After the election…now what?

its-time-to-step-up

[Thanks to John Stepper for putting voice to my feelings so eloquently]

Things did not turn out the way I hoped they would. What should I do next?

I could be angry, and make my anger visible with a nasty comment on social media.

I could search the internet for extreme examples and share those that validate my fears and beliefs, ignoring my confirmation bias.

I could taunt or confront people who have different opinions, mocking them for their obvious lack of principles and education.

I could defriend the few in my network who disagree with me, thereby repairing the small breeches in a social bubble I have carefully cultivated, one that brings me comfort that I’m surrounded by people who think like me.

I have done all of these things in the past, and it has yielded nothing but unhappiness.

I’m done. I am no longer willing to be part of the problem, to feed the escalation of polarizing, dehumanizing behaviors that seems to be the new normal.

It’s time to step up.

If I want more kindness and compassion, I can be kinder and more compassionate, online and in person, throughout my day.

If I see unkind behavior, I can speak up and offer my support.

If I want more opportunities for people faced with systemic bias, I can do something to give them a voice, to help them gain access they might not have otherwise.

If I want to improve how people relate to each other – to replace hate and fear with empathy and generosity – I can continue to develop and spread a practice that does that. I can make that my life’s work.

I am not angry. I am not depressed.

I am committed.

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When Good Restaurants Go Bad!

SarahRocks.jpgWe just returned from a wonderful trip to Willsboro, NY after a wonderfully relaxing family vacation on the shore of Lake Champlain.

After settling in and unpacking we headed out for something to eat.  We stopped first at a small grocery store attached to a gas station (which seems to be the norm in this neck of the woods) and asked the employees for a good family place to eat. Two of them recommended Zeke’s pub and, not seeing a huge amount of options, we decided to give it a try.

From the start the signs were not good.  A surly waitress waved a hand to the near empty restaurant and indicated we should take our pick.

(Warning sign #1)  The fact the restaurant was empty at dinnertime on a Saturday should have been a sign to turn tail and run, but we toughed it out and sat down at the only table that could fit five.

The menu contained the usual pub fare and so the men selected the usual assortment of burgers, while my daughter and wife went for pizza and fish and chips respectively.

(Warning sign #2) We were a little surprised when the french fry options were presented as “hand cut or frozen”.  I honestly thought I had not heard correctly because I have never been to a restaurant that offers you frozen french fries, even if that is what many of them actually do provide.  We all opted for the hand cut.  Perhaps that was a mistake as we will see later.

There followed a long delay in which we sat in direct line of the A/C and tried to stave off hypothermia.  We made it…just.

The food finally arrived and we tucked with gusto. It had been a long day and we were famished.  That enthusiasm soon faded when we discovered the food was tasteless. The menu said that Joanne was supposed to get two pieces of fish with her fish & chips, but she only got one. She was going to complain, until she tasted it and decided to just let it be.  Then we found the first long black hair in Joanne’s fries…then Greg found a long BLONDE hair in his burger…and at that point we were pretty much done.  We paid the bill and left vowing NEVER to return to Zeke’s again.

A couple of days later we stopped at Johnny’s Family Smokehouse just a little way down the road from Zeke’s.  What a difference!  The place was packed and we had to eat in the bar area.  We were greeted warmly, the menu was interesting and the food was excellent.  The pulled pork sandwiches were wonderful, the calzone tasty and we left feeling full and happy with a new discovery.  This place definitely warranted a second visit before we headed home!

As always happens on vacations the last day arrived far too quickly and, before we knew it, we were heading out for the last meal of the trip.  We asked the kids where they wanted to go and Johhny’s was a unanimous and resounding favorite.  They received no argument from us and off we went.

(Warning sign #1)  We pulled into the parking lot and, despite being Friday night, it was mostly empty.  Odd but this meant that the large open air section near the carpark was available and we opted to sit outside as it was a beautiful night.

zekesAs we walked to the door one of the kids pointed at the new sign which read “Johnny’s and Zeke’s”! The “Zeke’s” part was more of a footnote at the bottom of the sign… they seemed to be trying to make that part look unnoticeable. We should have turned around right then but the sign nearby read “The best of both worlds” so we figured that they must surely have kept all the good stuff…right?

