Saturday, November 26, 2016

Black Friday Follies

Black Friday....going out and fighting each other over junk we don't need right after being thankful for everything we already have. You've probably seen some variation of that statement on your social media feeds lately. Whether you feel that way about Black Friday or not depends on who you are. 

I have friends that live for the fun and excitement of Black Friday shopping each each year. I also have other friends, who think more like me, that avoid retail stores at all costs on Black Friday. For me, it's mostly because I don't like large crowds of people. The fact that I spent a number of years in the retail industry just sealed the deal on my opinion of Black Friday. Now that many stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day already really makes me thankful that I no longer work in the retail industry. 

Working in the tech industry now, I am really looking forward to technology helping fix this Black Friday chaos. Cyber Monday has been around since around 2004 or 2005, but it hasn't had quite the impact I wish it would have. I think it has lessened a little bit of the madness of the post-Thanksgiving shopping. Then again, starting the shopping kick-off earlier can also take some of the matter how much I hate to admit it. 

My wife is no stranger to shopping or looking for great deals, but Black Friday was not something she experienced until a couple of years ago. It's now a fun little activity for her and my sister-in-law to venture out into the craziness and snag some deals. I'm just trying to figure out if it's a good thing or not. 

Black Friday has a way of turning good people bad. For instance, my wife wasn't a criminal until she started shopping on Black Friday.  Ok, so maybe she's not really a criminal and it really was an accident, but she almost stole a purse this year. 

This is where technology is actually working against us in a retail environment. My wife found a purse she wanted and decided to use one of those self-checkouts because the line was much shorter. She scanned the purse, swiped her card, grabbed the purse and headed out the door. As she was walking through the security sensors at the exit, the alarms started blaring. She was caught red handed trying to steal a purse....but she didn't know it. 

Apparently, that "self-checkout" was actually a kiosk to order something in the store and have the product shipped to you. A great idea for someone who doesn't want to carry a mountain of Black Friday shopping plunder with them or leave it in their vehicle as they bounce from store to store. I guess they frown upon also taking the (extra) product out of the store with you though. I don't know why since everyone seems to have a buy one-get one free offer on everything these days. 

In the end, it was an honest mistake. Since she didn't tell me about it from a holding cell at the local police department, the store must have understood it was an honest mistake as well. This little mishap does serve to prove a point though.... Black Friday is evil.

If it's not the people attacking each other over slashed prices, it's technology trying to turn you towards a life of crime. If you're daring, feel free to give it a shot. But if you prefer a simpler life like me, stay at home and work your way through the left-over pies from the Thanksgiving feast. It's a lot safer and far more relaxing and enjoyable. Until next time.... 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A simpler life

As I was going through my regular process of changing the passwords on my various accounts today, it really struck me how annoying it really is. I know it's a necessary evil in the highly technological world of today, but that doesn't make it any more fun. This post isn't about proper password protocol though - it's just part of what got me thinking about simplifying my life once again. 
I also read a book this weekend for work called Eat That Frog by Bryan Tracy. In a nutshell, the book gives you 21 ways to avoid procrastination and be more productive. Tracy uses the analogy of eating a frog to emphasize the value of knocking out the biggest, nastiest thing you have to do first. After that, the rest will seem easy...if it's still important at all. 

This book goes hand in hand with the lean management concept. One of the key points to being lean is to eliminate anything that doesn't add value. In simple terms, you scrap the junk and focus on the good. When you add the frog eating skills from above, you have a game plan anyone can embrace. Simple is great. Freeing up time AND maximizing the time you have to use is awesome. That brings me back to my password updates. 

It really doesn't take all that long to update a password for a particular site. The part that proved to be a time suck was every time I updated a single password, I got multiple alerts and had to change the login on multiple devices. 

For example, when I updated the password on my Outlook email, I had to update the app on my daily phone, an old spare phone that I use on occasion and my laptop. I made those changes only to get a new set of alerts because those credentials are also stored in other apps. My Gmail app pulls three of my emails and I have automation apps that link most of my social media accounts. Now take those steps and repeat them 20+ times (in my case) and you start to get annoyed. 

I learned a few things from this. First and foremost, I wondered why this hasn't irritated me as much in the past. I think having just read a book about time management had "wasting time" in the front of my mind. It's amazing how the little things I've done every day suddenly seem blatantly obvious when my mind is deep in thought about time management.

