Monthly Archives: March 2014

End of March

Well March is nearly over and I admit it was a bit of a blah month for the blog. With a couple of exceptions I can whole-heartedly say it was some of my worst writing.

I’m going to cop out and blame it partially on the weather. Around this time of the year I usually feel like I’ve been inside too long for too many days. Some shinny and skiing is usually out of the question thanks to the randomness of the thaw/refreeze and there isn’t even any shoveling to get me out of the house for at least 30 minutes of fresh air.

Yes, I know I can still find ways to get out of the house. Yes, I’m going to try better next year. Yes, I wish I have a third thing to list and yes I don’t.

So as a result of being inside a lot for the past few weeks I’ve been right on the bubble of having a cold. It’s just bad enough to drain me, but not bad enough to actually take some time to rest.

Additionally, after having written on this thing for over a year now, it’s somewhat difficult to keep ideas fresh. I’ve thought a few times about some topics, have the post half-written and then realize that I’ve done something quite similar.

I think that what I’m going to try doing in order to remedy this is rather than scrapping all the half-written posts that are somewhat duplicates, I’m going to restructure and power through them. This is going to take some more planning and effort than I’ve been giving it, but I hope that the end result is well thought and meaningful ideas.

As always, I appreciate the reads and don’t fully know my own end game. I was thinking about it this month and potentially all my random thoughts could be found by 60 year old me and I can shake my head as much as I’m sure most of you are.

Or I won’t get any wiser in my age. Always a possibility.

Unplug to Focus

I’ve recently been experimenting with disconnecting from technology for some mini-breaks in order to increase focus and get more done. This mostly stemmed from the fact that one evening I was trying to read a book, but kept seeing my phone going off beside me until I finally decided to move it to the other room.

For me and my phone it seems like out-of-sight, out-of-mind is the way to go. If my phone is on silent and in the other room I am usually able to not worry about it for the duration of whatever I am trying to do. On the other hand, I know if it is in my pocket I will be tempted to be looking every few minutes, even if there is nothing going on.

I honestly think that since I started doing this I’ve increased my attention span in all aspects of my life. While it’s just one person’s anecdotal evidence, by getting out of the habit of stealing attention to whatever I’m doing and taking looking at my phone every 5 or so minutes, I seem better able to stick with other tasks.

Our brains are wired to form habits. Without being that way we would have to think consciously of every single action that we’re taking at all times. The same way that after driving for a number of years you have to think about the actions much less than when you were first learning, other everyday things that you do start taking less and less conscious thought.

So like kicking any addiction, it first starts with removing the ritual. The subtle thought that my phone needs to be checked whenever I can, rather than whenever I want.

I’m not saying that there isn’t room for exceptions, but as I’m finding less and less of “my time” is actually mine, I would say that focusing during that time has become increasingly important.

To end it with a somewhat related tangent, after leaving BlackBerry last year, I was given one by work just a few months later. Having lived without the flashing red light for 40 – 55 days, the fact that it is now back in my life is a noticeable annoyance.

Again, I know that it can be helpful at times and it is important for work, but I don’t know how I put up with it in my off-work hours before. I’m fairly happy that I don’t have it 24/7 any more.

I Give Up

So, something interesting just happened to me. It will have happened “yesterday” by the time this is posted, but regardless.

I was walking into a building and there were some people right behind me as I was opening the door. I wanted to be nice, so I held the door open for them as they walked through. This is something that I tend to do when I am not in a rush.

This time was a little different, though. A woman took it upon herself to yell, “Women can hold doors for themselves, thank you very much!” To reiterate, she yelled this.

Not wanting to make a scene, I told her I was aware of this fact and apologized, then left the area as quick as I could.

I guess this post is to say that I give up. As a white male I feel like I’m walking on egg shells most of the time anyway, but I can now honestly say that I have no clue how to act any more. There were both women and men walking, by the way, making me an equal-opportunity door holder.

To me, getting insulted by something like this is a stretch. This person must be living their life looking for every little thing that can be strewn as any sort of slight. Unfortunately it seems like there are more and more people like this.

When mountains are made of mole-hills in this way, it undermines the message that individual is trying to express. Are there chauvinists out there? Absolutely. Do they express it by going around holding doors for women strangers? Likely not.

So call me a bigot, but I’m going to continue to hold doors open for all genders, sexual orientations, races and creeds. I’m going to stay stuck in my old-fashioned ways and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Complaints About 5 Days Are Baseless

A friend called me over the weekend quite irate about a blog post he had read regarding 5 Days for the Homeless. He then confirmed that I too did not agree with the author’s stance and then heavily suggested that I post about it in my blog. Being unable to refuse the request of a friend (especially when it guarantees at least one reader of the blog) I have obliged.

While I will go into some specifics about this post of the criticism and how I think it’s off base, this experience honestly has been added to the heap in my mind that I have labelled, “Ignorant Individuals with an Imaginary Axe to Grind.” I want to point out that I said ignorant, because I think that in many cases the people that I think this about are quite intelligent, but they choose to stay ignorant about the topic at hand to serve their own purposes.

