Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Martian

sperm whaleI was eight and in the Cub Scouts.

Every year, we held a miniature soapbox derby. Each Cub Scout designed and carved a car of his own design out of a piece of wood about the size of a block of Velveeta cheese. Then we raced each other’s cars down a sloped indoor track to see who’s car was the fastest.

Dads were busy and kids weren’t too sophisticated in the early sixties. So when my dad off- handedly suggested a car design with a bulbous front end tapering down to the back end I thought he must know what he was talking about. I started shaping.

When the day of the contest arrived my dad had to go to work. The other Cub Scouts and their dads showed up with conventional looking designs, narrow on the front and taller at the back end. Mine was the opposite. I had to insist my door wedge looking car be released down the track looking like a miniature sperm whale sitting between small Indy 500 shapes. It didn’t go well for my design.

All of us were milling around in our navy blue cub scout uniforms. Mine may as well been green because I felt like a Martian. Trying different things normally leads to failure, that’s part of it, and you can think of it more as feedback. But as an eight year old with no real grasp on why my car was shaped like Moby Dick and alone in an unsupportive group, I felt weird rather than like some sort of car designer testing shapes .

It was a memorable experience but not too traumatic. I thought of all this because of a doctor I saw for a neck problem. He felt sure that I’d had a problem with my dad when I was eight or nine.

First, I have no idea how he came up with that specific analysis. Second, what kind of medical school had he gone to?

The biggest problem I could come up with was the story I just told which isn’t very traumatic.

I still have a neck problem.

Productivity Tips

zzz handstampsA business school graduate spent a year delving into how to be more productive.

He created a site to share his findings, eventually coming up with his top 100 productivity tips.

I’ve selected the tips I liked, and also shortened some a bit. Here they are:

8. Make emails five sentences or less, and note it in your signature. People appreciate  emails that are short and to the point.

26. Someone saying, “I don’t have time for that.”  isn’t referring to the amount of time they have, but how important that task is to them.

27. Wait a bit before sending important emails/messages. Giving your mind time makes what you say more complete, valuable, and creative.

36. Get enough sleep, even if that means sleeping in. Also, there’s “no difference in socioeconomic standing” between early risers and night owls.

38. An office temperature of 71ºF (21.5ºC) makes you the most productive, and setting your home thermostat at night to 65ºF (18.5ºC) helps you sleep better.

45. Too much blue light (from a smartphone, tablet, or computer) before bed hurts your sleep.

46. Getting more natural light helps you sleep better, reduces your stress levels, increases your energy, and helps your focus.

51. A key to becoming more productive is making one small change at a time. The smaller the change you try to make, the more likely you’ll actually stick with it.

52. Be mindful of when you’re needlessly hard on yourself, 80% of what you say to yourself  is negative. Don’t be needlessly hard on yourself.

53. Make more friends at work. It’ll increase job satisfaction by an average of 50%, make you seven times more engaged at work, and you’ll be 40% more likely to get a promotion.

54.Over the last few months, which meetings gave you the most energy, motivation, happiness, and drive afterward? Schedule more meetings with those people.

55. Lower your expectations to make yourself more confident, relaxed, have more fun, and to lessen worry about proving yourself to others.

56. Realize that nobody cares. By realizing most people don’t care about your success, money, clothes, house, or car you’ll understand you’re freer than you originally thought.

60. Download Coffitivity, it’s the ambient hum of a coffee shop, proven to boost your productivity and creativity.

61. Every day, recall three things you’re grateful for. This trains your brain to “retain a pattern of scanning the world not for the negative, but for the positive first.”

64. Meditate. It’s the act of continually bringing your attention back to a single object. It calms your mind and increases blood flow to your brain.

65. Quit multitasking. It’s terrible for your focus and productivity, making you more prone to errors, affects your memory, and adds stress.

74. Use your smartphone less. It sucks up your attention, distracts you a lot more than you think, dilutes your interactions with people, and is a very low-leverage activity.

77. Do less. When you spread your attention, energy, and time over fewer activities, you bring more to everything you do, and achieve a lot more.

92. When you meet with someone, shut off your phone – showing them that they’re important to you, and you’re giving them all your attention. By focusing on what someone is saying, you’ll develop deeper relationships and avoid misunderstandings.

94. Make a pact with a friend that introduces a financial penalty for a bad habit you both have. This helps you focus on the cost of your bad habit, instead of its rewards.


anxietyThere’s a lot of anxiety around hiring, for both employers and potential employees.

The Financial Times ran a story about how “big data” is being tapped (using complex algorithms) to find better employees.

