Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Walking in February

The warm Winter sun
makes me look for the blossoms
that have not yet come.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Future Of Grocery Shopping

This past Sunday, as I went into my local chain supermarket, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I was surrounded by a sea of shopping services - not just a few as I usually see, but packs of them, with large carts with shelves to be loaded with items for other things.

I mentioned it to my coworker - and she told that in fact, there were multiple shopping services!  (Who knew?) Ones that do a single store, ones that do multiple stores - and stores that provide their own shopping services.  I asked her what the price was - for the one she had used (the store providing its own shopping service), the price was $5.99 plus a tip to the driver.

That got me to thinking.  For the grocery store that is already buying the groceries, $5.99 is a loss leader.  What does shopping take now?  30 minutes?  40 minutes?  In an age of time being less than money, they can afford to effectively lose money and still profit by locking people into the service.  I imagine shopping services without their own direct supplier will be at a bit of a loss as they will have to do something else to buffer the profits - but I bet they have already figured out what that is.

Suddenly I saw a vision of grocery stores being shopped not by actual end user shoppers, but rather by shopping services, individuals in their logo shirts putting things into cars as they dodged around the person stopping to get a few things or that relic, the actual person actually shopping for themselves.  And with fewer shoppers and those shoppers trained (or even employees of the store), suddenly the need for clerks to check out the items becomes less.  Then, even the shopping services and stockers themselves can eventually be replaced by machines (Yes, with a little readjustment and logically framing and a slight increase in technology, it can be done).

I wonder perhaps if some day my own children will tell their grandchildren about going to the supermarket.  The grandchildren will look  at them in wonder and say "But Grandma, everyone knows that groceries come from the autonomous cars that arrive at our house."

Monday, January 29, 2018

Why We Cannot Build Each Up: An Open Response

A friend of mine - an old one, a very dear one, posted on Facebook something to the effect of  "Americans have shown how much they are able to tear each other down.  Are they able to show how much they can build each other up?"  He is someone whom I respect immensely:  he is intelligent, wise, a deep thinker, and very knowledgeable about many things. That said, of course, any sort of discussion on social media almost immediately devolves into a heated name calling argument, so posting an actually response would be fruitless.  But here is what I would have said to him, had I been willing to engage into No Man's Land called political on-line discussions:

Dear X:

I cannot tell you how much I deeply appreciate your question, can Americans show how much they can build each other up?  I appreciate it both because of the intellectual integrity I believe you have and the fact that, simply put, almost no-one is asking the question.

In reply I can only offer a comment and a question.  My comment is no, I do not think we can build each other up in the way you are asking.  Why?  Because what does it mean to be an American?

We have become a society of divisiveness - to the point that we can almost not talk to each other.  We identify by race, by gender, by preferred sexual orientation, by political beliefs, by economic beliefs, by religious beliefs - in fact, if there is a way to identify into a subgroup, we have found it.  This sort of divisiveness - I suppose it could be termed "diversity", although diversity should in theory not be divisive - never really works for the nation state or really any sort of human organization, unless there is an underlying set of beliefs or assumptions that bind us together.  We are Y, because we are not Z.

If you can accept a rather poor analogy, it is like a family:  a group of people that may love each other or quibble and fight and call each other horrible names (and maybe not talk to each other in years) but have the underlying identification that they belong to this family and not another one.  It is our tribe, the point by which we differentiate ourselves from the world in that even though we are very different, we share at least that one identifying characteristic.

I then ask the simply question:  what is that defining characteristic or characteristics that makes us Americans?

One could argue that at one point it encompassed a shared set of beliefs about who we were and what we believed (keep in mind that for the political geographer, a nation (group of people) must have a shared culture, a shared language, and a shared origin).  Now many would argue that in point of fact that set of beliefs was incredibly narrow minded and not representative of who we actually were and that point can be debated.  What is important is that on the whole America believed it held them, even if it was not in practice.

What binds us together today?  From what I can see, very little.  We, on the whole, share only the space that we live in and the laws that we live under.  Everything else has become highly fragmented and isolated.  We find our "group", and then try to form the world to conform with what the group believes.  We have largely lost the ability to live and let live: we now live in a new age of clans and tribes, constantly seeking to do battle (thankfully only by words written and spoken at this point) with everyone around us.  We are the confederation of Celts before the arrival of Gaius Julius Caesar:  a large group of people in a large territory that would just as soon fight each other as fight against an outsider.

What would it take to change this?  I fear that task has slipped beyond any of us at this point because it would require two things.  The first is that it take a consensus on what it actually means to be an American.  Maybe that has changed over the years or maybe we have become so used to what we enjoy that we forget that we need to rededicate ourselves to such things on a regular basis.

But assuming we could reach a consensus, the second item looms in the way.  We would have to learn to accept a limitation of our influence.

