Life Outside My Cube

My life, a work in progress.

Monthly Archives: September 2009

Unseating Myself

Should I get a tattoo? What about adding hours to my timesheet? Will I visit my aunt in the nursing home? When is stealing really stealing?

Easy to ask, sometimes difficult to answer. What standards do you use when making decisions like these?

People always enter the decision-making process with some kind of overarching perspective or standard. For many, the standard is purely self-interest – what’s good for me, what I like, how I can benefit, what’s least painful. There may be some guilt in that as a sole motive, but with practice, it can be minimized. :-)

However, I think we’d all like to think that we have some kind of less-selfish standards!  We don’t always rely on purely selfish motivations to drive decision-making. We often make decisions based on what’s good for other people. Or what jives with our ethics or parent’s views. Or what our peers approve of. Sure, I can agree with that. We’re not totally self-absorbed!

But the question then is, what kind of standards are those? Aren’t standards generally considered to be points of absolute reference that do not change? Think of “Metric measurement standards”, for example. Hey, somebody should form a standards committee! Oh, they already did. If those “standards” can be overridden at will, or changed on a whim, they’re not standards at all. They are more like guidelines or suggestions. Guess that only leaves people with a “suggestion of ethics” to guide their lives. :-)

Ah, I jest. Kind of.

I’d like to say that all my decisions are based on my personal standard of ethics which is founded on the Bible. Despite saying so, doing so is not automatic. It requires a conscientious effort to not be swayed by selfishness. Jesus taught selflessness, and I’m telling you, it’s the most difficult thing. If we could constantly visualize His presence with us, similar to how a supervisor looking over your shoulder might influence our behavior, perhaps we’d be on the road to making decisions according to a right standard.

Is Jesus presence that real to you, that you can do the over-the-shoulder glance to catch His eye before jumping to a decision? And are you willing to relinquish the decision-making throne to Him, and submit to His standards?

When you do, decisions become doorways to adventure!

Common Sense, part 1

Why do we not, as Europeans do, standardize on dual-flush toilets? I feel guilty every time I flush my 1.6 gallons when the water is just discolored.

wooden-throne-toiletOur President has been quoted as saying that water is one of the “grand challenges” facing the US in the 21st century. In January our government proposed over $15 billion in water-related stimulus activity.

I’m not asking for toilet regulation or a government crapper kickback. I’m perhaps suggesting a public service announcement. Like, um,”Making sure your flushing is properly limited, simple thing, but we could save all that water that they’re talking about getting off recycling, if everybody was just upgrading their toilets and single-flushing regularly. You could actually save just as much.”

No, wait, that doesn’t sound right.

Still, if like Australia, 1/4 of all clean water in the US is flushed in toilets, reducing the flush from 1.6 gallons to around 1 would be a tremendous savings, rhetoric aside.

Think I’ll speak to my landlord about it next time we need a toilet repaired.

Riding Lessons

In my previous post, I introduced my definition of a hobby as a basis for a discussion I’d had with friends the other day. Here are some ideas that arose out of that discussion, based on my definition of a hobby.

A hobby is a good thing because it helps pacify you. That is, it is a source of peace to a person. When stressed, many people turn to their hobbies as part of their coping mechanism. It is a way to retreat from the stresses of life, where the mind is primarily focused on the enjoyable activity.

Can one retreat into the hobby at expense of family, social life, faith? Undoubtedly. It should not be a substitute for directly dealing with problems or stresses in one’s life.

A hobby can make you a credible source of truth on subjects other than your hobby. People who become an expert authority on their hobby are often considered smarter – because it’s clear they have spent considerable time researching their hobby. Such diligence would perhaps be equally applied to other areas of life, and as a result, these people are trusted more often than those with no similar expertise.

Is this “playing the game?” Undoubtedly, if the hobby motivated by this desire for credibility. It is a deceptive behavior.

A hobby serves as a point of interest between to strangers. Perhaps the more hobbies one has (and takes the time to diligently research or study), the more opportunities exist to attract people with similar interests.

Will this make you more attractive to people? It depends on how you come across. A common interest is good; someone who only can talk about himself or his hobby is a bore.

Any other ideas?

Riding the Hobby Horse

I was discussing the idea of hobbies last night with friends. We were from a variety of ages and backgrounds, so it was a lively time. We came to a couple conclusions. Always start with a definition. There exist many, but here is mine:

Hobbies are activities you enjoy outside of your regular responsibilities, on which you spend consistent significant time and money, in which you become proficient, and about which you become a perceived expert.

This would exclude ordinary enjoyable activities that might take time and money but probably not significant time, like going out to eat or watching movies (I’m sure there are exceptions). And how does one become a “proficient” television watcher? About sports – if you pursue them to the point at which you are considered an expert, perhaps they would be considered a hobby. But not for the majority of us.

This definition normally points one toward craft-type activities (e.g. woodworking, handwork, “hobby farming” or making maple syrup) or discovery-based activities (e.g. bird watching, reading about architecture, or spelunking). For these examples, the last clause in my definition seems to help me distinguish between an enjoyable activity and a hobby. I can readily imagine someone as an expert resource for theoretical and practical information about caving or fly fishing, but not about going to amusement parks.

So with that definition, I wanted to evaluate whether hobby horses are worthwhile riding, how much, and why. I’ll let on what we came up with in the next post.

Dogpatch conveys backwoods ignorance, but is decidedly the opposite

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of incubators and shared office space. Having attempted the entreprenurial route (unsucessfully, it’s another story) for 7 years, the feeling of independence and wide-openness is still fresh in my mind. Since I live in a rather technologically scarce area, much of the vibrant dot com community activity has taken some time to migrate here. It’s only been since 2008 that a shared office space has opened up in the nearest major city.