(Warning sign #2) The menus arrived…they were the menus from Zeke’s. They were even the same cheap white paper, rather than the high-quality Johnny’s menus. The glasses were the cheap plastic glasses from Zeke’s also.  Both places had pulled pork so Joanne asked if this was the pulled pork we had the other night only to be told “No, this is a different recipe”.  I eyed the car parked nearby and absentmindedly fingered the car keys.

(Warning sign #3) The first thing out of the waiter’s mouth was a long list of things they were out of, which covered about half of the menu.

(Warning sign #4) The french fry options…you guessed it…now it was hand cut or frozen! Not only that, but you now had to pay an extra two dollars to just get the french fries, unless you would prefer your burger with cheap Lay’s potato chips straight from the bag (a Zeke’s specialty) .

I chanted the optimistic mantra that surely they would keep the best while we waited for the food to arrive.

(Neon warning sign #5) My optimism lasted right up to the point where the only other table requested to speak with the manager and then spent the next 30 minutes blasting her and then what I presume to be the co-owner with phrases such as “Disgusting and unsanitary”.  He reminded them that “shrimp scampi isn’t normally served as a soup” and that it was “not normal for the chef to decide what he would serve someone after realizing that they were out of what he had ordered.”

(Flashing neon warning sign #6) Our neighbor said he couldn’t understand it because he knew the chef…and that was when we heard that we heard that the old chef had quit because he didn’t like the new arrangement.  Yes…it seems we were back to the “Chef” from Zeke’s!

We had plenty of time to listen to this tirade in detail because about 45 minutes had passed since we placed our order with still no sign of it appearing.  The waiter did come and tell us they were backed up, which was hard to understand considering they place was nearly empty.

I was now actively campaigning for an immediate exit after leaving enough cash to cover the drinks.  Joanne was much more hesitant as she had never left a place after ordering food.  That continued right up to the point where we pointed out that one of the things our neighbor complained about (and the reason for the disgusting comment) was that he found hair in his food.  The look on her face was priceless, followed by a comic swirling dust cloud as she headed for the car at top speed.  I pushed some money under a glass and, without a second glance, peeled out of there in a tire smoking dash for safety. We went to another restaurant and, admittedly, the food there wasn’t that great either. But it was hairless, and that was good enough for us.

As we were driving home from that other restaurant, we passed by the sad building that was once home to a wonderful restaurant. The parking lot of this PUB was completely deserted… at 9:30 on a Friday night. That was a sure sign that something had gone horribly wrong.

We now have a new phrase in the household.  To be “Zeke’d” is to take a great restaurant…and destroy it thoroughly. Also, whenever we pull into a restaurant, we double-check to make sure there’s no “and Zeke’s” on the sign.

Ahh, family vacations, they are all about making memories…and this one is going to stick with the family for a while!

 

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Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, Travel

Cutting the Cord – Two Years On

cutting-cableTwo years ago I was finally ticked off enough with the continually rising cost of cable TV and cut the cord.

I missed Formula 1, and watching Wimbledon and the US Open was problematic, but overall life was good.

Last week I finally (long overdue) decided to cancel the home phone because the only people using that were telemarketers.

The person I dealt with was (for once) knowledgeable and didn’t try to talk me out of it. Instead he put me on to a deal that included high speed internet (60mbps) AND basic TV channels.  All for a monthly price of just $54!

So, two years after cutting the cord the TV is now back…but now I pay just $54 a month instead of $200.  My wife has been happily watching Wimbledon, I watched F1 practice last night for the first time in 2 years, and we haven’t had a telemarketer call in a week!

What did we learn in the past two years?