Every group in the U.S. seeks to make the country into a vision of what it sees.  Anything that does not fit into that mold must be destroyed.  What I am suggesting is that different groups, even ones diametrically opposed to each other, would have to learn to accept and live with each other.  If one side believed A, B would have to accept this but also in practice agree to let A believe otherwise and not attempt to impose their vision of the world on them. 

(There is an addendum to this point as well:  every one would have to learn to forgive what has been said and written and (in some cases done).  This is an addendum of course, because in point of fact those that learn to live together in toleration if not amity can learn to let the past go.)

Building someone else up means wanting the best for them, even if the best is success above you or beyond you.  It means willing good, and being willing to see good occur without anger or regret or a coveting of that success for one's own (and then trying to bend the world to make it that way). 

As you might have guessed, I think we are far beyond this point now and have argued for some time that an amicable divorce would be better than the nasty and drawn out divorce I fear is coming (in fact, I have argued the point for a while some years, a Cassandra on the fringes of the Interweb). Why not simply accept the fact that historically this nation-state is over (it does happen, of course - someone born early in the last Century could have lived through three states:  The Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia, and Slovakia or Tsarist Russia, The Soviet Union, and The Russian Federation) and try to manage the process instead of continuing to tighten the pressure lid down until it boils over?

Sometimes, the best one can do is manager the dissolution of the company or marriage or denomination and work to build a different, better one.

Your Obedient Servant,

Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Sunday, January 28, 2018

On Loving Others

"But for our love of others to be wholly right,
God must be at its root.
NO one can love his neighbor perfectly,
unless it is in God he holds him dear.
And nobody can love his fellow-man in GO
who loves not God himself.
We must begin by loving GOod;
and then we shall be able, in Him, to love our neighbor too."

- Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) from The Way of Simplicity (Esther De Waal)

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Few Words From...Yamaoka Seizan

"If you want to attain true victory, broaden your understanding of virtue.  No enemy can defeat a man of superior virtue.  Attempting to win through exclusive reliance on technique will you nowhere."

"Do not speak of other's faults; do not boast about yourself; never expect anything for services rendered; never forget kindnesses received."

- Yamaoka Seizan (Teacher of Yamaoka Tesshu)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Removing The Modifier

Today, I suffered a fit of almost rage at work.  Yes, I removed the modifier from my verb.  To an e-mail to a vendor.

I initially wrote "I am little bit frustrated that at the amount of time this has taken".  And then I looked at it.  And thought about it.

On the whole, I try to be very polite in my communications, especially with people outside of my company.  Yelling in the e-mail never accomplishes anything but only makes you look silly (and exists forever in the ether) and possibly like a jerk.  So I sat there and looked at it.

And realized that I was not just a little frustrated. I was frustrated.  Frustrated that it was going to take two months to schedule someone on site.  Frustrated that I had a piece of equipment I could not use (but had paid for, of course). Frustrated that timelines were going to be pushed (again).

So looked at it again. And pulled out "a little bit".  Voila.  I was just frustrated.

If you know me (or have read my writing for any period of time), you know this is the equivalent  of me either typing in capitals (which I find rude and almost always uncalled for) or actually writing !@*$*%%.  It is that severe.  I almost never raise my voice in anger and certainly never write anything in anger (hard won lesson, that).  On the whole, I try to engage in solving the problem.  But occasionally even I lose my temper.

The outcome?  The item will be dealt with in 1.5 weeks, not in 4 weeks as originally set up.

Look out world.  Who knows? I may start using adverbs...

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Abstaining From Evil

"Cling to what is good; abstain from every form of evil." - 1 Thessalonians 5: 21b-22

I need to work more on abstaining from every form ("every hint", as it says elsewhere) of evil.

I have let it creep into my life in the midst of pretending that somehow I have made exchanges in other areas.  I do not watch R rated movies, for example, so a little Anime (Japanese Animation) is okay - even if the Anime turns out to be as bad as an R rated movie (yes, this is a thing). A book has important ideas so I read it, overlooking the parts of it that almost move towards soft porn and are inimical to my proclaimed values (Atlas Shrugged, in case you were wondering).

Why do I choose to believe and act this way?  Is it because I believe that truth has to be told and thus a little bad along with the good is tolerable (although in God, there is no darkness)?  Am I so desperate to entertain myself that I am willing to put up with the inappropriate because it is "not real"?  (Yet adultery in the mind is little different than adultery in reality according to Christ)

Apply that philosophy to real life: Is theft justified if the business is wealthy?  Is the affair justified if the spouse is unresponsive?  Is the gossip and malice justified towards the "deserving", even though it may be false?

In each of these situation I would say "No" - after all, those are sins.  Yet in the application in my own life, am I that rigorous in examining and applying my own morality?

