.  Pasta, bread, chips - it's part of every day life.  After a week of not having any of this stuff, I'm still getting side effects.  It's just SOOOOO easy.

You know that four weeks is not much time in the grand scheme of things.  I'd recommend everyone try this.  Just four weeks.  Not only is it healthy, but it's a bit of an eye opener that, yes, there is another way of eating.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Counseling & Medications

Psychiatric drugs are widespread, take into account when helping someone

Our culture is awash in medications and these medications have a big impact moods, emotions and relationships.  I'm not a counselor or even play one on TV, so take this for what it's worth.  If someone is struggling personally or in relationships, asking if they are on any medications is a good idea.

The article: Astounding Increase in Antidepressant Use by Americans has some sobering statistics:
  • One in every 10 people are on antidepressants.  Have 200 friends on facebook?  Chances are 20 of them may be on antidepressants.
  • 23% of women in their 40's and 50's take antidepressants - higher than other groups
  • Usage doesn't seem to be that different across income levels
Other articles suggest that 2/3 of the people on antidepressants haven't been diagnosed with depression.  All of this suggests a very big problem: the behavior we see may be chemically induced.

Please understand I'm not saying these medications are good or bad.  Are we over medicated as Americans?  Probably, yes.  Are there legitimate uses for these medications?  Absolutely.  I know there's a some stigma associated with these medications, so we need to be careful.  But we also need to understand that these medications impact us personally and our relationships.

I know one person who said that they were indifferent to God and people in their life.  This response initiated many emotions from those around them.  Panic.  Fear.  Anger.  Are you a Christian?  They don't love me.  You're a bad person.  The conclusions roll out and impact the people around us.  Turns out, this person was on an antidepressant medications that had the wrong dosages.  Thank God someone important in their life wanted them to see a doctor.

I think other things can impact us too: coffee, alcohol, etc.  Questions that tease out the impact of diet and medication are important.  We can't be afraid to ask.  We can't be afraid to be asked.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Starbucks: The Treat that Drives Us

Are teats the quiet temptation we give into everyday?

On a typical day we wake up, get breakfast, and drive to work. During that time we can make a good cup of coffee at home and can get a reasonable cup at work. Coffee technology has gotten a lot better over the years and is cheap, so making a cup of coffee is easy, and can be fun at home or the work place. Unless we walk right by a Starbucks, many of us have to go out of our way to get some. 75% of Starbucks sales comes from coffee and one estimate has them selling 4B cups of coffee a year. 4 billion.  That's a lot of coffee. Unless you live in Seattle where there’s at least one on every corner, that’s a lot of people going out of their way to get Starbucks. Why? There are probably several reasons. A big one that comes to mind is that we like a treat.
In the article, “The Brutally Honest 6 Reasons Why Your Still Overfat”, a trainer gets real about over weight people. The article is very, shall I say, brutally honest. If you are easily offended, don’t read it.  He ran a health club and got tired of people coming in saying they wanted to loose weight but didn’t follow through. It happened so much that he said he could tell in the first 2 minutes of talking with a person if they were going to succeed or not. He makes some really good observations and the one that’s stuck with me is point #3: You Don’t Know What a Treat is.
"EVERY SINGLE F****** DAY you are exposed to ‘treats’. Donuts and chocolate milk on the way home from your kids sporting events. Trays of cookies in the office lounge. Bags of chips in the cupboard.Every. Single. Day.That’s without dinners and events every weekend or birthday parties, anniversaries, baby showers, sports events, holidays, and the plethora of celebratory events.‘Treats’ are something out of the ordinary. If it happens more than once a month it is no longer out of the ordinary. Stop saying treat. You aren’t having a treat."

We've turned treats into something else. We get them whenever we want them, which is a lot.  Which isn't the definition of a treat. Very convicting.
We go to Starbucks because they make the coffee we can’t make at home: the cafĂ© moca, caramel latte, etc. A treat basically. Starbucks has capitalized on our desire for a treat and has turned the treat into a regular and frequent event. Correction: we’ve turned a treat into a regular and frequent event. Billions of treats every year.
Treats drive us.  Our appetites drive us.  Are treats the quiet temptation we give into everyday?  What do we give up when we give in?  Well clearly there's a health issue: a 500 calorie cup several times a week, all year adds up on the waste line.  Doesn't seem like much for any given day, but check in a year later...  Maybe we loose a certain amount of discipline when we given in, a little at a time.  How will that show up later?

The treats in our lives: do we control them or do they control us? Worth thinking about.

Movie Review: Deadpool

I guess R rated moves aren't what they were :-)  Yup, a little too much R for me with the sex and language.  Let's set that aside for a minute.  After watching the previews, I thought it would be a funny movie with a unique take on the whole super hero genre, something different and fresh.  I mean, the previews were a riot - pretty funny!  Well, it turns out most of the funny stuff was in the previews.  I was pretty underwhelmed and disappointed.  Jokes were too predictable and the opportunities were wasted.  The interaction with the blind old lady for example could have worked better.  Wade/Deadpool's character tried too hard and acted too juvenile with lots of potty jokes.  The X-Men that joined the show were also lame and really didn't add much.  The rating of 8.5 at IMDB is way, way too high.  What's really sad is that directors and producers see the loads of money it made and the rating and are thinking they have to do the R thing too.  Deadpool could really kill the genra.