Pick the right device.

roku-chromecast-vs-lead

We started by using a Chromecast because they were cheap ($35) and I believed that Google would be able to expand quickly.  To use the Chromecast you need to use an app on a phone or tablet and this caused a lot of frustration.

Want to back up 30 seconds to catch the line you missed in your soap?  Grab your phone…unlock it…open the app (which probably closed)…if it’s an IOS device wait 30 seconds while it reconnects to the chromecast…then press backup…wait while it goes through…now keep pressing because by now you are 2 minutes further than you were when you started.  Arrgh!

It’s not all bad news.  It generally works pretty well if you play things from beginning to end, has a lot of services, and I can redirect the screen from my PC browser or Android tablet on to the big TV screen.

Ultimately though we came across a Groupon to buy a Roku device and now have a much more normal viewing experience.  Easier to navigate, no apps needed, and a normal remote control that reacts instantly.  My advice? go straight for the Roku unless you want to drive your family crazy.

What did we miss?

Some shows were simply too difficult to watch and we stopped.  Big Bang Theory was playable but only after jumping through hoops.  Tennis (US Open and Wimbledon) likewise required much hoop jumping.  And Formula 1 was impossible to watch.  F1 was the biggest thing that I personally missed.

homephoneGet rid of the home phone ASAP!

The home phone cost almost as much as the high speed internet…and no-one used it.  About 6 times a day we would get calls telling us our credit card interest rate could be lower or we had won a cruise.  Why was I paying nearly $40 a month for that? 

As soon as everyone had a cell phone we should have ditched the landline but, instead, we held on to this relic far too long.

Finally there?

Overall, the current setup looks like a good deal.  It took a while for the cable companies to catch up but it looks as though we are now almost at the point I wanted to be 2 years ago and my cable bill is 1/4 of what it was.

I’m off now to watch F1 qualifying for the first time in 2 years🙂

 

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Filed under Life - or something like it, Technology

The Social Catalyst

Last weekend I spent 4 1/2 days riding about 1,200 miles with about 80 motorcycle friends with Backroads motorcycle magazine.

I say 80 friends because at the end of each day everyone would congregate at the hotel, have a drink and swap stories and it always amazes me how easy it is to talk to anyone in this crowd.  Stick out your hand in introduction and you’ll be chatting like long lost buddies within minutes.

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As something of a social observer this was an excellent opportunity to watch a lot of different interactions in a very short space of time, and I started to see a pattern I had never seen before.

Certain people (who I won’t name to avoid embarrassment) have the amazing ability to liven up almost any conversation whenever they join a group.  Within minutes the level of laughter and energy will move up a notch, and the effect lasts long after they have left too.

The characteristics of these social catalysts seem to be equal part a great sense of humor, broad knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, keen observation skills which they use to tease people with, and a certain amount of irreverence where they will happily delve into subjects that polite conversation might steer clear of.

Having noticed it, it was hard not to notice, even when they joined a conversation I was in.

Sadly I don’t count myself as one of these social unicorns.  But maybe I can use these observations to help improve my future social interactions.  Either that or I’m going to end up with a bloody nose.

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Real Managers Know About Trust

bestboss__largeI was reading an interesting post about first jobs and the headline Good Bosses Are Key immediately gave me a flash back to my first “real job”.

I had gone through a year of programming school to which ended with a three month internship at a small company.

I turned up for the first day feeling, frankly, a little cock sure of myself.  That subsided quickly.

My first task was debugging a program used to calculate rent on properties and had been written by a programmer that was no longer with the company. After hours of pouring over the code I not only couldn’t figure out why it was going wrong, I couldn’t even figure out how it could ever have worked at all!

sadwalkI left that first day with my tail between my legs and thinking I had made a huge mistake. But I turned up for work the next day and tried again…and the next…laying out pages of hand written sheets showing variable values.

After a couple of weeks I went to my boss and meekly suggested that the way to solve the problem was to completely rewrite the core calculation routine. I was convinced he would laugh me out of the office.  Instead he asked how long it would take and I told him two weeks.