The sin I am responsible for purging is my own.  The morals I am responsible for upholding are mine, not my neighbors.  No one tries to see by a dim lamp- so why do I try to live my life in that dimly lit darkness?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ruthless Honesty For The Self

Everyone, we are told, wants honesty.  But in truth, everyone does not want ruthless honesty.  We all decry lies - even little white ones - but somehow are offended when some gives us the unvarnished truth.  We do not want to hear we are overweight,  slothful, greedy, proud, uncaring or any of the other deadly sins.  If confronted with such, we wither and immediately cast aspersions upon the other - or we, when giving the input, are somehow surprised when people ask us for "honest" feedback, and then reject it (and call us insensitive along the way).

But there is one person we should - indeed must - be ruthlessly honest with: ourselves.

I am never - not once - improved by lying to myself or pretending that things are other than they are.  I can pretend that I am not being slothful or diligent enough and making excuses for bowing to my foibles (or sins, as I should probably name them) but that does not change the nature of the fact that I am slothful or lazy or just plain sinning.  I hide my failures by turning my eyes and my words at the critical moment, turning to the right or to the left and avoiding the very thing that I probably need to be saying to myself.

Honesty works both ways, of course.  I am equally bad at taking credit when I do well - somehow achieving a result I have striven seems to feel to me too much like pride and not enough like the just rewards for effort well expended.  Do that to yourself long enough and you will kill your motivation to do anything at all.

"Anciently", said Sun Tzu, "the skillful warriors made themselves invulnerable and then awaited the enemy's moment of vulnerability."  To become invulnerable in war means to honestly assess one's weaknesses and shore them up and to honestly assess one's strengths and how they may best be used.  I would submit that those who are truly great (as opposed to those who are just "famous") all bear within them a ruthless streak of honesty.  They know themselves well and thus, know the best ways that they will succeed, the best ways they can fail, and the insidious excuses they make to release themselves from effort and encourage themselves to vice. 

Perhaps we cannot be honest with all because not all react well.  But we should at least have the ability to be able to clearly see and comment on ourselves - and the strength the accept that honesty.

Monday, January 22, 2018

On Trying A New Diet

As part of the kickoff of the New Year, we are trying a new diet.

The particular one we are following is provided by an organization called Forks Over Knives - in this case, a vegan meal plan.  It is on a trial basis:  we are doing the three month trial in which they provide weekly dinner plans and a shopping list.  You shop and cook.

I know what you are thinking:  vegan.  No, we have not gone vegan.  I am still regularly eating yogurt and cheese and eggs and may or may not even have had some breakfast bacon tacos last week.  But we decided that we were looking for something that incorporate more vegetables and less processed foods into our lives, and with diabetes and heart conditions on both sides, a little weight loss would not be inappropriate either.

Some observations after following the "program" for a week:

1)  Cooking takes a great deal longer, due to preparation time for the vegetables - all things are vegetables and start in their natural state, thus having to be cut, peeled, chopped. or otherwise processed.

2)  It makes a lot.  We have easily had enough to feed four people plus at least two leftover lunches or even an entirely second meal (in some cases, still with leftovers).

3)  Everything is pretty good.  Although I have not gone out of my way to avoid meet, I am kind of surprised how little I crave it (again, dairy and eggs - another story).

4)  Oddly enough, even though we have enough (and more so) every meal, I find myself either feeling very full or completely hungry.  Not sure what is going on.

Other physical outcomes?  Not really sure I can comment yet. My weight, at least, has remained about the same.  I am certainly less hungry more of the time and find myself eating more out of habit than out of an actual need for food.

It has at least been an interesting experiment so far - and a good reminder that change, sometimes even drastic change, can be a good thing.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

God At All Times

He is the remedy for our wounds.
He is help in time of trouble.
He is the source of repair
for all those who are falling back,
and He is the source of abundance 
for those who advance.
Finally He is the means by which  human beings
have or receive whatever is good and appropriate for them.

-Bernard of Clairveaux (1090-1153), from The Way of Simplicity by Esther De Waal

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Few Words From...Miyamoto Musashi

"Crossing at a Ford

'Crossing at a ford" means, for example, crossing the sea at a strait, or crossing over a hundred miles of broad sea at a crossing place. I believe this 'crossing at a ford' occurs often in a man's lifetime.  It means setting sail even though your friends stay in harbour, knowing the route, knowing the soundness of your ship and the favour of the day.  When all the conditions are meet, and there is perhaps a favorable wind, or a tailwind, then set sail.  If the wind changes within a few miles of your destination, you must row across the remaining distance without a sail.

If you attain this spirit, it applies to everyday life.  You must always think of crossing at a ford."

- Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin (Miyamoto Musashi, 1584-1645)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Cold War

Arguably one of the bands that most haunted my middle school and high school days was Styx. Those years were essentially the same as the rise and fall of them as top line popular band.  I enjoyed their music - but they were one of the bands that had the gift of making every song on their album good - not just the ones that headlined the album.

You may also remember them as being of the first - at least, one of the first well known bands - to try a "concept album" in which the album was, essentially, a musical.  The album in question is Kilroy Was Here (1983) in which an aging resistance singer (Kilroy) uses a robot as a disguise (Kilroy) to reach the resistance to help them rise against the evil and musically oppressive Dr. Righteous (theocratic and fascist, which of course is the only kind of government that ever oppresses people).  The album had three hit singles: Don't Let It End, High Time, and Mr. Roboto - but all nine songs had something to offer.  The album was a complete success, the corresponding tour a complete failure (and, eventually ended up breaking up the band.)  If you are looking for a nostalgic walk through mid-80's rock, you could do worse than spending a couple of hours listening.

One of the songs that was on the album but was not a hit was called Cold War.  It was sung by the young revolutionary Jonathan Chance (Tommy Shaw) and is a cry against the powers that be that revolution is coming and they should pay attention to that fact.  As I was pondering the events of the last few months, I suddenly realized:  we are in a domestic Cold War.

Oh, we are not to the point of shooting (and hopefully never will be).  But we are essentially at the point that sides are being more clearly and clearly delineated every day:  State governments resisting the Federal government, the Federal government acting against the State governments, citizens of the States starting to clamor for splitting of the states.  (If this all sounds horribly familiar, that is because it is.)

In other words, we all disagree with each other and we are reaching the point that the disagreement is showing.  A lot.

Is there an end to a domestic Cold War?  Well, there are really only four solutions:  an actual hot war (any Civil War, any era), one side completely collapsing (Soviet Union), the sides separating rather than continue to live together (Czech Republic and Slovakia, parts of the old Yugoslavia), or simply agreeing to live together through their differences (which, to some extent, is where we seem to remain today).  Do I have a sense of which wins out?  History is a fairly lousy guide here, as a seemingly random event can catalyze an entire population or lead to nothing.

We really are in a domestic Cold War.  To say otherwise is to disguise the problem and have it not be as serious as truly it is.

Cold War (Tommy Shaw)

I'm tired of your psychology
To bring me to my bended knees
And if I could only talk to you
I'm sure that I could make you see
'cause time has a way
Of bringing even mountains down, down, down
Storm clouds are coming
I suggest you head for higher ground

I say you're a thing of the past
And you ain't gonna last
No matter what you say or do
It's all caught up to you

You're duty-free, you're tax-exempt
You party with the president
And you dance the dance so naturally
Why not believe you're heaven-sent
But time has a way of bringing
Even mountains down, down, down
There's a storm cloud a-comin'
I insist you head for higher ground

You talk talk and you get so intense
That you almost make sense
And that's what scares me the most
You as the host of celebrity lies
It's prime time, baby
Can't you see in my eyes, it's a

Cold war-runnin' in the streets
Everybody you meet knows
It's going down, don't you know
Cold war-blowing in the air
Everyone everywhere says it's time
To get ready for a cold war
Don't you look now
But the skinny boy's becoming a man

You say it's the luck of the draw
And you can't have it all
And I'll die young trying to make it
Into something that ain't gonna last
You ought to reconsider
'cause I'm coming fast with a

Cold war-running in the streets
Everybody you meet
Know's it's going down, don't you know
Cold war-blood is in the air
Everyone everywhere says it's time
To get ready for a cold war-looking at me
From behind every tree
There's a scared man running from a
Cold war-don't you look now
But the skinny boy's a streetfighting man

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Today's Lack Of Posting... brought to you due to the courtesy of an Air Handling Unit that leaked in the ceiling at work and a temporarily gravity free refrigerator shelf that landed on the floor.

(Really.  An Air Handling Unit in the ceiling had a frozen coil - probably due to the cold we have been having - which defrosted and then exploded with water through the ceiling at work.  Fortunately, the shut off valves are 15' above the floor level and not at all easily accessible, otherwise we would have had a real issue getting the thing shut down before it leaked a lot of water onto the floor.  And then the floor drain that did not have the capacity to accept the water, which then flooded the hallway outside of the bathrooms...yes, it really was a stellar day.  The cherry on top was when I was pulling down the wet tiles and a open knife, which apparently was just sitting on one of the tiles, came point down. Bonus level:  Accepted.)

(Sadly, the refrigerator shelf was much more pedantic:  I was lifting the milk out of the shelf and lifted it into the shelf above it, which enabled a number of sauce bottles to "fly free"...on to the tile floor.  Fortunately, we only lost two - however, worcestershire sauce is not the smell you want to have in your nostrils at 2130 in the evening.)