The next most important thing I learned is that I have way too many notification alerts setup. This one actually surprised me because I personally felt I had done a decent job of limiting my push notifications to the more critical functions. Apparently not. Getting an alert when your password is changed is a good practice, but I found all kinds of alerts that were setup that were redundant or unnecessary. For instance, my Google+ sends me emails and push notifications for a whole mess of alerts. Why would I need two notifications for one alert? Answer: I don't. In fact, I really don't need any notifications at all for most of them. 

That leads me to the next eye opener... Why do I have so many different accounts? Are they adding value or wasting more of my time? That's not quite as easily answered for most. Twitter is one that I made a call on today and it's now gone. I have received no value from it whatsoever and it sends more notifications that most of my other accounts combined. Sure I can change the notifications, but why bother if the account doesn't add value. Delete was so much easier. We'll see how the other accounts hold up over the next few weeks. 

Starting today, I am going to be eating more frogs. Life is too valuable to waste time with things that don't add value and/or constantly distract me with their notifications. Going forward, I will relax knowing that security alerts will come through, but none of the other garbage will. I have set aside a couple of small windows of time to manually review in-app notifications. Other than those times, my alerts can wait and I will enjoy life instead. 

I had already intended to scale down my online/blogging time to almost nothing from Thanksgiving through Christmas and this plan falls in line with that. I want to make sure I am focusing on the family and friends in my everyday life and not getting sucked into my online/computer life. I don't know that you, the reader, will see a huge difference - which is the point. My intent is to get nearly the same results with a fraction of the "effort" as far as time goes. We'll see what happens, Until next time....

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Grass is always greener

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence...or so you've probably been fooled. I'm sure you've heard that phrase more than a few times over the course of your life. The only part of that sentence I really take issue with is the word "always." Using absolutes tends to get you in trouble. That's why I like to say, "Always remember to never speak in absolutes." Just because I say that doesn't mean I'm really good at believing it though. 

It's really not all that bad to envision the grass on the other side being greener. It means you're a dreamer, a visionary - capable of setting your sights on something greater. Just like with many things in life though, it doesn't mean you're right. Nobody reaches great success without making mistakes or having failures along the way. You learn from it and move on. At least that's what you're supposed to do. 

On the flip side, thinking the grass is always greener on the other side will set you up for a life of disappointment. Jumping from one thing to the next without intelligent forethought is a dangerous game to play. It's particularly dangerous if you don't have the option to jump back over the fence back to where you came from or if the next fence is way off in the distance. 

You've probably seen a bit of this in the news lately with the handful of celebrities who "pledged" to leave the United States if their choice for president didn't win. Well, great for them. Most of the people making that statement are rich enough that they probably already have homes in other countries anyway. At the very least, they have the financial resources to make a go of it. The funny part is that the grass isn't necessarily greener over there. 

I have been hearing Canada as the first option for relocation from many of them. The first thing I have to laugh about is that Canada's immigration policy is far more stringent (as it should be) than we have here in the United States - so good luck getting in. Then again, money does talk so maybe they have a shot. 

If it weren't for the fact that it's currently the liberal crowd running for the Canadian border, there would maybe be a case for hopes of better health coverage. Since it's not the anti-Obamacare conservatives heading north, let's just pretend. They'd get to Canada for the "free health care" only to find out that means they have to wait an eternity (months - not a 30 minute office wait) to get some fairly basic medical procedures. A free society can only support so much actual medical benefits. 

Taking it down to a level most of us have experienced, there are times in our careers that the grass looks greener on the other side. It may be the working environment, the pay, broken promises or just a general desire for change. There are many reasons you may think something different is better. In some cases you'd be right and your career will advance because of it. The dreamer in you will have taken a chance that paid off.

Then again, which is more often the case, you will probably find things to be about the same as they were before...on average. The pay might be better, but you never get any time off to actually spend the extra money you're making. Maybe the health plan is better, but you find you have no room for advancement. Once you average everything out, it often ends up about the same with hopefully an overall increase in the average. Worst case would be realizing it was a horrible mistake and you're sprinting for the next fence to jump over. 