Some companies now investigate data sets of past behavior trying to predict a variety of ideal employee qualities like loyalty and salesmanship, and also to spot bad apples who might for example increase the high turnover rates at a call center.

The folks using big data as a sieve like this don’t know why it works, just that it does.

Some of the findings are unexpected like “employees who’re members of one or two social networks were found to stay in their job for longer than those who belonged to four or more social networks.” That’s odd.

It may be that being careful of the breadcrumbs you’re leaving all over the internet may be more important job-wise , than your resume.

And in some cases, the analysis of big data showed an employee’s past work experience in a similar field wasn’t a predictor of success. That’s sometimes a plus for potential employees. Applicants who in the past wouldn’t have gotten their foot in the door might now get an interview.

This reminded me of hiring advice I heard once: hire generalists who have enthusiasm and humor.

Birthday musings

lifspansI was surprised to find my wife sleeping on the bed next to this exercise nut who doesn’t smoke or even drink socially. I wasn’t jealous because he’ll be dead in a decade. Not from me poisoning him, but because he’s a dog and they just don’t live too long.

If you like the idea of living for a long time, it’s good to be human. Why do we live so long? It depends on nutrition, environment and genetics. Basically, if your parents both lived a long time, you’re a woman, and you don’t get fat or smoke you’ll live a long time, as animals go.

It’s been this way for a long time if you discount deadly childbirths, infections, and traumas that were common until recently. 

Most animals seem to get about the same number of heart beats over a lifetime and the bigger an animal is, the longer it takes to use up its allocated beats. Generally, the larger the animal the longer its life span probably due to the slower metabolism in bigger animals. For example, comparing a hamster to a horse, the heart rate is almost six times slower and the  lifespan six times longer for the horse.

We’re a lucky exception to this rule of thumb. We live a lot longer than we should just based on our size. Maybe because we take a long time to mature, having more shots at creating offspring and being able to help rear the offspring of our offspring has favored longer lives for us. But nobody really knows why.


The wimple and the merkin

book boxA handy feature on e-books is the ease of getting a word you don’t know defined right on the screen as you’re reading. If you have to put a book down and go to the dictionary, looking up words won’t happen very often.

Here’re two odd words I’ve come across, wimple and merkin, both have to do with women.

A wimple is what you call the old-fashioned head covering for nuns. And a merkin is what you call the crotch toupee worn by actresses lacking enough coverage after years of waxing, tweezing, and lasering.

Interesting words that you’ll probably never see used together except today.

The Right Feeling

cats and dogsWe all like being right. But what’s the cost when you badger someone to prove you’re right?

It feels good to be right, but how does it leave the other person feeling. I’ve noticed people will probably forget what you said and likewise for what you did. But they always seem to remember how you made them feel.

Remember the “Sisskel and Ebert” TV show reviewing movies? Each guy really tried hard to be right, over and above trying to just review a movie. The feelings each was left with and remembered prevented them from ever being the friends you’d have expected them to be off stage.

If you’ve made someone feel bad while you were striving to be right that feeling is what they recall long afterwards.

The situation is similar to adults wishing their parents had spent more time with them as kids. It’s a feeling that’s stuck with them. And probably why we hear the child-rearing advice of spending twice as much time with them, and half as much money.

Instead, try being enthusiastic instead of worrying about being right. Enthusiasm is infectious and fun. Fun wins and creates a better memory for the other person.

I guess that if you’re right, you’ll still be right even though you haven’t convinced someone else. So don’t worry so much about convincing someone else you’re right. The more you aim at being right to someone else, the more you are going to miss it.

Over time you’ll come out ahead by not bashing someone else to get your point across.  Make friends, because things don’t make things happen, people do.

Get Busy

weeks in 90yr


In your lifetime you’ll eat around sixty tons of food.

Just in case you don’t remember, a ton is two thousand pounds.

Maybe that sixty tons will be a little more or less depending on whether you’re a man or a woman and where you live.

You don’t have that much time really. Look at this display of how many weeks you’ll have if you make it to ninety.

“But most people don’t live to ninety years old.” you might say. You’re right. So you better get busy.

The Telephone Game

phone swapThe Mexicans all called him Domingo.

His name was Sandy. He’d introduced himself  to a couple of Mexicans when he first moved to Mexico.

One of the Mexicans had encountered a little bit of English somewhere in his life. And to his ear, Sandy sounded quite a bit like Sunday. In Spanish, the word for Sunday is Domingo.

Sandy had encountered a little bit of Spanish somewhere in his life and tried to use it. The Mexicans liked that he  tried speaking their language and tried to be inclusive with him.

So the Mexicans that Sandy met always called him Domingo.