Sigh.  We will try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What If Winter Really Was Coming

One thing that our trip to California and our quite recent experience with "WINTER STORM INGA"  (should always be said in capitals - sounds more ominous) is that if civilization ever breaks down and it breaks down in winter, it will be abysmal.

We, in our modern mechanized and fueled age, take for granted that we are going to survive winter no differently than any other time of the year.  We have heat, be it gas or electric or food.  We have food - pretty much any kind of food we want - available within a fairly short period of time.  And, we have both hot and cold water, blessedly unfrozen over.  Our roads can get cleared, our power can come back up, our stores and gas stations easily get filled back up.  It is a sort of magical Winter Wonderland where most of us get to dabble in the cold or get a little inconvenienced - but that is about it.

Driving the desert in a freezing ice storm - as we did a month ago - tells a different story indeed.

Imagine (as I did) living in one of those small towns, or even in a large city and the power dies.  Everything becomes cold:  very, very cold.  If you are smart and/or fortunate, you have a wood burning fireplace and enough fuel to keep yourself.  If not, things become very cold very quickly.

Transportation, like any sort of major disaster, will break down rather quickly - but Winter has the added benefit (above the snow line) of embedding people in place thanks to snow drifts.  Now, many are cold, stuck, and do not have a way to heat themselves or cook.    And the food and fuel fairies that always seem to restock things will be a million miles away.

And water - if you have lived cold enough, you know the briskness that water just below freezing acquires.  Bathe or shower in that if you will!

No, winter without civilization quite quickly becomes a very savage and very terrible thing.  I can (all too well) only visualize what it would be like to be cold all the time, hungry almost all the time, and always having to keep active to be about keeping warm and fed.

Our ancestors were up to this sort of thing - perhaps not enjoying it, but up to it.  Most of us, not so much.

I look, somewhat in shock, at what a relatively benign ice storm does.  And then, unfortunately, imagine the possibilities...

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Eerie Sort of Quiet

Things feel quiet.  Uncomfortably quiet.

Oh, not quiet in the sense of the world.  There is plenty of news out there to be had - and if one is honest, you could make a case for the wheels coming off the bus in any number of circumstances. And a very realistic case at that.

No, what I am referring to are voices that I follow - or in some cases now, followed - on the InterWeb.  It is as if a vast blanket is smothering the InterWeb landscape.

People get busy, of course.  And let us be fair, maintaining a regular sort of writing is a difficult task, especially when (for 99% of us) it is a labor of love and not a paying endeavor.

But still, this silence - and the apparent dropping out of so many voices that I respect - troubles me.

Have I missed something?  Has the media paradigm changed so much that a blog has truly been overshadowed by a Video Blog (possible, of course) or social media?  Or (my bigger fear) is that these folks - many much more knowledeable heads than I - have foreseen something that has indicated that posting, for whatever reason, is no longer a priority - or even wise.

It feels much like a forest that is truly still, without the sound of birds of squirrels or other animals.  When it becomes this quiet, that is because something has gone terribly wrong - or is about to.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Service To Others

May my thoughts and my speech,
leisure and labor,
my acts and reflections,
my prosperity and adversity,
my life and my death,
my health and sickness, and whatsoever else is mine;
that I exist,
that I live,
that I feel,
that I understand:
let all be devoted to them,
and all be spent for them,
for whom Thou Thyself did not disdain to spend Thyself

- Aelred of Rievaulx, Abbot of Rievaulx (1110-1167)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Few Words From...Yamaoka Tesshu

"Over a few years
let intimacy
ripen naturally - 
the number of friends will be small
but the quality will be very large."

- Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888)

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Pretty Darn Awesome Day

So yesterday was almost an unmitigated disaster.

Something got shipped to wrong place and had to be held and eventually reshipped.  I forgot to send something else out for testing and have to scramble to get quotes assembled and the material shipped.  One material was supposed to ship at the end of last month but the supplier lied (no other way to put it) and now it is out four to six weeks.  A starting material cannot be received until the testing is complete, which is about two weeks before it is needed.  The building management quote is completely wrong and has to be redone (more expensive, of course).  And finally, just before I left, the water system sprung (another) leak, so the system had to be shut down.

And yet in spite of all, that, my house was still intact, my pets still happy to see me, the Ravishing Mrs. TB still as beautiful as ever, Na Clann good and doing well in school, my health is good and strength better than ever, my salvation assured, my iai going well with class that night, japan in threee weeks, and our ongoing project in using food we have for eating going well.

In other words, it was a pretty darn awesome day.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Combating The Speed Of Information

Smart people follow me (I do not say that to brag but it is simply a fact reflecting more on the quality of my readers than any factors I possess).