For the younger crowd who may not yet have an extensive career, the same greener grass idea is experienced when dating. To me anyway, the purpose of dating was to hopefully find that one person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. (FYI - I did. Success!!) Part of dating though is that for everything you find you like or love about a person, you also find things that don't quite match...or end up being deal-breakers. The relationship ends and you jump the next fence. 

I remember having a conversation with one of my former girlfriends where I made a comment like "if we end up breaking up...." As you can imagine, that got a response of "What do you mean if we break up? Why would you say that? What makes you think we might break up?" Well, you never start dating someone planning for a breakup, but since you've (hopefully) ended it with all your previous relationships, why would you automatically assume this is "the one?" That's why you're dating - to find out. 

Well, I've rambled on probably longer than you would have preferred so I'll wrap it up. Long story short - appreciate what you have and don't be afraid to be content. At the same time though, know what your dream is and be aware of whether you're still moving towards it. Until next time....

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

When life explodes

Before you get too excited....this has absolutely nothing to do with the recent presidential election. I figure you've probably had enough of that to last you another four years. This is instead a little tale of parenthood and what I like to think of as a little piece of parental bliss. (That's a lie, but it makes it sound better.) 

You're probably familiar with the phrase "big things come in small packages." Most people tend to think of things like a diamond ring in a little velvet box when they hear that phrase. That's not what I had in mind though. I was thinking more along the lines of a "silent but deadly" fart. It's so small and quiet, but nearly kills you when the horrendous aroma hits you. 

If you've been paying attention, you know that I have two daughters - ages seven and five. I have even mentioned how my seven year old daughter (Ziva) has been having a bit of a rough year. It started out with her missing one of her closest friends who moved away at the end of summer. It has since escalated to what can best be explained (at this point) as anxiety attacks. I say this because we have not yet received a professional diagnosis, but that is around the corner. 

This relatively sudden burst of attitude came flying at us in the blink of an eye. Ziva has always been a strong-willed girl, but this is way above and beyond that. She is now having meltdowns on an increasingly frequent basis that makes the phrase "temper tantrum" sound like child's play. 

As if this wasn't fun enough in itself, my five year old (Siri) is now learning her older sister's tricks. It's great that she loves her older sister and wants to learn from her, but it's not so great that this meltdown mania appears to come quite naturally to her. Of all the things she chooses to learn, why does she have to excel at this? 

We had parent-teacher conferences tonight with both of our girls' teachers. As usual, we got glowing reports about how they don't have any attitude issues at school. Don't get me wrong. They have things to work on just like the next kid. An out of control attitude at school just isn't one of them. In fact, when we talked about these explosive meltdowns with their teachers, they look at us like we're nuts....or at least not talking about the same children. 

Within 20 minutes of getting home from the parent-teacher conferences, Siri went into full meltdown. I'm pretty sure this was the worst I've ever seen out of her. It was so bad that Ziva was in tears seeing and hearing the meltdown. At first I thought it was because it was scaring her seeing her younger sister blowing up like this, but the first words out of her mouth were, "What have I done to my sister?" 

She didn't mean this like she had made her mad. She was connecting the dots to the fact that her little sister was copying her own meltdown routine. She felt she was personally responsible for her sister's actions. I used this as a little learning opportunity and started asking her a few questions about it. 

With very minimal prompting, Ziva was able to identify that Siri was extremely tired and just saying no to everything my wife or I would say to her or ask her to do. She further deduced that Siri has noticed how much attention Ziva had been getting from mom and dad during her own meltdowns...and she wanted some of that attention. 

I'm proud of her for figuring this out and she says she'll remember it when she feels herself starting to get out of control in the future. I'm not going to hold my breath on that, but I think it's a step in the right direction. I know it won't eliminate her future meltdowns, but I am hoping this lesson will at least serve as a point of reference next time Ziva is in meltdown mode. It would be great to have a little piece of good come out of an otherwise rough evening. Time will tell. Until next time....

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Waste of time

I am fairly good at procrastination and this is mostly because I am extremely good at wasting time. Though there are many benefits to procrastination and wasting time, there is one thing I do not like about it: I don't like other people wasting my time....That's my responsibility. 

Since it's been about a year and a half since I complained about what a huge waste of time our whole Daylight Savings Time thing is, I thought  I would whine about it today. Besides, I have some time to waste while my girls are taking an afternoon rest. 