In reflecting on why it seems there is more and more grandstanding every day I can think of two reasons:

  1. Everyone has a platform. It’s no longer solely the jobs of politicians to purposefully misunderstand / misrepresent situations and take hardline positions on one side or the other. Just like to make waves as a politician, to make waves on the internet there is no room for shades of grey. Take a side, stick with it no matter what the evidence says and refuse to concede an inch. What’s worse is that these people often are quick to point out problems, but never really provide any solutions.
  2. There are some people who look for every opportunity to take offense to things and won’t have a conversation surrounding it. They just criticize, close their eyes to any sort of explanation past their initial (often distorted) reaction and tell it to anyone who will listen. No one wins when this happens, people just become more divided.

Now to get to the blog. It was posted by an individual in BC and how they believe something similar to other opinions I have read or heard since 5 Days’ inception: That the campaign doesn’t “simulate” homelessness accurately enough and makes light of the issue.

I put “simulate” in quotation marks because the author of the post used it quite often, so I wanted to be sure to be using the correct terminology. I honestly don’t know if this is ho 5 Days chooses to describe the actions taken by the participants, but I wouldn’t have any issue if it was.

No matter what definition of “simulation” you read, the common thread is that it is not reality and known to be not reality. It’s creating a situation that is reflective enough of whatever is being conveyed to achieve the desired outcome.

So when NASA astronauts practice space maneuvers under water, they realize they’re not in space.

When geo-engineers run computer simulations of flood forecasts for planning purposes, no one thinks that the areas on the screen are actually flooding at that moment in time.

When a bar has a mechanical bull riding night, there is no one who is scared to attend because the bull may charge.

So similarly, when a group of self-identified students sleep outside for a week raising money for charity, no one thinks that they’re actually homeless. They are taking action in order to gain attention (and hopefully funds) for the cause. The same way that those who participate in the Terry Fox Run every year don’t think the literal act of running will cure cancer, but rather bring the community together to raise funds and support for the ongoing research to one day stop the disease forever.

Moving past the semantics of defining the terminology that the writer used in their argument, because maybe they are using a definition that I hadn’t hear of or was unable to find, there are things that are even more frustrating and allude to the two issues I have listed about. Basically the writer is choosing to represent the facts surrounding the issue how they like, but at the same time neglecting to provide any proof or solutions.

Here are a couple “facts” I would like cited:

  • “walking for three hours to get to the food bank only to be denied because you don’t have an address”
  • “ [shelters] tend to have ridiculously complicated forms of gate-keeping that rid people who are struggling with homelessness of their humanity and dignity”

Having volunteered at a number of shelters / food banks in the past, I can say I honestly haven’t seen either of these things happening. I would ask that the author list the shelters where this is going on so was can all put a stop to it.

The most telling part of the piece is at the end of the criticism, the signing off paragraph is:

So yeah, I get it. Homelessness sucks and you want to cure it. You want to support people who are homeless, but there are better ways to do it.

What are they and why are you keeping them secret?

At the end of the day, anyone can have an opinion. In the post there was reference to “numerous Facebook threads denouncing the campaign” and that may be true. I’m not going to look into it, because I don’t see the point in being further frustrated.

However, I would ask to all those criticizing to state what they are doing doing about the issue?

If you’re just sitting around complaining for the sake of making yourself feel better for not doing anything that you apparently care about, kindly put a cork in it. There are people out there who are really trying and I’d rather hear from them.

You can still donate to 5 Days for the Homeless at http://5days.ca/manitoba/

The NSA in Canada

Something I’ve been worrying about more and more lately is where my information is being stored. More specifically in my email accounts and cloud syncing technology.

I say this because I, like so many other people, use free products. Gmail, Google Drive, iCloud and Drop Box are all my friends. Or so I have thought.

The thing that I’ve come to realize (thanks to the job) is that since all those services are based in the US, the information is stored in the US. Therefore all my information is subject to the Patriot Act. All the NSA fun that has been going on south of the boarder; you’re likely affected by it.

My worry isn’t really about what has happened to date. As much as I don’t love my privacy being infringed on, I have to believe that I’m extremely boring to anyone who is looking. I’m not doing anything illegal or questionable, so I’m probably passed by pretty quickly.

What I’m more worried about is what may or may not happen in the future of privacy. Considering the NSA came and went, there hasn’t seemed to be many changes made to policies. Nor promises from the government not to do the same or similar in the future.

What will happen next? Now that we know they are able and willing to access that information, is there a worse-case scenario that anyone can think of?

So just because we’re in Canada doesn’t mean that we can act all smug about the NSA problems to the south. Odds are your information has been inspected too.

Are MBAs Degrees or Titles?

Recently Stanford made the decision to strip (former) graduate Mathew Martoma’s MBA degree. There are some surrounding issues (Martoma being convicted of insider trading), but the school has insisted that isn’t the reason for removing the degree. Rather, Stanford is claiming, that it was because Martoma didn’t disclose that he was expelled from Harvard Law School a couple years earlier.