Jeff (hereafter known as "Anonymous Jeff") sent me a great link to answer the question "What is the Internet doing to our brain?"  I commend it to your attention (Full disclosure:  it is 18 minutes long and has a least one loud, rather annoying advertisement): 

In short (for those like me that struggle watching You Tube videos) the Internet capitalizes on our inherent desire to gather information but continually floods our short term memory (which can hold 2-4 thoughts at a time) such that those thoughts cannot transfer to long term memory, which is where items go to be retained and where deep thinking and insights occur.  We have increased our visual acuity, but abandoned the ability to think deeply in the process.

(An interesting side note is that the speaker points out that the Internet companies - Facebook, Google, Amazon - capitalize on this need to constantly seek new information.  If it truly is doing harm to our ability to think, is it not fair to ask if they are really "Doing No Evil"?)

So I suppose the more important question is what can we do - really, what can I do - to combat this?

Well, we always go by the Rule of Five, right?

1) Decrease the Smart Phone Use:  I remember when I got my first piece of mobile technology - a pager, back in 1996.  I remember the fact that it was cool because you could get texts on it and news updates.  How far we have come.

Or maybe not.  Let us be honest:  a smart phone is almost compulsive for me now - and most of that use is not for communication (which is what the darn thing is supposed to be used for).  So cut it. Stop using it for non-communication purposes.  Decrease the reliance upon it for information, not increase my dependence on it.

2) Cut Back On News Sites:  I have already gone through this exercise at least twice in the last year, but I still find myself clinging to some level of being up to the minute engaged with the workings of the world - as if that was somehow going to change face of the world.  Time purge the list - much more completely this time.

3)  Focus:  If you are like me on the Internet, going to one thing almost inevitably leads to going to another.  And another.  Before long I am 15 pages deep learning about 17th Century Poland when what I was really looking up was the Yen to Dollar conversion rate.  Fight back by getting on for the information, getting the information, and getting off.

4) Read:  Yes, I know.  Reading is so 20th Century.  We do everything via videos and postings now. 

But when one reads, one is tied to the thing one is physically reading in one's hand.  I cannot just skip over to something else (well, maybe the conclusion) because I would have to put the book down and start something else.  The nature of the activity forces me to be only on that activity.

5)  Think:  This is the hardest of all.  To consciously decide rather than constantly gather new information, I am going to compile and ponder the information that I have.  Not that there is anything wrong with new information - just that I should be using the information I have more effectively.

There is a silent sixth, of course;  Use the Internet less and "old fashioned" means more.  Which, of course sounds like a Luddite response - although it strikes me that perhaps many Luddites lived perfectly happy lives with less visual acuity and more thought.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Speed of Information

I am beginning to wonder if we have reached the tipping point for information intake in the information age.

I have found myself (coming back to work) highly stressed over something I could not put my finger on.  I did not really identify it until yesterday, when I realized that I am simply overwhelmed by information.

Let us take a hypothetical working man, age 30 or so.  Most likely when he rises in the morning, he reaches for his cell phone to check social media or e-mail or a website.  He gets ready for the day, perhaps with said cell phone in hand as he eats and washes - or maybe he opens a laptop or tablet or even has video going.

He gets in the car, which is quite possibly filled with either music or talk or a podcast.  Upon his arrival at work, he is flooded - not by conversations with coworkers but with e-mails.  E-mails asking for things, e-mails telling him things, e-mails he sends in response.  He himself may have to go to other websites for work to gather information - all at the same time he is cycling through his phone for social media, sports scores, or news.  This does not include interactions with individuals who are exchanging information with him - although strangely enough, these seem to happen less and less as requests for information and decisions are more and more on screens.

The drive home is probably similar to the drive to work: more intake of music or talk or a podcast.  Likely during the evening prior to going to bed he is on his phone or computer again, probably for personal reasons but maybe for work as well.  Finally, he sets the alarm on his phone and drifts off to sleep.

Sound crazy?  I would argue it is horribly true, in a greater or lesser extent, for most adults (at least in the U.S.).  We have arrived at the age of information only to find that we not only have all the information, we have too much information.

Imagine, if you will, telling acquaintances that you do not Facebook or Snapchat or watch TV or (horrors) do not even own a smart phone or TV.  The response you get would be as if you had come from another planet - everybody does these things because everybody needs to be plugged into the 24 hour, 365 day a year news, work, and social cycle. 

Which is where I found myself yesterday. Literally feeling overwhelmed by a tsunami of information that rolls over me like a flood.

How does one back out of such a thing?  Yes, one can do it in small doses - limit (or eliminate) electronic entertainment, cut down or out the time one spends in social media or just on-line in genera, change what one listens to driving - but even then, in an information age all things are ultimately about information.  You cannot escape the need - foisted upon us by our careers at least - of needing to be in such a current for eight or more hours a day.