Put yourself in his shoes.  You have an 18 year old in front of you that you have only known for two weeks.  He’s fresh from college and telling you that the solution to your problem is to completely rewrite the system core which written by an experienced programmer.  What would you do?

My manager looked me in the eye, picked up the phone, called the biggest (and most vocal) client we had and told him we would have a solution in two weeks. Then told me I’d better get started.

Holy Cow!  The game was now truly afoot.

I’ll cut to the chase.  I worked night and day to make that deadline as there was no way I was going to let down the man that just put it all on the line.  We installed the upgrade and…IT WORKED!

I look back on that now and realize that was a formative moment for me.  That was when I made the jump from boy to man, and it has affected my career ever since.  But how many managers today would dare to take such a risk?

Sadly, today, managers are almost totally risk averse.  Failure is not something that is tolerated, and that is leading us to a world where opportunities for growth are giving way to excuses and playing it safe.

Personal growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone and we are punishing people if they do that. In doing so we are stunting the growth of our employees.  

I learned so much from my first boss that I will never be able to adequately repay him.  The company only lasted a few years (there were other bigger issues) but the three years I spent there were some of the happiest and most formative of my life.  All I can say is…MP…Thanks for taking the risk.

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MP hanging with my daughter

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What makes a professional?  

professionalWhat makes a professional?  

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.

Obviously there’s the simple definition of a person that performs a role and gets paid for it.

But I believe it’s more than that, particularly in today’s world where people can have a “portfolio career” where they perform many roles, some paid and some simply for the love of the work.

There is an implicit understanding that when you hire a professional they have the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the task.  

But I’m sure you can think of plenty of people who get paid and yet do a shoddy job.  I bet you also know people who do things as a pastime and produce work of the highest caliber. Between these two which one would you say is the professional?  

I’ve read plenty of articles about how be a professional or what professional needs, and yet most of those focus on things such turning up on the time always giving 100% and so on. Those are table stakes.

Many years ago one had to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship before being considered a professional, often not reaching that stage until many years into a career. But in today’s world, where knowledge and experience are often outdated in a very short amount of time, apprenticeships are often a thing of the past.   

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that, for me, one of the defining characteristics of a professional is someone who has learned from their mistakes. And the best professionals consistently push the boundaries of their knowledge and experience and use the mistakes inevitably found in new endeavors as a core part of their education.

Anyone can be a professional when everything fits together, people deliver on time, and there are no surprises.

But to be truly worthy of the title “Professional” you need more.  You need to be able to adapt to changing situations.  You need to be able to anticipate problems and solve them before they occur.  And, when finally something does go awry, you have the skills, experience and confidence to work the problem and keep things on track. THAT is what makes a real professional, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re paid to do that or not.

Want to see what a true Professional looks like?  Watch the movie Apollo 13.  NASA was constantly pushing boundaries.  They knew the risks and when things went wrong the Professionals at NASA kept their cool, took what they had and created innovative solutions to get their people home.  

Money?  That has nothing to do with being a professional.  It’s all about attitude and a passion to continually learn.

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Filed under Business, Career

DJI Phantom Christmas? Awesome! Now READ THIS!

I posted this last year…but there’s still a lot of good information in there and so I thought I would post again. I have learned a HUGE amount since the original post so please feel free to comment if you have questions that you would like answered.

Houldsworth's Random Ramblings

fc40If you received a DJI Phantom for Christmas, then you are a lucky man…or woman, but I’m betting you’re a man.  

The Phantom’s are amazing machines.  They are great fun, produce really cool video footage and are super easy to fly as long as you have a good GPS signal.

But, before you fly, there are a few things you need to do, and a few things you need to know.  

Not following this advice is, in the opinion of many, the #1 cause of “flyaways”, which is when the thing takes off and is never seen again.  This is usually followed by people blasting DJI on Facebook and then deleting their post when people ask them about home lock.

Most of the details below are from my experience with an FC40.  You may be lucky enough to have a more advanced unit, but the information should be mostly the same.

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