If you haven't read my last post on our clock re-setting nonsense, you can check it out HERE.  Or if you (are really weird and actually) like having to change your clocks twice a year, you may prefer to just read my post on procrastination located HERE. Coincidentally, they were both written in March of 2015. I must have really been irritated about it back then??

Back to this year.... Last night was the lesser of two evils when it comes to having to change our clocks. I say this because I can almost get behind the idea of turning our clocks back every so often to gain an extra hour of sleep. I do not see any reason whatsoever that would make moving the clocks forward and losing an hour of sleep a good thing. Since becoming a parent, I have learned that both are equally pointless and problematic. 

Since we are in the "gain-an-hour-of-sleep" clock change today, you would think that would be good. Those of you with kids know that's not true though. The kids still wake up at the same time regardless of what the clock says. That means the grownups' extra hour of sleep is non-existent. It also means the evening craziness hour became 60 minutes longer because the kids will be over-tired and cranky and hour earlier than usual. 

My minimal suggestion: If there's ever a chance of making this "clocks back an hour" schedule work, move it to a Monday morning instead of Sunday morning. Adults would prefer to put off Monday morning work and extra hour and kids would stay in bed that extra hour....because we all know they have to be dragged out of bed on a school day. 

As for the "lose-an-hour-of-sleep" clock changes, just stop it. There's no reason to put anyone through that. We're not gaining anything, We don't care if the sun is up or not. It's not like businesses shut down on an overcast day because there isn't enough sun in the sky. You're also either a morning person or an evening person. I don't think it's going to matter what stage the sun is in the sky. 

My preferred suggestion: Just get rid of the whole clock changing process all together. It's going to take me a few days to readjust my internal body clock. It will be months before I find all the clocks in the house that need to be changed to the new time. As a matter of fact, there is probably at least one clock in the house I won't have to change because it never got changed last Spring. 

Let me know what you think. I doubt that I am alone on seeing Daylight Savings as a huge waste of time. Maybe somebody else sees a benefit?? Changing when you wake up just means the daylight hours shift back and forth in your day. Who cares? Not me. One of my favorite memes on the topic was a picture of a Native American and his supposed reaction to being told the reason behind Daylight Savings Time. He supposedly said, "Only the government would believe you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it on the bottom, and have a longer blanket." Fact or fiction - I don't care. It's a clear explanation of how ridiculous the whole thing is. Until next time....

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The here and now

My employer was featured on the local news this week and something my boss said on that segment got me thinking. He was talking about all the career opportunities we have in our company and how that sometimes makes it hard to focus on where you are right now. I know this to be true from my own personal experience with the company.

I've been with the company for a little over two years and during that time I have had multiple job titles and numerous different areas of responsibility. Each new role acted as a stepping stone to the next. While it's really exciting looking forward to the next step, it is very easy to lose focus on where I am today. The same can be said for much of life in general.

The Past
You can't really talk about the present and future without at least mentioning the past. History is a wonderful thing. Besides the fact that it's a treasure trove of memories, it's also a guide to where you're going. As the lovable tow truck Mater from the movie Cars said, "I don't have to know where I'm going. I just need to know where I've been."

We should appreciate and learn from the past. I always like to say I learn things best by doing it the hard way. In other words, I tend to remember things better when I make mistakes first. The important part is trying to learn from mistakes so you don't repeat them. (I'm not always as good at that last part.)

The Future
Learning from the past is great, but the natural progression is to then jump right into planning for the future. Don't get me's great to dream and plan for the future. You can mess up your life pretty quickly by wandering aimlessly through life without a plan or goals. Focusing too much on the future though can also ruin the present.

If you're always dreaming about what could or will be, you will lose appreciation for what is now. Life will pass you by while you continue to look further into the future. The best example I have experienced with this is watching my kids grow up. From the moment they're born, it's easy to get overly focused on the future. You anxiously await their first steps and first words and in the blink of an eye, you start to miss the days of them sleeping in your arms. (Not to mention they are constantly on the move after that and never stop talking.)

The Present
The here and now doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves. You can make your life downright miserable by only focusing on what was or could have been in the past and what might be in the future. Maintain focus on the present and enjoy what you have now. Before you know it, the present will be the past. It's already yesterday's future. Until next time....