Setting aside the fact that there is a high likelihood that the conviction is playing a part in Standford’s decision, to me it is interesting what this decision could subtly be saying about how the school regards its MBA program. It is a status indicator, over an academic achievement.

If you read the article that I linked it goes into detail the situation surrounding Martoma’s being booted from Harvard. In summary it is because he doctored his grades and sent them out to federal judges in application for clerk positions.

This is where things get a little more interesting.

After that he changed his name and two years later applied to Stanford’s MBA program. Since there isn’t any information to the contrary, the assumption has to be made that he was admitted based on the merit of his application and undergraduate marks. This is how all MBA applicants are evaluated.

Then, because nothing is said to the contrary, Martoma must have completed his MBA coursework to a satisfactory level and graduated. For all intents and purposes he earned his MBA the same way as, I assume, everyone else in his class.

The fact that he didn’t disclose his time at Harvard was definitely not the right thing to do, but is it reason for the stripping of a degree? Did he not gain admission through the proper channels and complete the required academic work?

Stanford’s actions may be a subtle hint to how it views the MBA program: as a prestigious association, rather than a “pure” degree. Stripping a man of what he worked, and paid, to achieve based on a poor decision that isn’t directly related to the school itself doesn’t sit well for some reason.

I’m obviously coming from this as an outsider and non-MBA. I’m also taking a bit of a devil’s advocate position.

It would be interesting to hear from some MBAs out there. I definitely don’t diminish the hard work that higher education is, but the actions of Stanford Business School raises some questions. What do you think?

Can You Service a Startup?

I’ve noticed something recently that everyone seems to have the ability to service startups. At least that’s what they would have you believe. A listing of skills on LinkedIn got me thinking about why this is.

The profile I was viewing was of someone who was no doubt very intelligent. A double professional who, I’m sure, has forgot more than I will ever know. Regardless, though, none of the experience listed had anything to do with startups, but there it was listed in the skills section.

Why were they so comfortable putting it there, though? I have a couple guesses and would love to hear yours, too.

First, I think that it has to do with size. They had done a lot of work with bigger businesses, so how tough could a new, smaller one be?

Maybe it was because this individual was relatively young and young people all have an inherent knowledge about startups, seeing as they’re the cool new thing.

Honestly, whatever it is, I think that there is a healthy level of ignorance mixed in, whether unintentional or not.

All small businesses, startups in particular, can be a different beast. My guess the “my skills will scale down” theory goes out the window once you start setting up corporate structures, funding rounds, personal finance implications, grant requirements, fast growth, etc. These are likely all things that wouldn’t be experienced to the same extent at an established business.

I have first-hand experience with this.

When I was first setting things up with the business, I happened to be with one of my account friends one evening. Since it was top of mind, I started asking him 101 questions about finances, taxes, company structure, you name it.

He wasn’t really answering my questions in any great depth and I finally said, “I thought you were supposed to be an accountant. What gives?”

He looked at me as replied, “Kevin, I’ve never dealt with a company anywhere near as small as yours. The amounts you’re talking about are so immaterial for the companies I work for that they wouldn’t bother looking for them if they were missing from the books.”

First, sobering thought. Second, that was a breath of fresh air.

Although he could have impressed me with a bit of knowledge and likely made it up as he went along, he had enough confidence to simply state that he knows nothing about the subject we’re talking about. If I really wanted answers I should go to someone who specializes in small businesses.

So I did.

Expand or Contract

I guess I am technically considered a internet content publisher, regardless of how immeasurably thin my sliver of the pie is. Because of that I often think about the nature of online information consumption and think there are some very counterintuitive things going on.

First is that it would stand to reason that with a world-wide base of information from a larger variety of sources than was ever available to the average person before, we should be expanding our perspectives. I don’t think that’s true, though. The only thing that seems to be happening with the great volume of information at our fingertips is we can now find someone else who agrees with us, no matter what our belief.

In the past I’m assuming it would have been difficult to find others who believed that the government was made up of lizards, because of the constraints of geographic location and cost of widely publishing media. Now, you can find sites galore!

The same goes for other opinions. It’s human nature to seek out confirmation of our own beliefs, which is what we do. If I think one thing I’m very likely to gravitate and appreciate those who agree. Therefore I’ll get further embedded in my own belief, never exploring the other side.

I honestly see this as one of the biggest dangers of our times. There are few things more valuable than divergent opinions, but in this day and age they can be easily ignored and support can be found. Where is the fun in that, though?

Most of the best conversations that I’ve ever had have been arguments. Or debates, if that makes them sound less harsh.

There are few things I like more than talking to an intelligent person with an opinion different than my own. Otherwise I’d probably be going through life based on my initial reactions to everything, which doesn’t seem recommended or healthy. My initial thoughts are often plain terrible.

So rather than going online and only reading things that support your current paradigms, maybe trying to balance your media intake. See what the other side is saying, because there is usually some merit into their way of thinking.