I’d be very interested in spending some time there, but since I already have a full-time job, and the place is around $100/month, it’s just not been a high priority. I long for the shared developer community, because I have ideas and I can contribute, but I wish there was something closer and cheaper I could participate in.

Or manage, even.

The new Polaris incubator – “Dog Patch Labs Cambridge” – got me thinking again about the possibility of starting an incubator. I toyed with the idea years ago when a local elementary school went up for sale – opening up the possibility of living in part, and renting out part. Never worked out . The price was too high, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it was within a half-mile of a major university.

Now I find myself in a village of only 5000 people, and the nearest university is a half-hour away. Decidedly Mennonite community. No tech at all. More of a tourist/antiques type of place. There are a number of small facilities that could work well with a bit of work. But I have a few questions.

Doesn’t the money need to come first – to buy the place and prep it – before I can promote it to the greater community? How would a potential mortgage lender view a business plan of this type? Can I get some small piece fo real estate in a local business, like Red Gate did? With lunch? Would people be willing to relocate in order to work in my village? Are there enough suburban commuters from the local cities to draw from that would be interested in (1) starting a low-capital-investment or software/web-based business, and (2) willing to do it from my incubator location? Is there enough geeky infrastructure in the community to support these kind of people?

Hump Day

The beginning of my week is usually very busy and stressful. I don’t look forward to Mondays or Tuesday mornings. But by Wednesday, things are looking ok, and there’s a bit of calm in the air. Thursday morning things pick up in earnest again, and all day Friday I’m on eggshells expecting an urgent problem to arise just before I leave for the weekend, which they do with maddening regularity. So hump day is usually a pretty good day. Usually.

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I’ve been working on 2 rather messy problems today. All day. I got here an hour early to get jump started before the madding crowds pushed in (we have an open office, so these NC babies come in real handy).

Now I’m waiting for some number crunching and will probably be at least an hour late leaving. Got a headache from the intensity today – no lunch break.

I wish I had the kind of job where I could just say, “I’ll be back after lunch,” or “5 o’clock – I’m leaving now.” I have clients depending on my real-time data analysis, and they’re frequently impatient. So I can’t just leave things hanging, or else it’ll get worse.

Thats life in our company, where we provide ongoing engineering and IT services, instead of doing product development. I don’t really like it much nowadays.

Saturday Morning Leisure

Sounds wonderful, right? A relaxing Saturday morning doing whatever comes to mind? Well, it’s been that, in a way, except that it started at 6:30am when the cat set up a wail at the back door (right under our bedroom window) to be let in. Once up, I’m up – can’t go back to sleep. I worked on a client website for a couple hours, until my wife got up. We made ourselves breakfast together, then went for a 1hr speedwalk in the park down the street. I was hurting, having played a couple hours of Ultimate last night. In addition to my sorry tale of misery in the last post, I’m about 30 pounds overweight.

I’m exercising a fair amount, high intensity racquetball 2x a week for an hour, 3hrs competitive volleyball Tuesdays, and 2hrs Ultimate on Thursdays. I may be getting more fit, but I like eating too much, which is probably why I’m not losing any weight. I often eat or snack late into the evening, which I understand is a Bad Idea not because it’s after the magical 8pm, but because I really don’t need to be eating anything that late in the day. I also tend to be a reactionary eater – when I think things aren’t going well in my life, I eat to make myself feel better.

So I struggle on with the extra weight and feelings of negligence and inferiority it brings.

So far today, I’m doing well. Wife and I are shortly going to the store for more pectin and canning jars – we have a peck of peaches to turn into jam, and someone gave us around a bushel of tomatoes last night. The tomatoes are not quite ripe, so we’ll set them out to ripen until Monday, and make tomato sauce then. A good thing to do as a family this weekend, since we can’t afford to do much else. We’ll probably end up borrowing some movies from the local library, or Redbox.

Here I am

I’m stuck in a working rut of ginormous proportions.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate having a job in this economy, and a good one.  I work with great talented people and have a great boss and I do cool stuff with software that most people have never heard of. My salary is decent, I have flexible hours, get paid for overtime, and have 4 weeks vacation. I have a great wife and two wonderful kids, great neighbors and a good-size handful of great friends. What’s not to like about this?

Well, I just turned 49 this year. I’m around $40,000 in debt, living in a $200/month condo in exchange for association maintenance, my ’95 Le Sabre threw a rod last week, and my other car is a 1985 Tempo. I have no savings, and pretty much live a-to-paycheck because of our debt obligations.

The E-Myth Revisited

Ok, so I’ve made some bad choices in the past, a long story (short version: 7-year attempt at entrepreneurship, mostly in denial that I’m a technician, not an entrepreneur (see sidebar), along with some not-so-good spending habits). So I’m not complaining – my financial situation is entirely deserved, and we’re working our way out of it without bankruptcy or skipping out on our debts. I’m just setting up the situation to introduce myself. I’ll be in a better position in 3-4 years.

The real issue is my work life. I’ve been writing software for 26 years, and would love to do something different in the way of “work”. Completely different. Raising chickens. Making movies. Running a non-profit. Doing community development. Construction. Teaching.  Writing books. I’m supremely tired of the “9-5”, being a slave to someone else’s goals and ambitions. I may be good at what I do, but it’s not how I want to change the world.

My wife, after seeing Julie & Julia says if I want to write, I need to start writing. Lots of writing, like in a blog. Maybe enough people will get interested in me, my story, or my mission, and we’ll get rich in the process of accomplishing something.

Right.

My life is supremely bland right now.

So I’m probably going to bore you to death. But maybe in the process of learning to write, and getting my life back, you will be encouraged.

So here goes.