I have no idea how this ends for us.  The human mind, it seems to me, is not made for the sort of constant intake of information which may or may not be actionable which we seem to be subjected to. We are creating a world of faster and faster, more and more - which ultimately leads to the sort of world that only those that think at the speed of information can navigate.

Which pretty much limits it to computers or those wired into them physically.  Maybe William Gibson's Neuromancer was only slightly ahead of it's time.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Monday, January 08, 2018

20 Years of Industry

This month marks my 20th year in the biopharmaceutical/medical device industry.

This is certainly not something I had imagined was possible.

If you had asked me at the beginning if I ever saw myself being here this long, I would have even questioned that I would have been in the industry at all:  I was not scientist, nor particularly trained in science beyond the practical application science in my life.  I suffered through my general education on science as a requirement, not a joy. 

I suppose, however, it is like a great many other things:  once you get started, there is a sort of gravity that continues to move you forward.  My gravity was called "salary and benefits."

Mind you, I am not displeased completely with my choice.  With perhaps the exception of technology, I cannot have done as well as I have done in any other field.  It has been a good paying field and although perhaps I cannot claim myself to be wealthy, I can claim to have had many opportunities that would not have been possible in any industry I could have accessed in my chosen degree (Political Science, of all things).

My career has also been something of a blue unicorn:  not having a science degree, I moved my way up by working at the task at hand and taking the opportunities that were offered to me.  By comparison, I believe that if I were starting out today I could not have done what I have done (there is now a specific degree - biomedical engineering - that covers a lot of what I did).

Is the industry everything I dreamed it would be?  No job is perfect, of course - occasionally I have had the privilege of working on a product that really changed someone's life; more often that not I work on products that either go nowhere or do not really have an impact.  The hours can be long and the average lifespan of a job is not necessarily great:  in 20 years I have worked for 8 companies, 6 of which have either been bought out or have simply gone out of business.  And as regular readers of this blog know, this is hardly the sort of thing that fires my blood up on a daily basis.

But fired blood is not everything, of course.  Sometimes the knowledge that I have been able to provide for my family (well) and occasionally do something that makes a difference has some value as well.

It is not always the roadswe expect that lead us to the places we originally intended to go.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Ipse Mihi

Ipse mihi meditatio,
Ipse mihi delectatio,
Ipsum propter ipsum super me quaero,
Ipso ad ipso inter me pasco,
Ipse mihi ager in quo laboro,
Ipse mihi fructus pro quo laboro,
Ipse mihi causa,
Ipse mihi effectus,
Ipse mihi principium
Ipse mihi fines sine fine,
Ipse mihi in aeternum.

He is my meditation;
He is my delight;
Him for His own sake I seek above all things;
from Himself I feed within me;
He is the field in which I labor;
He is the fruit for which I labor;
He is my cause;
He is my effect;
He is my beginning;
He is my end without end;
He is my eternity

- Isaac of Stella (circa 1100-1169), Cistercian Monk and Abbot of Stella from The Way of Simplicity:  The Cistercian Tradition by Esther De Waal

Saturday, January 06, 2018

A Few Words From...Joel Salatin

     "I'm not trying to be arrogant; I'm just trying to make the point that if we are not becoming what we want to be, we must make whatever changes in our thinking and our lifestyles necessary to become who we want to be.  It's time to stop making excuses.  It's time to stop listening to naysayers and head waggers.
     "It's time to quit living on the fast track to stupidity and get to the right track of fulfillment and success." - Joel Salatin, You Can Farm

Friday, January 05, 2018


My weight training coach, who is a gem of a human being, posts thought provoking items which cause me to go into wild gyrations of introspection for hours at a time.  Today his question was:  "What drives you?"

Not motivates.  He hates that word - and I kind of get that.  Motivations are often based on things going right or external factors - I am motivated to do well to make money but if lose ability to make the money, I more than likely will lose the motivation; I motivated to eat well and exercise to lose weight but if I stop losing weight and even perhaps gaining it, I lose the motivation.

Drive is different.  Drive is something that you have to accomplish.  Drive is asking yourself the questions "What am I willing to do to accomplish this?"  and 'What am I willing to give up to accomplish this?" Drive is the thing you continue to do when all motivations have passed into the dust and there is nothing but desert ahead of you.

Somewhat interestingly, nature provides us with an actual application:  the reproductive (or sex) drive.  Look at how focused males getting in the rutting season or when females are in heat, observe the journey salmon make back to their spawning grounds (the ultimate drive of course, as they all die).  At that moment, animals will do anything - anything - to satisfy that drive.

Which is what my coach is talking about.

Which led me to a second question:  What drives me?

That question was a lot harder to answer than I had anticipated - in fact, after reading it this morning I still have not come up with a definitive answer.    Because I have a lot of things which, if I am honest, I am motivated to do.  I seem to have nothing (at least off the top of my head) that I am driven to do.

That is not to say I do not have something, or somethings, that drive me.  That is to say that I lack clarity on what they are.  I suppose the super easy way to resolve the question is to simply stop doing everything - and then see what you start doing right after that (although in my case, I do not know that this would be effective as I would probably do as many things out of the obligation or sunk costs as I would out of drive).

But it is there, somewhere, under layers and layers of years and years and accretions of "have to's" and "want to's".  Somewhere, buried deep, is the "need to".

I just have to find it.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Study Subjects 2018

One of the more valuable lessons I picked up some time ago - I am not really sure from who or where, only that the idea is not original to me - was deciding on a course of study for the coming year.

The concept is that you pick one thing - or maybe some things - that you would like to learn more about over the coming year and spend your time and energy learning about them.  It could be a completely new thing or or a series of old things you wish to know more about.  The important thing is that one makes a concentrated effort to focus on certain items.

This year's choices:

1) Icelandic Sagas:  Not really a surprise, given we are going to Iceland in in August.  I believe I have most of the sagas that are available in English, at least the major ones.  More of a re-acquaintance with old friends.

2)  Cistercian Thought:  The Cistercian Order has always fascinated me:  scholarly, labor oriented, and often silent, if I had to choose a religious order to join they would be the one (and the philosophies of living simply and providing for one's self go well with my own philosophy).  I have read smatterings of their thought but nothing on a larger order.

3) Polish Hussars:  One of the more unique and interesting warrior classes of the 16th -18th century.  Not only is it an excuse to re-read The Siege of Vienna and a biography of Jan Sobieski, it is the opportunity to learn about the history of Central Europe (often a forgotten part of US European studies).

4)  Farming:  This is always on the list.  I am always looking to learn more - not just for where I am now, but for where I might be someday.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


I did a little calculating this morning. 

Given the alloted time of vacation for this year, I have 228 days of work.  That is 62.5% of the year.  That leaves 137 days, or 37.5% of the year, when I am not working (or at least not supposed to).

When I looked at that number, I went into a certain form of shock.  137 days. That really sounds like a lot, does it not?  Certainly enough time to do everything I could (or should) want to.  And that, of course, does not include at least one or two hours 5 days a week that might be available.  I do not have a deficit of time - quite the opposite.  I have an surfeit of it.

Yes, those are not all completely free days, of course.  There are activities, and church, and vacation, and even some idle time buried there.  But even with that, that seems like an incredibly long period of time available.

So maybe there is a more meaningful question:  if I have all this time, why am I not accomplishing all things that I want to accomplish?  Surely not having the time can no longer be the excuse.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Back Again

Hello Friends.  Happy 2018.

We made it back.  We had a wonderful time overall.  4060 miles driven, 55 hours in the car coming and going.  Lots of time with family and friends.

Home was beautiful:

 And the Arizona Sunrises were amazing:

Perhaps the most exciting thing was a special surprise from Santa:

Yes, that is right friends:  We are going to Iceland in August (30 year bucket item:  Unlocked!).

Did I have any bright epiphanies?  Not necessarily, no.  Maybe clarity is the more correct word to use.  I have a little more clarity perhaps.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I talked - perhaps more forthrightly than we have in years - some of our more egregious failures and what maybe we would actually like to do when Na Clann have gone (not too many years in the future, really).

Overall, a grand trip.  Which brought up perhaps the last thing I realized I need to work on:  having more small real adventures.  As often as possible.  Because just trying to grit out the work environment is never going to be a good solution.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year 2018

Greetings Friends!  And Welcome to 2018!  I suspect that while you are reading this, I am still (hopefully) in bed, having completed two long days of driving to get home and then possibly finding a friend's party to shout "Happy New Year" at, followed by coming home and going to bed.

What is planned for the New Year?  Hopefully, I am combed over my goals for the 50th time and they will be ready for publishing (more of what you have come to expect from me, I am sure).

But more importantly - and the way I should start every year - thank you.

Thank you for been a reader.  Thanks for spending at least 10 minutes of your day with me on a frequent (or infrequent) basis).

This blog is entering its 10th year as an actively maintained website (and 13th year of existence).  I believe I will surpass 3000 posts sometime this year.  A great deal of why I still do what I do (other than the fact I enjoy it) is that occasional belief that somehow my ramblings are helping someone else with their ramblings.  If they have helped you - or (to be fair) entertained you or even bothered you, thanks for sticking with me. 

(And to our friends in Russia that spike my blog about twice a month - thank you too.  You keep my numbers up.)

I am excited for this year.  We are going to do a lot of good things together - well, really me doing them, me writing about them, and you reading them.  But in a way, that means I get to do them with you.  Which makes them all the more entertaining.